Plaza in Ochagavia

For lunch on the second day of our road trip, Marketa and I stopped in Ochagavía, the most prominent village in Navarra’s Salazar Valley. We walked alongside the river, admiring the traditional architecture and taking pictures like crazy. Then we found a reasonably priced sidrería (Cider-house) to eat at. Marketa ordered “cow’s face” as she called it – some sort of cheek meat, while I ordered traditional Basque meatballs, Basque pate, and cuajada for dessert.

Marketa saw some Kukuxumusu merchandise in a store window in the plaza, so in we went. I was ecstatic to find several animated movies from my childhood – in Basque! Red-faced but determined, I asked the lady behind the counter for Haran Sorginduaren Bila – also known as The Land Before Time. She was very sweet. “I see you like cartoons, just like me!” she said. As she was scanning the movie, though, she realized that it wasn’t just in Spanish, but in Basque! I told her that was why I was buying it, because I was studying Basque a little.

At that, she went out to the street and called in her friends. “This is an American girl, studying Euskera!” she announced. All of them were pretty impressed. “You’re doing what we could not,” they told me. “We’ve tried to learn a little bit, but we’re too old now, it’s too late, we’re the lost generation.”

“Our grandparents spoke Basque, our parents understood it. But then came the Franco years… It skipped us. But now the children are learning again! And even you, an American!”


Zorionak Ainhoa!

Just like in ordinary life, sometimes you have to make tough decisions while abroad. I’d been looking forward to the upcoming International Student Farewell Dinner for weeks, just as I’d been looking forward to my friend Ainhoa’s birthday party. I’d submitted photos to the farewell slideshow, RSVPd on Facebook, and bought Ainhoa a birthday present. Then, the day before the dinner, I got a phone call from one of Ainhoa’s friends. The two events were going to be held the same day, the same time.

It wasn’t a fun decision to make, but I knew from the moment I got the phone call what I would decide. Ainhoa had been a great friend to me. Of all the locals I’d met, she’d made the most sincere effort to include me and show me her culture. I couldn’t miss her birthday, not even for a tear-filled slideshow where all the international students would probably sing along to “as we go on, we remember, we will still be, friends forever…” (and really, what else can happen at an event like that?)

So, I went to Ainhoa’s party. I was meant to meet with the girls who lived on my side of town so that we could take the bus to Txantrea together. I arrived at the designated place at the designated time. It was a cold night, and generally arriving right on time in Spain means you will be waiting 10-15 minutes, but I decided to play it safe because I was meeting with Basques (northern Spanish cultures are a bit less relaxed about time), and because it was a surprise birthday party. After several minutes, another girl who was waiting approached me and asked whether I was Miranda. We chatted and laughed at ourselves for arriving ‘early’ until Andrea came out of her apartment at last. By then we had missed two buses, and since they only come every 15 minutes, we were over an hour late to arrive in Txantrea.

On the way from the bus stop, we suddenly heard cowbells sounding through the otherwise quiet night. To my delight, a parade of Basque Joaldunak ran by! These are dancers who wear cones and ribbons on their heads, costumes of bandanas and wool skirts, and, best of all, two enormous cowbells strapped to their backsides. “Why are they here?” I asked. “To scare away evil spirits!” said Andrea. I laughed at that. “Okay. But why here, and right now?” She just smiled and shrugged.

We met up with the rest of the group and headed to a bar. As we approached, I once again heard the clanging of cowbells. The Joaldunak were taking a break and a beer inside! It was a tiny place, with Basque independence posters joining calls to socialism, vegan-ism, and the legalization of marijuana on its walls. I worked up my courage to ask one of the Joaldunak for a picture. He was so excited that I spoke a little bit of Basque, that soon he was teasing me and telling me I could play with his bells. Awkward in a way but way too much fun to resist!

After some time in the bar, we went back to a friend’s place. This was actually my first and only time in a private house in Spain! (Within Pamplona, it’s all apartments.)  We cooked sausages and croquettes to eat with bread and good Navarran cheese. Everyone wanted to play cards, but after a round or two of playing some Spanish game I never really got the hang of, they asked for an American card game. Okay, fine, but they didn’t have what we would call a ‘standard’ deck of cards – only a set of Mus cards, with less royalty than our decks and suits of coins, swords, cups, and wands, like in tarot.

Towards the end of the party, I gave Ainhoa the present I’d put together for her – some large print photos I had taken of her the day we went to the Cantabrian Sea. Ainhoa and her friends had a present for me as well! I had misunderstood a certain Basque political poster, often hung out of people’s windows in Pamplona and elsewhere, to simply mean, “The Basque Country is awesome!” They all thought this was very funny, and bought me one of these flags. Everyone signed it for me as well.

Zorionak, Ainhoa, eta Mesedez!

Happy Birthday, Ainhoa, and Thank You!

Return to the Foces

Foz de Lumbier (Morning Sun)

Marketa and I started the second day of our road trip with the Foces of Lumbier and Arbayun to the east of Pamplona.

Rushing brown waters in Foz de Lumbier

I’d visited the Foz de Lumbier before, but I was happy to return – the foliage had changed from autumn colours to winter, and the morning sun lit up the side of the canyon that was deep in shadow during my last visit. Weeks of rain and recent snows had turned the waters turbulent and brown. Of course, the visit was also much more convenient by car: we paid 2 euros to park in the nearby lot, and then we could walk in and through the canyon and back in about forty-five minutes.


