GR 221 MALLORCA 21st Sept-1st Oct 2015

GR221 MALLORCA: 1st OCTOBER

The last leg of the 140km Ruta de Pedra en Sec, the Drystone Route, has been successfully completed in Pollenca. 

Although the rain continued to lash at the windows of the full dormitory and the wind whipped the shutters backwards and forwards all night by morning only scudding black clouds remained of the tempest. 

I returned to the monastery pharmacy for medication for my still swollen and painful bites to find they didn’t open till 10. It was going to be tough to make the 4.30 ferry to Menorca 18km and 2 bus rides away but it gave me a chance to have a look around the basilica.  

   and the medieval statue, found beside a stream by a shepherd boy who showed it to a monk who took it to Escorca. It had disappeared the next day and was found again by the stream. This happened 3 times. They took the hint and founded a chapel there that grew into the big and famous monastery that has drawn pilgrims for centuries.  

 I also admired the mysterious sun dial that reveals, when the sun shines, all manner of ?? 

 

Finally the chemist opened and she was happy to sell me a tube of hydrocortisone to lash on my bites. And so I continued on my way, climbing up yet again through holm oak woods past more sitges to views of the refugi and the mountains.  

 

  The walls made for tall stiles that were tricky with a full pack.  

Over a Coll at over 600 m then it was down hill all the way, past steam beds no longer dry.  

   and into more open country with fresh growth and a celebrated 500 year old holm oak.  

      

The rains of the previous day and night had produced a fine crop of mushrooms and I met up with a couple of proud foragers.  

   Coming down through the woods on the old stone walled and paved tracks I stopped to admire the workmanship one more time.  

  Then I entered villa zone again with some fine gates hiding the secret world within.  

  

  

 One more tricky riverside stretch  

  

 and I was in Pollenca where the storm defences were still up in the fine back streets.  

  

 Straight to the bus to the coast, and straight on another to port Alcudia. Just in time …. Except the boat was cancelled due to rough seas caused by the storm. Next one 6 in the morning. Be there by 5. No sleeping in the terminal. 

The silver lining is that summer season prices for rooms ended today so I got one near the ferry at a bargain price. It’s all good.  

GR221 MALLORCA: 30th SEPTEMBER

What a difference a day makes. 

It was indeed a world of pain out there today and not all from the expected direction. After a good dinner in the refugi I shared with a nice Danish couple and about 20 others I retired to my dormitory still the only occupant. I couldn’t decide if the hospitalario was doing me or the others a favour. 

Actually the others , as I was sorely bitten time and again and on waking discovered I had really swollen up in numerous spots and my skin was tightly stretched and throbbing.  

 Not good. It had been a very restless night, not only because of mozzie vigilance but because of heavy rain making noises not often heard. Everybody was very weather wary at breakfast, discussing the infinite variety of forecasts, none good. A few were getting cabs out of there, others taking shortcuts to Lluc or the refugi at Son Amer. I was still hoping to complete the route over the high(est) ground. I dressed in my swimming togs and raincoat with nothing underneath reasoning to keep clothes dry in my rucksack. I was able to take a few photos before the rain started and rendered my phone and camera inoperable.  

 I followed a family out on the trail but soon found them returning, not fancying their chances with the lightening. The way was dramatic but unfortunately the rain put paid to much photo documentation.  

  

 I’m not sure you can make out the extraordinary aqueduct built through the mountains.  

There were frequent flashes of bright ultraviolet and loud crashes of thunder as I made my way up the old cobbled path through the holm oak. I got to a signpost pointing one way to my route into the big stuff (4 1/2 hrs) and another back to the reservoir and road at Cuber ( 1 1/4 hr). I hesitated, waiting maybe for something to make up my mind. On cue, a frightening series of lightening flashes and almost immediate CRASH of ear splitting thunder.   Message received I turned towards the road in the knowledge that you don’t go up on the highest ridges in THAT. 

Water water everywhere as I followed a big aqueduct delivering water to the reservoir whose levels must have been rising rapid. At last I could make out the road below and I wondered if there would be covered space at the recreation area down there. Unfortunately not, apart from the porta toilet that I briefly occupied whilst considering options. There was a bus at 3.30 but 5 hours sheltering in a toilet seemed a bit desperate. I heard a car approaching and burst from the plastic box and ran to the road throwing out my hand in a desperate hitcher gesture. It worked. Two angels from Zurich sped me the 12 or so km to Lluc and seemed not to mind the fact I flooded the back of their hire car. A 10 minute walk up to the refugi and I was safe, although unable to get a bed for another 3 hours. I spent most of the time drying my kit under the hot air hand dryers in the toilets, getting nice and warm in the process.  

