Basque Rural Sports “Herri Kirolak”

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

The Alboka

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.


If you like this kind of thing you won’t find better than Bidaia Duo and Ó Euskadi go hÉirinn” (The Basque Irish Connection)

Why bother learning languages?

We’ve all at some time thought, wouldn’t it just be easier if we all spoke the same language?  In this TED Talk, Wade Davis responds, “great! Lets make that language Yorba, let’s make that language Cantonese, lets make it Kogi. And you’ll suddenly discover what it would be like to be unable to speak your own language.”

A fascinating presentation of what language is and the consequences of the loss of language to our own cultural diversity.

Subtitulos disponible en castellano


Phil Miller

Create Your Badge

Ondartxo Center of Maritime Culture

In this three minute video our intention was to illustrate the picturesque sea port of Pasaia and express something of the aims of Ondartxo Center of Maritime Culture,  The video was recorded spontaneously during a visit to Ondartxo and edited in what amounted to a days work.

Ondartxo Center of Maritime Museum – Pasaia, Basque Country from Basharat Khan on Vimeo.

A short documentary about the Ondartxo Center of Maritime Culture and Museum shot for Bizipoza Tours in the Basque Country 2012.

We were given a warm welcome by Josu and Xabi during our visit to the museum and were amazed about the kind of work they do both in terms of restoring old boats, recovering old wrecks and engaging with other communities from around the world. The center are planning a voyage to Sscotland in the near future and we look forward to collaborating with them again in due course and to make more videos with them.

This is the first in a series of short films where we are looking to create engaging content in a short space of time. Using the new Canon 60D in a documentary environement this film was shot and edited in one day.

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.





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.






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