Another 25kms to do today... piece of cake!
La Vajol to Albanya (25kms)
I’d spent a lovely evening in the village of La Vajol and it quickly became one of my favourite places on this hike so far. I found the only bar open at sat down heavily at a table and had a beer and some chips. It had been a tough day, mostly up and also coming off the back of yesterdays 30km. I deserved a beer or two and a little bit of civilisation. Even a hiker needs to charge a mobile and check messages now and then! This was a great opportunity to charge everything up, as you never know when you may have another chance, and to touch base with friends and family. After sitting for about 40 minutes, my legs started to stiffen up a little and it was also getting a tough cold. I grabbed my bags and walked down to the end of the village where I was told that I could camp for the night. It was a nice spot, secluded and next to a fresh water source. I set up, washed my face and body a bit, changed my clothes and then headed out for a walk around before dinner. There was nobody about, just a few cats. La Vajol is a beautiful place, very small and quiet, but it has small, narrow streets, pretty houses, many with gardens, and the most bizarre church I’ve ever seen. Sant Martí de la Vajol sits in the main square and it doesn’t look much like a church at all, apart from its stone arched door. The building looks like the houses that share its walls, as if it started it life off as a house, but it has stone steps that lead up to the second storey, to a locked door that I’m guessing opens to the belfry. I climbed up these steps to have a look, and they looked very old and worn in the middle. They were also very short and it took some care to get up them without falling. On the facade there is a sun dial and a newer time piece, but unfortunately, I couldn’t go in to find out if it was a weird inside and as it was on the outside. There wasn’t much else to see around, but I liked just wandering and seeing the small things that this village had to offer; secret gardens in bloom, quiet streets with stray cats lunging in the middle, and of course the views of the mountains. There were quite a few ‘for sale’ signs around and I thought it wouldn’t be too bad to live a quiet life up here.
Dinner at the Casa Comaulis was amazing and cheap! I had a salad for my entrée, which turned out to be a full meal itself! My fresh green salad with rocket and balsamic dressing was closely followed by galtes and chips. I absolutely love pork cheeks and it became one of my favourite meals in Catalonia when I first discovered them in 2007 when I moved here. I couldn’t finish my meal, which disappointed me and my hosts, but I pleaded my case of being so full but extremely satisfied (which I was!), and they were happy. My stomach must have shrunk during my hike, as I can’t remember the last time that I couldn’t eat everything on my plate. I rolled down to my tent and went to bed very full and very happy. I rose early the next morning, packed up my tent, had a quick wash and refilled my water bottles. It was now a very well-structured routine and I had it down to about 15 minutes for everything, which gave me the luxury of a small lie in until 7. Today was going to be 25kms, and after yesterday, I didn’t really want to get out of bed at all. But, I couldn’t just have a day off – If I didn’t start walking, I’d just have to do it the next day and be a day behind. Motivation enough. I left town and looked for a sign to tell me which way to go. I came across a big group of Catalan teenagers, at least 20 of them, who seemed to be part of a scouts group or something. They were loud, but really loud, too loud for 7am. Is this how some people hike, in big, noisy groups? Well luckily for me I was going in the opposite direction! On my way out I passed another hiker, who was having breakfast just outside town. He hadn’t paid for accommodation either, as everywhere I’d found so far was expensive – that’s why I was carrying my tent, sleeping roll and sleeping back around all this way. His name was David and he was also hiking the GR-11 the same way as I was. We chatted for a bit, happy to meet someone else on the trail. We said goodbye, as I was already walking whereas he was still only having breakfast, but I said that if we met up, I’d be happy to walk together for a bit. I left, not thinking I was going to see him again, but just happy to have met someone else.
