Hiking the Pyrenees - Day 1 + 2

Updated: Dec 8, 2020

The start of the GR-11 Transpirenaica
Sunrise on the Costa Brava

The stars were out this night
The start of the GR-11

Day 1 - Cap de Creus to Port de la Selva (15 + 5.5 kms).

I woke up bright and early, ready to start the GR-11 hike. I’d slept extremely well – far better than I’d thought to be honest. The new sleeping mat that I’d bought had served me well already – it was a mid-range, inflatable mat that rolls up and only weights 700g, and worth every euro! Sometime during the night I woke up, possibly because I wasn’t used to sleeping out in the open like this, to the sound of the wind blowing through the pine trees overhead. Maybe I was still a little worried of being woken up in the night by the owner, or worse, a wild animal whose sleeping place I’d stolen! Everything was ok, but it was very dark. The only thing I could see were the stars and the moon, reflecting off the perfectly still water of the Costa Brava. Wow, what a sight – not something you see very often at all. With very little light pollution, the stars were out in all their glory and it felt like I could see the whole universe. It wasn’t that cold either, so I got my camera out and tried to snap a few pics of the stars. I didn’t have a tripod and was operating in the dark, but I managed to get a few decent shots in. It was like my mind knew there would be good photos and so woke me up at 3am to take them. That and I needed the bathroom. I went back to sleep, happy that I’d got a few photos in and also happy with how happy I was feeling! The feeling of complete freedom was amazing, especially after 3 months of lockdown. I woke up at 5:30am, refreshed and ready to rock and roll – ready to start the actual Day 1 of the GR-11. Well, when I say the start, the actual starting point was 5.5kms away at the Cap de Creus lighthouse, so I packed up, slung on the Red Beast (the new name for my backpack!), then headed off north.

The most easterly point of Spain
Secret coves
The Cap de Creus lighthouse
The restaurant at Cap de Creus

Waking up so early and seeing the sunrise is a rare treat, and probably something everyone should do more. The air and the sea were both calm, the weather not too warm but not cold either, and it was just me and the trail – it was perfect. Apart from the thorny bushes that continually raked my legs and arms. I swear these plants reached out to get me, to rip at my backpack and clothing, to try and draw blood from my exposed skin. Some of these thorns were as big as my fingers, so I had to look up the species and see what it was called. When I got some reception, I discovered that these plants that had been terrorising me all morning (and would nearly all day to come) were called the Spiny Broom Bush, and resembled the thorny crown that Jesus were around his head. I’m sure you’ve seen the paintings, it wasn’t pretty – a lot of pain and blood. Well, that was my legs for the next few days and I even had some scratches deep enough to still be seen more than 2 weeks later. I made it to the lighthouse to have some breakfast and take some photos about 2 hours later. It was now 9am and time for breakfast and a quick break before starting the actual trail of 14kms. It was basically just me here, munching away on oats, powdered milk and fuet, enjoying the view. I decided to top up my water supply, but found no working taps anywhere. The bar wasn’t quite opened yet, but the friendly young guys there were happy to serve me. Unfortunately, the tap water wasn’t drinkable and so I had to buy a bottle of water - €3 for a litre! It was probably a con job to get more money, but then maybe they were telling the truth. Better to pay more for real drinking water than get the runs 30 mins later in a remote part of the coast with all those thorn bushes around. I knew from here on that water would be my top priority. I followed the trail, which to be honest, took longer than if I’d just stuck to the road, as it wound back and forth, crossing the road and then ducking back into the shrubbery. I got cut and scratched, wasted time, and even lost the trail briefly a few times, all for the sake of following the trail as closely as possible. The landscape was stunning though – the contrast of the deep blue of the sea, the reds and browns of the rocks and even the green of those bastard spikey plants. I met very few other people along the way, a few cyclists and a few day trippers, so it was just be versus the sun, heat and lack of water.

The coastal walk to the lighthouse
Perfect weather for a hike!
I was feeling as thirsty as he looked.
Port de la Selva
Enjoying the beauty of this little port town

