Somewhere between France and Spain

Much of this land is no-man’s land.

This is the Basque country. A no man’s land with many claims.

Like Afghanistan, the mountainous area was impossible to control by any force. The mountains were a natural border for invading armies from either side but a permable membrane for determined individuals and their goods. A vast and sparsely populated domain.

The smugglers, (local shepherds, in-house keepers, commoners, farm hands) knew every inch of their domain like the back of their hand and bureaucrats and officers had more chance catching wild geese.

Like the coast of Cornwall and Devon, the smugglers knew where the ropes were hidden and they knew logistics of the drop off and collection points.

A new recruit needed the banned and incomprehensible Basque language before they could show you the ropes.

Prohibited goods were sometimes wanted people escaping Franco’s Spain. Sometimes the smugglers took the money and the police reward, depending on the individual and his political leaning. In this game, ethics were as flexible as the ash branches overhead swaying the cool breeze and keeping them cover.

The Basque shepherd’s beret which became iconic in the revolutionary guerrilla action, is now a standard attire in national armies.

Even today, smuggling continues. Any contraband arriving in Gibraltar and heading up into Northern Europe will need to cross this point.

Like the Phoencians and Hebraics who inhabited the crossroads of the spice routes and the Holy Land, the Basques wanted their claim on this rich, stunning and strategically important land. But the powerful former empires of Spain and France would have none of it.

Since the quest for independence started, over 20,000 political prisoners from the Basque country have been imprisoned and locked up in the south of Spain, deliberately a thousand miles away from their homeland and families. Flags decrying this act flap in the wind everywhere, the flags hang out of the windows on the whitewashed Alpine style Basque village houses and they drape from the balconies on grand boulevards in the cities.

Meanwhile the smugglers quietly make millions but you won’t see it visibly (not by our definitions of wealth, success and prosperity). Profits are reinvested into cattle, land, buildings and machinery. Not a trace of transactional occurrence to be found on any government account or excel sheet. Smuggling families increase and consolidate their wealth in direct competition with other neighbouring families who are busily accruing ever more spiritual land.

All the while under the slightly dusted noses of the bureaucrats.