Day 60: Conquering Mountains

Hello! I am writing this post from Jaca, a small town about 450 km (4.5 hours by car) north of Madrid. It is cold here.

It is also one of the most beautiful places I’ve visited thus far in Spain (and Spain is a VERY beautiful country)! Yesterday, I hiked to the summit of the Peña Oroel mountain, with an altitude of 1,769 meters (over 5,800 feet). It’s no Mount Everest, but it offered incredible views of the Pyrenees mountains (so, pretty-much-almost France) and a bird’s-eye view of Jaca.

The ascent took approximately 2 hours from the base. When we broke through the tree-line from the forest below, we could finally see the summit (which was still a 30 minute walk along the ridge). I was a bit hesitant to approach the peak because a herd of mountain goats had reached the top just before us, and were grazing and milling about. The goats barely acknowledged our presence, except for one.

I named him Billy.

He kept following us until he got the hint that we didn’t want to get too close, then resigned to plopping down next to where we sat on the rocks. We were having a grand ole time talking until we pulled out our lunch and Billy hopped up and approached once again. I was not going to lose my sandwich to a hungry goat so, I promptly left the summit, descending a few hundred meters before deciding it was safe to eat.

We descended the mountain in 1.5 hours, and were passed many times by Speedy Spaniards!

How did Stephanie climb a mountain, you might ask? Well, I brought plenty of snacks! During this 4 hour adventure I ate: 3 boiled eggs, 1 sandwich, and far too much candy.

Not only were the views incredible and the snacks rewarding, I loved the friendly disposition of our fellow hikers. Every individual we passed greeted us with a “Hola" or “Buenas!". The kindness continued at the base camp where a family offered to drive us back to Jaca. They were very excited to meet Americans who were non-stereotypical, in that we spoke Spanish well. When they dropped us off, practically at our doorstep, they invited us to a traditional dinner that evening. Despite being exhausted from the hike, the Commission’s advice of ‘never say no to a caña’ rang in the back of my mind.

One hour later, we arrived at the restaurant where 20 people, gathered around a long table, greeted us with excitement. After a bit of shuffling to make room, we sat down and the dinner commenced. We started with a dish was a staple of the early 1900s in Jaca, which consisted of bread crumbs, olive oil (historically they used animal fat), and onions. Simple yet quite good! The starter was followed by a salad with goat cheese, apple, olive oil and red wine vinegar. A seafood dish containing a mix of cod, eggs, potatoes, and garlic (DELICIOUS) followed! Fun fact: cod has been traditionally used in land landlocked areas of Spain because it is easily preserved with salt. AFTER THAT (yes, Spanish traditional meals seem to have unlimited courses) we ate an assortment of pan (bread) with toppings ranging from melted goat cheese, to fatty bacon, to cod. My mouth is watering from recalling all of these dishes. It was quite the culinary experience!

While our food was settling and we were waiting for dessert, a camarero played a traditional bagpipe-like instrument while the entire restaurant clapped along.

What. An. Experience.

Thank you, Jaca