Koilkil, our retired smuggling friend, continues to surprise us with his tales of smuggling cows and horses over the Spanish/French borders of the Basque Pyrenees. He rarely speaks with animosity about the Guardia Civil during Franco’s regime … sometimes I even note a tone of sympathy! The youths sent up to patrol the borders were usually from the south of Spain, dragged into conflict, miles away from home and absolutely ‘shit-scared’ (excuse the expression but it is totally relevant to this blog post). Petrified about ending up stranded in these dense, dark and misty Basque valleys, the Guardia’s were little match for the local smugglers whose knowledge of the mountains and local weather patterns is virtually part of their genetic inheritance. So the Guardias would often huddle around the main intersections, drawing heavily on cigarettes, sharing their food (cheese, chorizo, bread, tomatoes etc.) where the sound of them talking and the light and smell of their cigarettes were an easy giveaway to the silent smuggler.
If by chance a smuggler did get spotted, the Guardia would usually aim above his head whereby the smuggler would often drop his load (or scatter his animals) and take off into the night. If he was lucky the packages would contain something useful that the Guardia could either use himself or sell on (such as coffee, chocolate, radio’s etc.). If not, he could find himself running around the woods rounding up a smelly herd of calves or horses which his unit would then send to auction. However, the smugglers so often had the advantage. Their mountain farms allowed them a supply of cheeses, chistoras and cuts of meat, inaccessible to ravenous Guardias dependent on irregular army rations, and hence a safe passage through the mountains was an easy bribe. And, even if a smuggler did loose his calves or horses to the Guardias (which represented months, years of wages) these were not too difficult to retrieve at the auction the following day. All the locals knew exactly who the livestock in the auction really belonged to and, in an act of solidarity, (which is so quintessentially Basque) no one else apart from the smuggler would turn up! Being the only bidder at the auction he would retrieve his livestock for a fraction of the cost … and the following night he would undoubtedly head back over the mountains with them again!
And so what about the tomatoes… I hear you ask? Well, coming from the south of Spain the Guardias tended to eat far more tomatoes than the Basques … so next time you find a wild tomato plant growing conspicuously at some desolate place in the mountains you might now know why! Another dead give-away for the smugglers.
P.S. A question for another blog. How did the smugglers stop the stallions making a sound and nickering at the mares as they passed them over the borders at night?
More about Koilkili in the Guardian Article by Max Walker:http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2010/apr/17/spain-basque-navarre-culture-walking
I like the story about the tomatoes. I’ll look out for them.