17 August 2010

San Sebastián - Donostia

Basque country reminds me so much of home...but...only if you took the ocean and drug its shores to very toes of the mountains. I remember being awestruck by the sheer cliffs falling away as the train brought us north to San Sebastian.

When we got to the hostel (after passing by the entrance twice), no one answered the door, which was unmarked and entirely nondescript with the exception of a tiny sheet of paper taped to a buzzer that said "hostel." D and I gave up after 15 minutes of bell ringing, assuming it was siesta time and left for some food y dos cervezas, returning later to be let in by a girl who happened to be staying at the hostel but who didn't work there.

When we finally checked in, we learned an important lesson in hostel etiquette: While it doesn't matter at most places, for a smaller place like this one, if you said you'd be there at 4:00, no one will be there until 4:00. The hostel was run single handedly by a Spaniard named Ernesto. If Ernesto didn't have a note that said you were arriving early, chances were that he was surfing on the beach until he absolutely had to be back. This was the general attitude of the entire municipality of San Sebastian. If you let yourself resonate with that attitude, you found yourself immediately relaxed. If you couldn't, it spit you out with the next tide.

One of the first things we did was climb a steep mountain that appeared to have a castle at the top, overlooking the bay. It was actually a centuries old fortress and battery, complete with cannons and prison cells. The view from the fortress walls were unreal - as in - I could have sworn that they were not real. When I finally go home (some day), I will keep expecting to see the next mountain range fall into the sea just like it did here.

Oddly enough, near the top of the fortress there were a few old rooms that had been converted into a small bar. D and I had drinks near a wall where young soldiers were once trained to fire artillery.

I woke up on our second day in Donostia in extreme pain. My ribs were in agony from the fall I had in Barcelona chasing the pick pocketers. Despite this, D somehow convinced me that we should go ocean kayaking. We walked to the beach and I asked for the kayaks in perfect Spanish. But, when the girl who ran the stand asked if it was our first time, I hesitated and D stepped in to say that we'd both kayaked on white water rivers before, just not the ocean.

Of course, neither of us have white water kayaked ever in our lives, but she was more than pleased with this explanation (and possibly our confident smiles) and eagerly gave us the faster, larger, much tippier kayaks. D an I shrugged, laughed and drug them to the water.

The wind was heavy because of a storm out past the bay and that made the waves severe for Donostia. We struggled to learn how to handle the boats, but neither of us ever turned over. It was a serious two hour workout, but I don't think I'll ever forget the feeling of paddling out to the end of the bay, at the edge of the island that capitulates San Sebastian, and just letting the kayak roll in the waves while we stared out over the silver waters of the Atlantic Ocean. I mused to D that this was actually the closest we were going to be to home before we actually went back home.

The last night in San Sebastian involved a bunch of Americans and a lot of alcohol. The Americans were the kind of Americans that reminded us of why we left America in the first place. I limped behind the group, my ribs pulsing after the kayaking and got an Australian girl to take pity on me, sharing some pain killers before we left the next morning for Bilbao.

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