Gabriel Nivera

Pictures & Conversations

A collection of images and the stories behind their creation.

Getting Lost in Basque Spain

After wrapping a 2 week shoot for Mercedes that had me bouncing all over the Eastern and Southern coasts of Spain, I was burnt out mentally and physically. Thankfully I had a break between projects so I decided to extend my trip and explore the Basque region of Spain. I booked myself an airbnb in the tiny town of  Azkoitia.  Why there?  Well it seemed a great central location to explore San Sebastian, Bilbao, Pamplona; and with less than 24 hours notice, the it was the only place available.

Having a cell phone has made it quite an effort to get lost. With a few taps and swipes, you can input where you want to go and in an instant you are given a route to your destination that even adjusts to live traffic.  This has made travelling for work and family vacation so much easier and convenient (clients and producers aren’t too impressed when you are late to set and my mum doesn’t appreciate wandering down goat paths that lead to dead ends…but I digress). Days are easy to plan to the minute; sights to see, things to do, each meal at well reviewed and recommended spot.

But I decided for the next 8 days I would do this trip sans-GPS, no checking yelp/google/trip advisor for recommendations on the fly. All I had were a few service station maps, lots of snacks, and a case of water. Now before you get worried, if I really got in trouble I could always turn the location services back on and order would be restored. I am not Marco Polo.

The goal was simple.  Each day I would pick a destination and take a route that would avoid major thoroughfares to get there and on the return leg try to use a different set of roads coming back. The less repetition the better.

I wasn’t 100% winging it, I would google the names of the towns in the general vicinity the night before and if anything piqued my interest, I would make note of it and add it to the next days route.  That’s how found myself visiting the town of Guernica, which to me at the time was just a giant painting by Picasso I saw in the Prado.  The bulk of my agenda consisted of asking people for suggestions whenever I would stop, picking the road that looked “prettier”, and the occasional coin toss. It was a wonderful way to travel and explore. Just the break I needed from 2 weeks of long tech scouts and sunrise to sunset shoot days in the baking Iberian sun.  It was real chance to soak in my surroundings and appreciate just how fortunate I was to find myself in this part of the world.

One of my favourite discoveries was the chapel at San Juan de Gaztelugatxe (don’t ask me to pronounce it), which a waitress had told me to check out during one of my pit stops.  When I arrived I was disappointed to find out it was temporarily shut down and cordoned off for restoration. Determined to make the best of it, I walked up to the barriers to get a better view and a quick snap.  As I neared the last bollard a uniformed guard called out to me from the other side. He pointed at my camera & tripod.  In a mixture of his broken English, my broken Spanish, a sprinkling of hand gestures, and a lot of smiling and nodding, I figured out two things; his name Xose, and that he was trying to ask if I was the location scout he was supposed to meet that day. I did not lie and say I was…but I also did not discourage his assumption by denying it (don’t judge me!). With my new assumed identity in play,  Xose unlocked the barrier and took me around the site, which some of you will recognize as Dragonstone from the 7th season of Game of Thrones.  All this probably would not had happened if I planned out the trip beforehand and found it the site was shut. So the next time you find yourself traveling (especially on a job) try giving yourself a day or two where the plan is to have no plan.  Embrace spontaneity, see what lies beyond that next bend, toss a coin, leave it up to fate and get lost, chances are it will be pretty memorable.