Spain day 21 - The Painted Forest
Trip Start Jun 25, 2008
77Trip End Sep 01, 2008
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I don't want to overstate this, but for one reason or another, today ends up to be the worst day so far in terms of Janice and I arguing with one another, ... peppered in with our truly fantastic and wonderful experiences today, we spend a good deal of time at each other's throats. Just want to keep it real for those keeping up on the blog here. We are, after all, traveling with two small kids for a LONG time, with very limited time to ourselves as individuals and as a couple, and like every person that ever did live we continue to work through the wild twists and turns that life throws at us from time to time.
We drive for two hours just past Bilbao and then through the mountains on windy roads for thirty minutes or so, straight in to the heart of Basque Country, a small town called Lekeitio. This place has ETA written all over it. Literally. Graffiti and signs everywhere of FREEDOM, LIBERATION, ETA, ... posters of ETA supporters who have been jailed, ...we are in the thick of it now. Its an eye-opening experience to see and hear and feel this part of the country. To see this minority people group so desirous of their own nationhood. Lessen the measure of oppression found in the China/Tibet dynamic by 75%, and that's what it feels like here
Parking is tough in this little city. We have a funny encounter with a local police man ... this guy was a six foot tall bundle of traffic guiding frustration. He stood in the town center guiding all four directions of traffic, and guidi after guidi made mistakes, didn't respond fast enough, or tried to make wrong turns. Each time, he gave this exasperated look ... one time even staring down and giving a threatening motion to one passerby. And of course, when it our turn, I went just past the line he wanted me too and so we get the look of frustration which causes Janice to explode in to laughter, which scares the hell out of me for fear of the policeman making a personal issue out of her giggling, so I sush Janice ... which only makes both of us start laughing. It was great. ... and we escape the intersection without any ticket or problem.
It takes us about half hour to park and meet up with Inigo and Jaione but when we do, we are soooo happy to see them again
We stroll through the streets and enjoy the clanging of the cathedral's bells, the cobble-stoned roads, and a demonstration by local ETA supporters. Jaione informs us that membership in ETA qualifies you as a criminal in Spain, so this group is careful in how they demonstrate. Nobody has ETA tshirts or anything, but they do decry the imprisonment of ETA members, they shout in support of independence, and sing famous Basque nationalistic songs. Its a great experience to be here, 'behind the lines' so to speak. Its all very peaceful and in good spirits ... but you could see how if this sort of thing occurred in Madrid, it would cause quite a commotion.
During lunch, Inigo and I talk quite a bit about finances and economy. I've always heard that Europeans have much more time off work than their US counterparts. We get in to details. Basic full time job ... you get thirty days paid vacation plus national holidays like Christmas, Easter, etc. It goes up as high as fourty-five to sixty paid vacation days depending on the industry you work in
Samuel deepens his friendship with Inigo as we explore the city, eat lunch and ice cream, and make our way to the beach.Inigo and Jaione brought Spanish Palas and teach us how to play the Spanish game we've seen on all the beaches. It is SO FUN! No score, just smashing the ball back and forth. All four of us (well, the kids too, so that makes six) have a blast playing on the beach. This beach is famous for a pathway that allows you to venture out to dramatic island in the middle of the bay at low tide, but eating lunch causes us to miss our window of opportunity for the day. As we bake in the sun just under the cathedral on the beach, live music surrounds us. Its traditional Basque music ... the lyrics are improvised and the singer tells stories of Basque traditions and customs, reminding everybody to keep the culture alive. Its a wonderful sound. I can't understand a word of it (since its in Basque, not Spanish) ... but another great, unique experience.
One little side note, the police cars in Spain have the strangest sirens (at least to my American ears). They start out with a sound just like that of a slide whistle before it goes in to the more familiar and recognizable waling sound. Every time I hear the slide whistle sound of the siren winding up, I hear myself singing in my head, "Grrroooove is in the heeearrrt, groove is in the heeeaaart!!!" ... and then, "Oh, no, thats a policeman!". Makes me smile every time.
