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12/20/2010

Traveling in Spain

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This is a view of the Pyrenees from Andorra this past October.  Top notch day.

September 27
Mallorca

For getting all of an hour and half’s worth of sleep last night, today has been stellar. The dearth of sleep was due to the fact that I slept in the Palma de Mallorca Airport and the stellarness is due to a variety of things. I finished my book, a map of the Sierra Nevada Mountains arrived after three weeks of waiting, and most of all I just finished up an awesome weekend; Miguelito, Pato and I accomplished a lot…a Thursday evening departure and a Monday morning return (with a taxi to class) helped make this three day weekend to Mallorca just top notch.

Saturday evening found us checking the bus schedule in the minuscule village of Lluc in northwestern Mallorca…and what do you know the last bus out just left and tomorrow happens to be Sunday…always a slow day in Spain, only two buses will be coming to Lluc and not really in the direction we hope to go or by the time we hope to leave this one horse village. But we are relatively wiped out after a mondo day in the Serra de Tramuntanas, a mountain range that seems to rise right off the coast, reaching elevations as high as 4,300 ft. We’d trekked from the mountain village of Sóller with the plan of either staying at a mountain ‘refugio’ or making the full 25-30km trek via the GR-221 trail to Lluc. The first refugio we saw was a ‘bring your own food to cook’ type location, and all we’d brought to eat was lunch + snacks…a scrumptious array of Mallorca produced cheese, ham, fresh baguettes, apples, peaches, and bananas. OK, so the bananas and maybe the melocotones (peaches) could have been imported to be sold at the local ‘mercado’ where we purchased breakfast and lunch Saturday morning in Sóller.

In any case, we were going to walk all the way to Lluc because we had not purchased dinner materials and were making good time on a gorgeous day through some freaking cool mountains.The climb up from Sóller was steep; a stone walkway with hundreds of other seemingly hand created stone walls and walkways covered the valley as we ascended. You don’t get the same atmosphere hiking the Whites. We consistently saw sheep throughout the day roaming the mountainsides along with cattle. I’ll mention this again, there were heaps of rocks!

Being stuck in Lluc, we choose to do the only thing anyone seems to be doing and reserve a three bedroom room for $46 euro at the local tourist hub; a monastery! Don’t see any monks. We wake up to $6 euro breakfast buffet and decide to get a quick dayhike in before the first bus comes at 1. Not much to do in Lluc as it turns out. However after about 30 minutes of walking we see the GR-221 sign posted with ‘4 hours 45 minutes’ to Pollensa, the next pueblo (town) on the northward track of the ‘Camina per Mallorca.’ Miguelito and I jump on the idea and convince Pato it’s the only thing to do. This day is close to as long mileage-wise, but it’s almost all downhill valley and flat country road walking. My feet are certainly feeling it as we amble into the small village around 3 and find the bus stop and a convenient bus to Palma at 3:30!

First night we spent in Arenal, a German and Dutch tourist dominated Hampton Beach type suburb of Palma, and stayed at the quality ‘Hostal Tierramar’ where we were provided with a bar and some solid information about the island. Friday we explored the city around the Catedral de Palma and even walked out of the main city a bit and climbed up to the Castillo de Bellver to catch some views and check out a castle. Yesterday evening was spent along the coast of the city.Over dinner Pato regaled us with stories of geology and the good life in Kansas. So awesome.

-Nick

MONDAY, OCTOBER 18, 2010

Fall Break 2010- Spain Edition- First 3 days

The break started off a bit rocky with last minute Thursday night organization of hostels for Granada and a plane ticket to Barcelona from Granada on Thurs. morning in order to get to that Parc Nacional with the tricky name (an interesting purchase to make, as it turned out, when the rest of the logistics were yet to be figured out). A bit stressful with schoolwork to complete for me and I was happy to go out and have a few drinks with my buddies in the program in the few hours I had before the 8am bus to Granada. Friday was spent exploring the city and getting psyched on being on a vacation…highlites include the $1.50euro drink + Tapa (a traditional Spanish side dish that comes with the purchase of a drink). The tapas I experienced in Granada were both bigger and cheaper than what I’ve gotten in Alicante or Mallorca (you have to order a pint of beer to get even olives or some chips in my experience in those places), yet with a small beer we were getting things like full hot dogs in hamburger buns in Granada. I enjoyed a full dinner that happened to coincide with my beer purchases. Miguelito is a little tougher to please in the food dept/is allergic to huevos (eggs) so he wasn’t as psyched on the dinner/night of drinking combination...he also didn't polish his night off with a kebab and complimentary crepe.
Can't get tickets to the Alhambra for Friday and have to book them for the following Wednesday night when we plan to return to Granada.

