Fuerteventura – Beyond the beaches

It was in Cologne, Germany where we lost the touch with mother Earth this time, as we headed for a holiday. It was Christmas eve and we were heading for Fuerteventura to spend the holidays living like hobos, in a tent, wandering around the island for about a week.

We arrived well before noon, which left us with quite some time in our hands to dive into the maps and books to find the perfect place to see the sun rise on Christmas day. And quite a spot we found. There seemed to be plenty of beach on the western edge of the southern part of the island, called Jandia. Just a short drive over a mountain ridge and we would be there.

So we set off. First winding up onto a view spot over the Atlantic. Over there we got the first idea of why the island was called Fuerteventura – Strong winds, as we were almost blown from the face of the Earth. A bit further down on the other side of the ridge, we found a road / riverbed, heading to the sea. Looked perfect for us, especially as the violent wind left the river at peace.

We took our tiny rental car as far down as we dared and walked the remaining bit to the beach. It wasn’t the perfect beach weather; the grey clouds were hanging low to the mountaintops and the sun seemed to have gone somewhere else to enjoy its Monday. We didn’t mind. The scenery was beautiful and there were more than enough places to put our tent to.

So there we stayed. We strolled around the beach, letting the wonderful feeling of being on a holiday sink in. We enjoyed a cheap wine with our dinner, while watching the light fade and disappear behind the mountains and into the sea. Leaving behind the magnificent wonder that is the Milky Way.

 

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The spot we had thought to be wind free was far from in reality. We noticed that pretty soon, as the cooler night air allowed the wind to sink down from the mountains. The wind came in violent rolling gusts, beating our tent. Our tent then was happy enough to transfer the beating to our faces. Jolly.

Initially we had been planning to do a long distance hike on the GR131 crossing the island. But after realizing that it would be practically just a desert walk, and neither of us was feeling too much like dragging along liters and liters of water, we tossed the idea.  Instead our days were filled with walks across the arid landscape and searching for the perfect sleeping spots.

That wasn’t such a bad idea. After the first night, the days that followed pampered us with clear skies and the mild temperatures of the Canarian winter. We ended up finding some nice, hidden beaches in the midst of the holiday villages, perfect for us to camp at and swim in.

 

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A few magnificent sunsets later, we decided to head further to the north, driving through the central parts of the island. On the road trip we got a welcome break of the touristic centers. They were replaced by hills with a tint of green and small farming villages. Soon we got first glimpses of the islands old volcanoes too.

On the go, we got to some natural pools at the shoreline. The water there is warmer than the ocean itself,  perfect for taking a small dip. The clear, cool water was such a relief for our tired hiking feet. The pool was home to all sorts of creatures. Small fish and shrimp came to nibble at our feet as hermit crabs were trying to find shelter from our camera lens. Quite amusing all of it, we had some true David Attenborough -moments looking at those tiny fellows going about their lives.

 

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As we headed on, we noted the north end of the island to be a much more pleasant place compared to the south. There were hippies hanging around mixing up with surfers and more shoreline free of all-inclusive hotel complexes. The hotels were replaced by randomly scattered camper vans and mobile homes.  Our tent fit right in with them.

We were nicely right at the foot of some of the volcanoes, so we decided to hike them. We found a loop trail, walking us up a couple of the higher domes. The trail, as most of the trails on the island, was easy. More like a road than a trail.

We wobbled upwards pretty fast and soon a great panorama over the island opened up before us. As the skies were clear we also saw the neighboring islands Lanzarote and the tiny Isla de Lobos. The volcanoes themselves were also an interesting sight. I have always been somewhat fascinated about the marks of volcanism. How they tell the story of the earlier times on this earth.

On the way back we got a fun surprise as we were surrounded by dozens of curious little chipmunks! The hungry buggers had clearly learned that tourists pockets often have something for them to eat, so they were eager to investigate us too.

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After the volcanoes and chipmunks we headed back to the shore, to camp at a small sandy bay.  There were some other groups of people too, scattered between the bushes and dunes. Before long, we noticed a sound of sniffing coming closer to us from the dark. And a bit later someone stumbled over our car. And then over our tent and a pile of stones.