 It continued to hammer it down, flooding the front door, as others arrived, bedraggled, from their taxis, hitches, buses and even hikes.  

 The views of the monastery below slowly began to clear and I discovered there was a pharmacy there where I thought I could get something for my painfully pulsing swollen bites.  

 At last the rain slowed to a drizzle and thinking they would reopen at 4 after siesta, struck out down the muddy and mossy path.  

     Arriving just after 4 imagine my surprise to discover they CLOSE at 4. World of pain. 

I had a brief look around this world heritage site, writing postcards and having a “drown my sorrows “pint.  

 I had hoped to catch the famous choir who perform twice a day but the timing was wrong for that too. You can stay in the old monk cells here which I would have liked to do if I’d known, saving a couple of walks. In my mood I might have been tempted to stay in a life of quiet, and dry, contemplation.  

   There were many platitudes on display concerning the righteous pilgrim that I struggled to fit into my current situation.  

   

Enough. I’d have to return in the morning for pain relief. The sky was looking ominous again and I made it back up the hill just before the heavens opened. A silver lining of sorts but I’m hoping for better tomorrow. 

GR221 MALLORCA: 28/29th SEPTEMBER

They say history has a habit of repeating itself and I certainly suffered from Deja Vu as I staggered up the trail out of Deia into the blue sky and dehydrating heat yesterday. It could as well have been 8 months ago when a similar scenario played out on the Camino Mozarabe. The common ground between events was 3 days hard partying and the debilitating effect it has on a 60yr old hiking body. 

Ah well, mustn’t grumble, no gain without pain and what goes up must come down. Best thing to do is sweat it out… So I did. I’m sure the toxic droplets burned themselves into the limestone as I climbed on narrow tracks between villas old and new.  

 

  High above the rugged coast.  
 Some of the ancient terrace walls were tumbling over but I did pass a 4 man crew who were working on restoring a section so they hopefully will survive another few centuries.  

   This section between Deia and Soller or Muleta was well signed and fairly gentle so was popular with day trippers who I did my best to shield from the toxic sweat.  

 The hills became well wooded again with sitges or charcoal burning sites and impressive cobbled tracks leading down to Soller. 

     The largest town on route so far the main square had the tram way to the port and a wooly tree.  

     Although at the end of the day’s stage I had decided to carry on for a few hours. The forecast was for thunderstorms so I wanted to cover what ground I could in the dry. The dryness was relative of course as I was still dripping. More toxins to shed yet. 

The climbing began pretty quickly and lasted for 10km. At Biniaraix I passed a lovely wash  house but the bar where I had hoped to get supplies was shut. Luckily there was an abundance of Fuentes so I was able to stock up on water before heading up the Baranc de Biniaraix, a fantastic example of cobbled and buttressed trail climbing to over 800 m through countless terraces. So fantastic in fact that it’s designated a site of cultural interest.  

   

   
 

   
 Finally reaching beyond the olives and entering wilder holm oak country I looked back in wonder at some of the old houses that have been restored in this place hours of hiking from anywhere.  

  

 It had been spitting with rain and grumbling with thunder while I had climbed the countless steps and I was glad to get to flatter ground with its possibility of a tent pitch. There was an unmanned refuge ahead but still a couple of hours away and after 8 hours of effort I was ready to rest. There had been a no acampar sign and another warning of big game shooting and not to leave the trail so when I found a discreet little spot I made an effort at camouflage.  

   And so with a very nearly full moon shining through the canopy above and the constant jingle jangle of a hundred sheep bells ringing around the surrounding peaks I fell into fitfull sleep. The animals were not bothered by the tent and binged and bonged right up to me in the night. I couldn’t imagine what they were eating.  

 The morning broke clear and dry and I headed still higher up into the limestone gryikes and groines, or whatever they’re called.  

 

  Whilst peering at the landscape below( that’s Port de Soller in the sunshine) I heard the clattering of a helicopter and could then see it circling around high up the Baranc de Biniaraix. A little later as I headed down the more open level valley towards the , fairly dry, reservoir at Cuber it came roaring overhead and then continued to make dozens of delivery runs with building materials, wether for the trail or the houses I couldn’t say.  
     Approaching the little refuge I past a little shed sporting a sign designed to keep the campers out. Pretty successfully I would think.   

  There were a lot of trees planting in protective netting which made for interesting sheep eaten topiary.  

 I stopped at the refugi for a rest and watched the groups of walkers coming down from the main road.  

   

It looked pretty busy which decided me to take the less used more rugged route which involved a head for heights and nimble agility. Pushing it in my condition.  

   There was, yet again, a whole load of climbing of steep zig zag paths only to go down steep zig zag paths. Passing a chopper that hadn’t made it on the way.  

