Ochagavía

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!”

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Petretxema

The final group who made it to the top.

The Club de Montaña Pyrenees Hike yesterday included an optional ascent of Petretxema, which someone on the group told me was the highest mountain in Navarra, but that’s wrong on two counts – it’s about 50 meters shorter than Mesa de los Tres Reyes, and, more importantly, the peak of the mountain isn’t in Navarra, or even in Spain – to get to the top, you cross the border into France. No one who knows me would ever believe I would have worked so hard to get there, of all places. 🙂

Petretxema is higher than Ben Nevis, which I climbed in Scotland, so it is technically the highest mountain I have climbed. It was a shorter hike, though, as we didn’t start from sea level. For me it was still a greater challenge, as we had already hiked for several hours before tackling the mountain itself, and we took it at a quick pace, without any stops. On top of that I wasn’t feeling extremely well that day, and in fact hadn’t eaten since breakfast. Until the last minute, I wasn’t sure if I was going to try the mountain or not. In fact, I had decided against it, as most of the inexperienced walkers weren’t doing it, and I didn’t want to slow the hard-core group down. I started out at the front of the group, and tried my best to keep up with the leader. As we climbed higher and grass gave way to rock, the group split into two – the faster ones, who hadn’t needed a break until then, and the much slower half. It was just then that I started to fall behind, so for the rest of the climb I was my own middle group, pacing myself and listening to myself breathe. I kept looking behind and trying to keep going as the distance between me and the last climbers quickly narrowed. I knew that if they caught up with me, they would pass me and I would never make it to the top in time.

The Final Ascent

The last section of the ascent, just before the summit, is a strange miniature landscape of rock and ferocious wind which blows down from the top, slowing your ascent further. By this point, I was pushing myself by not letting myself stop until I reached this or that rock, and sometimes almost crawling.

The Summit

Finally, I was able to hear the voices from the people who had already made it to the top. One last push, and I was there.

I made it!

The views from the top were spectacular – almost as good as the satisfaction of having made it all the way up there. And I wasn’t even last – three or four people came in a few minutes after me, and a few more had given up along the way.

Anyone who’s never climbed one of these mountains must think I’ve gone crazy, or that I simply enjoy pain… but I’m two in now, and I’m absolutely hooked!

Back to the Fields...

When you’re so focused on getting to the top, sometimes it’s easy to forget that you still have to get back down. But although it’s quite rough on the knees, and you have to watch where you put your feet, it’s still infinitely easier to have the wind on your back and gravity on your side. Everyone is relaxed and talkative on the way down, a marked contrast from the windswept isolation and struggle of individual wills on the way up.

Elements of Pamplona

Since I’ve been here at Pamplona, my experience has sort of splintered into five areas, based on my interests and situation. These are basically the five ‘lives’ I want to lead here, the things I want to explore. Of course, I won’t be fully immersed in any of them if I split up my time, but life is short and I want to taste as many things as possible. 🙂 These are not exactly equal to each other – they vary in terms of my motivation, the time and energy I will put into them, etc, but they’re all things I look forward to experiencing this semester.

1.) The Spanish Experience

Well, I don’t think I could get out of this one if I wanted to – it’s basically my default experience here. And it’s awesome. I’m taking all but one of my classes in Spanish, living with a Spanish woman, and making a few Spanish friends too, so I’m hoping to improve my knowledge of the language and the culture (both with a capital and a lowercase c). I love my province, Navarra, but I’m also very interested in exploring as much as I can of the rest of Spain – I’ve already been to Barcelona, Valencia, and Bilbao, and am going at a bare minimum to Madrid before I leave. Galicia is also on my almost certainly list. I’m also definitely eating as much Spanish food as I can!

Example: Every minute, every day.

2.) The Basque Experience

Yes, Pamplona is most certainly in Spain. But it’s also in Euskal Herria, or, the (greater) Basque Country. Fully half of the people I’ve met who have grown up here speak the language, Euskera, and the political situation is a constantly changing, dynamic thing reflected by graffiti, posters, and protests on the street here. I’m also close enough to Euskadi, or, the (autonomous region of the) Basque Country, that I’m able to explore it as well as I explore Navarra. So far, I’ve visited the three capitals – Bilbao, San Sebastian, and Vittoria – and loved them. With any luck, I’ll rent a car with some friends to head back and see some of the smaller towns. And anyone with a drop of linguistic leaning blood can’t help but be fascinated by Euskera itself.

