I'd finally got into the mountains and it was spectacular
Day 4 – Requesence to La Vajol (20 kms)
By the time I woke in the morning, the wind had nearly blown itself out. I’d slept well, very warm and comfortable on a sofa bed prepared by my guest Ivan. I’m so glad that I hadn’t pitched my tent last night as I doubt I would have slept much because of the cold and wind. I woke up, packed and went to the kitchen to say goodbye. Ivan had been extremely friendly and welcoming, if a little strange and scary at times. I was very thankful though and count this experience as a good one. He was very interesting to talk to as well, and we talked for some time about many things while we were having dinner the previous night. He’d done some crazy things; fought in Ireland and Colombia, and had even served some time in prison. He moved up here from the city to get away from things, live a simpler life as a shepherd on the Requesence property. The farmhouse where he lives is a big rambling building, with an old stone kitchen and windows that look out over the valley. I asked about the castle and he said that a wealthy family used to live there and this property was part of the manor of dairy farms. It was now run by the family that he worked for, which had held the land for generations. It wasn’t a bad life I guess; outdoor work, sun and beautiful surroundings, farm-fresh food and the company of 5 amazing border collies. I fell in love with the dogs immediately when they came running out of the car and I felt a little sad saying goodbye. I left on high spirits though – well rested and looking forward to the day’s hike. I felt good, stronger than when I’d started, which was a little hard to believe after the mammoth day yesterday. I wasn’t sore, which was a relief as I’d felt my calf niggling a little by the end of the day. I’d also had sore feet and shoulders, but was 100% now – like a newborn! Even the alcohol wasn’t affecting me; I had no hangover whatsoever and the backpack even felt light today! I knew it wouldn’t last though.
I walked along a dusty, unpaved road, winding its way around the mountains, forest on one side and a long drop on the other. Within about an hour, I stopped to take a sip of water and look out over the valley at the view, when a sound caught my attention. It was coming from the trees, somewhere higher up in the forest, and at first I hear anything, but then I heard it again. It sounded like a creaking, like a door in the wind, opening and closing, banging on a metal door frame. I dumped the Red Beast, unslung my camera and heading into the forest to investigate. What I found was a complete surprise – it was a plane crash. What had caught my attention from the trail was the tail end of the plane, the sound was the tail flap slowly creaking back and forth, which gave off an eerie sound. I clambered around, taking a few photos and just investigating – how often do you get to see a plane wreck? I remember a hike in the Montseny National Park in Catalunya, where myself and 2 friends were searching for a plane wreck that we’d read about online. We looked for ages, climbing steeper up the mountain, jumping boulders, following trails and objects through the trees that looked like parts of a plane. All we found were rocks that looked like a plane from a distance. We later read that it had been removed only a few months previously. I was disappointed with that, so here I had my chance to have a real good look. The plane, I later found out, was a DC-6 aircraft that had crashed in 1986 while fighting forest fires. Sadly, all 4 crew died in the accident. Although I only found out about the deaths later, the place felt creepy at the time – deadly silent and a little surreal. I looked around, took some pics, then headed back to my backpack. It seems incredible that a plane, with radar and modern equipment, can crash into something as big as the side of a mountain. Although I don’t know exactly what the problem was, my guess was the wind. The Tramuntana, the particular current that runs through this part of the Pyrenees, is extremely strong – I already heard it last night, but I also ran into it today. I’d just turned a corner, moving away from the protection of the mountain side, when it hit me. I nearly fell over! Istruggled to walk directly into this fierce wind, feeling like I was going to blow away even with 15kgs on my back. My eyes stung, my jacket was whipping around me and the chill factor bit into my exposed skin. I crossed over the road, following the trail, I got behind some rocks as I headed down and the wind just stopped. Incredible. I still don’t know what happened exactly, maybe I was disorientated by the wind, but I took a wrong turn somewhere and started to head down, but in the wrong direction. I didn’t fully realise this until I was half-way to the village of Cantallops, and by then I really didn’t want to walk all that way back up either. I decided to head to the village, grab a snack and some water, then keep going towards my half-way goal for today - La Jonquera. Half-way down I came across another strange scene – I found a crashed Renault, facing uphill, but all smashed up. I’m not sure if they were going up and didn’t make it, or were heading down and lost control. There was nobody in there and it looked like an old accident, so I just left it and kept going.
