Basking in the Basque Country

The oddness started on the plane ride over. This almost Chinese sounding language echoing over the intercom that we were starting our descent into the Basque country and if you could please lift your table trays and ensure that your seat belt is fastened please. Basque, so I’m told, is the oldest language in Europe and has no relation to any other language. Accordingly, the Basque country is unlike any other part of Spain. I learned this on our one hour walk to our hostel at 2 am. The dark shrouded the city in a somber mood as we zombied our way to the promise of a bed and rest for our tired feet. I learned this even more the next morning as we meandered toward the bus stop. We were going to Guernika, the place of unspeakable violence that shocked the world and caused Picasso to create his masterpiece named the same. It was more difficult to a bus there than we initially thought. When we asked the ticket lady at the bus station, she laughed and said “Guernika? Where’s that? Why do you want to go there? Nobody goes there.” But we were determined.

The 40 minute bus ride was filled with vistas that previously I believed only belonged in paintings hanging in my doctor’s office and puzzles put together on rainy days with my grandmother. The greenery mixed with small farm houses nestled into hills that were dotted with sheep. The clouds hovered low creating an intimate feeling of the area. I could live in any number of those cities along the way. It was raining when we arrived into the city’s small center plaza, as was appropriate I decided. Sunlight and blue skies filled with happy fluffy clouds didn’t belong there, not anymore. There was a melancholy air as we, the only tourists made our way through the sleepy city. The lady at the bus station was right and I could see why. On the outside, it was merely another inconsequential Spanish town. But it was a town with a history. It hung in the air and you could almost taste the ancient sadness on your tongue. The thorough bombing that took place in the 30’s left the town in utter ruin and one would have been hard pressed to distinguish human remains and twisted metal. You wouldn’t be able to tell that now, however. The town has been newly rebuilt in an attempt to move towards a brighter tomorrow. If only they could have fixed the way the air hangs thick and heavy as if it held the weight of its destructive past. We trudged through the rain to the only thing in this newly made town that would indicate the tragedy: a peace museum.

Inside we found many exhibitions surrounding the idea of bringing peace to the world. There was also a small part dedicated to the history of Guernika. But true to Spanish form of ignoring the pains of the past and not talking about hard subjects, it was mainly focused on the idea of peace. One has to wonder at what the healthiest approach would be. Either way, after the museum we embarked with the purpose of exploring what Guernika was all about. I thought it was appropriate that by this point, after a journey through the museum, that the sun had made an appearance and the clouds had cleared to reveal a peaceful day. We headed up the hills into the Basque countryside. The views were completely indescribable. Just incredible. We found a church at the top of our climb, complete with swing set that made my heart happy. We walked far enough into the hills that we could no longer see Guernika and only ran across the occasional pueblo citizen going about their farming duties.

As we descended we came upon view after view that affirmed to me how lucky I am to be seeing these places and learning things about other cultures and myself that I could never have imagined. I am no longer prejudiced against strangers, I am confident in my ability to navigate through complicated and unfamiliar situations, and can speak significantly better Spanish than I could before. I have a deep love for a people that hold different cultural customs and have learned that truth and happiness can be found in every circumstance in everyone’s lives.  I’ve learned that it’s okay to hold two differing opinions in your head without coming to a conclusion. I take it as a sign of a well educated individual to leave a disagreement like this. Obviously I am still a work in progress, but if the horrors and subsequent peace that followed Guernika has taught me anything, it’s that there is already too much hatred in this world to add to it through petty arguments. Additionally, I’ve come to find that even those who are deeply wounded, like this community, can forgive and move on.

“No hay caminos para la paz, la paz es el camino.” -Gandi

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