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Spain & Portugal - Day 7

Just like yesterday, we will be doing a lot of driving today with as many stop-overs as we can squeeze in to break up the boredom of the long drive, and to experience as much of Spain as we can.

Our final destination for today is Pico de Europa, a mountainous national park with good trekking opportunities and the possibility of catching the phenomenal of wild salmons swimming upstream (well, it is just the beginning of the season but we were hoping to be lucky!).

We woke up fresh, the weather was good in Noain and the day ahead was full of excitements. Everything seems perfect.....but never did we expect the day to be a rough ride!

Our first stop-over was Otzaurte, a very small suburb village. It is so small that we wondered if it actually has any residents at all? Hmm....wondering why were we stopping-over at this small village? Well, it is San Adrian's Tunnel that drew us there.

The 1.5 hours drive to Zegama, the town that Otzaurte was in was easy. The warm, sunny sky and the wonderful display of autumn colours by the trees made the journey relaxing and romantic. Finding Otzaurte poses some difficulty as Spain is not road signs friendly. It took us some 15 mins driving up and down the same road (a beautiful one nevertheless) to finally spot the tiny signboard that says Otzaurte. Phew!!

The road that connects Otzaurte and the other villages....isn't it beautiful?

The difficulty intensify and our real challenge began, i.e. locating San Adrian's Tunnel. It took us more than 30 mins, a few wrong turns up into the mountains (being city dwellers, driving on a narrow mountain path and the only way to turn back to the main road is a precarious 3-point turn with the danger of rolling down the steep mountain with your car, it is definitely a scary feat that we've never experienced and don't want to experience again), and some nasty encounters (we were being shooed off like flies when we tried to ask for directions from the one and only cafe along Otzaurte) to finally reached one of the entrances. We weren't sure if it was the recommended entrance but who long as it is one of the entrances....enough of those headless searches. So, we went ahead to trek and try our luck.

Since it was raining season, the mountain floor was very wet, muddy and slippery. To make things worst, we weren't wearing trekking shoes (our 2nd BIG mistake for the trip)! Whatever mistake that was made has been made, and the journey has to go on. After walking for 15 mins in ankle-deep mud accompanied by a family of wild cows...actually it was the baby that had been following us and the parents just tag along as bodyguards, we spotted San Adrian's Tunnel.

That hole in the limestone mountain is the North entrance to San Adrian's Tunnel

We were exhilarated. All the troubles that we went through was worth it. But our excitement was short-lived. The path up may look short.....but it is actually not; and it may look easy....well, it would not be too difficult had it not because of the rain the day(s) before. Twice we attempted to climb but it was way too slippery. Reluctantly, we gave up.

It looks pretty ordinary isn't it? So, what's the hoo-haa about this tunnel? Well, historically, the tunnel represents the most outstanding milestone in the historic Basque route of the St. James Route as it provides a natural passage dividing the provinces of Gipuzkoa and Alava/Araba. Geographically, the tunnel is a natural cave carved out by water erosion in the rock, and it has an opening on both the north and south side of the rock. There's also a hermitage inside. Facts aside, the spectacular beauty from the summit can only be told by pictures.....unfortunately, we did not make it to the cave....and it remains a regret for us till this day.

On our way back, we spotted more sheeps and cows...

Can you spot them?? The little white dots.....

Ok, here's a close-up....they are very shy....they scramble behind the bushes the moment we pull our car next to them

.....and a train passing by. Ok, it is nothing unusual but somehow a moving train never fails to fascinates me (the wife).

A train passing by....running parallel to us

We continued our journey up North towards our second stop-over, Loyola. Not sure why, but somehow the drive on the country roads to Loyola reminds us of Highway 1 in California. This part of the country has good road it was quite a lovely drive.

We reached the Santuario de Loiola cum Basilica of St Ignatius of Loyola at just the 'right' timing....siesta! Except for a restaurant and a cafe, all else were closed. Decision time. The 2 hours wait would jeopardise our schedule, and that means we would most probably have to forgo some attractions. Eventually, St. Ignatius weighed over the rest. With no where to loiter around, we settled at the cafe for lunch. The huge tuna tortilla or tuna-omelette sandwich was superb....the best we ever had. We also had some entertainment from a toddler who love to come to our table to play with us.

After lunch, we went back to the Sanctuary for a stroll in the romantic....

St Ignatius welcoming us to the Basilica of St Ignatius of Loyola

St Ignatius is the first Superior General of the Jesuits Orders, who founded and run many Catholic schools and colleges around the world. 

In 1738, the Basilica was built on the house that St. Ignatius stayed since he was a child in honour of him. The family house is now a chapel in the basilica.

The basilica was designed in the form of a small Vatican by Italian architect Carlo Fontana.

Entrance to basilica

Main altar of the Basilica

A dome within a dome.....within the basilica

After spending some quiet time at the basilica, we head towards the outer courtyard where a sculpture depicting a significant turning point of St. Ignatius lies....

An injured St Ignatius being carried away from the battlefield by soldiers 1521, during a battle in Pamplona against the French army, St. Ignatius, who was a Duke then was seriously injured. It was during his recovery in Loyola that his conversion began.

As the whole area is occupied by the Jesuit Order, entrance tickets are required to enter the inner courtyard. Somehow, the ticket booth remains closed even though siesta was over....maybe he/she overslept? Given our tight schedule (made worst by the siesta) for the day, we can't afford another hour of wait and had to give disappointing.

