Friday, 14 June 2013

Zumaia & No es possible


It was obvious as we arrived that this was another very lovely place. The first day we spent exploring using our very pretty if not particularly useful town map. Heading up the hill was hard and hot work but it was worth it for the views over the cliffs and sea.


The family of ducks in the marina was declared ‘so cute’. When someone told us how the family of 4 ducklings had started off as 13 but had been reduced by the local rats, the boys became very protective, counting the ducklings every morning. This is the first marina/wave break we’ve seen for a while without a population of cats patrolling it.


The next morning was as lovely as predicted and we headed up river in the inflatable kayaks which have not had an airing since last summer. The scenery was stunning as we headed up the smooth, wide river past old and new ship building and into peaceful country. We continued upstream passing under bridges, past tidal islands covered in birds and at times working hard against the current until finally we could not get any further up, we drifted lazily for a bit, soaking in the beauty and peace, then it was time to ‘go with the flow’ as one deckhand said and head back down stream. We went to the beach in the afternoon, playing in the sea and digging in the sand until we were chased off by the coming rain, getting home just before the thunder started.

back from kayaking up the river

There are fewer bi-lingual signs here and many are just in Basque, it makes life interesting but we are starting to recognise a few words, most people speak Spanish and many speak very good English. Insects have started biting as the weather has improved with one deckhand described by his brother as being like an ‘all you can bite buffet’ as he seems to get more than his fair share.


The marina did not have internet so it was off to the tourist information to find out where we could access some. We have a Euro card which we load up with money then get cash out or pay by card without any charges, it has been really good but it does need internet for topping up, we also needed to know the coastal forecast for the coming week for moving on. The library proved to be the answer and after talking to some nice and helpful people we installed ourselves into a corner (Top tip – if you want free internet in France, Spain or, indeed, England try to find the local library first, it saves you having to eat a big mac!). Having sorted that out and done a bit of food shopping we spent a pleasant day wandering around the town.


We are now in Gipuzkoa in the Pais de Vasco (Spanish Basque country). The Basque country is divided into 3 regions in Spain and another three in France. Each of the territories has its own capital but the spiritual capital of the whole region is Gernika. Here for hundreds of years first Kings and Queens then more recently the general assembly met under the Great Oak to be sworn in and to conduct business. We had wanted to visit the town and having been unable to moor at the closest harbour, we headed off on a mammoth train journey. The country side was very scenic, the train rides pleasant and the wait for the connecting train was long both ways but it was worth the trip to see this historic place.

The towns other unfortunate claim to infamy is that they were the victim of the first ever carpet bombing in 1937 during the civil war (General Franco ordered it, the German air force did it) which destroyed 80% of the town, killed over 2000 people and has defined it ever since. We had an interesting day wandering around, we saw the great oak, lots of sculptures and some memorials to those killed in the bombings. Our last train of the day was very lively with lots of people heading into one of the towns and at one point breaking into spontaneous drumming, Spain is a country that knows how to party.


We went to the rock museum one day and found out how the cliffs were formed when the Iberian and European tectonic plates squashed together creating the Pyrenees. Geologists, palaeontologists and all sorts of other ologists and rock inclined people come from all over the world to study the cliffs here and they are one of the best places in the world to see the layers of rock from millions of years ago laid out like a giant and very graphic time line.

cliffs in Zumaia
We also walked out to the lighthouse where the brown stained water from the river spread out into the blue sea then walked back into town and watched the attempted rescue of a ferry which had gone aground on the sand, possibly swept sideways by the current from the river. With 48 hours of at times very heavy rain the river was now in spate and all sorts of stuff was flowing down it. Apparently one year the marina had a 15 foot long forked tree swept in, they managed to tie it to the pier where it bobbed up and down for two days until they were able to cut it up.


A day of mainly practical stuff and preparing the boat for moving on was broken up nicely with a walk around the town, somehow we had managed to keep walking around the oldest bit and missing it so set off to find it and the very fancy buildings there, unfortunately the church was closed but still impressive from the outside. The river was now calming down, the weather was set to be good for moving so it was once again time to say goodbye.


old centre of Zumaia

‘No es possible’


It was an early start to catch the tide on the river and a pleasant morning as we headed back out to sea. We soon reached our planned destination, Pasajes, waited our turn behind a large ship to pass through the narrow entrance and watched the amazing cliffs towering above us on either side. As we headed up the river we got more excited about the loveliness of the place, looking forward to exploring it. We identified the hammer heads we needed, lined ourselves up, got on the ropes and then up came a port working boat to tell us ‘no es possible’. They were no longer taking visitors and we would have to move on! We quickly looked at books and charts to find our next option, had a chat with a circling French boat, followed the pilot boats directions to stay out the way as another large ship was coming in and set off again.

Entrance to Pasajes
We soon reached the end of Spain, up another river and into the last Spanish harbour on the coast to find no room and no answer on the radio, this was getting a bit old now. Another of our on the spot turns and a radio to the other side of the river – the first marina in France - got a positive answer. There was a lot of traffic in the river, ferries and other craft, we found the entrance and then up came a marina boat to help us. Getting alongside was far from the highlight of the day, no-one was injured or sunk and the phrase ‘insurance details were exchanged’ sums it up for now. So that was it, with a Spanish courtesy flag still flying from the spreader we had unexpectedly arrived back in France.
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