On one of my free weekends, I visited friends in Antzuola and Zestoa. There are lots of trains every day between Tolosa and Zumarraga, and from there it’s not far by bus to these beautiful towns. The valleys are narrow and the roads are extremely windy! My friends were incredibly generous and hospitable and it was hard to leave.
My friend in Zestoa suggested I might want to visit the neolithic caves a half hour walk from town, and I took her advice. While not as large a site as Altamira, the Ekain Berri cave paintings are very evocative. Like Altamira, it’s a replica site; the actual caves are a little farther up the road. This museum has an exhibition space which was showing contemporary art inspired by cave paintings. I’m really glad I went.
Iñaki Extebeste and Amaia Pavon had told me about a festival taking place in Tolosa on this particular weekend, so when I caught the train back from Zumarraga, I phoned to arrange a time and place to meet. Unfortunately, they were both sick, but I remembered Garikoitz had invited me to help out with a youth mural project at the same festival, so I planned to look for him at the underpass they were going to paint.
I hadn’t realized the scale of the festival, though. When I got off the train in Tolosa, the streets were filled with tens of thousands of people and the auxiliary train station, Tolosa Centro, was shut down for the day. I hadn’t arrived in time to catch the scything competition, wall climbing, paddling or many, many other contests, but large throngs of young people marched through the streets singing together while bands played and vendors hawked food, drinks, crafts, and prisoners’ rights.
When I found Garikoitz and his friends, they had finished their mural and were staffing a Gko Gallery table. Sales had been slow, so I offered to help pack it up after dropping my things off at the hostel. By the time I got back, though, they were already done and were heading to the musical finale. “Come on, Bill! If we get separated, look for the big cardboard hand,” they shouted, waving a cutout arm.
As we picked our way through the crowds – mainly teens and young adults – I learned that “Ahora! Kilometroak 2013 Tolosa” raises money for Basque language instruction in schools. Just as I was trying to absorb this fact and the incredible excitement in the air, Gatibu’s music began to blast us in the warm light of sundown.
I found myself in the middle of a giant mosh pit, with thousands of young people singing along with the band, chanting, waving Basque flags and Repatriate the Prisoners flags. Wow. I couldn’t imagine a similar event taking place in Canada – maybe Québec – but this was incredible.
Gatibu is based in Gernika-Lumo and their name means “captive”. I was able to sing along on the chorus of their song “Gabak Zerueri Begire” as the lead singer danced about on stage, at times with a three-year-old girl on his shoulders. It was a lot of fun.
When the concert ended, we started heading towards the old town centre that’s filled with bars and cafés, and I fell into a conversation with a French Basque woman who had been to James Bay, Québec last year with her husband. I asked where in James Bay they had stayed, if it was anywhere near … Moose Factory? Then, just as I started to ask if she had read any of Joseph Boyden’s books, at the very same moment we both spoke aloud the titles “Through Black Spruce” and “Three Day Road.” The hair stood up on our arms at the surprise of the coincidence and we laughed our way into Tolosa’s night scene…