October 4, 2015
Markina to Monasterio de Zenarruza: 5 miles
After three pretty intense days, we decided to take it easy today. The Camino is divided into stages that are fairly arbitrary; a stage is mostly defined as the section between two cities that have “official” peregrino albergues. Most stages can be managed in one day if you’re planning to hike a full day, but sometimes there are small towns or places along the way that can enable you to shorten your day’s journey.
That’s what we chose to do today. Instead of completing a full day’s hike of 15 miles to the target city of Gernika, we opted to hike part of the way to the Monasterio de Zenarruza instead. We knew that this would probably mean parting with the friends that we had made, some of whom were going to push on to Gernika and others who would skip the next few stages of intense hiking and bus on to Bilbao, a large city about 35 miles away. We had thoroughly enjoyed getting to know these people but knew that we had to stick to our own personal plan, so that morning we set out on a leisurely hike to the monastery and then called it quits for the day.
The origins of the Monasterio de Zenarruza date back to the tenth century, but it was added upon over multiple centuries. According to legend, an eagle brought a skull to this spot, thus prompting the monastery’s construction. It is currently run by Cistercian monks, who live on the premises. There was a small room set aside specifically for peregrinos, although I’m guessing they allow non-pilgrims to stay there as well. The accommodations were modest, with several bunkbeds, a kitchen area with a sink and microwave, and a long dining table. Outside there was a small porch overlooking the mountains.
At first we were the only ones there, which was fine by us. We went downhill about 200 meters to a “town” that consisted of an inn/tavern, where we had a few beers and watched part of a futbol game with some locals. By the time we got back to the dorm, we found that we had a roommate, a gentleman from the Catalonian region of Spain named Joan. He was an outgoing, thoughtful fellow, and we enjoyed spending the rest of the day with him. He spoke limited English and we speak limited Spanish, but despite this we managed to have meaningful discussions on such topics as religion and his opinion on Basque and Catalan independence (which we’ll discuss in a future post). This was Joan’s second Camino hike, and like us he hoped to go all the way to Santiago de Compostela.
Since it was Sunday, there was a short evening mass. I’m not Catholic, but I accompanied Joan to the mass out of respect for our hosts and also because I was curious about a religious service run by monks. Counting Joan and myself there were six people in attendance. It was low-key and mostly consisted of the monks singing hymns in Spanish as well as occasional prayers or readings (no chanting was involved), and even though I hadn’t a clue as to what was going on, it was peaceful and enjoyable.
Joan and I returned to the dorm after the service, and shortly after, one of the monks brought us dinner, which consisted of fish soup and bread. It may sound simple, but it was one of the best meals we’ve had on the trail, delicious and edifying. We spent a little more time talking to Joan and then all of us turned in early.
We thoroughly enjoyed our relaxing time at the monastery and the evening we spent with Joan.