I continued along the trail for about 30 minutes before I came across some old mines. It was clearly something important, as there was a sign with information outside – in English too! These mines, the Minas Canta, were owned by the Canta family in Vajol, but were confiscated by the President of the Republican Government to store gold and silver from the bank of Spain. Hidden away, the main building was camouflaged, reinforced and even had lifts inside, to give access to the storage of gold and money, even material seized by the government from people who were suspicious of supporting Franco, which were later used to keep the economy running. I read a little into this, but it is a complicated political history of Republican and Loyalist sides – and I’m still not really sure which side the Present at the time was on. Juan Negrin stole money from the Spanish Government while governing the defeated Republicans, he was a socialist yet was somehow involved with the communists, and was exiled by his own party in 1946. What’s very interesting though is President Lluís Companys (President of the Catalan government) fled to France on February 5, 1939 on the Lli hill road from Vajol – the same road as I was hiking basically. Other prominent members of the Generalitat de Catalunya and the Spanish Government fled this way after the Civil War, including Mr Negrin. The Vajol route was used by thousands of people in exile to cross the Pyrenees, and I would be crossing this path over the next few days. Once in France, many of them were interned in concentration camps under extremely trying conditions. A little bit of history on my hike.
The next part of the hike was long and hot. Sound familiar? Yes, the days were starting to seem the same in the middle, with only the start and finish standing out for me. I reached Maçanet de Cabrenys 6kms later and stopped for breakfast. I was a little tired already, but my powdered milk and muesli gave me a little bit of energy and off I went again after a only a short 15 minute stop. The forest and rolling mountains in this area reminded me a lot of the Blue Mountains in New South Wales, Australia. There were tons of Eucalypt tress and loads of cicadas buzzing away in the trees. I got lost a few times here, struggling to keep on the trail. Sometimes it just disappeared, reappearing minutes later if you were lucky. The few people I spoke to on the trail said the same. I walked through some quite heavily forested areas, but also finding houses in the area and barking dogs. Out of nowhere, the trees opened up at the bottom of a valley and I stumbled into a holiday area, which had a church, restaurant and even a swimming pool. It was a little weird. I found out the name of the place by asking a friendly waiter - El Moli D'en Robert was its name, and it was quite full of people, at the pool or at the bar, but all drinking beer. As much as I would have liked a beer, I knew that I wouldn’t move after that, so I asked the waiter for some cold tap water. He was very nice and the water I got was icy cold. Feeling slightly more refreshed, I continued on my way, walking through some very strange, moss-covered forests. I reached Sant Andreu at 11:30, which was just two very big houses and not a village at all. One house was built around a 12th church and was very pretty. By this stage I was sweating a lot and finding the hike hard work. Day 3 had been the hardest (30kms), closely followed by day 2, but the backpack feels better every day. I think it's just the time walking, my feet are so sore by the end of the day. I didn’t really think about it before, but while I was having a short break today, I realised that I'm doing a half marathon every day, or more, with ups and downs, not on a flat road. I was feeling fitter and stronger every day, also mentally stronger and happier – I was very pleased with my progress so far.
My last short stop before reaching the end for today was at a little church called Sant Feliu de Carbonils. I saw this little place through the trees and figured that I would stop and have a drink and a quick rest before doing the final leg into town. I’m glad I did as it was a very beautiful little clearing and right in the middle was a 9th century Romanic church. It was peaceful, not a another soul to be seen, just the way I like it. I wandered around the outside of the building, munching on my last piece of fresh fruit, and decided to go in and see what it was like on the inside. There door was bolted, but from the outside, and there was a message written on the door in 4 different language. It was a warning from Albert Serra (the park ranger maybe?), telling everyone to always keep the door shut so that you don’t disturb the bats. Bats? Cool! I had to go inside and look now, but I kept the door shut and the noise down. There they were, a hundred little black blacks, all sleeping on the roof upside-down. I got a few photos of them, but it was quite difficult – with the door closed there was very little light. Occasionally one little guy would drop from his ‘bed’ and do a lap around the church, before settling down (or up?) again, but this activity would then set off another bat, and so on. I admired these little creatures for a bit longer, then let them get their beauty sleep and left. I closed the door again, but as it was heavy and squeaky, I probably woke them all up! It was here that I decided to get a photo of myself and my backpack – up till now I’d only taken a quick selfie in a shop window. I set my camera up and snapped a few pictures of me and ‘The Red Beast,’ my constant companion. I loaded up and trudged down the road, knowing that I was close and it was all downhill from here. Day 5 was done! Now to get some beer and hot food – and somewhere to sleep!
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MyUncleTravellingMatt. July 2020.