Travel experiences: Exploring our need for out of the ordinary places

When I was planning my trip to Spain I had tantalising visions of sultry flamenco dancers, eating tapas late at night in a taverna and drooling over a matador in his embroidered leotard at the bullfights. However, I was also intrigued by the underbelly of Spain and especially by the people in the rural regions. My husband and I drove north from Madrid heading to Euskadi Pais Vasco which is a secret little corner south of San Sebastian. Driving into the countryside we observed the stark difference in language and signage, it was a though we had had left Spain and entered a different country. In the heart of this region we stumbled upon an unknown jewel called Zumarraga, a backwater village planted on both sides of a winding river. Arriving at dusk we had no accommodation booked and therefore our pressing need was to find a place to bed down for the night. So with this in mind we strolled through the village to ask the locals where the nearest cheap accommodation was located. In the main square of the village was a curious little shop brimming with eclectic garments and artifacts from Tibet. The proprietor immediately pounced on my husband because he was wearing an acubra hat and became incredibly excited when she confirmed that we were indeed tourists from Australia. ‘What are you doing in this f….. place’, she asked with incredulity. Her name was Itzi and we quickly learned from our new friend that tourists didn’t venture into that part of Spain. Itzi directed us to the nearest accommodation but insisted we meet her at the tavern next to her shop in an hour. After booking our accommodation we wondered along the river back to the village centre and the tavern where we were greeted by a hundred of Itzi’s friends and relatives, including babies and dogs. Our presence had generated a swell of curiosity in the village and we were kissed and hugged by all. Liberal amounts of black wine were shouted at the bar as we squatted on the cobble stone street holding babies for photographs. A stage had been erected in the centre of the square and it’s backdrop was a canvas painted by Picasso. There was a large hollow drum in the centre of the stage that two men were beating in time. Itzi explained that the this type of drum was once used as a means of communication throughout the hillside villages. When we asked what the purpose of the gathering was for Itzi became a little secretive but hinted that we would soon find out. To our total amazement a stream of people led by several men carrying an enormous banner began marching toward the village square. They chanted and waved flags as they marched with resolve and determination in the honour of their league. They were the union of the Basque Separatist movement. My husband dived for our camera and jumped in front of the rally to take photos of this incredible event. In fear I cautioned him in case they disapproved. Itzi waved my misgivings away and encouraged him to document the march. Her words were, ‘we want the world to know that we are the Basque’. When the march was over, the leaders of the movement presented stirring speeches and later gathered in the square to drink and talk. My inquisitive husband needed to know more so he took his wine and stood with the men to discuss their objectives and the leading question was,did they believe they would gain independence. The answer was a resounding YES! My visit to Zumarrager will forever be firmly implanted in my mind with memories of the generous Basque who embraced us.

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