After our fun in the sun, we head out to the second destination of the day ... Baso Margotua (Basque), or Bosque Pintado (Spanish), or Painted Forest (English!). Its a twenty minute drive from Lekeitio to the parking area, and then a 2.8km hike to the artwork. Inigo tells us its a thirty minute 'walk' and asks if thats ok. "Um... yeah, that should be ok," I say. I might need your help carrying the kids on the way back. Thats a pretty long walk for them." And then, we find that the 'walk' looks more like a hike up a very very steep mountain. Inigo assures us, "Don't worry. Its hard now, but its easy up ahead." (I should note that he claims later that he said "its easiER", but I'm not too sure about that.). At first, the hike is really super steep. Then, it reduces to just super steep. I don't think that 'easy' means the same thing in Spanish as it does in English because this is a very difficult hike for the kids, but they are super troopers and make it the whole way there and back without any tears being shed,well...almost none, more about that later.
As we start up the mountain, we come across another free show .. this time we catch the tail end of a mountain biking competition and get to see a couple of daredevils brave the Spanish mountains and jumps. Pretty neat.
Up the mountain until we arrive at Baso Margotua. The first section of painted trees isn't all that impressive, but the deeper in we walk, the better it gets. Some of the works of art are quite simple ... just a combination of one or two trees with a straight forward design on them. Others are too abstract for my appreciation. And then some of the pieces are very complex, sometimes carrying several different designs on them which can only be seen from very precise locations that are marked on the ground with yellow triangles indicating exactly where to stand and look
The hike back down is a bit easier than the hike up, ... and Inigo lends his back in the effort to get the kids down without too much whining. Look at the pictures and you can see the joy in Samuel's eyes. Janice and I agree that Inigo and Jaione will make amazing parents one day. The way that Jaione captured Ella's attention by making her the wallet and earrings ... and how she taught them "The Oca Game" (as we call it) ... and the way Inigo takes such close interest in Samuel ... its really neat to watch. Janice blogged about nostalgia the other day, and watching Sam with Inigo makes me remember the older men I idolized as a boy ... people like my older brother Richard, Alan Shearer, the Axtell brothers, Nick Embly, all of the uncles in my family and a bunch of people I can't even remember their names who impacted me in ways I don't even know ... like the man I can only remember as "the Army man who we explored Great American with", or "the body builder guy who stayed with us as I was entering high school and he taught me work out routines", or "the black trumpet player in the New Hope band" ..
So then, just as we are finishing the hike (over 6km by the time we are up, around, and back) ... I congratulate the kids with, "Great job kids! You are so awesome. We made it all the way up, and all the way back without getting hurt!"... and I put my hand up to give them a high five. Ella is carrying 'the water stick' and tries to high five me with it, but slips and cuts her knee up really bad. Stupid dad. Thats what I get for celebrating too early. DOH!
Our last plans for the night are to visit a different family, friends of Lali who live in between the Painted Forest and our house ... so we say goodbye to Inigo and Jaione for the second time and we promise to keep in touch. (They are super excited because Jose and Magen have volunteered to spend some time with them in SF... thanks guys!) ... We head out to meet yet another new contact in Spain, a friend of Lali's from work who has two young kids.
Ten minutes later, we are in thick traffic. Its 9:30pm and its stop and go... it was already pretty late to meet these guys, so we call them and let them know whats going on. We decide to postpone until tomorrow. We call Inigo and Jaione, who are just two or three cars in front of us, and we decide to all pull off the road to stop in for some dinner. Yay! More Inigo and Jaione!
The first off ramp lands us in Gernika, a town that Inigo tells us was completely destroyed in 1935 (+/-) by a bombing run during a Spanish civil war. The sole survivor of the bombs was a lone tree, now protected and kept as a symbol of peace and a reminder of the viciousness of war. Gernika is also subject of one of Picasso's best know works. (learning more each day!). It also just happens to be fiesta day here for something (can't remember what, but perhaps Inigo or Jaione can post a comment reminding us) ... so the town is full of music and festivities. We don't know the town, so Jaione asks a local for a recommendation. She speaks the Basque language fluently, and wisely uses that language when asking ... and we are given a great recommendation! We arrive at the place just minutes before its PACKED, so our name is first on the list for a table. After a quick five minute wait, we are seated and enjoy some wonderful, inexpensive food. Besides the great food, memorable moments of the night include Inigo doing some literal bean counting with Samuel (collected off the ground from a wedding in Lekeitio), Samuel gorging himself on sliced Chorizo and downing the last four pieces to the chants of "USA! USA! USA!" and "Otra!, Otra!, Otra!", and Janice showering poor defenseless, sleeping Ella with crumbs as she devoured the bocadillo.
Outside, we make our third, sad goodbye to Inigo and Jaione, and drive home. Its 2am by the time we get back home ... at which point we force the kids awake to shower (they scream bloody murder) ... and we all crash. A long, good day.