Today was our longest day so far, and our feet are definitely feeling tender. We decided to get a head start on our day and were out the door of our albergue at 6am. The sun doesn’t rise until about 7:20 here, so we walked in the cool dark for over an hour. The route left the coast and we had a long remote section far from towns. There was a fair amount of elevation gain at the beginning, then rolling hills and a steep descent to the town of Markina-Xemein, which has an interesting church built around three huge megalithic stones.
From Markina, the path is flat for a few miles and leads into the quaint village of Bolibar, famous for being the native home of Simón Bolívar. While he wasn’t actually born there, his family was originally from there. The last 1 km of the trail was very steep, following the ancient Roman road and paved in cobblestones.
We arrived at the Cenarruza Monastery at 2:30pm. We had read that there is an albergue in the monastery that houses 10 pilgrims, so one of the reasons we hurried a bit was to get there in time to have a bed. We need not have worried, as no one else arrived until about 3 hours later. The monastery was built in the 14th century, and legend has it this mountainous spot was selected because an eagle picked up a skull from a nearby ossiary and dropped it here. The building was restored in the 1980s and Cistercian monks from Navarra came to care for it.
We had to ask around a lot before we figured out exactly where the albergue was in the complex as there was no sign. It is one small room, with 8 bunk beds, and several mats to use on the floor. The bathroom is outside and down one level, and had a wonderful hot shower with amazing water pressure. The accommodations are by donation, and the monks also provide a simple dinner and breakfast. It’s really a special place. I’m looking forward to attending vespers at 7:30 before our communal dinner at 8:30.
Tomorrow we have a more relaxing 17 km day to Gernika. We hope to arrive in time to see the weekly Monday market which is said to be the largest and most colorful in Basque Country. The market closes at 1pm and our breakfast is at 7am here, so we will have to make good time. We plan to be in Bilbao in 3 days and are looking forward to exploring the big city.