After seeing the Andes in Peru, and the gorgeous sites of western New England with Elements, I was dubious when I signed up for the option hiking excursion to the Pyrenees. Could anything stand up to the ancient green terraces of the Andes or the gorgeous forested waterfalls of Vermont?
Yes, something can.
We stopped for dinner in Jaca on our way to the mountains. My host mother had packed me a sandwich of tortilla de champiñones – a mushroom omelet placed between the two halves of a baguette. The idea of an omelet sandwich is still rather strange to me, but after the long bus ride, the sandwich, still warm from the aluminum wrapping, was delicious. Jaca has a great castle, wonderfully historical despite the intriguing “1% cultural” sign, with a huge moat surrounding it. Unfortunately the castle was closed, but we stood gazing across the moat at the imposing stone walls and the movie-esque drawbridge gate.
Suddenly, motion in the moat caught our peripheral vision: a huge hoofed and antlered animal had just rounded the bend and was wandering past us! My host mother had also given me muffins to bring, so my friends begged mercilessly that I “give the moose a muffin”, but due to my doubts about the moose-ness of the animal and my “do not feed the animals” stance, I resisted. We did, however, continue watching, only to see another beast come into view!
Right as I said “I hope they don’t engage in territorial fighting,” another group of students rounded the bend as the hoofed animals locked antlers. Luckily, one of the boys was an avid deer hunter and informed us that despite their huge size and gigantic antlers, these were indeed white-tailed deer, grown to an unnatural size and age (14 years, he guessed) due to the lack of predators or obstacles in the moat.
We later learned that the deer were placed purposely in the moat at some point in history, slightly tingeing our excitement at seeing “wild” deer fighting. However, despite the intrigue of the deer squabble, it was soon overshadowed by the true destination of the trip: the mountains.
We arrived at the albergue (hostel) and chose our rooms: 2 rooms for 12 girls and the same for the boys. The night inevitably turned into a great pajama party, eventually ending in sleep in anticipation of the hike the following day.
The alarm rang at 8 o’clock, and we descended to the hostel’s comedor for breakfast. The best bread I’ve yet to have in Spain and some good cheese, accompanied by a glass of orange juice, was a great pre-hike meal. I’ve grown to appreciate a delicious cheese sandwich.
I don’t want to mislead you with “sandwich”…the bocadillos here are not made on plain old wonderbread. As aforementioned, the pan of choice is the baguette, the long thin “French” bread. These lovely sandwiches can reach a foot in length while maintaining a mere few inches in width – wonderful gastronomical physics.
But the albergue’s breakfast was only a precursor to the wonderful day to come. We donned our backpacks, loaded with trail mix, water, and penny candy from El Rincon, and the multiple layers we had brought after many warnings of the cold in the Pyrenees, and the bus let us off at the base of the peak we were to climb.
The first things to come off were the hats, followed by coats, and then mittens and gloves. Finally the scarves found their way into backpacks too, and we were sweating under the mountain sun.
We hiked for a few hours, stopping to refill our water bottles from the mountain stream and pass around the nuts and raisins we’d brought. We reached the snow line, but the day was still warm.
The views were too beautiful to describe in words; even the photos don’t do them justice. At the end of our hike was a beautiful glassy lake.
Climbing up on a snowless rock we pulled out our epic sandwiches and lunched on the top of the world.