A MAJORCAN MEANDER 25.9.10 – 2.10.10
For the first time it was decided to upgrade our annual ‘Away Weekend’ and go for a continental week away. Unfortunately only two could manage it from Cumbria Group but the party was enlarged to 11 by the welcome addition of LDWA members from Cleveland and Yorkshire Coast plus a contingent from Penrith Ramblers and Kendal Fellwalkers. So it was that we all met bright and early at Leeds Bradford airport on the Saturday morning and after introductions those without hangovers enjoyed the short flight to Palma.
The holiday was planned in two stages being ably organised and led by Mon d’Aventura, a trekking company in Pollenca. We were met at the airport by Hamalwho was to be our guide and mentor for much of the week. Not only was he a charming and articulate young man, obviously in love with his job, he also turned out to be an accomplished mountain runner with a penchant for swimming and jumping into deep mountain pools. The ladies apparently noticed that he usually did the latter dressed only in his purple underpants!
Part One of the week was to be a 3-day trek along the newly created GR 221 or Drystone Route. This is a long distance path of about 90 miles through the rugged and beautiful Serra de Tramuntana mountains in the west of the Island. As we were scheduled to do only the latter half of this we were whisked rapidly away from the airport to our first night’s destination in the Refugi de Can Boi at Deia. The Refugis are a series of old buildings restored and equipped to very high standards and being a cross between basic hotels and youth hostels. After overcoming the culture shock of unisex bunk bed dormitory accommodation we came to enjoy the ambience of the Refugiswith their simple but excellent catering and friendly staff.
First task was to divide our belongings into what we needed to carry for three days trekking leaving the remainder to be transported to our destination for the second half of the week. This did not appear to be an easy task for everyone judging from the comments, queries and piles of clothing scattered around! Decisions were finally and irrevocably made, however, and we eventually said goodbye to the hopefully non-essential items. The early start was now to pay dividends as there was time for an afternoon walk which took us initially down to the sea at Cala de Deia then along the coast for a few miles before returning via the very attractive settlement of Llucacari and back to Deiafor a well deserved beer. Unfortunately an anticipated swim proved impossible because of the sea conditions though Tony insisted on sitting in the surf thus setting down a marker for the week in his determination to be as wet as possible throughout the holiday!
After a relatively comfortable night for most a nutritious breakfast was enjoyed while the relative snoring abilities of various members of the party were discussed at some length. Day One was to take us mainly East for about 17 miles to our night’s destination in the Refugi de Tossals Verds. After several miles a very welcome stop for coffee was made in the central square of the charming town of Soller not far from the coast. Here we admired the imposing 17th century church of Sant Bartomeu and the rather more modern town centre tram before re-stocking with sandwiches and drinks for the rest of the journey. After passing through the atmospheric village of Biniaraix the next stage involved a stiff climb to the Col de l’Ofre, our day’s high point at a little under 3000 ft. The weather remained warm though cloudy and ideal for walking throughout the day.
Superb views opened out from the col with the Island’s highest point of Puig Major especially prominent. A pair of magnificent black vultures was seen soaring high above us, the first of several sightings enjoyed during the week. After descending past the Cuber reservoir we came across a concrete aqueduct, the Canal des Embassaments, where Hamal first showed his style in underwear by stripping off to sample the narrow and fast flowing stream. His example persuaded several of us to join him in the refreshing water though sadly we were unable to emulate his agility in extricating ourselves easily from the channel – eat your heart out Roger! With the day’s walking nearly over there was a final forested section with a rough descent to eventually reach the Refugi de Tossals Verdssitting neatly under its eponymous mountain at an elevation of some 1,700 ft.
Hamal orchestrated a series of stretching exercises for a few while the remaining party members watched with interest over a refreshing beer or three! The night’s accommodation was even more interesting than the previous as all 12 of us were tightly sandwiched in an even smaller dorm making the subsequent snoring debate ever more intense. Most fortunate was a toss up between Hamal and a certain well known young lady from the Yorkshire Coast who shared two cosy top berths!
