On Sunday, Matthew and I accompanied Jillie and Dane on their first hike in the Picos de Europa and it was amazing. After many discussions with James (he’s done a lot of hiking in the Picos), we chose to climb Jultayu because of the incredible view its most famous for – there is a straight vertical drop on one side, meaning you can see right down to a village nestled in the valley. It’s one of the smaller peaks (1500m) but from the top you can see many other peaks, including some of the biggest.
We left first thing in the morning, with a packed lunch (of egg salad – prepared lovingly by Jillie the night before – and bread, cheese, carrots, yoghurt and bananas), plenty of water and various layers to get us through the unpredictable weather. It was a bit overcast when we left, but on the way we could see some of the highest peaks poking their heads out from the clouds and we were optimistic for the day ahead. Everywhere I’ve stayed since leaving the UK at the end of March, except for ECOlonie, I’ve been surrounded by mountains and it’s going to be mighty strange when I’m not any more. I’ve started to appreciate the beauty of clouds and mist so much more, seeing mist trapped between mountains can be so beautiful. In the Sierra, we’d often be level with clouds as if we could reach out and touch them, or jump down in to them. Incredible.
On our way up to the lakes of the Picos de Europa, we drove out of the mist and our optimism soared. It was still quite overcast and a bit chilly for standing still, but a perfect hiking temperature. We set off on our trek at a brisk pace (Dane a bit brisker than the rest of us – I think there might be some mountain goat in his heritage) and saw some amazing views of the other peaks, and down in to valleys. We met many cows along the way and a couple of friendly donkeys (or maybe mules, I’m not entirely sure how you tell the difference but one of those donkeys was huge). We got to the Refugio in two hours, the sign had said three so we felt pretty good about ourselves. We took a break, got some crisps and some coffee (although we soon wished we hadn’t because the coffees cost 2.50 – which is expensive for Spain – and were kind of weak and disgusting) and after much umming and ahhing decided to stop and eat our packed lunch there at the tables, as opposed to saving it for the mountain top. There were lots of camping tents outside the Refugio and even some people staying in one of the stone ruins with a tarpaulin over the top – it looked like they’d been living there for a while.
From the Refugio to the peak, there was less of a path to follow and instead we followed splodges of yellow paint on rocks and rock piles (with a big rock on the bottom and gradually getting smaller towards the top of the pile). About ten minutes after leaving the Refugio we arrived at a sign post and saw a man coming the other way who confirmed we were heading in the right direction to get to the top of Jultayu and told us it would take another hour and a half to reach the peak. Following the stone piles was a lot of fun and after around forty minutes we could see the top of the mountain and it didn’t look too far away. The mist was starting to get a little thicker, especially when we looked back the way we had come, but we remained optimistic that perhaps it would clear up. Then we saw a couple heading towards us looking disheartened and they explained to Dane (Dane grew up in Portugal so understands a lot of Spanish. Jillie’s also a lot better than Matthew and I who have been even lazier about learning Spanish than we were with French…) that there was absolutely no view from the top of the mountain – “Nada!”.
At this point, we paused and considered not going any further. But we could see the top from where we were, we were so close! We decided that we’d got that far and that we might as well continue to the top… and maybe if we kept our positive attitudes the weather would do us a favour and reward our positivity with a view.
The last bit of the climb was the steepest and Dane raced ahead. Jillie and I took our time and had a few pauses to catch our breath. Looking back the way we came was really strange because everything was turning white with mist. We finally reached the top and our surroundings became even more disconcerting – in each direction was pure white mist. We knew there was a vertical drop on the other side of the mountain to the side we came up, but we couldn’t see anything but white. We started throwing small rocks over the edge and being as silent as possible, waiting to hear them drop… We’d hear them bounce the first time after around seven seconds, and then they’d continue bouncing for another twenty or so, until it was too far away for us to hear. It was such a strange feeling at the top of that mountain in the mist, I wish I could explain it better… We stayed there for around an hour, willing the sky to clear, and every now and again it would become really hot and we knew the mist was thinning… but the sun never quite burst through and the sky never entirely cleared.
