Day 14: FITS AND STARTS
It was 7:10am when I awoke. After the very busy day from yesterday, none of us felt like getting up too early. Julie and Tahia were still asleep and they wouldn’t get up until 7:30am. Meanwhile, it wasn’t raining now even though the forecast had called for thunderstorms on this day. In fact, it was actually bright and sunny as I could see the sun’s rays penetrate right through the quiet and narrow alleyways of the Old Town.
We had a very busy day today, but I knew that the longer we begin, the later we’d be checking into San Sebastian. I very much looked forward to it because for the first time in about five days, we’d have no itinerary once we’re in town. It was planned to be a relaxing stay, and I really looked forward to not having to drive for a day.
Anyways, it wasn’t until about 8:25am when we finally went downstairs for Julie’s breakfast. But when she looked inside the brekkie room and didn’t see any hot breakfast, she decided not to have it. I was secretly glad that was the case so we’d be saving at least another hour on this day.
That said, it still took us until 8:45am when we finally got into the car after doing the short walk (with our luggages) to the Hotel Arriaga and summoning the guy who’d help us get out of the parking lot.
As we were driving out of town, we were further delayed by the car’s nav system as I had mistakenly thought it’d get me to the autovia quickly. It turned out that it was out of date compared to our Garmin Nuvi (a real rarity since the nav saved us while we were in Madrid and other urban areas, but for some reason it didn’t cut it while we were in the Basque Country).
So it took a little while for us to get out of the city of Bilbao, but then as we were headed out of the city, Julie wanted me to stop at the next service station because she wanted a place to buy brekkie on the go, especially after the pastries place in the Old Town of Bilbao (one of the few places open this early on a Sunday morning) gave us chocolate croissants that were too messy to be eating in the car. She wanted a place to clean Tahia up after she had chocolate all over her face and her clothes.
Indeed, there would be hardly any momentum on this morning as it seemed we couldn’t get any traction on what we had to do, and there was no real sense of urgency. So at 9:15am, we stopped over at this service station in this place called Barrio El Haya, and let Julie do her thing. That was when I had my turn at the sweets that we had bought earlier, and I could see what Julie meant by having to eat while the car was stopped as the chocolate filling was getting everywhere since the croissant wasn’t fully enclosed. It was already all over the insides of the bag.
It wouldn’t be until about 9:30am when we were finally leaving to start the day. This was definitely at least 90 minutes later than I would’ve liked to have gotten started.
Anyways, the drive out to the first falls we had targeted (which was the Nacimiento del Rio Ason – the source of the Ason River) was said to be some 30 minutes away from where we were at. But I had some GPS doubt when we got into the town of Ramales de la Victoria and the GPS had me go one way when I saw a sign pointing in a different direction headed to Los Collados del Ason. The sign had an “i” on it so I figured I could trust the sign instead of the GPS since I wasn’t sure my GPS waypoints were any good for this part of the trip, and then ask someone at the info center about where the target waterfalls were.
Well, that decision ended up taking us on some twisty roads that wound up getting us to this town called La Gandara, and Los Collados del Ason Interpretive Center, which was inside the town. We wouldn’t get there until about 10:35am, which was a bit later than I would’ve liked to start the day.
Anyways, Julie and Tahia were napping in the car so I went into the interpretive center alone. I spoke with the lady working there, but her English was very limited. I’d imagine it would’ve been how I would be speaking French or Spanish (though my Spanish was way more functional than French) to a native Spanish-speaking person. Yet in any case, we understood each other switching back and forth on the languages (whatever worked at the time or on the sentence we were trying to communicate).
To make a long story short, she told me that the Cascada de la Gandara was some 50m from the visitor center, but it wouldn’t have much water despite the storm that came through yesterday. I figured I could walk there, scope out the mirador, then be back at the car. She also said that the viewpoint to see the Cascada del Rio Ason was about 3km drive further past town. She said that one was roadside, which would help our cause in terms of doing all the waterfalling on this day so we wouldn’t have to drive while in San Sebastian (so I could finally relax).
She also volunteered that the Nacimiento del Rio Gandara was about 500m from town. She said that was nice, though I sensed it probably wasn’t worth the time investment given the lack of water she had warned me about. In fact, she had warned me that the Rio Ason Waterfall was also going to have slightly more water than the Rio Gandara.
