The Other Side of the Mirror
Donostia, August 15.
Day 21 of the March on Brussels. From Tolosa, 25 km.
I’ve been waiting for this for days. And I could smell it, finally, long before we arrived in Donostia/San Sebastián.
Today’s leg was a lot longer than it was. Once again we formed group with Jesus Christ and Marianne. Comrade Leonardo joined us as well, to look for the road less travelled by. We don’t find it, we get lost in the orchards up in the hills.
When we descend back into the valley, we know there’s one sure way to reach the sea. Follow the river. And so we walk, without stopping, through village after village, along the stream and a small railroad track going down to the coast.
Slowly things start to change. The first thing is the light. It has a specific kind of brightness up ahead. The next thing is a faint odour of salt. And if that weren’t enough, it’s the playful hot wind slapping you in the face. We still have to walk quite a bit, but there can be no doubt, we’re nearing the sea.
In the outskirts of San Sebastián we’re welcomed by comrades from the Acampada Donostia who will accompany us into town. Loudly we burst onto the magnificent boulevard, where the city embraces a natural bay, with a Christ statue up above. The gate to the ocean is guarded by a small island. Behind it, a desert of water.
While the people on the beach curiously look up to see us parading by, I wonder. About the sea, and the coast as a thin border between two different worlds. The towns on the seaside have a double face. We, landlubbers coming down from the hills, only see one of them. The other one is reserved for the sailors.
Among many things the Basque country is famous for its navigators. Especially in the old days. Nearby Donostia lies the small fishermen’s village where captain Sebastián Elcano was born. He commanded the first expedition that circumnavigated the globe. In the history books this feat is attributed to Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan. But Magellan never made it home. He was killed fighting the natives of the islands that were later to be called the Philippines.
Elcano took over the command and terminated the trip. It was a tremendous adventure. As a result of implacable weather, mutiny, hunger, warfare and sickness only 19 of the initial 265 sailors reached Spain in september 1522, on board only one of the five ships that had departed from Seville, more than three years before.
I look at the sea and I wonder what it would be like to experience the world as a sailor, and to see these cities from the other side of the mirror.