Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Pongy pig farms

Don't think we have mentioned one or two of the lesser delights of walking the trail. In fact I can hardly bring myself to mention them, they are so awful. The worst evil is the way pigs and cows are raised in enclosed spaces; every time we see them I apologise to the animals and want to let them out. They smell dreadful but it is the cruelty of it that upsets us, especially when there is such a lot of open space the animals could roam around in. Enough to turn us into vegetarians but it would be difficult to eat in Spain if we did.

Today we had to walk past loads of them, but beyond them things improved. In fact after the woes of poor way marking yesterday,  today we decided to avoid a poorly marked section of track. With a bit of cunning and a hitchhike we managed to walk both ends and miss the middle. We were very glad we didn't miss seeing Montanana with its centuries-old stone buildings, absolutely beautiful.

Being tourists in Graus

Ouch. You know that lovely pile of clean laundry? Forgot to ask how much. Won't tell you what it cost but it hurt!!!!

Never mind, it was just great to have fresh-smelling clothes. In case you are worrying, we have managed to wash our undies regularly.

We had some fun being tourists, popping into a panaderia for coffee and cake, sitting outside a bar in the sun with a cold drink, roaming the streets and checking out the massive Basilica sitting high above the town.

As is often the case, even though we held out until 8.30 pm, we were alone in the huge dining room of our hotel until 4 French people arrived. Must say we get great service!

Monday, 30 May 2016

Losing the trail - Lascuarre

Before we left Graus things were going well.  Rob managed to get his beard trimmed and miraculously found a pair of shoes to replace his ones that were falling apart, and we found a bar selling delicious food to take for lunch.

Thereafter it was a poo bum day of missing markers and losing the trail so completely we had to do a long road-walk; then a thunderstorm with hail, then rain was added in to the mix for our entertainment. Blah.

But we did see a lovely romanesque bridge and we are staying in a casa built as part of a defensive system in the 13th century, and we have just been fed an astonishing 4 course dinner - our hostess Helena is a delight and man, can she cook.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Clean clothes and a day off in Graus

On the way to Graus we seemed to go up hills all day. It was hot and I was doing a fair bit of grumbling and even uttered the words " not another b....y castle" as we climbed yet another few hundred metres just to look at one. But there were nice views of the Pyrenees and it was great to see far below us a Buddhist temple, a nice touch of Nepal here in Spain. We also saw a monk gathering wild thyme from the hills.

The last few kms were on lumpy gravel roads so we were looking forward to getting to Graus and a day off. You can't imagine what heaven it is to have beautifully laundered clothes after a month of walking in the same thing, day in day out. We are even getting our "evening" clothes done, what excitement.

I wondered what they thought of our holey socks, but we came back to our room to find every item neatly folded on the bed. The people here have been very attentive to us since  - we think they feel a little sorry for us.

Food glorious food

Our hosts José Manuel and Maria in Salinas de Trillo which has a population of under 20, were wonderful. They try to feed their guests on home produce and in that isolated and rugged environment it is just amazing what they achieve. We were treated like royalty, starting with a warm handshake and huge smile the moment we arrived hot and tired. A juice and homemade cookies came next. Maria had to go out so José served our dinner -  seated alone at a table for 20 in a room decorated with perfectly restored farming implements and other paraphernalia. The food was delicious and the first course alone would have sustained us for days. The best thing was that it was largely vegetables which we miss and crave. Rob was delighted to sample José's liqueur made from sloes,  while I enjoyed one made from quince.

Our breakfast was home-made sausage, pate, goat's cheese (José came in with a container of milk he had just coaxed from his goats), cheese, jamon, bread and of course café. Maria then made 2 huge tortilla bocadillos for us to take with us for lunch.

And to complete the picture of this idyllic place, Rob made a new friend - a lovely little puppie called Lassie. Cute.

Friday, 27 May 2016

Track maintenance - Salinas de Trillo

We missed a marker today so when we realised our mistake we backtracked and had a bit of fun building a cairn to help others. It was a nice short day so we felt we could relax and take our time and do a bit of track maintenance along the way.

Part of our trail was along a lovely old stone wall - a dying art perhaps, and through the pretty village of Troncedo with a massive old tower.

Challenges for the day: we got chased through Formigales by an annoying dog and later on we came upon a horrible gravelly slip we were supposed to cross. We decided it was very dodgy, and tried to climb above it but that didn't work. So we clambered part way down a bank and then bum-slid the rest of the way and managed to work our way around it. Phew.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

101 ways to terrify your wife!

Yep, Rob did his best by leading me through the spectacular gorge L'Entremon today. I will let the photos tell the tale. Can't write anymore as I am still in recovery mode!