So I got back to the car, grabbed the camera, then walked out to the Mirador del Rio Gandara. It turned out that I could’ve driven out to get closer to the mirador, before walking the last few paces to the overlook, which was a pair of circular platforms hanging over the abyss below. The view was looking down at where the cascading waterfall was supposed to be while the gorge was surrounded by gorgeous idyllic scenery and shapely peaks.
As far as the waterflow of the falls was concerned, the lady was right. There really wasn’t much water to see, but I was able to hear the river down below. It just wasn’t photographable as there was a lot of bare rock with some wet streaks on it. The sounds of the river were probably the collection of these streaks making what sounded like a river further downstream with enough water to make it as audible as it was.
At 11:05am, I got back to the car, told Julie and Tahia about the mirador, then drove them over there. It’d be about ten minutes later when they returned to the car so we could get on to the next waterfall – El Nacimiento del Rio Ason.
Five minutes later, we found ourselves at a mirador looking down into a dramatic U-shaped valley. Hoping that this would be where we’d see the waterfall in this kind of a backdrop, I was disappointed to see no water in the scene. Perhaps we weren’t at the right overlook, I thought.
So after taking a few snaps, at 11:25am we got back in the car, then continued down the steep road with tight hairpin switchbacks, and then at about 11:30am, we were at a reddish sign saying “Mirador del Nacimiento del Rio Ason”. There were bicyclists already here pretty much soaking in the view so we kind of parked as far into the hairpin as we could without blocking traffic.
Once we got out and checked out the sight, we could see the falls across the valley plunging off the cliff but it had clearly seen better days earlier in the year. Still, we could at least see the falls and photograph it, but man would this have been an awesome sight had the falls been flowing normally.
So we took some time to check out the mirador and walking up and down the road a bit to see if the views would improve. And it would be about 11:40am when we’d be back in the car then continuing.
As I drove down the Trollstigen-like road, we stopped at the next hairpin turn as I noticed that perhaps there might be the kind of views showing both the falls and the valley together. I knew on the web such views existed, but it eluded us so far.
As we got out of the car, I noticed there was a directional arrow (for hiking) leading to the base of the waterfall. So I decided to follow this path, which left the driveway then went onto a rocky path that crossed a stream before getting me a few minutes right to the base of the impressively tall waterfall. It was too tall for the falls to fit into the view finder of the camera, but I got my views, then headed back.
As I was near the start of the rough trail, I saw Julie and Tahia heading the other way. However, I convinced them that in the interest of time, it wouldn’t be worth their time to get down there. So at 12:05pm, we were back in the car. Then, we could continue on and try to fit in the next two waterfalls – Salto del Nervion and Cascada de Gujuli, which were pretty far from the two falls we were at now.
In fact, the original plan was to go to those two falls tomorrow from San Sebastian, but I felt like we could fit in these falls, then make tomorrow a non-driving day… So we would continue to push through this plan for the rest of the afternoon no matter how late we’d be checking into San Sebastian on this day.
Now as we had returned to the car, Julie pointed out to me that the two front tires of our rental car had really worn out treads. She was very worried that we might have tire complications while out in the mountains driving, and given our luck with tires (even our last trip to the UK had a flat while in Wales), we didn’t want to take any chances when we were headed to the Pyrenees on the way to Barcelona at the end of this trip. So that was something we had to keep a close eye on.
And so we wound up driving back to Ramales de la Victoria on the original way that the GPS had intended (thus we drove a loop). I’m sure that could’ve saved a few minutes had we gone this way originally instead of driving the loop on these narrow and twisty roads.
Anyways, we drove off pretty much the way we came. Then Julie wanted to make another stop. And ironically, we showed up at 1pm at the same service stop we had stopped at earlier this morning (in Barrio El Haya). So she went in there to go to the toilet then to buy some bocadillos for a lunch on the go.
It wouldn’t be until 1:10pm when we’d be leaving again. Again, it was hard to gain momentum on this day, and it seemed like we kept getting delayed for one reason or another.
So the drive continued on high speed autovias, then we would be going on a toll road due south of Bilbao. We’d ultimately be getting off near the town of Gujuli, and on the way there, we’d stop at a signpost pointing the way to the Cascada de Gujuli. We’d get there at 1:55pm, where there were already a handful of cars already parked here.
