Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Poetry of the Pyrenees (Part 2)

After an amazing start to our weekend (and a long 7 hour hike), we decided to take it a bit easy on Sunday with a short climb - only 4 hours up and back.  Our destination?  Mount Oroel - the namesake for our lovely hotel in Jaca.  Thanks to the time change, our bodies were all confused and tired from the night before and somehow we woke up at 7am and decided to take advantage of our before-alarm-clock awakening and head out to hopefully get some sun before it clouded up in the afternoon.

The winding road out of town and up half of the mountain was shrouded in fog which hovered over the trees making thier fall colors barely visible.  The hike started at a lookout point that had a restaurant/café that the Tourist Office handout said was 'practically always open'.  Well, when we arrived at like 8am, it wasn't open.  Just saying.  We snapped a few shots of the snow-capped Pyrenees in the distance in case it was cloudy by time we reached the top and headed up.

A rather boring hike - a zigzagging path that slowly inclined and didn't provide much in the way of picturesque scenery, we were happy that our morning start time had made us one of the few groups on the mountain at that hour.  Since it is quite an easy hike, it is frequented by lots of tourists, families, picnic groups and such in the afternoon, all of which we kind of wanted to avoid.  Although the 2 hour climb wasn't incredible, the view when we reached the topped was worth it...and did measure up to the Tourist Office's description.  Lucky enough to have a high-cloudy day, we could see miles and miles of Pyrenees and in between fog batches, little mountain villages in the valley.  Against the blue sky the view was priceless and we took some personal time each to take it in.  Having never seen the Pyrenees before this trip, I was elated to be able to see the majestic peaks in full panorama form.  We even tried to capture the feeling of vast grandness with a panoramic shot, but as anyone who's ever been to a wide open space like this knows, a photo just can't translate the chills you get in the moment.

With growling tummies, the time difference made itself glaringly obvious again as we munched on our sanwiches for a 10:30am 'lunch'.  Practically alone at the top, we passed tons of people on our descent and were pleased with our early start - like we had had the peak to ourselves, even if just for an instant.

Two hikes under our belt and freshly showered, we decided to head out and see the town of Jaca.  Known as a town for 'white sports' (do we call skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, etc that or is that a direct translation from my Spanish??)  the town was everything you would hope for from a quaint ski village - steep roofs, beautiful woodwork, cobblestone streets boasting glamourous winter clothes shops, bakeries with fresh pastry smells wafting out the front doors and of course beautiful people in athletic clothes (but we decided half of them probably hadn't even gone hiking haha).  With a citadel from the 16th century, a medieval church that includes scaling towers, and lots of little bars with new pintxos to try, we were happy campers wandering around the little town until we puttered out and turned in early.

The next morning we set off on our final hike of the trip - a big one - and headed to France to start it off.  We found a small parking lot on the map and headed across the border and laced up our hiking shoes (new ones for me - thanks to Joseba's nice birthday present to me!) to march onto Ibón de Estanés (Estanes Lake).  Joseba showed off his rather good high-school French when he reaffirmed with another hiker that we were on the correct path to the Lake.  Flea fly flew flaw flou it sounded like to me, but in fact yes we were going in the right direction.  The two hours we walked until we reached the lake were stunning - again fall colors at thier best, and this time with the peaks right alongside us as we walked.  And again, we didn't see a soul until we reached the Lake, which glimmered in the sun and was surrounded by the peaks on one side, low-lying grass-covered hills to the other and a green valley to the front.

From there our map got a bit tricky.  It told us to go a direction we couldn't find any markers for.  Learning from our mistakes on the first hike (remember...huffing and puffing Amanda), we wandered around searching for markers and even asked a few fellow people, none of which had the slightest clue.  Our goal was to do a loop so we could make it back to the car without re-tracing what we had just done and see something new at the same time.  When we finally found some markers that seemed like they went towards the mountains we wanted to head to, we ran into a Spanish couple who we asked for advice.  To our surprise, they knew the whole area by heart!

Turns out our trail that we had taken to arrive to the Lake wasn't listed on our map, so we had arrived at a totally different point and that's why we had had trouble finding the marks to continue...because there weren't any!  Regardless, they told us that rocky mountainside path we were crossing them on led to a beautiful valley full of wild Pyrenees sarrios frolicking about and that it'd be worth our while to continue on and then backtrack later to the car.  Seeing as they seemed like pros, we took thier advice and began a strenuous climb up a rocky path which later fed into a long narrow valley.  We continued following the markers until we came to another jagged hill to climb and after we reached the top, stepped into a massive valley.

