Saturday, October 26, 2019

Carros de Foc recap, written 7/22/09

I wrote up a quick Carros de Foc overview while riding the bus back to Barcelona on the day after we completed the circuit to capture a lot of memories that somehow didn't fit into the daily posts. 
Overall, I loved the CdF. The scenery was amazing (even if our pictures just look like a succession of mountains and lakes). Our fellow trekkers were interesting. Loved the Swedish group, the nice Spanish family with their very brave little girl, the kind French family with their beautiful border collie who got sick and needed to go home. Even the goofy French guy from yesterday, and the hardcore Englishman with the short-shorts we glimpsed at Colomers and again on the path from (or to, in his case) Restanca. And of course, our Spanish “sisters”, who shared hostels with us every night of the trip, and gave me something to help with the gigantic mosquito bites I had on my forehead.

Sure, some of the people were annoying, like the truly unpleasant woman from the first night, but her daughter was nice. And the cocky group of 8 – though, when we saw them on their second day, they were much friendlier. I still worry a little about that poor blonde woman – I hope she wet over Monastero safely.

Here was the basic routine:

We would get to a hostel, take off our boots and leave them outside, and put on a pair of slippers. We would bring our bags in to the communal area and get what we needed for the evening, and then put that stuff in a big plastic bin and leave the bags outside.

Beds and sleeping: big communal bunks was the way it worked. Some hostels, like Ventosa, had one big room with 2 looooooong sets of bunks, narrow mattresses dividing up the space, and thin pillows plus thick blankets to go over your sleepsack. We’d get our bed assignment, beg to be moved to the bottom bunk (always successfully), and go upstairs to set up our space. Unfold the sleepsacks (which, thanks to the Swedish sisters, we had torn open so our legs could move), set out our headlamps and earplugs, and stake out our territory. The blankets weren’t always super clean, but then again, neither were we. They were very warm, however, which we needed in a couple of the hostels.

Dinners: communal affairs as well. At each place we were assigned to a specific table. Then, once everyone was seated, representatives of each table would go up and get plates, glasses, and silverware. When everyone had that, reps would go up and get big pots of soup – sometimes, if the soup wasn’t vegetarian, we’d get a separate bowl. There would always be lots of bread – big farmhouse loaves, a bit dry. Then we would take back the big soup pots and sometimes we’d get fresh plates, but usually not. Then usually there would be a big salad. Once it came with tuna, but they had left one section tuna-free for us. :) Once we had salad and the omnivores had a lentil-sausage stew. Then that would be cleared, and the mains would come. One night we had tofu and potatoes while omnivores had sausages and potatoes. Once we had cannelloni while others had a meaty stew. Once we had lasagna vs. sausages. I can’t remember the dinner at Estany Llong at all – must have been too scarred from the day’s crossing of the pass. My favorite meal was at Amitges, where we had gorgeous cheese crepes. But I liked Amitges in general!

The hostels themselves were all slightly different.

Ventosa i Calvell
Ventosa felt like a proper mountain hostel, with its scary squat toilets (with the lightswitch and door just too far out of reach from the “hole”, and doors that didn’t really shut; its freezing cold shower (which I think put us off bathing), cheap beer and soda, and tofu for dinner. Okay, maybe that last bit wasn’t typical. But we got good bed placement (on the bottom bunk, near the end). Lots of places to sit outside and hang out, too.

Estany Llong
Estany Llong – one large bunkroom upstairs, kinds cramped common room downstairs – and one shower with 8 minutes of hot-ish water for 2.50. Of course it wasn’t really hot water, just not freezing. It took the edge off. Oh, and the shower was little more than a stall with 12 inches of “dry” space between it and the door that opened into the common room. So not particularly comfortable, but it did the job. They had two big, clean bathrooms downstairs, a nice cozy fireplace (which would be awesome in the winter, when people snowshoe and ski in to the refuge). But lots of bugs. And everyone looked exhausted. Lots of people with banged-up legs, including one woman with a massive scrape on her bottom. Did I mention that day 2 was incredibly hard?

Colomina – a perfect rustic hostel. Very cozy – a windswept cabin by a lake. Tibetan prayer flags on the wires that anchor the building to the rock. Small rooms with 12-16 beds. A cold shower, but proper toilets. Plenty of room for bags. Really sweet and funky staff. Loved bundling up and sitting by the lake, drinking rum and cokes.

J.M. Blanc
JM Blanc – this was the hostel I was looking forward to because the setting looked so beautiful. While it didn’t disappoint on that front, it was full of day trippers and weekenders who didn’t quite “get it”. But the position by the lake was perfect. Really enjoyed just sitting in the sun and relaxing there.

Mallafre – not much to say – looked okay, if small. Really glad we skipped it to stay at Amitges.

Amitges – my favorite of the hostels. Perfect location, nice people, and happily quiet on a Sunday night. Loved the sun deck most of all.

Saboredo – we didn’t stay here, either, and I bet the experience depends on your fellow travelers. Might be perfect with the right group in the tiny, 3-level sleeping room.

Colomers – well, too many daytrippers, too many mosquitoes, and such a miserable staff. Perhaps my least favorite hostel (even though it was squeaky clean, had huge bathrooms, etc.)

Restanca – we didn’t stay here, but it looked nice, had big toilets (mens AND womens, which I only noticed while coming out of the mens…) and a very friendly staff. So it made us a teensy bit sad we didn’t stay there on our first night.

This trek was in turns joyous and terrifying, boring and exciting, relaxing and exhausting. And we did often look at each other and say how proud we would feel when we were done. And we WERE. Until we hiked the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim in a day, and climbed Kilimanjaro, it was the most challenging thing we'd ever done, and the Carros de Foc remains one of our all-time greatest adventures.

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