"The" view over Foz Arbayun

Just a few kilometers down the road is Foz de Arbayun. Arbayun may be even more spectacular than Lumbier, but it’s somewhat less accessible, with no easy path going directly through. There are some hiking trails that go through the gorge leaving from the village of Usún, but as we had lots we wanted to do that day we opted merely to drive to the lookout point on the road between Lumbier and Navascues. It’s well worth a quick stop – the view is stunning.


Winter is Here

We had a wonderful fall – bright leaves and lots of sunny, warm days. Then things started going downhill – for the last week there’s been nothing but rain and lower temperatures every day. Now at last we’ve turned the corner – Winter is here!

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Published in: on November 26, 2010 at 19:02  Leave a Comment  
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A Walk in Pamplona

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Saturday was a quiet day here in Pamplona, with all of my friends sick or studying or sleeping off crazy Friday nights. But it was also 19 degrees celsius, and sunny – too nice for me to stay inside! Instead, I grabbed my camera and my old Pamplona map, which I haven’t touched for almost a month. I set off to go a little bit further, look around this corner and that. I found a lot more than I expected to! With the windy old streets here, you might pass by a cute new park a thousand times, just a block away, and never realize it.

I started by walking all the way round Ciutadela, where I discovered a built in Racquetball court! Then I went past the bullring and out past the city walls, walking a short distance along the river Arga, where there were tons of families having picnics and feeding the ducks, and then entering the city on the Puente de la Magdalena and the French Gate, following the Camino de Santiago all the way back to my front door. Looking out over the city from the top of the walls, you realize how big it really is: most of the time we students don’t go any farther than the Casco Viejo, but that really only makes up a small portion of the city’s dimensions.

Published in: on October 26, 2010 at 13:27  Leave a Comment  
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San Fermin Txikito

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San Fermines is the huge summer festival, of which the Running of the Bulls is the most famous component, that makes Pamplona famous worldwide. San Fermin Txikito is a smaller version of this festival, (no running of the bulls, alas, at least not for grown-ups), which takes place in late September. Tons of people show up in traditional Basque clothing, there are musicians everywhere, and you can’t miss the Parade of the Gigantes, or Giants – there are eight in all – the King and Queen, and a pair each for Asia, Africa, and the Americas.

Published in: on September 25, 2010 at 17:11  Leave a Comment  
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El Mercado Medieval

Last weekend, Pamplona had a Medieval Market in the old part of town. It had more to do with a farmer’s market back home than with our enormous Renaissance Festivals teeming with costumes, pony rides, and shows, but was still a lovely way to spend an afternoon. I only ended up buying a jar of honey from one stand and strawberry and hazelnut flavoured barquillos at another, but that didn’t stop me from tasting dozens of types of cheese, sausage, and pate from all over northern Spain! I also loved looking at (and photographing) the huge variety of herbs and teas on display. Still, my favourite part of the market was probably the day-old baby goats in the little petting zoo. ^^

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Published in: on September 13, 2010 at 20:56  Leave a Comment  
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Triumphant Arrival and First Observations

This part wasn’t in my years-old study abroad plan. Allan and I cleverly took the overnight bus from Valencia – this saved us a wad of Euros and allowed us to have more time sightseeing with Emily after Tomatina, but also robbed us of a night of sleep and left us in the bus station before five in the morning. Not the proper station, even – that didn’t open until 6:30, so we spent an hour and a half feeling quite homeless on the concrete stairwell that led from our hanger-like, underground platform to the exterior door above.

By the time the main station opened up, I was grateful to be small enough to squeeze under these bars, which try to prevent people from sleeping on the benches. 😛

It was still very dark, and we had nowhere to go until it was a reasonable hour to call my landlady. I’d sent her an email asking how early we could arrive, and she’d said anytime – but somehow I thought this would be a stretch. Anyway, it could have been worse. We didn’t have comfort or bathrooms, but we did have snacks, and security in the form of two guards strolling about the place at intervals.

The town had seemed quite large on the bus ride through, bigger, I admit, than I really expected. Once the proper station opened up, it, too, surprised me with its scale. But I felt super legitimate getting off at the same stop as the old women and the families, instead of continuing to San Sebastian with all the tourists.

We had some time, so I walked around the station a bit. There was a coin operated Mouth of Truth, which cracked me up, and a few more useful things – ATMs which dispensed rolls of coins, and a photo-printing machine. There was an advertisement playing on loop for the region of Navarra. It reminded me of a recent ad for Romania – somewhat over the top music, etc, but still it made me even more excited to be in this region, as did a look at a bulletin board listing day trip offerings to mountains and forests.

The day seems to start slowly here. As seven turned into eight and eight turned into eight thirty, the station was still all but deserted. The few people I have bumped into seem very nice so far. I moved my backpack out of the way of the man who was mopping the floors, and when he turned back around he said to me, “Gracias, eh? Lo he visto.” 🙂 There seem to be an above average number of middle aged and older ladies here, but maybe it’s just that time of the morning.

One more observation: Basque is real. I’ve already heard several people speaking it, and almost everything is written in Basque – not only government run things which may well have to be, but also posters, etc. It’s inspired me. I’m not only in Spain – I’m also in Basque Spain, and I have renewed hope that I may get to take a Basque language or culture course as an elective.

Published in: on August 27, 2010 at 11:48  Leave a Comment  
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