Friday, 29 November 2013

A hike through Southern Europe: Tivissa to Morella

 I was all alone in the huge campground cum hostel in Tivissa. Even the receptionist had disappeared after checking me in. And all that for 14 € plus tax! I could have stayed another night here to wait out the wind but there was absolutely nothing to do in little Tivissa. Even doing my resupply in the little local supermarket was an adventure under these circumstances. In the morning I slept in, played around with the free wifi and finally left at noon.

The first day of hiking brought me down into the valley of the river Ebro almost at sea level. The closer I came to the river the more terraces and olive trees. The farmers were harvesting the olives and I saw several oil mills. And I found myself a cosy campsite on an abandoned terrace out of the wind. As usual the morning was cold but I soon beheld a beautiful sight: a mandarin tree. I was so enthusiastic that I stuffed all my pockets with the fruit only to realise five minutes later that there were mandarin and orange trees everywhere! The Ebro valley is agricultural country and the main produce seems to be olives and citrus fruit. The farmers and I were all dressed in hardcore winter clothes but for me the juicy fruits felt like summer. This was what I had hoped for: free fruit even in winter. This gave me the idea for another winter hike: there is a new trail, GR 99 or Camino del Ebro, that follows the river for 1,200 km. The stretch I had seen was brand new and incredibly well marked and signposted.

Ebro valley
But my joy over juicy fruits was soon to end: I was to climb up another plateau into the National Park of Els Ports and an altitude of 1,300 metres. Because of the heavy winds I had decided to shortly detour from the GR 7 onto the GR 171 that has the same length, but stays lower a bit longer. The wind was brutal coming out of the village of Paülls. I was worried about camping in gusts up to 75 km/h. I soon left the last olive terraces behind and climbed higher and higher. I had hoped for an old shed to sleep in but everything was under lock and key or in total ruins. I had to camp in an abandoned terrace under trees and feared the whole night that I tree would fall onto me.

Frozen spring
I survived but the next morning the wind got when worse. I was at an altitude of 700 metres and was nearly blown over but should climb up to 1,300 metres. My only faint hope was that the wind was a katabatic wind and would be less on top of the plateau. The climb took forever and wound through every nook and cranny of the otherwise beautiful plateau. And for sure: the higher I came the less wind - and the colder. At an altitude of 1,000 metres I came across a.spring flowing into a water trough and realised with great horror that everything was frozen solid. No more running water. Soon the snow started. It was only patchy but frozen hard. It dawned in me that this would be a very cold night. At 3.30 pm I reached Refugi Caro on top of the plateau. The main house was closed but there was an open emergency room. It was cold already and the idea of wasting 2 hours of precious sunlight shivering in this ice cold room was not very appealing.

But the climb had taken too long to reach the next shelter before sunset. By coincidence I found a solution: National Park signs indicated that the next village could also be reached via dirt road - and that made night hiking possible! I would not be able to reach a shelter or village that night but the dirt road went lower than the trail and I could camp at 800 metres. I happily embarked onto that longer but easier route and found a good campsite for the night. In the morning everything was frozen. Luckily my shoes and socks had been dry. I passed another refuge in the morning and although the main building was closed there was an open and comfortable emergency room but I could not have made it the night before.

I seriously started to worry about the rest of this hike. If the cold temperatures and strong winds continue especially in combination with snow this hike will turn into torture. But the next day at least one of these problems was removed. Once out of the park I entered cattle grazing country again. Although at the same altitude I was in more open country now and there was no trace of snow here. Even the wind relented and I spent another very cold night at 1,100 metres. The cold had one good thing: there were no more cows in the pastures.

Approaching Morella
Only one more day of hiking till Morella and a hostel with central heating! I was in Valencia now and the GR 7 threw another little National Park into my way. All of a sudden I felt like back on the Heysen Trail in Australia: Follow creek bed for miles... This was an impressive stretch, but alas the sun could not reach.the narrow gorge and I was cold, cold, cold... Up onto a plateau again and finally into the sun. And then, coming around a "corner" high on the plateau I saw Morella for the first time and hardly ever has the sight of a town made such a deep impression on me. Right in the barren Sierras white Morella looms up like a dream. The town is entirely surrounded by the old city walls and on top of all that towers the castle on a rock. A truly breathtaking sight - and of course it would take me several hours more to eventually get there. But here I was ready for my next restday in beautiful (and cold) Morella.


Cuadernos de Viaje de Juan Holgado said...

Christine. Morella, as you can see, is a gorgeous town up on a hill with dramatic views on large distances and the medieval centre is quite nice.
Enjoy the warm bath and rest yourself for the special places you will reach next days.

German Tourist said...

Morella is indeed a fantastic place. I'll never forget that first view.

amudha said...

Thanks for sharing blog.