Tag Archives: basque country

An Adventure!

So, I am now officially running the Great North Run for Princes’ Trust!

A dream come true, which will hopefully fulfill/plant dreams of hundreds of young people! Or at least some!

So, by way of training (I can’t run all the time/I’m too lazy to run all the time) today I went for an explore…

Note to self: next time you see fit for a spot of ‘exploration’ bring more sustenance than two small pears!

So I set off on the train this morning to Durango, and headed straight up towards Urkiola Natural Park.

I went here with my dad when he came to visit and its also home to the nearest climbing at an achievable grade. Unfortunately I am currently climbing partnerless, but that didn’t stop me from checking it out.

An hour and a half, plus a small wooded summit later I arrived at Atxarte Zona de Escalar (thats Atxarte climbing area). There was a cave, a quarry and even the odd bolt. There were some fantastic lines, but given that I was on my own and only my boyfriend had a vague idea where I was, I decided to give scrambling about to the top a miss- as much as breaking a leg would be fun, thats only if you’re rescued in time!

After that, the afternoon was still young, so I headed along, past more steep rocky walls (as you can see I’m no geologist) and eventually I ended up at Urkiola Sanctuary. I was pretty tired by this point (being a further hour or two later), but the sign posts did say that there was a 1011m summit only a mile away (1.6km for sensible metric using people). So of course I headed up the scrubby fell land towards that. The views were INCREDIBLE! But as I finished off my meagre rations, I knew it was time to be getting back. 

Mum, if you’re reading this, look away now!

Thank goodness for lovely old couples and hitch-hiking!

I managed to get a lift the 5 miles (8km I reckon) back to the town and after a well earned Mars Bar, I took the train back home to get to work on my dissertation. As you can see my work is going really well- this Blog is helping a lot.

Mumsie, you can look back now 🙂

Anyway, I reckon my walk has hopefully improved my stamina, something I’ll need to run 21km in my target time of 1h 50. But the other thing I do need is sponsors! By July I need to have raised £150, and so far I’m no where near this.

Just go to my page on Virgin Money Giving: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/CaitlinRipley and I will love you forever!


And meet Paul!


Christmas Time

You might have noticed that as with every year, for the past few months it has been ‘nearly Christmas’. Slowly decorations, lights, carols, nativity scenes, sales, adverts etc. have popped up all around us and now, as its December, people have stopped complaining. This can only mean that actual Christmas time is here!

So, to celebrate this in a way other than Christmas shopping, a group of language assistants met up in Donostia this weekend for a little bit of ‘Christmas dinner’.

This is in quotes as, as our head chef put it, ‘Good luck trying to find some Turkey out here’. Instead the menu was various amusebouches, leek and potato soup, pie de marisco, roast lamb, various desserts followed by vast amounts of strong alcohol and accompanied by a river of beer, wine (and mulled wine!) and cider. Needless to say we got a leetle teeny weeny bit tipsy and VERY full.

The food was a masterpiece and there was lots of it: Mark’s slab of fish pie is honestly the biggest serving of food I have possibly ever seen. The croquetas however… Well, none of us are Spanish and they’re a very spanish thing. We bought frozen ones to fry up, but unfortunately Mr Head Chef started this up when my back was turned: hot oil + a bag of frozen dumplings = mush.

Luckily we had a second bag, which after I shooed Tony (half Spanish, so we thought this might give him magical cooking powers) away I managed to transform about two or three of the remaining bits of frozen mush into crispy little golden brown lumps which vaguely resembled what we were aiming for. And then I ate them. (Yes I do think I am amazing).

Dinner was followed by chat and then the Father Ted Christmas Special followed by a streamed version of Love Actually that we realised too late had the whole John and Judy story cut out (the naked ones)! We also knocked back a fair amount to the Love Actually drinking game, which in hind sight may not have been such a good idea, least not for Mark who was flying home the next day.

It was a good night in all, but I very much need to go home to my dearest darling boyfriend as apparently in sharing a single bed with Verity I got a teensy weensy bit too cuddly! Oops!!

Merry Christmas!

