We have just had the most fantastic weekend camping out under the stars in the pine forest above Spain’s highest village, Vilaflor.
We were in an official campsite at Las Lajas, but here that means an area of forest given over for tents, not that there are any facilities as such, so it really was camping in its purest form.
On the Saturday night we were the only ‘happy campers’ on the site; so it was just us, the shooting stars…and whatever things lurked in the dark forest just outside of the glare of our lantern. It was a wonderful and soul cleansing experience and by Sunday morning I was ready to relinquish all the trappings of modern society and set up home in the forests, living off the land and whatever I could hunt. That was until Andy took a photo of me shortly after we woke and I saw that the reality didn’t quite match the romantic vision I had in my head. Hawkeye from ‘Last of the Mohicans’ I certainly was not; Rab C Nesbitt after a heavy night more like.
Anyhow, the main reason for our weekend in the wilds was to trek to the fantastical ‘Paisaje Lunar’, a surreal area in the heart of the forest which looks as though it could have been created by the hand of Salvador Dali. Various guide books put it at around a two to three hours walk from the starting point on the Vilaflor road.
With a walking guide and stocked up with 2 litres of water we set off in search of the mountains of the moon. After an hour we came to a brand new signpost which pointed to a trail which deviated from the one suggested by our walking guide. We had a choice; stick to the guidebook which, although not perfect (an over reliance on GPS), has generally kept us on the right track on the past, or follow the shiny new official route.
We should have known better from past experience, but the immaculate signposts seduced us and we set off along the new trail. All along the route, little yellow and white markers kept us company. When paths crossed, there were signposts to point us in the right direction and nearly two hours after setting off, we arrived at an outcrop a couple of hundred feet above the most surreal and fantastically beautiful landscapes of the Paisaje Lunar.
We rested on a stone bench under an old pine for a few minutes and absorbed the spectacular view. However, being August, the temperatures must have been pushing the mid 30s and the pine forest hadn’t been dense enough to provide any shade, we’d drunk more water than we’d anticipated. It wasn’t a problem though, we still had enough to have lunch at the Paisaje Lunar and make it to the Madre del Agua campsite, 45 minutes down the valley where there was bound to be spring water standpipes.
The only problem was that, although the nice signposts pointed all the way to the ledge overlooking the Paisaje Lunar, once they got you there they stopped completely.
There was only one path leading from the stone bench, so we reckoned that it must be the way forward, even though it seemed to lead away from the moon landscape. Fifteen minutes later it still hadn’t curved back towards our destination and there were still no signs to say where it actually went. It was just after midday, the sun was beating down and we seemed to be travelling further away from the lunar landscape. It didn’t feel right.
“This is bollocks,” I suggested to Andy. “Something’s gone wrong; this isn’t the right path.”
“But it was the only path,” Andy had been here before. On nearly every new route we’ve tried to follow, we’ve taken a wrong turning at some point. This is usually because of crap directions, but on a rare occasion it’s because my internal navigation has let me down.
“I reckon we missed a path back at the viewpoint,” I turned back up the trail. Andy groaned behind me. It meant an additional 15-20 minutes hike and I still might be wrong.
We arrive back at the stone bench and I scoured the ground. It seemed as though there was almost a sheer drop to the Paisaje Lunar below us and unlikely that there was another way…and then I spotted it; a yellow and white cross on a rock, almost hidden by other rocks, and a light bulb went off in my head. For some obscure reason, the Medio Ambiente had clearly decided that they didn’t want people to follow the original route, so had tried to block it. I could see a faint path leading beyond the boulder and into the ravine and set off along it. Boulders had fallen, or been thrown, across the path making the going more dangerous and slippery, but we carefully eased our way downwards. Within five minutes we were standing below these fantastic rock formations.
It should have been one of those awe inspiring moments, but I was too furious to enjoy it and was in full flow ‘effing’ and ‘jeffing’ and cursing the gross irresponsible stupidity of the local Medio Ambiente.
What were they thinking off? At no level did it make any sense.
- Their new path which was supposed to take you to the Paisaje Lunar didn’t actually lead you there, but to a viewpoint overlooking them. Admittedly a spectacular view, but not exactly what it ‘said on the packet’.
- Once there, they left you with two choices. You could a) take the route you’d come; two hours before the chance of restocking water supplies, or b) you could follow the ‘unmarked’ route which, as it happened, emerged on a road in the middle of nowhere and would have involved two to three hours more walking before the opportunity to restock water supplies.
- The original route descended to the Paisaje Lunar and from there it was a relatively straightforward 45 minute walk to the Madre del Agua campsite; which was what we’d calculated when stocking up on water.
Had we continued on the ‘official’ Medio Ambiente route we wouldn’t have reached the rock formations themselves and what’s worse, and infinitely more dangerous, we’d have run out of water miles from anywhere.
The really stupid thing is that it’s possible to drive to the Madre del Agua campsite (if you’ve got the nerve and a 4×4). So it’s only those who make the effort to hike the whole route that are in danger.
I’ve joked in the past that official routes are somewhat vague, but this is the first time that I’ve encountered one which is downright irresponsibly dangerous.