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.

 

North, to the Witch Caves!

Zugarramurdi, in the Valley of Baztan

In the extreme north of Navarra is a little town called Zugarramurdi, home to 218 people and, four hundred years ago, one of the biggest and bloodiest witch hunts of the Spanish Inquisition. Ultimately, forty suspected witches were found guilty and sent south for further trial, where many ended up being burned at the stake.

In my second to last week in Pamplona, some friends and I took a rental car up to Zugarramurdi from Pamplona (about 1 1/2 hour drive). We were in a bit of a hurry, so we only took the quickest peek at the new Witch Museum, but we were especially eager to see the Sorgin Leze, or Witch Caves, where the devil himself was said to give services to congregations of witches on the banks of the Hell Stream (Infernuko Erreka in Basque).

The Hell Stream

The first thing we came across while walking the loop path was the infernal stream itself, reddish brown and strangely opaque. It looked as thick as paint, but it was moving too fast and without staining the stones around it. Although we were certain that the colour must come from the soil – clay or something similar – it was easy to see why earlier generations had found it so unsettling.

The caves are enormous and airy inside...

Following the stream, we soon found ourselves in the cavern itself, with its high ceiling and the little chambers above us to the left, where the covens were said to hold more private meetings. Open on two sides to the air, it was more like a natural bridge than a cave, but spectacular either way.

Whatever you believe about the historical ‘witches’, it’s easy to imagine some fantastic bonfires taking place here!

The biggest opening, with the hell stream below.

Published in: on December 10, 2010 at 00:54  Comments (1)  
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Irrintzi

In Bilbao, I went to a pintxo bar called Irrintzi. Like the names of many pintxo bars, to the newcomer to the Basque Country it looks like a mess of random letters, more like a random file name you typed out in a rush than a word with significance and meaning. Still, like most of them, it does actually have a meaning.

It’s basically a crazy, high pitched scream, serving the traditional purpose of calling throughout the mountains, like yodelling. Nowadays it’s often used by Basque as expressions of excitement, happiness, and emotion at fiestas and the like. Here’s a definition I particularly like, from buber.net – “The traditional Basque mountain cry, a ululation characterized by a rising pitch and concluded with a kind of demented laugh.”

Because real life has to add a darker and more complex tone to everything, Irrintzi has recently developed another meaning – it is the name of a new Basque terrorist group that works in France with the motto, “Euskal Herria ez dago salgai” – “The Basque Country is not for sale.”

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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Foz de Lumbier

 

The Plan

The Foz de Lumbier is a beautiful and distinctive canyon in the east of Navarra. Photos of its green waters, soaring cliffs, and hundreds of resident vultures tantalized me from every pamphlet and guide to the region. I wanted to go, but with my access to cars essentially non-existent, I wanted to see if there was a way to reach it by public transport. I could think of a few potential issues – 1.) Is the canyon within walking distance of a bus stop? 2.) Is the canyon easily walkable without a guide, map, or prior knowledge? 3.) Is there a bus to the nearest bus stop at a reasonable time? 4.) Is there a bus back from the nearest bus stop at a reasonable time? Unfortunately, there’s no quick and easy guide to day-trips from Pamplona, but after a bit of Googling and guesswork, the answer to all the above seemed to be yes, and there was nothing for it but to try. I found my opportunity on a beautiful and unseasonably warm November Friday. I thought it could easily be my last chance, so even though my friends were tied up in class, I set off.

I went to the bus station after my morning classes and ordered potatoes with garlic sauce and a bottle of water. The whole package cost me less than four euros, and was lovingly packaged to go – a quick and easy alternative to packing a lunch for day-trips. With just this, my camera, and a basic plan, I caught the one o’clock bus to Liedena, to the slight surprise of the driver. On Google Maps I could see that the canyon itself was halfway between the small town of Lumbier and Liedena (smaller yet) – and it looked to me as if I could walk easily between them, following the river. I wasn’t one hundred percent sure it would work, as all online advice was written to reasonable people with cars, but I figured that if the path became impassable, I could always return to Liedena and take the bus back from there. To be safe, I had copied down the times of all the returns from both Liedena and Lumbier. If things went well, the walk would be about 8 km = 2 hours, and I had four between my arrival in Liedena, and my last chance of departure from Lumbier. I couldn’t find the exact location of the bus stops on Google, but I figured that Lumbier was a bigger town, and the stop would be more likely to be marked, or if not it would be easier to find someone to ask about it – by arriving in Liedena I would know immediately where that stop was in case of having to revert to plan B.

