GR11 Hiking

GR11 Day 0: Prologue

Kilometres walked: 8,5 / Altitude gain: 65m / Time walked: 1h32min

A final hug with Antonio, who is staying home although right now it feels like I’m leaving him behind. We’ll see each other in 3,5 weeks, in a small off-trail town, to do the Carros de Foc loop together. This way we can share at least some part of this adventure. Our meetup also feels like an anchor, not as in dragging a heavy weight, but as a centering point. Something to look forward to. To literally walk to.

But for now I am alone, although not quite yet. A friend on her way to Amsterdam joins me in the train to Schiphol. We talk, and I tell her how it doesn’t quite feel real yet. I’m going to walk across a mountain range? Me?

Nighttrain to Hendaye

That feeling stays with me as I change trains and make my way south. First to Paris, where I lounge along the Seine and watch people drink, talk and dance as the sun lowers in the sky.

Gare du Nord

Then the night train. I booked the top bunk in a sleeper couchette. It’s hot inside and I take off my socks and immediately apologise to my bunkmates. A mother/daughter combo and another solo traveller. We giggle. All the heat gets trapped in the top of the cabin but luckily the sun is already down and as we make our way out of Paris and I slowly drift asleep.

The train stops at many smaller stations at night, waking me up every time but I quickly fall asleep again. On one of the stations another woman boards the train and joins our couchette, but when I wake up in the morning for real (somewhere near Lourdes) she’s gone already.

Station by station the train empties, until it’s just me and a handful of other passengers. Some with big backpacks who look like they’re hiking the GR10 (or the GR11 like me, or the Camino) which starts in Hendaye where we all disembark. From there it’s a short stroll across a bridge into Irun (Spain), the Basque town where I’m staying tonight.

Walking across the border

First steps on the trail

In Irun I check into my hotel, take a nap, score lunch somewhere, take another nap and reorganize my gear so it’s now packed for walking instead of travelling.

Just before the shops close for siesta I buy a big 1,5l bottle of sports drink. A bit excessive, but desperate times call for desperate measures. The bottle shape also happens to fit perfectly into my pack.

Just like everywhere else in Europe, it’s unseasonably hot in the Basque country. The climate here more typically resembles a Scottish summer (lots of rain, fog and moderate temperatures) and the 40C degrees that are predicted for tomorrow are extreme. I was hoping to ease into the heat which I’m expecting on the Mediterranean end of the trail, but I guess we’re doing this now.

Late afternoon I take a bus to Hondarribia, one town further, and walk to the lighthouse on the Cabo de Higuer. This is where La Ruta Transpirenaica officially starts.

Start of the trail

The trail loops around the rocky headland, past the lighthouse. Every rock that can be reached by trail is full of people swimming, and there are lots of people in bathing suits walking up and down the path. Although it is kind of tradition to take a dip in the Atlantic at the start of the trail (and again in the Mediterranean at the end, of course) there are too many people and too much music and I decide to just keep walking to the town of Hondarribia.

Cabo de Higuer, starting point of the GR11
The lighthouse

It still feels a bit surreal being here. Like it’s not really happening? Although I feel a flutter in my stomach when I see my first red & white trail marker. Maybe it’s because I left my pack behind in the hotel, and it just feels like a stroll through town for now?

Hondarribia is a charming town, but quickly gives way to the outskirts of Irun. The real scenery has to wait for tomorrow. I’ll start very early to avoid the worst heat, and maybe take a swim somewhere.

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