This past summer was an interesting one, dominated by extreme stress with this UK visa nonsense (imagine having to go home to apply, not knowing if it's gonna go through while having a place in the UK with all my stuff in it and paying rent). It also made me question if all this misery and hundreds of dollars is worth it to life in a situation that would embarrass most people. Anyway, with the application in the mail and fate in God's hands, we raged Vargas Island and Mt Robson and the summer turned out pretty good, especially because the visa came 2 days before my flight.
Despite the glory of waterfalls, whales and ice fields, there was one thing the summer lacked: lifers. The Canadian trip yielded but one lifer (White-tailed Ptarmigan) + an ABA lifer (Bar-tailed Godwit), but you will agree that is not enough to satisfy a raging birder!
We I drove to Barcelona where we visited the Sagrada Famila. My first impression of the exterior was thinking "this is chaos." With all sorts of random sculptures and mosaics all over the place covered in scaffolding and cranes with workmen chiseling away at this and that. However, when you enter you are truly astonished by the beauty of this building. The curves and irregular shapes and the light are so harmonious that you realize its THE most beautiful building you've ever been in. But there were a couple of things that struck me. First was the noise, much noisier than other cathedrals I've been in. I guess that is in keeping with the general Spanish habit of being noisy all the time! What also struck me was how people were more stuck to their phones than the beauty around them. I don't think this is what Gaudi had in mind let alone GOD. They were obsessed with phones and selfies to the point of idolization! If a sculpture of Moses could morph out of the wall I'm sure he'd slap some sense into them!
Our Barcelona day was fun but cut short with having to spend almost 3 hours searching for our car which we'd parked in a parking garage somewhere near the hostel. We took a pic of one of the signs which was the same parking company, then got the hotel clerk to google map all their locations before checking them one-by-one. When we did find the car after much arguing (what being married must feel like), the parking ticket for 22 hours was 45 euros. Time to flee the city with our remaining euros...
|Desecrating this holy space with their phones and selfies|
|Stresses of life were bringing out old habits in both of us|
|El Planeron reserve near Zaragoza|
|Black-bellied and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse|
|Camping spot for the Dupont's|
When birds make themselves scarce, there is always history to look at. The nearby town of Belchite was left by the Spanish government as-is, a brutal reminder of the Spanish guerra civil. We could't get inside without trespassing, so we looked for a guide, but tours didn't start until noon, and we still needed to drive up to Ordesa to begin our trek, so we left. Check out the haunting photos
|The town arch, serving a dual-purpose of physical protection against bandits but also spiritual protection, with a small shrine inside|
|You can see elements of Moorish architecture in this ruined church|
Since we started out at about 3 pm or so, there was a real possibility of hiking after dark, which Aziza wasn't totally cool with but we did anyway. We packed headlamps for a reason, although we didn't need them since the bright moon illuminated our path.
We reached Goriz and soon slept, without asking fellow hikers for tips on the summit. This was to be a critical mistake.
As we got closer, it got snowier. I carried on while she waited, not being comfortable on snow. Arrogantly, I figured it might take me a couple hours as I nimbly shot up the snow-covered slope. However, it was not until I looked behind me that I realized what a stupid mistake I'd made. If I were to slip, I'd almost for sure have slid off to the side and off a cliff, cutting short my quest for Snowfinch and some other ambitions.
|From here it didn't look so steep, but it was!|
|Refugio de Goriz|
Before we went back down though, a massive beast of a Lammergeier cruised in from behind the refugio - perfect view! I tried to photograph it but it never came close again, since its itinerary must not have included multiple passes of the same slope, with hundreds of km's to cover I'd imagine, on account of its diet consisting mainly of bones which are hard to come by in this desolate landscape.
|Alpine Chough did oblige though|
|The lammergeier might be the only bird I've seen fly around without a single flap|
|We saw another one from the parking lot, this time an immature.|
The vista is commanded by a hilltop cathedral, which we duly gravitated towards, curious to explore every tunnel and narrow alley along the way, with a wary eye for Wallcreeper, the other reason this town is famous. Once inside, we were spooked by a number of creepy ancient paintings. See for yourself.
|I clearly selected the correct hostel, based on this view|
That is correct, I grabbed some supplies and drove back to Ordesa. Are you kidding me? No way I was gonna leave this summit unclimbed! Especially not for some ridiculous and dumb reason. I hiked the 11km to the refuge in 2 hours, 40 minutes, which had taken Aziza and I maybe 4 1/2 hours or something. I partly ran, so impatient was I to regain my honour. I didn't even pull out my bins as I snagged my life Citril Finch mid-stride.
The next day, properly equipped, I reached the summit with a vengeance, thinking I'd be the first for the day. Surprised was I to find company at the top, a crazy Frenchman who had dug himself a little sarcophagus in the snow and slept in it. He was really cool and gave me some climbing tips which I will use in the future.
Done with that, I wanted to return to the car via a route I'd heard of called Faja de las Flores. One of the innkeepers told me which route to take and which to avoid. The key was to steer clear of some clavillas de Cotatuero which I later googled and am definitely glad I avoided!
|The Lammergeier was seen en route|
|Snowfinch at bottom of page|
|What could have caused these?|
|This is an actual cliff had to climb down|
|Faja de las Flores|
|I don't think Aziza would have enjoyed this trail|
Luckily, I found the perfect spot complete with protective rock wall and cliff overhang. I went Bear Grillz-stylez with water collection from a seep of groundwater in the cliff face.
|All my containers were full of water by morning|
|Camping in style|
I arrived at the "safe" clavillas (ladder) which consisted of steel pegs cemented into the rock face. You had to hang onto one for dear life while reaching your foot onto the next one below...it was as awesome as it sounds.
|I think these are the Clavijas de Salarons|
First up on my list of spots was Lev Frid's ebird spot on the Rio Galago. Immediately, two Wallcreepers (or three?) flew in out of nowhere and landed! Fiddling with my camera, I manged to mess it up because they flew off within 10 seconds, leaving me without a satisfactory view of any kind! I waited around but it was pointless so I left, but at least got decent views of a Dipper.
Next stop, Boca del Infierno, a place as scary as it sounds. However, it had no Wallcreepers. Wanting perfect views, I would not give up. Two french birders gave me a tip on one at a different embalse called Embalse De La Pena. As I drove down the Hecho valley, I reached a crisis of indecision. I was passing the turnoff for Refugio de Gabardito, a breeding spot for Wallcreeper which has Black Woodpecker. I sat for quite a while as it got dark which made the decision easier. The Refugio was a lonely place which I expected to be full of loud and fun Spaniards but instead seemed closed. I camped in the parking lot and had a fire before the sun rose.
|Boca Del Infierno north of Hecho|
With an afternoon remaining, I toyed with the idea of heading up to Frontera Del Portalet (snowfinch and lammergeier country) but instead opted for Monasterio de San Juan de la Pena due to the fact that I was close to it already. This was a quiet and peaceful place where I could search for the Black Woodpecker which I had heard several times up to this point but had eluded me. At one point I thought I was closing in on one. knowing that they are very shy, I made a careful, measured approach. Suddenly a barking Labrador came out of nowhere. If that hadn't scared the bird away, then the yelling of his Spanish masters definitely did. Even at his peaceful wilderness monastery, one cannot escape the Spanish and their loudness.
|Monasterio San Juan de la Pena|
|Ermita camping spot at the Rio Galago Wallcreeper spot|
|Embalse de Sotonera|
|Griffon Vultures in Sierra de Guara|