We sit here, nestled among big dry-green and brown hills, as the wind rocks the van in a motion somewhere between soothing and spewy. Our sleep spot in Albarracin is a good one, a designated car park that is spacious and sunny, if a little exposed at times, and almost empty at this time of year. The other members of our transient family at the moment are Kili and Duci (the Fiat) from Berlin slash Southern Bavaria. A few others have come and gone, the orange juice guy with a tickly morning cough, a smiley Spanish couple, lovely Marty (and Roberta, his big Mercedes bus) from Brighton who so kindly gave us his guidebook, and of course Frances and Will, our vanning buddies for the beginning of the trip. It’s a fairly simple life up here, mainly concerned with food, sleep, bouldering and clothes management. We fill our days...
With the past, passing and present company, there are some consistencies...
Sometimes winter days call for change, and ours was to the warm(?) climes of Spain. Will and Frances were already there, the bouldering of Albarracin is renowned for being awesome, as well as the town itself very beautiful, and south seemed a good direction to take. So we packed up (read: two days of frantically removing everything, installing a gas hob and then putting everything back in), said goodbyes to our ever-patient families and friends, and left an unusually sunny England on the Seven Sisters to Dieppe.
It was obvious as soon as we began driving down through France that it was chilly. The windows all froze on the inside when we slept, and the temperature gauge plummeted as we progressed, reaching a Baltic -9oC around Puy as we drove through an ethereal, frost-tipped landscape over the Massif Central at about 5pm. Our wiper squirters froze at about -7oC and didn’t rejoin the party for about five days. Spain was marginally warmer, hitting an exciting 2oC high, and we arrived in Albarracin to dry, if brutally windy, conditions and a slightly weary Will and Frances, in time for an afternoon boulder. It was fortunate that we took advantage of this, because that night it dropped a fat load of snow over everything.
La Zahora, the super-friendly and generally lovely climber’s bar, allowed us to sleep in their car park whilst we were too nervous to follow every other car through the ice and snow. We spent two days drinking copious amounts of café con leche and eating big bowls of patatas bravas and salad, and then realised that we would have to brave the roads or go broke in the comfort of the bar. The main roads turned out to be fine, but the climbing wasn’t, each boulder capped by a big pillowy mound of snow slowly dripping down the holds. We made an executive decision to go to a nearby sport climbing spot, and similarly beautiful Spanish town, Cuenca, where the temperature gauge might again poke its head above zero.
The sport climbing in Cuenca is vast, on golden cliffs that border a meandering valley. The people of the area seem super active, passing in a constant traffic of walkers, cyclists, joggers and kayakers, whilst a relatively low number of vehicles made for a tranquil area. However, the lack of bouldering gave us itchy fingers, and judging that a couple of days was enough time for snow to melt, we headed back to Albarracin.
We were totally wrong in our estimates; the snow was still heavily present to the extent that whilst we could get up the 24 hour parking and the first car park for the bouldering, we were unwilling to drive the extra few minutes to the main parking as the tree cover had prevented the road from de-frosting. The extra walk was no bad thing anyway, it ensured that we were warm when we began to climb. Those first few days we would just climb anything that was dry, and a bonus if it happened to be in the sun too. It was nice to be moving and pull on rock, but at the same time frustrating, as our climbing was restricted to what was dry and our movement was restricted by the snow and ice, which still lurked about making the ground treacherous.
On what was to be Will and Frances’s final evening we went out for dinner in the old town, which is absolutely beautiful, soft stone buildings and winding streets all under yellow light. We found a restaurant that looked nice, but not so nice as to skimp on portion size, and the very smooth maître-de looked at us and immediately assigned a cheerful young guy with a stud in one ear to our table whilst he served the more refined diners. The food was good, if a little lacking in vegetables (probably down to our ordering) and most importantly, filling for a pretty reasonable price. And they gave us free shots of herby liquor at the end of the meal.
After one more day’s climbing, and a bang-tidy curry, Frances and Will left for the UK. The next day was the great melt, when the snow suddenly started to shift, but made everything soggy in the process, and then we did a rest day Mega-shop, which nearly required a rest day in itself. And since then, mostly just climbing, eating, sleeping, checking the weather, fetching water, the odd shower, the odd beer or coffee…