I finally made it to Port de la Selva by 3:30 and I was hot, tired and very, very thirsty. I reached the edge of town right at the top of the high peninsular, with a fantastic view over the bay. I staggered down the hill into the bay, past some pretty impressive houses with water views, and into the main part of town. I headed straight for the supermarket and bought 2 bottles of water; drinking one of the 1.5L bottles in one go. I don’t think I have ever appreciated ice-cold water so much in my life. Now that I wasn’t as thirsty, I sipped on the second bottle and relaxed on a bench, happy that I’d made it. I bought some more water (for tomorrow) and headed to my digs for the night, the ‘Càmping Port de la Selva,’ to set up my tent and dump this bloody heavy bag. This campsite was pretty nice actually – it had plenty of green patches of grass for tents, a bar and even a pool. I had a quick dip to refresh, laid in the sun for a bit, then had a beer and some snacks at the bar before heading back into town, feeling almost like a normal person again. Port de la Selva is a quiet yet pretty place on the Costa Brava, sitting on the Cap de Creus stretch of land, and one of many little towns in the area. There isn’t much to see, but there are plenty of boats bobbing away in the harbour, and the ‘selva’ or forest that surrounds the place is beautiful. The name means ‘port in the forest,’ which is very appropriate – there is the port and then the forest, and not much else. I wandered around, slowly, but enjoying the feeling of weightlessness on my shoulders, taking a few pics before heading back to the campsite for dinner and an early bed. The only other thing to mention about the area is the massive abbey sitting way up on a hill overlooking the bay; Sant Pere de Rodes. It looked impressive from here, and I knew that I’d be hiking up there first thing in the morning.

Welcome to Port de la Selva
The colossal Sant Pere de Rodes
Beautiful sunset in Port de la Selva

The pretty village of La Selva del Mar
Yet another beautiful costal town - Llançà

Day 2 – Port de la Selva to Vilamaniscle (21kms)

I rose early, and surprisingly not sore or tired whatsoever, packed everything up and hit the trail again. I was ready for Day 2! I quickly left the road and the town, heading inland a little towards La Selva del Mar, the ‘forest of the sea,’ a smaller town in the nestled up against the high hill where the abbey sat. As I walked past, I wished for more time to explore the town itself, but I knew I couldn’t afford it if I wanted to stick to my deadlines. So, I admired it from the road, snapping a few pics of the white plastered houses with their sunburnt tiles, and the many cacti in the valley. I noted that there was also a stone city wall all the way around the village, a castle sitting to one side as well as an interesting Romanic church in the centre. Next time. I took a right turn into the forest and began a beastly climb to the top, 500m of sweating and swearing my way up, I had to stop frequently to catch my breath and wipe the sweat off my brow as the humidity had really kicked in. After about 30 minutes, I broke cover and entered a car park, which seemed a little surreal – normal people with normal modes of transport, and me here bloody walking and carrying everything. I sat on a low stone wall with a view and had breakfast. There was a drink machine (but no tap, which was becoming the thirsty reality) but again, way over-priced, but luckily, I had stocked up and a town was only an hour or two away. The towering stone monastery of Sant Pere is a sight to behold. Built in the 9th century, it reached it height of splendour in the 11th and 12th centuries, but slowly decaying until the 1800s when it was sacked and eventually deserted. It was declared a national monument and restorations first took place in the 1930s – today it is a big tourist drawcard for the area. With its large square bell towers and high-ceilinged nave and apse, it is considered of the best examples of Romanesque architecture in Catalonia. Again, no time to go in a visit, it was time to keep going on the trail.

Just me and some Eucalyptus trees
Nobody was home in Vilamaniscle
Who let the dogs out?
Dogs watching me walk past in Vilamaniscle

I tried not to, but I found myself looking at my map and seeing if the next leg would be up, down or more or less flat. This morning had been all up, the next leg looked a little easier, flatter and then coming down until I got to the next town, Llançà. After that it was all up again until I reached Vilamaniscle at the end of the 21km day. I got into Llançà for lunchtime – I walked directly to the nearest supermarket and bought loads of water. I sat in the park drinking water like it was sweet nectar, savouring the beautiful, refreshing taste of water like only a parched hiker can. I had a high energy lunch of peanut butter sandwiches and salami, washed down with a sugary soft drink, then I hit the trail for the last push. I crossed the town without seeing the harbour this time, going over under the railway line and into the hills. It was hot again and it was hard work, but I had lots of energy and was on the whole enjoying myself. Sometimes you struggle, other times you just get the job done. On some occasions, you really enjoy the trudging along, letting your mind wander and your feet eat up the road. I’d switched into autopilot and made it to my final destination for the day, walking through a grove of eucalyptus trees full of cicadas, making me feel a little like home, and that gave me a final burst of energy. I got to Vilamaniscle at 5pm, a little later than expected, but it didn’t matter, I was here and that was all that counted. My sleeping spot for the night was a patch of grass opposite the municipal swimming pool, and free this time. The swimming pool was also the bar, my bathroom, shower and sunbathing spot – it had everything I needed! It was also the only place in this sleepy village. I had a swim, already noticing that I was losing weight while at the same time getting a nice tan, had a few beers and something to eat, then walked around to see what it was all about. It took me 5 minutes to see everything, and by everything, I mean nothing. There were big, expensive cars parked around, dogs barked at me, but very few people and zero bars or supermarkets. That pool was everything here. I went to bed tired but happy. Tomorrow would be the longest and toughest day yet – 29kms.

That was where I was headed tomorrow.
Sunset in Vilamaniscle

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MyUncleTravellingMatt. July 2020.

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