Ask Koikil what he does for a living and he will say that he is an unemployed smuggler. Like many of the people here on the Basque/Spanish – French border Koilki was a very young child when he first accompanied his father on his night smuggling missions over the Pyrenees into France. Born in 1955, Koikili’s family had a tradition of horse breeding and so he has spent his life roaming the mysterious wooded slopes of the mountain passes. During the Franco era, and beyond, (the last time he was apparently shot at was in 1992), Koikili would smuggle sheep and horses over the border to fetch higher prices in France, bringing back other livestock and all sorts of goods that Spain was short of at that time. His father and mother were smugglers too as was his grand father who was one of the local Basque guides that helped Allied pilots over the border through the COMET line resistance network during the Second World War.
A skilled raconteur (and lady’s man) .he enthralls us with his stories of how he also helped Portuguese exiles over the border, many of whom had been stranded on the wrong side of the Bidasoa river by mercenary people traffickers who lost their nerve on the final few kilometres of border crossing. Not only did he amaze the journalists that come out this February (the 4-kilos-of-gold-on-Lesaka bridge story had us all on the edge of our seat) but it appears he has won over my daughter too! Off riding with him next week …. no end of material here to put on a Walking & Smuggling Week in the area.