Eventually, we gave up waiting for the weather to be kind to us and headed back down, in to The White. I’m so glad that I wasn’t doing that hike by myself because I definitely would have gone the wrong way, it was really hard to be certain of our direction when everywhere we looked was white. For the first fifteen minutes or so, we really weren’t sure that we were going the right way but then we saw the rock piles and a few other recognisable features of the land and felt a bit more confident. When we got to the sign post where we had seen the man on the way up, it was quite a relief. The walk from the Refugio to the car park seemed like it was never going to end – in contrast to when we’d walked that same path in the other direction a few hours earlier, there were no views and nothing to see except for white white white, mist mist mist. We began the walk chatting and laughing but by for the last twenty minutes or so I think we just all wanted it to be over. It felt like it took forever, but we actually made it from the peak to the car park in around three hours. At the very end, we had a crazy few minutes where we knew we were literally right by the car park but we couldn’t see it. We had to keep stopping and being silent, waiting to hear a car door, because we literally couldn’t see much more than five foot in front of our faces.
It was a shame about The Mist, but in a way it did make it more of an experience and (apart from the very end, perhaps) it was still a really enjoyable hike. We were craving chocolate, ice cream and pizza when we reached the car, but managed to resist stopping on the way home which was good because James had been super lovely and prepared a much more nutritious dinner for us. We slept really well that night.
On Monday, Matthew and I said goodbye to James who set off on a road trip to Portugal and Southern Spain. This was the first time he’d been able to leave the farm and know that things would get done while he was away, and the first time that Jillie and Dane have been left in charge of things. I’m filling in for James with a job that Matthew and him have been doing each morning and evening for the last week or so – making sure the tiny lamb (nicknamed Prince) gets some milk from his mother. The mother sheep seems to have sensitive teets and kicks Prince away when he tries to feed, so we hold her down twice a day to make sure Prince at least gets breakfast and dinner. This is often not easy because the mother sheep is somewhat crazy. She’s very nervous of humans and much stronger than she looks – on a wet day Matthew was leading her from the field to the barn (where we go through the feeding process) and she pulled him right over.
Pachu (the baby donkey) and Saya (the puppy)’s relationship has been blossoming, which is so fun to watch. It’s mostly Saya making the moves – licking Pachu’s face, running underneath his stomach etc – as Pachu is still somewhat nonchalant about, well, most things. But a few times we have seen Pachu showing signs of affection towards Saya! Mainly just sniffing and nuzzling with a perplexed look on his face, but it’s a start.
Pachu is generally getting more and more of a personality and is starting to experiment more with solid foods. We regularly find him with his head in the compost bin in the kitchen, he loves leaves from the blackberry bush, and he’s a big fan of cherries and can be quite a nuisance when I’m sat at the table outside de-stoning them. Much of our work since arriving has been cherry-related because there’s a lot of wild cherry trees on Duruxa’s property which are all full to the brim with big juicy cherries – so it’s a race to get as many as possible in to the freezer or made in to jam before the birds get them. The funny thing is, now all the animals seem to love cherries. In particular, it’s the chickens, Saya and Patchu that you really need to keep an eye on when de-stoning cherries at the table outside – the all like to eat from the bowl of stones as well which is less of a problem except we’re pretty sure they won’t be able to digest them properly.
I really want a relationship to form between Pachu and the little foal (nicknamed Kale because of the abundance of kale in the garden and the fact that we eat it every day), but the mother is totally not up for that. I took Pachu on a lead in to the horse’s field the other day (I didn’t want to leave him loose in case the stallion picked a fight) and Kale was really interested and tried to approach him several times but her mother squashed it, at one point kicking out at Pachu and I. It could be so sweet though, Kale and Pachu were staring at each other across the field like Romeo and Juliet, their love forbidden… I’ll keep working on it.
Apart from cherry picking, I’ve been doing quite a bit of work in the garden this week – transplanting cauliflower and beets, harvesting potatoes and black currants, cutting down thistles in the horses field… We also realised that whilst we are sitting outside de-stoning cherries we can watch things on our latops! So, yesterday we watched this awesome documentary called Garbage Warrior about earth ships and in particular the sustainable architect Michael Reynolds – absolutely amazing. And I just discovered it’s all on youtube so, check it out: