Thursday, November 8, 2012

Día De Los Gansos/Day of the Geese Festival, Lekeitio, Spain

dia de los gansos/day of the geese festival lekeitio spain

dia de los gansos day of the geese antzar eguna lekeitio spain

dia de los gansos/day of the geese festival lekeitio spain

dia de los gansos/day of the geese festival lekeitio spain

dia de los gansos/day of the geese antzar eguna lekeitio spain

dia de los gansos/day of the geese festival lekeitio spain
festival revellers, and the rope used in the goose game at dia de los gansos/day of the geese festival, lekeitio, spain

dia de los gansos/day of the geese festival lekeitio spain

dia de los gansos/day of the geese festival lekeitio spain

dia de los gansos/day of the geese antzar eguna lekeitio spain


dia de los gansos/day of the geese antzar eguna lekeitio spain
three generations in blue

dia de los gansos/day of the geese festival lekeitio spain

dia de los gansos/day of the geese festival lekeitio spain
folk games at the day of the geese festival, lekeitio

dia de los gansos/day of the geese festival lekeitio spain
the greasy pole at dia de los gansos/day of the geese festival in lekeitio, spain

dia de los gansos/day of the geese festival lekeitio spain

dia de los gansos/day of the geese antzar eguna lekeitio spain

dia de los gansos/day of the geese festival lekeitio spain
(unintentionally) blending in with the locals at Dia de los Gansos
Día De Los Gansos/The Day of the Geese Festival (also known as Antzar Eguna) is the most important day of the San Antolín festivities: Lekeitio's patron saint festivities held annually September 1st-8th. The Fiesta de los Gansos itself is held September 5th.

The day we happened to be driving from Zaragoza to Bilbao.

Serendipitous, no?

I first heard about this festival through Christine in Spain. Then my friend, who is a bit of a festival expert, confirmed that this was one unique event that was not to be missed, if given the choice.

Just a one hour detour from Bilbao, Lekeitio got added to our road trip itinerary.

The highlight of the festival is a folk game in which competitors vie to to decapitate a (dead) goose that is tied to a rope, that is hung over a harbour, that is pulled tug-of-war style by two groups of young people. The goose grabbers drive beneath the dangling goose-on-a-rope in a boat. And, to make the game more challenging, the goose is also covered in grease. When the rope is tugged, the person holding the greased-up goose inevitably flies into the air and splashes the ocean. You've really got to see videos or photos to understand.

Wicked and weird, for sure.

So we found ourselves driving through Basque country on a foggy afternoon in September towards Lekeitio, Spain. As the town came into view we were hit by three things: it is gorgeous, everyone is wearing blue, and the traffic is insane.

All car access to Lekeitio is blocked off during the Fiesta de los Gansos, and a 20 minute detour is set up that takes you away from, not towards, Lekeitio. If you're planning on attending this festival go early to get a parking spot, or park in a nearby town. There seemed to be plenty of park and ride and public bus services for this event.

We parked in the parking lot at Lekeitio's beach (where there are little cafes and free public W/Cs too) at around noon, at which time there were about a dozen parking spots left. From here we walked across the beach (it was low tide), over a shallow stream, and into the city centre.


For the festival Lekeitio's inhabitants dress in a traditional blue shirt of nankeen and a gingham neckerchief (you can see these traditional festival outfits for sale in shop windows, pictured above).

Mike and I, with our dark hair and olive skin, and our blue and white and purple outfits (not planned!), blended in with the crowds perfectly. For which we were grateful. Because the first thing that strikes you about the Day of the Geese Festival in Lekeitio is that it is really about the Basque community, and the pride the Basque people feel for their unique and ancient culture. And we didn't want to be the silly tourists traipsing around with our huge cameras and fanny packs intruding on this strange and beautiful celebration.

Besides the goose on a rope game, there was also a greasy pole set up (identical to Malta's greasy poles), carnival rides, and village-wide water gun fights. Bands wandered the streets with guitars hooked up to amps and generators on little wagons. Spanish pop music pumped from loud speakers, and alcohol flowed freely. Everyone had plastic cups tied around their neck, which they took from stand to stand, filling them with red wine and kalimotxo and beer. Roadside barbeques sizzled with chorizo sausages and hamburgers, and tortilla de patatas sandwiches piled neck high. Festival attendance is estimated at around 70,000. And everyone, absolutely everyone, had a smile on their face.  (And it was contagious!)

kalimotxo and bocadilla de tortilla de patata: the perfect festival snack

We arrived in Lekeitio at noon, and stayed until 3 pm waiting for the goose game to start, sitting on the harbour walls, dangling our feet over the Atlantic. Our next stop was Bilbao (an hour away) and we wanted to get to Bilbao in time to have a look around before dark. So we made the decision to leave before we saw the goose game. Either we got there too late in the day or too early, we're not sure. We couldn't find an itinerary for the festival online, and few people spoke enough English to ask (our Spanish is limited, and our Basque is non-existent). Alas.

via instagram @jessinmalta

In a way, I'm kind of glad I missed it. I appreciate the game's cultural and historical significance (it's been a festival attraction for over 350 years), but I'm still a bit squeamish about watching an animal being dismembered for sport.

In any case, experiencing the atmosphere and the craziness of Día De Los Gansos in Lekeitio was well worth the detour. We were thrilled to get a real glimpse into the strange and beautiful Basque culture, surprised to feel the undercurrents of Basque nationalism drifting through the air, and happy to get swept up in the excitement and joy of it all.

Basque country is beautiful, in more ways than one.

- Jess

9 comments :

  1. Funny, in my hometown we have a goose festival every September. It doesn't look quite so charming as this festival does and while we don't dismember an animal, there usually is a goose plucking competition. (That's bad enough for me!)

    Funny that both you and Mike unintentionally matched!

    (By the way, Joe read your post on my blog last night and said, "Malta looks nice. Maybe we should go there?" Ummm OK!

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    1. Hm, the plucking would make me squeamish too :)

      Yes! Come to Malta!

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  2. This looks so cool, but I would also be a bit squeamish to watch the game itself... I'm a bit of a baby in that regard - no bull fighting or animal dismembering for me! The festival atmosphere looks amazing though and I love that you accidentally blended in with your blue skirt. All in all it looks like it was a blast :)

    xxx
    Jenna

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    1. I don't think I could do bull fighting either :)

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  3. I never made it to the basque country but I would love love love to go some day!

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    1. It's pretty amazing, you definitely should!

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  4. I went to this two years ago and it was pretty surreal! I saw the game but I was surprised how violent it was-for the people competing! I saw at least 2 people get carted away by the paramedics with what looked like neck injuries after hitting the water at a very wrong angle. Glad to hear this festival and area of Spain getting more coverage!

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    1. Hi Liz,

      Yikes! That does sound violent.

      Curious, what time of the day was the goose game held at? Morning? Afternoon?

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    2. I'm pretty sure it was in the afternoon. I think you must have just missed it!

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