Cantallops is a pretty place and very quiet. I think the name translates to ‘singing wolves,’ but I didn’t see any wild animals around… nor many people either. As I approached the first building, a man asked me if I needed directions. I asked him where the main square was and he replied with “Do you want the most direct way, the beautiful way or the most beautiful way?” What a strange man. I obviously wanted the most picturesque way, and he told me which way it was and off I went. Most of the old buildings here are stone, some newer ones painted, but a lot just bare stone or washed over with cement. I followed a small path along a small river, a few animals were in the fields, including some cute donkeys, but not much else was happening, and no wolves. It was hot and I was glad to find a bar. I had a bikini (ham and cheese toasted sandwich) and a coke (other caffeinated drinks were available) and chilled out for a bit, thinking about how I would get to La Jonquera. I looked at my map and worked out that I had turned left off the path, going south, rather than continuing on west. It wasn’t a big problem, but I’d have to walk the 6kms to La Jonquera as there were no buses. With no other option, I paid up and headed off, stopping off at a supermarket first to buy a few things for the trail (yes, more water!). I joined the road and started the slog along the paved road, holding out my thumb just in case someone felt kind enough to pick me up. This wasn’t cheating – I had walked about the same distance, just not quite in the right direction – so I didn’t feel bad at all. The 6 kms would be an extra to the day's distance. I didn’t expect anyone to stop for me; hitching in Spain isn't common, and it was just after the Covid lockdown too. But someone did stop. Two cars passed when a third slowed down and eventually came to a stop. It was a beaten-up old ute with an old guy at the wheel. He asked me where I was going and it just happened to be on his way, so I got in and off we went. We got chatting and I immediately liked this guy. His name was Enric and he was French but lives in Catalunya for work. His car was an old, white Nissan and it seemed as old he was, the seat belt didn’t work and it rattled its way along the road. He dropped me off on the main road, right across the street from where the trail started again. I thanked him, he wished me all the best with my trip, and we shook hands, something I hadn’t done in some time (I sanitised afterwards though). It felt good meeting an honest, helpful person. That made 2 strangers in as many days. I crossed the busy road, which serves as the link between Catalonia and France, as La Jonquera is right on the border. It’s not a pretty city by any means, everywhere you look are big shops selling booze and cigarettes, casinos or strip joints… just like many other border towns. The people on the streets were mostly French, here to fill up on cheap Spanish booze, petrol and cigarettes, as the tax in France is a lot higher – petrol alone is 30c a litre more. I crossed the AP-7 via the overpass, then went under the AVE high-speed train line, heading into the forest on the other side to continue the GR-11.
This part of the hike was hot, dusty and very boring. It wasn’t too often that this happened on the trail – you sometimes got slightly harder parts, or easier, maybe less interesting, but rarely was there nothing. Unfortunately, there was basically nothing here but the dirt road, which was quite steep in parts, and some sporadic shade. It was hot. I was getting tired and I just wanted to reach the end. I trudged on, getting lost a few times and having to backtrack a little on a few occasions. One sign I found was made out of cardboard with a hand-written arrow. I found this so frustrating – if you don’t have a GPS here, you could get really lost. Mine wasn’t great, and didn’t always work, but I managed to follow the trail enough to not get too lost. Everything does have an upside though – on one of these wrong paths, I spotted a little deer in the forest, looking right back at me. I quickly but quietly whipped my camera out and got off a few shots before he turned tail and ran. I reached the last waypoint before the end at nearly 4pm. I stopped for a drink and a quick rest in the shade at Santa Eugenia, a pretty little church but closed at the time. I walked around and saw they do camps there, with a swimming pool and even accommodation, but it looked as if it had been closed for some time, probably due to COVID. There was also no tap or anything for fresh water, and I was running low again. The sign here said 2.5 hours to the end of the etapa, at La Vajol – that seemed a lot to me, as the book said ‘pocs (few) kilometres.’ I was starting to lose faith in this book. With no other choice I loaded up, feeling the weight of the bag by now, and headed off down the trail. I trudged on and had to go through some fairly thick brush, but it seemed I was following the path. Again I wasn’t sure because the signage was bad. I got to a road that lead up and up, constantly twisting and turning so I could never see what was around the corner. I was exhausted by this point, and so kept telling myself that it was just around this corner, then the next one. I did it this way, corner by corner, hill by hill, and finally reached my destination by 6:30pm, just like the sign had said.
After slogging my up that hill along a paved road, my bag was starting to ache and my feet were also sore. As good as my boots were, it was just too much walking in one day to stop them from hurting. The backpack was also amazing, but there is only so long you can lug around 15 kilos and not start to feel it. At the top of the hill, I was greeted by the sign that I’d been waiting for all day – “Benvinguts a Vajol / Welcome to Vajol.” I couldn’t find much information on this little village at all to be honest, but at the entrance there was a monument to miners, so I guessed that this area had several mines and maybe even working ones. I didn’t care about anything right now, I wanted a font (water fountain) and a bar to sit down at and have a cold beer. My prayers were answered all at the same time – I walked into the main square, drank my fill from the icy waters of the font, then plonked down, dumping my shit unceremoniously, at the only bar in town. Table service is a wonderful thing, as at this point I wasn’t really walking anywhere! I had a beer (ok, 2 beers, but the first one didn’t even touch the sides), some chips and chilled for a bit in the square. The owner of the family-run restaurant was lovely, she only spoke Spanish and guessed she was South American. She also pointed out a place where I could pitch my tent for the night, free of charge. I promised that I’d be back for dinner (and maybe 1 more beer) and she said that I could pay later. A bit of trust here – did they need the business that badly, or did they know that I wasn’t about to run off? Did I look that exhausted? Well, I pitched my tent on a grassy patch of land on the edge of town, conveniently next to another water fountain, washed up and got into some fresh clothes before heading for a short walk with the camera. Such a pretty little town and with nobody about, I was able to walk wherever I wanted and take photos of people’s houses and gardens without worrying about it. I did go back to the restaurant and had a fantastic meal before hitting the hay to rest up for tomorrow.
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MyUncleTravellingMatt. July 2020.