Tag: Anboto

On Anboto



The distinctive limestone peaks of the Urkiola Range, Anboto is the peak farthest on the right. From the hamlet of Urkiola.

It’s December again and I can’t believe it has been a whole year since I was last in the Basque Country! Since I wasn’t able to go this year, I’ve been fondly remembering my last time there, especially my last day there, a Sunday when my coworker and his partner offered to take me on a long-desired visit to Anboto. The mountain dominates the skyline of Durango and, just as a hiker looking up at it on breaks from the Azoka Stand, I’ve always wanted to make a shot at it, so I jumped at the chance. Although Anboto is actually lower in elevation than Reno at around 4,370 feet (Reno stands, according to Google, at 4,500 feet), it stands out from the landscape as an overpowering juggernaut. It is an immense mass of limestone, with cliff faces of 1,000 meters (roughly 3,000 feet) over Atxondo Valley. Anboto is one of the most known and most characteristic summits of the Basque Country.


Looking south from Urkiolamendi Pass at the beginning of the true peak ascent. It is easy to understand the grip the mountain has had on the Basque imagination.

With its distinctive shape, Anboto is not only easily recognizable but it has always played a role in Basque mythology, most famously as the home of Mari, the Basque goddess who is said to control the weather. She is said to live in a cave on the front face of the mountain. She is also known as Anbotoko Mari (“the Lady of Anboto”), She and the god Sugaar were (also known as Sugoi or Maju) connected her to the weather. When she traveled with Sugaar hail would fall. And in general her tos and fros across the sky brought storms or droughts.


Mari was said to control the weather from her cavern on Anboto.

We left the car at the hamlet of Urkiola, in the Parque Natural de Urkiola, alongside the Sanctuary of Urkiola, a Roman Catholic temple that famously celebrates the Day of Saint Anthony of Padua on June 13. This saint helps those looking for lost objects and for love, but we needed nothing as we started off on a crisp December morning with mountains dotting in and out of thick fog. The walk is a popular one and we passed many other strollers and even some Basque ponies or pottoka.


A wild Basque pony, clearly used to passersby and photo opportunities, similar to Reno’s local mustangs.

It was so pleasant walking and talking with my coworker and his companion, who have also become my good friends over my years working as your Basque Books Editor. Once we get past the fog layer the day is clear and bright, an anomaly for the Basque Country in this time of year and we soak it in. At Urkiolamendi Pass my companions, having been here many times before, decided that they would forsake a summit attempt and they sent me on alone. Now the trail became braided into various use trails and, with the beautiful day and with the Basques’ love for the outdoors, hiking, and mountain climbing, there were many people on the pass. Climbing up through steep limestone, at first the trail remained in the treeline, but it was truly stunning when it emerged and you could see how very steep this mountain really is.


That is a long way down!


The peak in sight now, sharing the trail with lots of visitors

I emerged onto the top of the ridge to a sublime panorama of what seemed to be the entire Basque Country. Durango in the valley below me, farther away toward the coast where Gernika was, and then, over there, even where Bilbao would be although it remained out of sight.


Emerging onto the highest ridge, looking toward Durango and Bilbao.


The last climb to the summit, dotted with people.

I started climbing the last, narrow, very steep climb to the summit. I think that maybe Mari go to me, or Sugaar, because I started to get really nervous. My more or less street shoes didn’t seem to be finding the traction they should on the still dew wet grass and the number of people (in Nevada it is much more common to hike alone) made me feel claustrophobic. Particularly one couple, with the man convincing an increasingly reluctant woman that she should continue while younger, fitter people clambered all about us. I was probably only meters from the summit when I realized that it didn’t matter so much, that I had done what I had set out to do and that it was time for me to get off of the mountain without officially having stood on its summit. My companions, a txakoli, and lunch would be awaiting me down at the bottom, while there was only the wind and myth and fate left on the summit. So I retraced my steps. Rejoined my companions for an excellent lunch in Urkiola, and left Anboto behind for another year. I’ll be back!!!

Happy holidays and New Year to all of our blog readers. Thanks so much for following along with us and for staying abreast of what is happening at the Center and in Basque culture. Here’s looking forward to 2017!


Your Basque Books Editor

Discover the Basque Country: Get Active in Urkiola and Baztan

For those of you who may be lucky enough to get to visit the Basque Country sometime, we thought we’d share a few of our favorite places with you.

So you’ve expanded your mind in one or more of the numerous Basque museums and cultural sites of interest, and you’ve expanded your waistline sampling the many and varied delights of Basque cuisine . . . what better way to complement all that mental and gastronomic stimulation with a bit of physical exercise?


View from Mount Anboto in Urkiola. Photo by Txo, via Wikimedia Commons

Of the many possibilities on offer for the adventurous visitor, check out the Urkiola Natural Park in Bizkaia, which includes Mount Anboto (home to the mythic figure Mari, on whom see below), a natural environment offering plenty of hiking, rock-climbing, and potholing opportunities and where you can even be a shepherd for a day to get a real taste of rural Basque life.

The flying witch-like deity Mari is a figure associated with Basque mythology. Of the many caves in which she is said to swell, that of Anboto is one of the most important. The figure of Mari, and the mythology surrounding her, is discussed at length in Selected Writings of José Miguel de Barandiarán: Basque Prehistory and Ethnography. For example, Barandiarán notes one legend that shepherds from Aia, Gipuzkoa, once made a pilgrimage to Mari’s cave in Anboto to keep hail or other storms from harming their flocks. Meanwhile, another legend has it that a boy who stole a golden canteen that was lying beside the cave of Anboto was taken from his house that same night, disappearing forever.


Panoramic view of Elizondo, Baztan Valley, Navarre. Photo by Euskalduna, via Wikimedia Commons

Alternatively, why not add a bit of thrill-seeking to your visit and take in Europe’s highest cliff jump, among other adrenaline-fueled activities such as white water rafting, mountain biking, and paintball, at the Baztan Adventure Park near Elizondo, Navarre?

The Baztan Valley is, moreover, a renowned area of Basque traditions and its towns and villages are well worth a visit in their own right.  One such tradition is the Baztandarren Biltzarra, a gathering of people from all over the valley to witness the spectacle of a parade, held annually in Elizondo. Check out a video of this year’s gathering here. In The Basques, moreover, Julio Caro Baroja writes of certain celebrations that are particular to the Baztan Valley:

In vast portions of Europe there is a winter date on which the holiday of married women is celebrated. In Spain, as in other parts of the West, Saint Agatha’s Day (February 5) is considered the most appropriate date to celebrate it, because that famous martyr is the patron saint of lactating women. But if it is true that in the Basque lands there are many places in which Saint Agatha is worshiped and she is venerated from this point of view, it is also true that, independent of this, there can be a holiday of married women to which no particular Christian meaning is attached. In fact, in the Navarrese mountains, in the Baztan Valley, women give gifts to men on the first Thursday of the three before Carnival, called Izekunde; on the second, the men celebrate the women, for which reason it is called Andrakunde (andria is woman) or Emakunde (emakume means matron), and the third is a general holiday called Orokunde. In those days, there were special dances for married women, as there were in Gipuzkoa as well, even if it is true that they took place at the very end of the patron saint holidays.