The Escape from Liedena

I got down at Liedena. I was glad I’d done the walk in this direction, as the official stop seemed to be the parking lot of an auto-body shop. An older woman got off with me and asked me twice if I was really going to Liedena – the first time I merely said ‘yes’ and smiled, the second time I explained that my plan was to walk to Lumbier. She brightened at this, understanding, and told me that it was a lovely walk and popular in the summer – and that right now the first bit was under construction for the new highway, but I could still pass through. I followed her into Liedena proper, which consisted of a few rows of houses, a little cafe, and a church up the road. She showed me the best spot to photograph the town was, so that I’d have a memory of her pueblo, and pointed out the path to Lumbier. I thanked her and set off.

The first part of my journey was through a field of mud – the ugly construction site the woman had warned me about. My original plan had been to try to follow the river, so that’s what I did… at least, until I ran into a rope and a sign prohibiting unauthorized access. Perhaps I wasn’t on the right path after all? Backtracking a little ways, I found a more suitable looking path, much less muddy, that still kept fairly close to the river. I really thought I’d figured it out this time, and was walking happily along a shady path with little farmhouses beside me, when the path suddenly came to an unceremonious end. Looking to the right, I saw for the first time an extremely nice looking path, well maintained and continuing on towards the canyon. This, I thought, must be the path – but I didn’t want to lose another half hour retracing my steps. Summoning up my courage, I cut across a tiny bit of land, dodging planters and sheds (the owner’s house was nowhere in site) and threw myself up the muddy hill on my hands and knees. Triumphantly I landed on what I hoped would be the actual path, and started for a third time on my way. After another kilometer or so, a little path broke away from mine and led into the mountains – here I found a sign at last, confirming that the path I was on led to the canyon. Finally!

The Devil’s Bridge

I followed this path for some time. As much as half of my total walk was on this side of the foz, and the woman in Liedena had told me to just walk until I got to the tunnel. It was a pleasant walk, through, once I had left all the mud and construction behind. The river ran beside and below me, and there were more leaves on the trees left than in Pamplona. Dozens of vultures were flying above me, but in the perfect fall air and sunshine they didn’t seem threatening or ominous at all. At last I reached the tunnel the lady had described, and a good sign post explaining my options. There was a very easy walk through the canyon, or a much longer round trip that also took me up into the mountains. To be on the safe side, I opted for the easy walk, since I didn’t know how well the mountain path would be marked or how long it would take. First, through, I was distracted by a smaller sign, just to the side of the tunnel entrance.

This sign said (in Spanish, Basque, and English): The Devil’s Bridge – 16th century – a bridge of great historical importance until its destruction during the War of Independence (1812). DANGER! Access to the bridge is highly dangerous (danger of falling). Proceed at your own risk.

The path was narrow and high, but wide enough, and one side was against the mountain, and the rocks beneath my feet were solid. I’m not sure I’d want to take the trip with a toddler or two in hand, but it was perfectly fine as long as I didn’t do anything stupid. Soon I was hiking almost directly above the blue river and a few ruined houses. The bridge itself was pretty thoroughly destroyed, and what is left isn’t fantastically interesting, but it’s a cool spot to go to nonetheless. On one side you can look down the river towards Liedena, and on the other you can -almost- see into the canyon itself. When the bridge was complete I’m sure the view from the middle was marvellous, but the way it is now it’s so tempting to try to lean just a bit further out and see the canyon open up – maybe this is the danger the sign warned about!

