Monique Durham recently visited her native Pyrenees and sent me a few of her favorite photos from the trip to share. Enjoy!
People fall in love with a place for various reasons. For Jeremy, it started with his love for a Basque woman, who later became his wife. Visiting the Basque Country with her lead to a fascination with her homeland and, ultimately, a new website aimed at introducing the Basque Country to those who have not had the luck to discover it yet.
Euskoguide is, in the words of Jeremy, “a Basque Country travel guide website which covers all of Euskal Herria. My wife and I have travelled around collecting information and photos of the region. Our goal with the site was to create something that would really help people in not only planning their trip but also to convince others of how awesome it is and to go check it out for themselves.”
The website features some beautiful photos of the Basque Country and an introductory guide to the places and sites of the region. It also gives an introduction to the food and drink of the Basque Country, starting with pintxos and sagardotegis. The website is very nicely put together and promises a lot more in the future.
If you are interested in visiting the Basque Country, Euskoguide can serve as an introduction to some of the most popular and intriguing spots.
Munitibar, the town in the heart of Bizkaia that my dad is from, is small, maybe 500 people or so. It has 3 — soon to be 4 — bars and 2 churches, an anachronism from starting off as two separate barrios that eventually merged. I often think that they have it right, a bar/church ratio significantly higher than 1. (I think that the bar/church ratio in Los Alamos is probably closer to 0.03.)
Munitibar is small, but it has ambition. My uncle and aunt showed me a new energy park that is being constructed in the open fields just a bit south of the plaza. The park, Bengola Natural Energy Park, is dedicated to renewable energy and is meant to be a center that demonstrates how different forms of renewable energy work and can contribute to our energy production systems, including wind, solar, and more. There are exhibits, so to speak, of different types of windmills, for example, in an open meadow overseen by the village cemetery (in an interesting contrast of old and new traditions).
The site of the center and museum is on an old iron works site, which was later converted into a mill. In the excavations for the main building, they uncovered some of the foundation and stone work of that original iron works, which have since been incorporated into the building as an example of using water to power industry. They are diverting water into a collecting pool that will feed into the building to drive, I believe, a new water wheel to demonstrate how energy can be extracted from water.
There are multiple scupltures and other features with quotes highlighting the ecological nature of the park. Some of those quotes are in the photos posted here — I would be very grateful if anyone was interested in translating them to English so I can better understand what the message is. There is a stage, a sort of ampitheater, for lectures and concerts dedicated to ecological themes. There is also a very large stone sundial, though local kids have already defaced it by popping wheelies with their motorcycles on it. I guess it’s impossible, no matter where you are, to prevent that kind of stuff.
The park is still being finalized and the main building was under active construction when I was there. It was quite extensive, with some large exhibition rooms and what seemed to be possibly some conference rooms. It was originally expected to be completed sometime this summer, but with the crisis, it isn’t clear that the funds will be available to finish it off. But, if not now, I’m sure it will be in the near future. Whenever it is finished, I look forward to seeing how they present renewable energy and the ways it can be used to enhance the way we interact with our environment.
More information about the park can be found here.
I’ve decided on a new resolution, not for New Year’s, but regarding my visits to Euskal Herria. The thing is, I visit, I spend a lot of time with my dad’s family which I of course greatly enjoy, I see some friends (though not nearly all of them), and I come home. I don’t end up seeing anything I hadn’t seen before in terms of the cities, the countryside, museums, or anything else. So, I’ve decided to make an effort that, each time I visit, I see at least one new place.
I was in Euskal Herria during Semana Santa and, following up on my resolution, I went to see Pasai Donibane. With a good friend, Gontzal Aranguren, we left Donosti and drove to Pasai, which is actually a collection of neighborhoods on the outskirts of Donosti. This area is the big port of Donosti, with massive ships coming and going (though we didn’t see any enter or leave the port, there were ships docked in the port). To get to Pasai Donibane, you have to pay a man 1 euro to take a small boat across the water to the other side, where Pasai Donibane looks back towards Donosti.
