Yes, Andorra is a country. No, I had not heard of it before coming to Spain, but now I’ve been there and you haven’t. HA! I wasn’t exactly planning on visiting this minuscule, seemingly mundane country, but…i wasn’t exactly planning on much to begin with. A last minute invite to backpack and camp in the eastern Pyrenees from “the Stanford crew” turned into a fantastic weekend exploring a bizarre little nation (181 sq mi, to be exact). With no expectations and no plans other than to reach a refugio before nightfall, we set off with backpacks full of baguettes and sour gummies to conquer the Andorran wilderness…although we were in the middle of nowhere and kind of hoping for some danger, the most volatile thing we encountered was the path of a cow beset with diarrhea. A bear might have been better.
We started our “urban hike” right out of the bus station in Andorra, which took about 3 hours to reach from Barcelona. Close in distance, but Andorra seemed to be worlds away from the busy streets and discotecas of Barcelona. Steep cliffs and towering mountains encircle the puny capital city of Andorra la Vella, to which we promptly hiked, past all the designer boutiques and liquor stores. Andorra is a tax free zone, equating to lots of booze, cigarettes, and fine leather goods for sale. An interesting scene in which to begin a backpacking trip, but we were soon panting up a steep path that led straight up to a pleasant (man-made) lake, where some of the guys went fishing. And all had a cerveza.
Although the lake was full of trout, they weren’t interested in being caught, so we stuck to cervezas and crackers. ¡Que rica! We (ok, I. And much of the group.) was pretty tired by this point in the hike after minimal physical exercise beyond the dance floor in Barcelona, but we still had about 7 km of climbing to reach our refugio. So, onward ho, and after summiting another ridge we started to descend into a valley, then climb up the lush valley floor alongside a river. It was amazing to finally fill my lungs with fresh air instead of smoke, and hear cow bells instead of honking horns.
After a false hope that someone’s private cabin was our spot for the night, we finally came upon our camp just as the temperature was dropping and the sun was setting behind the Pyrenees. The old stone refugio was like a scene from a movie–but better. Up on a grassy knoll, with mountains behind, river beside, and cow shit all around! Which actually proved to be excellent kindling for our roaring fire. Ok, maybe it was more of a loud whisper, but we got that thing going. And a ladybug decided to play daredevil:
We literally froze our butts off that night. A few brilliant chaps had sleeping bags, but Julia and I decided to go with the “army blanket + cuddle fest” tactic, just like Oktoberfest. And just like Oktoberfest, we shivered all night, but had smiles plastered to our faces the whole time. Not sure if that was delirium or delight, but that’s unimportant. What’s important is that this is what we woke up to:
After a nice slow morning of exploring the surrounding stream and thawing out our limbs, we headed back towards Andorra la Vella via a loop trail. For our second night in Andorra, we stayed in a relatively luxurious hotel, where I (surprisingly) showered and slept (surprisingly) in a real bed. It may have been a little pricey, but an included buffet breakfast ensured that I eat the price of the room, and then some. So for our last day in Andorra, we explored the charming capital (consisted of beautiful old buildings, then shopping, shopping, and more boring uninspired shopping) and took it easy.
Julia was on the hunt for a watch, and when we were about to give up hope beyond a huge blingy timepiece, we stumbled upon a musty old shop down an alley. We then spent an hour creating our own custom vintage watches with the sweetest little old lady, whose shop probably hadn’t seen much action since the 60s. Well, neither had she, most likely. Anyway! We scored priceless souvenirs, and a place to stop in for dinner should we ever return to Andorra for a longer backpacking excursion, which I certainly hope I do! With more than a blanket, this time.