Saturday
Day began with not the best night’s rest at ‘El Clandestino,’ a hostal in the city, and a bus to the Alpujarras, a series of ‘pueblos blancos’ (white towns) set in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada mountain range to the Southeast of Granada. Plan was to walk from town to town until we reached Treveléz, the most northern and isolated of the Alpujarras, from where we would make every effort to summit Mulhacén, the tallest mountain on continental Spain/the Iberian peninsula at 3,478.6 meters (10,000+ feet people). If we succeed it will be a 6,000 ft elevation gain to reach the top from Treveléz. Walking began in a little pueblo called Bubión and continued on for about 10kms when it started to really pour rain. It was dumping cats (see above) and dogs. Luckily we happened upon a large tent and bar with the entire village of Portugós celebrating an arbitrary Virgin while keeping out of the rain... (jokes jokes; I'm sure she was very carefully picked out). They gave us egg sandwich tapas with our $1.50 beers. Unfortunately the local hostal was full due to the celebration...a bit of confusion involved as I am inquiring with the locals as to where places of lodging are and whether rooms are available, but thankfully rain lets up and it's on to Busquistar! Not too many English speakers in these mountain towns as it turns out...kinda fun that way.

Sunday
Busquistar →Treveléz = 14km…manage to locate a fine hostal sans heat after asking the owner of a different establishment if hers was the cheapest in town and getting a 'no, no sé' (I don't know) in reply...a mere $30 a night in exchange for room, two beds, and bathroom. Miguelito is also a little tougher to please in the heat dept; luckily there is an extra blanket in the closet. My preparation for the Mulhacén summit attempt includes the pasted picture below.

The next few days were spent in Trevelez. Mike and I summitted Mulhacén, the tallest mountain on the Iberian Peninsula along with some other smaller peaks. One of the most spectacular places I´ve ever been.

 

The second half of break was spent in Andorra do to a burst of spontaneity...

Andorra la Vella.The city of 22,000 people and 1,000 stores. Super random; apparently a tax haven of sorts? Not fully clear how that all works but the Wikipedia page tells us that 80% of GDP is derived from tourism. For Mike and I, logistics worked beautifully up in Andorra…maybe that's typical in countries whose total area amounts to 468 km2.
Friday morning: a $2.75euro bus ride from the city took us straight to Arinsal, a small mountain town at the foot of the ski resort, 'Pal Arinsal' owned by Vallnord, and the Coma Pedrosa natural park beyond the resort. A bit cold to start off, but a real bluebird day! Maps weren’t great but, again, this is not a huge country, and thus the park wasn't too vast. Found the access to the park after a small walk up a ski trail. We followed the GR 11, a trail that runs through much of the park, and it treated us just fine. Met a Spanish guy thru-hiking it, from the Basque country west to east through the Pyrenees all the way to Cadaqués (a town north of Barcelona on the Mediterranean), who was on his 29th day (out of 42 or so he figured)! Peaked a mountain called Port de Baiau (2,756meters) on the Spanish border. Gettin’ steep up there boss! A solid day hike and we were back on the bus heading for Andorra la Vella by 5pm.
I managed to leave my water bottle on that bus, and was waiting for the ‘L5 line’ to roll back through town in hopes of recollecting it at about 6:30, that’s when I saw Micaela walking down the street. Kind of nice to run into old friends on the streets of Andorra. Who would’ve guessed? Originally, Mike and I had pictured Saturday being relaxed because of Micaela being there and it being my birthday night (kind of) on Friday (maybe we’d want a recovery day?). However, that didn’t really happen, Micaela insisted on wanting to ‘do something epic tomorrow,’ and who were we to decline such a gung-ho mentality? I was awake at midnight, but not much longer!
Saturday (my 21st Birthday) we went back to the same Natural Park via the bus to Arinsal and intended to do a lesser version of what we’d completed the day before. After all, this was Micaela’s first ‘real hike’ in her own words…but when the opportunity to head up into the middle valley rather than the western valley of the park arrived, it was a little too appealing… at shortly after that point we realized this was another perfect bluebird day in the Pyrenees and a summit attempt was a real possibility! Hell yeah! Passed some cows, stopped, hydrated and ate when Micaela became mildly dizzy, and then made the final push to reach the summit of Pic del Pla de I’Estany (2,859m) on the French border! Solid first hike right there for Meeks. I was feeling good and made the semi-perilous trek across a 200 yard ridge of cols to the true summit. Descent was also a success, Saturday night too. Andorra la Vella isn’t the most exciting city and instead of the standard American 21st birthday experience of drinking very excessively, we found a Fresca, a franchise restaurant with an all-you-can-eat buffet. After a week of walking my taste buds forgot about that little thing called ‘decreasing marginal-utility;’ I think I consumed something like 3,000(+)? calories. There was heaps of laughter that slowly became more painful than enjoyable as plates of food were polished off. Great finale to a great week!
Below is a link to a decent map of the Coma Pedrosa Natural Park
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This is me on top of Mulhacén! Hollah
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