Mallorca by Mountain: An Easter Adventure
We put training wheels on our bikes so we can learn how to ride. I though that hiking the Dry Stone Route in Mallorca would be a great set of training wheels for the Camino de Santiago, little did I know it would be so much more…
I saw the post in Mallorcan Hiking Adventures on the couchsurfing website (amazing organization BTW). A few people were getting together to hike the GR221 during the Easter holiday. On a whim and a gut reaction I decided that this was a great idea and signed up.
I can’t say for certain now but, if I recall correctly, I didn’t even know what the dry stone rout was at the time. Your probably don’t either so…
The Dry Stone Route: A brief introduction
The Dry Stone Route or GR221 (what we will call it from here on out) is the longest continual hiking trail in Mallorca. It runs the entire length of the Tramuntana mountains; from Port d’Andrax in the southwest to Pollenca in the northwest. This UNESCO World Heritage Site (yes the whole thing) is considered a cultural landscape, showcasing traditional building, farming and life on the island.
The mountains sit as a nearly impermeable barrier between the western coast of the island and the fertile land to the east. (fun fact: It was once faster to take a boat to Barcelona from Port de Soller, than it was to cross the mountains and make your way to Palma.) These trails were once the fastest way through the mountains. With the introduction of road and rail, the web of foot trails through the mountains became less important, but low levels of annual precipitation means that the routs remained largely preserved.
The route runs nearly 300 km today, though due to some right of way disputes only about 170 km are marked and maintained for hikers. The longest stretch of continuous trail runs from Deia to Pollenca. At reasonable distances along the trail refugios (hikers hostels) offer trail goers a bed to sleep in (camping is not generally encouraged along the trail) and a meal for just a few euros.
Preparing for my first Camino
This was going to be a practice run for the Camino, so I wanted to makes sure that I had everything in my pack that I thought I might need for the longer trip. Turns out I didn’t own much of any of that, so off I went to the local outdoors store for a pair of shorts and convertible pants, as well as a few shirts that breathed. More importantly than all of that I had never met any of the people I was going to be walking with. Francesco (Fran), an Italian living in Palma, was organizing the whole trip, so we met one night for a cerveza. Hoping it would be a long meeting, it turned out to be a larger couch-surfing meeting. I met a lot of cool people that night, but my whole time with Fran mostly amounted to me paying him for the nights at the Refugios. So I was nervous as I packed my bag for our five day adventure and I was nervous as I made my way to the train station on day one.
Day 1: Palma to Deia
Finding Fran didn’t turn out to be very hard and I was soon chatting away with both Fran and Dori, a German woman who would be walking with us as well. She was kind and clever and Fran was a gregarious flirt who knew a ton about the mountains of Mallorca.
The three of us hopped a bus (which leaves from the train station) and headed off to Vallademos, the farthest southern stop on the maintained section of the trail. This section of the trail is well worn though not always marked (a detailed map can be purchased here). This however was one of our prettiest days walking and easy walking. We ended the day at the same lighthouse I had stayed at with CIEE.
Here we met the rest of the group (who had not been able to take the day off) and wandered into port for dinner and a little adventure.
Day 2: Deia to Mountain Refugio
This was one of our longest days and the longest straight up climb. There were points when I simply lost the group as I confirmed that I really am a slow walker. It was also in this moment that I discovered the silence of the trail. I was never completely alone, but I was alone with myself. I put away the camera and I saw with my eyes. I watched a brook bubble down the mountain. I watched a goat and a bird. It was a long day, but I was falling in love and loving it.
That is until I fell ill. This was our longest day. I had been fighting a cold all week and by the time we arrived at the Refugio I had a fever and had lost all apatite. Perhaps I should have stayed home, but even as I popped my ibuprofen and prayed for the fever to break, I felt great pride that I had done it anyway.
My illness and very early bed time that day proved a blessing. One member of our group decided to take an unmarked alternative route over (not around) the last peak of the day, it would have meant he did not have to retrace his steps in the morning, but he got lost. By the time the sun had set he had not joined the rest of the group. By the time dinner was over I was asleep and the rest of the group was calling search and rescue. The day time temperatures were delightful, but the temp plummeted at night. They eventually found him, without water and growing cold. Needless to say, everyone was quite miffed with this unnecessary drama and his general lase fare attitude toward the whole thing.
By the morning my fever had broken and everyone was eager to tell me the story and for all of us to move on from the incident.
Day three: Refugio to Lluc
Day three was Easter and the trails were full, the parks were full, life was full. The spring day was warm and beautiful.
In spite of all of this I spent most of the day walking alone and I could not have been happier. There were moments when I was truly alone in the mountains. There were no people, no breeze, and even the animals seemed to know that I was enjoying my solitude.
The group came back together for lunch and began to wade into the chaos that is Lluc. Lluc is home to one of the largest monasteries in Mallorca, as well as the black virgin, the patron saint of the island.
At the monastery we enjoyed a coffee and said goodbye to the larger group, they had to get back to work the next day and would not walk through the last section of the trail with us the following day. It was a sad goodbye, but the walk out to the private Refugio (the monastery, which normally serves the purpose was full with Easter revelers) was magnificent and our evening necessarily quiet.
Day 4: Lluc to home
Our last day on the trail dawned wet and cold. The beautiful weather we had up until that point was gone. With slick trails, wet stone turned dangerous. We ended up cutting our last day short and chose to walk onto the nearest town down the trail, buy a beer, and wait for the bus to take us home.
I’ve tried to give some highlights for each day, but the most important things are the hardest to describe. I made friends (Dori and I still stay in touch). I learned that I could do the camino (I mean I did this walk feeling crappy). I had fun and I figured out that I had to do something similar again. This trip set my time on the camino in motion and I will always be grateful for that.
- The official guide: including trail history, flora/fauna information, and detailed information on each stage
- The official website: includes routes, guide like information, weather, and is the place to reserve your Refugio nights
Until next time,
End Bonus; more beautiful pictures from the trip
And don’t forget to come back next Friday for more hiking adventures from Mallorca!
(No pictures from day four due to rain)