Today was the day we were heading into Andorra. The prospect of snow capped mountains and alpine towns was very appealing as was, for me at least, experiencing a whole new country.
We didn´t make a particularly early start and looking at the roads into Andorra – which went a long way south before turning back north – we decided to risk a few of our old off-road tracks to cut cross country.
2 hours later we found ourselves on the part of the off-road route that we had previously considered the toughest and so progress was slow and slowing as we were increasingly worried for our dodgy wheel hub.
By 6pm we found ourselves further away from Andorra than when we started! We were, in fact, near Tremp which we had passed through earlier in the trip and so we headed for the nice campsite we stayed at before to regroup and try again the next day. After nearly a week of abstinence we bought lasagne and two bottles of wine at the camp cafe and had a little ´not Andorra´ party to ourselves with our new raggedy earred friend!
Hangovers dispatched the next morning we decided to stick to the rules this time and dropped a pin on the small town of Tor – which our good friend Mike (aka Stallion!) reminded James is the start of the Smugglers route into Andorra. We turned out to be only a couple of hours away at which point our adventure started properly!
Tor is a medieval village which it looks like time has forgotten. It´s hard to believe anyone lives there but it seems they do.
The Smugglers route itself starts from there and is the back door into Andorra. It´s a steep, rocky, twisty track with sheer drops down one side. The views are breathtaking and there are are wild horses around every corner.
Some are more friendly than others!
We had prepared properly with all the paperwork required to cross the border but when we arrived at the top there wasn´t a sole there to give it to!
Our first sighting of Andorra was beautiful.
We drove down the winding road into Andorra town and had a mooch around. There was a street market just starting up with everything from Paella to cakes to nuts to cheese. I could have bought everything from every stall but that in itself saved me, we didn´t have enough space in either the Landrover or my stomach for it all! True to form, the only thing I caved in on was the cheese – €22.50 on cheese! I still haven´t been forgiven, even though I spent €2.50 on a sausage for him 🙂
But all good things come to an end and eventually we had to start thinking about where we were sleeping for the night. There aren´t too many camping options in Andorra and the one or two we found were really not appealing. So we headed back to the border – which was high in the mountains and completely isolated – and decided to wild camp.
It was stunning – peaceful, isolated, breathtaking sunset.
But it was cold! We were high up at the top of the mountains, the highest we had been since we set out a month ago, and quite exposed to the elements.
7,738 feet up – that´s 2,358 metres for you modern guys.
The chill in the air started to bite and the gusts of wind got stronger and longer as the sun set behind the mountains. We quickly put the table and chairs out and started cooking our vegetable chilli pasta before it got too dark. At one stage I was holding everything down on the table to stop it blowing away but the wind passed and all was calm for a while.
James grinned at me and said ´we must be mad camping up here!´. I replied that I was clearly more mad than him because to me it was just beautiful – at least he was sane enough to know we were mad!
We put absolutely everything away straight after eating – tables, chairs, ensuite – just in case things got wild in the night – then jumped inside to watch a movie with the diesel heater on to keep fingers and toes warm. All was cold but calm – we went to bed chilly but happy.
In the night we both vaguely remember waking up too hot, so the deisel heater got turned down, and again with some wind, but generally it was a quiet night. However, at around 6am I awoke to a strange feeling of motion. I sat up and gazed out of the top windows to see a gorgeous streak of orange cutting across the top of the moutains but the mountains were shaking. I rubbed my eyes, yes they were shaking….hold it, no, the mountains weren´t shaking, we were shaking!
James and I were both wide awake by now and realised that our 3.5 tonne Landrover was violently shaking from side to side with the wind screaming across the mountains. The canvas roof was flapping in and out – although we have to say that Ex Tec are marvellous, not a stitch of damage to any part of it – the roaring noise from outside was awe inspiring!
Half an hour we sat there listening and watching. The Landrover was in reverse gear with the handbreak on and James had put rocks under the wheels just in case, but I couldn´t stop thinking about the 300 foot shear drop about 10 feet in front of us!
We were never in any danger though. Henry just sat there rocking from side to side but we were warm inside and the wheels never budged. It was slightly nerve-wracking for a while, it took a good half an hour before things calmed down. When we finally crept out into the world we found the pool of water behind us frozen solid and we didn´t even stop for a cup of tea it was so cold!
We were in the front seats and heading back down off the moutains before 9am! Next stop….the French border!