Thursday, 30 August 2012

Camino del Norte: Bilbao to Santander

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
On my rest day in Bilbao I was very much torn between resting and sightseeing. This has often been a problem on this trip: you just want to rest in your bed but you also want to see the local sights... In Bilbao I managed to see the Art Museum (which was quite nice) and the famous modern Guggenheim Museum (which was rather disappointing: a lot of space and a lot of money for very little content). But what I enjoyed most there was a fantastic AYCE buffet and my single room in the youth hostel... Long distance hikers are bad tourists. I even missed the big fiesta that was going on in Bilbao with concerts and bull fights. Because of this fiesta it had been difficult to find accommodation in town and I had been very lucky to score a room in the youth hostel. But this hostel was rather weird. It has the charm and location of an Etap hotel: very clean and efficient and located right next to the highway. But it did not have any of the hostel amenities like a kitchen or a comfy sitting room. To my big disappointment there wasn't even a book exchange and therefore I had to buy new reading material in town.

Along the bike path out of Bilbao
The way out of Bilbao was as horrible as expected. A whole day you walk on pavement along old industrial buildings, run down high rises and motorways. There was absolutely nothing scenic about this stretch. Still in Bilbao I had run into two South African women who had come all the way from South Africa to hike the Camino - without a guidebook. They were completely lost and I helped them back on their way. But on this day I really started wondering why people come from that far only to walk on concrete through urban jungle and along huge highways and then sleep in huge dormitories with plenty of snorers.

It required a lot of planning to find stealth campsites every night but I was very lucky on this stretch. Although I mostly had to hike on highways through very populated areas I could always camp in the very rare forested areas in between. Forest here was another surprise: it feels more like Australia than Northern Spain because of the many Eucalyptus plantations. It smells very nice! But of course the forest floor is always overgrown with weeds and ferns and your only choice for a decent campsite is on old and abandoned forest roads.

I had not stayed in any pilgrims' hostel yet because I can't stand the dormitories, but my guidebook said that one of those albergues had a camping area. I hiked a 43 km day to get there and was not disappointed. Although the hospitalero could not understand why I insisted on camping instead of taking one of the free beds he assigned me a great camp spot. The hostel was big with 70 beds and offered communal dinner and breakfast. There is no fixed price for that: you pay as much or little as you can. The place is run by Don Ernesto, a Catholic priest and the next morning I had a long and very interesting talk with him.

Father Ernesto
He confirmed that the Caminos become more popular each year. He alone had hosted almost 6,000 pilgrims last year and expects more this year. The majority of pilgrims its from Spain, but Germans have the biggest portion of foreign pilgrims. The evening before I could see that hikers like me are really an exception. Everyone else was wearing "camp shoes" for dinner. I read the only one of 50 with only one pair of shoes... and a tent. In the morning everyone left really early in the quest for a free hostel bed in the next town. Only I was left behind chatting until 10.30 am, but it was only a short stretch to Santander.

Santander Cathedral
It started drizzling that day and a 8 km walk along a major highway did not improve my mood. I took a ferry ride over to Santander where I found a rather incompetent tourist information where staff was not willing to find accommodation for me. They told me just to go to the pensions or hotels. Although they had assured me that it would be easy to find a room for the night the first for places were fully booked... But I made a wise decision and went to eat at an AYCE buffet. The world looked much brighter afterwards and I started calling places instead of going there. Immediately I was lucky and scored a very nice and quiet room for 27 Eur - where I stayed and relaxed the rest of the day and next morning. Because of the difficult camping situation I am spending more money here in Spain than on any other part of this hike...

Friday, 24 August 2012

Camino del Norte: Irun to Bilbao

I am now hiking one of the many Caminos and therefore I guess I am technically a pilgrim now! I must admit that I was a bit afraid of this stretch. I was worried about horrible fellow hikers, lots of pavement and boring hiking. And although some of this is true so far I am enjoying the Camino. There is a lot of pavement (and so much more than on any other part of this hike) but most of it is on concrete pistas with no traffic at all or very quiet country lanes so it is quiet bearable. The hiking has been very different but not boring. There definitely is no pristine wilderness here, but you see a lot of quite charming villages and a very different side of Spain. My fellow hikers have been a very positive surprise. After reading a couple of books written by ex pilgrims and visiting a German pilgrim´s forum I had been afraid that there would be more Germans than anyone else but the overwhelming majority of pilgrims are Spanish. Which gives me a great opportunity to practice my language skills.

