Thursday 5 September
Today we booked a small group tour, but as we were the only clients we had a private tour. Ainhoa is waiting for us so we head out a few minutes early. Our first stop is at a roundabout close to the airport between Irun and Hondarribia, close to the crossing of Canal Amuteku. Poor Ainhoa cannot get the car to start and we are blocking one of the lanes on the main highway in to town. In Spain, every vehicle is required to carry a dayglow vest and red hazard triangles for situations just like this. You are fined if the police see you stopped without them. The vest is OK, but no triangles. Ainhoa gets on the phone to the Operations Manager who calls out a tow truck and comes to pick us up. Meanwhile the police have taken an interest and their own tow vehicle arrives to move us out of the way. Blue flashing lights, traffic diverted, but thankfully no fine for the lack of triangles. Just as the police start to hook up, the tow truck arrives and takes over. A while later we are rescued from the side of the road and we take the boss's car for the rest of the day while he waits for a taxi back to the office. So we start the tour proper about 45 minutes late, no big deal.
The first official stop is at the fish wharf to see one of the area's major industries in action. Too late, all the fish has gone, but it's good to hear that we have been eating locally-caught fish like sea bass, hake, cod and tuna, not to mention the shell fish and octopus. We take a short drive towards the old town and decide to check out the menu of Restaurante Alameda which has one Michelin Star. Prices are not out of order compared to the best Perth restaurants.
Hondarribia is a medieval walled town that really has retained its character. It is like walking on to a film set, other than the few delivery vehicles allowed in town. We walk though the town walls up to the main square, known as Arma Plaza, where all the locals would gather to be issued with weapons if the French were coming over the River Bidasoa that forms the international border. These days a water taxi takes you across, no fuss. The traditional Basque houses in the plaza are all painted in bright colours, and it is said that the locals paint their boats first and any remaining paint is used for the home. Speaking of boats, in the Basque region the main sport is not soccer, it is rowing. The boats are like larger versions of the Aussi surf boats with up to 4 rowers abreast. Each town has a team and is decked out with banners in their team colours. The Hondarribia team colour is green, and later in the tour we see pink (San Juan) and purple (San Pedro). Evidently San Sebastian, even though it's the biggest town, has a rubbish rowing team. They never win the competition.
After time out for a coffee we drive up Sierra Jiazquivel past the church of Guadalupe to the old lookout tower which as the name suggests, gives unparalleled views of the country around, and into France as far as Biarritz. A picturesque drive along the hills and then down into the port town of Pasai. Originally three villages, the locals still regard the other villages as separate, more particularly as they have their own rowing teams. We walk though the little narrow streets of San Juan to the main square, and then board the water taxi for a quick trip across the harbour to San Pedro’s youth training school and museum. The school is dedicated to local trades and arts that might otherwise be lost, in particular boat building. Back to San Juan and the car, we finish our tour at our hotel.
Tonight we stay local and eat at a bar behind the hotel that was recommended by the receptionist as an excellent seafood restaurant. We couldn't miss it as half the local population obviously agreed, with customers spilling out all along the street. We managed to get a table with stools inside and eat like the locals.