“"I know nothing with any certainty but the sight of the stars makes me dream.” Vincent Van Gogh

Viegarna and Moon Up

Viegarna and Moon Up

I have arrived to the Pyrenees. All expectations are surpassed. I even saw a Great Pyrenees in the Pyrenees yesterday, too much. 

This little town that I’ve escaped Lourdes to I will not name. It is too perfect, too pastoral, too innocent to be unveiled to the masses and then become overrun like the rest of the world. Not that naming it in my blog will change anything because I have no idea if anyone is reading it. Anyways, in the manner of confidentiality I will refer to this place as Viegarna. 

Viegarna is the tail end of a long road. This road starts in the foothills with four lanes, then down to three up the incline, then two lanes over the 1,000 foot gorges, then one lane rolling into town which terminates at a gate and starts as a trail into the mountains. It’s rare to see a car  once in Viegarna. It’s common to have donkeys walking along side you on the Main Street almost as if they’re going to join you for lunch. Chickens flush under the bushes and the people couldn’t be friendlier, except one lady who I know ripped me off at her restaurant charging me four euros for water when every other french diner got d’lea for free. I didn’t leave a tip but nobody does in France so a reckoning will have to take place before I leave. Anyways, the bread is fresh here, the cheese from the cows that graze the high alpine grasses is exquisite, and it’s just plain quaint. Pastoral quaint Viegarna.

But what really makes a town is where it is. After the road ends and your eyes follow the trail west and up, the most serene high alpine cirque completes the backdrop of the Viegarna stage. Snows from the peaks turn into deluge  waterfalls that circumnavigate the round cliffs. The water turns to mist and then water again in the blue river that runs loud through town and out. I came for this.

I was ready to hike. After having lunch with some Aussies I met on the bus, I took off up the switchbacks out of the valley and trees into a grassy landscape beneath the high rock walls that separated France from Spain.

Once out of the trees I noticed two things. The first was the Alpine Hut or “Refuge” I would be staying in perched on the highest green terrace I could see. The second was the clanging of many bells. Continuing up the trail the bells got louder and then I found the cows. There must’ve been a hundred cows slowly moving up the slope leaving a swath of low cut grass in their path. They made me laugh. As I used my eyes on the trail I spotted more groups of cows as well as goats all over the alpine grass munching and clanging away. It’s hard for me to imagine another sight and sound that go together so well. 

The Refuge was much further than it looked as I assumed it would be. Hundreds of feet below it seems like a small cabin. Once I stood level with the Refuge it was more like a three floor mansion with a wraparound porch that was occupied by random horses hiding from the sun. I actually had to push horses out of the way to get in. 

The views here were unreal but I decided that the backdrop of my painting must be the backdrop of Viegarna which was not visible from here. I would start with a little alpine rivulet 10 minutes walk from the hut.

I took off the massive piece of cardboard from my pack that people had been staring at all day in confusion. This was to be my flat surface on which to lay my 4 foot canvas so I could paint. I dug it out of a dumpster in creepy Lourdes and it was perfect. 

Dinner was at 7 so I happily rolled up my canvas and walked home. There were all sorts of people there. I was placed at the far end of a table of french backpackers. They seemed to be flush on friends so I ate the soup the Refuge hosts served us in silence. I thought that the soup was dinner so I ate lots of it. It turned out it was the first plate of four so I was sprawled out on a rock like a seal thirty minutes later. I got to speaking with the people at my table who were actually not all french and all were friendly. 

In the middle of all the courses and before the seal sprawl a group of American teenagers came in with three chaperone-like adults. This looked familiar. I heard their french guide say “Attension Mundonce groop.” It was Moondance Adventures, ha! When they had all settled down to dinner I went over to a guide and introduced myself as a former employee. It was so fun to see this group! We exchanged stories and people that we knew through the company. The students were asking me all sorts of questions: “Where’d you go to college? Sewanee. I’m going there next year!” “Where’d you go to high school? Myers Park. I go there!” “Why don’t you work for Moondance anymore?!! ........ because I hated my students....(especially Collin with the sunburnt arms).” They invited me to their Moon Up which is their evening meeting ritual.

After dinner, my new Belgian drinking buddy said he would come to Moon Up too. I warned him that this might be weird but he didn’t care so we joined the circle of teenagers with our beers. Out on the rocks looking out at a true Pyrenees sunset we went around the circle and thanked each other for the day. Then we answered a deep question that was posed. The Moon rose behind the French Spanish border. It was beautiful. We talked about how the trip was going and what I was doing.

After the students were off, all the other hut inhabitants came together and hung out. Multiple languages being spoken to those who couldn’t speak the other’s. Just good vibes between strangers. It’s obvious now that our mutual love of the mountains bound us all together that night. I slept with the window open listening to the distant clanging cowbells.

I agreed to do a sunrise hike with the Moondance group in the morning, why not? Up and down we went, sharing the summit with some sheep. I finished my rivulet portion of the painting that morning and decided to head back down to Viegarna via the waterfalls. I continued to run into my Refuge friends in town that day. 

It’s funny, this would be the first summer in many that I haven’t led outdoor trips. I’ve punched my card again for this summer, even if it was just for a day. Friends in high places!

Night Lights

Night Lights