The beauty of Aragon, a lesser known Spanish Province with a rich history, that should be on everyone’s to see list !
I knew nothing of Aragon. As a matter of fact I knew nothing of Spain. It had never been on my radar before. I could even say, I didn’t use to like Spain. It is stupid of me, you’re right, but to my defence I had excuses. My first wife left me for a Spaniard ! That alone should exempt me of any further explanations, especially considering that he (by no mean a generalisation) was an idiot – my ex-wife’s (and now his too) final assessment, not jealousy speaking ! Also, all I had seen so far from Spain was a long and boring stretch of freeway, taking me from France to Portugal, and that wasn’t exciting to say the least (But large Highways/Freeways never are!). Finally I couldn’t understand how it can be considered a unified country when everyone living there is dreaming of, and for some literally fighting for, regional independence. Catalunya, Euskadi, Galicia, Soria, etc…
As such, the Spanish part of the trip was originally meant to be nothing more than a liaison from France to Portugal, trying to avoid that dreadful highway I just mentioned. Which is why I didn’t do much research for it. Just found existing tracks on internet and combined them together to reach my Portuguese destination, sometimes having to draw my own here and there, for the sake of coherent connections, but no real digging of the web or Google Earth was wasted on it ! What a mistake, what a shameful ignorance, as this trip so far has proven me wrong so many times! Spain is Beautiful !!!
So, am I gonna tell you everything there is to know about Aragon, besides being spectacular !!!? No ;). Not everything, this is just a Diary post meant to share a few pictures and anecdotes as I travel through and discover it myself. But I will later on for sure, in the dedicated travel guide I will create at the end of this trip. Till then I just invite you to visit the wikipedia page to find out more.
Now, time to get going this early morning and cross the “border” between Catalunya and Aragon. I am following the Spanish section of the TransEurTrail, a series of tracks drawn by various linesmen (and women?) all across Europe, and needless to say that it has been spectacular so far!!
The early portions are fairly easy to drive, far smoother than the previous days, as I am now down from the high mountains. A mix of old roads and well maintained “pistas”, crossing large wooden areas. I hadn’t driven so “fast” since the beginning of my trip. Here and there, the usual vacated villages sitting pretty on their rocky outposts. Some completely at the mercy of nature reclaiming its rights, others “rejuvenated” by recent arrivals, where a lonely soul, trying to escape the madness of our “connected” world, decided to return to rurality, and experience a more “grounded” way of life. Also lost in this ocean of trees, forgotten chapels supposedly looking over the lost souls roaming by.
And lost in nature I am now. I have taken a wrong turn somewhere, thanks to the imprecisions of my GPS. Mind you, it’s still beautiful. Forces me to cross a large and not so shallow water ford, before climbing back up through very muddy banks… Even pass through the fields of a very unhappy owner… until I finally find my way back around the empty village of Abenozas. Not completely empty considering this old Defender sitting pretty by the side of the track.
I love those old Santanas, the ultimate workhorse built locally by Land Rover. In Oman, it was the Toyota FJ45 LandCruiser, here it’s those Land Rover series, (I believe this one to be an early series III, or maybe a late series II) still going strong. The owner is nowhere to be found. A quick picture to share with my wife and off we go.
Or do we ? As I said, all was so smooth and easy today. That didn’t prepare me for what came next ! I am alone on this trip. My jeep is a standard model, absolutely not prepared for tackling the Rubicon (Don’t believe advertisements)! I can pretend to know how to drive off-road, I have enough experience after all those years, through America (My first FJ40 in Baja California in 1989), Arabia and now Europe.
What that experience tells me, is that I shouldn’t have engaged in that descent !! Not alone, and for sure not before having inspected the ENTIRE section !
The first “obstacle”, in the form of a “rocky stair formation” is fine enough, but should have warned me that I was entering a different type of trail. Not one to be considered lightly. Here I am now in a full-on rock crawling mode, with no room to turn around, and even if I could, it is so muddy, that driving back up would be even worse, if not impossible. Only one option, down and crossed fingers.
Each “obstacle”, and they are now too many, requires me to get out and study the path. Where can I put my wheels and pass safely ? Nobody here to guide me from the front, I need to guess based on memory after survey. Engaged in 4-Low, one problem at a time, I slowly proceed. But things keep getting worse. As the rain water of the past few days ran down, it carried along an abundance of rocks and debris, dropping them on the go while carving huge ravines, some too heavy to move. I have to break them with my stone axe, next trees fallen across need to be cut off with my regular axe.
When I finally think I made it through the worst, the trail decides to go back up. It ain’t much of a climb, just 5 or 6 steep meters. At its bottom, the trapped water sits in a huge puddle, while at the top a rocky section imposes to seriously slow down to pass safely. In between, just a slippery slope of mud. F..k ! If I can’t climb this, I’m like that water, trapped ! You need enough momentum to climb through the mud, but too much speed will crush you on those rocks ! No good way out, just a better than nothing compromise to find in order to pass through. I can’t even climb myself to inspect the rocks because of the mud.
I’m hot. I feel my hart is beating too fast, my legs are weak. This is borderline panic mode… This is ADVENTURE !!
I decide to wait. Not for someone to come rescue me, nobody will ! I need to wait and get back to zen ! Relax a bit, get my brain back to its normal concentration, my body back to its normal rhythm and temperature.
Once calm again, I start by deflating my tires all the way down to 12 psi to get as much traction as I can. The rocks are not sharp at the top, it won’t (shouldn’t) be a problem. I have my path well established, I have rehearsed the procedure enough in my head, time for action. If it doesn’t work, we’ll think of something else. What ? Don’t know!
