DISCOVERING ANOTHER SPAIN: A 1,500KM THRU-HIKE
1,500km hiking in Spain, a fabulous country!! - 2PVA COUNTRY EPISODES
After 2 months, we have just crossed the French border. Fortunately, we had a map to tell us otherwise we would not have realized. More and more, we are convinced that borders only exist on maps. From the land or the sky, here we have not seen the difference between the Portuguese part and the Spanish part of this same mountain. We still have 17 borders to cross during this thru-hike in Europe and as many opportunities to test our hypothesis.
Can you see a border?
But let's take things in order. We are in Spain for a few hours, here we are in Extremadura in the village of Eljas. Here, they speak a funny patois, mixture of Portuguese and Spanish. We are quickly invited to sleep at Miguel's, a resident of the village. We will also be welcomed warmly the next day in Hoyos. We have seen more brutal culture shock!
Traveling, meeting people, discovering by oneself, getting off the beaten track is, in our opinion, the best way to shake up what you think you know.
If España rhymes with playa, fiesta and tapa(s), it is a whole other Spain that we met while hiking for exactly 2 months. The first surprise was undoubtedly the phenomenal amount of mountains that we discovered. Yes, Spain is the second highest country in Europe after Switzerland, with an average altitude of 650 meters. Nearly half of the country's surface is a plateau located at 600 meters altitude, it is the Central Meseta. But Spain also has the least densely populated region of Europe, yes less than Lapland! It is the province of Soria in Castile-and-Leon.
End of the "Did you know?" section, but these first surprises, so basic and obvious put us in the right place: this country so close to ours, of which we both spoke the language was revealed much more unexpected and elusive that we thought. Our journey on foot no doubt still holds many surprises and upheavals of our certainties!
We traveled rough and wonderful territories at once, crossed an endless winter 2018, visited isolated villages, sometimes abandoned, met austere people, even suspicious and others who opened their doors and their hearts in a few minutes.
We shared these discoveries with no less than 4 walkers who accompanied us on the Spanish trails. Longtime friends and others we met for the first time.
We continued the 1KG FOR THE PLANET effort and overall found less waste than in Portugal.
This time again, the places where we slept were very divers! A camp of a Catholic parish, a gymnasium, a caravan, two old mountain refuges, the porch of a church, a school, a farm, the premises of a town hall, an attic, a barn, in the street... Our bivouacs became more and more minimalist and we swapped our tent for 3 people (the Zpacks Triplex), against a simple tarp (the Rectangular, still Zpacks). We spent one-third of our nights invited to a homestay. Here again, we have found that in the vast majority of cases, those who possess the least give the most.
What Spain has given us without counting, are incredible landscapes, varied, monumental or discreet or even hidden.
Of Spanish trails, we have unfortunately confirmed our first impression. In August 2017, during our second preparation trip, we had hiked on part of the Spanish GR1. We had regretted discovering splendid paved roads, lined with dry stone walls, totally abandoned, overgrown with vegetation and, obviously, not anymore taken for years. This year again, the maps have sometimes failed on their promise: good sized trails on the map had become almost impassable jungles. Our scratched legs can still testify.They can also testify dozens of miles of detour that several rivers in flood made us do! Water release from the dam or melting snow, depending on the case, we were not spared on this side either.
The winter lasted abnormally long this year, before being annoyed by the melt water, we suffered a lot from the snow.
Due to the lack of adequate equipment (we did not think we would need our snowshoes until next winter!), our crossing of the magnificent Sierra de Gredos was limited to passages at 1,500 meters, except for our trip to the Laguna del Barco with Noé, Nil’s brother, located at 1,800 meters, but even there, we had to give up the last kilometers.
It was very difficult for us to limit ourselves to low altitude passages because we thought we would not see so much snow again for a long time... What an mistake! Camille, our second guest could tell you about it. From this night of April 9th, for example. We thought we would spend the night in an unguarded hut some sixty kilometers from Madrid. It seemed like the perfect way to end this beautiful and sunny day of walking in the snow. As a refuge we found 4 walls, a falling roof, a window that had only the frame, a twisted door impossible to close completely and a lot of garbage. The heat of a fire was out of reach as everything was soaked and we "woke up" with snow on our sleeping bags.
Spain will have been a good training, if not a warning before the continuation of our ultralight hiking trip. We met again with the mountain and the days with important difference in height, just a little taste of the Alps.
Calmed by this experience we headed towards warmer or even scorching temperatures. From our crossing of the desert of Bardenas Reales, we came out ecstatic by these lunar landscapes, unique and wonderful. I also came out a little sounded by sunstroke as the sun was unleashed and shade nonexistent.
Our itinerary has reserved a few surprises, including this portion that was retained by the vote on Facebook: the Sierra de Alcarama and Valle del Rio Alhama. At first sight, this landscape seemed to us to be very agricultural, a bit random, but the more we sank between the hills, the more we were amazed by the landscapes and the surrounding wildlife.
In Aragon, we discovered the Mallos de Riglos. It is these conical red walls forming a wall of nearly 300 meters high. A treat for climbers from all over the world.
Approaching Catalonia, we have again climbed the Mont Rebei Congost Canyon. It was lovely to share this beautiful memory of our second trip of preparation with the third walker: Bram.
The differences in temperature, we also felt in the welcome we got from one end of the country to the other. After being warmly welcomed in Extremadura, we experienced a great crossing of the desert... Spending Holy Week in the Sierra de Gredos greatly complicated our lives: the massive landing of the Madrilenians and other Spanish tourists made contact more difficult.
As you know, we mainly go through rural areas, we left with the assumption that meetings would be easier in small villages than in cities. Overall, since the beginning of our journey on foot, this prejudice has been confirmed, but in some areas of the center, the welcome has sometimes been cold. In truth, we understood that, undoubtedly, if we had spent more time in the same village, some barriers would eventually have fallen.