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Donostia-San Sebastián, Spain

Bahia La Concha from Iguelda, the Pyrenees in the distance. As a lowly backpacker, I may never have gotten here had I not been hosted by a friend of a friend.

One year ago today, I was being wheeled into surgery hoping against hope that when they amputated by breasts, they’d get every last cell of cancer or any cell even thinking about becoming cancer.

I’d had the HRP (Haute Randonnée Pyrénéenne) planned for that fateful summer, but was forced to put it off indefinitely. In recovery and hopped up on valium, apparently I boldly stated I’d hike it next summer totally topless.

There’s no chance I’ll expose my skin to high-altitude sun rays, but I’m here now in Spain and ready to put my itchy feet on trail. But first, serendipity and a chance meeting has offered a bit of tourismo, a task I usually reserve for celebrating the end of a hike.

I’m a bit exhausted from the transatlantic flight and three fully packed days spent with a new Italian harpist friend who lives in the Basque city of San Sebastián and her Spanish ‘father’ Juanxto (pronounced WAHN-cho)

So I’m posting a photos essay along with words of gratitude to all of you who encouraged me over this past year to put cancer behind me and get back to living as soon as possible.

Lilies waterfall in Madrid’s
Real Jardín Botánico. I had an 11 hour layover so slept as much as possible on the plane and bussed into town.
No photos are allowed in the Prado, so I committed to memory the spectacular collection of Velasquez, Goya, Bosch, El Greco, Dürer, Rubens, Raphael, Caravaggio, Titian, Fra Angelico and a new fav, Surolla.

I reviewed Francesca Romana di Nicola’s stunning recording, “Miniatures” a collection of original compositions based on her immigration to Basque Country. I fell in love with the emotive music and the Basque poetry before noticing the return address was the same town I’d fly to in order to begin my hike.

Of course, I reached out.

And Francesca and I hit it off right away and she said I must come and visit. Funny, she would leave very early the following day for a concert in England, which required her Spanish “dad” to act as tour guide – and for me to stay until she returned, for an extended visit to one of the most magical cities in all of Europe.

Right on the border, San Sebastián is at the center of Basque country with an intact old town, as well as protected bays perfect for swimming, boating, surfing or for simply staring out at from a wide (and very long) promenade.

Juanxto, Francesca and me having pintxos and mosto, a kind of Basque ‘pre-wine.’
Playa de la Concha. I swam here twice in chilly water so soft, it felt like a hug.
Juanxto leading the way in Parte Vieja. He speaks very little English, but patiently spoke to me slowly and I understood most of what he said.
Albaola, celebrating Basque whalers of the 16th century. A sunken vessel off Newfoundland was retrieved in the ‘80s and over the last decade, an exact replica is being built by hand.
Rafael Moreno’s minimalist Iesu Church. A friend was playing Bach and invited me to give the organ a try.
On the wee boat in Pasaia. Victor Hugo’s house is behind on the right.
Túnel de Loretopea. There were hundreds of people walking everywhere as well as dedicated bike paths, but it never felt crowded or unsafe.
The fancy lights competing with the glow of the sun. San Sebastián is so mellow, Bruce Springsteen owns a home and people just sort of shrug when he walks his dog.
Theresa and the grandchildren building a massive tower. It was a delight to spend time with the family and see what real life is like.
A local creates a new artwork in the sand each day.
Statues left by pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela.
Txipiroiak beren tintan (Squid in Ink Sauce)

I’m up a bit too late, talking with Francesca as if a friend from many, many years. We walked all over town, then ate at home as I organized my gear. I even blew up my mattress for her to test – verdict: ¡espectacular!

But now I need to rest up. Juanxto will return for a leisurely breakfast in Francesca’s lovely apartment, then he will drive me to France and off I’ll go on a new and challenging adventure.

For what has been these last three days, I say a huge, ¡Muchas gracias!

And for what’s to come, I heartily say, ¡Desafío aceptado!

Caught in the act of feeling full on bliss.

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and don’t miss a single step!