   A lot of tiring scrambling along around and over and then came the tricky part.  

    Lengths of chain fixed to the sheer cliff to cling to.  

 The landscape was dramatic and after more ups and downs the Tossal Verds refugi roof came into view.  

    Soon I was down there admiring the flowers, water tank and building that contained bed, shower and food and drink.  

   

   
 

   
 So far I have a room to myself and I may have a lie in. The forecast is for heavy rain on the morning so I might put off moving till as late as possible as tomorrow’s route is the highest and most rugged of the route. 

Could be a world of pain out there. 

GR 221: Mallorca 23/24th September

Somebody asked me to write about what i was thinking about on the trail.

I thought about that……..

For some reason that reminds me of the old Bob Monkhouse gag:  “they laughed when I said I’d be a comedian,  they’re not laughing now”

In fact my thought processes whilst hiking are pretty indescribable. They can come quick and sharp or slowly swirl around. Some themes come and go like a rising and ebbing tide. The subject can be anything , everything or quite often, nothing. To start the day it’s normally functional stuff, kit check, how far, how long,how many, what ifs and buts. Then, brain awake, I’m taking in all the new surroundings as I move   off into unknown territory. After that anything goes until I’ve really settled into a long rhythmic hike. Then it’s pretty much shut down, thoughts a reaction to outside stimuli. A smell, birdsong, colour of flower, fall of light- whatever.

But you have to keep a bit of brain fully functional – or you get lost.

Yesterday I left my camp on abandoned and overgrown olive terraces on the outskirts of Espores and headed into the high hills again. I’d had a bit of a broken night, first having to get into my mozzy net tent after a couple of hours of buzzing and then, feeling drops of rain on my face , having to stumble about naked trying to get the fly sheet up and peg it into rock. Ah, the camping life.

A couple of 100m up the track I came upon this sign, which could have saved some ” carry on camping” style capers.

 Then it was up past more massive estates

 to a coll and up into the holm oak and limestone. Like hiking the Burren at home

 including the “get off my land signs”

 and with better views?

 For centuries there has been a thriving charcoal industry going on in these forests and they are thick with the remains. Sometimes a bit of funky” recreation”

 but mostly just quiet reminders of another time when the hills were alive with charcoal and lime makers, building their huts and bread ovens and living with their families on site from spring to autumn. On the high mountains the snow collectors came to make ice in the winter in huge underground stone pits. There are also remains of amazingly constructed water storage tanks and underground reservoirs. They had a lot of material.

       There has been no signing of the way, only following little occasional stone cairns, which were not easy to find amongst all the stone! I came across a couple of ladies lost in the woods, set them straight and then got lost myself. The tops of the hills gave good views.

 and we’re dotted with the strange structures of the Thrush hunters.

   I don’t know what they do but I don’t like it. Just before emerging from the woods I stumbled ( nearly into) this handsome cistern.

 The town below, Valldemossa, has a very extensive monastery

 and very upmarket shops, restaurants and hotels.

   No place for me. But looking for my way out of town, a dilemma. My guidebook says left- new , and very rare, sign says right.

 Hoping to avoid another barred path I went right, hoping for a continuation of signs now I was without a guide.

No such luck. I was led miles away to a government owned public Finca

   and proceeded to climb to nearly 900m only hoping I would find my way in the morning. As it started to get dark I finally found the refugio that had been signed, without a distance, back in the town 2 or more hours before. All locked up but with a lean to

 Exhaustion provided a good nights sleep although ,DISASTER, my trusty inflatable pillow died after so many hikes together over the years.

In the morning I climbed up to the ridge on a beautiful well made track.

 I was hoping this was the Cami de s’Arxiduc, the Archduke’s Path, constructed across the tops of these mountains as a carriage ride. I was supposed to be coming along it from the other end and had to look out for cairns that marked the ONLY SAFE WAY down the mighty cliffs to Deia way way below.

   I couldn’t find the cairn.

Up and down, backwards and forwards, never again will I be without my GPS and good maps. I found another hiker, also without a map, who led me the wrong way before finally coming across another hiker who knew his way around and had a map who sent me back again, until finally I found the market and could start the descent.

 It was a long way down. It ended on ancient terraces long deserted with generations of work in the walls. There was a exquisitely crafted tunnel about 10m long under a terrace with a clear full well at the end.

 The whole town was/is pretty well crafted and obviously tightly controlled. This rustic chic don’t come cheap and the place is full of serious real estate. Big budget stuff.

  

   It means that my refugio is equally classy and even has a little museum attached.

  

 I’m having dinner here and notice there’s a bottle of wine on my place, I’m sleeping in a soft bed with a pillow, and I’m not walking for three days because the wedding starts tomorrow. Let the good times roll.

