Many difficulties to go from Oliana to Andorra

We attach a chronicle that the expeditionaries have sent us where they tell the hard and fascinating adventure they live from July 26 to 31, 2020, following in the footsteps of Saint Josemaría Escrivá in the fall of 1937, crossing the Pyrenees through Andorra. An extensive story, which is worth reading in its entirety, to realize the difficulties of this journey:

The occasion of this journey from Oliana to Andorra was paradoxically caused by COVID 19. For some time we have been considering making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. In February we were about to buy the tickets when the expansion of the pandemic advised against carrying out the project. We decided then to schedule another expedition: the Pass of the Pyrenees, the path that Saint Josemaría followed in 1937 due to religious persecution during the Spanish civil war.

We decided to follow the footsteps of Saint Josemaría as closely as possible. This required leaving by bus from Barcelona, ​​completing the entire route without interruptions, and operating in a “self-sufficient” way, that is, without external support to provide us with food, transport of shops or auxiliary material. The expedition would materialize in the following way: we would leave Barcelona on July 26 by bus to Oliana, from where we would walk until we reached Sant Julià de Lòria on July 31, after five days of walking. We would carry all the supplies for survival (tents, bags, clothing, material for Mass, etc.), anticipating that we would supply ourselves in Fenollet and Noves de Segre, and that we would take advantage of sources along the way to supply ourselves with water.

We left from Estació del Nord on the scheduled day Edu, Miquel, Javier, David and Fr Ximo. An ALSA bus dropped us off at six in the afternoon in Oliana, the beginning of the journey. There we were joined by Xavi, Mn. Carlos and Joshua, who lived outside the city and could not make the first approach by bus.

The march of the first day consisted in reaching Pallerols to sleep there. We leave Oliana and take the GR-1 section that leads to Peramola. There we saw the haystack where Saint Josemaría stayed on the night of November 19, 1937, and we recharged canteens at the Font del Caner. The first hour with a lot of kilos on the back and almost forty degrees of temperature provoked humorous comments about what awaited us.

We reached Pallerols as it was beginning to get dark. Mass was celebrated for those who had not been able to attend that day, we had a quick dinner, and we pitched the tents on an esplanade near the Church.

On the 27th we woke up excited. We had meditation in the church, remembering the moment when Saint Josemaría found the Rialb rose on the floor of this same church, and we asked the Lord to know how to support his plans as well.

We set off carrying gear, food … and three liters of water each, as we anticipated that this would be the hardest day due to the absence of fountains on the way. The next water supply site would be at the Font del Prat, in the Aubenç meadows, after a long day of walking in the sun.

We began to walk and arrived at the Saint Raphael Cabin, later entering the Montlleví area. After some other unnecessary return through the hunting ground -here the path was unmarked from the track- we arrived at Corb’s house under a blazing sun. We stopped for a bit, resting in the shade and we followed the path until we reached the Ribalera ravine.

During this journey the heat and the sun weighed more than we had been able to imagine. The water ran out quickly, and we did find a small upwelling of water where we could refresh ourselves and have a drink. Some showed more than obvious signs of fatigue, and it was necessary to make a long stop, taking advantage of the shadow of the ravine. We were there from four to seven in the afternoon approximately. We ate a little and some dozed. Outside you could see the sun hitting the rock hard. When we were more rested, we celebrated Holy Mass in the same place where Saint Josemaría did it: the significant memory that this moment left in the fugitives is well known.

With the sunlight dampened a bit, we resumed the ascent of the Aubenç mountain through the Jaça canal. The road gets harder shortly after starting the march, getting steeper at times and making it necessary to use your hands. They impact the view and the verticality of the route. Ropes are placed at the end of the canal to ensure passage.