A sign here said it was a 0.5km walk to get to the mirador, and we wasted no time getting our stuff together and making the walk on a very developed trail passing by some cow pastures with some dark clouds looming over us. Indeed, the fair weather we had been seeing this morning looked like it was going to give way to some rain this afternoon.
In any case, by 2:10pm, we were at the mirador for the falls. Like the other falls we had seen on this day, this one was wispy. It was a shame because this one was also a cliff-diving attractive falls. But there was a lot of overgrowth surrounding the mirador so the foliage kind of made the falls look more partial than it could have been.
At 2:25pm, we were back at the car just as it was starting to sprinkle. Once again, Julie looked at the treads on the tires and compared them to other cars parked in the lot. And indeed, we had really old and worn out treads on our front tires, and we had in our minds to try to rectify the situation on our free day in San Sebastian.
As we were making our way towards the next GPS waypoint (for Salto del Nervion), we were going down a narrow road with switchbacks as the road was hugging a cliff on one side of the valley. Then, Julie noticed a big waterfall on the opposite side of the cliff. That must be the Salto del Nervion, and it definitely had more significant flow than any of the other falls we had seen on this day!
It was 2:45pm when Tahia had to potty, and we wound up at a hairpin turn going up a cliff on the opposite side of the valley we were in. While they were doing the deed, it was starting to pour rain.
Anyways, we continued on.
Next, we turned off the N road and onto a signposted but unpaved road full of some potholes. This would persist for the next 3km. Eventually, we’d park at a fairly busy car park near the Casa del Parque. We weren’t sure if this was the right place, but the GPS still said we were some 1.2km from our destination.
Well, upon stopping the car, getting our stuff out, and committing to the walk, there was a sign by the Casa del Parque saying that it was actually a 1.8km hike to the Mirador de Salto del Nervion at this point.
So I took the lead in making my way quickly to the overlook as fast as I could while Tahia and Julie were busy getting ready. The walk itself was quite straightforward as it was on what looked to be an old unpaved road that used to allow vehicular traffic. But now, it’s pedestrians only unless a local or rancher was to access it by car.
Along the way, there were interpretive signs in Spanish talking about why they were protecting various aspects of this park. There were also some historical ruins, which gave this walk a little bit of a different dimension than a typical nature walk. Of course, if this was a nature park, I did find it strange that they let cattle and horses graze in the lands. It begs the question, what is being protected?
Undeterred, I carried forward quickly as I was passed by a family on bicycles. It wouldn’t be until about 3:45pm when I finally caught up to the bikers and arrived at the mirador of the Salto del Nervion. Like with the La Gandara viewpoint, there was a viewing deck that dangled over a cliff. Indeed, it was butterflies-in-the-stomach-inducing, but the difference here was that we were able to get a gorgeous top down view of the tall falls leaping off of a cliff.
What really made this falls stand out was that it was being scattered by the wind. Some of the mist was going upstream above the falls. Down near the base of the falls, the plume was scattered all over the place, but it was pretty clear where the river continued on its course down into the valley.
Dark clouds were still looming overhead and it wasn’t lost on me that out here in the open, I could easily become lightning fodder since the lookout itself was made of metal. And so I was up here capturing both the view towards the valley as well as the falls while waiting for Julie and Tahia to catch up. What they missed out on was that there was a rainbow near the base of the falls when I first showed up and the sun was still piercing through the clouds.
But soon enough, the sun was obscured by the dark clouds, and from that point, the rainbow wouldn’t show up again.
It wasn’t until 4pm when Julie and Tahia finally made it out here. We took some people shots although it was a little on the awkward side since the falls was well below the lookout platform. Plus, the more we were taking photos from the platform, the more I was nervous about Julie dropping her iPhone and it falling down the abyss.
At 4:10pm, we left the overlook. It was getting late, and we knew that it wouldn’t be until at least past 6pm when we’d arrive in San Sebastian. But as we were leaving, I noticed that there was a spur trail to the left that crossed the stream a little upstream from the falls, and then would arrive at the fences surrounding the cliffs on the opposite side of the falls. I knew that the view from there would be better as it would be possible to see both the falls as well as the valley down below in one shot.
So as Julie and Tahia were on their way back to the car park, I quickly took the detour past some horse pastures. There were some colored sticks indicating that indeed there were sanctioned hiking trails in these pastures. So that gave me more confidence to follow the overgrown 4wd roads past the stream crossing, and then up to the plateau that I had been eyeing since we’ve been standing at the lookout platform.
