I hike up La Rhune in the late morning when my first set of writing work is done. It is by far the most delightful time, no tourists yet, just the occasional old Basque with stories to tell, the vultures with their enormous wings whistling as they pass, the occasional sheep and the pottoks.
When I first moved to Sare, farmers from the community would carry their dead animals up the mountain for the vultures to eat. Well-meaning national health officials stopped the practice a few years ago. Now the vultures are always hungry, always searching. Last year we came upon vultures eating the hooves of a new born pottok baby, it's mother running madly in circles, whinnying. We saved the foal; fortunately only the nail part had been eaten, carried it back to the house with its mother following and kept it there until it was strong on its legs once again.
This year the babies are late. This is lucky since out weather has acting out -- a beautiful January, pouring rain in February, glorious in the first half of March and snow in the last half. April 10 is a good day for a baby pottok on the mountain.
Pottoks are a race of small Basque horses with large bellies and their ranks dwindled to the almost extinct a decade ago. From the side, they look like primitive drawings on cave walls. They run wild, fending for themselves most of the year, in heat and in snow, in driving rain, but village farmers vaccinate them and do what they can to keep them alive, since you must show a live pottok every year in order to collect the government subsidy. All of the herds on the mountain are females. Males get introduced once a year, left for two weeks, then retired. The government is trying to stop inbreeding, which is why all colts are removed or neutered.
I went back today to try to find the babies I saw yesterday but their mothers had already hidden them somewhere in the forest. I was lucky to see them yesterday. It turned the whole week magic.