It was a dog. A blind little fella, who was apparently trying to find a way back to his family. The dog kept running in circles, aiming for anything with light on it. Poor thing, we couldn’t leave him running around like that, so we went to find his owners.  Luckily they weren’t far, parked with their mobile home a 100 meters away and as they called for the dog named Toby, he came home, and was clearly relieved. The owners were wondering though, how we had figured out that poor Toby was blind…

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A few days were still remaining of our holiday, so we swam and hiked a bit more. For the last day we found a loop over the higher hills of the central part of the island, leaving from the town called Vega de Rio Palmas and heading over to Pico Lima. That turned out to be a refreshingly challenging hike, taking us to smaller trails and steep hillsides, twisting in between huge aloe vera plants.

The hike was rewarded by a great view over the island. There was a nest of a hawk hidden away under a slab of stone, and we stopped for a while to watch the parents come and go, taking care of their crying young.

On the way down we descended into a beautiful terrace garden, with fruit trees and cacti. From there an eroded river bed took us to the same village where we left from. An old lady who had seen us setting off on the trail was surprised and happy to see us back in town. How sweet.

With that hike we said goodbye to the island and headed for the hotel we had booked for the last night. Fuerteventura doesn’t make it to the list of my favorite destinations. But after the first shock of seeing all the all inclusive hotel  villages filled by Germans, the island did manage to show us a beautiful side too. Can’t possible complain about the great sunsets and the pretty beaches, never the less, I was happy to return home for the New Year’s party with Waffle’s family.

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All of the pictures are here!

 

 

 

 

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The last steps in the Pyrenees

The previous post is here!

It was a restless night, we both kept searching for a comfortable position, listening to the sounds outside.  As the wind ruffled the tent, I was happy to be tucked in my wonderfully warm sleeping bag.

The morning came, as it always does, brisk and clean and all new. The sunlight smacked my sleepy eyes and forced me awake. A graving for coffee was next in line and soon enough the stove was set up and water beginning to boil. After some hot breakfast and coffee we were ready to head off.

This would be our last day of hiking. The trail, which had appeared in front of us yesterday would follow the ridge all the way down to the GR10 again. The beautiful undulating ridge was basking in the sunlight, promising an easy way home.

And easy it was. Beautiful as well. We were so relieved to see the more demanding parts of the trail disappearing behind us. The trail walked us past a few smaller peaks, until leading us to a magnificent broad saddle, littered with tiny blooming heathers and other small flowers. I have never seen such a large saddle, it was like walking across a football field, high up on a mountain ridge!

After useless loitering on the wide open plain, we had to start going again. Up onto the last peak of the hike. It was a gentle mountain, that one. Not so high anymore, soft and round. But from the top we got a great overview of the whole trail and all the peaks we had conquered.

On the other side of the peak the ridge continued to be beautiful. With softly tumbling meadows on one side and plummeting cliffs on the other. All this was topped off by a small herd of young horses wandering around the mountain meadows, all wild and free.

The downwards journey advanced swiftly, soon we found ourselves below the tree line and in the middle of wild blueberries. The best hiking snacks there are! all in all our descent was fairly uneventful, we started to meet some other hikers, going the opposite way, and on GR10 it got almost crowded. I was starting to feel increasingly ill. A loud humming in my ears, blocked nose and difficulties to find my balance were making the last meters to our car little bit less of an enjoyable journey.

I was happy to see our car again. Always after a hike it seems like a promise of comfort, at least a soft seat to lay your buttocks on. But it is bittersweet happiness, since the car takes us away from the mountains too. Plus it is so hot you could bake eggs inside.

As we drove down the serpentine, my ears were blobbing between blocked and open and blocked again. Waffle was demanding I go to a doctor. I hate going to doctors, but Waffle went on and found one in a tiny village called Piolenc, the capital of garlic. We were confident that a doctor, even in the south of France, will speak English. We were wrong. Plenty of confusion, translating and hand signals later I got a diagnose of ear infection and a long prescription for all sorts of medicine. Maybe indeed I had been sick enough for the doctor’s visit.