Surrounded by peaks peaks and more peaks, we figured out that the large valley curved around about a mile in and that fog was billowing from the bend.  Intrigued, we headed there to try and catch a view of these special sarrios charging down the rocks.  Sarrios are a special type of goat-antelope animal that are native to European mountains.  Into the fog and out the other side, the wind blew hard in our faces but we kept on.  About an hour of walking and with still no glimpse of this animal that we were starting to question if even existed, we chomped down a chicken empanada to give us strength for our turn-around and hike back out of this brutal valley.

The rocks in the valley were so strange - like layers upon layers of thin sheets of rocks turned upwards so that you could see the edges.  It made the walk back bearable and as we came out of the windy bend we were again impressed by the massive valley and it's small exit that opened to a rugged cliff.  After passing a dead vulture (no worries, they don't eat thier own kind) we disappointedly starting heading back down the steep rugged rock only to see a sarrio!  And then another and another!  Rushing down the jagged cliffs into the valley!  Our winding path finally got us down to the valley and when we headed back the way we came we glanced up and saw what we had missed on the way in.  Because of the way the rocks were situated, a big group of sarrios were chasing after each other and charging down the rocks!  THIS was the Valley of the Sarrios - we realized.  So, where the heck had we been?!  We took out the map and realized that since we didn't see the sarrios the first time around we had accidentally ventured into a completely different valley and that we had went about 3 miles out of the way.  Whoops.  Well, that's why we never saw those sarrios in that valley - we weren't in thier spot!  Kind of laughing to ourselves we finally had the chance to admire these daring animals during play time but after the unexpected detour were careful to watch the clock.  What had been planned as a 6 hour hike was quickly turning into a full-day one.

Crossing through the valley again and back down the rocky mountainside past the Lake and speed-walking down the foresty path to the car, we made it with still lots of daylight (our major fear).  At the start of the hike, when we had stopped worrying about time and arriving, we noted the little river we had crossed over early that morning and decided our feet deserved a cool-down, of the freezing river type.  We stripped off our hiking boots and socks to let our feet breath a bit of fresh Pyrenee air before we dipped them in the stream.  Talk about cold!  Joseba proceeded to stand up in the water and wince, to which of course I laughed.  Not pleased by my mocking, he dared me to walk across the whole stream without showing any pain on my face.  I accepted and failed miserably.

I easily made it across the stream - it was only about 10 steps - but the sheer temperature of it made it impossible not to clench your teeth.  Joseba snapped some pics while I did it and then decided he wanted some pics of himself doing the same, but I refused to cross the river again to come get the camera, so the poor boy crossed it twice!  Using the sports setting, I managed to get every frame of his walk and boy was he cocky - acting like it didn't hurt at all!  But his last pictures show the pain in his face!  Ha!  An unusual way to end a hike, we made our feet even happier when we sat down in the car and headed back for our last Jaca night.

For our last night we decided to go all out and try a few nice pintxo bars and a very romantic restaurant that Joseba's co-worker who has a vacation home in Jaca recommended us.  The first pintxo bar was really a vinoteca - a wine bar.  While we are lucky to have Rioja and Ribera del Duero wines (the best wine regions in Spain) all the time, we decided to go out on a limb and try some local wine from the Aragon area to accompany our Spanish cheeses.  Later, we tried a very local pintxo bar where I ordered a toast with a smorgasboard of cheeses and Joseba a toast with an incredibly light foie - both utterly delectable.  For dinner we ordered from the set menu and were delighted with each plate.  We decided to repeat the Aragon wine we had ordered early on in the night and that was our doom.  Quickly after dinner we realized our pintxo + wine + pintxo + wine + diner +  wine + wine equation equalled tired and tipsy us!  A night that we had planned to paint the town turned into a 1am bedtime haha.

We headed back the next morning in the rain - shocked that we had lucked out with the weather.  Besides the 20 minutes of mist we had on our first day, we had perfect weather for a whole 4-day weekend and the exact day that we were leaving it decided to pour buckets!  As we pulled out of town and headed home, I watched the fall colors through the wet window, remembering all the beautiful scenes I had the chance to see this beautiful trip.


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