Again, the kindness of strangers had very pleasantly surprised me.
Sant Aniol to Beget (15kms)
I went to bed, tired but feeling very happy and stratified with what I’d accomplished. I ate a big bowl of instant noodles, padded with some pasta sauce and tuna – probably more than 1 serving, but I wolfed it down. My body needed everything it could get to make up for today’s hard work, as well as for tomorrow’s promise of more. I had already started to notice that I was losing weight. I wasn’t sure about the actual numbers, but I know I was losing density in certain areas (as my backpack needed tighter straps nearly every day) as well as toning up in other areas. I still think that sugar has a lot to do with gaining and losing weight – I wasn’t drinking coffee (milk and two), soft drinks or really eating anything sugary, so combined with walking a half marathon every day in summer temperatures, I was looking lean but in a good way. I woke up during the night for the bathroom and stumbled out of my tent at around 1am, grabbing my headlamp as I left. I didn’t need the torch at all as the stars were on full brightness tonight – and there was no shortage of them either. The whole sky was carpeted in white twinkly stars. I thought about ducking back in and getting my camera and trying to get some long-exposure night shots, but it was cold and I was very sleepy still. Getting up on the morning, I regretting not taking those pictures a little, but to be honest I was also glad that I’d slept more and didn’t spend hour or so outside, shivering and trying to get that one good shot out of loads of blurry or darks ones (as I didn't have a tripod). I got up a little late and started breakfast immediately so I could then just pack up and start. David was just getting up and taking his time – by 8:30 when I was ready to leave, which was about 2 hours later than normal, he wasn’t quite ready to leave. I knew he’d catch up to me if he wanted to, so I said goodbye for now and started the day’s hike. I was a bit anxious to start as I knew that the longer I put it off, the later in the day I'd arrive. I also wanted a bit of a head start on the hiking machine that was David.
After about an hour or so of fairly hard up-hill hiking (it is always hard in the morning first thing), I reached the plateau at Talaixà. I decided to stop here for a drink and quick break, dumping the beast at the signpost on the trail. There was a small, unmanned refugi here that was quite pretty; I had a look inside and there were bunk beds, blankets, bed rolls and lots of maps and information – quite a good little set up, all relying on honest and responsible hikers. While filling up my bottles, I started chatting to a Spanish couple who’d camped on the front lawn which had an amazing view. From here you could see across the mountains of the Garrotxa area and some beautiful places were only a handful of hours hiking away – Castellfollit de la Roca and Besalú. The couple weren’t doing the GR, only a few days hiking and camping around the area, but it was nice meeting someone new. I started off again, walking past the roof-covered refuge and uphill towards the Església de Sant Martí de Talaixà. I took a few photos and continued along the trail, but soon found that I was going the wrong way – the path and signals just stopped. I wandered around a bit more, getting frustrated by not finding the path and eventually going around in a loop and ending back at the church. I was angry with myself now and decided that I would have to go back to the refuge and check the signs again. A whole hour wasted. I could see where this day was headed – waking up late, setting off late, already lost once and now I was tired and sweaty without having really gone anywhere. If only I'd known at the time how bad my day was going to get. I got back to the refuge and met another couple just as I was checking out the sign. They were a Basque couple and were heading the same way as I was – they were doing the whole GR-11, from Cap de Creu to Cabo Higuer, and although they'd left 2 days after me, they'd caught up already. They looked professional and in shape, so I decided to go with them for a bit. It quickly became apparent that they were much fitter than me and soon they were ahead of me. In my defence, they weren’t taking any photos at all, not even on their phones, whereas I was completely addicted to snapping a million pics of the same mountains. They sped off, sticks propelling them along faster than I cared for. That was another thing that I didn’t have on this hike, hiking sticks, but I had enough gear hanging off me and I never really used them anyway.
Just after losing sight of them, I slipped and fell. Although I didn’t hurt myself, apart from bruising my pride a little, the fall wasn’t exactly graceful with a 15kg back on my back and a 2kg camera in my hand. It took me a bit to get on my feet, check everything was ok and then head off. I didn’t realise it at the time but my sunglasses had dropped when I tripped – I realised this about an hour later when the sun started to get really strong and go straight for my eyes. I struggled on, hand shielding my eyes, and followed the path, not enjoying the day at all. At least it was downhill, I guess. I came to a river and crossed a wooden bridge over the river Llierca, then followed the signs to the left. The day was hot but I was mostly protected from the sun by overhead trees, but that did little for the sweat that poured off me. The path became rockier, but offered nice views to one side. I doubted the direction a little, as it seemed too downhill and I started to get suspicious – I had a love-hate relationship with the little red and white marks of the GR-11. I craved to see it, never lose sight of it, and when I hadn’t seen it for some time I missed it but instantly got angry at it for disappearing on me. Upon finding it, there was always a mix of emotions – joy for being reunited the path and not being lost, like seeing an old friend again after so long, but also hate for the bloody sign that had left you wandering lost for an hour. Maybe this was just me? The path levelled out and it became more pasture land rather than mountain pass, so I knew I was heading into a town. The town ended up being Oix, a pretty stone place but completely empty. I was happy to arrive somewhere and headed straight for the church and the water fountain that my keen eye had spotted from the road. I drank what I could, filled up my bottles and drank some more, washing my face, neck, arms and legs too while I was there. There was nobody around to judge my shower habits, and frankly even if there had been I wouldn’t have cared – it was extremely hot and I needed to cool down. I sat for a minute thinking. I’m sure I wasn’t supposed to be in Oix, or if I was, I should be passing through on my way to Beget. I left my backpack on the bench in front of the church, confident that nobody would want to steal its dead weight, and went to have a look at some signs at the entrance of town. Again, the signs were confusing – I was on the GR-11 it seemed, but Beget was 3 hours away in the direction I’d just come from. Something was wrong. I had a quick look around town, searching for someone to ask and found 2 guys doing some work fixing the paving on a side street. They told me, after checking with each other and some guy that happened to be walking past at the time, that I’d made a wrong turn at that bridge – I should have turned right, not left. So I had been right all along, but as my GPS wasn’t reliable and with nobody to check with on the trail, I now I just had to deal with it. What a day so far. Was my luck going to change or was it only going to get worse, I wondered.