These pilgrims are a very friendly community like long distance hikers in the US. Everyone greets me and some are really eager to talk to me. Although most other hikers are not very experienced they are very friendly and I enjoy talking to them - especially since my personal contact with other pilgrims is very limited. Unlike everyone else I am camping most of the time whereas normal pilgrims stay in pilgrims´ hostels. Camping has turned out to be as difficult as expected. I am walking through a very populated area that is also very hilly and the vegetation very dense. So first of all I find to find a spot away from houses which is difficult enough. Then this spot has to be reasonably flat and free of blackberry bushes that are scratching up my legs and arms. I usually manage to find something but mostly I end up totally scratched up or sleeping on a slope!

I reluctantly left Irun but there were so many cities coming up where I would have to stay in hostels that I could not justify a full rest day. Only 20 odd kms from Irun to San Sebastian but I could not make up my mind whether I would try stealth camping, a pilgrim´s hostel or a normal hostel in San Sebastian. After leaving Irun I first came through a little fishing town where everyone was gathering along the port entrance. I wondered what was going on and was told that everyone was waiting for a huge cruise ship that was so big that it would hardly fit through the port entrance. I guess the captain must have been really nervous as it really was a tight fit. I then ran into my first fellow pilgrims who kept me talking but then I decided to give stealth camping a try. It was still relatively early but hiking further would get me into the city. I had found a halfway decent site when I realised that plenty of people were walking around - and that I would have to wait before I could set up my tent. I still felt a bit uncomfortable about camping so close to civilisation when all of a sudden the music started: A music group had settled close to my spot and entertained me with loud medieaval music. Knowing that this is Spain I realised that the music would go on forever - and decided to move on. My guidebook listed a youth hostel nearby that doubled as a pilgrim´s hostel. The receptionist greeted me very friendly and although there was a bed available she suggested that I should move on to the bigger city hostel with shops and restaurants nearby. She called ahead for me and made a reservation. "Only 40 minutes walk", she told me. I don´t know how she walks but it took me 1 1/2 hours and a full culture shock to get there.

San Sebastian
The walk through San Sebastion took me along the main paseo along the beach - on prime paseo time Sunday evening. The street was so crowded that I could hardly make my way through. I must say that after 4 months in the boon docks I was shocked to see so many people - and so many girls in ultrashort shorts. Hiking gets you a bit out of touch with fashion.... At nine o´clock I finally arrived at the city hostel where I was given a bed - but no food. All nearby places were closed in August on a Sunday night and I ended up eating in a Doner Kebab place.... Not the best of food, but I was so hungry!!! Again, very reluctantly I left San Sebastion the next day after shopping for guidebooks and food. But five days later I would be in Bilbao and there I wanted to spend a well deserved rest day with museums and shops.

Those five days were pretty hard. Although the hiking is very easy compared with the Pyrenees I had not thought of the climate. It was hot, but more importantly it was very humid and that was the biggest problem. I was sweating so profusely that sweat was dripping onto my guidebook when reading it. The climbs are very short and not too steep, but only the slightest physical exercise and all my clothes were soaking wet. Chafing has become a big problem again. Although I take a sponge bath every night before going to bed I feel sticky and uncomfortable. And this is very hilly country. I am still doing 1,000 m of elevation gain per day! Although there is plenty to see along the way I have sort of lost interest in churches and local museums. All I can get excited about is a shower. I had been looking forward to Gernika with its Peace Museum but it turned out to be very disappointing. But now I am in Bilbao and tomorrow will be my rest day - hurray! Guggenheim Museum is waiting for me!

Monday, 20 August 2012

Hiking the Pyrenees: Conclusion and tips

The Pyrenees have been the most beautiful and spectacular part of my hike. There is no doubt about it. The Pyrenees sometimes even rival the High Sierra in the US in beauty. Also the weather in the Pyrenees is usually very favourable. There might be some thunderstorms (which of course I happened to run into), but usually there is hardly any rain but endless sunshine.

