The Montaña Alavesa is a mountainous and sparsely populated region in the southern reaches of Alava. It is home to a couple of thousand people scattered around the numerous little villages. These villages have changed little in the last few hundred years and you might think that not much happens in these parts. But where there’s folk there’s an opportunity for a fiesta…
Kabredo can be found the edge of the Sierra De Cantabria just below Leon Dormido (935m). Over the last three years we have been celebrating a day of Basque rural sports, Herri Kirolak or Highland Games. Kabredo won last year and hosted this years event.
We anticipated around one hundred people for the popular lunch. Quite a task but this is an event where everyone is expected to take part and many hands make light work
In no time at all the table was set and the festivities began
Basque food is second to none and today’s spread was no exception. All food locally supplied and washed down with quantities of Rioja and Patxaran for good measure.
The mood was relaxed and lead to a long period of “sobre mesa” (The chat and banter that follows a good feed) I began to wonder if we would be in any fit state to take part in the Herri Kirolak.
So with a belly full of food and a head full of Patxaran the competition began.
Basque sports are brutal and generally involve shifting heavy things from one place to another as fast as possible.
Events such as these are priceless in any community. There was an element of competition in the Herri Kirolak but to be honest I don’t even know who won. This is about including everyone and cementing friendships. It was also an opportunity for us to show our support for Txiki Antia who stands accused of having belonged to D3M (Democracia 3 Millones). D3M was declared illegal on February 8, 2009, as the Spanish Supreme Court considered that it was linked with the separatist organisation ETA. A more gentle giant than Txiki you are unlikely to find.
The Herri Kirolak Fiesta in Cabredo was organised with the intention of having a good time and promoting Euskera (Basque language) by Amezti Euskera Elkartea, XVII Mendea Kultur Elkartea, Mendialdeko Mintzalagan Taldea and people of the various villages
In the small, sleepy, Alaves village of Otazu you can occasionally hear the curiously mournful sound of the Alboka. The Alboka is a uniquely Basque instrument which sounds a little like a sharper version of the Scottish pipes.
In the shade of some chestnut trees you can find Osses’s Alboka workshop. Osses has dedicated the last twenty years to researching and making Albokas. He now gives classes and is without doubt responsible for the revival of interest in this instrument.
The Group “No Hay Prisa” (There’s no hurry) comprising Trikitixa (Squeeze box) Bodhran and five Albokaris
Osses’s work shop is immaculately tidy. The home of a craftsman and artist. He built it with the help of friends and neighbours. It’s one of those places where the good vibes of many a jam session seem to have infused the very walls.
The name Alboka comes from Arabic “al-bûq” (البوق) meaning simply, the trumpet. The instrument certainly dates from the twelfth century when the Iberian Peninsula was under Arab rule. Today similar instruments can be found in Tulun in Turkey and Chivoni in South Georgia.
The Alboka comprises a cows horn connected to twin pipes made of “granedillo” or “cocbolo” both extremely hard woods, harder even than ebony.
The handle is made of “yugo”
The twin pipes connect to the mouth piece which houses two aluminium tubes. These tubes are fitted with reeds prepared from a standard Clarinet reed.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.