In the European summer of 2004, a disparate group of IP-Trekkers from Canada, England and Australia converged on the small but spectacular Basque Country, where we were hosted by our own personal Basque guide, Alexander Zuazo. Alex found us a delightful family guest house in the hills outside Bilbao, where we enjoyed wonderful hospitality in a Basque farmhouse. From our base in Gane Guesthouse we went out each day for some wonderful hikes in the Biscayan countryside, sometimes setting off as early as, oh, say, noon.
Day One – Valderejo: Superb gentle walking through forests and fields, farmland, stone ruins, and impressive rocky outcrops. We wound up in a small village for lunch (at 4 pm – we converted to ‘Iberian time’) in a country restaurant run by a friendly family. The old building boasted some venerable frescos to be inspected upstairs. Postre by 5 pm. Weather sunny and hot.
Valderejo Natural Park has areas of great natural and cultural interest and its superb landscape provides a setting for the conservation of this area's traditional farming practices and cultural heritage, forming an interesting mixture of nature and rural life. Woods constitute more than 58% of the total vegetation. The Scottish pine is the most widespread, followed by the holm oak and beech and there is a small area covered by gall-oaks. Meadows and crops occupy the floor of the valley, surrounding a number of ancient villages. This vast plateau is occupied by a mosaic of pastures and scrubland and in some places there are outcrops of limestone rock.
Day Two – Gorbeia: cooler weather, pine forests, farmland. We enjoyed a lunch stop at a delightful curved stone bridge (having convinced our guide to take a picnic today). Some members brought their profession into disrepute by drinking the red wine directly from the bottle (a misdemeanour which I have on video; bribes will be accepted in both Euro and Canadian dollars). After lunch, misty rain set in, but on we climbed to the high point, visibility completely gone, trusting our completely trustworthy guide. At the summit cheers were given, summit photos taken in the fog, and the Basque flag planted.
This Park, located at the foot of Mount Gorbeia, contains landscapes of great beauty. The Natural Park is located between the provinces of Vizcaya and Álava, around Mount Gorbeia, and is part of the mountain range that forms a watershed between the Cantabrian Sea and the Mediterranean. Due to its great height, Gorbeia Natural Park has a typical mountain climate and acts like a huge barrier stopping the damp winds from the Bay of Biscay. It is largely responsible for the major climactic differences between its north and south faces.
Gorbeia is a traditional reference point for Basque mountaineers. The attraction of peaks such as Gorbeiagane, Aldamin, Oketa, Berretin , the quality and spectacular nature of its landscapes, together with the strategic situation of this mountain range which is close to a number of neighbouring population centres, have made Gorbeia one of the most frequented mountain ranges.
Day Three – Guggenheim & Bilbao: despite the puzzlement of our guide, the group decided to spend today in the urban environment of Bilbao, visiting the architecturally significant Guggenheim Museum designed by Frank Gehry – the first public building ever to be designed entirely using CAD. The delights of downtown Bilbao were also sampled, including a cosy bar...but I digress. Back to the hiking...
Day Four – Pagasarri and Ganekogorta: steeper trails, wide and impressive views across the countryside, warmer and drier when we set out, sunny and clear. Wonderful views to Bilbao. As the day progressed, we climbed ever steeper and higher, the views becoming spectacular, and the weather rainy by the time the high point was reached.
Ganekogorta is a mountain on the border of the provinces of Bizkaia and Araba, just between Bilbao and Llodio. It has a height of 998 m and it's the main peak of a massif that comprises some smaller mountains including Pagasarri (673 m), Ganeta, Pastorekorta, Arnotegi and Arraiz. The northern slopes of the massif form part of the city of Bilbao.
San Sebastian, beach, tapas. Basque coast, Gernika: for those who were able to spend a few days more, there were further delights in the endlessly interesting Basque Country including the famous beach resort of San Sebastian, where we enjoyed a night of tapas under swathes of hanging Iberian hams; the exquisite Basque coastlines, and the significant town of Gernika, home of the ancient Basque Parliament, which has traditionally met under an oak tree.
Eskerrik asko, Alex.
In Memorium: It is with great sadness that we note the untimely passing of our dear companion John Sissons in 2006, from liver cancer, at the age of 55. John, who is shown above in the yellow shirt sitting beside his wife Lynda, accompanied us on our first day’s trek. He also participated in IP-Trek 2003(Everest Base Camp, Nepal) and was one of only 5 IP-Trekkers who successfully summitted Kala Patthar(5545m).