But did I like the Pyrenees? No, not very much. They will definitely not be my most favourite part of this hike. Would I recommend hiking the Pyrenees to a friend? Well, that depends on the friend. Some people would absolutely love it, and then there are people like me. So what was wrong with the Pyrenees? To put it in plain, short and simple words: For me in my situation they were too difficult and too demanding to really enjoy them. Now let me explain this in more detail:

There are people who surefootedly hop from one boulder to another, run down steep mountains over loose scree and find daily elevation gains of 2,000 m easy. Then there are people like me who have a sort of distorted sense of equilibrium, slight vertigo and very often more resemble a wet sack of potatoes than a surefooted mountain goat. The first type of people will love the Pyrenees and the second will have a hard time like me. I honestly think that the GR 11 is a bit too difficult and sometimes even dangerous for such a famous and well hiked trail. Passages like the Porta de Baiau where you have to descend more than 200 m of almost vertical elevation loss over loose scree is downright dangerous. Luckily there are not too many really dangerous sections but almost every day I encountered passages were I felt uncomfortable.

In my long hiking career I have come across lots of different unpleasant moments on the trail. I have been yelling German obscenities at trail mark, hit trail posts with my trekking poles out of frustration and just started crying because the trail was so hard that I felt I could not go on any more. On the GR 11 I did not feel like that. I just felt uncomfortable. I felt uncomfortable on the steep stretches over loose scree and the endless boulder fields. I did not feel that my life was in danger. Those stretches are difficult, but not life threatening. But I know from experience that there is such a thing as bad luck. One wrong step, one slippery rock or boulder that moves and you are in the shit. You can sprain an ankle, break a leg or just hurt yourself very badly. If you encounter these passages only once a week, you just pay attention and very probably nothing will happen. But if you have to deal with this every day for several hours statistically your chances of bad luck increase dramatically. To nmake things worse I was in a rush. Instead of doing one pass every day I had to do 1 1/2. Therefore I ended up on those endless boulder fields at the end of the day when no one else was around. If I had had an accident then I would have had a real problem. I sometimes had to hike until sunset before I could camp because I had miscalculated the time again. Everything took so much longer in the Pyrenees than expected. I got frustrated because I was not making any progress. When I switched on my GPS at night I very often had to realise that it had taken my a whole long hard day to just cover 7 or 8 km as the crow flies.

I do not want to discourage anyone to hike the GR 11. It is beautiful trail and even people like me can hike it. You do not have to be a mountain god, even less athletic people can cope. But it will not be easy for them and you will sometimes feel uncomfortable. Do not even think that the Pyrenees are similar to the High Sierra. In California you have very well engineered easy trail with an easy gradient. In the Pyrenees you have boulder hopping and loose scree - and very often no trail or trail marking. But there are a few things you can do to make the GR 11 more enjoyable:

Time: According to the guidebook it takes about 45 days to hike the whole GR 11. Being an experienced fit hiker I thought I could do it in less time. Of course you can, but then you might end up feeling as uncomfortable as I did. You can definitely combine days in the beginning and end of the hike at lower altitude and sometimes even combine shorter days in the high altitude section. But keep in mind that this is a physically very demanding hike and you will need rest days, maybe more than you think. (Especially if you have hiked 3,000 km before and are tired already...). Also keep in mind that the daily stages are designed in a way that you have to do one pass per day only. If you combine two stages you will have to cope with 2 passes and sometimes 2,000 m of elevation gain. Plus you might end up in places where camping is less than ideal. I think that you should calculate at least 40 days for an enjoyable thruhike of the GR 11.

Trail marking: The trail marking has definitely improved since my last hikes in the Pyrenees more than 10 years ago. Often it is really good, usually it is decent - but sometimes it is almost non-existant. The trail marking is done by volunteers and depending who did it and when the quality varies greatly. You should definitely have maps and a GPS helps, too.

