Wednesday, 13 November 2013

A hike through Southern Europe: GR 2 in Spain

 From the border it was a short 10 km road walk to Aguallana and the GR 2. The little town welcomed me to Spain with long awaited free wifi. Free wifi is very difficult to find in France and is usually the odd person's open network whereas in Spain almost all communities provide free wifi for the citizens. During my last days in France my prepaid credit had ended and I had been without internet for almost a week. Now I was more than happy to connect again. And I had to do a lot of research: After hiking for over a week without any rest day I was now dirty and tired. But I could not just have a rest day anywhere. I needed a bigger city for extended town chores. When preparing this trip I had chosen Olot for that which was close to the GR 2, but unfortunately still a 5 km road walk off trail. Now I found out that there were almost hourly buses from Besalu, the next little town on trail to Olot. That meant I could have my rest day earlier than expected and did not have to detour 10 km on foot.

I left rejuvenated because now a longer rest was in sight. Unfortunately things did not go that smooth. I arrived in touristy Besalu the next day but much later than expected. Because it was soon getting dark I made the wrong decision to stay in Besalu for one night and take the bus the next morning. As it was off season I did not expect any problem finding accommodation in such a touristy place. But unfortunately it was so much off season that all the cheap places where closed and therefore the only open affordable hotel was fully booked. That left the campsite that had looked like a cheap and convenient option. But although it was really close to town there was a river between it and town which meant I had to walk 2,5 km to get to it via the only bridge.

I arrived already grumpy at dusk. The campground manager was totally surprised to see me and said there was only one other camper staying. He even had to turn on the hot water especially for me, but at least he made me a special price and even threw in a packet of biscuits for free. The shower was great but everything else made me even more grumpy. The wifi did not work and the condensation in my tent was a nightmare because the campground was right next to a river. I was so frustrated that I hardly slept and left at sunrise to catch the first bus to Olot. To make things worse the bus was full of teenage school kids who had probably never seen a smelly hiker before. They assumed that I don't speak Spanish and talked quite rudely about me - hiker harassment! I was glad to finally arrive  in Olot where things turned out great now.

Nativity scene
I walked into the cheapest hostal in town, Pension La Vila, and was immediately given a very nice room despite the fact it was only 9 am. 29 € got me a single room with bathroom, TV and free wifi. The hotel owner was very friendly and although he could not offer laundry service he let me use the sunny roof top for drying my clothes. With the washing done I ventured out to do my town chores the most important of which was to get a Spanish SIM card. I walked into the next Movistar store knowing exactly what I wanted from internet research. Unfortunately I had chosen a brand new offer and was the first costumer to buy it - and the sales.woman did not have a clue. But half an hour and several calls to her supervisor later I walked out with my new SIM card. Spain is telecommunication heaven compared to France. I had purchased 1 GB of data valid for one month for 6 € and the SIM card is free. In France the same had cost me 20 € plus 5 € for the card. In Spain I pay 3 c/min for national calls, in France 19 c/min!

As a Lidl and Aldi junkie it was time for a shopping trip to one of my beloved discounters. Whenever I visit a Lidl in a new country I feel like Alice in Wonderland and this time they even had Christmas stuff. I ended up eating Spanish almond cake and German Christmas Stollen until I was almost sick! I even managed to find a second hand bookstore and buy an easy Spanish book. I'll be reading Rosamund Pilcher for the next days.... Not my usual choice of literature but it had to be easy Spanish and 1,150 pages for 2 € was a good deal. I then indulged into hourlong skype sessions with friends back home thanks to the good wifi in my hostal. I even found time to visit Olot's museums and discovered a provincial gem: the museum of saints. Olot is the centre of saint production in Spain (I am talking of statues and busts...) You can see all sorts of tacky saints and other religious paraphernalia plus there is a real workshop attached to the museum. I watched how glass eyes were inserted into baby Jesuses and Virgin Marys got their halos attached. Unfortunately no photos were allowed so the photo here shows an Olot statue in a church. The little town museum boasted a nativity scene that took up a whole room. I love these provincial towns with queer museums -especially if everything is within walking distance like in Olot.

Extinct volcano in Garrotxa
But after two days of rest and another bus ride I was back on the trail in glorious sunshine. After seeing hardly any hikers for months I was shocked when on Sunday the trail got so crowded that I felt like on the Camino 100 km from Santiago. I was in the National Park of Garrotxa whose main feature are the extinct volcanoes. This is close to Barcelona where all the weekenders had probably come from. The GR 2 varied tremendously: one hour the trail is being eroded by masses of people and two hours later I wade through a sea of stinging nettles on completely overgrown trail that no one must have set a foot onto for months... Luckily the trail was quite well marked in most parts as this was the only stretch of the while trip that I did not have a complete GPS track for.

I was rewarded with one of the best campsites of this trip: I camped at 900 m next to an old hermitage on top of a mountain with an almost 360 degree view. I arrived at sunset and even cooked and ate dinner outside watching the lights in the valley below. It drizzled a bit overnight and when I woke up to a brilliant sunrise I saw that the Pyrenees in the distance were now snow covered for the first time. But it was a hot day and the sun melted the snow soon as I could watch from a distance as the day went on.

View from the above campsite
I was long out of the Pyrenees but the mountains now were equally fascinating. I can only describe them as table mountains that rise abruptly with sheer cliffs. The GR follows the edge and offers spectacular views. Unfortunately you have to descend into valleys and then climb up the next mesa. Looking at the mountains from a distance I always wondered how I would get up and down there but there always was a trail, usually quite an easy one as well. I have had fantastic hiking weather so far in Spain, often up to 20 Celsius during the day and only one freezing night. I would not want to hike here in summer in the relentless sun. But alas the forecast is not good: a cold spell is approaching and I can only hope that it is only temporary.


Anonymous said...

Pilcher ..?! Christine, wenn wir uns das nächste Mal sehen, müssen wir reden.


German Tourist said...

Keine Sorge - nach dem Lesen verwende ich es immer als Klopapier....

Juan Holgado ( said...

Welcome to Spain dear Christine and indeed have a good time here. Do not get loose, and as you get south the time will be warmer.
If anything you need, do not hesitate and contact myself via e-mail.