Monday, August 27, 2012

Into the Mountains

Somewhere, France

I think of the Colorado Rockies as giant mountains of boulder-y rock, snow caps, and brownish reds looming over vast pine forests. In contrast, I was imagining a smaller version, but more grey out of the Pyrenees, the range that separates Spain from France. I was spot on, and an afternoon of cloud cover that drizzled on us only drove the point home.

Leaving Saint Jean de Luz, we headed southwestward, up into the Vallée d'Aspe, for small village I had discovered in a hiking magazine, highlighted for being relatively untraveled and tourist-light. This town, Lescun, was certainly nestled up in the hills, right where the slopes turned wooded before shooting skyward as ominous, grey peaks. It was one of the super-windy roads full of hairpin turns and several chances to plummet hundreds of feet to your demise. I only slightly exaggerate.

"A garden, even small, is the door to heaven."
We settled at a campground outside of town on the other side of the valley, and immediately set off exploring the village. It was littered with tiny pieces of slate, each with a quote or phrase from poetry often hidden among flowered bushes. Some, we could get the gist of.

Li'l Guy
These guys are running around all over the place.
Beyond the village church was a trail head sign, marking a short hike to Belvedere Point. The day was beautiful, so Bridgette and I went for it. This was our introduction to some actual vertical elevation change, which reminded me of how much my knees hate that. But the view, the sunshine, and the photo ops were unbeatable:

In the Pyrenees
The trail begins...
In the Pyrenees
For real, this is not a postcard.
In the Pyrenees
Bridgette in front of my "studio Pyrenees backdrop."
In the Pyrenees

From up there, we could hear both church bells (from the village) and cow bells (from the hills). The hike certainly pooped us out, so we wandered back into town, found the seemingly only open establishment, and downed a couple of Kronenbourgs. They were delicious. Bridgette likes to remind me of how wonderful food and drink is after hikes. She kids not. That evening, we waited around to enjoy a "real" meal, which consisted of duck confit, which I expand as "duck cooked in its own fat, so it's crispy and yumtastic." The restaurant served it with frites (big surprise), a little salad, and some boiled tomatoes / vegies mash substance that went perfectly with the duck.

Oh, by the way, we recently learned — luckily not from mistake — that the pronunciation of duck in French, canard, is awfully close to a very vulgar term, connard. I'll let you google that one on your own time.

The next day, we headed out for a six hour hike that turned into seven, loaded with some water, lunch, cameras, and rain gear. The trail or area or something was called Ansabere, and the hike took us from a parking area, up a gravel road, to a stream, through a woods, to a plateau full of horses and cows, through a forest, another meadow-like area full of rocks and animals, up a twisty-turny trail, and finally out into a valley where we found a cabane. These "cabins" are known for producing cheeses, so of course we purchased some on the way back down. And yes, it was delicious, and didn't last us nearly long enough. Note-to-self: Next time, purchase two kilos. (Just kidding.)

In the Pyrenees
It's like something out of a Tolkien novel.
In the Pyrenees
Mordor's right over the next ridge....
In the Pyrenees
The cheese might be in there...
The experience so far was awesome, and we couldn't have asked for more. Then the clouds became scary, but we were undeterred, and the final leg of the hike took us up nearly to the border of Spain. Up there, we could see waaaaay back down the valley, and the clouds were rolling over the peaks much more closely to our elevation. Oh, and there was a small lake and a large herd of sheep.... all wearing bells, of course.

In the Pyrenees
See all those white spots on the hill? Baaaaahhh!
In the Pyrenees
The vista was eerily breathtaking, doubled with photoslop.
In the Pyrenees
In the Pyrenees

That afternoon, we needed cash to pay for the campsite, so we had to drive back down out of the valley to a nearby town that happened to have an ATM. The rain clouds cleared during this, and a full-blown end-to-end rainbow showed itself. Sadly, it started to fade by the time we found a spot for the car.

To wrap up the Pyrenees days, we did another hike that was a bit easier on the ol' knees (who knew turning 30 would be so painful?). This one led us up to a beautiful plateau ("Anapia" if I remember correctly), with a waterfall, stream, and people picnicking and eating up the sunshine. We just had to linger for a few hours.

In the Pyrenees
In the Pyrenees
In the Pyrenees
Attempting human photosynthesis.

Our time up in the mountains was wonderful. But after a summer of mostly relaxing and healing, the "real" exercise was more of a chore than we were hoping. Time to work on working out...

Before heading back to Lauzerte, we had one more stop, so stay tuned!


  1. It's awesome to see BR out and enjoying the outdoors again and Adam too. Looks so solid.