 

Enter the Foz

I worked my way back to the tunnel and entered. The reason there’s such a convenient path through the canyon is that the tunnels were once part of a railroad. The tunnel is long and slightly curved, but never so dark you can’t just make out where to walk. Before I knew it, I had reached the end, and I was in the canyon. As my eyes adjusted to the light, I followed a little path down to the water on my left, where I could look out back towards the Devil’s Bridge. A lone kayaker was practicing in the rapids here as I snapped a few pictures, enjoying the sense of calm and quiet.

The canyon itself was so short it only took me half an hour to cross, even taking dozens of photos. The afternoon light was hitting one wall of the canyon and making it shine brilliantly, while the other was in deep shadow and the water separating them seemed to glow faintly as it wound its way through, cutting every second a tiny, tiny bit deeper into the rock. I sat for a few minutes to take pictures of the vultures that flew overhead, and enjoyed the half company of a bunch of schoolchildren who marched through with their teachers, acting exactly like my class would have, at that age. The canyon path ended with another tunnel, a bit shorter than the first, and shortly behind me one of the schoolboys came running and hollering, throwing his bag up in the air. You could hear the voices of his teachers calling behind him, exasperated, but sounding more annoyed than worried.

 

Lumbier

There was a little picnic area on the Lumbier side of the Foz, and I stopped there to eat my little lunch and let the schoolchildren pass by me. They taunted a herd of sheep as they went by, and the sheep went running for the hills. I mean literally – I’ve never seen sheep move like these, running so fast that at times they seemed to have all four feet up in the air. As soon as the children left, they ran back towards the path just as quickly. The walk to Lumbier was nice again in the golden sunlight, as I passed old men tending old vineyards and several pairs of old women walking two by two for exercise. Before long I rounded a certain corner and could see Lumbier ahead of me, with its city walls and church up on the hill. I followed a sweet looking path towards the town, crossing a tiny patch of woods and a little river on a medieval bridge.

I was quite a bit ahead of schedule, so I headed for the Tourist Information Office/Foz Nature Interpretation Center, where I paid 1.20€ for entry to the center (the information office is free). I was the only one there, and the woman working the front desk had to run up the stairs to turn all the lights and sounds on for me. The center was small but nice, with a variety of different exhibits about the geology of the canyons, the resident vultures, and about nature in general. I suppose the grand majority of it was marketed for children, but I enjoyed the little models and illustrations and the translation of everything into Basque. I even got private showings of the two short movies about the area. On the third floor there was a strange ‘tunnel of sensations’ where you could go through, learn about living in peace with nature, and feel different objects from the forests and canyons to guess what they were. I would have loved that as a child!

 

Back to Pamplona

When I’d seen all there was to see in the center, and it was getting closer to time to catch the bus, I asked the woman where the bus stop was (it was very close and impossible to miss) and caught the bus back to Pamplona with no issues. All in all, my daytrip to Lumbier was a success. Other than a bit of confusion at the beginning due to the construction, things went easily and according to plan. Although visiting by car would be quicker and more efficient, I also got something special out of doing the trip this way. After all, it’s not only the destination that matters, but also the journey.

Published in: on November 16, 2010 at 23:03  Leave a Comment  
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To Pain with Love

“Amaia Gabantxo: In Basque, there was just a very simple line that used the verb “to fall in love.” But, you know, it seemed so clumsy because the Basque is so beautiful. It’s maitai mindu. If you split the word, if you look at the two words that form it, it just means “love pain.” So, to fall in love in Basque, is to pain with love, you see. So, you can never love without pain in Basque.”

http://www.nea.gov/av/avCMS/Elorriaga-podcast-transcript.html

Published in: on November 5, 2010 at 22:03  Leave a Comment  
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Rainy Days on the Costa Blanca, Part One

The beach of Altea, a town on the Costa Blanca

When many Europeans think of Spain, they think of Málaga and the Costa del Sol, Alicante and the Costa Blanca. They’re popular vacation spots, where families and party-seekers alike arrive in droves from the U.K., Germany, and further north, often on package tours. Because the airports are popular and the names well known, a lot of exchange students here have these cities on their to-do lists. Maybe because I shy away from super touristy spots, or maybe because, having grown up in America, the names have less sun-drenched power to me, but this area of Spain would have been pretty far down on my list if not for Emily.