That turned our the planning for the rest of our holiday upside down. I always become extremely feeble with antibiotics, so hiking was pretty much off the menu. Luckily we were not too far from the second home of Waffle’s parents’, which happened to be empty at the time. We retreated there to medicate me in peace and comfort.

The house is in the beautiful gorge of the Ardèche, so the situation was not bad at all. We spent a couple of nights there and during the days we searched for places to skinny dip in the rivers. And there are plenty of those! Every corner of the river hides new secrets. The water is crystal clear and and there are plenty of small pools created by water to the soft limestone. It is nicely refreshing to take a dive in a small pool of cool water in the heat of over 30 degrees. From the northern areas of the nature park of Monts d’Ardèche we even found a beautiful set of cascades!

This holiday was creeping to an end and once again we had to get onto the road and off towards home. We were on the move early enough to make a stop and be tourists. I had realized with my antibiotic-infused brain, that our route went via the Burgundy wine region. Hooray, something new for us! Quick Googling pointed out one excellent, small vineyard, Parigot et Richard, making Crémant de Bourgogne in the town of Savigny-lès-Beaune.

Turned out, Savigny lès Beaune was not at all shabby village. The houses were very French, built out of pale stone and the streets were tidy and after every corner you walked by a vineyard or two. We wandered into one of those, just by random.

We were welcomed by a man, a happy man who apparently had been in the process of tasting his own produce. He sat us at his table and started pouring wine. White and red, fairly dry, both of them. He was clearly not in favor of mixing grapes, so all his bottles were containing 100% of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay or Aligoté. Perfectly good wines, so we walked out of there with a couple of boxes and left the man himself giggling in his own reality.

After that, we actually managed to get to the house I had found earlier with Google. They were busy at work; the harvest had started ahead of time, thanks to the exceptional weather. But they did manage to squeeze us in, when they heard we were in the region only for that afternoon.

And oh boy, was I happy they did! Their selection of sparkling wines was exquisite. Bottles containing Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Aligoté in harmonious quantities offering quite refreshing tastes.  Waffle accidentally compared the product to Champagne, which was a mistake; these people clearly have a pride of their own. The wine maker was slightly insulted, remembering to mention, that the grapes of Champagne are actually from the Burgundy region! After chatting and tasting we left happily with a few boxes of sparkling gold.

After a the wine found its way to the car, we went for a walk to clear our heads, so we could hit the road safely again. We circled the town, found some vineyards and plenty of old war planes deposited into a garden of a castle. Quite a surprise that was!

An hour or so later, we got driving again for the last leg of our journey to home. Car full of wines, heads full of happy memories. We were both so glad that we finally got to do a longer hike in such a beautiful setting, even though the start of the holiday hadn’t been too promising.

Hiking the Pyrenees (Canigou – Puig dèl Roc Negre)

Canigou, Pyrenees, Hiker

Read here the first two days!

After a couple of days of hiking, sleep tends to come quickly. This time however, we had managed to put our tent up onto a slope and we kept sliding down and sideways on our mattresses. So neither of us was extremely fresh or well rested the following morning.

The morning seemed to mock our sad bearings. It was ridiculously beautiful, fresh and well rested. We dragged our dreary bodies out of the tent to the chill air of the morning and looked around in awe. The world looked different to the one we had left behind last night.

The rising sun brought about a hunger as well, the stove was lit and soon I was sipping my hot coffee, warming my fingers around it. I had the feeling, every bit of energy was going to be needed this day as we were planning on climbing two peaks, which meant quite some meters up and down, partially off trail.

We started hiking around 9 am, which left us plenty of time to take it easy. The climb up to Canigou was even irritatingly mild. The perfectly serpentine trail was easy to walk and we were up in no time. The view up there was humbling, as it always is. That is one of the key reasons you climb to the peak, rather than just wobbling pass it. Canigou is the first higher peak of the Pyrenees on the Mediterranean side. With good weather your eyes can reach all the way to the sea in the east and far across the mountain range to the north and west.

