A couple of weeks ago, my fellow English Erasmus students and I came to the sudden realisation that there were only six more weeks left of our first term abroad. A mild panic set in as we remembered all of the places we said we would go to but hadn’t yet managed to see. So, we made a bucket-list. Having spent the last three months marvelling at the majestic Pyrenees from afar, paying them a visit was at the top of the list. We made a pact that come rain or shine, we would make it up to those mountains.
With the weather forecast changing every day, we came to the conclusion that if we paid any attention to what it said (rain, as far as we could see), we would never go. So early on Sunday morning we packed up the car with extra jumpers, coats and fluffy socks and set off for Laruns, a small town in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department in south-western France; a gateway to the mountains.
Our borrowed guide book said that there was a fairly easy hike to the Pont de Peyrelue, which takes you all the way to the Spanish border and back. We followed directions along the winding mountain roads up through the valley, stopping to admire the views along the way (and adding an extra layer of clothing each time we stepped out of the car and into the cold air).
After passing waterfalls and cabins, we parked up on the side of the road and stepped out to take in the sight before us. It became evident that our plan to ‘picnic in the mountains’, with wide blue skies and soft dry grass in mind, was to be slightly altered to ‘picnic in the car whilst drying off wet socks’. Despite the less than ideal conditions, the fresh mountain air and the vast landscape before us gave us a spring in our step and we skipped down to the path leading into the cloud-shrouded valley.
Feeling so small in the belly of these great peaks, we were taken over by a child-like sense of wonder. Scrambling up rocky hillocks, stomping in snow and shouting at the top of our voices, listening to our echoes bounce from all corners of the valley, we soon forgot how cold we were. Up, up and up again we climbed, crouching behind rocks to shelter from the snow, until we came to a high plateau in the clouds.
It’s a wonder we didn’t get lost, having set off with no map, no phone signal and a pretty poor sense of direction (on my part anyway), but alas we did make it back to the car safe and sound, with sopping wet feet and runny noses. Not satisfied with reaching the Spanish border on foot, we decided to head back to a tiny mountain pass town we drove through earlier which I think is called Col du Pourtalet (everything was covered in thick cloud so we actually had no idea where we were – at one point we weren’t even sure which country we were in).
On the hunt for a classic chocolat chaud to warm us up, we pulled up at what looked like a simple convenience store only to find that there was a cosy little restaurant hidden at the back. Our geographical confusion heightened as we entered the room, which was buzzing with Spanish, French, and was that a hint of Catalan? Linguistic difficulties ensued when we attempted to order a hot chocolate in French; the waiter looked puzzled but got the idea and spoke back with a thick Spanish accent. My friend then asked for patatas fritas, which he didn’t seem to understand either, so we sat and enjoyed a delicious hot chocolate at 1800m, still wondering where on earth we were.