To kill a nightingale

Thoughts at 2.00 am:

When I awoke this morning
When all things bright are born
A bird sat on my window ledge
And sang hail to the morn

He was so young and pretty
And so sweetly did he sing
That thoughts of joy and happiness
Into my heart did spring

And as he sang so sweetly
And woke me from my bed
I quickly brought the window down
And smashed his little head.

Itchy and Scratchy - overgrown tracks

We said goodbye to our new Dutch friends Anita and Carlos, and headed off into an eroded mudstone landscape.

The mornimg was enjoyable but in the afternoon we seemed to have to bash our way through one overgrown track after another. We then made the mistake of taking a shortcut - ha - when will we learn? We lost the markers and had to carefully scramble down a steep hillside to get back on track.

We arrived in Liguerre de Cinca and dived into the bar for a big cold cervesa. But then we discovered we had to go 3 more kms to get any accommodation or food. A kind young man took pity on us - we probably looked totally shattered - and gave us a lift. Then the wonderful Maria took us under her wing, got us a gorgeous bungalow at a discount price and arranged for the cook to come and make us dinner - the restaurant was closed. I should have taken a photo of the enormous feast he prepared for us, it was brilliant. Ah, the highs and lows of long-distance trails.

Hurry, hurry, hurry, no time to stop

We thought we were in Wonderland today when we came upon the Rio Used tumbling over rocks, and waterfalls forming possibly the most beautiful natural swimming pool we have ever seen. It was a very long day with 29 kms to do, a predicted time of 10 hours and a pickup arranged, so we had little time to enjoy the spectacle. We even managed to get out the door at 7.10 am, a record.

There was an enormous ancient sanctuary, many abandoned villages in various states of decay, and the Pyrenees forming a backdrop. Usually we see no one but we met 2 lots of cyclists, a group of French trampers, a single French walker and a couple doing 6 days of tramping. It was weird after so much time alone!

At our albergue in Paules de Sarsa we got grumpy when they wanted to charge us extra for linen, and we are such cheapskates we stripped the beds and used our silk liners! Honestly, some people! The hosts made up for having hidden costs by providing an excellent dinner and breakfast, and we met some lovely people.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Twenty fabulous Kilometres to Nocito

Apart from the first km climbing a dirt track behind a cement works and having to circumnavigate a fast flowing torrent down a slippery culvert that dropped over a waterfall, today was splendid.

The track went right over the top of an impressive road tunnel, and from there into more and more remote country and a lovely Parque Natural. One of the nicest features was a gentle river cascading down a kind of polished yellow sandstone, but there was also pretty forest, and flower-lined tracks.

The route took us through some charming old abandoned villages, and we had great views of a big fox - not at all scared of us. We bumped into a guy out on a day-walk,  one of the first times we've seen anyone on our track. He wouldn't allow us to take a photo of him!

Anyway it was a great day and we managed the big climbs, and there was no tormenta  (storm) to deal with. Rob invented a new way of keeping cool by putting silver foil over his cap. I decided it was probably a good way to fry his brain.

And we took our first "selfie". Ha.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Thunder, hail and raging rivers!

What a day of contrasts. We sweated like pigs ALL morning climbing, climbing, climbing ever higher with the impressive Pico Gratal watching over us. We had lunch in the sunshine at a pass before a very steep descent through pretty beech forest. 

Out in the open on a dirt road we could see the sky darkening above  us,  and minutes later we were surrounded by clashes of thunder bouncing around on the peaks above. It got louder and louder with flashes of lightening and came right overhead. Rob was loving it, I was terrified - and then we were bombarded by hailstones the size of small marbles - they hurt! We huddled under a bush getting very cold but eventually it eased off. 

Our troubles weren't over though, as the track ahead had turned into a raging river of brown mud. We had to wait nearly 30 minutes for the torrent to quieten before we could safely cross, me hanging on to Rob of course. 

Quite a dramatic afternoon, enjoyable in a perverse sort of way. 

We seem to have struck it lucky with our accommodation - it's a basic hostal but has a restaurant attached and the food looks fantastic. Roll on dinner time!

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Little girls to the rescue - Bolea

Today was seriously hot and we were glad   that it was supposed to be a nice easy short day. But before getting on track we had to climb in the heat for a couple of km to visit Loarre Castle. It is truly magnificent and very much intact despite being centuries old. It was strange to be amongst other tourists - who all drove there of course. We even, stupidly, turned down the offer of a ride.
But that was just the first stupid decision of the day. The next was to try and traverse from the Castle to a sanctuary built high up in rocky cliffs. There was a marked track of sorts, but it went on and on and on. The heat was killing and we got totally fed up, never quite made it. Later we could look back up and see what we missed - quite amazing that people used to live there.