Engage in second on the Low ratio for enough speed up, pass through the water gathering momentum, then just a tiny bit of gas to climb without sliding… It’s amazing what this car is capable of !! Climbing it does, offering a new perspective on the rocks now… which leads me to change my plan and take the wrong decision!
I had it perfect, I was aiming right where it needed to pass, but no. Now, suddenly, with a new look on things, I decided it was better to pass on the left side, instead of the intended right. That means turning my wheels, and by doing so loosing speed. That means compensating with more gas, spinning my wheels and as result slide off course. That means missing the new target and passing over the middle, right where the rock is higher. That means touching underneath, which is never a good thing !! Better is often the enemy of good ! I should have stuck to my original plan!
I am so upset with myself. Upset for putting myself in this position, upset for that last minute mistake. I know better ! At least I got out of it. A quick inspection underneath leads me to believe that nothing was damaged, even though it is hard to see with all this mud. I guess this section would be a lot easier for a bike, as opposed to a car. I also think that they did not have to deal with so much rain when they first passed here, otherwise they might have tried another, less “sporty” exit.
It took me the entire afternoon, to go down ! I need a break, I had enough for today. I’ll go wash my car, find a good place to sleep and regroup before moving on.
I should pursue on the TransEuroTrail, but I just washed my car and the next stretch of trail is again very muddy. Enough ! I’ll just take the scenic road option on my way to Alquezar. The name comes from Al Qaçr which means fort in Arabic. In Spanish it would be Alcazar. It’s a must stop when visiting Aragon. Located at the Southern entrance of the Sierra y Cañones de Guara Natural park, it is known for its Collegiate church sitting on top of a limestone outcrop overlooking the canyon below.
Now I have been alone for the most part since I began my journey, not seeing many people along the way. Little had prepared me for the crowd flocking to this architectural attraction on a sunny holiday week-end ! It is packed. I feel congested, claustrophobic, suffocating ! When planing matters ! Not a place to be on All-saints week-end ! Now it is beautiful and deserves its success, but if you decide to come, pick a week day instead.
Further north, deeper inside the Natural park, is again deserted. And that’s a shame, because it is stunningly beautiful, and deserves as much attention as its man made counter part. As its name indicates, this area is filed with incredible canyons carved by streams and rivers deep inside old limestone, offering many places to explore. Below me, deep, deep down runs a small torrent where I can see people enjoying an afternoon of canyoning. Always curious to see more I enter a trail hoping it will lead me down. (Again everything here is in Spanish and Spanish only, (Or is it Aragonese ? So hard to get needed informations)
Luckily I manage to find my way through and finally reach the bottom where the river flows. Going back up is going to be fun !! In front of me, people in full canyoning gears; suits, helmets, ropes, etc… coming back from what seems to be a cave. I can’t tell because to find out would require me to get wet and walk through the waters. The canyon has become so narrow only water is allowed. Not an option I’m afraid. But boy does that sound tempting another time.
The colors around me are surreal, like a mad painter’s dream !
Shades of grey mixed with salmon pink for the rocks, crimson even in some areas, emerald blues and greens for the water, reds, yellows and browns mixed with deeper greens for the trees, all saturated by a bright sunlight under a deep blue sky.
In areas, the water is “sweating” from the rocks, washing the cliffs of the canyon as it finds its way down.
In the middle of all this, some crazy religious people felt it wise to build a Monastery or Hermitage. San Juan If I understand the sign. Deep down, nested between the cliffs, right above the river, in the shade at all time, drowned in humidity, with no real place to grow anything, not to mention potential flash floods ! I mean, just the idea of a rock falling on your head should have made them reconsider ! It’s a complete ruin now, which confirms my opinion.
As anticipated, going back up was a challenge and I’m glad to be comfortably sitting in my car again.
The trail now circles around the park, offering beautiful views of the Pireneu summits in the distance, and Pic Aneto, the highest mountain of the chain at 3.304m covered in snow. It’s Pine forests for miles on end until reaching Rio Gàllego and what is called the Geological road !
As I said, I have not prepared anything on this section, just letting my surroundings thrill me as I pass by. So nothing had prepared me for what comes next!
Los Mallos De Riglos !
What a site ! One of those eye popping visions, when after a road turn you unexpectedly come face to face with such a phenomenal natural wonder !
A geological masterpiece ! A work of art ! A poetic irruption ! One that deserves all the Wouah and glorifying superlatives of the world !
One that would require so many pictures, from so many different angles, to truly capture and do it justice.
Unfortunately, as often since the beginning of the trip, the weather is not allowing me to record it as it should. And I end-up spending four days at its feet, just hoping for a ray of light. That gave me time to walk in the rain… climb lone and abrupt pathways slapped by the wind… observing vultures…
… Study resilient flowers… Visit a medieval castle…
Get sick in the process…
Until, the moment when I decided it was enough and I needed to move on. And then, at last, as a reward for my patience, or feeling sorry for my physical condition, nature offered me a memorable sunset. A few minutes of light between the clouds, mixing the reddish tones of the stone with the deep orange light of the descending sun. Glorious!
The next day, after having seen and liked a picture on Instagram showing another amazing rock formation in the Cañones y Guara, I decided, (since the weather was good again), to go back and see it for myself. Of course, I got it confused with another one, and then got lost on its way, thank you Spanish only tourists leaflets, but it’s ok. No matter where you go, there is always something beautiful to see and you can’t pretend to see it all in one trip.
First a ruin up on a hill, (Don’t have a name) then at the end of rio Guatizamela valley, the Mallos de Ligüerri by the Vadiello dam. I have to say, Aragon deserves now all my attention. It is a truly fascinating destination on its own. One that needs to spend far more time than I did. One I will give you a lot more informations about in my dedicated Travel guide once back home.
Next, Navarra and its Bardenas reales !