Equipment and pre-trip research
My wife and I both have our own separate equipment. The following is the equipment I took on this trip.
Canon 5d, Mark III
Lumix compact camera. Useful for taking reference shots
Sigma 12 – 24mm – Wide angle
Canon 24 – 70mm
Canon 100 – 400mm
UV filter – One permanently attached to every lens
Waterproof covering for camera
Light weight Tripod,
Good light camera rucksack (waterproof)
Good walking boots (which allow crampons to be attached for winter conditions)
Bright waterproof jacket and trousers for visability should I get into trouble and need to be rescued (this has never happened!)
First aid kit
Mobile phone – With PhotoPills which provides plenty of valuable information such as the time of the sunrise and sunset and much much more.
Map of the area
The things I actually take with me when walking vary depending on what I intend to do, weather conditions etc. I often set out with something specific in mind. My Lumix camera often serves to take reference photos for ideas in the future if I spot something on my way to my destination but don’t have time to stop for a long period and the light is not good enough for what I want.
It has also helped to provide landmarks on a few occasions, stopping me from getting lost.
Before every trip, either my wife or I purchase a good map of the area we are visiting that includes walking routes and roads. We then turn to the internet, starting with Google Maps. We use the satellite version and street view to try and start to get a better idea of the terrain. Next we look for websites about the area, ranging from tourist information to photography sites. Anything where we can see the surroundings and get inspired.
We make a list of possible locations and then we always spend the first day of any trip scouting as many of the locations as possible. The amount of scouting we do does depend on weather conditions. I love stormy weather for photographing, bur prefer to have images already in my head which is why we scout. My wife does not mind stormy weather but for some reason dislikes likes being part way up a mountain, or in a forest when there is a thunder storm. I believe this is something to do with be allergic to lightening strikes.
Me: “So, what’s the toilet like?”
Wife: “It has a nautical theme to it”
Wife: “Yes, there’s a picture of a ship on the wall and the floor is flooded!”
3 DAYS EARLIER – DAY 1
At the beginning of the Covid lockdown in Spain, my wife and I reserved a hire car and apartment in Picos de Europa for August. As the Covid lockdown situation changed, so did our plans. We went from our original destination, to reserving an apartment in a Pre-Pyrenees area of Lleida, to eventually reserving a place in Vall d’Aran. At one point we had three apartments reserved at the same time, but eventually settled on Vall d’Aran as it was the most likely destination we would be able to visit with the minimum of Covid problems.
Our journey started well as we settled into our normal positions for our trip: me being the driver and my wife being the Google Maps navigator. Google Maps sent us in the right direction and I had no concerns even when Google told us to leave the motorway at an earlier junction. Four hours later and no longer able to hold my bladder, I pulled over to the side of the road. We checked Google to discover we were 30 minutes away from our destination. My wife then discussed how weird this was because there wasn’t a mountain in sight, only flat fields and distant hills. 2 hours 30 mins later we finally arrived at our destination, Tredos, a small village towards the top of Vall d’Aran.
We entered Tredos hesitantly, still following Google Maps which we were more than doubting. Tredos is a very small town, with two-way streets that only afford enough room for one car to drive down. “You have arrived at your destination” announced Google Maps for the third time as we reached a dead end. “Ok, call the apartment owner”, I pleaded with my wife who now needed the toilet as desperately as I did.
A few words in Catalan saw my wife hurriedly disappearing, leaving me in our car and hoping no one would need to pass by foot or motor.
Five minutes later my wife happily returned. “The apartment is just round the corner. Reverse, turn left, left again, then right and we are there”. Reversing in my state of tiredness took the remainder of my concentration and the moment we entered our apartment, I fell into a deep sleep. My wife woke me 20 minutes later, telling me it would be more comfortable to sleep on the bed as opposed to the toilet, which she needed again.
Because we know Vall d’Aran well, we decided to scout the Circ de Colomers. Well to be honest, we didn’t actually plan on visiting this place, we did it more by accident (and it was my fault).
We woke up early and checked our map of the area. We found a road which wound its way past Tredos and into a mountainous region we had never visited before. Photos we had seen on the internet looked like the area could be interesting for a full photography excursion and so we set out on an adventure to find out.