Example: I signed up for a weekly Euskera course – I couldn’t resist!

3.) The Academic Experience

Yes, it sort of hit me by surprise, too. I may be studying abroad, but I’m still going to need to study – as much or more as I do back home. My classes aren’t just Spanish language, either – I’m studying visual culture, literature and its impact on the modern world, film and literature, linguistics, and the aforementioned Euskera, all in Spanish, with Spanish students. Of course, I can’t claim to love every second of this experience, but it’s a valuable one and fascinating if I let it be. So much of art history, for example, is the same as back home (imagine that) that differences really stand out and shine.

Example: Sitting in a huge classroom and trying to understand abstract lectures about Romanticism, while being unsure whether the processor just said concession, connection, or conception.

4.) The Pyrenean Experience

I love mountains – both for their scenic qualities and the possibilities for fun and exciting activities. Pamplona itself is surrounded by low mountains, and the Pyrenees themselves are just a short trip away. It´s very exciting for a little Missouri girl, and I want to make the most of it!

Example: I plan to go on many of the Club de Montaña excursions, mostly hiking, but this weekend an intense two days of canyon exploration, repelling, etc!

5.) The Erasmus Experience

This one is somewhat controversial among people studying abroad. Some love it and embrace it as a full half of their exchange experience – others feel that mixing too much with the Erasmus students from all over the world will take away from their immersion in the native culture. To be honest, I have mixed feelings about it myself, as I’ve already experienced the craziness and wonder of an international community at Mizzou. I also know that spending time with the Erasmus students means more speaking in English and less practice with my Spanish. But ultimately, I think its an exercise in futility and self-isolation to try to avoid it on principle. Besides, the Erasmus students are my friends, they keep me sane, they’re fun, and, since we’re all (let’s face it) just tourists on speed anyway, its nice to have traveling companions. 🙂

Example: Last night a group of us (from Germany, Portugal, Lithuania, Peru, Austria, Finland, Spain, and Taiwan) had a pancake party together. Not exactly traditionally Spanish… but part of the experience, just the same.

Why Pamplona?

The Cathedral of Pamplona, with mountains behind.

There is a very practical and logical reason why I chose to study abroad at the University of Navarra Pamplona – I have to do one of my study abroad semesters through my home university’s school of journalism, and the program in Spain is the only one not taught in English, and the main purpose of studying abroad for me is to improve my language abilities. (There was also an Argentinian option, which was tempting, but it’s an internship rather than a traditional academic experience.)

Despite this logical reasoning, I am thrilled to be going where I am going. I keep forgetting that I’ve never stepped foot in Spain before – since I’ve studied Spanish for eight years, it’s been part of my life for a long time, and the country is a big enough cultural force that even Americans can’t avoid a sense of its presence growing up. When I first thought about studying abroad there, I was torn by its internal diversity, wanting to explore each of its regions for their own individual merit. Galicia, Catalunya, Andalucia, Valencia, the interior, the islands… each with its own stunning landscapes and delicious food, many with their own secondary languages. How could I ever choose?

Pamplona, situated in the north of Spain.

I’m relieved in a way that logistics decided for me, and now I’m all enthusiasm about Pamplona, the neighboring Pyrenees, the Basque Countryside. I think the climate there will agree with me better than that of southern Spain, and I’ve always craved mountains. I’m curious about the Basque culture and social situation. The only downside is that every time I bring up the experience, for the rest of my life, I anticipate being asked the same question – “Did you see the running of the bulls?” And I won’t have, either – that takes place in the summer. Amazingly the city does still exist the rest of the year, though you wouldn’t know it from the media or guidebook coverage.

As far as the University itself is concerned, I know several current or former students there, and it sounds quite nice. It has good ratings, particularly for journalism, which is what I’ll be studying there. It also happens to be run by Opus Dei, the Christian organization which is  made out to be more than a little bit crazy in Dan Brown’s thrillers. So that should add another interesting dimension to the experience!