Maps and guidebooks: Thanks to a very generous donation from a German hiker I had gotten the Cicerone guidebook and the Prames maps for free. I think that this was the best combination possible, although it is far from ideal. The Cicerone guidebook dates from 2007 and urgendtly needs an update. The route between Burguette and Ochagavia has changed completely and is shown wrongly in the guidebook and even the latest edition of the Prames maps. The Prames maps are ok, but far from great. They only show elevation but not the vegetation type, so it is difficult to predict whether your chosen camp spot will have tree cover or not. Also not all side trails are shown and the maps generally are not very detailled. The times given in the Cicerone guidebook are ridiculous. The author, a middle aged man carrying a 15 kg backpack claims 5 hours of hiking time for a 16 km stretch with more than 1,000 m elevation gain. This is ambitious even under ideal circumstances, but utterly impossible in the Pyrenees for mere mortals. The times given in the Prames maps are generally 10 - 20 % longer than in the Cicerone guidebook and much more accurate. The Navarran government has produced a leaflet with elevation profiles and hiking times for the GR 11 stretch in Navarra and if you compare elavation gains and hiking times with the Cicerone guidebook you will realise that Cicerone also has incorrect elevations gains. You have to add at least 10 - 20 %, too. Still, the Cicerone guidebook has been useful as it shows water sources and potential campsites. The author only mentions campsites with water and if you are used to dry camping you will find a lot more camping possibilities.
On my GPS I had the Garmin topo for Spain and a track for the GR 11. The Garmin map was not really good either. No vegetation is shown like in France and the GR 11 is only partially shown - and then mostly wrong. Sometimes whole roads were missing and I guess Garmin´s data base is a bit outdated. The GPS track was like any track you download fromt the internet: You do not know what quality you get. Mine was sometimes incredibly good and you could see that the data was actually gathered while hiking and sometimes there were no trackpoints for a whole km.

Water and resupply: The water situation was generally very good. There were only a few stretches where there was no water for 5 or 6 hours. Usually you only have to carry food for a couple of days. In the villages there is usually a small supermarket. High prices and not much choice, but resupply is doable. Keep in mind that shops are normally closed between 2 pm and 5 pm.

Other hikers: Due to holiday time (I was hiking in August) I encountered more people in the Pyrenees than anywhere else. A lot of foreigners doing a thruhike and even more Spanish and French hikers, although they tend to do shorter hikes and stay in the refuges. Still the Pyrenees are not crowded, even in peak season.

I do not want to deter anyone from hiking the Pyrenees with this post. Just keep in mind that the Pyrenees are not a walk in the park. I think one day I will come back and hike them again - but with more time!

Saturday, 18 August 2012

GR 11 Part 3

Canfranc station
 It took me a whole day to get from Bielsa to Canfranc taking 2 buses and 1 train and plenty of waiting time in between. Public transport if not very frequent in the Pyrenees but at least it exists. I had to get up at 6 am to get the first bus and arrived st Canfranc as late as 8 pm. But on the other hand hiking would have taken me almost a week.... I immediately remembered Canfranc's huge and empty train station although I had been there almost 12 years ago on my last hike in the Pyrenees. Unfortunately finding a campsite that late turned out to be a bit more difficult than expected and I ended up camping on the roof of an old bunker.

Being a hypochondriac I was worried about my knees now but beside the strange noises they did not hurt. Of course it helped that the gradients were a bit less steep now and the trail a bit easier with lower altitude. I was a happy hiker again!

Camping became somewhat of an interesting experience now. Instead of grizzly bears I now had to deal with cows, sheep and horses! Still being afraid of cows after my UK hike I always try to camp as far away from them as possible but in the Pyrenees they are free ranging and there are no fences between you and your bovine friends. So one night I had finally found camp site without cows and fresh cow shit. I was already cooking dinner when I heard the telltale cow bell ringing coming closer and closer. About 50 cows were happily passing by my tent on their way to their sleeping place. First I was about to freak out but I quickly realised that the cows weren't the least bit interested in me. They completely ignored me - and I relaxed!

Hunting hide
Two days later I had another scary camping experience. After passing several herds of sheep and horses I found a nice campsite in the middle of nowhere, far away from civilisation. I was just about to set up my tent when a hooligan on a dirt bike came roaring up the mountain. He scared me a lot because I don't want anyone to know where I am camped - and he annoyed me with the motor bike noise and smell. Half am hour later the presumed hooligan returned, but very slowly now... because he was moving sheep! My presumed hooligan was a modern shepherd. He waved friendly and disappeared with his woolly friends. I was expecting a peaceful night now but at three o'clock in the morning I was awoken by a herd of horses passing my tent. I had not know that horses are night active and was just hoping they were not night blind! But luckily none of the horses fell over my tent. There was a lot of nickering, stamping hooves and ringing of horse bells - and soon they had moved on.

By the way it was amazing hire many horses are kept in this area of the Pyrenees, especially mini horses that aster not shy at all. And I have never seen horses with horse bells before. But there where a lot of other attractions, too. Loads of old bunkers scattered all over the landscape and very elaborate hunting hides. I still don't understand why there were hundreds of them here and none at all in the rest of the Pyrenees.