Tired and thirsty we reached the top. The landscape of the north slope changes completely, giving greenness to the eyes. It goes from a rough and dry terrain to a lush and humid horizon. La Font del Prat evoked the encounter of an oasis after a journey through the desert. We camped next to the fountain and had a well-deserved dinner. Soon it was dark and we went to sleep. It was a temperature that little remembered the heat we had experienced a few hours ago. Pau joined the group at the top of Aubenç; he was accompanied by Jordi and Ramon along the track that goes up the north face.

On the 28th it dawned raining. We waited a few minutes for it to clear and ate breakfast. We reloaded the canteens at the fountain that had given us so much joy the day before and we set off. The next goal was the pools of the Valldarques river: we would reach them at noon after a descent of 900 meters.

On the way down Xavi stumbled, spraining his ankle. We are going through a difficult time because it became clear that I could not continue. After cooling off in the pools and having a drink, we called Ramon Camats to pick him up. We also said goodbye to two colleagues who did not feel strong enough to continue. There was still the pity of not being able to continue all together. The team was reduced to six people.

The next stop was Fenollet’s house. The two long hours that had elapsed to get there reminded us of the previous day’s stage. Much heat and little shade: the “anvil of the sun”, someone commented, remembering Lawrence of Arabia. We arrived at our destination after three in the afternoon.

One of the most pleasant moments of the trip took place in Fenollet, as we met with Rosa’s hospitality. This kind and sympathetic owner is the granddaughter of the person who sheltered Saint Josemaría in November 1937. She told us about the tricks her grandmother used to mislead the militiamen who were chasing the fugitives: good food and good wine. A ploy similar to the one he used with us, as the explanation was followed by a parade of food that we conveniently appreciated: salad, macaroni in a large platter like a swimming pool, meat with delicious mushrooms, honey and curd, coffee, fresh milk milked, homemade and wine … After the rigors of two and a half days on the road that seemed to all, poor pilgrims, a fairy tale.

After lunch, she also invited us to take a dip in the raft that collects water from nearby sources. The snake that occupied the bottom of the raft did not hurt to make room for us … and we enjoyed those moments. And so, fresh, rested and well fed, we were able to celebrate Mass in the chapel of the farmhouse. After thanking Rosa and her husband for all their care, we started back on the road.

Our objective was now the Hermitage of Santa Fe, located on a promontory that rises 1,100 meters above sea level. The rise was not raised complicated, although we were surprised to find a comb of altered wasps. Probably after the stomp of one of the group they decided to take flight and take revenge. Two of ours got bites; Some of them went through their sports pants. After some simple cures, we continue on the road.

The original plan was to spend the night in the hermitage. But as the next day it was planned to ascend the Ares mountain, we decided to prolong the walk and sleep at the foot of the mountain, with the purpose of ascending early without the severity of the sun.

From the hermitage we made a very vertical descent in which it was difficult for us not to lose our balance and fall rolling. We reached the valley of the Cabó river when the light began to go out. We had the meditation of that day walking.

We pass the river and come to a track. We camped right there without pitching the tents because the night allowed us to sleep in the open. Although the flow of the river was not abundant, some of us took the opportunity to bathe in the river and wash up a bit, after which we had dinner and went to sleep under the starry sky.

It was still dark when we got up. The ascent was bearable, because in the cool of the morning it was comfortable. Around ten o’clock we reached the abandoned town of Ares, practically at the top. There we find a fountain. The water was fresh and clean, so we took the opportunity to have lunch and refill our canteens. Some bathed -soaping and everything- in the trough where the fountain unloads.

The summit of Ares evoked the sensation experienced in Aubenç. After a dry south face with little vegetation, we find a north face thick with trees, fresh and airy.

We begin the descent, first heading north and then north-west, to meet the Segre valley. From here, the rigors of the lack of water disappear, as the path runs alongside this river and its tributaries. The encounter with its plain, full of fields and plantations, spreads freshness and humidity.

