Friday, 7 March 2014

A tunnel into Spain. I wish I had pictures.

I am knee deep in Maddaddam, borrowed as an e-book from the library. Love it! Margaret Atwood has this dry sly humor that makes the darkest tale entertaining. However, I could not continue until The Precious has been recharged so it was time to look for entertainment on Netflix. I picked The Way, a movie about 4 strangers on the Camino de Santiago.  

Never mind the plot, mainly I loved the landscapes. It was special because we were there. Once upon a time, in April 1966, we spent three days on the municipal camp ground in Saint Jean Pied de Port, the French starting point for the Camino. It was the last time Chris had to go to Spain for the practical part of his geology studies. We were waiting for parts for the three-coloured Citroen CV, AKA Ugly Duckling, or just Duck.

The Duck was the European equivalent of a VW bug. In Europe the bug was considered a middle class car, not the counter cultural icon we found it to be on this side of the Atlantic. Chris and some friends had cobbled this one together from 3 old cars. It sported a brown body, grey doors and a green hood. It was a big step up from the motor cycle that had taken us South the previous year.

Anyway, we spent three days in our tent on this field that I recall as green, speckled with dandelions, on the edge of a mountain stream with a rock wall behind it. And everywhere there were signs to the Chemin de Saint Jacques, which unfortunately meant nothing to me at the time. It was rather boring. We could not explore the countryside without a car and we had no money to enjoy local cuisine. Funny, I don't remember how we drove into Spain that time. I do know the transition was not as dramatic as the one the year before. 

That time, still with the WWII vintage DKW motor bike, we had started our crossing at a French place called Something de Luchon. Shortly after the border into Spain we came across a tunnel. The tunnel entrance had big green wooden doors that were opened for us and closed behind us. We found ourselves in a cavernous space, sparsely lit with a road in terrible condition. There were places with gravel so loose that I had to dismount and walk while Chris went to first gear and straddled the heavy bike, loaded with all our gear for months, with his feet on the ground, heroically keeping it upright. If there was other traffic I don't recall it. We were alone most of the time. It was surreal. It went on and on, but finally we saw the proverbial light (no doors at that end) and emerged into a different land.

While the Northern side had been lush, we were now in a craggy place of bare rocks and much sparser vegetation. The steep hair-pinned road down with the ravine on our side was dramatically beautiful but terrifying. There were villages perched high above us on top of crags, fortress-like. A scene from a fairy tale movie. I might have enjoyed it in a car. On a bike, not so much, especially with mutterings about the danger of burning out the brakes. Even in my twenties I was a chicken with no taste for physical risk taking. 

After the movie I stayed up well past midnight to see what Mighty Google had to say about this memory. My only clue was the word de Luchon and the fact we were in the middle of the Pyrenees. There was, indeed, a tunnel. It would be on the road between Bagneres de Luchon and Vielha. It is well over 5km long and was the world's longest road tunnel until 1964.
Bless you, wikipedia.

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