Emily and I took a Catalan course together at Mizzou, and then met up to tackle Tomatina before our semesters started. Its always fun to visit someone you know and let them show you their city, so for a long weekend I hopped on an overnight bus and headed south. The bus ride was long – “10 hours?” Jaime’s friend asked me. “That’s longer than the flight from America!” I hadn’t thought about it in those terms, but she was right, in a way. Still, I found it infinitely more pleasant than a flight, not least because I was lucky and no one showed up to claim the seat next to me. For once I was grateful to be tiny as I curled up and slept most of the way.

There was a long stop halfway, probably more for the driver’s sake than our own. We had forty-five minutes to wander around a huge truck stop with a cafeteria, souvenir shop, and more. We were in the middle of nowhere, with darkness all around. I only allowed myself half an hour before making sure to find the bus and get back on with plenty of time. I didn’t fancy getting left behind there. This was my first time traveling alone, and the feelings of vulnerability were only intensified by the darkness. Still, I felt strangely empowered and independent to cross all the distance of Spain in the darkness of night, just a little girl with a backpack.

One of the many bull-boards on the coast of Alicante.

My bus arrived two hours early, just as the one to Pamplona had. Once again, it wasn’t a good thing. I texted Emily to let her know, telling her not to worry, as I had a book, but thinking she might come half an hour early or something. It was dark and dodgy outside, so I went into the small interior of the bus station, home to a whole six benches. I lost mine when I had to go to the bathroom, but I thought I could take my chances outside by then, as the sky was starting to lighten and there were a few people moving around. I sat on a bench outside until the stares of the man next to me made me uncomfortable, then I just moved and sat against the building with my leg hooked around the strap of my backpack, and my purse and laptop bag still across my chest. Emily finally arrived just after 9. Apparently she’d gotten a new cell phone number and never received my text message.

An example of the classy types drinking and shouting 24/7 outside of Emily's window. No wonder she was so tired - I think I got this shot around 7 a.m.

We slept for most of my first day in Alicante. We tried to do a bit of shopping that Emily needed to get done, but inexplicably, everything was closed, although it was a Saturday. We hiked all the way to the mall to find everything closed except for the food court. Almost everything in the city was closed, and we ended up only finding one small chino shop that we could buy some essentials for the night in. At night we tried to watch a movie on Emily’s computer, but couldn’t get any of those to work, either…

Published in: on October 13, 2010 at 09:14  Leave a Comment  
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U – Dos, San Sebastian

You too! (Get it? Get it?)

I just went to a U2 concert. In San Sebastian, Spain. It was the closing event for this year’s International Film Festival, and I was there, along with a high school friend, Sara, and her friend Colleen – both studying in Madrid this semester.

We got to the stadium quite early, but it was already pretty crowded. We had standing room only tickets, (we snatched them at about 60 euros each!), so we moved as far up as we could, and sat down and ate a picnic dinner while the crowd slowly filled in….

That's right.

The show? It was awesome. What else do you expect of U2? This was the 360* tour, and there was some really creative use of the giant video screens – they showed the concert, they showed animations, they showed poetry, they moved, they glittered… but always only complimenting the music itself. The night air was a little cold in the open-air stadium, but once everyone was on their feet clapping and dancing it warmed up quickly – it was a surreal experience to raise your hands in the air and feel the difference in temperature. My flatmate Gianfranco, who was in Rome for an exam, made me call him from the stadium so he could hear his favourite song. There were odd little Spanish touches here and there, too, reminding us that we weren’t back home in the Scottrade Center. Bono greeted the crowd in English, Spanish, French, and Basque, and, instead of Encore, the crowd sang, “Ole, ole ole ole…. ole, ole.” !!!