What a Rubbish Weekend

Last weekend was another long one. Friday was off for some reason almost as inexplicable as some of the days off I had in Thailand. All that really mattered was that my weekend started at 4.30 Thursday afternoon.

For the weeks running up to it, Tamara and some of her friends had been discussing the potential of a trip to ‘hacer snow’- to go snowboarding. Or in my case, probably skiing. Last weekend however, I was told that it was unlikely. I didn’t have my hopes up but Tamara had said she’d let me know. By Wednesday evening, when I hadn’t actually seen my housemate for three days, I began to give up on the idea. I sent messages around to various friends to see if I could cadge in on any of their plans for their three day weekend (or in my case, five).

Twenty-four hours later, a plan was in motion. That didn’t stop me being a little bit peeved when I bumped into a suitcase laden Tamara on the streets of Eibar, off for a weekend in the snowy French Pyrenees. But nevermind.

That night at midnight, I baked up a lemon drizzle cake and at midday on Friday I got picked up by Arantxa and Aitzul and taken off to Durango. 

This weekend was a big Basque festival in Durango and I’d been told it was 90% basque literature. Whoever it was who told me that neglected to mention that the other 10% was not Spanish literature, but Basque dancing!

Arantxa and Aitzul both have done basque dance in the past and were able to explain to me a little bit more about the mixed dance which more than resembled Morris Dancing, right down to be-belled legs and wooden sticks. The giant dancing ogres had less of an explanation. I just regretted leaving my camera in the car!

The second best part of the day (after the delectable calamares we had as a snackette) was the discovery of Olentzero. The Basque Country and its people is much much older than the rest of the Iberian Peninsular and for this reason it has a few of its own traditions. This is my favourite so far…

Olentzero is a giant who mines coal and lives in the mountains. On Christmas Eve he comes down aback his donkey and delivers presents to all the good children and what else but coal to all the naughty ones. In the current economic climate it wouldn’t surprise me if more parents were persuading their children to be bad for the extra fuel! No one has been able to explain to me why this yeti-like hermit makes these kind gestures, but I did find an amusing array of Christmas cards of Olentzero getting one over on either Father Christmas or the more traditionally Spanish Reyes Magos (the three kings to you and me).

After lunch it was back in the car and off to Donostia, via Hernani and Rocky the cute little panther kitten, for an early night before our 5am start. We were off to Astun!!

I’ve got to say this, Spain might be warm, sweltering at some points, but at 5 am in December it is BLOODY FREEZING!! I was warmer on the piste!!

When we arrived, Aitzul and two others headed off for a bit of a ski mountaineer, whilst Arantxa took me to get some skis before we headed up on the lift.

It’d been nearly a year and usually I take at least the first morning quite gently, but as we were only there for the day I found myself pelting down the first red we found screaming inside my head ‘OH MY GOD WHY DID I NOT GET A HELMET!’. I think i might make a future investment there.

It was BEAUTIFUL. And as the day wore on the sun came out and baked us as well. unfortunately it also frazzled Arantxa’s head, giving her a migraine, meaning she stopped but egged me on to do a bit more myself before the men folk came back and we all packed it in. We were back in the car by three, but it was a good day all the same.

We stopped off for a picnic on the way back. The shade in December is also a place where you want several layers of clothing, but we had chocolate, chorizo and cake so I couldn’t complain all that much. 

After a lovely dinner I dozed off for a second night in the Donostia flat and made my own way home on Sunday to veg out and bask in the comparative lowland heat.

Sorry this is a bit garbled, but if I think this through I’ll never type it up!!

Home a week today!!

Cat Feet and Crushing

I like climbing and as Spain is chock full of huge sexy limestone crags, I promised my boyfriend I’d come back a climbing legend, flying up 6c’s (hard) and making him look bad.

But I’d been here three weeks and the only spot of climbing I’d done was on an indoor ‘Rockodromo’ which was well, scary.

ImageThose nice planks of plywood were attached to the wall at a 45` angle by various spindly wires and shook unnervingly anytime someone did a slightly dynamic move. You don’t notice it so much when its you climbing, but whilst watching it occurring to someone else. Nailbiting is probably the best adjective.

