To my right, in the seat next to me, sleeps Caroline, my travel companion this weekend. To the left, darkness rushes by through the bus window. I can barely make out the mountains that lie miles from the highway, though the moon provides a low light, which spreads dimly over them. I blink and rub my eyes. My contacts are dry and my surroundings blur as I glance around the bus.
Time moves slowly. We’ve just passed the three and half hour mark on the bus. Although I’ve tried to sleep, it has eluded me, and I’ve passed the majority of the journey in an unsatisfying half-sleep. The bus is going to San Sebastian, according to my roommate, “la ciudad mas bonita en España”. The trip was planned fairly spontaneously. The tickets were bought less than 24 hours ago and my bags were packed with little time to spare before the bus departed
We pass through Burgos, a historic city and the former capitol of the Nacionalistas during the Civil War in Spain. I’m not sure, but I think I see the Cathedral of Burgos, burning brilliantly with light in the distance. The bus passes through a tunnel and the road begins to change from endless highway, to curves that approach the mountains and massive rock formations out the window.
Groggily, I open my eyes. I managed to fall asleep for a while but the alarm I set has ever so rudely woken me up. I look out the window and see signs for our destination. San Sebastian is located on the northern coast of Spain in Pais Vasco, a region of Spain that has demanded independence for years and is home to the infamous, but now retired, terrorist group ETA. In Pais Vasco, both Spanish and Euskera, a language of unknown origins with no resemblance to any Romance language, are spoken. Thus, San Sebastian has a different feel compared to other parts of Spain.
We collect our backpacks and get off the bus. It’s still dark outside and we are without a map or any idea of where to go. We decide the beach sounds like a nice place for a nap and begin to follow the river north. The cool air is refreshing and I begin to feel alive as I’m able to stretch my legs after the long bus ride.
The sign ahead reads “La Playa de la Concha: 10 min”. I have yet to see the ocean as the view continues to be obscured by buildings along the river walkway. We follow the sign along a main street lined with small pinxtos restaurants and shops. To the left a woman unloads a truck as she sets up for a Saturday morning market in front of a large gazebo. It’s still dark but the night is on its way towards day. At the intersection we hang a left and I catch my first view of the ocean. La Playa de la Concha glows, illuminated by the lights that run along the elevated boardwalk, 10 meters above the sand. I lean forward, resting my weight on the rail. To my left lies the road, running west towards Bilbao and Asturias. To my right, the sea rolls inward, encircled by hills that wrap around it on both sides to form a pocket with the beach at the bottom. A channel runs outward, splitting the hills, into the Atlantic. In the center lies a rocky island covered in vegetation. Though I can’t yet see the sun, the sky has begun to lighten to a soft dark blue.
While we descend the stairs to the beach, I take off my Birkenstocks and allow the cool sand to run between my toes. The beach is broad and we walk parallel to water until we approach the center. I drop my backpack and walk towards the water. The tide is low, and the sand is still moist from where the waves reached hours ago. Slowing down, I glance out and take my first step into the Atlantic. It chills my bare feet, though I stay put.
Turning my back to the sea I walk back up the beach to where I left my bag. Sitting down, I realize how tired I am. Sinking into the sand, I lean back on my backpack and fall asleep as the sun rises.