September 11, 2012


The first two cols of this trip, climbed today, were little ones, miniatures, but cols nonetheless, both enroute to Espelette. The second was so unassuming that it didn't even merit the typical French col sign, and instead had only a  "Route de Cols" marker and its name. It is the Route de Cols that I wonder whether next year's Haute Route de Pyrenees might follow, but further inland, above these foothills, in the mountains.

Yesterday I was in Spain, searching without luck for a coastal route I wanted to ride, and there was ... no ... customs station. No one to ask me how long I would be in Spain, to demand what my business was, to stamp my passport and legitimize my trip, however short. With the European Union, this is gone, both the good and bad things about it. This old unused customs house marks our contemporary age. But of course!, I think in retrospect, but it did surprise me at the time.

Basque people became Christians , and devout ones, early in European Christianity's history, but without giving up many of their earlier beliefs. The original Basque religions were nature based, with the sun, the earth,and the sky as important elements. Traditional headstones were round, and featured imagery using these elements, especially frequently the sun in a rayon pattern. These photos are of headstones from an old graveyard behind the church in Espelette;  these headstones date from the early to mid 1600s.

Now, never ever have I overwritten notes handwritten on paper with more recent efforts, one palimpsest of writing above the other, and so lost my work, and thus the notes that I had taken for later use. But I have apparently done just that with my computer notes about Basque history and food, so (terrifying thought) this and future posts will rely on my memory.

Basque churches have identifiable architectural characteristics, among them two or three galleries above the main floor. One, in Ascain, was built in the 17th century, and has had a replica of an ocean-going ship hanging in the center of it since. The Basques were highly skilled, adventurous and courageous sailors, and many of the men were at sea for extended periods of time, risking and all-too-frequently losing their lives. The ship flies both the French and the Basque flag.

You can't really see it in these photos, but Basque houses have names; many names are now marked on the outside of the house. The family members who lived there were (and I think may still be) known by their first name and the name of the house. You see extea and etche a lot in Basque names and words ... both mean house. The half-timbered house, white, with red shutters is typical in Basque areas. Originally the red was from bull's blood.


Espelette is now famous for its peppers, brought here from South America. Grown in this climate and soil, they have a distinct flavor, are only of a low-medium heat, and there is no good substitute. Early on they were used in the making of chocolate. Now these peppers are a hallmark of Basque cuisine, with AOC status and protection in France. The peppers are hung outside the houses to dry during the fall after harvest. They are also, for sure, hung inside airy barn-like structures to dry. The peppers in the photo were on an exterior wall in town.


  1. Beautiful! I've only spent one single day in Basque country and I have just put it up at the top of my list. If I were the jealous type I'd say I was envious!

    By the way, I think that's the lowest 'col' I've ever seen. It'll be fun to see them 'grow' as you go along your route.

    1. Hi Gerry,

      Thank. It is indeed beautiful, though I think it has a lot of competition for the top of your list!
      And yes, that low col was a hoot, which is why I made such a point of including it. Soon they will get higher.

      Also, thanks for traveling along with me, it's fun to hear your impressions.

  2. Geez, it would make me anxious to cross a border without customs checking all my documents. Back in the ancient days, when I lived in Grenoble, I was considered reckless for walking around town without my passport.

    The peppers are gorgeous!

    1. Odd, how it struck me ... something like diminishing the importance of travel ... though that makes no sense. Maybe it reminds me a bit of the homogenization of culture we have seen from the mid 50s forward in the US. Though I imagine if crossing a national border is a part of daily life and business, it is much better without them. My point of view is certainly that of a foreigner. I am fond of my memory of crossing by bike, in and out of Canada with customs.

      And yes, the peppers, are amazing. I should have a photo of them in a field for tomorrow.


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