Updated: Dec 22, 2020
Two hikes - one big, one small - both great.
Poland had been a lovely, relaxing time for me. There was sunshine, new places and experiences, as well as some much needed 'down time' after another summer camp. It was nearly the end of August now and was time to return to Spain. Before I left for the summer camp in Romania, I had moved out of my old flat here and left all my things (not that I have much!) at a friends for when I got back. It was time to pick up my stuff but I also needed to find a place to live! So luckily I had a place to crash for a bit while I looked for a new pad. I'd decided a while back that it was time to get something for myself - no more flat sharing, no more dirty, loud, annoying flatmates. It was time to grow up (again) and rent a whole place to myself - my girlfriend. Yup, the big move was happening and we were both excited and worried. It took far longer than expected to be honest, and rent isn't cheap anywhere in the Barcelona area either. Finally we were very lucky and found the perfect little attic apartment with a large terrace with plenty of sunshine. Thinking back to when we found it, it was a stroke of pure luck and for that I am so grateful - now, having been in lockdown in Spain for more than 40 days, things like this need to be appreciated. I can't imagine living in a shared apartment, renting a dark little room and sharing the house with 2,3 or even 4 other people. The only thing that would make this place better would be a dog! Maybe soon, you never know! Looking forward to being free again, but happy to be where I am, knowing things could be so much worse.
In September, before going back to work, I also wanted to enjoy a little bit of mountain time. Poland was great, but it was all city breaks, no hiking or exercise apart from walking around city streets (and exercising my camera finger). It was time to enjoy some of the natural beauty that Catalonia has in excess. The first place on the list was Puigmal, sometimes called Puigmal d'Er, which is a mountain in the Pyrenees, right on the border with France and Spain. This little 2,909m beastie had been on my to-hike list for some time. I wasn't going alone - heading out with 2 friends and their kids (who happen to be my English students by the way!), we set out early on Sunday morning after I had dinner and stayed at their place in Sabadell. It was lovely to have dinner with good friends; we chatted partly in English and partly in Catalan, shared some wine, then threw on the boots in the morning and jumped in the car, ready to rock and roll! It didn't take us that long to get to the start of the hike, but then again, the mountains are so close to everything here! I always enjoy the drive in the morning, knowing that soon you'll be up a mountain. We drove north, going past Ripoll and Ribes de Freser, where they bottle the famous brand of water, and turned off just after Planoles, parking the car not far from the Mirador de Barraques. We were joined by another couple, experienced hikers, who had many trips under their belt. Although we weren't starting right at the bottom, we still had a good 9kms to the top and another 9 back, so it was going to be a long and tiring day - but a good one! The weather was perfect - sunny September weather and we had a nice vice all the way to the top. Although not tough, the hike was fairly long, but we made frequent stops along the way, snacking on fuet and cake, keeping fluids up, and just enjoying the view. Once at the top, we stopped for a proper lunch of ham baguettes, drank plenty and tried to rest a little and get comfortable on the rocky ground to soak up some warmth from the sun. There was a big crowd of people at the top, so we waited for them to get their photos in with the cross, before getting our own. It may be a bit cheesy, but I love looking back at these photos - you and your mates at the top of a mountain should always bring a smile to your face.
