Spanish Cathedrals and Spain Canyoning
Alicia and I dashed off to Catalonia, on the way to Turkey, for a little touristing in Barcelona and a little canyoning up in the Pirineos with Koen.
Amazing city. Narrow, windy streets protect us from the semi-tropical sun. It was cool. This is the Gothic Cathedral in the Gothic Quarter - a pretty large area pretty well preserved from the Gothic period, with a few Roman ruins scattered in there too. Barcelona is a big tourist city, and has many street performers, including dress-up performers such as this angel. After fending off the pickpockets we wandered the city...
Barcelona has a LONG history as a religious center. (Spain)
Another street performer on the tourist walking street, the Ramblas. I think he represents a TV character. There were 4 or 5 performers playing the same character. (Spain)
Narrow alleyways characterize the part of Barcelona we spent the most time in. Notice the Anti-War flag. Yes, Virginia, there really is a left wing in Europe. (Spain)
The most striking building in Barcelona is the Cathedral Familia. Designed by surrealist architect Gaudi, it has been under construction for about 100 years, and is less than half done. (Spain)
The outside of the Familia is covered with sacred sculptures, from ground level to the top of the spires. (Spain)
Scene atop one entrance to the Familia. (Spain)
Modernist Sculptures. Gaudi left a huge pile of sketches for basically the whole cathedral. (Spain)
The Familia has been under construction since 1882. (Spain)
Gaudi was not the original architect, but took over fairly early on. The Familia is a traditional stone construction, carried to its ultimate possibility. Gaudi calculated how to build using stone with great care, making it possible to build bigger open spaces and taller towers. The floor of the cathedral, when done, will seat something like 50,000 people. The towers that are finished are just the outside, short towers, and are 300 feet high. The huge, center tower will be 1000 feet high. And it is all built with stone.
The Cathedral is financed locally by the local Archdiocese. One reason the construction is taking so long is that it is entirely financed through donations, and they build what they can given the cash flow. The recent ressurection of Barcelona as a business and tourist center has increased donations substantially, and serious construction has resumed.
Onto the Pirineos with Koen. We drove out of Barcelona headed for the village of Lamiana, high in the Pirineos near the border with France. Our amigo Koen bases his canyon-guiding operation out of the mountain inn that IS the village of Lamiana. Koen is from Belgium, and spends about 9 months of the year in Spain, 3 months in Belgium.
Small, bald, limping guy from Belgium? Not all of those. At least, not all at the same time. (Spain)
Lamiana is perched precariously on a ridge overlooking a huge mountain valley that stretches up to treeline in the National Park. The Inn is in a renovated 500 year-old farmhouse. One of the advantages of building in stone is things last a LONG time.
The Pirineos are a limestone mountain range and incredibly rugged. This valley is not so dramatic, but hidden in its folds are 20 to 30 good canyoning routes.
A Typical Day of Canyoning in Spain
With an early breakfast finished by 10:00 or 10:30, it's time to consider what the rain did last night and what is in shape. We WANT to do canyons with the correct flow - too much flow is too dangerous, too little and is not enough fun. From the 100s of canyons within driving distance, Koen selects a target, and we hop in the cars. Today, we are canyoning with Koen and three brothers (and one wife) from Belgium who are a real kick.
So we set off driving. The Americanos are a little anxious, what with the late start and everything, plus the late afternoon thunderstorms. We drive about half an hour, then get stuck behind a herd of sheep.
The sheep can be moved to the side – for Bicyclists. Gotta keep your priorities straight.
Koen is taking us on the scenic route, up and over the crest of the Pirineos on dirt roads. Because we are not carrying a spare (flatted two days ago), we, of course, get a flat tire. We send Marc into town with the other car to get the tire fixed, and hang out in a beautiful meadow to await his return. (Tick, tick, tick).
It is getting late – Time for Lunch. We stop by a roadside restaurant and have a little bite to eat, before confronting the canyon.
Soon after, we arrive at the canyon. Today we are doing the twelve falls of something or other. Twelve waterfalls, then into the village for an after-canyon beer.
Park off a dirt road. It is about 85 degrees, 70 percent humidity. Perfect weather for a tee shirt and shorts. We put on thick, 7mm wetsuits, grab the gear and start hiking UP the road in the full sun.
"Koen? Couldn't we drive this?"
"Thomas - it is just a little way."
Shortly a trail branches into the woods. We hustle down the trail. We can hear the stream ahead. Finally we arrive and Koen shows me why one always carries a helmet, as he scoops up icy water and drops it into the front of his wetsuit. Ahhhhhh.
