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Hiking the Tristaina Lakes – Day 31
Wednesday 12th August 2009 – Andorra
I treated myself to a lie in this morning, after which I got up and packed up the tent. The floor is a little muddy, and it sticks to the pegs. I set off in the direction of Ordino, and within minutes I had arrived. It’ so strange how everything is so near in Andorra.
The drive took me through the small town of La Massana, which was very quaint, and very small. Almost as soon as I had entered the place, the road turned a corner and I was leaving again. Its one of these places where everything is situated down the one road.
At the campsite, the lady behind the reception offered me a very polite greeting, and when I asked – in the native tongue – if she spoke English, she almost threw me out, telling me I should go to the hotel next door. At least I think this is what she was saying as she was waving her arms about, pointing in the general direction of the big building casting a shadow over the entrance to the site. I tried hard to redeem myself, and asked if she spoke French, and she regained her politeness, answering yes (in English!). She said she also spoke Spanish (in English). I considered this a lesson learnt. I would never again ask an Andorran – if Andorran is in fact a real word – if they spoke English. At least I could use my French, which isn’t bad.
The campsite was lovely, nestled away by the mountain side, and had a river running through one side of the camping plot. It was extremely picturesque, and the sound of the running water was very relaxing, although prompted a visit to the lavatories. I set up my tent and was surprised to see an English biking couple come up to me and introduce themselves. They are travelling along the Tour de France route on their motorbike, as a lot of the tour runs through these parts of Andorra. As I later found out, most of the roads have names chalked onto them, from past contestants and the like.
I took a trip into town as I noticed an information place as I drove here. I wanted to visit La Massana before I realised there was not much to it, so I had decided on taking a hike into the mountains. The tourist information place would be the best place to obtain a map or a guide for walks in the area. I came away with a list of walks suitable for all levels. The walks were marked by three colours: Green = Easy, Amber = Medium, Red = Hard. I’m not a fool, and wasn’t going to attempt a red course, especially as most of these took 2 or 3 days, so I opted for an amber walk. The trouble is, most of these were all day walks, and I didn’t have time today to venture out all day, and I needed provisions first as well. So it would have to be a green course for today, maybe an amber tomorrow.
The walk that I picked was in the Tristaina Lakes region, the walk itself encircling the 3 lakes. I figured it would reward me with the best views from those in the book. It was mentioned in the book as being a 2 hour 40 minutes walk, suitable for any age or experience. It sounded like a walk in the park to be honest, no problems for someone as fit as me, ahem! All I needed was some water and a few snacks then I could be off.
I stocked up at the small campsite shop, then started the drive towards the Lakes. And what a magnificent drive it was. Sweeping turns, endless mountain scenery, valleys and waterfalls. My head was constantly switching from left to right as if I was sat at a tennis match, and I almost lost control of the car on occasion as I veered stupidly into the oncoming lane. Fortunately, though, up in the mountains the traffic was minimal, and mostly tourists driving at their leisure. I drove on through El Serrat, constantly shifting up to 3rd gear, down to 2nd, up to 3rd etc, trying to negotiate the twists and turns, using the sat nav as a guide to what was ahead. It felt like I was in a rally car, the sat nav being my co-driver. The views really were stunning, and after a while the road opened up into a wide car park, by now beginning to fill with tourists.
With the car parked in what I believed to be a highly visible space, and with my feet tucked into my hiking boots, I set out, map in hand, cameras around my neck and bag on my back. I picked up the trail and began to head into the mountains. I hoped the number of tourists about wouldn’t take anything away from the enjoyment of the hike.
I was exhausted in no time to be honest. The first part of the trail was the bit that went upwards, up and over the ridge above. Once there, the first of the three lakes introduced itself. It looked incredible from high up, and it was even better up close. I sat down on a rock by the waters edge, taking in the peaceful, tranquil atmosphere, imagining being there on my own without any of these tourists. It was a glimpse of heaven, and I was happy to sit there for a while. A few people had rid themselves of their boots and were paddling in the shallows, one young guy stripping as he plunged into the deep part and swam off. The water was very cool, but so beautiful all around me.
I continued along the trail, and from here on in, there were not many other people at all, most opting to venture only as far as the first lake. I carried on to the second lake which was equally as stunning, as was the third. The third being the biggest. From here I had to climb up and around the lake, taking me to the half way point, the point furthest away from the start. From here it was all the way back around the other side of the lakes.
At the halfway point I was shattered. I was beginning to wonder if they had made a mistake about the level they had given this hike. Green seemed a little optimistic to me. From here you could see back down along the valley, and all three lakes were visible. It was the perfect place for a bite to eat.
