“It is four hours, but I am not sure,” replied the old man twice, ascertaining me of his uncertainty. I asked him how long the trip to Pamplona was before we boarded the bus in Barcelona Sants Station. His guess was two hours short as I got the correct answer six hours later. His uncertainty with this simple fact got me to think he wasn’t a local of the city. I saw him a few minutes later walk away from the bus terminal while playfully twirling his baston like a movie prop. His confident strides showed he knew the city like the back of his hand. Welcome to Pamplona, Spain, the capital of the region of Navarra.
The north-northeast part of Spain is referred to as the Basque Country, that extends all the way to southwest France. Basco is what a local is called, just like the capital of Batanes, one of the most northerly islands in the Philippines.
As in Barcelona, most signs in Pamplona are written in Spanish and the vernacular language of the region. It was Catalan in Catalunya, this time, Euskera in the Basque Country. Euskera looked similar to Dutch to my untrained eyes, but is indeed, a different language.
One could have mistaken the spanking new bus station for a small airport, from where Rafa, my host, picked me up. We connected through hospitality club. He welcomed me like a long-lost relative, happy to see the familiar face again and show the treasures of his city, or more appropriately, his country- the Basque Country.
After dropping off my backpack and taking a quick lunch in his flat, we picked up his daughter from school before we began our trip. Our first stop was in Iroz, a natural refuge 10 minutes out of the city. The lone sign points to an ancient house that sits before a Roman bridge. Below the bridge moves a silent and shallow river. Deceived by its crystal clarity, I dipped my hand yet pulled it out instantly from the icy coldness. Rafa said that the crabs and fish are now nowhere to be found because of the cold water.
Rafa’s daughter, Einer, started to throw some stones on the water. I tried to show off a bit. I picked a flat pumice stone, flicked it sideways to the water, and we watched it skim and skip on the river like a flat marble silently leaping on a viscous film. Einer tried af few shots of stones which simply splashed and plopped on the water. A few more tries later, she started to make the stones stride on the water.
From Iroz, we headed 20 kilometers north of Pamplona to Zubiri in the Esteribar Valley. It felt surreal to visit the place where my originated from. A meeting of the present and the past. I’ve always fantasized that upon reaching the town, I will be welcomed with a feast and be treated like royalty. None of those happened, unfortunately. Save for the children playing football in the grounds of Colegio Nacional Xabier Zubiri, silence was maintained. The town was oblivious of its excited visitor from half around the world away. Just like in the manner of our arrival, we silently slipped out of Zubiri.
The lake in Eugi is protected as a national reserve where Pamplona and its neighboring towns get their water. it is surrounded by mountains, and on one side, a small maze of houses, inns, and bars have settled on its gentle slope. We arrived at almost six in the afternoon. The sun was still up,and I wanted to capture the sunset, and so I strayed on the lakeshore, taking my time to soak in the view. My father and daughter hosts soon joined me as we took a stroll to the farther side of the shore.
The lake collected the final lights to preserve the beauty of the day. The marching stars on the water led to the sun, and a thick purple cloud streaked up to the sky from one of the peaks of the embracing mountain. It was nature in its simple and raw beauty. Perhaps in our attempt to preserve the miracle we had just witnessed, we left before the last fingers of sunlight were drowned and snuffed out behind the mountains.