Friday, June 07, 2013

river hike

How much would you give of yourself to see a waterfall? Would you push hard? Would you take risks?

As between Ed and me, you know that Ed is the adventurer. I'm more careful (usually). In fact, he thinks I'm a chicken when it comes to heights, storms and automobiles. I think he takes too many chances.  We go around like this again and again. But today, I think we were nearly tied. On the same wave. Or more accurately -- water rush.

Morning at the Ca Garay. The weather looks good: the sun is out, the skies are clear (so far). We dribble olive oil over toasted bread and rub it with tomato, Catalan style.

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Refreshed, showered, well fed, ready to go.

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But where to? Our hosts (she is English -- married a Catalan man on her youthful rambles through this region) suggest a local walk in the hills and onto the next village. I'm shaking my head. Three hours? Too short. We really can do something more ambitious! 
Head toward the mountains then. There's a good hike up to the waterfalls. Maybe a half hour drive from here.

She doesn't mean the snow-capped peaks of the Pyrenees. You need to go a couple of hours to the north and to the west to reach those. But just a short distance from here, the landscape turns cliffy and jagged. I can see the potential for a good hike.
How long's the trail?
Maybe four hours out, three back. You better hurry, then.

Indeed. It's already 10:30. Of course, tell Ed to hurry and he decides a nap is in order. And even as we get going we realize that a detour to a store is a necessity. We have only two small bottles of water. That wont do for a warm day.

In the last village before our trail head, we find the one open store.


It doesn't have much, but it has what we need: Big bottles of water. And cookies.

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Outside, the day is warm. 11:30 already. The church clock doesn't lie.

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And in this pokey way (with another pause to take a photo of the pretty poppies)...

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...we finally get to the starting point. I note that it's noon when we begin our hike.

It is an interesting walking challenge. The elevation is never great -- we are, after all, following a mountain river. And the trail starts off fairly wide. A car could pass on it. (In fact, at one point, we come across the remains of a terrible accident. A handful of years ago, by the looks of things, the road crumbled under the weight of a backhoe, sending it down into the ravine. The upside down vehicle is still there and there are flowers tied to a tree on the spot where it went down. And signs warning not to get near the fragile edge.)

After a while, the wider path ends and we pick up a more typical hiking trail. Some ups and downs, some rocks to scale, the river to cross. Back and forth, sometimes on old stone bridges...

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....sometimes on suspended foot bridges that sway daintily as you cross. And sometimes there are no bridges at all and you make your way across as best as you can over protruding rocks.

We pass, too,  some spectacular cliffs. And every once in a while, climbing enthusiasts.

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Brave men. My idea of climbing a rock is more along the lines of this:

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But really, the main attraction here for me is the river. It's stunning! The river bed is mostly rock and the waters are as clear as they get, occasionally reflecting beautiful shades of green and blue.

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And the character of the river changes too, around each bend. You know the song? ("The River of No Return") I kept thinking of it: sometimes it's peaceful, and sometimes wild and free...

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We have a goal -- to reach the Sant Aniol river falls. But the trail markings end at the tiny Sant Aniol chapel. If our hosts hadn't told us about the falls, we would have gone no further.

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We ask a pair of local hikers about the falls. Yes, yes, just take this path further up!

We continue. But now this is no easy path. And when we finally do hear the unmistakable sound of crashing water, we find that there's no easy way to climb down to them. We're on our butts sliding down and hanging on to roots of trees a good bit of the way.

And yes, there are falls, but I tell Ed that the picture our hosts showed me was not of this. There are men in wet suits with climbing gear gathering their paraphernalia and we ask -- are there other falls? [Each conversation here is a challenge as we don't speak a word of Catalan and their preference to avoid Castilian (for us foreigners -- Spanish) runs deep.]

They wave toward the upper end of the river and nod their heads.
How far?
Ten minutes, twenty...

And so we continue. To say that there is a trail here is to be overly generous. You can tell where to go because certain rocks had more of a quartzy sheen to them. As in -- others have gone this way at some point. We look for those.

It's tough going. We're right at the edge of the river and often the slabs of stone offer little foothold. Another group of climbers is coming away from the falls. I see how they do it - when the side cliffs get too tricky, they take to the water!

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We continue. Slowly, precariously. And then, just as I am beginning to spot the edge of the spectacular double falls, we come to a full stop. There is no way to cross the river to get to them.

Ed, of course, is undaunted. Taking off nonessential attire, he's ready to plunge in as well.
It may be deep! There could be sharp rocks at the bottom! I protest. The men had wetsuit and gear. We have bare feet and bare skin. And the current here is strong, You can't see where you're stepping.

But Ed is a big guy with a steady grip. He climbs down into the rushing waters and hoists himself up against the rock, effectively climbing up to the next higher level. In this way, he manages  to make his way up to the falls. You can see him in the next shot, taken from my perch by the rushing waters. (You can also imagine the height and width of it all as measured against his big frame.)

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He comes back and urges me to cross the river.

I'm not as big as you! I cannot work my way up the rock against the rushing waters! My camera will get drenched! I'll crash!

It's not that I'm terrified of this -- I just do not think I have the body mass to do what he has done. His legs can brace the boulders on the other side. Mine cannot.

But, Ed is ever patient. He comes back and carries the camera for me. And he guides me through the less deep parts. And finally, as I lean against the rock, submerged to my waist in the cascading cold waters, he pulls me up by the arm, allowing me to make that final heave up to the upper portion of the river.

So here you have it -- the double falls. Victoriously witnessed by the both of us.

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The hike back is, of course, easier. You know the weak spots. You know where to take extra care. Still, we are tired at the end of it. It is close to 7 by the time we pass the donkeys (they're right by where we left the car).

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On the drive back, we stop at a Carrefour -- a French mega grocery chain that has spread like rapid fire across most of Europe (and beyond). It's always interesting to see the local rendition of a grocery store and we walk up and down the aisles admiring this Catalan version of it.

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(We shop at the Carrefour regularly just outside Sorede. By way of contrast, the emphasis there is on...cheese.)

We pick up several bottles of apple cider for Ed and continue home, pulling in at 8:30, just as our host is starting to prepare our dinner.

And I cannot praise these people highly enough for being so good to us. When they heard that Ed doesn't really like to eat what is the Catalan staple here (sausage, ham, basically meat), they went out of the way to prepare something local, sublime and indeed one of our all time favorites from this part of the world -- a hearty chicken and seafood paella. With terrific salads and friend potato dumplings to start the meal.

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We're the only ones at the little inn tonight. Occasionally, our English speaking hostess comes out to chat. She talks about their struggle to keep the inn going in these tough economic times. It's her husband's family home and they're done a beautiful job restoring it. Needless to say, he cooks like a dream.

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I tell her about our scramble to reach the falls. She marvels that we took to the cold waters without wetsuits. Well sure, but if you hiked this far to view the falls, wouldn't you take the plunge? Wouldn't you?

We finish the meal with flan for Ed and, for me -- the same local frozen yogurt made with fruits of the forest.