This past Saturday, April 30th, the town of Burgi in Nafarroa held one of the more unusual events on the always lively Basque cultural calendar: Log Raft Day (Almadiaren Eguna). The small town at southern entrance to the Erronkari/Roncal Valley was famed historically for its river log rafting, the traditional method of transporting timber from the high Pyrenean mountain valleys down to lower ground and beyond.
Beginning in the 14th century, creating timber rafts to be shipped down the Ezka River was the only means of transporting this valuable resource from the high mountains and Burgi gained special fame for its skilled rafters. With modernization and improved transport facilities this skill gradually declined in use, with the last rafts being employed in 1952. But in 1992 an association was formed to revive historical memory about the craft and its special place in the history of the region. Since then, Burgi has held an annual Log Raft Day to celebrate the feats of its ancestors.
Julio Caro Baroja describes this dangerous work vividly in his classic study The Basques (pp. 156-57):
Even in the eighteenth century, however, the rivers that cross oceanic Navarre and all of Gipuzkoa from south to north were used to carry, in rafts, tree trunks cut in the nearby mountains to the ports of the estuaries, where there were shipyards and important warehouses. Today, the river transport of wood has become typical of the rivers of the easternmost Pyrenean zone of the country, such as the Eska, which flows through the Erronkari Valley from north to south; the Salazar, which bears the same name as the valley (in Spanish); and especially the Irati, which originates in a dense forest. Woodcutters and raftsmen are of great economic importance there, as in the adjacent land of Zuberoa. The rafts may be made of planks or tree trunks. If they are made of planks, some forty are placed on their sides, or fifteen are placed together if they are made of trunks. Each plank or trunk has holes in the ends for wires, or earlier, branches of hazel, as towlines that bind them to a crossbeam. Strings of rafts, usually tied in fours, are formed in this way so that the raft can negotiate the turns in the river by what is called xintura. Each raft measures some five meters in length and three meters in width, so that the string of rafts totals twenty meters. In the forward part stand two men, the lead men, each with an oar or hook (gafa), and in the rear another two, the aft men. In the middle there are two wooden forks with a stick over them, from which the food and clothing of the raftsmen are hung in knapsacks. The work is hard and dangerous, especially in ravines with violent currents and at dams, where there are ramps built expressly for the rafts. The pine rafts of the Irati go all the way to Castejón, and those of oak and fir go to Agoitz.