Sunday, November 17, 2013

A hike through Southern Europe: Aiguafreda to Igualada

In Aiguafreda I changed from the GR 2 onto the GR 5. Of course this involved a long descent into town and then an even longer one up into the mesa again. Up on the plateau I was again rewarded with incredibly spectacular views that got even better when the sun started to set. The cliffs turned orange and red and I was absolutely amazed by their beauty. Unfortunately, I did not have much time to loiter as I urgently needed a campsite. The trail was too exposed and too close to the cliffs to comfortably hike at night. I had encountered some flat spots but they were so heavily overgrown that camping was impossibly. The map showed a hermitage and a stream which looked like flat enough for camping.

But when I approached in the last dwindling daylight I was shocked about what I saw: the supposedly lonely hermitage was a major tourist spot with a huge bus parking lot! The parking lot was flat enough but you don't want to camp there. Even tucking myself away into a corner wasn't an option as the occasional car still came in and I was afraid that this would turn into a love lane at night. It was dark by now and I still wandered around looking for a campsite. I found a dirt road but it led to the local garbage dump - where I eventually found the worst campsite of this trip. At least it was away from the garbage containers, but it was rock hard, bumpy, sloping and covered with prickly stuff that clearing it took forever. I hardly slept that night....

As full moon was approaching I decided to night hike the next day. My GPS track and the maps showed the trail to be on forest roads which makes for easy night hiking. But I had not taken into consideration that the trail might have been relocated and soon I was torn between following forest roads or official trail. At 7.30 pm I threw in the towel. The trail had become too difficult to safely night hike and I found myself a comfortable campsite - I needed to catch up on sleep.

Next morning I awoke refreshed to a beautiful but cold morning. I better get used to the cold as the forecast predicts freezing a lot now.... In the distance I could already see the mountains of Montserrat, my goal for the day. I must say that dusk and dawn have been the best times for hiking as the light makes the already spectacular landscape almost surreal. But between me and Montserrat was the usual descent and exhausting ascent plus some infuriating trail deviations.

Montserrat Mountains at dawn
Montserrat is such a popular place that the steep path up it was incredibly well engineered with steps all the way. Still, things had as usually taken much longer than expected and sunset was approaching when I finally reached Montserrat. I was first appalled by how touristy it is. It swarmed with tourists that had come up by train. There were restaurants, souvenir shops - and a tourist information. My plan was to hike on into the night to a refuge along the road but first I needed a pilgrim "credencial" for the simple reason that it would give me a price discount in the albergue in the next town. I soon found the place that was luckily still open and there I had a lucky streak. The credencial was only 1,50 €, but the man told me that there was a pilgrim's hostel right here in Montserrat. To make things even better I would be the only guest and it was free! I quickly changed plans and decided to stay - this was an offer I could not resist.

Votive offerings in Montserrat
After a quick shower I wanted to attend the evening service in the cathedral. When I walked into the church it felt like entering a wonderland. It was completely dark outside but the church was wonderfully lit and glimmered golden. I have seen a lot of churches during my travels but this one was very special. The monks' singing added to the special atmosphere. After the service almost all the tourists had left and I had the cathedral almost to myself for exploration. Pilgrims had left a lot of very touching devotional items.  Montserrat is a touristy place but still quite magic.

Montserrat
The weather forecast was bad: Rain for three days! I planned on having a rest day in the albergue of Igualada but this was still a day's walk in the rain. And it rained a lot.... The trails had converted themselves into streams. My umbrella was useless because of the wind and soon I was soaking wet. In order not to get cold I had to continue walking - and it was not pleasant. I had chosen to stay on the GR instead of hiking the pilgrimage trail that led directly into Igualada but involved lots of road walks and industrial areas. The GR (now 172) stays in the forest and leads to La Pobla de Claramunt from where are frequent trains to Igualada. Unfortunately I arrived on a Saturday afternoon which meant I had to do all my shopping immediately because shops would be closed on Sunday. In pouring rain I shlepped provisions for 5 days from Lidl all across town. I nearly started crying when the local outdoor shop did not have has canisters although I had contacted them in advance. They sent me onto an odyssey around town for canisters which was definitely no fun in pouring rain with a backpack and two plastic bags full of food. I was about to give up hope when I finally found an outdoor shop with gas canisters. I could have kissed the sales woman.

Now I was ready to go to the pilgrim's hostel where another bad surprise awaited me. I picked up the keys nearby and expected to be alone in the hostel. But there were two other "pilgrims" of the sort you want to avoid: when I  entered they were smoking in the kitchen and the whole place reeked of smoke because of it. They had turned on all the  heaters so it felt like a sauna and on top of all that they had a big dog. Needless to say that smoking and dogs are strictly prohibited in these hostels. But I did not have a choice and had to stay. At least there were two rooms and I did not have to share with them. Luckily they are leaving today.

I will have a rest day here in Igualada and then face the rain that is unfortunately continuing.... And I had hoped to be in the warm and dry Mediterranean climate now.

1 comment:

Jane said...

You are amazing. I love what you are doing, how you live your life.