The last trip in our car, and the last trip in Catalunya
October in Barcelona and a great time to head out and explore, as the weather is still warm enough to go out and do things. Although the city still felt like summer, I knew it would be colder in the mountains, but that is also where you can appreciate autumn the most. A group of us decided to head north, right into the heart of the Catalan Pyrenees to Viehla, to enjoy the colours of the mountains before the snow came. Our plan was to arrive at night, having spent the day stopping off along the way and breaking up the trip, and relax in an apartment that we’d rented. The next day, we’d head off and do some hiking and then come back to cook in the rental, have a few drinks and relax. The last day would be driving home, but hopefully with something exciting along the way! My girlfriend and I packed the car, got in and headed off around 11am, with the plan to have a bit of lunch in a town somewhere before meeting up with the rest of the group. We drove until we hit the town of Piera, about halfway between home and the meeting place. With only a short break here, we sat in the square and had some sandwiches and coffee, enjoying the peace of the place as nobody was around. The village felt completely abandoned, with only the orange autumn leaves stirring in the wind. This was mainly due to Covid restrictions again, as Catalunya was seeing a rise in case numbers after summer. We walked around, loving the town hall building as well as the archways of the shops around the placa. It was a very quiet and tranquil place, but I would love to see it summer during Festa Major - the Catalan week-long party that is held in every town, and has fireworks, dancing, music and lots of beer. It wasn’t long before it was time to jump back in our little Seat and meet our friends an hour away. We had to buy some supplies at the supermarket together, dinner and lunch for the next few days, and then the long drive into the Pyrenees.
Driving through Lleida was wonderful. Apart from the warm sunny weather, the scenery was spectacular. This part of the country truly is the ‘wheat bowl’ of Catalunya, flat with fields and farms as far as the eye can see, running right up to the mountains. The clouds helped this sight look much more dramatic, big and billowing on the horizon. Between the road and the mountains there were lots of towns, most of them built around hill forts and churches, the extra height letting them look over their domain. I couldn’t name any of these places, and although they started looking the same with their orange walls matching the orange fields in the dying light of the sun, it was beautiful to see. We were headed to a place called El Balconet de Santa Linya, in the Serra del Montsec, to watch the sunset. We turned off the main paved road and hit a dirt one. It was bumpy and dusty, but we knew where we were going, so we drove slowly and carefully to avoid ditches and flat tyres. The road turned bad and started to climb a lot though, and we all got a bit worried. Once the rocks get big enough to clip the underside of the car and the divots turn into holes the depth of your wheels, you know it’s time to get out and walk the rest of the way. Either that or you’ll be walking home! As it turned out, we weren’t that far from the viewpoint and the car had done most of the hard work anyway. A brisk walk got us there with just enough time to enjoy the amazing view from the cliff’s edge – we looked right out over the Panta de Camarassa and over towards Serra del Montsec, which looked like a layered cake that had been dropped, and although it was still standing, it was all leaning to one side and all its layers exposed. The sky was turning a gorgeous shade of dusky auburn and as the sun went lower, the moon became more visible, glowing low in the sky. The water below was an unreal, green-blue colour and the clouds reflected the little light that was left. I love a good sunset! Within minutes it was over, the warmth and light gone, and we had to jog back to the car in the dark.
After such a good day already, we were on a high, even though we had a good 2 hours of driving left. Normally I would love this drive into the mountains; as you enter the Viehla tunnel that stretches for about 5kms, then pop out the other side, which in winter is completely white compared to the other side. It’s like you’ve entered a whole other world in a few minutes. This time it was dark and when we came out the other end, it was also raining. Dark and rainy weather on a curvy mountain road is not my idea of fun, and added to by a stupid driver tailgating me, it was a bit of a nightmare. I was doing the limit, maybe a tough under it because of the rain, but some people just want to go faster and risk an accident. Not me, I did my thing and stayed safe, as I’d much rather turn up 10 minutes late in my own car rather than early but in an ambulance. We all made it safe and sound to our apartment in Tredós; unpacked, showered, uncorked some wine and started dinner. Cheers to a great Day 1! The next day we got up and had a walk around Baqueira, normally a busy ski resort, but due to Covid, was a ghost town. We grabbed a takeaway breakfast in the only café open and continued on to the day’s trip – a hike in Era Artiga de Lin. The autumn colours were amazing, and there was just something refreshing about this place. It was a little chilly but very sunny, and a short walk through the forest quickly warmed us up. There is a quickly flowing mountain river running right through the park and we crossed a small, iron bridge that went right over it, giving us a great view. The waterfall here, with its rushing waters cursing over moss covered rocks, is called Uelhs deth Joeu, or the Eyes of Jupiter, and is absolutely beautiful. The forest was thick with moss and brown leaves, the sun managing to find its way through some parts, and the whole scene was absolutely revitalising. Soon the walk opened up to a large valley and we could see the solid mountains all around us. Three of our group of 5 decided to hike right up to the top of the ridge, facing the rocky path and icy winds, while I decided to stay down in the valley with my girlfriend and just enjoy the scenery from here. There weren’t many people around, but we did see a group of hunters lugging a wild boar back to their truck, possibly for the night’s dinner. We also saw quite a few big vultures and other birds, but that was about it – but the natural beauty of this place was more than enough! We had our snack in the sun, relaxed and even had a little nap, and just enjoyed being outside in such an amazing place. I just don’t know how to describe this stunning place and better than I have… so I won’t, and just say that you need to get yourself here and see it for yourself!