As well, due to the delightful angle and a teensy bit of falling off, it chewed up my hands meaning I couldn’t climb for over a week until they’d healed.

Nevertheless, I went back yesterday on my own for a little training. I put an hour timer on so I wouldn’t over do it, but then that got cut down to 35 minutes as the holds promptly chewed through two layers of carefully applied tape and the skin on both my ring fingers. Yum.

And then there was that evening…

I’d been in a discussion with a girl, Arantxa, from Gipuzkoa (my region of the Basque Country) about a possible language exchange, a popular way for foreigners like me to find ‘fwends’. Only instead of trading my English for Spanish, my offer was: English for climbing!

At about 8 o’clock last night she confirmed that yes, I could come climbing with her and could I come that evening (last bus is at 8.45, of course I could!) and off I went!

Unfortunately in my packing haste, I forgot my camera. Last night they (Arantxa and her boyfriend Aitzol) treated me to a supper (Spanish evening meal is in no way a dinner) of allotment vegetables and then an early night so we could hit the road to Navarra bright and earlyish the next morning.

We had a great day donning our cat feet (pies de gato= climbing shoes, lit. feet of cat) and hitting the rock: crushing 5b’s and c’s and being crushed by a 6a (all on top rope/trad second- YES THEY HAVE TRAD). Malheureusement, we had to call it a day quite early so they could head back to Rocky their cat they keep at their allotment. I hadn’t got a lead in, after being dissuaded out of the last two as one was pumpy and the other super balancey, but they promised me in a mixture of our four languages, that there’d be a next time. I was sad to leave early, but Rocky entirely made up for it.

Imagine the cutest and cuddliest, fluffiest, tiniest cat you have ever seen. Then turn it into a super trouser-leg climber and give it a panther-like attitude and you have Rocky. A 2 month old kitten who I can’t wait to see again! They also grew squash in their allotment. Most were getting on for twice the size of the cat panther.

After another delicious super of tortilla followed by chocolate digestives (my love affair with Spain is complete) I headed back on the bus home. I’m looking forward to next weekend already.

Sorry this is a bit rushed, but YAY climbing and cats!!

I ❤ Spanish Limestone… and Cats. Every kind of cat…



A rather quick post…

I am going to run the Great North Run.

It is something I have wanted to do since I was twelve. Running my first Junior Great North Run, back when it was still CBBC sponsored and I was on the Red Team, lead by Tracy Beaker. This made the experience even better as I loved reading and was at the height of my Jacqueline Wilson stage, going even so far as to have the character themed diary.

I loved running and I was on the school cross country team at the time, being one of the first if not the first competitive activity I had really excelled in. I was year 7 district champion and on the county team, something I was oh-so-proud of. 

That summer had been the 2004 Olympics in Athens and who should have been my idol: of course Kelly Holmes, double gold medalist! Athletics wasn’t really my thing as the rule was you had to do two out of track, field and relay and I could not (and still cannot throw or jump to save my life). I was relegated to our relay team of one-hit rejects, needless to say we did not do well. I still remember the first race when I lacked even the coordination to pass the baton correctly and between me and Dani (I think) we got the team disqualified.

However, Ms Holmes did one further thing that year. She ran the 1km race in Newcastle the same day as the Junior event. It was amazing to even see her.

So why haven’t I run the half marathon sooner? 

I did apply the year I turned 17 and therefore eligible to run, but unfortunately the charity I wanted to run for, Project Trust (oh  look Gap Yah mk I comes into it again!), didn’t have any spaces so I had to go into the ballot. Of course, in the biggest half marathon and running festival in the world, it was unlikely I would get to take part, but all the same I was gutted when my place was rejected. 

The further cutting remark, although meant kindly was that I was guarranteed a place the following year. I hope whoever took that place enjoyed it as I was in Thailand. The year after, I had not run for most of the year and to be honest what with gap-yearing the whole idea was wiped from my mind until I properly took up running again in May.

I did almost sign up this year, but charity fundraising deadlines were fast approaching and the idea of suddenly raising £350 in a fortnight, although feasible, was going to be more stress than it was worth. As was going to be carrying on running whilst I was in Canada for a month.

