Day 16 of the March on Brussels. From Miranda de Ebro, 32 km.
Geographically, and hence culturally, the Iberian peninsula is divided into three. The Mediterranean coast, the Central Highlands, and the Atlantic coast. The green hills in the north catch all the clouds that come blowing in from the Atlantic, and leave the central highlands to be an arid, almost desertlike region. The days can be unbearably hot, but the nights are cool.
On the evening of August 9 I caught a ride across the scorched meseta with two comrades driving north to support the march. It takes about six hours to cover the distance that the marchers walked in over two weeks. When we arrive at the camp on the Ebro river, in the town of Miranda, it’s already far beyond midnight.
It was from the hills of northern Spain that various christian kingdoms began the Reconquista of the peninsula from the islamic domination over a thousand years ago. One of these nations, of ancient origin, didn’t participate in the conquest. It was a very peculiar nation, and it preferred to mind its own business. Euskadi. The Basque Country
In the outskirts of Miranda de Ebro we cross the border. In the distance a tower guards the hill tops. The straw has been freshly cut. It makes the country a pleasant sight, neatly divided into bright yellow lots. The hills over on the horizon are covered with forests. It looks so orderly that it might as well be a country inhabited by hobbits.
Only the A1 motorway distorts the image of a peaceful and prosperous shire untouched by time. There are about fifty people marching today. They depart in small groups, some take the Santiago de Compostela route, others take the motorway, or the old abandoned national road. We are accompanied for today by a cameraman from the Deutsche Welle and a journalist from one of Holland’s major newspapers.
The German cameraman only films us while we’re preparing for the march and leaving town, but the Dutch journalist is determined to come with us. It turns out – and she will soon take note of that, after having done overtime until the early morning hours before flying in to Madrid and taking a train to be with us – that the walk is no sunday stroll. All day we march under the sun, and only rare but precious supplies from our support car keep us going. It was a good way to start getting used to this. It’s going to be hard. And that’s the way it should be.
The group has not yet bonded like the Northern Column had on the way to Madrid. There are also many people who just join for a couple of days before being replaced by other temporary marchers. We walk through a valley that turns out to be an enclave of Castilla, but straight ahead there’s the gate in between the hills that leads to the Basque country once more. Talking to one of my comrades I ask him to explain me a bit about Basque and Spanish history.
He gives me a brief sketch of the late middle ages. The Basque nobles were subdued and swore allegiance to the king Castille, in exchange for which they kept all their local privileges. From the Basque harbour of Bilbao the wool from the sheep herds on the highlands was shipped northwards to Flanders where the famous weavers of Bruges turned it into cloth.
We will not pass by Bilbao. The first city we encounter is Vitoria/Gasteiz, capital of Euskadi. The old city is hidden behind a big crust left by the recent real estate bubble. The Basques who populate this city, to my extreme surprise, seem to be normal people just like you and me. It really makes me wonder what the fuzz is all about.