We continued to stroll the rest of the sanctuary which also houses a Spirituality Centre, an ancient hospice, Loyola hostel, Egibar Farmhouse, the Jesuits quarter and the birthplace of Blessed Brother Garate.

Sideview of Basilica and the annex building where the Jesuits resides

At the other end of the sanctuary, a small plantation caught our attention and the burst of excitement instantly blew off our earlier's a kiwi fruit plantation! We have been eating this power fruit for decades but seeing the fruit on its source was our first....oohhh hands are itchy...of course, these fruits are well protected from itchy hands like ours!!

Kiwi plantation

branches of kiwi fruits

Birthplace of Blessed Brother Garate

We hope to come back again when we visit Spain in the future....but for now, it's time to move on.

We continued our drive up North towards San Sebastian where there are a few recommended off-the-beaten-track scenic spots that promises breathtaking view of the ocean. We shortlisted 3 of those spots which we felt was most interesting. However, due to the delay earlier on, we gave up 2 of them and head for the one that sounds most interesting to us, San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. It is said to offer the most stunning sight on the Basque Coast and the best is.....the small peninsula is connected to land only by a steep stone stairway! How could we resist that adrenaline rush climb!

Thick dark cloud and drizzles started to form as we approach San Sebastian. Then, we recalled the warning about an impending storm by the cafe lady at Zaragoza. That got us a little worried.

Once we were on the coastal road, we were exhilarated to see the ocean and a rainbow....our wonderful and for a moment thought maybe the storm isn't going to come after all.

Happily, we drove on and as we pass San Sebastian, a huge wave caught our attention and we were stunned for a moment. A few people were walking on the pedestrian walkway when a huge wave (about 1 storey) slammed onto them. Since there was no commotion from any of the pedestrian (or it seemed...we were too far away to judge), we thought maybe it's normal there and we just chat on. It was when huge waves started to pound on other cars and ours as we drove that we started to feel queasy about the whole thing. Still, that did not stop us from spending some time to admire this rare sight.

Brewing of a big storm

We kept ourselves behind the barrier. There were 2-3 daring ones who actually went to the stone stretch above to wait out, hoping to capture a photo of a big wave head on. It was crazy!!

We were treated to a 3 meters wave but were too stunned by this rare sight that by the time we came back to our senses, the wave was gone and we didn't manage to take a picture of it. We waited for another 15 mins but it did not come again.....only smaller ones though it gets bigger each was the rain. It was later that night when we heard the Spanish news that we knew the huge waves was the forming phrase of a mini tsunami, and many coastal homes (including some that we drove pass) were totally destroyed by this mini tsunami.

We weren't as optimistic as we were earlier on....the heavy storm is definite! We didn't want to take too much chances....forget about the coastal road. We figured from the map that going via Bilbao, we will be able to take a short cut via a mountain road to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe.

It was around 6pm, the rain was pouring heavily with increased intensity and we were only half way through the mountain road to our destination. Given the weather condition, it was only wise that we gave up....after all, it will be pitch dark by the time we reach San Juan and the storm will make manoeuvring the steep stone stairway a suicidal feat.

No time for regret. That 2 hours of siesta would have covered for this journey but it was a choice we made....and with the weather condition.....there's no time to feel upset. We headed toward Picos de Europa which is another 250km away.

Coming from a country that is well protected from the elements, driving in that kind of storm and strong wind condition was nerve-wrecking. At some point, we can feel our car being swayed like a mini rock-n-roll.

After 3 hrs of driving, we finally made it to Panes, the first town of Picos de Europa National Park at 9pm. Phew!!! It took us another 45 mins to 'our' town and locate our B&B, La Casa De Juansabeli, a homely place ran by a couple in their 60s (maybe?). Though the husband wore a cold, unfriendly and stern look, he accidentally showed his empathetic nature when he saw our tired and 'stoned' face. How sweet!

La Casa De Juansabeli
Of course, the above picture was taken the next morning...!! Just looking at this picture, we could feel the freshness of the mountain air flowing through our lungs....

The common area, especially the hallway are very well decorated. Who says they aren't passionate people.

Common TV area for guests to mingle

Our cosy, well-thought-out victorian style bedroom...the mattresses were so comfy

Besides being good at interior decoration, the husband is supposedly an excellent chef who dished out superb French cuisine (according to feedbacks from the hotel booking site), but only for a lucky few since the chef only cooks when he's in the mood to do so! We chose this B&B for this reason but too bad we weren't lucky enough....he was in party mood for the whole week it seemed. So, we had to settle with some cold leftover sandwiches from this morning and titbits since dinner is only available at the next town which is about 10 mins drive away. Too tired for that.

Dinner may be simple but having overcame the tough day and reached our destination safely is itself the greatest gift and blessing.

The other reason we chose this place is the in-room hydro-massage bathtub, and our choice proved more than right on our very first night there....the hot soak did wonders to soothe those aching muscles and release the tensions.

Though the day started out promising, it turned out to be quite an adventure that (on hindsight) was rather fun and an interesting experience to mark this trip with its own unique stamp.

This post first appeared on Carefree And Off-the-beaten Tracks Travels Around The World, please read the originial post: here

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Spain & Portugal - Day 7


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