The next day’s weather was a re-run of the previous day with excellent long views and comfortable temperature though little sun. Our destination near the monastic complex at Lluc meant a shorter day was in prospect but opened up the possibility of a diversion to climb Massanella – a superb Blencathra-like mountain standing at nearly 4½ thousand feet and only overshadowed by Puig Major itself. Conditions were ideal for this and Hamal duly showed us an entertaining scrambly route which left the GR before the Coll des Prat. After exploring both summits we enjoyed an extended stay at the top marvelling at both the vista and the startling adjacent pothole.
Eventually a long though easy descent took us down through trees to the Coll de sa Linia and thence on pleasant paths to the Refugi de Son Amer. The day was still young after booking in to this our last Refugi which offered the luxury of two rooms for the party. A visit to Llucwas in order where we enjoyed in close succession coffee’n cake, the tourist tour of the monastery and a stroll up to the finely situated cross. A leisurely return after the obligatory photographic session still left plenty of time for pre-dinner ablutions and drinks.
Day Three and the final day of trekking saw most searching around the depths of rucksacks for clothing which was not too ripe before we sauntered down to Lluc again for a sandwich top-up. The weather was again fine with more sun and would continue to improve for the rest of the week. The standard route of the GR is a low level descending way through trees to finish in Pollenca so naturally the decision was easily made to eschew this and climb to Tomir – third highest mountain at over 3,600 ft. This involved more easy scrambling with even a touch of via ferrata at one point. Near the summit is a casa de nieve or snow house formerly used for ice making and then followed a long long descent nearly to sea level via rocky limestone slabs and scree, a difficult vegetated area to a deserted farmstead then finally an interminable pony track to eventually reach the road near Pollenca.
The GR and trekking now completed we were greeted by Mon d’Aventura boss Miquel who would feature prominently in the rest of our vacation. He is a slim wiry 30-something Catalan of immense charm and friendliness whose climbing skills are legendary. One of his exploits involves a greasy pole climbing competition whose object is to rescue a chicken (presumably dead!) from the top. They run other activities apart from trekking such as sea kayaking, coasteering, climbing and biking. He took us to his base shop in town from where we spent a happy hour exploring the town and its square with a couple of us climbing the iconic 365 steps to the hilltop chapel of Esglesia del Calvari to enjoy the fine views across town to the Puig de Maria.
All too soon it was time to leave and enjoy a lift to the Don Pedro hotel in Cala San Vincente where we would be based for the second half of the week. Cala San Vincenteis a delightful little resort with several incut beaches and is surrounded by impressive cliffs and hills. After booking in to this rather imposing edifice we were re-united with our main bags and allocated comfortable en-suite accommodation which was in considerable contrast to which we had become accustomed! A quick dip in the pool was the order of the day as red flags precluded a visit to the ocean. To our surprise we had also been awarded all-inclusive status which certainly made the G & T’s etc even more highly acceptable. Dinner soon followed with an inexhaustible supply of great buffet self service food. It was with considerable relief that we looked forward to the prospect of more exercise on the following days after observing the average size of our fellow guests!
Tony enjoyed a pre-breakfast swim in the sea while the more sedate guests were observed obtaining their daily exercise in booking sun loungers for the day. The upside of a base for the next three days of walking meant lighter packs all round with our guides having to solve any logistical transport and feeding problems. The first day walk necessitated a short drive up the fine C710 mountain road under the Serra de Tramuntana leaving the vehicles at the Mortitx gate. There followed an entertaining scramble down the Mortitx gorge plus a refreshing pool for guess who before diverting to the deserted house of Rafal de Ariant. After a short break we dropped down to the sea at Caleta de Ariant to admire the Cova de Ses Bruixes or witch’s cave high on the cliffs. Miquelcould not persuade anyone apart from Tony and Wendy to swim - hardly surprising as entry involved a leap from rocks and exit was over a ferociously spiky foreshore. It was noted that the female of the species had considerably more bottle on the leaping front!