I arrived at the alternate lookouts at 4:25pm. And as I had expected, the view showed the precipitous valley down below with the Salto del Nervion leaping off the cliffs to the left. It was hard to show the entire contour of both sides of the valley in one shot, but at least I managed to get the views I was after. I guess I could’ve kept on walking to get a more direct view of Salto del Nervion, but since we still needed to go to check into San Sebastian, I couldn’t linger here any longer.
At 4:30pm, I made the hard decision to leave. It was starting to rain gradually but persistently so I donned the rain poncho again. In the mean time, I was making haste as about 15 minutes later, I was back on the main trail. Then, I was moving as fast I could on the wide former unpaved road.
At about 5pm, I was back at the car where Julie and Tahia were already waiting. And from that point on, we would route straight to San Sebastian though both GPS’ were in disagreement so we once again had to make an evaluation on which GPS to listen to.
By the time we decided that the route the car nav was taking us on was too slow and incorrect, we wound up backtracking towards the AP-8 though it wouldn’t get us go north. Instead, we headed southeast before continuing on the N224 before going onto the tunnel-laden AP-1 all the way to San Sebastian (Donostia). All that indecision and wrong routing by the GPS’ took us on a another 20-minute or so delay, but in the end, we’d eventually make it to San Sebastian at 7:10pm.
But it wasn’t like we could just park the car and go in right away. We still had to let Julie get in contact with the receptionist while we were illegally parked somewhere just past the Hotel Niza where we were staying. So it wouldn’t be until about 7:20pm when we were told to park across the street from the front of the hotel and drop off our bags, then with the stuff dropped off in the room at 7:35pm, we then finally dropped off the car in the tight parking garage at 8:10pm.
Indeed, it was much later than we had hoped, but now we could finally enjoy the Playa de la Concha where there was late afternoon sun while the clouds had momentarily parted. We started walking along the crescent beach at 8:25pm though the real motivation for going out now was to join the evening paseo (now in progress) in search of a dinner place.
Since San Sebastian had a reputation for great food, we were looking forward to the experience. However, as we entered the charming old town’s crowded alleyways, we went from one place to the next as each place was either unsuitable for having Tahia sit and eat with us (i.e. it was a bar) or it was a sit-down place that was booked solid.
It wouldn’t be until about 9pm when we would finally sit at this place called La Muralla. Clearly this place was a fine dining establishment and it wouldn’t be the legendary pintxos. And so we decided that we’d do the pintxos bar hopping thing tomorrow when it wouldn’t be as busy as it was right now.
In any case, with all this rush to try to find a place to eat, I got the sense that we could’ve tried to seize the moment a bit more and enjoy the good weather and the beach. I knew that when we’d leave the restaurant, it would be dark. And with the weather tomorrow, there’s no guarantees in terms of what the weather would be like.
Well, as far as the dinner was concerned, we tried the cider from the area (which was served poured real high to aerate the drink I guess) and they let us have the bottle as the included fixed price menu that Julie and I each got with different items. We got the duck breast and monkfish with prawns as the starter preceded by a bonus pintxo to start. The other main was another fish dish. And the dessert was a chocolate cake with mango sorbet while Julie ordered a traditional Basque honey cake with vanilla ice cream.
We wound up switching ice creams so the chocolate could go with the vanilla (a timeless and classic combo that works all the time). But regardless, Julie really enjoyed her dessert.
We left the restaurant at about 10:35pm. On the way out of the old town (which was now quiet as most of the people went inside to eat; we learned that the aperitifs were part of the locals social life as none of them would eat until at least after 10pm), it was pretty much dark and well past the magic twilight hour.
We slowly walked our way back to our room, while along the way, we let Tahia play in the playground (hoping that tomorrow would be beach day for her). In the mean time, I was busy taking what night shots that I could of the Playa de las Conchas, and eventually at 11:10pm, we would be back at our room.
Totally exhausted yet again, we all fell asleep, while sporadically taking a shower and brushing our teeth when we were momentarily conscious between catching our z’s. The outside (our room was facing the street instead of the beach) was still busy well into 3am so that kind of kept us from falling asleep sooner rather than later.
We were going to have a busy day tomorrow, especially with the looming car tire situation. I was hoping to have a restful day (which was why we did all the waterfalling today), but it certainly didn’t look like it was going to work out that way…