We have previously visited fantastic places in the Catalan Pyrenees such as Vall d’Aran and the national park with the difficult to pronounce name Aigüiestortes Estany de Sant Maurici. We are again pushing the boundaries of our comfort zone. This time we go rafting, hiking and camping and we leave from Sort.
This town is extremely prosperous, although you would not think so at first sight. Here, the jackpot of the Spanish Christmas lottery ElGordo (the “fat”) has been won several times. ‘Sort’ also means happiness in Catalan. That cannot be a coincidence! So there are secretly many millionaires living there.
The many outdoor companies located here provide extra liveliness in the streets. With La Rafting Company and OutdoorAdventour we start our Great Pyrenean Adventure: a rafting trip on the wildest river in Spain, the Noguera Pallaresa, followed by a hike to a remote nature reserve where we spend the night in a tent camp.
Next to the foaming river we get an explanation from guide Edu, who knows how to increase the tension. Whatever happens, we have to follow his orders. ‘Paddle forward, paddle backward, left back, right back’ are commands that we will hear nonstop for the next two hours. Once we get into the raft on the river, it turns out he hasn’t said too much. Two of us kick off the raft and experience how difficult it is to stay calm in swirling water with rocks looming in front of you.
The highly skilled guide will ensure that everything turns out well with a lot of humour. For a moment we even sail backwards with our eyes closed. The moment we open them, the raft plunges down a waterfall. Further on we recover from this adrenaline rush in a stretch of river without current, so that we can finally enjoy the breath-taking landscape for a while. How insignificant we feel in the little boat amid the perpendicular cliffs that – according to Edu – were the natural source of inspiration for Antoni Gaudí in his eccentric, organic designs.
We pass the village of Gerri de la Sal. Salt was mined here for centuries. So-called ‘raiers’ then did the same as we do now, but on rafts of tree trunks strung together to exchange their merchandise.
Forty kilometres downstream from Sort we arrive safely ashore with slightly trembling knees and start our next adventure. In an improvised dressing room between the trees we wriggle out of our wetsuits and see our backpacks sliding towards us at a height of forty meters by makeshift cable car. What service! We don’t know yet that we will cross the river in this way ourselves the next day.
Together with guide Jordi we start the hike through Boumont National Reserve. It’s a tough climb. The fact that UNESCO has declared this area as Starlight Certification shows how far we are from civilisation. To confirm this once again, a pair of black vultures circling menacingly above our heads.
In the golden yellow afternoon light we see a luxurious looking tent camp in front of us like an oasis. The welcome is very pleasant with spicy local cheeses, sausages, olives and wine. Far above us we see an enormous cave in the vertical mountain wall. Until well into the 1950s, the people who worked the then fully cultivated valley lived here.
Curious we persuade Jordi to show us this cave village. An hour later we see our tent camp deep down and enjoy the panoramic view. We walk mesmerised through the huge cave with crumbling walls from which we can still deduce the location of small houses. The floor of the chapel is littered with goat droppings.
Back in the tent camp we are served a fragrant arrós de muntanya; rice with mushrooms and meat. We toast the spectacular day with a ratafía, a local blueberry liqueur and dozens of local herbs. Unfortunately, it is about to rain and the giant telescope that astronomer Montse brought to reveal some of the universe’s secrets to us remains unused.