After all the excitement it was a relief to re-ascend to an idyllic lunch spot above cliffs and enjoy a typical Majorcan picnic of Pa’ amboli which had been carried in and was prepared by Miquel and Clara, his extremely shapely assistant! Pa’ amboli consists of slices of brown bread rubbed with tomato and olive oil then served with various cheeses and hams, olives and lashings of red wine followed by slices of melon. Those who weren’t predated by wasps enjoyed a short siesta before a prolonged and uncomfortable return was made to the start point via narrow paths overgrown with fierce vegetation. Prizes could well have been awarded for the most lacerated legs, Janet being the only one sensible enough not to be wearing shorts. The day’s finish was slightly delayed by a visit to the local winery for a brief but acceptable wine tasting session. On return to base some visited the adjacent sandy Cala Molinsfor a pre-dinner swim and drink.
With the week hastening to a close the next day’s walk started from the hotel and took us up high and west of Cala San Vincente through deliciously wild and rough country over the subsidiary top of Mola to reach the summit of Cornavaques at 1,800 ft. A pathless descent brought us to a large track under the imposing Castell del Rei where some opted to continue on the track to the lunch spot at Cala Castell. The more foolhardy followed Hamal up to the ruined castle where we watched in awe as he crawled over some spiky railings to enter the castle itself. Even more foolishly we then followed him on the direct route to Cala Castell through acres of the pampas-like carritx and other unfriendly vegetation in the fond belief that we would find an old path. It was not until later that we discovered he was using us as guinea pigs on a tour of exploration!
All was forgiven when we reached the beach where swimming and another Majorcan picnic were on offer. This time the speciality was Trampo, a salad with tomatoes, peppers and onions. Even better after siesta time we were transported back to base by open boat along the rocky coastline. Needless to say there was another opportunity provided by Hamaland his boatman for further swimming through an imposing rock arch. Alright for those who missed the stinging jellyfish! Back at the ranch there was still time to enter tourist mode and catch a few rays while bashing the all-inclusive again!
So to our final day which involved a descent of the world famous Torrente de Pareis gorge. Sadly Albert and Eva had to drop out as Albert had injured his ribs in a fall earlier in the week and Eva was nursing an old knee injury. All was not lost, however, as they were able to bus round to the exit at Sa Calobra to walk up and meet us. Hamal was to be our guide again as we drove up the now familiar road again past Lluc to the start at Escorca. The first section was less than auspicious as the long rocky descent to the Entreforc was damp, slippy and greasy requiring extra care in the shady conditions. The Entreforc is the meeting of the rivers Lluc and La Fosca which join to form the Torrente de Pareisor twin stream.
Before descending the gorge proper Hamal took us as far up the Sa Fosca side as possible into increasing darkness, under hanging boulders and over rocky steps and into vast caverns. Unsurprisingly he also found a few deep rock pools into which he and Tony leapt with gay abandon noting in passing that the water was a trifle chilly! Eventually a return was made and a descent of the gorge proper begun between 1,000 foot cliffs on either side. We wondered in awe at the place were Miquelhad scaled the vertical wall and thanked God that we were normal!
The next two hours were spent in a glorious world of fierce concentration as we wended our way down the gorge continually seeking out a route round and over house-sized boulders, down slots and holes, in and out of cracks and over small walls. It was scrambling at its finest with occasional tricky problems usually soluble without help though Hamal was always attentive and at hand to offer protection and help for the unsure. Despite a couple of stops, it was over all too soon and after being re-united with Albert and Eva and a brief swim from the shingly beach at the bottom it was drinks time again while we awaited the bus. This took us back up the hill on an enchantingly windy mountain road to our awaiting chariots at Escorca.
Though the end was nigh we were still able to enjoy a final swim and chill out on the terrace before dinner with Miquel, Hamal and Clara. A celebratory Paella certainly hit the spot and was followed by a slide show of the week’s high (and low) points. Packing completed we were transported to the airport the following morning and enjoyed a comfortable flight home. As farewells were said plans were being quietly formulated for a repeat trip somewhere and sometime in the future. For anyone wishing to repeat our experience the contact is Miquel Angel at email@example.com and more details are available at www.mondaventura.com.