So now I’m going to do it. My first run in Spain has jolted that desire, I’m going to do it. Next year is The Year. Not that I’ve signed up yet, but I will. 

Be prepared for a post in 6 months when I’ve signed up for the London Marathon too…

To close, a nice little picture of Spain, of where I’ve just run:


New North Wales

Its hard not to compare experiences, in fact quite often that’s what helps you categorise new things in your life. For instance last week I decided Spanish tuna in a jar was ok because:

Tuna steak > Jar tuna > Tinned tuna

But when you come to bigger things, maybe its not such a sensible idea. Of course the obvious thing for me to compare my whole gap year year abroad experiences to is my year in Thailand (sorry I will keep going on about that), and something about that makes me feel rather uncomfortable. I am desperate to read my Thailand diaries, but on the other hand I find it quite fortunate that my weight limit wouldn’t allow me to fit anything more than the bare essentials (clothes, research notes, climbing gear, seven pairs of shoes…). I feel as if I would be checking up to see whether I’m doing this the ‘right way’ when really there is none. The ‘right way’ as such is to enjoy myself and hopefully at some point do my research. And spending 90% of the time being utterly confused is all part of the exhilarating adventure and the reason I chose my course.

But there is another comparison I have been coming up with: a useful tool for explaining where abouts in Spain I am without the use of a map (no The Basque Country is not in Cataluña!!)

I am currently living in the Spanish version of Wales. Yes Wales.

Firstly because of the language. Basque is to Castillian Spanish, what Welsh is to English: entirely unintelligible. I will be teaching in a Basque speaking school, which is the same idea of a Spanish person coming to the UK and ending up in a Welsh speaking school in deepest darkest Anglesey. Or somewhere like that. The only difference is that I haven’t found a word as awesome as ‘popdeping’. Yet.

Secondly, the climate. It rained last night and yesterday morning! Which isn’t very much to be honest, but I’ve been lead to believe that I am in the cold and wet area of the country (all the better for my weak ginger skin). This leads to the general look of the place: everywhere I’ve been in Spain before has been something of a dessert. But here! Green mountains, green trees, green grass. I went for a walk yesterday and the only thing to keep me believing that I wasn’t in Wales was the temperature and lack of sheep! Seriously, picture a cloudless sky in Wales and paint the houses white and you’ve got here.

Politically as well, The Basque Country has its own government a bit like Wales does as well as having its own nationalist movement. I’ve got to say I know very little on this subject, but it just means I presume all graffiti I can’t understand is some sort of racist propaganda telling me to go back to where I belong.

Lastly, there is the regional animal. To identify themselves with their home region, many Basques adorn their cars with stickers of this animal (and in one case, rudely positioned stickers) and what else should it be but la oveja: The Sheep. I wish I was joking!

It nicely finishes off the comparison, so therefore I re-christen this land New North Wales.

NB: New South Wales was taken, and we’ll just ignore that the Basque are the oldest civilisation in Europe. Old Wales doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

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Down Time

Okay, so its been awhile.

When you´re about to leave the country, for me at least, the last thing you really want to do is spend extra time on the internet when you could be meeting friends, chatting with the family and in general making the most of what you’ll soon be missing very much.

But thats the otherside of the idea. I have been spending so much time running about up and down the country seeing people, saying both hello and goodbye, doing a little bit of touristing, making endless meals that I haven’t had any down time!

I’ve been running round and round and round so all that I really want to do is lie down and sleep and relax and generally have some ME time.

No such luck.

I’ve just arrived in País Vasco and the last thing I need is to spend time with myself. For anyone else moving abroad or considering it: the first week is the most important. When you have that choice between sleeping/relaxing/keeping yourself to yourself and being paraded round to meet everyone in the entire neighbourhood, take the people, take the generosity. There’ll be plenty of time to relax when they’ve taken you for a recluse.

So, I’m at school now. Right now, I have time to type, but only because everyone is busy working. Savouring the moment of peace before in half an hour, the world speeds up again.

Next time I’m thrown back into the eye of the whirlwind which shall be my life for these first few days, I’ll try and write a piece about how crazy life is out here. And I thought Thailand was insane!

Over and out.