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.


Mikel Salazar said...

That much hunting places in the west Pirineos y because that is the migration way of various birds.

I hope you enjoy el Camino de Santiago, but I would recommend you hiking the Cordillera Cantábrica. Even if you don't reach your goal walking and you have to take public transport again. Not so good trails, but much more scenic and wild.

Nice hikes and website!

German Tourist said...

Thanks for the explanation. I have really wondered about the hunting hides.

Juan Holgado said...

Hi Christine. Nice blog and perfect explanations of your experiences. The comment on Rita is quite sensible.
On hunting hides, once I got to change my trail on the GR11 the french dove hunters where aiming at myself their hunting arms if I were to invade their hunting territory so I had to detour a great deal of my track.
Hope to see you in Spain.

German Tourist said...

Thanks Juan for all the help for my next hike! Hope to see you in Spain - enjoy the GR 1.