Bruno Compagnet and Layla Jean Kerley go bush on the path of a long-lost riverbed.
Warning : These canyons are very difficult to reach and are not to be taken on lightly
Aragon is a land of legends where Christian and Muslim kingdoms clashed for centuries up until the Reconquista. The ancient walls and castles which still stand, often perched upon rocky outcrops, serve as a reminder of that chaotic period of time.On the journey the fields whiz by monotonously to the rhythm of Layla’s tunes. After a short stop in Ainsa to fill up with petrol and stock up on cold beers, we head south on the old road which crosses the Sierra de Guara. We park the car near an old bridge which straddles a hundred metre long canyon, and with our bags packed we set off into the wild on paths from a bygone era. Over a scrubby, lunar landscape a flock of griffon vultures hover in the burning sky. I watch them from time to time, struck by their solitary intrusion in the middle of such majestic surroundings.
Finding ourselves surrounded by basins of stinking, stagnant water packed with squirming mosquito larvae we decide to head onwards further south, towards a place which we’d explored briefly a few years ago and which seemed promising. As we head deeper into this protected area I try to imagine what this sanctuary would have looked like before they built the dam which was designed to provide water to the town of Huesca. Our route snakes through the cliffs and through its tunnels and turns reveals a wild, abandoned beauty.
The cicadas make more noise than a broken electricity meter but fall silent when we come close. I’ve run out of water and feel beads of sweat forming under my nose. We cross a patch of typically Mediterranean bushland with spiky vegetation which slows our journey down before finally reaching the humid, cold crack which will lead us into this historic ravine. We return via a system of “clavijas” (iron bars drilled into the rock by hunters so they could flush out the wood pigeons which nest in the cliffs).
The Somontano and Navarre regions are extremely arid thanks to the Tozal de Guara, a misaligned Pyrennean summit whose rock faces divert any clouds and precipitation which arrive from the west.
Dominique is often alone in his centuries-old house which used to belong to a family of well-known tailors. They used to travel through the Sierra from village to village selling work and party clothes to the Aragon country folk. The garden is a reflection of the man himself – simple and poetic. An ideal place to have a drink amongst the tomato plants.
A few days later we head back north towards the Mont Perdu massif. Far off the beaten track it’s a good place to beat the crowds, even mid-summer.
One evening as we’re stretched out in our hammocks near Rio Cinca at the foot of Pena Montanesa, I hear a fox nosing about the bushes on the hunt for scraps from our lamb chops. My mind turns to the almost-inaudible murmur of the evening breeze. Layla rocks between the branches by my side. I picture her awake, immersed in the sounds of the forest and river, cradled by nature’s soundtrack.