The following day we got up early and went for a walk in the little village of Arties. Although we were still in Catalunya, this place just rings France for me – the stone houses, wooden shutters and the mountain feel about it is just very French, to me at least. Still chilly but sunny, we wandered around the very quiet village, admiring the houses and their decorations, as well as the old church at the top of the hill overlooking the village. Built in the 12th century, it is a beautiful example of Aranese Romanic style architecture of the Vall d’Aran area. There are plenty of intricate carvings everywhere, above doors and under the roof eaves, and it also has a small cemetery of its own. Just above the door there are some cute, stone-carved faces smiling down on you, which just add to the charm of this little church. After this nice little morning break, we got back in the cars and headed off to our last big of excitement for the trip – a hike to the Presa de Cavallers (The Knight’s Dam). The drive was very pleasant, driving through the Vall de Boi, with green pastures on either side and plenty of trees as well, all surrounded by mountains. We could see the dam from a fair distance away, but before we arrived, we had to take a cute little road that turned left and right, winding its way around trees, rocks and the cliffs, and up to the dam. The road was also lined by trees that were dropping their bright yellow leaves all over the road. To appreciate this drive, I turned off the music and drove up in silence, leaning forward, trying to see it all out of the front window and appreciate the view, while also tyring to stay on the road. We parked up in the empty car park, the only other occupant was a cow, and she wasn’t bothered by us at all. There is a lot of hiking that can be done up in this area, and in fact, the GR-11 path that I was on back in July skirts the northern edge of this national park. This part of the Vall de Boi is the Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park (translated as "The winding streams and St. Maurice lake"), an absolutely stunning piece of nature and somewhere where I’d been wanting to visit for a long time. We aimed to hike to the big lake, the one that you see on Instagram and all over the internet, but the weather wasn’t looking too promising, so we decided to go as far as we could.
We walked up to the top of the dam, which is 70m high and 360m long, and got an impressive view of the valley below as well as the craggy mountains behind us. The, Pantà, or reservoir, was nearly full and was beautifully still and blue. We took a few pics and then keep going, following the little path skirting the water, and then started to head up into the mountains. We walked for about an hour and half in total before we sat down and had something to eat. We snacked on cheese, fuet, and some tuna sandwiches, while looking up at clouds and wondering when, not if, the heavens would open up on us. Unfortunately, the weather wasn´t looking good enough to continue up to the Black Lake, the next body of water up in the mountains. Apart from the walk up, you have to remember that you have to come back, so we packed up and zipped up jackets and headed back. We were very lucky and realised that we´d made the right decision when it starting spitting on us within minutes, with the dark clouds having moved in very quickly after we left our picnic spot. I was a little disappointed, as I never like ending a hike prematurely because of weather, but relieved to not get caught in a mountain storm. The dam’s water had turned an shale-grey colour by the time we saw it again, and even though it wasn’t the beautiful blue that it was before, there was something special about it this way too. A few more pics and back to the car, happy for the weekend that we’d had together, but a little sad that it was over. Sadly, this was the last trip that we ever did in our car, and the last trip in Catalunya as well, so a great way to finish off. Over the last few months, from September basically, my mind had been running overtime, trying to figure out the best way to ‘fix’ the big problems caused by Covid, like work, money and my future. I made the difficult decision, after much deliberation, stress and worry, to return home to Australia. I’d get a flight as soon as I could and try to get back before Christmas, find a job, an apartment and start a degree in the New Year. Yup, big plans! All of this would be alone, as without a visa, my partner couldn’t come with me… yet. We talked, planned, thought and finally decided to move our life to Australia. Yes… it's time to call Australia home, again.
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MyUncleTravellingMatt. October 2020.