|Our last Ryanair flight took us to Zaragoza in Spain. The trip started well with us getting to the front of a horrendous queue, skipping the excess baggage charge of 50GBP and then getting a free upgrade on our rental car (BMW Series 1). On the flip-side, Heidi found her Swiss-Army knife in Sam’s bag, ably assisted by the x-ray machine at Stanstead. Consequently Heidi lost her knife for good.
We were lucky to find accommodation in Zaragoza due to an Exposition in town at the time. On approaching the hotel we had a feeling that it could be a Love-Motel due to the large blue neon lights out the front. Unfortunately, this time we were unlucky as it turned out to be a standard roadside hotel.
Highlights of the Pyrenees:
Gavarnie: At first we did not know whether we had done the right thing in coming to Gavarnie as it was a long drive and the town was a little bland. After a couple of beers, the idea of camping was knocked on the head and we found a good hostel run by a manic French lady who gave us her best room looking out over the Cirque de Gavarnie (a massive granite circular wall complete with glacial waterfall). Our original plan of a 3 day circuit (trek) was cut-short due to too much snow (crampons and ice-axe necessary) so we opted for a one day circuit. The walk was beautiful and varied with the last part up toward the granite wall being through pine trees intersected by a large river gushing with ferocious ice-melt.
Valle D’ Ossau: We drove from Gavarnie to a public campsite near the Pic Du Midi in the Valle D Ossau. When we arrived there was no-one there, so we pitched our tent, cooked our meal amongst the horse manure, mosquitos and flies (it was not a pretty introduction to the area). We awoke to see that we had been joined by quite a few other walkers as the Pic Du Midi is a famous circuit in the Pyrenees. Our guidebook recommended that the Extended Pic Du Midi tour is best done over two-days. Due to limited time and Sam’s optimism, we decided that we would do the tour in one day. The first few hours of the walk were of jaw-dropping beauty with glistening lakes, granite canyons and the Pic Du Midi volcanic-like cone towering over us. It reminded us of Patagonia but on a smaller scale.
By our lunch stop at 3pm we were less than half way around the circuit. The second part of the walk started with a two-hour leg-straining ascent combined with summer heat and for the last 30 mins, the climb continued on snow. We eventually reached the pass on the right-hand side shoulder of Pic Du Midi, but given the limited time, we could not stop for too long to enjoy the view. The traverse back down the mountain was a poor man’s “Into Thin Air” experience. Both of us were tired, contending with deep snow and boulders and also continually under-estimating how long it was going to take to complete the walk. After 6 hours of walking Sam was trying to convince Heidi to go out to dinner rather than cook at the camp. After 7 hours of walking Sam was trying to convince Heidi to stay in a hotel. After 9.5 hours, a 20km walk with a height gain of 1416m, Heidi agreed to find the first hotel we came across to stay in for the night. We drove to the nearest hotel on the Spanish side (Sallent Gallego) and lucked upon a great apartment with views across a Glacial Lake. We liked it so much that we spent two days recovering from the hardest walk that we have ever done.
Valle de Ordesa: We got back into walking with the Circo De Sasoa in the Ordesa canyon. The first part was down in the canyon which was pretty rudimentary, whilst the second half was up along the ridge along the top of the canyon. The ridge was 550m above the canyon and was exposed so there was an element of vertigo when the pathway made its way close to the edge. The last 30 mins were pretty much 550m straight down through a pine forest and skree. It was a really beautiful and rewarding walk.
Anisclo Canyon: We walked for a couple of hours through an enclosed canyon with beautiful clear blue pools and waterfalls. We walked to an opening in the Canyon called La Riperata where Sam was chilling his tomatoes and Cherry Ripes in the stream prior to lunch.
After this last walk we made our way back towards Barcelona. On the way, Heidi discovered that we had two hub caps missing which she immediately thought was the deeds of some unscrupulous Pyrenean thieves. Sam the older and wiser, suggested that since we had travelled on quite a bad unmade pot-holed road that we should go back and check the road. Sure enough as we drove back two hub caps, side by side were lying on the side of the road, lucky they had not rolled over the edge of the hill.
We put the hubcaps back on the car and continued down the mountain to a town called L’Ainsa. The new town L’Ainsa was a dump, the old town at the top of the hill picture perfect. So we decided to stay there for the night, enjoying local tapas and cider in the cobblestoned streets.
We made our way to Barcelona the next morning. The mountains gradually gave way to the Catalan pastures and heavier and heavier traffic. Once in Barcelona we made our way to a surpisingly clean and populated beach just south of the city. We were hoping to get our Rabies shots for South America in Barcelona, however, Sam’s email exchanges with his friend Guillem were lost-in-translation and our tentative booking at the Veterinary Clinic was called off. The following day we were off to Ibiza!