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Ondo Ibili! Travels in the Basque Country: Lael Uberuaga-Rodgers

Ondo Ibili! is a semi-regular feature of Buber’s Basque Page to highlight travels and experiences in the Basque Country.  The goal is to help those who haven’t had the chance to go to the Basque Country to connect to it and to highlight some off-the-beaten-path experiences that others might want to try during their next visit.

Lael Uberuaga-Rodgers, a distant cousin of mine, is a long-time member of the Oinkari dance group in Boise, Idaho. 

In July of 2011, the Oinkari Basque Dancers (including little ol’ me) and the Basque band Amuma Says No traveled to the Basque Country, the birthplace of our dances and culture.  Trips to the Basque country are really important to us; visiting every few years allows us to maintain authenticity in our repetoire and form and strengthen connections with native Basque dance groups.   This trip, a “European Tour” with Amuma Says No, would also be a chance to showcase what we have to offer in our unique place as American-Basques in the Diaspora.

Since the Oinkari founders visited as a group for the first time in 1960 and came home to start the Oinkari dance group, we had visited an additional 3 times.   Previous trips had been on the invitation of a local Bizkaian or Gipuzkoan dance group, but this time we wanted to bring ourselves over. Most members couldn’t pay for our tour out-of-pocket, so in January of 2011 we embarked on a 6 month intensive fundraising campaign. We acquired sponsors, canvassed local and regional businesses for tax-deductible auction items and prizes, and held severalvery successful fundraising events.  I’m always a little surprised, but very grateful, at how generous our Diasporan Basque community is in Boise, in Idaho, and in the West in general.  Without the support of family, friends and other Basque organizations, we wouldn’t have been able to make this trip for several more years. But with their help, we booked our tickets, hostels and bus transport, scheduled extra rehearsals, and cleared our schedules for July 2011.

I don’t get to travel to Euskal Herria very often, so I wanted to stretch my trip out.  10 days before the official Oinkari group arrived, I left Boise with my mother and her cousin to see a little bit of Spain before our dance tour.

We landed in Bilbao, and hightailed it to Onati, Gipuzkoa for their Korpus Festival.  Onati is one of my favorite Basque towns, and the first I ever visited.  Their festival is very unique, and a tradition that has lasted for hundreds of years.

After Onati, we set our GPS southbound.  We passed through Madrid to visit a friend of mine (scary to navigate a car in an unfamilar European city!) and took the highway south to Tarifa.  

My mom would be damned if she was this close to Africa without visiting, so we hopped on a catamarand ferry to visit the Morrocan city of Tangiers for an afternoon.  We hired a native Moroccan guide to take us around the city, but were still hassled constantly by men, women and mostly children to buy every single thing they had for sale.  Tourist culture I guess?

After leaving Tangiers and Tarifa, we headed north back to the Basque Country.  I thought I was really biased before, but after driving through 16 hours of desert and grassland, I don’t feel as biased as I once was in saying that the Basque Country is the most beautiful part of Spain.  Driving back into the lush, green mountains and beautiful beaches was like coming home– even though that’s not really what Boise looks like :)

 

Joining back up with Oinkari’s was an adrenaline rush.  Where before I was traveling with my mom and her cousin at an adult’s pace, we were now hustling and bustling, barhopping, and being about as noisy and conspicuous as an group of American young people in an European city could be.

We visited 8 towns during our trip, dancing in most of them and cheering Amuma Says No on during our concerts. We even made Oinkari t-shirts so we could keep track of our whirlwind journey.


We visited our friends from the Andra Mari and Arkaitz dance groups, met new friends in the Ortzadar group in Pamplona, and even traveled across the border to France to visit and perform for Mutxiko, our Ipparaldean friends in Hendaia who performed at Jaialdi 2010.

I think we accomplished what we set out to do: we showed the Basque Country what we do and improved our authenticity.  But most importantly, we connected with old and new friends, and ignited the spark of Basque culture in our teenagers.  Us older members may know the Basque Country and love it, but we need to share that love with our younger members, so the excitement and interest in our heritage will continue for future generations.