Followed a chocolate munching session and a viewing of the landscape to determine the route down and then up again. We would have to scramble very steeply down before reaching a wide serpentine trail down to the bottom of the next valley, somewhere there we would separate off to our own way.

A bit later it started to get crowded op there on the peak, so we headed on… or well, down to be more accurate. The trail went through a gap in the rocky neck of the mountain and plummeted vertically for a few meters. With the backpacks it took some careful planning to get down from there. Waffle had to take his pack off and swing it down ahead of him to get through the steepest bits. We were both extremely happy for it not being wet.

Slowly but surely we advanced in our descent, and about ½ hour later we were past the vertical and back on something that looked like a trail. But the next issue was not far from us; water. Our map didn’t show us any sources for the rest of the hike. We might have to wobble all the way to the next refuge, which would mean additional meters up and down and a few extra kilometers in distance. That would mean that we would probably not make it back from the trail before it would start raining. What to do?

As normal responsible adults we moved on, to leave the decision to be made at the last possible moment.  In the wondrous scenery around us it was easy to forget a small detail like that. The valley we were descending to was one of those fairy tale mountain valleys, with meadows, lakes and a winding trail in the middle.

Then when we actually did happen upon a spring, right on our route, flowing with water, we were thrilled! No need for extra meters up or down. Furthermore, at that point we still had plenty of time in our hands, so we treated ourselves to a picnic, under a boulder. Hot coffee, plenty of water and cookies helps a long way!

In the meanwhile the sun had passed the midday point, the temperature was more tolerable for walking. Soon we found the point where we left the path and headed towards the Porteille de Leca, which would take us to the approach to the Puig del Roc Negre.

We ended up to a paradise of meadows, lakes and streams, just calling your toes to dip in. Some hippie looking people had been camping there with donkeys and a pony, those lucky people! I hope to return to that spot myself one day!

Our route went from one lake to another, over boulders and marsh. We even saw some marmots! Even though there was no real trail, there were cairns here and there, so we could find our way. We just had to make sure to follow the right ones so we would end up to the correct side of the cirque, and on the correct ridge further on.

Soon we left the small lakes and streams and marmots behind and started climbing higher, through patches of grass, scree and boulders. Waffle’s pack was full again, with all the water and he was starting to suffer as I navigated from cairn to cairn, higher into more and more difficult terrain. We advanced slowly but the climb was steep, so it wasn’t long before we reached the saddle between Puig del Roc Negre and Très Vents.

It is tiring, this type of hiking, where you have to be constantly alert, firstly not to get lost and secondly not to break your ankles. Neither of us was particularly fresh as we started the walk up to the Roc Negre. Neither of us was particularly happy to find out that the cairns disappeared and all we had in front of us, was huge slabs of rock piled together in a pretty unwelcoming manner.

So the hike didn’t really get any simpler and Waffle was getting visibly tired. We scrambled higher, slowly and fairly unsurely, until we ended up to a spot where we didn’t immediately see a way forward. The peak was just a few meters above us, but the slabs had gotten bigger, more vertical and the gasping holes in between them were terrifying to wobble over.

Well, we couldn’t stick there for a long time; I went to look for a solution. I found one, a bit further, on the other side of the ridge. If we just crawled over the sharp edge we would get some sturdier ground under our boots, what a relieve was it to see that! The fear of not getting there was subsiding. The journey started advancing again, as we didn’t need to check and double check every single step we took.

We still needed to make our way around a boulder or two. Then, the greatest sight ever: a trail! The ridge towards Batère reached to the distance in front of us, wide, soft and grassy. Alongside it a trail! The relief dropped me through my knees. Waffle was beside himself. We would be able to make it back to our starting point without hassle!

A few steps further, we found a saddle, with meadow. A camping spot in our language. Such a good feeling it was to get off of your feet, wrap yourself up warmly (the wind was icy!) and just wait for the sun to set and get resting for the next day.

It was such a straining day, both physically and emotionally.