Our last day on the trail, and one of our most adventurous. We headed out this morning at an almost leisurely nine AM, and spent our first two hours trekking deep into dense, cool Spanish forests, whose thick foliage and proliferation of hanging vines reminded one of being in the heart of Brazil or Costa Rica. No monkeys to be seen unfortunately, but we did pass by several stone ruins, including that of an eighteenth century mill, which fueled our sense that the area had been untouched by humans for quite some time. When lunchtime came we tied and fed our horses, and then picked up our saddlebags (packed ahead of time with our picnic goodies) and hiked down a thickly wooded hillside into a hidden grotto. The grotto held a cool, green pool and behind it existed several caves and rock formations. Us humans got a taste of our own medicine as we climbed down to picnic next to the pool, as the slippery terrain and dense undergrowth made for somewhat treacherous going. I had a new appreciation for our sure-footed steeds as I picked my way slowly down the hillside, dodging brambles and trying to avoid strangulation by vine. Our lunch at the bottom was well worth the effort however, and we munched fresh bread, cheese and olives to the sound of a small waterfall trickling into the pool.
After lunch, we climbed back out, resaddled the horses, and continued our climb through the forest. Some stunning scenery awaited us, from ivy-covered rock walls, to archways formed out of vines and hanging moss. A wide river flowed alongside us for much of the trip, its sound immense and yet soothing, its sight obscured in most places by a tall canopy of trees.
Our horses have been a steady lot for the most part, with relatively few spooks, and only a snort or two upon encountering most potentially horse-eating objects. Their mettle was tested today, however, as three dirt bikes began zooming their way up the very same path we were coming down. That noise coming through the trees must have sounded like a Tyrannosarus to our poor horses, and had our guide Niki not flagged the bikers to stop in time, they would very likely have jumped for the trees. Even my generally unflappable pony became tense enough that I got off and held him to reassure him and be out of harm's way in the event of a bike induced stampede.
After we passed the bikers we got another taste of adventure on the climb up a nearly vertical hill. Niki advised us to "just grab their manes and let them go" and when we did, our horses charged up the steeply angled incline with their hapless humans clinging for dear life. Much of the afternoon passed in climbs throughout the wooded hills, and we came upon several places where the endless rolling greenery was reminiscent of the mountain forests of Kentucky, West Virginia, or Canada.
Today was also one of our most pastoral, and as we neared the trip's end we crested out on top of a hillside that was home to one of the most beautiful farms we had yet seen. Tall pines lining the entry road, cows mooing peacefully in the back, and a view out the front window of wide open fields planted with early corn, rimmed in the distance by the blue haze of the great Pyrenees. A garden lay alongside the farm house, but it was unlike any I had ever seen back home. It may come as no surprise, but fruits and vegetables appear to love the temperate, sunny expanses of southern Spain, and I saw bean plants taller than I was, pears hanging ripe and heavy, large as two human fists, huge red tomatoes, and golden melons growing freely along a small hill. The rolling farmland was a lovely surprise after our day spent deep in the forest, as refreshing for its settledness as the jungle had been for its wild.
Such is the magic of this region of Spain; jungle abuts field, abuts orchard, mountain, beach. One can never become too accustomed to one's surroundings, because they tend to change in a heartbeat, revealing a new breathtaking vista around nearly every turn. And even for all of my bruises, stings, scratches and saddle sores, I can't think of any better way to have taken it in than from the back of my big Spanish horse. There was something freeing and organic about our trip, and it invoked a carefree disinhibition amongst all of us that we humans usually have to work for. We are rarely so free, and open, and vulnerable, while at once also full of heart and try and strength of will. Spend a week in the company of horses however, and such things can all be learned.
But all good things do come to an end, and so, finally, with the sun moving lower behind our backs we crossed one final hillside to return to Mas Alba. We fed and brushed our horses, led them out to their field, and then watched them return to their natural selves after carrying us so far. We imagined what they must be saying amongst one another, and whether they were comparing notes about their humans' respective antics. I would not blame them one bit were they to do so, because we aren't always the most comprehensible of species.
Tomorrow, then, it's back to Barcelona to rejoin civilization and see Gaudi's legendary Sagrada Familia, and the Picasso Museum. Until then, adios and buenos noches!!