Then we got to Bolea, expecting to have a cheapo night at the albergue - but they wouldn't let us as we are not pilgrims going to Santiago de Compostella. The places seemed to be all booked out, but a lovely man and his sweet daughter Ione and her little cousins came to our rescue. 2 hours later we were given a tiny little room but it is so cute and we are so so so happy. Thank you so much Ione!!

Zero day

Managed to get a ride with the school bus to the nearest big town,  Huesca. The driver was a real gem who was so kind to us. He spoke good English and was very informative about bird migrations in the area and the local legends. 

After a fair bit of trudging around Huesca we managed to post a parcel of unneeded stuff home, buy a basic camera to replace my dead one, get a claim form printed - we were robbed by an ATM machine the other day - get some basic food supplies, have lunch and catch an early afternoon bus back to Loarre.

We met 2 pilgrims which was really nice - not doing the same route as us but at least we could compare notes. We spent quite some time idly chatting away, the joys of a day off - but felt quite exhausted and had to go back to our lovely restaurant for a restorative feast cooked by the colourful Alexandre Ring.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Running out of superlatives - Loarre

Spectacular. Just the most amazing morning - starting with a new footbridge over the Rio Gallego, up to the tiny town of Riglos nestled underneath 300 metre high red cliffs (loved by climbers), through a forested gorge with vultures, golden eagles and swifts soaring around, over a pass with castle ruins and a lovely old ermita.

Afternoon a come down - 9km on rough gravel, starving hungry. Then all good again - arriving in Loarre and finding an open bar where we got the best ever bocadillos. Quirky accommodation where we met an interesting couple travelling around on a beautiful Harley motorbike. Had a fabulous dinner together.

Tomorrow a day off the trail while we try to get to Huesca to do some errands. Wish us luck!

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Hard yakka to Murillo de Gallego

This morning was really tough with not just big climbs and descents but rocky or boggy and/or ill- marked tracks as well. And it was hot. But the trail took us through beautiful forest and down into pretty valleys then back up into the spectacular red cliff landscapes where we are now. We also went through tiny remote villages where the population has dropped to one, or none. San Felices had a house with a huge conical chimney, part of a traditional oven.

Aguero is a bigger pueblo and is in the most wonderful location, with huge red cliffs - the Mallos  de Aguero - looming over it. Here in Murillo de Gallego we are once again enjoying the delights of a casa rurale after a hard 25km, 8 and a half hour day. Ahhhhhhh......

Albergue in Biel

Bit of a come down from our hotels, casa rurales and hostals,  but we are so glad to have a bed for the night. It was touch and go for a while - we didn't want to pay 100 euro for an apartment which was all we could find - until a lovely French lady Virginia rescued us and found Julio who had a key to the albergue. Basic, bunk beds, but we don't care. Was a bit touch and go whether we could get any dinner too, but we did manage to get huevos, patatas frites, jamon and queso, and a vino tinto in the only bar, so all was well.

Today was a super remote day through beautiful forest and we never saw a another human being after leaving our hotel until we got here 21 kms later. Petilla de Aragon has a population of 35, we saw 4 of them yesterday. Here there are 135, so far seen maybe 6 people. Did see a deer today - and a lovely cow. Rob found a coin from 1868 on the road! And we came round a corner and wham, towering over us was a massive fort built in the 10th century on the bones of one built by the Moors in the 9th century. Fascinating.

Forest walk - and a minor disaster

Much needed short sunny day with lots through pretty forest tracks. One section was a real challenge to find the route so we sort of made a guess and got it right - but not without a few scratches on our legs as we did a bit of bush bashing. And yet another tic - they really love Rob, he's had to dig out a few. The final km in the afternoon heat was a really long stiff climb up to the hilltop town, Petilla de Aragon where we are staying in a nice hostal.

The disaster is that my camera battery has died and we are a couple of weeks away from a town big enough to remedy the situation. So that just leaves me with the phone which is ok but not as versatile as a camera. So I am very sad about that.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Food heaven - Sos Del Rey Catolico

A great day of remote walking with amazing villages thrown in. Gallipienzo Antigua high above the mighty Rio Aragon was a highlight - population shrunk and hillside littered with abandoned houses and farms, but oh so beautiful with its ancient cobbled streets and ancient churches. Total contrast was stumbling across a sort of fiesta at an ermita (old church) with perhaps a thousand people milling around.

Some fun finding our route at times and we ended up guiltily stumbling through wheat fields on 2 occasions, but somehow we did the 34km in 10 hours. I was completely zonked,  Rob reckoned he was feeling frisky....Grrrrrrrrr.

We ordered paella in our hotel, the availability of which was enough to send Rob into raptures of delight - but then our host Fernando completely blew us away by bringing us small plates of delicious fish, a bowl of mussels, baccalau cheeks, and a baked pork rib - as well as our paellas. Seriously divine and we can hardly move.