fiestas de san miguel: oñati, basque country

There are countless tiny Basque herriak, some large, some small, and some even smaller, that no outsider will ever visit. That no tourist would ever pay attention to. But within these tiny villages, there are hundreds and thousands of stories. And, at least once a year, the populations explode to life to celebrate their town's fiestas.

Everyone gets decked out in traditional caserio, or farmer, wear. The days, usually a week but at the least a long weekend, are packed with different activities that range from gypsy amusement rides to traditional markets to parades to rural sports. It's an intriguing mix of old and new, just like the culture itself.

Our landlord's friend, Iñaki, was so so kind enough to invite us to stay with him in Oñati, a small village about an hour from Donostia, for Saturday's festivities. THANK YOU. He threw us in the deep end of small town Basque culture. To give you an idea of the closed-offness of the villages, when I asked my friend Aitor, who gave us a ride to Oñati from nearby Urretxu, if he wanted to come hang out for a bit, he quickly shook his head and goes "Esto no es mi pueblo." (This is not my town.)

Well, it definitely wasn't ours, but it was incredible...we saw it all. We started hopping in and out of tabernas with his cuadrillo (gang) around midday, crowding into the main plaza for a degustación de sidra (or free public cider tasting), watching deportes rurales (traditional basque sports, like log cutting, lifting heavy rocks, etc. serious.), and strolling around the food, craft, and livestock markets.  There were txistulari (flutists) playing in the courtyard of Oñati's beautiful old university. There was an twenty-something teaching a toddler a few notes on the txalaparta (a Basque instrument whose closest relative would be a xylophone).

Everyone was in the street...from babies to senior citizens. Even teenagers. It was a beautiful day, almost too hot for the traditional dresses the girls sport and the blue pants, vest, hat and traditional Basque shoes, which look kind of like clumsy ballet shoes with big woolen socks underneath. Iñaki's friends said they don't wear theirs anymore because they're uncomfortable.

It was truly a beautiful thing to see an entire town out together, enjoying itself and celebrating a super distinct culture. Incredible.