Spain With A Local

I woke up a few mornings ago and couldn’t remember where I was until I cracked an eye and realized… we were back at our truck!! After a fantastic 3 weeks in Spain, we arrived back to Boise where Mark & Anne picked us up like royalty and flew us back to McCall. It’s sweet to see them and the ol’ Vermonster, set in all the golden leaves of Fall. When we left in late July to fly to Vermont it was summer. A lot has happened since then. And today it is snowing…..

It feels a bit overwhelming to try to recap all we did while visiting Ivan but I can say this was a different trip than our usual. Ever since we sailed away from Spain we’ve wanted to return. And since we’d been on the boat, we never got to the northern regions where the biggest mountains are because it seemed too far to go. But wouldn’t you know that’s where Ivan is from and he even offered for us to come visit. Sold. We weren’t sure if covid would get in the way but all of the travel went smoothly and Spain is better vaccinated and in our impression more careful than the US, which was refreshing.

The water source for the village is a spring

We showed up in Barcelona rather exhausted but there Ivan was, waiting to bring us back to his beautiful fairytale village of Rivert in the foothills of the Pyrenees. When he asked what we wanted for lunch that day I said I was dying for jamon, manchego, bread and salad so that’s exactly what we got. After a nap and a shower, he took us for a little tour and we promptly fell in love with it.

By the next day, we were feeling more energetic so Ivan started showing us some of the hikes available right from his doorstep. We found it to be a bit of a hiker’s paradise. Even from our bedroom window, which I forgot to get a pic of, we had a lovely mountain view and you can always hear the stream running. The water is ice cold and there are fountains scattered around to drink from, great for after a morning run.

I enjoyed running in Rivert. You can really get your hills in!

Ordinarily, we would’ve rented a car, been more on the move, and would have covered a much larger area. But given that we had the unusual opportunity to know a local who was willing to show us the sights and he didn’t kick us out (haha), we were quite happy to stay close and just enjoy hanging out together. We merged our schedules so that we slept in and stayed up late which worked out great!

Ivan put a lot of miles on his Land Cruiser taking us to cool places

So we filled our days with leisurely breakfasts, shots of expresso, hiking, morning runs, 4×4 roadtrips to look at abandoned villages or up to clifftops to watch vultures soar, we rented kayaks one day to swim in the lake, had late lunches in town with frosty beers or 3 course menu del dias (my favorite) on other days. We met some of the neighbors, had BBQ’s in Ivan’s garden or cooked inside and finished some nights off with a movie. Always with great wine too. Some days Jon & I wandered off on our own to nearby hilltops full of flowers.

Yet another hike right out the door of Ivan’s house..
The Tristaina Sundial Viewpoint- great place to hike in Andorra
And there were places to relax in style after a hike too!

We took a trip to the tiny little country of Andorra, sandwiched between France & Spain and stayed overnight.There are two main things that Andorra is known for- duty free shopping in the town of Andorra la Vella which is in a bowl of mountains and then hiking/skiiing in those mountains. We walked the town and got some lunch of the best little tapas we’ve ever had. Think of a fancy french pastry with all kinds of good stuff on it except this was savory instead. It’s hard to say whether the foie was the best or the salmon. Then we headed up to the mountain town of Ordino for some hiking. From the top of the Tristaina Sundial viewpoint, you can look over to France & Spain. We really enjoyed Andorra and the scenery there.

We ran into a European overland truck “7×7 Family” while at the grocery store near to Rivert and it was encouraging to talk with them and learn that traveling around in a big truck is pretty feasible and we’d love to get our truck to Europe at some point.

One morning hiking on the Carros de Foc
We’d never been backpacking and seen so many cows on the lower trails
We really enjoyed hiking with Lisa. Now we know someone else in Amsterdam!
A part of the Chariots of Fire trail follows an old mine rail
It’s become a running joke for me to take a pic of the guys pointing at something
Enjoying one of our picnic lunches in the grass
Hanging out on a mountain pass

Last winter in the Baja, Ivan had mentioned a backpack trip that he thought we’d like called the Carros De Foc- Chariots of Fire. We came prepared with our backpacking gear in anticipation of doing this hike. Set in the Aiguestortes National Park in the Pyrenees mountains, you can make a sort of leisurely loop of about 35 miles hiking from one beautiful refuge to another depending on how many nights you book. The terrain is rough and there’s a lot of rock hopping but it isn’t too bad. Aside from the night we did on a mountaintop in Morocco, we hadn’t experienced any other full service hut hiking before. So we booked a 4 night itinerary and set off together from the cute little tourist town of Espot. Within a few hours, we were up into our favorite kind of alpine scenery climbing over boulders and humping our packs over passes to open up yet another gorgeous valley. This is quite possibly my favorite thing to do, favorite place to be. We didn’t have to worry about food because each night we got a 4 course dinner of varying deliciousness, a basic breakfast and a picnic lunch of sorts. Some huts had better offerings than others but our best night was the roasted beef cheek. We only needed a nice bottle of red to go with it!