It was now nearly 3pm and it was really hot. I also had a 3-hour hike to do, at least. I just couldn’t do it, and I knew it. I’d have to wait till it got cooler or I’d be collapsing on the road somewhere. I’m tough and stubborn, but I know my limits too. I walked around town for a bit, checked out the church and took some pictures, then decided to sit under a tree near the road and wait. I thought I’d stick my thumb out at passing cars, just in case anyone was going to same way and could save me backtracking too much. I didn’t have much luck – the very few tourists who passed by either didn’t stop or told me they were going somewhere else. I have no problem with people not stopping for hitchhikers, but I was tired, loaded down with a big backpack and clearly a hiker just looking for a break. I ended up seeing some of the people that turned me down later on in Beget – they were probably scared of Covid (even though I wore my mask while asking for rides). What I don’t like is abuse – one French driver stuck his finger up and swore at me while he sped past… there is no need for that at all. After about an hour, I was just about to shoulder my load and do the extra miles as punishment (because let’s face it; I’d been silly and this was my own fault), when 2 vans stopped and asked me where I was headed. I told them Beget, and I was told to get in. Success! I had a good chat to the driver, a German guy called Manu, who was living ‘The Van Life.’ He told me how he’d been working in Oz for 10 years (that’s why I speak English well, he said, and he did!), then had to leave because of a visa issue and returned to Germany. He got his superannuation (private mandatory pension fund) from his work in Australia and started his own company back home. Then COVID-19 hit and screwed everything. Sound familiar? The German government looks after its people though, and because his company closed down, they gave him a nice chunk of money, so he got a van and hit the road. He didn’t take me all the way, but got me up the big hill that I was dreading in the afternoon heat. He and the other van, driven by a Spanish guy and his girlfriend, stopped on the top of the hill to make camp, and I got out to walk to last hour into Beget. I was eternally grateful for the ride as well as very happy to meet a fellow adventurer like Manu. Again, the kindness of strangers, even during the days of Covid, had very pleasantly surprised me. God love hippies and their vans!
I got out of the van and continued along the road for a bit before re-joining the GR-11 path. Although I hadn’t followed the path 100% correctly, I had walked the same amount of kilometres, if not more, just in the wrong direction. I hadn’t cheated, just deviated a little and made a new friend along the way. I was quite angry with myself for being so stupid though, but there was nothing I could do and so moved on. I thanked Manu again, wished him good luck with his kitted-out Mercedes van turned mobile home, and left with a smile on my face. It took me about an hour to reach Beget and I was the happiest many alive! Beget has to be one of the most beautiful villages I have ever seen in Catalonia – all stone, from the cobbled streets and little bridges crossing the river, to the cute houses, which even had slate roofs. All stone but very enchanting. I found a fountain, had a quick drink and washed my face and head to cool down, then tried to find the bar and a place to sleep for the night. The owner at the Hostal el Forn was very friendly and I knew this is where I would be having a beer and maybe even a meal tonight. I charged my phone at the bar and sat down for a beer and some chips, savouring their salty flavour with the smooth liquid. The Basque couple turned up not long after me (they'd been swimming in the river) and so did a few other hikers who were going the other way. I found out from the owner that Kilian Jornet had come through here on the GR-11 – he only stayed for 3 hours for a quick sleep before leaving at about 4am. He had carried nothing but the tinniest backpack, maybe a 5L one just for water, and ran all the way. He did the whole GR-11 in 8 days, whereas most people do it in 35 or even 50 days. He had a full support team though and although I couldn’t do it in anytime near his, I think I could shave off a few days and do a lot more hiking if I didn’t have to do or carry everything myself. I waited for David and he finally arrived, strolling in at around 6, but I didn’t tell him what had happened to me out of embarrassment. He didn’t stay for a beer unfortunately, instead going straight to camp; a nice place I’d been told about by the hostel owner. I had enquired about a room, as a bed would have been a luxury, but I passed on it as it was €65! The food was also expensive there, an no option other than a 3 course menu, so it was pasta and tuna for dinner again. We camped right by the river that night, listening to the sound of running water before sleeping like the dead!
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MyUncleTravellingMatt. July 2020.