The course is marked by coloured dots on periodic rocks. Different courses followed different dots. A lot of time the dots would be a little scarce, and I wondered if I’d lost the trail somehow. It wasn’t entirely easy to follow, and I did have to back track once or twice. I think the course is designed in such a way, that there are many routes you can take to reach a certain landmark. Thus creating less ware on the paths I imagine. Either way, I managed to follow without too many wrong turns.
As I began the return journey, it was clear right from the start that this way was sufficiently harder. Rocks had to be traversed, ledges needed negotiating with care for the sudden drop inches to my left, and some rocks needed climbing in true rock-climbing fashion. All of this, though, was not before I took myself off the guided path, and up the side of the mountain over precarious rocks from a past rock slide, and up to a patch of white that I had been eyeing ever since the third lake came into view. It was a patch of snow that was still very much alive, even in the heat of summer. Several patches around the lake clung to the rocks, and this was by far the easiest to reach realistically. I half expected someone to come along and tell me to get back onto the trail. I even began to prepare a speech as to why I had disobeyed the rules. “I’m just a tourist who doesn’t understand anything. I thought the trail pointed this way..” I’m not sure they would believe me. I was waiting for the helicopter to appear over the mountain above me, and for someone with a loud megaphone to order me back onto the trail.
I stumbled onwards and reached the untouched patch of dirty snow, leaving a footprint at the edge. It seemed as though the snow was hovering above the rocks. It was melting rapidly from underneath, creating a shelf over the rocks. I didn’t walk across it, firstly for the reason of preservation, secondly for fear of falling between the rocks, hidden by the deep snow. I left my mark in the form of a footprint, touched the snow with my hands – I wanted to see how cold it was, like the idiot I am. It was snow, and felt like snow. It felt cold because snow is cold – then I set off again, back to the path and onwards to the end.
Now was the part that it really got tricky, with the rock climbing, and the shimmering across narrow ledges. Bits of earth fell away beneath my feet as I walked. I listened as small stones rolled off the side of the path and fell into oblivion, the smash of it hitting the ground coming many moments later. I could imagine it being me. I wasn’t far off it either on a number of occasions as a small rock would give way beneath my feet, sending my ankle in the opposite direction, causing my balance to shift dramatically to one side, usually the side with the sheer drop. I constantly reminded myself to slow down and take it easy. I was sure I had taken the hardest possible route along the path. There was probably an easy way around the obstacles that I hadn’t discovered. This had to be true because there was no way this walk could be classed as an easy walk for beginners. I was already 3 hours into this 2 hour 40 minutes walk as well, and I wasn’t travelling slowly. A small stream added to the hazardous pathway, yet the thrill of it all just seemed to spur me on. It was dangerous, but I loved it.
I began to hear the clunking sound of the mountain goats as they passed by above me. Some stared at me as I came quite near to them. They moved across the terrain with such ease, the bells around their necks ringing out with each step. Horses and cows also roamed across parts of the lower land, unaffected by the steady stream of adventurers. One cow decided it was a good idea to block the other end of the bridge that I needed to get over to get back to the car. I stood and asked very politely for her to move, and she looked at me, but ignored my plea, continuing to munch on the lush, green grass. I had to squeeze by the rear end of the cow to get past, and it wasn’t until I was past her that she decided to move out the way.
I passed a father and his young boy not long before this encounter. They were headed up the mountain. As I passed, I wondered if it was a good idea for a kid so young to be climbing such a path, but the father seemed happy enough. I watched in horror as the kid lost his balance and fell backwards, sliding head first on his back down the rock. I called out as the boy came to rest at the foot of the rock, and the father turned round to laugh as the little boy regained his footing, and continued to trace his fathers steps up the rocks. This boy was fearless, and I felt silly for calling out.
By now I was almost back at the car, some 4 hours after beginning. It was great to take the weight off my feet. I began the drive back, which consisted of sticking the car in neutral and coasting down, braking at the turns, then coasting onwards again. Left, then right, all the way down. I got to a point where I could smell the brakes burning, and realised it wasn’t a great idea to coast all the way. It was better to use engine braking.
This place is a skiers paradise, and I expect it is buzzing with people in the winter months. Resorts lined the sides of the roads, and I wondered how different it would all look covered in snow. Quite beautiful I’ve no doubt.
I saw the English bikers this evening and had a laugh about the European drivers, about how different they are to those in the UK. Everybody wants to be somewhere yesterday. I settled down for the evening afterwards and tucked up into my sleeping bag, as the night got very cold very quickly.
Written by Daniel Stevens,
Founder of Roundtheworldtrip.org.
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