Logging and the transportation of timber by river constituted one of the main sources of wealth for the Navarrese Valleys of Roncal, Salazar and Aezkoa.
The Cultural Association of Navarrese Timber Rafters has now managed to make the “almadía” (timber raft) a hallmark of the village of Burgui by holding the annual “Day of the Almadía”, which has now become one of the most popular traditions in Navarre, recently attracting more than 7,500 visitors.
This festivity, held every year at the start of May, consists of several timber rafts making their way down 5 km of the River Esca, a route which comes to an end at the Mediaeval bridge in the village of Burgui, after negotiating the weir. The descent of the “almadías” is accompanied each year by a set of cultural, sports and folk events, including exhibitions, musical performances, traditional dance, craft fairs, large-scale meals, audiovisuals, drama, rural sport, dances for all the family, etc.
Tribute is paid each year to different personalities and institutions from the world of culture, sport or science with the presentation of the “Almadía de Oro” (Golden Timber Raft).
You can find out everything you need to know about this festival, which is held around the first of May, at www.almadiasdenavarra.com
What is an “almadía”?
An “almadía” is a raft consisting of several sections made of logs measuring the same length, tied together with ropes made from plants (hazel twigs or wild willow), with oars at the front and back to steer the craft along the course of the river.
Timber from the local woodland has been one of the main sources of income in Navarre’s Pyrenean valleys since time immemorial and the area’s rivers used to provide a way to transport it to locations where it could be sold to industry or for other uses. This wood was transported in the form of “almadías”.
How “almadías” are made
The preparation of an “almadía” starts in the woods with the felling of the tree. Once the tree is felled, the branches have to be removed from the trunk. When this has been done, the different places at which it can best be cut or divided into a number logs measuring 4 to 6.4 metres long are studied.
Once the branches have been removed and the trunk has been cut into logs, the logs, which need to be stable, have to be squared. Each log is marked using a line impregnated with charcoal, which is run its length, from one end to the other; the log is then ready to be carved or worked square, a task reserved for the most expert members of the logging crew. Once the operation has been completed on the first two sides of the log, it is turned over to repeat the process on the other two.
When the logs are ready, they have to be brought down from the woods, making use of the force of the water in creeks or using animals like hinnies or mules. It is necessary to equip the mules with thick leather horse collars fitted with chains and rope which hooks onto parts of the logs or is passed through a hole drilled in them. In this way, the wood is transported to the river bank, to the fastening point, where the rafts are constructed.
To assemble the raft at the fastening point, the ends of the logs are drilled through so that they can be joined with rope made from plants, forming sections measuring between four and five metres long. When the sections are ready, they are pushed into the water, where four or five, and sometimes up to seven, depending on the thickness of the wood, are joined together.
When the raft has been assembled, it is fitted with front and rear oars, and a “washing line”, a structure from which clothes and saddlebags containing food are hung so as not to get wet when the raft travels downstream.