Saturday, 6 February 2010

Derby day in Ondorroa

Thirty kilometres or so west of San Sebastian lies the handsome fishing port of Ondarroa, a town that appears almost etched onto either side of the valley that guards the mouth of the Rio Artibai. For the duration of the 45 minute journey here, the sea has pounded at the rocks of the Guipúzcoan coastline, and the skies have looked as though they are about to buckle imminently under their own intense pressure.

No sooner have I stepped off the bus am I looking for shelter again, as the heavens finally unleash a torrent of rainfall onto the shoreline below. The bar across the street looks inviting enough, and at least it has something of the view I had promised myself of the fishing boats, bobbing up and down in the harbour.

Inside the bar there are 30 or more silver haired men, all sporting matching neckerchiefs and berets bearing a motif of the Basque flag. Gesturing wildly at the bar staff, they order rounds and rounds of pintxo, vino and cañas, toasting each other's health with gruff, traditional cheer.

One man tells me in a mix of broken Castellano, Euskara and English that the neckerchiefs are worn in support of the Ondarroa football team, and today, local rivals Lekeitio are in town. After a couple of small beers, I leave los hombres to it... The rain looks like it might be subsiding, and anyway, I'm beginning to get hungry.

As I cross the old stone footbridge, a procession of some sort is taking place. The streets are lined with Basque flags, and a make shift marching band beat out a rhythm to which an unlikely troop of dancers perform a traditional jig. The crowd cheers, car horns blow, dogs bark, and a man with big hair and a scruffy beard lets off flares, slightly too close behind me for comfort.

Unfortunately I have less of a reason to celebrate. The restaurant I had hoped to go to – a traditional place with a huge charcoal grill outside you can smell from across the river – is fully booked for a party. Plan B, then. There was a bar back over the bridge which had drawn a crowd, the pintxo looked good, it's seems a long time since breakfast, and to be honest, now I'll eat anything.

I take a seat to one side, away from the hubbub, and land myself a good view of the little TV screen in the corner, which is showing Premier League football. I'm just in time for the Merseyside Derby.

The menu del dia looks decent enough, and there's no sense in moving now, so I order the platos degustacion, figuring that in this proximity to the sea, I'm bound to get some seafood. As it happens, the closest I come is a 'crab' mayonnaise, made out of the little pink and white sticks as opposed to the actual creatures that are probably crawling around the harbour, less than thirty foot away. Still, the chorizo is good, and there's a few slices of fairly nutty jamon. As I polish it off, for the first time on my trip, I begin to consider the relationship between animal fat and cholesterol levels.

I've also ordered solomillo, which I thought was salmon, but is in fact some rather bland grilled pork. Serves me right for not checking the translation. And for dessert I have tarte de queso. Frozen cheese cake, served with squirty cream. On a warm plate. I can't say it paints the prettiest of pictures as it melts into various splodges across my plate. Well, at least you can count on the wine around here. As I pour another glass, Dirk Kuyt puts Liverpool 1-0 up against the Toffees. There's a close up of the crowd going wild in the Kop end; they don't look half as rowdy as the gents with the berets in the bar earlier! I sit back and hope the second half is more exciting than my dinner...

It's still raining as I leave the bar, a couple of hours later. As well as the Liverpool match, I've been entertained by a party of 20-odd, loudly celebrating their friend's birthday, and groups of merry young lads, revelling in their day of leisure. Walking through the old town, I hear cheering and deep baritone chorus coming from bars on either side of the street. It seems as though there is much to be happy about in Ondarroa, despite the weather.

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