We drove along a road until we reached a place called Balneari Banhs de Tredos where our car could go no further, so we collected our camera bags and decided to go for a little walk. The terrain looked easy going so I kept my sandals on and my wife wore trainers.
The area is beautiful but nothing inspiring to photograph from our view point, perhaps with the exception of a few tourists wearing high healed shoes and screaming to their partners for help. I noticed a taxi service which took people further up the valley and suggested going for a ride. My wife cautiously agreed, pointing out our poor footwear and the fact our sun cream was still in the car. My comment of “we’ll be fine”, changed approximately 2 hours later as we sat outside Refugi de Colomèrs sweating profusely and cursing our poor footwear. We both took a few reference photos before retreating as quickly as possible back to the taxi rank, then to our car and finally back to our apartment for food and a siesta.
Wife: “Does your neck hurt?”
Me: “A little, why?”
Wife: “Because it’s redder than a baboon’s bottom. I think we need to buy sun hats!”
We reluctantly headed to Vielha in search of sunhats that would cover our head and neck. We had selected an apartment in Tredos because it is a quiet town and we thought that would reduce the risk of catching Covid. But it was so quiet that we had to take everything we needed because there were no shops. We were trying desperately to avoid large towns. Or at least that was our plan.
Vielha normally is a bustling place. In the summer it is full of walkers and in the winter skiers. On our visit it was comfortable, not near as busy as we’ve seen it which parcially explains what happened as soon as we arrived.
Ever since I have lived in Spain, whenever we travel and visit towns, if my eyes meet a passer-by’s , I always say hello. I cannot explain this but I do. On this occasion, my wife was walking ahead of me and a woman passed her and caught my eyes as she passed me. I, innocently, said hello. What followed was a lot of Catalan words that I did not understand. My wife turned, grabbed my arm and waltzed me away whilst responding to the woman. I still do not fully understand what was said, but from what my wife told me, all I can say is that I said hello to probably the only working prostitute in Vall d’Aran, who had decided my politeness necessitated a list of all the things she was prepared to do for a small fee.
Wife: “Right, we’re here for sunhats only. Do not speak to anyone unless I give you permission”.
The first shop we entered had the appropriate hats, but we didn’t feel like paying 50 euros per hat.
The second shop seemed to have nothing suitable so I asked my wife for permission to go ahead to the next shop without her. She agreed whilst examining a few postcards which she likes to buy on our trips as reminders of our visit, just in case our cameras explode and all our photos are ruined.
In the next shop I found the perfect hats which would more than cover our necks from the sun but I noticed my wife still had not arrived and so I went to find her. As I approached the previous shop I found my wife on the floor outside, clutching her ankle and obviously in pain. No one had stopped to help her which I found really frustrating. Approximately 5 feet away was a bench and so I suggested to get her to it. She agreed and I helped her to her feet. She took two steps with me helping before she fainted. Now, my wife is small in size and stature. In fact I often refer to her as being cute and compact. Catching my wife as she fell to the ground and trying to hold her felt like I was trying to hold a 1 ton weight. Luckily, two passer-by’s took pity on me and between us we got her to the bench where she came round wondering why so many men were surrounding her.
Wife: “What’s happening? I’m married!”
Me: “Yes, you’re married to me”. I lifted my face mask slightly for purposes of recognition.
We spent the following 5 hours in Veilha’s small but very useful hospital where my wife was told she had suffered a severe sprain and needed to rest. The doctors felt she fainted due to the heat. As we walked (my wife hobbled) to our car, we passed a cafe where we decided to stop, have a drink and take stock of the situation. This was the place with the nautical themed toilet.
I suggested we return to our home where she could rest, but my wife disagreed after speaking to her sister. Her sister is not medically qualified, but has sprained her ankle on more occasions than anyone I have ever met.
Sister in law: “The doctor is wrong. Walk very short distances and you will be fine”. She then explained how she had just managed to cut the end of her finger off whilst slicing an onion.
Me: “That’s agreed then. We’re not going back home to sit watching your sister’s finger heal for the next few weeks”.
When we returned to our rented apartment, our landlord kindly lent my wife a pair of crutches and gave her access to a service lift so she wouldn’t have to use the stairs.
We then sat down to discuss our plans for the rest of our trip.