Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Navatas & Navateros Log Rafts In the Hecho Valley

Steering under the bridge - hard work and good coordination! 

In the last few years the Chesos (people from Hecho) have re-enacted the old log raft (navata) river descents which were the way timber was once transported from these high Pyrenean valleys down to the lowlands along the Aragón and Ebro rivers and on to the Mediterranean.  Timber was cut during the winter in the high valley and then the logs were floated individually down the upper river making the most of  the spring snow melt.  Then the trunks were bound together into rafts using green willow laths and the rafts were floated downstream until the timber was sold along the Ebro or even at the coast. 

The original rafts would have been made of much bigger trunks
Slow growing Silver fir from the high Hecho Valley was often used for guitar tops by makers in Valencia as it was considered to have excellent acoustic properties.  Otherwise timber was sold for construction and furniture making.  Nowadays very little timber is cut in the valley as it is a conservation area.  The only timber  extracted now is pine used for a newly opened biomass plant in the Ansó Valley.

Willow laths for binding the logs together were freely available and were less likely to break than ropes
The navateros (rafters) job was tough and dangerous and it demanded a great deal of skill and strength to steer the rafts.  Cold wet feet, the danger of drowning or getting a limb crushed were everyday hazards.  The rafters had a reputation as tough, hard living and wild adventurers.   
In the 1950´s dam building along the Aragón and Ebro rivers put paid to this ancient trade and transport was done by road.  Log rafting still happens in the western USA and Canada and it´s quite possible that the skills used there originally came from this ancient Pyrenean tradition.
You can see the Navatas around the beginning of May in the Hecho, Roncal and Cinca Valleys.  It´s well worth it!  

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