We arrived in Noves de Segre at two in the afternoon. We went to Bernardí house, the store where we would stock up on cold cuts, cheese, sausages, and two dozen eggs. The meat had a magnificent appearance -and a price-, so we decided to increase the protein intake: we would not only have sausages with eggs for dinner, but we would also eat sausages with eggs. A tasty and necessary nutritional supplement.

We continued the march and finally reached the Segre river. We passed Cal Pallarés, and we found a pleasant corner of the river where we could stop for a while. There we bathed and ate the newly purchased products. Shortly after we finished eating, and to our amazement, the water level began to rise; so much so that we had to collect everything and leave in a hurry. We celebrated Mass nearby and started walking towards Adrall. There we were joined by Mn. Vicenç Guinot. Our bread supply failed because the village bakery had sold everything. Logistic error.

Going to Adrall meant taking half a kilometer off the road. We retraced our steps after carrying canteens, and we entered the valley of the Aravell river, a tributary of the Segre.

This area is a succession of bewildering landscapes. First we walked, making our way through a field planted with corn; then we crossed some newly fertilized river terraces, and finally we came to some meadows by the river where we were able to pitch our tents. There we had meditation, we realized the sausages and eggs that we had left, and we got into the bags, because the next day we had to get up early.

We did so. It was difficult for us to get out of the river terraces because it seemed like a trench armed against the enemy: an unclear path, boxed streams, brambles and fences that delimited the fields. We finally managed to get out into the open sky and head towards the Aravell golf course.

It is not easy to cross a golf course, especially when a fence indicates that that territory has an owner, and it is not us. We decided to do this under the “right of way”. We wanted to pass discreetly, but there was no way. A worker spotted us trying to get over the barrier and addressed us, calling the manager. We were amazed when we saw a laughing man appear in a buggy. He invited us not only to pass, but to escort us. We advance behind the buggy like an army of infantry takes cover behind a tank that leads the way. Everything ended up being a pleasant journey through a beautiful place.

Once past the golf course, the view discovers the Collada de la Torre, the highest point along the way. The incidents of the day had delayed us for more than an hour. The sun loomed threateningly when we began the ascent.

The peasants from a neighboring farm offered us water, with which we could fill our canteens and refresh ourselves. Some of them stocked up on peaches. Despite the acquisitions of Noves de Segre, the food was going to be fair due to the lack of bread.

Despite the 900 meters of unevenness, we climbed the Collada de la Torre with relative ease. The holm oak forest, with little shade, becomes a little more tiring; but with the ascent the landscape becomes more leafy and fresh. The view is very nice. The Aravell valley, a green and humid space, can be seen from the top.

On the hill we rested for a bit among strong and tall pines, which would accompany us on the descent that we undertook shortly after. This area is beautiful because of the abundance of waterways, the corpulence of the trees and the shade. This part of the route coincides, until reaching Andorra, with the Rosa del Nord route.

Halfway through, we load water at the Font de la Baralla and, around two in the afternoon, we arrive at the Civís river. There we decided to make a stop with the aim of making the climbs to Coll de la Cabra Morta and Mas d’Alins with the sunlight muffled.

In a meadow by the river we set up our makeshift camp. We bathe in the river, eat happily, and sleep for a while. Once with the batteries we have the meditation and we celebrate the Holy Mass, and full of energy, we start the march towards the Coll de la Cabra Morta.

The orographic accident does its name justice. Goats really risk their lives if they try to climb the steep mountain in front of us. However, a path cuts through the rough terrain. As we ascend we contemplate the cliffs of the valley, the perspective of the mountains and, as an unexpected gift, the north face of the Cadí under a beautiful moon that shines on the still blue sky.

After the Coll we take a path that gradually loses height, always in a dense forest. We find a source and reload canteens. Shortly after we reached the Torrent de Argolell. The environment is green and humid. We have passed by the hermitage of Santa María de Feners, in ruins, which is referred to in the diaries of the fugitives from 1937 that we are reading.

