Monday, 26 August 2013

206. Sunday morning in the mountains

2nd August 2013. For most of July, heat and high humidity blanketed the Pays Basque and we retreated indoors behind closed shutters and stayed there. Fortunately, that spell of weather broke and now we're enjoying summer.

26th August 2013. I'm involved with an association down here that is concerned with the activities of Comète - the WWII escape & evasion network that helped hundreds of shot-down pilots return to the UK. Over a long weekend in mid-September each year there's a commemoration here - the Friday sees us laying wreaths in various locations, a speech or two followed by vins d'honneur à volonté! On the Saturday & Sunday we walk over the same tracks across the mountains and into Spain that were used during the war, wading across the river Bidassoa that marks the frontier where these days, instead of being shot at by Franco's Guardia Civil, the Basques from l'autre côté welcome us with grilled sardines and cider.. Sunday sees us making an early start - a 7.30am scramble up what feel like a near vertical hill rising up from the river before easing off. The goal this time is Sarobe borda, a remote old farm high up in the Spanish Basque country that sheltered hundreds of evaders throughout the war. Nothing has changed there - today they still welcome us with homemade hot tortillas, and bottles of full-bodied Rioja as they always did with the footsore pilots who staggered in at dawn back then..

Yesterday, a few of us had a dry run of the Saturday programme to show the route to a few new Basque mountain men who would act as guides next month. After leaving home at an ungodly hour, we all met up and set off at 8am.. The air was clean and fresh with the smell of wild mint in the air.
Here are a few photos to give you a flavour of the day..
Fortunately, the first line of hills obscures what lies behind..!
Just when you thought you'd reached the summit, up ahead there was another daunting steep climb..
Fortunately it was in the low 20s yesterday and this time I had 2 sticks to help me up the climbs..
This is Hendaye (France) with Fontarribia (Spain) in the background..
Getting higher.. There's a vulture on this photo (above).. There's a v-shaped notch on the left hand side and the bird is just visible on the right of the vee.

We came across the skeleton of a small pottok.. a wild horse that lives in the mountains. Its bones had been picked clean and all that remained was its tail.
Breath-taking scenery up there..
This is the summit where we bumped into a man walking his dog for an early morning walk on a mountain top.. (as you do!)
This was a working farm we came across on the descent.. she was living the life as it's always been lived there.. Fortunately we had 4 Basque speakers with us and she was kindness itself.

 This tranquil scene is the Bidassoa - marks the Franco-Spanish frontier. (full of good-sized trout) 
When the river was raging high and wading across in the dark wasn't an option, the evaders would walk upstream for 4-5kms to this former power station where a simple suspension bridge a couple of feet wide was rigged up in those days. Today, that's been replaced by a modern bridge. The walk along the bank - up and down the high bank on loose jagged footings was as hard as anything we did yesterday.. We were all drenched in sweat..
We finished up at a restaurant - where else.. (this is France!) - and this was the salad (très copieux as they say here) my neighbour was served with as a starter!!