I got a few laughs out of the hut culture. While I’d prefer to be camped out in my own tent, it is pretty luxurious to come inside after a day of hiking to have a hot shower, a warm place to relax, a beer, all of your meals cooked for you sharing it with fellow hikers and then a soft bed to rest up in. The funny part is the organization of it all, the lineup of packs and boots, of lingerie and men’s briefs strewn everywhere after a wet hike, the co-ed bathrooms & showers, the sound of a full dining room with everyone speaking in different languages, often pulling out their trail maps and discussing plans. And then trying to get some rest on your soft mattress while lined up like cordwood to a chorus of snoring. But, the experience of it all is so worth it. We met and hiked with some great people. We had a day of inclement weather with heavy thunderstorms, scary lightning and hail so we had to stop at a hut closer than planned where we didn’t have a reservation. We were welcomed just the same by incredibly kind staff and it turned out to be the fanciest of all the huts we stayed at. After a hot shower to warm up, we had the whole afternoon to hang out and talk with other hikers, watch a movie (all huts had power to charge phones and some even had internet. My, how times have changed). We met a Dutch couple who have lived on their boat for 32 years, overlanded through all of the Americas and even toured on a Royal Enfield from New Delhi to Europe! We love to meet inspiring people like this and hope our paths cross again. We had a blast on this hike and I was sad to see it end but the menu del dia on the way back home hit the spot!

We met Lisa, Errol and his wife Marjolein on the hike
Happy we survived the trip! But we had great pilots!

Ivan knew of a good place to paraglide about an hour’s drive from his house and we’d been wanting to try it for quite a few years now. So he booked us for it. We really should’ve been practicing our Spanish more but it’s hard when you have a local to do the translating for you! Plus, the Pyrenees is in the Catalonia region and they speak Catalan which is definitely not the same. There were quite a few clouds in the morning so the sun was slow to come out and at first it didn’t look like a great gliding day. We’d opted for the longer flight that would attempt to get out to the gorge. We rode in the company bus to check out a few jump off spots on the mountain and waited for the north winds to abate and some good thermals to appear. And it happened! We got a chance to run off the cliff in a tandem with the pilot sandwiched behind us for a nice long flight with good thermals. It was bumpy, but not unlike when we were under sail in the waves and the tugging of the wind on the chute felt similar to the pull of our sails. The views were spectacular, I didn’t carry a camera though, my pilot took me out to the gorge and even though it was freezing cold when we were way up high, I loved it. For some reason Jon’s pilot didn’t get him over to it. Anyway, a fun experience and since Ivan had already been a couple of times previously, he took photos of us from the ground which are nice to have.

We ended the day stopping to visit a good friend of Ivan’s for a tour of her wine cellar. Nuria runs a burgeoning winery called Terrer de Pallars. She gifted us a few bottles of her white & red wines “Conca de Tremp” and another of something we’d never had before- Ratafia, a walnut liqueor. We even got these back in our luggage with us. She just began harvesting all the white grapes for the season and we were sad to miss out seeing or even helping with it.

Nuria showing us the wine fermenting

But, our 3 weeks were up and it was time to head back to Barcelona for a covid test the day before the flight. We walked the waterfront with Ivan and had once last big lunch together before saying goodbye. It was a fantastic trip with lots of great experiences with the best of company and the whole thing moved us on many levels. Ivan worked so hard to try and show us so many great spots. We are indebted to him. There is a lot that we enjoy doing in the north of Spain for sure.

It was a daytime flight to Miami with no frills, boo hoo. Since we didn’t take off for Boise till the following evening, we took the day to do a long walk from the hotel all through downtown Miami and Coconut Grove, my old stomping grounds. It was a long time ago, my childhood. The heat & humidity just about killed us but it was good to get some exercise. Surely we sweat a couple of gallons on that walk. We prefer the mountains.

Ivan was right, you don’t get much of any jet lag on the way back. So we hit the ground running with Mark & Anne, our modus operandi when we’re together. We weren’t even unpacked yet before we went for a morning walk here in McCall and realized that the Payette River level was up which was perfect for fast kayaking. So we quick grabbed our boats and headed out on it. What a difference from earlier this summer. No portaging! The fall colors are so pretty and the days are still warm enough for water sports. Yesterday, we flew out to Big Creek for breakfast. Set on forest service land in the Frank Church Wilderness, this is another gem of the Gem State of Idaho. There’s more to Idaho than potatoes! You can fly in to numerous backcountry airstrips, some of which have lodges to grab a meal or an overnight stay. The wildfires haven’t destroyed this area and I hope they never do. It’s so nice of Mark & Anne to take us to these special places.

Where would we be without the kindness of our friends and the beauty of the planet? We’ve had a ton of fun.

In the coming days we plan to focus on getting the truck ready to move southward. The new turbo needs to go in too. It’s hard to focus but we have to. The snow is starting to fly!

Sunset on the Chariots of Fire trail

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