October 26, 2016
After our final, satisfying Spanish breakfast buffet we three slightly-tired, trail-worn Americans and our fearless, shoeless, happy and inspiring leader Pablo hit the road for a half hour drive to start today where we left off yesterday at Port de la Selva (the eastern-most part of Spain. Today’s run would be one of the shortest, but greatest gain in altitude. Today we are starting literally from the beach, so it’s not a Colorado-type gain in altitude! After a little over a mile, we began ascending up into the hills that overlook the small bay (port). We were all a little tired from the week of running, so our ascent was slow. Like all other days, we stopped to take photos of the beautiful landscape and increasingly impressive views as we climbed.
We first came upon Santa Creu de Rhodes, a 10th Century church and tower built on a small shelf of land 1500 above sea level. A surrounding town grew around it, thriving into the 14th century. The remains of the church and tower are impressive, especially thinking about how life would have been for the people of the people up on that windy hill, looking out over the sea which could bring both sustenance and peril.
We ascended trails that took us to the highest point of the Rhodes Sierra at 2000 feet, called the Verdera Castle (this one really was a castle, I’m not just saying that)! Its summit provides an extraordinary panoramic view, and it was this visual domination of the territory and its inaccessible site that gave it great strategic and military value in the Middle Ages (info taken from a plaque on-site). It played an important part in a number of wars. Its fortress lost its military function in the 16th century and then became a watchtower against pirate raids. As I walked about the grounds and ruins, looking out over the vast expanse of ocean that lay below us, I could barely wrap my mind around an age and life where one would scout for pirates ascending the hills – bushwhacking, not running trails like we get now to do – and have to battle for life and territory. Movie scenes ran through my head. It is an inexplicable feeling to stand in a place where so many have lived, fought, believed, breathed, cut new trails and stones, and created societies many thousands of years before my New Balance trail shoes scratched out some more marks in the same dirt. I was in awe of the views and the history, and the privilege and blessing of yet again covering so much ground by foot over the course of this trip.
We ran down a rocky trail only about 250 feet less altitude to arrive at the third, and core, structure in the historical compound of these hills: the Sant Pere de Rodes Monastery. Founded in the 9th Century, it later became the most important abbey in this large Northeastern region of Spain now called the Costa Brava but historically called “Empuries” or in the Catalan tongue “Emporda” (with an accent on the final ‘a’). Think of the word emporium – large market and meeting place. It is now a well-know region for winemaking as well as a great many food specialities. The Rodes Monastery is one of the landmarks of Catalonia now, for its historical and architectural legacy. I found it very significantly important because it just “happens to be” the start of another Camino route. If you read my Camino Frances (the route I did) blogs last year, you may have learned that there are a multitude of marked routes all leading to Santiago de Compostela. So there I was, standing at a starting point of a route that begins on the eastern side of the country, almost one year after I completed my pilgrimage to the western side. I guess it’s not that crazy, but it really made my heart sing. I have formed a kind of enamored and respectful bond with Spain.
Chad and I decided to run the rest of the way down the “mountain” while Sally and Pablo drove the road to meet us a few miles later. We all hugged and high-fived and exchanged tired and satisfied smiles from our 7-day run around the Costa Brava (Emporda). Pablo drove us back to the train station in Girona, where he patiently helped us with train tickets, drew our entire route on a keepsake map for each of us, and bid us a hurried Adios as he went to go pick up his kids (4!) from school. No break for that guy; he’s incredible! His family was great; I also really enjoyed meeting and talking a little with his wife Cristina (again, she is from GIrona; he is from Costa Rica where they have another trail running trip in January). One of the earlier days his oldest kiddo Andreu had joined us for a short section of trail run as well!
The train took us to Barcelona where Sally and Chad had a hotel in the heart of the city; mine was just adjacent to the train station. I later took a taxi to meet them and we walked around quite a bit exploring and looking for as many sites and tapas restaurants that we could pack into our few remaining hours in this intriguing area.
I would highly recommend Running Costa Brava – this group also organizes an adventurous 9-day running trip in Costa Rica in January (that is Pablo’s homeland!)
Adios, Espana….Regresare! (I will return!)