Our Air France flight landed in Paris on Easter Monday morning. After being thoroughly frisked when my Mountain Equipment Co-op backpack tested positive in Charles de Gaulle airport’s security, we shuttled our way to another terminal for our afternoon connecting flight to Bilbao. The small number of banana-shaped couches were occupied, so we tried sleeping on the floor, but general noise, cell phones and announcements made that difficult.
It was a relief to land in Bilbao, bus downtown and check into the family-run San Mamés Guesthouse. Ekaitz helped us haul our suitcases up a couple of short flights of stairs to reception where we were able to leave the larger items containing our exhibition pieces, and took our lighter luggage up the elevator to our room.
Next morning, we took the tram to the Euskotren station and took a train east to Deba.
The Zumardi Pentsioa is only a few blocks from the train station and just a few stairs from the street to reception. Deba is a lovely, quiet town on the coast with a sandy beach and a pedestrian zone in the old downtown. After such a long time in transit and a nine-hour time difference, we were keen to walk, rest and recuperate. There were plenty of places to shop for picnic items, as well as many bars with tantalizing pintxos.
The display of hand made slippers in one store window caught our eyes, and there we met Mikel. He has been making shoes for over 31 years and produces much of the traditional Basque footwear used in festivals and folkloric events throughout the region. He kindly gave us a tour of his workshop which was filled with rolls of various kinds of leather, templates, tools and shoes of all sizes. He also makes beautiful stamped leather boxes.
We chatted about what it’s like to work as an artisan or artist, the risks of repetitive strain injuries, and making a living in a globalized economy. It was the first of many encounters with people who generously welcomed us into their lives.