Zumaia and the Flysch Cruise

September 23, 2017 - Bilbao, Spain

With a bit of time on our hands we took the opportunity of a later start today and a late breakfast before grabbing a map and the paperwork to pick up our hire car. I had already checked the Euskotren Tram system and it was simple to walk about 150m to the tram stop and buy our tickets from the machine. In English even, so that was a plus for us. As luck would have it a tram went by as we walked to the stop so we had to wait about 15 minutes for the next one.

After a minor map reading problem and a short extra walk we found our way into the Metro entrance and through the pedestrian tunnels into the RenFe station. A quick orientation was all that was needed to head in the direction of the Enterprise Car Rental Office and we were soon being versed in the operation of the car and it's on board GPS.

It took a little while to familiarise ourselves with the car and set the GPS to the Latitude and Longitude I had checked for the location of Pier 9 at Zumaia marina. Why there you ask? Margaret had us booked on a boat cruise along the coast from Zumaia to Mutriku and back. In her unerring fashion Margaret had avoided the rain of yesterday and today was clear and sunny. There may be an opening for a long-range weather forecaster.

The GPS led us out of town with shouted directions in an English voice. We must find a way to turn that down but first there was the traffic and the directions to concentrate on. In these conditions, in an unfamiliar car, in an unfamiliar city and in unfamiliar traffic it usually takes both of us to keep things under control. Especially spotting traffic lights in awkward places (to an Aussie anyway), and even being able to see the light change if you are the first at the stop line. In the end the trip out of town was quite easy although sometimes we felt we were going around in circles as we negotiated motorway interchanges (and we were as we could see on the GPS map).

We had programmed the GPS to avoid toll roads so that we could enjoy the sights of the countryside. Well, that and the fact I wanted to avoid repeating problems we had in France a while ago trying to work out the ticket and payment system all explained in large signs in a language I couldn't take in fast enough at motorway speeds. (There we ended up having to reverse out of a toll gate and cut across traffic to the correct gate for a cash payment.) By avoiding toll roads we managed to pass through every town and roundabout between Bilbao and Zumaia and had to deal with a constantly changing speed limit. I was often too fast for the speed limit but always too slow for the traffic, so who knows!

As we came along the coast approaching Zumaia we were stopped at some roadworks with a traffic light control and there was a layby nearby with good views along the coast so, when the lights changed we peeled off into the layby. It was really on the wrong side of the road and a 'No Entry' in our direction but with the traffic lights that would not be a problem.

From that vantage point we could look along the coast as well as down at the rock platform with many, many, near-vertical rock layers and I could give Margaret a quick summary of the Geology we would be told about on the cruise. Necessary to give her some idea as the cruise would only have an explanation in Spanish. I hoped my Geology would be up to rough translation as we went. We waited our turn at the lights once more and leapt into the string of cars through the construction zone.

After all the roundabouts and constant entry and exit commands from the GPS we dubbed her Miss Leading but contrary to that name she lead us to the exact spot outside the entrance to Pier 9 and we found a parking area nearby to stop for a look around. We were there with hours to spare which was the plan and we had packed our swimmers just in case but the water around a marina is not very tempting.

The town itself is on the opposite side of the estuary so we thought we would drive over to that quiet little town and maybe find somewhere for a drink and maybe a bite to eat as it was now 2pm and our cruise left at 4.30pm. Zumaia on a warm Saturday was anything but quiet. After a fruitless hunt through the main part of town we finally parked in a spot marked 'R' about as far from town as we could be. We walked back to a group of several bars but they were all buzzing with activity and required you to order food if you had a drink. We opted to return to the marina on the assumption that marinas should have some sort of café.

There was. But there also seemed to be a wedding and several parties going there. We found a quiet corner of the downstairs bar and had a beer and some Pintxos to while away our time before driving back down to Pier 9 to wait for the tour. While we stood there waiting the crowd of people grew. Looking along the moorings of Pier 9, we wondered how all of us would fit on any of the boats we could see. In fact our guide arrived at 4.30pm and led us to a much larger boat moored in the channel outside the marina and we all clambered on board. All except for one chap. Our guide spoke to him in Spanish at some length. I think it amounted to the number of passengers they were licensed to carry. He accepted whatever was said and waved goodbye to the rest of his group.

This trip was called the Flysch Coast Cruise and went from Zumaia to Mutriku along the coast where there is a World Class exposure recognised and protected as a Geological Site of Special Interest. I won't bore you with all the detail but Flysch is a very thick, interbedded sequence of deep marine muds and continental sands that have slid down off the edge of the continental shelf. Our guide spoke in Spanish and I interpreted some of the talk for Margaret. The views were worth the trip in themselves and it was a gorgeous day for a boat ride with clear, sunny skies and only a slight swell.

I think the guide kept the children and adults interested and she spoke of the geology almost non-stop for the whole trip to Mutriku harbour. At the harbour we had forty-five minutes of free time before the boat was due to leave.

We didn't know much about the town but walked along with the guide and talked a bit in English about the trip and allayed her concern by telling her I was a Geologist and that many of the terms were recognisable.

Margaret and I spent our time at the pub. What another beer, you ask? Well, why not as we had another hour boat trip back. Unfortunately there was no food at all available except a piece of cake. Lemon butter cake goes well with a beer when you are hungry.

On the cruise back our guide spoke non-stop once again. This time it seemed it was mostly the history and the industry of the little harbours along the way. We thanked her again at the end of the trip and then drove off into the twilight.

As we returned to Bilbao we had to negotiate the many towns and roundabouts again, this time in the dark and after a long day. As we drove we decided this GPS should be dubbed Miss Leading due to her propensity for calling directions in advance intermixed with immediate directions. That name may be a bit unfair as the guidance, the maps, and the pictures of intersections have been very, very useful.

At the hotel we took our new steed down into the bowels of another underground car park. This time not quite as tight as Toledo but without Toledo as a benchmark we would have called it narrow. We took what seemed to be the last parking spot available but as we locked up we could see a ramp leading down another level.

We finished the night with more beer and a few Pintxos (sin ajo again from our favourite barman).


Looking toward Zumaia
The breakwall at Zumaia Marina
The coastline from the boat
The harbour at Mutriku
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