Today would be the toughest day yet with 30kms to hike
Day 3 – Vilamaniscle to Requesence (30kms)
The wind was blowing that night, and I woke several times thinking that something was outside of my tent. It sounded like an animal snuffling around, brushing up against the tent and wandering around near me. I tried to put it out of my head, putting it down to imagination and the wind, but I just couldn’t. I got out of the tent with my headlamp and had a quick look outside. It was nothing, just the wind, which was gusting about, throwing leaves onto the tent and whipping the trees around. Apart from that, it was all quiet so I went back to bed. I woke up after a good, long sleep though – I went to bed at about 9pm and woke up at 6am. My hips were a little sore from the backpack straps, as I’m sure I was carrying a little too much, but my shoulders and legs were feeling good. I packed up and set off around half 6, starting the morning leg of 7kms to my breakfast stop at Sant Quirze. The sun was just starting to come up and the colours were just spectacular, and I couldn’t help but to snap a few pics before I’d even started walking. This first part of today’s walk was nice and easy, mainly flat and along a road. This didn’t make it boring though – the weather was perfect for a morning hike, if a little chilly and breezy, but I warmed up quite quickly. The landscape was also pretty, the area around Vilamaniscle is a wine growing region, so there were vineyards everywhere, and combined with the sun, clouds and the mountains, I was feeling very happy that I could walk in silence and enjoy the view. I ate up the miles and within 2 hours I arrived at the Benedictine monastery of Sant Quirze de Colera. I sat down, dumped the Red Beast and had breakfast while the sun was still getting up and spreading its yellow glow onto the fields and trees. Built in the 9th Century, Sant Quirze is in the First Romanesque style, big, heavy and simple in design and decoration. I’m not sure if it is still in use, but it looked a little run-down, although still beautiful. When I’d finished breakfast, I asked for directions at the restaurant near the church, as sometimes the markings are hard to find and can also be a little misleading. I was pointed in the right direction by the staff who were just arriving, and headed off again.
So today was day 3 of my hike, day 4 of the whole trip, and I’d spent 1 night at a campsite and 2 nights out in the open. I’d had a bathroom for 2 nights, but this was the first time that I had to use the bushes for my business. It’s never pleasant, as we are all used to having a flushing toilet and running water, but when you’re on the trail and in the middle of nowhere, you just gotta do these things. Although there was nobody about, I dumped my bag and ducked into the bushes well away from the path, and make sure everything was covered. If you have to do it, do it properly and don’t leave paper lying around or your doings uncovered - I have come across this on several hiking trails and it is just rude and unnecessary. Anyway! The walk from breakfast to lunch was going to be a long, hot one, and mainly uphill. I climbed up out of the valley where the church sat and the vegetation changed dramatically from vineyards and fields to forests of cork trees. I find these trees amazing – not only do they only grow at a specific altitude and in certain areas, but are quite important as the bark is used for wine corks. Most of these trees grow naturally in the north of Catalonia and the south of France, around the Pyrenees area, and I’ve been told that the world is running out of cork for wine – that’s why you’ll now see more and more plastic corks or screw tops, even from the good wine makers. I reached the peak of the hill I was climbing and was gifted with a stunning view – a thick band of clouds sat over the mountains, running along their length from East to West, casting shadows over the forest below. I stopped for a breather to take in the view and take a few pictures before starting the descent. I hit a T-intersection and turned left, away from the coast, and hiked along a paved road for what seem forever. The sun was well and truly up now and was beating down on me with its full July heat. Cork tree groves filled my view on either side, the road ahead and behind, and like this I trudged along in the heat. I started to think that maybe this was the wrong way, just because it was a road and there hadn’t been any markings since the turn off, but my GPS said it was the right way so I just kept going. After several kilometres I saw the little red and white stripes that signalled the GR-11 path, and turned off onto a dirt trail. After about 1 minute on this new path, I was greeted with a small table full of water and a sign offering free water to hikers in 3 languages. Some lovely person had taken the time to fill up bottles, write a sign and set up a table for thirsty hikers. I drank what water I had in my bottles, wet my face and hair, then filled up again. I’d learnt quickly on this trip that water is the most precious thing and you never know when you would have a full water bottle again. I stopped for lunch near a small fountain, took my shoes off, washed my feet and ate my sandwich, enjoying the midday warmth and giving my feet a chance to rest.