Mobile supermarket
I also came across another great aspect of village life here. Coming into a little village I asked a local woman whether I could buy bread anywhere. The place was so small that there was no hope for a grocery store, but sometimes the local bar sells bread. I was told that no such a thing exists here but that she herself was just waiting for the bread man. The bread man turned out to be a man in a little van driving through all the little villages selling bread at a certain hour of the day. He was announcing himself by wildly honking his horn which made all the housewives come rushing out of their houses with money in their hands. I had just been very lucky to be at the right time at the right place. I happily bought a loaf of bread and wondered why the other woman was still sticking around. Two minutes after the departure of the bread man the fruit and fish man appeared in yet another bigger van. This was better service than in many supermarkets! I bought some peaches, had a great lunch and was a very happy hiker.

I really liked this last lower part of the Pyrenees where I was back to 30 km days but I was also looking forward to eventually getting out of the mountains. I had a parcel with guidebooks waiting for me in Irun which meant to either hurry and be there on Saturday morning or take my time and get there on Monday. I hurried and really made it in time for the post office. I decided I deserved a treat for that and found myself a nice and cheap hostal which was half a miracle as everything else seemed to be fully booked due to fiesta time. The hostal owner keeps talking to me in Spanish for hours and it is stinking hot in my room but I am happy to be done with the Pyrenees and lying on my bed not doing anything. Well, I am doing something: surfing the internet! This is a success in itself as I have had tremendous problems to achieve this. First I could not find a place where to buy a SIM card. Then I found and bought a SIM card but could not get internet reception. Then it dawned on me that the card did not come with an APN. I changed to the correct APN but still no reception for internet, only for calls. Eventually I found a shop that sold another brand of SIM cards with a friendly owner and no other customers waiting. Within 15 minutes I had a new SIM card that was actually working and had a decent internet flat rate. How have I hiked before without a smartphone?

Tomorrow I will start out on the Camino del Norte which makes me a pilgrim. Hopefully the trails will be easier now as there is a lot of sightseeing along the route. And hopefully it will cool down a bit. Despite being on the coast it is awfully and unusually hot right now: up to 35 degrees celsius.

Friday, 10 August 2012

GR 11: the decision

As I was slowly progressing down the GR 11 I had to realise a bitter fact: at this speed I would never make it to the end of my hike in time. It had been stupid to already book my onward flight and have a set date for my next adventure without enough buffer time in between. But as much as I lamented it now: it could not be changed. I could only learn a lesson for the future on route planning.

I therefore had three options now: 
  • increase hiking speed tremendously which would be difficult due to the steep terrain. Also this would very much compromise my enjoyment of the hike. There is so much to see and I feel that I need more rest. I was also wondering whether I would even physically be able to hike that fast for the remaining 6 weeks.
  • hike a shorter alternative but there was only one very unattractive option left: hike the GR 11 only until Somport Pass or Roncesvalles and continue on the Camino Frances. This Camino seems the most boring and definitely most overcrowded Camino of all to me. The vision of hiking with hundreds of other pilgrims next to major highways in the blazing August sun was a nightmare to me. I wanted to stick with the less popular Camino del Norte that also offered a nice changer of scenery by following the coast. 
  •  skip a section of the trail which is totally against my principle of a continuous hike. But when I had studied the maps and guidebooks for the upcoming section it had dawned on me that I had already hiked it many years ago. I also realised that I dreaded these next days with thousands of metres of steep elevation gain and loss. My Achilles tendon is hurting and my left knee is making strange noises. I am not enjoying this Pyrenean mountain climbing.
Bottom line: I have decided to skip 120 km of the GR 11 that I have already hiked before. This seems like a short distance but it would have taken me at least 5 days. I will leave the trail at Bielsa, take bus and train to Canfranc and continue from there as planned to the Atlantic Ocean and the Camino del Norte.

I am not very happy about skipping a section but at least I have already hiked it before. It seems the best alternative for me. When I had made this decision it felt like a huge weight had been lifted from me. I felt so relieved that there world not be much more boulder hopping and continuous 2,000 metres elevation gains. After Canfranc the trail does not rise above 2,000 metres of altitude any more. Hopefully I well be back now to easier hiking!