We soon cool off and are ready to go.
"Where are the bolts? What, off this tree? Really, you guys use trees?"
Finally, into the canyon.
We rap a few waterfalls. Here Alicia is sliding down #3 in her own inimitable style.
After the first six falls, it starts to rain a little bit. Hmmm. Since we CAN escape here, we decide it would be a good idea. So we do, traversing steep, vegetated hillsides until we find a steep, muddy trail. We hike down to the village and connect with our driver. And then…
All that excitement was a little much for Alicia... (Spain)
Next day, the lads head back up to Belgium, leaving at midnight to time their traverse of France for maximum speed.
Koen takes us West to La Garganta de La Gloces, the canyon where Koen broke his ankle on a slide. We hike down a logging road to a clearing where logs are stacked waiting for transport to the main road. A small river (La Gloces) winds through the flat valley, then disappears into a gorge - La Garganta.
Alicia rappels the entry waterfall. (Spain)
And down into the water. (Spain)
Alicia really enjoyed getting a good face shot on that, didn’t you gal?
La Gloces is a narrow slot with a fair amount of flow. It has a few rappels, a few jumps, and a lot of swimming. ‘Tis a lot of fun.
Koen and Tom in La Gloces.
Downclimbing in La Gloces. Some nice light in there. Humidity high. (Spain)
After the canyon and traditional post-canyon cerveza and bocadillo, Koen drives us up the shoulder of the mountain where we have this view of this amazing canyon in the National Park.
Unfortunately, this canyon was a little out of condition – just a bit too much flow right now.
Here is the village of Ainsa, where next year's international rendezvous will be held in May. (Spain)
Koen is an incredibly gracious host, and it was great to have the honor of canyoning with him.
Koen had to take the ATVs back to Belgium, and brushed us off into the capable hands of Raff, one of the many expert Belgian Canyoneers that abound in this world. He regaled us with stories of the Lowe's Gulley descent while leading us down this little canyon near Lamiana.
Ms Scotter showing the haunch-slide technique in the Foz de le Canal (Spain)
And Raff shows the more macho but riskier, spread-leg technique. (Spain)
Raff's parents were in town, and they reminded me a lot of Alicia's folks. Does this mean Raff must go off and do "child duty"? Why, of course not. In the finest dirtbag climber/canyoneer tradition, that means Raff's folks can run shuttle! This arrangement would allow us to do the infamous Mascune without having to do the 2000 foot ascent to the top of the canyon. Yee haw.
So we set out for Mascune. The Pirineos are scattered with ruins of old villages. Much of this area was more populated one hundred years ago, but people left for the big city where there were jobs. So ruins abound.
Ms. Scotter hanging out near some Anasazi ruins... uh, more recent ruins, but not by much. (Spain)
Mascune is in the next mountain range south from the Pirineos. The terrain is very different than the high Pirineos, being flatter and more open, with yellowish limestone. The mood is friendlier, more fun. The canyons are pool-drop – drops between sections of flat canyon. The water is pure and clean. Here at the top, we are approaching the first drop, where we found a bunch of other groups suiting up for the first jump.
Mascune is famous for its jumps. Here the guide from the other group jumps into the first pool. Notice anything out of place? Better to not jump with your pack on, eh?
Raff taught us the most important thing about jumping - "Don't stand on the edge looking at the jump. Just walk right up and jump. Otherwise, it takes forever."
Here Alicia contemplates the jump. In Mascune, the first jump is the tallest, and the only one that is even a bit technical. Gulp!!!
Raff nails it right down the middle
Rapping another short drop in Mascune
And a lot of swimming. The river ducks under rocks and through tunnels. A good time had by all. Here’s Alicia and I swimming a pool.
The canyon goes on quite a ways, with slender towers of limestone on both sides. Interesting. We traipse downcanyon, and hook up with Raff’s parentals for the traditional post-canyon malt beverage, before the long drive back to Lamiana. Great thanks to Raff for taking a couple Americanos around the countryside. And thanks for the folks for helping us do a more substantial canyon adventure.
Another half day available, what to do? Raff, concerned for our safety, send us to a short local canyon that was dry – completely out of condition. Only Americans would do a canyon when it’s dry!
Then we headed back to Barcelona. We were smart enough to not put gas in the car until we were just outside Barcelona. Course, I was not smart enough to figure out that it was a gasoline car. It made it all the way to the next gas station before it conked out trying to burn that diesel fuel. Good thing it was downhill!
One more night in Barcelona. View from the balcony… And on to Turkey…