Perfect day on Txindoki (1436m) Guipuzkoa

It’s for days like this that I keep going back to the hills. This month we’ve seen some pretty wild weather in Euskal Herria and in pursuit of a good day I’ve been out in it all. It has on occasion been uncomfortable. The writer Patricia Moyes said, “I simply cannot understand the passion that some people have for making themselves thoroughly uncomfortable and then boasting about it afterwards.” Climbers it’s true, can be terribly boring in this regard. But it’s days like this that keep me going back for more.


For better quality photos click here

 

Fiesta de los Momotxorros. Altsasua, Navarra

The fiesta of Los Momotxorros in Altsasua, Navarra, is one of the highlights of my year. This for me is real carnival.  A fiesta whose origins go back to Pagan times, it marks a turning point in the winter and the coming of Spring.  It’s a fiesta where our demons are paraded before us, named, laughed at and driven away.

There are several characters who protagonise this fiesta.  The Momotxorros make up the largest group and I would estimate that there were several hundred at last nights event.   Arriving in Altsasua the first character I encountered was the bumbling and outlandishly oversized Txiripotz.

The pageant began at the local school where the Momotxorros had been corralled behind bars.  The tension mounted as the minutes passed and we waited for the clock to strike 7.30.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then on the signal of a rocket a roar went up, the gate slid back and they spilled forth.  There’s no room for reserve here you are literally born along on a tide of woolly beasts.

 

Yes, it’s scary but the atmosphere is fundamentally friendly.  Folks look out for each other and no harm comes.  People drink and get a bit “foo” but this is not the drunken affair that it would be in other countries.

 

I’ve seen wary looks on the faces of children and adults alike but this is about confronting fears and affirming that when we all join together there’s not much to be afraid of really.

More photos here

The Momotxorros are the most important figures in the pageant.  They make their way as a herd through the streets of Altsasua accompanied by marching bands.  They dance the Momotxorro dance and make an unbelievable, unholy even, amount of noise with the cencerros (cow bells) they carry with them.

There is also a goat character who to an extent is master of ceremonies.  He is known as Akerra in Euskera or El Cabrón in Spanish.  His resemblance to Pan and other horned figures is obvious.  He travels in a wooden chariot bedecked with animal skins and skulls.  At intervals along the way he descends into the crowd and mounts anyone and anything that should cross his path.

More photos here

 

 

 

 

There are numerous witch covens too.  These ones had their own portable cauldron.

 

 

 

There are devils in various forms at this event and I met mine along the way.  We struggled for some time before I was able to drive him off.

 

 

 

 

The procession makes its way all around town driving out the evil spirits as it goes.  Finally it arrives in La Plaza where they dance counter clockwise (of course) around the band stand.

At one point I encountered a group of Txiripotz strewn around a room and pleading to be released from their costumes.  Although the night was cold (-4ºC) they were expiring in the claustrophobic heat of their suits.

 

 

 

 

 

There is something earthy and honest about this festival.  The costumes are really very simple and made entirely of things that can be found in a rural context.  There are groups of people who are dressed in cabbages.  I asked one of my friends what that was all about expecting some sort of anthropological artefact by way of explanation.  “Uh? I don’t know,  I guess it’s just that there are only cabbages in the garden at this time of year”,  was the reply I got.  And in a way that sums it up.  This is not a commercial event and the best costumes are not the ones that cost the most.

You can see something of the event in these short videos.  For more photos click here.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KbJ8pnipnlQ&feature=plcp&context=C35144e8UDOEgsToPDskINDICA0doBTuNQdRHjDVUm[/youtube]

[youtube]http://youtu.be/-__NT0gDvDI[/youtube]

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8CaaPazsv3Q[/youtube]

 

Frozen Dog

I had this notion to accept the fact that February is a slack month and to put it to good use climbing mountains, taking photos and recording it all for Bizipozatourists on this blog.  But, not only is it a slack month it’s also colder than a well diggers ass.

I’m Scottish though and I’m hardly likely to let a little sleaty snow deter me from venturing out.  So with rather more enthusiasm than sense I took myself off with my faithful hound  Tximista (Lightning bolt) and a mind to climb Anboto.

Anboto is Basque classic.  A bit like a mini Aonach Eagach or Scafell.  It’s a serious mountain then, with a craggy top and precipitous ridges all around it. In fairer weather it looks like this

 

 

 

 

 

Alluitz (1040m) Anboto (1331m)

Today I couldn’t see the top just snow filled gullies running up into the mist.  It was raining as I kitted up by my car then trudged up through ever deeper wet spring-snow.  The rain turned to driving sleat then snow.  And then we arrived at the craggy ramparts that mark the approach to the summit.  I’d left my crampons in the car but battled on searching for frozen turf that I could drive the axe into.  But it was madness.  Tximis was having serious trouble and he wears crampons even when he goes to the beach.  The further I got the more aware I became of the consequences of a slip.  So, we turned back which in itself was quite an adventure.  Before leaving the car I had snapped a shot of the relevant pages from the guide book.  A handy trick that.

 

Taken from “La Montaña Vasca” by Miguel Angulo

We got as far as Elgoin at 1200m on route 26.

Tximis does not enjoy these conditions very much even in his snow suit.

Perhaps tomorrow will bring the crisp blue day I’m dreaming of.

 

 

 

 

ketari-20100908152949

Frozen Man

Yesterday’s blizzard seems to have blown through to be replaced with freezing fog.  No excuse for not venturing out then.  A five minute drive took us to the picturesque medieval  walled-town of Antoñana which shelters under the prow of Soila (990m)

Soila is an impressive mountain on a clear day.  Today it was shrouded in mist.

 

 

 

 

This photo by ketari shows Soila in fairer weather.

It’s an imposing mountain but is an easy ascent.  The round trip takes around 45 minutes.

 

 

 

 

The intense cold and thick mist covered everything in rime ice.

 

 

 

Soila is situated in the Izki National Park.  Izki represents one of Europes largest oak forests.  The forest is diverse and here we can see an ancient yew (Hegina in Euskera).  By my estimation this tree will be around 700 years old.  That would take us back to 1312!

 

On the summit of Soila, as with other Basque mountains, there is a mail box.  Typically these have unusual forms and in this case it takes the shape of a stick figure.  Members of mountaineering clubs leave a card with their personal details as a way of registering their ascent.  A bit like Scottish Munro bagging.

 

For more photos of this excursion click here

Walking Man

I felt a certain empathy with this cold but determined pilgrim I met on my way today.

Yesterday’s crisp sunshine had inspired me to take to the hills.  It had therefore been a brisk surprise on opening the front door this morning to face a blizzard.  So, with something of the stoicism of the walking man in the photo I shouldered into the storm.

It was an unrelenting -4ºC all day.  Actually really agreeable for walking with a good set of thermals.  It did snow quite a bit but in between times there were moments of clarity.  And as is often the way with days such as these there was plenty of adventure to be found along the way. (you’ll find more photos here)

These are “Las Gargantas de Musito” (the throat of Musitu).  I’d estimate it’s about an 8km walk along this dark canyon.  Following the river to its source at “El Salto del Igoroin“, a spectacular cascade.  The forest is mixed beach and oak and home to a great variety of wildlife.

 

My route took me into a bejewelled treasure trove

 

 

 

 

And out onto the high plateau near Onraita the highest village in Alava at 1000m.

 

 

 

 

The Buitre Leonardo (Griffonn Vulture) abounds in these parts but I never tire of seeing them.

 

 

 

I did get tired of the cold though and it was good to get back to a log fire and a cup of tea  (More Photos Here)

Ibaialde Ikastola, Sartaguda, Navarra

Following a night of bad craziness in El Valle de Baztan (See previous entry) I found myself on the road once again.  This time we travelled from the north of Navarra were things are profoundly Basque to the town of Sartaguda in the south where the tradition of speaking Basque (Euskera) is not quite so well preserved.  That’s not to say that folks here feel any less Basque.  Neither do they harbour any sentiments of xenophobia towards their Spanish neighbours or itinerant Scotsmen who stumble into the fiesta.

On this occasion we were there to celebrate the anniversary of Ibaialde Ikastola.  The local primary school where classes are given in Euskera.  These schools are essential to the survival of Euskera.  While Euskera, like any minority language, is under serious threat of extinction it has undoubtedy experienced an extraordinary revival in the last ten years.  Certainly in Gasteiz we have gone from a situation in which it was seldom heard to a point where it can be heard on any street corner or bar.

The objective of the Fiesta in Sartaguda was to raise funds for the support of the Ikastola.  I have been lucky in that I have travelled to many different countries but I have yet to find a place to equal Euskal Herria regarding popular initiatives.  Here the parents association had organised una comida popular (a popular lunch) and sold 850 tickets for the event.  With sales on the door the number of attendees climbed to around 1000.

Thats a lot of people to cater for but it was achieved effortlessly tee tah!  Many hands make light work.

To mark this event we were entertained to a session of Bertsolaritza performed by four legendary Bertrolaris; Andoni Egaña, Maialen Lujanbio, Aitsol Barandiaran and Aitor Sarriegi.

What is Bertsolaritza?

A Bertso is a form of spontaneous poetry.  The Bertsolari works within certain confines.  It could be that they have to work within a certain meter, with particular words, and or with each other.  I don’t speak Basque although I’m working on it.  I therefore don’t appreciate the nuance and humour that each performance expresses.  Nevertheless, there is something magical and contagious about being in the presence of someone who is creating spontaneously.  For a more in depth and highly emotive account of Bertsolaritza see this video

As the Betsolari faces his or her audience s/he is open to all possibilities within the confines of the rhyme s/he has been set, the words s/he has been given and what his or her partners in the piece are saying.  Within those confines exists an infinity of possibilities.  That is my interpretation of what Bertsolaritza is about.  It’s as if they are saying, “may the conversation be lively and varied and all topics considered equally”.  Those are good principles to guard in any society.

The fiesta continued with two spectacular concerts.  Bizardunak “the beardy ones”.  Great band drawing on Irish influeces and styling themselves on the Pogues.

 

 

 

Pure theatre with The Zopilotes Txirriaos, a band specialising in Mexican Rancheras and their own brand of “Napar Mex”.  A bit like “Tex Mex”  More Photos Here

Gizakunde

Gizakunde is a festival which takes place in  the small village of Arizkun in the north of Navarra.  It is to some extent a rehearsal for the Carnival Festival that will be celebrated on 16th of this month.  The tradition pre dates Christianity and involves several different characters who form a procession and walk from Arizkun to Erratzu a distance of around 5km through the surrounding hills.

Although the picture might suggest that the long cold winter nights lead to bizarre and bestial practices in these rural parts, we are in fact seeing the preparation of a Zanpanzar.  The Zanpanzarak carry enormous cencerros (cow bells) and lead the procession, opening the way by making an unholy amount of noise.  In addition to the Zanpanzarak various other characters take part in the procession.

The Zanpanzarak are followed by dantzaria (dancers) who perform various dances often involving apples.  There is a strong tradition of cider making in these parts and the procession started from an ancient and recently restored cider house which made just over 1500 litres of cider this year.  We drank a little of this along the way;)

 

There are also kindly souls who carry baskets of refreshments; cider, wine and patxaran in case anyone might feel thirsty.

There is a bear and his handler.  The bear is badly behaved, extremely randy and enjoys terrifying small children.  By return his handler treats him mercilessly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally there is the Testigo or witness who is carried from Arizkun tothe plaza in Erratzu.  On arrival he is tried and condemned to be burned at the stake.  If you’ve ever seen the film “The Wicker Man” then you’ve pretty much got the picture.

 

 

Having burned the testigo and absolved our sins the fiesta moved to the community centre where we enjoyed a tremendous dinner of Corderro al Chilindrón (lamb stew).  Dinner was accompanied by Basque folk music and Bertsos.  I seem to remember stumbling home through the snowy streets at around 7am.    More Photos Here

 

 

 

 

 

Falconry

Un cernicalo Americano or American Kestrel

More photos here Falconry (Spanish Cetrería)

At Bizipozatours we are interested in connecting you with the unusual.  Here we visited a local Falconry group.

Falconry is a very particular art requiring a tight partnership between man, bird and on occasion, dog.  It is certainly not open to large groups of people but then our tours are usually for very small groups.

La Feria de San Blas

TalosMaking Talos.

La Feria de San Blas

Some photos of The Ferria de San Blas which I took last weekend in Laudio.  Be warned they are not for the faint hearted.  While I am not a strict vegetarian I at least try to buy meat that has come from “happy” animals.  I can’t Vouch for the happiness of this particular “Txerri” but at least the people who witnessed the event see that meat comesfrom an animal and not just a packet in the supermarket!

La Ferria De San Blas is also known for some reason as “The Txerri Boda” or pig wedding.