In the river we rest for a few minutes and eat something. There is little left to stock up on, and we notice a few goodies that Edu offers us and some dried apricots: everything tastes good to us. The light has dimmed.

We live the moments that follow with a special emotion, because the border passes a few meters above us, between the river bed and the summit of the small mountain that we have to climb.

The section is vertical. We take a deep breath and begin to climb a slope where you have to use your hands a bit, and we finally arrive at Mas d’Alins.

The road we have to travel passes through the farm, but the doors are closed. We pass between a roar of barking dogs that do not see us with good eyes. A Sanbernardo comes to meet us who, to our peace of mind, shows no signs of hostility.

It was early evening, and the stretch that led to Borda del Gastó we did in the dark, guided by the light of our headlights and the indications of an all-terrain vehicle we find on the road. The driver of the car turned out to be the owner of Cal Gastó. It was another surprise, because Saint Josemaría rested in his haystack after crossing the border. The person we speak to is the great-grandson of the one who sheltered Saint Josemaría in 1937.

The Gastó area is a very pleasant place, a kind of picnic area that has a small oratory dedicated to the Our Lady of Canólich, patron of Sant Julià de Lòria, represented on a tile in which Saint Josemaría also appears arriving in Andorra. There we dined what we had left of food reserving something for breakfast and, after a short after-dinner, we went to sleep. We were about 1500 meters high, but the night was very pleasant, so we slept in the open without planting tents on a plain near the picnic area.

The awakening of the last day was prolonged a little longer than usual, as this last stage was shorter: we calculated about two and a half hours until Sant Julià.

We had the meditation on the virtue of hope, we celebrated Mass, and we had breakfast: this time there was nothing left. The owner of the farm appeared and showed us the haystack, after which we set off towards the town of Fontaneda.

The journey was pleasant for us, and did not have greater complexity. Once past this small town, the horizon opened up until we contemplated Sant Julià de Lòria from the height. The goal of these five days on the road looked so close that, after taking a selfie, we rushed to the town, on a steep descent in which we had to pay attention not to fall. We arrived at the streets of Sant Julià excited and happy.

We went to the parish and there we made the visit and prayed a Te Deum at the suggestion of Edu. The encounter with the image that represents Saint Josemaría praying to the Blessed Sacrament was emotional. That was the first church he could find after the journey; the sound of their bells revealed that they were at last free from religious persecution. We had a drink in a bar, and we said goodbye to Fr Vicenç, because he had to return to celebrate Mass in his parish.

It seemed that the expedition had concluded and that there was nothing left but to return to Barcelona. However, we find an unexpected, surprising, and very, very pleasant epilogue.

Mrs. Conxita Heras joined the group of lovely people that we met along the way. She acted as a true Andorran hostess, and went into detail with these pilgrims who for five days had walked in the sun, washed in rivers, slept little, and eaten rather austerely. It was like a fairy godmother who lavished gifts on us.

Our benefactress provided us with a vehicle in Sant Julià with which we headed to Andorra. Once there, she invited us to a restaurant whose food, after those days of testing, tasted glorious. A contagious climate of joy reigned, created by close coexistence, the goal achieved, dealing with the Lord during those days and, why not say it, our satisfied bellies.

After lunch our hostess invited us to take a guided tour of the most representative places in Andorra la Vella, giving us memories that we were very grateful for. Then we got on the minibus and crossed the border again, this time to Barcelona.

Here our epic ends; a fascinating experience crossing the Pyrenees.

We had followed the path that Saint Josemaria undertook, seeking to fulfill what God asked of him in difficult circumstances; we enjoyed an unforgettable, close and joyful coexistence; we discovered that you can live happily on quite a bit; we explore limits, laugh, sweat …; We have prayed a lot, we have discovered beautiful places.

We can only thank the support of Jordi Piferrer, who has encouraged and made things easier for us to be able to embark on the journey and finish it happily.