We are at the Casino Restaurant in Mundaka, eating a three course meal in the early afternoon. It’s 2 o’clock and the dining room is busy. Lots of men eating fish.
Hungry, we went looking for what’s here in this small town on the coast of the Atlantic. The Casino meal had the best deal – 11 Euros for three courses, including copious amounts of wine (and including taxes and service).
For a main course, I have grilled anchovies liberally doused with olive oil.
Is the food good? It is like what my grandma would have made had she been in the habit of grilling anchovies (which she wasn’t): fresh and honest.
I watch others come to eat. Not kids. The kids are outside at the carnival. Their parents. Kids come in asking for things, in the way that kids do everywhere and the parents oblige to make them go away (girls here love big hair ribbons).
I notice a table set for maybe two dozen. And just as we’re ending our lunch, a large group barrels into the room, boisterously and noisily claiming the space. More bottles of wine, salads, grilled whatever, so I ask – is this a family reunion? There are no children, but the people at the large table are of mixed ages.
No, they’re teachers.
And I am reminded of the line that’s now sadly remembered by so many – I want to have (when I'm back home, at work related lunches) what they’re having! (Because I can’t remember being that joyous and animated at work-based events. We’re all so dignified and serious it hurts.)
We are in Mundaka in the worst of times: at a grand level -- the terrible economy, the depleted fisheries here, on a smaller scale, affecting just the next four days -- the weather and the waves – they are all plummeting here in this village by the sea. (Why mention waves? In Mundaka, surfing is, if not everything, then a hell of a lot of things. In the summer, it draws crowds. When there are waves.)
So why, on this calm, gray June day is everyone at the large table so animated and happy?
We left San Sebastian early. The cheaper bus to Bilbao leaves at about 9 and we’re big on seeking out “cheaper” anything. The walk to the bus is long, but we like it.
And we get there early enough that we have time to find a café for a sweet treat and a coffee for me. We’re pleased that our old friend from across the Pension has a branch here, near the bus stop.
The bus ride is to Bilbao – an hour and ten minutes for the 100 kilometers that separates this big city from San Sebastian. Bilbao is indeed large. At nearly a million, it is the largest of the Basque cities. We’re not staying here (at least not now), but we need to connect to the little train that takes us back to the coast. So we walk through Bilbao along the shortest route possible from bus to train (30 minutes) and I only take a few photos and they’re not of Bilbao’s best face, but not of an uninteresting face either – it’s what we see on our fast walk through it. So, prekindergartners.
A sign by a bar inviting you in, during these tough times in Spain.
And the small train station with our small blue train waiting for us.
We get off at the next to last stop. In Mundaka (population: not quite 2000).
We’re here for the waves that aren’t here. (Calm waters are rare in Mundaka. There is an estuary with a huge sandbar which causes hollow waves – the kind that attract champion surfers from around the world. Right now: no waves and, therefore, no surfers.)
We are staying at a wonderful little place –the very central Hotel Mundaka. It has only a one star rating (as low as you can go), but the owners are fantastic, the rooms are clean as can be, the atmosphere is relaxed. And at 69 Euro per night ($85), including a wonderful breakfast, taxes and services – it’s cheaper than pretty much anything we could get in Sheboygan.
Marco is the guy behind the desk. So are you the owner? Ed asks.
Marco who is extremely good natured, laughs. It’s my wife’s. And mine as long as I’m married to her!
So...where are the waves?
Well, I can tell you – not here. He points to a posted forecast for the next five days or so. Scattered showers, low waves. Less than a foot. (Ten foot waves are common and considered dangerous. Half that size is thought to be optimal for surfing here.)
But if the surf’s flat, the atmosphere is charged! We missed Sorede’s San Joan festivities, but we placed ourselves in Mundaka at the time of the most important festival here: that of San Pedro.
So we hover around town. (Actually, first, we doze off on a bench by the sea... Not used to big lunches, not used to lots of wine with big lunches, we are in need of a nap!)
And we do little things. A short walk, a poke into a store for cookies.
And we do lots of spirited watching. Of the visiting carnival that set up the rides by the village church. (Boys appear to be drawn to certain things, girls make different choices...)
Forget the gray skies, it’s a brilliant time to be in Mundaka!
In the evening, there is dancing. In three stages. First the little kids, up on stage, one number after another, with the whole village watching, clapping, laughing at the sweetness of it.
(Kids sit on the square, adults stand behind.)
I’ve been to my share of dance recitals and in some ways this one is like all others. In fact, many of the music numbers are straight off our charts. (Think: Grease, for example.)
One huge difference is that boys are not outnumbered by girls in the dancing. And, too, I can’t say that anyone takes it that seriously. Many of the dancers barely remember the choreography. And still, it is tremendous fun.
Ed, who, to my knowledge, has never attended a dance recital in his life, is as drawn into this as I am. Not surprising. All genders, all age groups are in the audience and it's like we're all watching for different things but enjoying the show together.
When there is a break, we find another place to eat – this is to be a light supper and it is a very simple one of artichokes followed by grilled shrimp, with green peppers on the side.
The dancing continues. The older kids are on stage now, imitating American rock stars. It’s very late. The audience, too, is somewhat older now. The little ones are at home, tucked in, though I can't imagine it's easy to sleep anywhere in town. The music is loud!
... the stage is in a blaze of color.
... the stage is in a blaze of color.
And when all the performances are over, the music continues. The kids are gone, the older people, too, have retired. Dancing is now informal, in small groups all across the square. The Macarena. And so on. We only stay for a few minutes, but we hear the music from our room, late, very late into the night.