The last stage was a stroll in the park compared to the day before: a twenty kilometer walk in level terrain and in beautiful surroundings along the river Gran Valira. I checked in to hotel Florida in Andorra la Vella where I stayed once before, did some shopping for clothes and just relaxed and strolled around in the city for a couple of days. My next walking plan was taking shape in my mind and I decided to go back to Tarragona once more and walk from there to Portbou at the French border along the GR-92 that runs close to the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. But that is a different adventure that I eventually will summarize in the Adventure section of this website.
This day involved walking forty-three kilometers in heavily undulated terrain and it was almost dark when I at last walked into La Seu d’Urgell at nine o’clock in the evening. The march was made easier though by the fact that there were several restaurants in the mountains around Tuixén and halfway between Tuixén and Coll de Bancs. I think I walked on a surface of loose rocks 30 of the 43 kilometers and all of the time either steeply upwards or steeply downwards. I went through a heavily eroded area at one point where I felt very uncomfortable and almost made a huge mistake climbing down a deep ravine that would have been very difficult to get out of and that because I didn’t grasp at first how the track continued. Almost always when I get lost it is for not noticing information around me because my eyes are fixed on the feet because the often very difficult surface makes it necessary to guard every step in order to avoid stumbling or sliding. The solution to the problem is to stop frequently and have a look around. But everything went well and in the end I arrived safely to La Seu d’Urgell with only 25 kilometers left to Andorra la Vella of the about 2000 kilometers that lay before me when I started out in Tarifa some 50 days before.
Another stage on the GR-7 that only confirms to me that it is a trail that has been a bit overrated. I think that it quite often gives you a boring walk, often on forest roads with limited outlook for mile after mile, and if not that it follows tarmac roads, or God forbid, goes in steep ravines cut out for high-voltage transmission lines and with a surface of loose rocks. Having said all that I also have to say that none of this really matters anymore as soon as the backpack is put down for the day, and you have had a shower and a cold beer 🙂
The hostess at my guest house for the day told me that her name was Ingrid and that her grandfather and her mother were from Sweden, her father from Spain, and her grandmother from Switzerland! A truly cosmopolitan family.
Another relatively tough twenty five kilometers. I lost the track completely at the outskirts of Solsona but a kind man stepped on the brakes of his car, rushed out of it, and came to my assistance explaining that the path had been cut off (está roto) but he explained how to take an alternative route through the corn fields, ending up in the center of Solsona. I never stop to be surprised of the kindness that complete strangers show to a gentleman in his prime wearing trekking boots, yellow stockings, and a heavy backpack 🙂
The stage between Súria and Cordona became more difficult than I had expected. To begin with the track was well signposted and there was a clear path to follow but later on the track just disappeared at several occasions because farmers had ploughed away extending their fields destroying any sign of a path, and in other places the path was completely overgrown. I must give my GPS-map some credit though because when I set it up to show enough detail it actually showed me the GR-track and I could follow that instead of the missing physical path. At one occasion I tried to negotiate an easier passage around a solid wall of vegetation arguing with a wild-eyed, long-haired, long-bearded fellow that stood in a clearing behind a fence that he ought to let me pass through his gate. But he didn’t want me on his grounds even for a couple of minutes and that cost me some blood – brambles don’t let you pass easily either J And coming into Cordona I was more or less attacked by two big dogs but another rambler came to my rescue and everything ended well. I had a short rest and then asked at the tourist office how I should continue to Solsona and they told me that it was easy because the route was well signposted. I set off only to return to the same spot four hours later. At a fork in the road not far from where the track began in Cordona the signpost was pointing me in the wrong direction. I had walked for quite some distance when I noticed that and it was late afternoon so I decided to walk back to Cordona and spend the evening and the night there.
When I started out this morning I had no knowledge about any footpaths to Manresa. The tourist office in Monistrol didn’t have opening hours to my liking and I couldn’t get hold of any detailed maps. The GPS-device also wasn’t much of a help as it didn’t reveal any tracks at all. So, I started walking on the busy C-55 and as if the constant noise and gusts from lorries and cars wasn’t annoying enough there was this road tunnel, at least a kilometer in length and with a shelf about 15 centimeters high and maybe 80 wide for me to walk on with almost twenty kilos on my back that should be kept steady being hit by the gusts using only the 67 kilos I weigh myself. That was an experience that I’d rather had been without thank you very much. I had to use the C-55 all the way to Manresa but there I stumbled over a track that I could use for the stage to Súria. I found a very nice guest house in Súria and I also had a very tasty meal with a local touch.
A very pleasant day with this oddly shaped mountain, Montserrat, in focus. Montserrat means saw mountain in Catalan and when looking at the shape of the mountain it is obvious why. I went up into the heart of the mountain where monks during centuries have been constructing a complete city with a cathedral and all. Montserrat is a tourist magnet and there were plenty of people up there even if it was rather late in the afternoon. On my way down to the village Monistrol de Montserrat I passed by a nun’s convent and the nun on guard showed me the inside of the church that had a very modernistic touch. All the furnishing except for a sculpture showing the Madonna and the child had been crafted by the nuns themselves she said. And they certainly had made a beautiful and very professional job of it. She was quite talkative and I asked her if her order demanded that they took a vow of silence and she said it did, but five times a day they gathered in the church for praying and singing and then they took the chance to really exercise their vocal cords 🙂
This day began with an excellent breakfast in the foyer of my guest house in Santes Creus where the innkeeper had put forward an espresso machine, sandwiches, yogurt, and orange juice. I went on my way at seven in the morning and would not come to rest again until eleven in the evening due to a decision to change the route radically once again. The explanation is that I met with the GR-7 once more but soon decided to move away from it again and take an alternative route. The GR-7 in that area mainly follows dirt tracks lined with pine trees that makes it impossible to see anything at all of the surroundings and it was also raining quite heavily and that made the track very slippery and clay stuck to the boots making it impossible to take more than a few steps until it had to be cleaned off. Given those circumstances I thought that I would be better off walking in a nearby tarmac road. But after having passed Bellprat, the third little village with nothing more to offer than chlorinated water from the public water fountain I changed direction and started to walk straight towards Igualada, the nearest city. A couple of kilometers down the road I made a hotel reservation at a hotel in the city using my iPhone. All the time from Tarifa to Andorra I was often grateful for the excellent coverage that my Yoigo La del Uno prepaid Internet subscription supplied even in the countryside and in the mountains. I arrived at around eleven in the evening to the hotel and to my surprise and joy the friendly clerk saw to it that I had a hot meal and a glass of wine after having taken a much longed-for shower.
I fetched some maps at the tourist office in Tarragona and straightened out that it would be a good idea to follow Cami de Sant Jaume (GR-172) to Santes Creus to reconnect with GR-7. Cami de Sant Jaume starts at the main cemetery in Tarragona and moves mainly through farmland. I was lucky to find a place to stay in Santes Creus. Almost all restaurants and guest houses in Spain closes either completely or closes early one day a week to give the staff some time off and the only guest house in Santes Creus did just that, closed early, on Sundays. But I got a room and something as odd as an early dinner in Spain 🙂 before the innkeeper called it a day, passed me the code to the front door and then went on his way.
When this day was over my beach bum days also would be over for a while and it was time for me to re-connect with the official GR-7 once more and prepare for the last stages that would take me to Andorra la Vella in about ten days time I reckoned. I had a couple of days off in Tarragona staying at a guest house on top of a restaurant facing the main square.