After hiking we spent a few more days in the Basque Country along the north coast. We learned that the Basque people are very industrious, and there is very high employment in the region. For example, outside of one small village, in the middle of green fields with grazing sheep, we found a factory that employs 1,500 people making automobile transmissions and other precision aluminum parts. As a result, it feels very prosperous. We had a tendency in hearing that Spain has very high unemployment to assume
that this was true everywhere, but assumptions are dangerous! The people we met all seemed very ambitious and forward thinking, while also working to preserve their cultural heritage.
We were also amazed by the Basque language. We never saw so many t’s, x’s, and z’s. If you could play Scrabble in Basque, you would score BIG! The language has absolutely no relationship to Spanish or French. We were told that linguists and scientists have been unable to determine where the Basque language and people originally come from. One Basque hotel owner told us that he had read that the language may have come from island of Crete.
We learned that some of the Basque people
want to have independence from Spain. It turns out that is a 50/50 scenario – half do and half don’t. So it is unlikely that they will be able to mount a referendum to gain independence. There has evidently been political strife between the Basque area and Spain as you can tell from the picture showing that the Basque people want Basque political prisoners returned to their own country.
The Basque region has some of the oldest cave paintings in the world
The Altamira cave near the town of Santillana del Mar, on the coast of the Cantabrian sea, is the first cave in which prehistoric paintings were discovered. Reference. The caves were inhabited by humans in the Paleolithic or Old Stone Age approximately 18,500 years ago. The cave was sealed by a rock fall 13,000 years ago and not discovered until about 1880 A.D. Evidently there has been much harm done to the actual cave due to human visitation, so a perfectly detailed, full scale replica was created, and today that is what we can visit. We also learned that there are many more cave sites in this region of Spain and nearby in France.
The first person to sail around the world was a Basque native
We´d always thought that Magellan was the first. But he actually died in the Philippines, so he gets credit for leading the start of the journey, but a Basque named Juan Sebastián Elcano was the leader at the end of the journey, so he gets credit for making it all the way around. We learned about him in a village called Getaria, where he grew up. His life story is incredible.
Dan was particularly impressed by Elcano´s amazing life story. More details are here.
San Sebastian is our current favorite Spanish city. It’s a beautiful city with friendly people, great beaches for surfing and swimming, grandiose buildings, delicious tapas and wine, and nearby hills and mountains. We walked through a lot of the city, as the Camino passes directly through it. We could easily return there to rent an apartment and spend more time.