The route we took up was the ridge that runs along the French-Spanish border, fairly easy and flat, with just a gradual rise for the most part. I rarely like going back the same way, even though sometimes you see things differently in reverse. We call decided to head back via a different route, which would be a steeper descent but the view would be different and hopefully we could cut some walking time off too. Although far more difficult, which going down usually is, it was also a little more dangerous as the path wasn't as clearly defined and the going was slow. After an hour or so of lose rocks, we got to the grassy part, which made it easier on the feet but a little slower heading down. This did bring advantages though - we saw some wild horses running around, enjoying their freedom. We finally made it back to the valley floor, walking past a small stream and a place called 'Font de l'Home Mort,' or the Dead Man's Spring. I didn't see a dead man, but I saw the water source and decided not to drink from it, just in case. Just a little bit more to go, heading up through the trees and back to the car, to what I call the 'hallelujah' moment. Imagine you've been hiking all day, you're tired, hungry, dreaming of a beer (or two), and you get to where you think you parked your car, the doubt creeps in, but then it's still there, waiting for you. That's the hallelujah moment! We changed shoes (trust me, getting into a pair of runners after 18kms of hiking boots is a luxury!), got in the car and headed for the nearest bar for a quick refreshment before heading home. The kids had done well, as always, but everyone was tired. My friends are hikers to the core - they met hiking and have been hiking for decades. Their kids are the next generation, and have been going with their parents since they were very little. Although they complain sometimes, get tired and hungry, they are kids and they do so well, and they always seem to have enough energy to run to the car at the end of a hike. I love they way some parents bring their kids up to suit their hobbies and timetable - a parent that pampers their baby, changing their whole life to suit the needs of child is too much. Give and take, as well as training the child to suit you a little is better in the long run. Anyway, what would I know, I'm not a parent! Just my 5 cents.
After a week or two at work, I already needed to escape a little. Although this time it wouldn't be anything as big a Puigmal, it was another Puig. In the town of Castellar del Valles, about 7 kms from Sabadell, there is a little peak with a church on top called Puig de la Creu, the 'hill of the cross.' It was a Sunday, and the weather didn't look too promising - it had rained all day Saturday and the clouds were gathering for round 2. I really needed a bit of outside time, to stretch my legs and also hit that all important 'reset switch' before work on Monday. We decided to do it anyway. We got on a bus from Sabadell's central bus station, which took us 25 minutes to get to the centre of Castellar. It was quiet, as it was a Sunday, but a little too quiet as their were supposed to be a Castell display here today - a 2nd reason for coming here. We walked around trying to find the Castellers, usually very distinctive in their brightly colours shirts, but found no trace of them. I checked the website and it said nothing. Maybe they were worried about the predicted storm? I wasn't, even though the clouds were dark and full of rain, and so started on the hike up. We wandered through the town, stopping off at the church first for a quick look. Although I've been up this hike twice before, I'd never actually spent any time in the town. The church is lovely, and made more beautiful by the dark storm clouds behind it. There was nobody around as we started the walk, leaving the town and hitting the dirt path. Normally there are plenty of people at the start, walking dogs and families out for Sunday, but not today. Not even any mountain bikers. We had the whole place to ourselves and loved it. Following the zip-zag path to the top, you see numbers on trees most of the way. They count down the turns you have left, which I think is cute. Once you reach turn '0,' there is a small trail that runs through the forest and to the church at the top. Once at the top, where the hermitage of Santa Maria del Puig de la Creu sits, you get a spectacular view of Sabadell, Terrassa as well as views of the Sant Llorenç massif (La Mola) and also of Montserrat. The clouds were looking fierce, so it was a only a quick break for a snack, some water and a view photos, before heading back down - this time a different, much faster but steeper, way down. Once at the bottom, we sought out the first bar to have a beer and a quick tapas before getting the bus home.
Everything now was back to normal - summer holidays were over and work had started once again. Routine would set in, working from Monday to Friday (or Saturday in my case), living for the weekend and its escape. Although I went on small trips here and there, to the mountains and little city breaks, I had now idea what was coming. Little did everyone know that in March the world would change and we wouldn't be let out of our homes. I always try and do what I can, when I can and while I am able - you never know what's around the corner, be an injury, no money, too much work, and you get tied up and time just slips by. People often say that after a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, it makes us appreciate our friends and family more, that we should enjoy the time we have more. I try and do this every day, I don't need something bad in my life to happen first. A walk on Sunday to relax and enjoy the sun and disconnect a little before Monday. A quick message or phone call home, not because you want something or that something bad has happened, but just to say hi and 'I love you' to people who should hear it. Once this confinement is over, try and enjoy life a little more, in the small things and the big things, every day - you never know what tomorrow will bring.
Remember to also follow me on Instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/myuncletravellingmatt MyUncleTravellingMatt. September 2019.