The final leg of the journey was tough, but this I knew already. I was rested, fully stocked up on water and so I headed off after lunch with a mission – to make it the rest of the way to Requesence, 4.5 hours away (14kms). I headed up through a thick forest, and although it was hot, I was glad for the shade. Although I passed through a village, there wasn’t much else around – just me and nature. It was now just after 1 o'clock and I had 4 hours more walking to do, in the baking heat. I had plenty of water with me but it was a bit of a struggle. I made it to the tiny village of Els Vilars, drank water and filled up again, then kept going, trying not to think too much. Along the way, I stopped occasionally for a break and a snack, I still had some apples in my bag, and saw some signs for ‘dolmens.’ It sounded interesting and the sign said it was only 500m away, so I dumped my bag and walked off to see. Dolmens are megalithic tombs, built using 2 vertical stone slabs and one for the roof. I’d seen one before, but I thought the distraction from the hike would be good. Sadly, I wandered around for some time and didn’t see it – either I had missed the huge stones or someone was lying. I headed back to the path and just kept walking till I reached my stop for the day – I was hot and very tired, and not in the mood for any wild goose chases. The last 5 kms was probably the hardest, as I’d been climbing for hours and now, high up and on the flat, could see the castle of Requesence, but knew it would still take about 1.5 hours to get there. I finally made my way into Requesence, tired hot and just a little sore of foot. I knew nothing about this place, but I had expected far more than what I found. The guide book said there was a restaurant, and I was looking forward to a big meal, maybe even a steak or some butifarra, but when I turned up there were some cows, a few feral looking cats, and a restaurant that was half built and didn’t look to be anywhere near completion. The place felt abandoned and it was extremely quiet, and a little scary. I sat down at a table I found in front of the farmhouse, one of 3 structures in the ‘village,’ the other 2 being a big barn and the unfinished restaurant. I was going to prep for dinner, relax, rehydrate and then find a place for me tent and try and get some much-needed rest.
I’d just dumped my bag and washed my face when a car pulled up and 5 crazy dogs jumped out and came running up to me barking and going crazy. Two guys got out of the car and said ‘hola,’ then joined me at the table. Their names were Quim and Iban, and they were from Terrassa of all places, the city next to Sabadell. We started chatting and they told me that they're working here as shepherds. then they offered wine, farm-made cheese, olives and llonghanissa (like salami or fuet but bigger and tastier). Before the conversation went too far, Iban asked me if I was politically “left or right.” It was a strange question, and we were talking in Catalan so I was a little unsure of exactly what he was asking. I said I was ‘left’ and he was very happy with that as he explained he was an anti-facista, and that was the first time I really noticed his ANTIFA t-shirt. I’d clearly passed the test as more wine was poured, food shared and everyone was very friendly. By this time now, it was getting dark and cold. Iban asked me where I was sleeping for the night, and I told him my plans for the tent, or the small hostel just before the village, which was an unmanned refuge and free to sleep in. He offered a place in the farmhouse; I just had to lie and tell the owner that we were friends from Sabadell. A warm, real bed or a draughty refuge and a sleeping bag? Easy choice. I had a hot shower and then a great meal, cooked by Iban. It was the best Spanish omelette I’ve ever eaten – using all fresh ingredients from the farm, he made the ‘truita’ with eggs, potatoes, some capsicum and tomatoes, but the secret ingredient was some cheese melted in. Everything is better with cheese! We chatted, listening to music, had another drink and then headed for bed at around 11pm. I was up way past my bedtime – I could barely keep my eyes open or stay on my feet, which I know was a mix of the 30kms and the multiple glasses of wine I’d had. I was just about to crash when Quim showed me my bed, then, he proceeded to get out his knife collection. It was quite a selection of hunting knives he had, all very sharp and deadly looking. I pretended to be impressed to keep him happy. He then told me that I was a guest in his place and if I did anything wrong, he’d make me very sorry. I’ve paraphrased here, but he was clearly warning me not to fuck with him or I’d get to see his knife collection again. I knew the guy was a little off, friendly but very intense and a little scary, but I honestly didn’t think he would hurt me. So after I reassured him that I was his guest and of course I would be respectful and told him how grateful I was, he was cool.
So, I went to sleep, thinking that maybe the cold refuge would have been a better and safer option. I tried not to think about maybe not waking up in the morning, and while the Tramontana blew fiercely outside, I finally drifted off into much needed sleep. I woke up around 7 and felt extremely well-rested and happy to be alive. I got up, dressed and packed my things, before heading to the kitchen to thank my guest and quickly leave. I left the farmhouse at Requesence at 7:30, a little later than I would normally set off, but I was just happy to leave at all! I was grateful for the food and drink that was offered to me last night, by complete strangers, and then the roof over my head. Maybe speaking Catalan greased the wheels a little, but so far I have found truly wonderful people on this journey – unexpected kindness, conversation and all-round humanity. Sometimes you have to be open to these things as well – not everyone would have trusted Iban, but I gave him respect and trust and I got it back from him. In saying that, I wouldn’t push the friendship and go back to visit any time soon!
Remember to also follow me on Instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/myuncletravellingmatt MyUncleTravellingMatt. July 2020.