Monday, June 20, 2011

yellow trails and buoyant swallows

Every traversable mountain has a path to its summit. A trail, accessible for all. I take that as a given in France. In fact, most often, there’s more than one trail. You’ll find the Grand Routes that cross entire mountain ranges, but there are also the regional trails – yellow tags, a little less reliable, but pretty good. And then there are the local paths to consider. Marked orange, or red, or white and yellow – these often leave me confused, but they’re there for all to hike and so you can give them a go as well.

And so when the day dawns bright, with a splendid blue sky from one horizon to the next, I say – let’s head for the mountains.

Now, of course, that’s not a command for us to immediately get going. There’s still the mater of bread and pain au chocolat shopping. Here you'll see three women (one familiar) attending to their bread needs.

(photo by Ed)

Then there’s the morning café routine.

Okay, a little nap now, to chase away the warm noon hour. And now we’re ready. Where to? I know I want something fresh. Unexplored on a prior trip. And that’s not hard. We barely touched a handful of the summits last time. And we really didn’t consider the higher mountains away from the coast.

Still, the highest peaks are too long of a drive for spoiled types who regard anything more than an hour in the car as excessive. So I pick a place that is said to have a lovely village, about an hour from here, deeply into the mountains west of us. Prats de Mollo la Preste.

Typically, a local tourist office would offer information on trails, but I’ve gotten to understand that the tourist offices in these mountain villages are closed on Sundays. I know, I know, you do have to smile at that. Sometimes Saturday too.

No matter. There’ll be someone to show us trails.

Despite the brilliant sunshine over the Roussillon plane, there are scattered clouds up in the mountains. The Caginou – the most revered Catalan peek is barely visible through a misty haze, and then only for a few minutes.


We push forward anyway. Deep into the mountains, up a winding road that leads to the village of choice for the day.

It’s a different world up there: being this far from the coast makes the sea an irrelevant entity here (even as it is just a little over an hour away). Here, you feel the mountain air.

We ask at the café bar about local trails and they point us to one that goes up to the fort and beyond. A yellow tagged path. It’s 3 in the afternoon, there is a cloud cover to keep the air a touch cooler, but the visibility is splendid. Up we go.


Nearly straight up. Not many switchbacks. Through the forest, past beautiful alpine like pastures with an overabundance of flowers.



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I suggest a lunch break (we packed bread and cheese and water), but there isn’t the perfect spot. It has to have sun and shade, is has to have a good view. We hike on. Up up, and now we’re close to cattle farms.


More flies. Up higher we go and then, suddenly, before reaching any summit, or even a spot that offers expansive views, the trail ends.


We follow one possible beaten down path. Nothing. A cow pasture. Lots of flies.

We follow another. We come across a dog. A territorial dog. Protecting something or other. Nice doggie. We’re leaving, doggie. Quit growling, doggie.

We’re about to give up. Call it a summit defeat. It happens. Local trails can do this to you. Someone neglected the final marks. We try one last uphill swing and my oh my, do we hit gold!

There is a clearing and most definitely a summit. The view to the east, south, west is as good as you could wish for.

To the east:


To the south:


To the west:


Or consider it as a composite:


Now that's a proper spot for lunch. It’s been several hours of a straight up haul and we’re ready for a break. And what a break it is. Call it a summit lunch.

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One last look...


Time to turn back. Getting down is, of course, easier. We pass no other person on the trail, but there’s plenty of life around us. Sheep. There are the sheep.


And an enormous amount of butterflies.


Birds too, of course. Snails, the usual things that cross your path. Only sometimes you can hardly see the path as ferns and flowers spill over before your feet.

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Down, straight down, reversing the trail, but with the different light, you get a fresh perspective on these hills and mountains.


Evening. We’re down in the village again. And it’s quite a charming place.

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You have to think that in July and August there will be tourists, but now, on this Sunday evening, there are the occasional strollers and families and café people that you’ll see on any fine Sunday.


There are several fabric factories and shoe crafting businesses in the area – especially those specializing in Catalan espadrilles.

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We poke around a little, then head home.

Back in Sorede, the evening is setting in. The pizza bar is nearly full, but we find a table at the edge. We half read, half listen to the conversations around us. The sangria comes...


...followed by our most favorite veggie pizzas.


The evening air here is warm. The clank of plates and silverware carries across the village square. High above them, there’s a swallow... and another, and another.