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

GR 11 Part 2

The GR 11 has been very beautiful and very brutal. I am not quite sure whether I like it or not. My opinion changes everyday depending on how many steep metres of elevation gain I had to do...

The worst part so far has been Portella de Baiau, a high mountain pass. First there had been an endless ascent of almost 2,000 metres straight. But this had been nothing compared to the view down the other side of the pass: several hundred metres of almost vertical descent over loose scree. I could not believe that this was seriously meant to be the GR, but there was no other way... And of course no waymarks. So very slowly I started to descend, sometimes sliding down on my butt and always scared shitless of killing myself. It wasn't only me who was scared. A Spanish hiker behind me said that he as well thought that this was too dangerous for a GR. He skied down constantly falling. After that you descend over more boulder fields and of course again no waymarks when you need them but a posh refuge. I wish they would spend the money on marking the trail better and making it safer instead of splurging on refuges.

Thus had been the worst post do far but almost every day I fight with incredible steep ascents and descents and scramble over boulder fields. For me, this is not fun! I wonder why it is do difficult here whereas I can't remember anything that difficult on the PCT! Are the mountains so different here? Why can't there be nice and easy trail like in the Sierra?

Every day I kept running into my Spanish friend. In the beginning he was very shy but after I talked to him in Spanish it turned out that he had just hiked the Camino del Norte and Primitivo that are next on my list. He is also hiking the GR 11 in my direction. Although he is a much faster and younger hiker than me he takes as long as I do because he is taking hourlong breaks. His biggest problem is food. He is convinced that dehydrated crap hiker food will kill him and insists on a diet of brown rice. Only that he could not get brown rice in the last resupply town of Espot. I found resupply options pretty decent there but he could not find anything for his ecological palate. Despite having no money he decided to eat in the refuges instead and was surprised when he had to pay 18 EUR for 3 crap sandwiches. Other hikers took pity on him and gave him some dehydrated noodle soup but he told me he could not eat it after reading the ingredients. Last time I saw him he was so hungry he wanted to leave the trail. I thought of giving him some of my food but he would not eat that either... Some people have too delicate a stomach for the trail.

But I had another great encounter on the trail. I tan into an American hiker and after chatting a minute I told him about the triple crown. He then asked me whether I am the "famous" German Tourist! What a surprise! It turned out that he had hiked the AT the same year I had and had always been only a couple of days behind me reading my register entries. The hiker world is so small and I could have chatted with him forever. It came as a great relief to me that Two Litres (that is his trail name) found the trail as demanding as I do. He was well behind schedule as well. And I had thought that it was just me who suffered...

But it was not all suffering. I had a lovely half day rest in Espot where I decided to treat myself to a restaurant lunch that filled me up so much that I rolled out of the restaurant. And then I discovered a free swimming pool! It was a beautiful sunny day and I spent the afternoon with a full belly lounging in the pool and lying around reading. Wonderful! The next stage was through the National Park of Sant Maurici where camping is prohibited and I did not want to risk a fine. The park was full of tourists and rangers but luckily I managed to make it through the park in one day.

The weather is usually great but I managed to run into one of the rare extended lows. Of course this also happened to be one of the more difficult hiking days. The whole day I hiked under black clouds and rumbling thunder. Progress was incredibly slow and boulder hopping almost all the time. This is not made easier by wet rocks and I started to hate the GR 11. The weather threatened to be really bad and I wanted to camp as low as possible. I had just made it to the first rare trees when a storm was rolling in and I set up my tent not a second too early. It turned out to be a horrible night. The first storm raged for an hour and ended in bean size hail. I was worried how my tent would hold up to these big hail stones. To my very positive surprise my tent survived the rain, hail and wind almost dry! Outside you could barely see and the landscape got white with hail. I managed to fall asleep when two hours later the next storm moved in, again with heavy rain and hail. I thought it would never stop and it continued until daybreak. I woke up to singing when a hiker group passed next to my tent...and there was beautiful sunshine now. I was fed up and just wanted to get to Benasque.

It still took me half a day with no food left. When I arrived I went to the first restaurant and ate before finding a hotel. Benasque is quite nice although overpriced. I managed to buy a Spanish SIM card but no internet coverage. At least there was wifi although it does not seem to work very well on my smartphone.

I am hiking out today and hope to soon be done with the high mountain stuff. I want to hike, not climb...