Pasai Donibane is sometimes referred to as the “little Basque Venice.” This, of course, overstates things, as nothing really compares to Venice itself, but it has its own charm. We got there pretty early in the morning and followed a small path outside of the village up the hillside overlooking both the port and the ocean. Not an overly long hike, but it does go up a bit in elevation relatively quickly. The views were magnificent! We then hiked back to Pasai Donibane and walked around a bit. Being early in the morning, not much was open, but the streets, if you could call them that, were glistening with water, reflecting the colors of the apartments overhead. The cobblestone streets barely allowed one car through — there are more than one corner where side mirrors have worn groves into the buildings. If two cars tried to go in opposite directions down the main thoroughfare, one had to back up to an opening in the road to let the other pass.
An interesting historical note about Pasai Donibane: Victor Hugo, of Les Miserables fame, spent some time here in 1843 while traveling in Spain. Some say he was inspired to write Les Miserables while staying in Pasai Donibane, overlooking the nearby Pasai San Pedro and Pasai Antxo, which were more industrial. It isn’t clear if this is some apocraphical story or if there might be some truth in this claim. In any case, as anywhere else, Pasai Donibane has capitalized on this brief encounter with history by establishing the “Victor Hugo Etxea“, or Victor Hugo House, which is a small museum that describes his stay. It was closed when we were there, but for the history buff, it might be worth a quick visit. What is clear is that Hugo wrote his Voyage aux Pyrenees while living in Pasai Donibane.
Pasai Donibane is also known for some good seafood restaurants. Again, being there early in the morning, we didn’t take advantage, but it might be the perfect place to spend a romantic evening for two, overlooking the water with the bright lights of Donosti in the background.
Pasai Donibane is no Venice, but it has its own charm. The brightly painted apartments crammed between the hillside and the waterfront plus the breathtaking vistas from the nearby hills are a combination that is truly spectacular.
A history note of interest to Americans: it was from Pasai Donibane that Lafayette set sail for America to aid the Americans against the British during the American Revolution.
If you’ve never seen the man, he is down-right impressive. John Ochandorena Descarga, better known as simply Johnny O, is a walking tribute to the Basques, their culture, their history, and his ancestry. With two arm sleaves, tats up and down his legs and across his chest, Johnny definitely stands out in a crowd. I had the pleasure of meeting Johnny about 14 years ago at a small festival held in Vancouver, British Columbia, where Gauden Bat, the dance group Johnny was a part of, performed. Maybe a little intimidating at first, due to the abundance of ink on his body, he was a great guy. It was a great event overall.
Johnny has sent photos of all of the work he has had done, a project that continues to evolve, most recently including the footprints of his daughter, right in the middle of his chest! Because of the number of photos, I’ve created a separate gallery for Johnny’s tattoos, and he’s given explanations for each one, with photos from multiple perspectives of each arm and leg.
While such ink is not for everyone, it is still a wonder what Johnny has done. I look forward to seeing what he comes up with next!
Visitors to Buber’s Basque Page likely already know Andy Franco. Since discovering his Basque roots, he has been very involved in the Boise Basque community. Owner of Calico Forge and Knife Company, Andy has weaved his Basque heritage into his work. He made the replica harpoons that were featured in the Boise Basque Museum’s exhibit on Basque whaling and he also created the amazing lauburu that he donated for the 2008 dinner/fundraiser for the Boise Basque Museum and Cultural Center.
His focus more recently has been knives, as evident by his company website. New Mexico Euskal Etxea asked Andy if he would be interested and able to donate something for our own fundraiser, a Tapas and Wine event to be held on June 19. Andy seized the opportunity to take his knife-making in a direction he’d been thinking about for some time: kitchen knives. He made two beautiful knives, pictured below, that he generously donated to NMEE. He also made an iron stone hunter knife, also pictured (with the rougher-decorated blade). All three pieces are wonderful. We thank Andy for his generosity in sharing his amazing skills with us.