We walked back to the hostel on a cloud of elation, riding the wave of concert-goers through an otherwise deserted city. San Sebastian isn’t quite the party capital of Spain, and on a Sunday night at… 1? 2? It was totally empty except for the U2 crowd. A few bars right next to the stadium were absolutely packed, so we kept walking hoping to find one a little bit less busy. We were out of luck, as most of the city was completely shut down and closed up. Once at the hostel, we found a few other U2 fans asking the front desk about places to get food – his only grim suggestion was a vending machine several blocks away. The four of us marched over to what had become a very popular vending machine! Luckily it was a pretty good one that spit out hot toasted sandwiches… enough to get us through the night, anyway. At a pinch, U2 would have been worth going hungry for… at least until we ate lunch in France the next morning! 😀

Already Only a Month

It’s the last day of the solar summer. September is drawing to a close, and that means I’ve been on this exchange for nearly a month. It doesn’t feel like it. Depending on the time of the day, who I’m talking to, what I’m doing, it seems like I’ve been here forever, or like I’ve only just arrived. Never like I’ve been here for a month. And yet, I’ve now spent more time in Spain than in any other foreign country – longer than in Japan or Scotland. The time spent so far has been less action packed than a month of pure tourism, but not nearly as routine as life back home.

It’s funny now, to remember how I arrived in Spain after spending the night in the Manchester airport, how Allan and I wandered through Barcelona for two days as if in a dream, meeting up with Emily in Valencia for Tomatina and the beach, and then spending another long, sleepless night in route to Pamplona. I was happy to have Allan with me for the first few days here, as I moved into my apartment, walked around Pamplona for the first time, as a stranger, and even impulsively visited Puente la Reina based on a single photo in the train station. And then, Allan left, and suddenly I was totally alone, and far from home.

I took things one step at a time, with some challenges leaving me triumphant and others in a pathetic heap, but I got everything straightened out, in the end. I went through orientation, picked classes, matriculated, found my way around campus and groups for projects. I got a hair cut and learned where I could find this food and that and for what price. I learned how to use WIFI and the copy machine and the library and the bookstore. I’ve adjusted to Sundays and Siestas.

I made friends and we had curry parties and pancake parties and long nights drinking wine on apartment balconies. We travelled to San Sebastian and Vitoria and Bilbao. I met up with a girl from Couchsurfing.com and went to a Basque concert with her and her friends. I started learning Euskera. I went hiking in the Valley of Arpan, explored Alquezar and went canyoning in la Sierra de Guara with Club de Montana.

If I put it this way, yes, I suppose it has been one month. And yet one morning when I didn’t have class until 12, I lay in and when I woke up, it took me several long seconds to remember I was in Spain, because everything felt so normal and natural and safe and clean and good. I’ve found a new normal, made a new home here.

Not bad, for the first month.

Bilbao – Bigger, Better, Brighter

To think I’d heard such nasty things about Bilbao. In our geography of Spain unit Junior Year, we’d been told nothing more of it than that it was Basque, northern, industrial. Lacking in charm. Even Ana, my landlady, had said, “Go to the Guggenheim. The Guggenheim is beautiful. But don’t bother with the rest of it. Bilbao’s not a pretty city. It’s not so nice.” Perhaps I’d simply had low expectations – I loved it.

From the Old Town, with the winding alleys and pintxos bars I’ve already come to expect from Basque Spain, all the way to the famous Guggenheim, I wasn’t disappointed by an inch of the Bilbao I explored. I suppose it could be said that I was only really ‘impressed’ by Bilbao’s riverside market (the largest covered market in Europe), the pintxos at Bar Irrintzi (amazing), and, yes, the world famous Guggenheim Museum, but the spaces in between held their own charm. Our walk through the center of town took us past dozens of cheerful parks and row after row of elegant buildings, and our stroll alongside the Nervión river revealed fascinating, if puzzling, designs of office buildings, bridges, and modern art statues. A shameless mountain geek, I also loved the way the city is nestled down between two mountain ranges, earning it the nickname El Botxo – “the hole”.

I found Bilbao’s reputation to be quite ill-deserved – it was on the whole bigger, better, and brighter than I had been led to expect, and well worth a day or two of wandering. But if the great majority of the day trippers go straight to the Guggenheim without passing GO, well, that just means more pintxos for me!

Published in: on September 17, 2010 at 22:11  Comments (1)  
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