GR221 MALLORCA : 21/22nd September

No sooner had I started to settle back into the domestic bliss of homestead living, gathering winter fuel, cutting the grass, and floating in the hot tub than I found myself queuing up for a Ryan air flight from Shannon to Palma.

Abandoning my good wife yet again I took advantage of a wedding invite on Mallorca to reason it made sense to hike all of the Balearics while I was out there. It made even more sense when driving to the airport through squally rain under leaden skies with a promise of 23* awaiting me in Palma.

Sure enough, when the plane doors opened, a familiar blast of heat wave brought grins to passenger faces. Most folk were on a sun holiday to the resorts on the south coast and I joined a bus load to the end of the line at Peguera, where I could start the GR 221. Otherwise known as The Drystone Route this 140 km route makes its way from the southwest corner of the island across the rugged Serra de Tramuntana to finish at Pollenca at north end. From there I intend to get a ferry to Menorca to complete the 190km GR223 which encircles the island before devising a route across ,around or over Ibiza and Formentera.

But one step at a time. In order to fulfill my plans I will not only have to survive the Tramuntana but a three day wedding party at Deia, halfway along the trail.

It was odd to be walking the shorts and sandles filled promenade of Peguera with a full kit rucksack on my back and as soon as I managed to dump it in my cheap and cheerful room I joined the last of the days sunworshippers for a sunset dip.


They were back in force the next morning when, in full hiking gear, I set off from the beach heading inland on the wrong road immediately. Quickly and easily remedied but a reminder to stay focused- it may be a small island but it’s big enough to get very lost in and without my GPS and good maps I need to keep a close eye on my whereabouts.

IMG_3133

I was soon away from the resort traffic on a recently created footpath to Es Capdella with views reminiscent of the Camino Mozarabe in March, with white stony land, crumbly holm oak dotted hills and carob, almond and olive trees.

I soon passed by D’en Boira medieval tower house, the first of many structures strongly built to withstand pirate attacks. As I roamed the island of the next couple of days I saw there was a lot of wealth to protect from them.

A Spanish omelette in Es Capdella fortified me for the trek over the mountains towards Estellencs. The first signage for the “drystone route” appeared as did the first wall, although this effort was nothing to the constructions to come.

 The limestone also gave up signs of ancient life.

The peak of Galatzo loomed larger as I passed almond groves with earth grazing sheep on my way to the vast Finca Galatzo estate now in state ownership and being restored to its former glory.


 Set in a beautiful secluded valley, ringed by mountains, this mighty property, very seldomly visited, boasts miles of terracing and towers,

 gardens and forests

 and a collection of old agricultural edifices scattered across the land. Like the old granary for the storage of tithe grain, tax to the church and state.
 and lime kilns restored and not.

   and charcoal burners huts and pits.

A steep and rugged climb up through the tough and prickly vegetation and then on old cobbles was rewarded by fine views back down the valley to the sea in the distance, a reminder of the journey so far.

   until finally climbing through a stile onto the high plateau at about 800m and then heading down with the northwest coast now visible.

A few km further I reach the restored mountain farmhouse of Sa Coma d’en Vidal, all ready to go as a hikers refugio but for some reason stalled a while ago and sitting idle. It was a good place to stay anyway, making my bed in an old lean to shed with a view of the mountains and moon.

 I climbed the rocky hillock beside the Finca to watch the sun set turn the mountains pink and met Tom a young German out on his first long hike and finding it tough going.

  

In the night I heard some strange animal cries that could have been this critter that I later saw a warning poster for.

 Tom had gone in the morning by the time I had done my ablusions with the help of the well, a weight and a plastic bottle, but I met him again on the outskirts of the village of Estellencs below near the coast.

  

The original GR 221 route had been blocked by a landowner some time ago and now the official route goes along the coast road for quite a way. To avoid the road an alternative is used heading through higher ground and we used that.

Passing more lavish houses and estates it seemed that the cheap and boozy resorts of the south Coast were from a different planet.

  

The government has bought the massive Planicia estate that we eventually, and by separate routes, found our way to.

  

From there a cairn marked trail led up into woods of holm oak and arbutus that reminded me of the cloud forest of the western canaries.

  

Another fine old Finca at S’Arbossar

 was followed by the Cami des Correu, a fine ancient cobbled highway through the woods at times with massive walls alongside.

    

Hoping for a filling meal and a few beers I headed for La Granja, another big estate on route but although a lovely place with many interesting things in its museum the prices in the cafe/restaurant matched the general ambiance of high class and was no place for me and my sweat drenched clothing and odourous presence.

  So I carried on to the town of Esporles, got some crisps, bread and tuna, said farewell to Tom and sat on a park bench drinking cold cans. Proper job.