As everybody knows, on a trekking holiday you carry your possessions in a rucksack on your back, and limit your choice of wardrobe to the bare (and ideally lightest) necessities. Paring back not only saves on weight but time. Without the agony of choice you never have to consider what to wear. And you don’t have to bother about taking ages to pack. If you’re meeting for breakfast at seven, for instance, you can confidently sleep in until 6.40. Twenty minutes is all you need to wash, brush your teeth, dress and pack your bag. You can shower in the evening. Every day we get better at shaving precious seconds off our time while still being punctual. Maximising sleep is everyone’s top priority. That’s the only way we can manage to reinvigorate our tired bodies day after day.
At 4.40 – a full two hours before the expected pinging of my mobile phone – I open my drowsy eyes because … well, because the alarm’s going off. Turn it off! Another five minutes …
… I drift off again.
The chirping doesn’t stop.
Ok. Slowly now. Turn on the light.
I’ve got to orientate myself: where am I, again? Oh yeah, Spain, the Pyrenees.
Panic: did I oversleep?
How late is it?
Perhaps I should add that, even in winter, I always sleep with my window open. Gradually I realise that the chirping isn’t coming from my phone. There’s a whole orchestra of birds twittering and peeping and chirping outside, just for me! I close my eyes again, deliberately, and enjoy listening to this free natural concert while I let my head sink back into the soft pillow. Louder voices come to the fore, while others, croakier, produce a kind of bass. And listen! There! Very tender, a magical warbling. Nothing can keep me in bed any longer.
Curtain up! The stage is set!
The Birds, live in concert!
I’ve got to get up, and I step out onto the balcony in my pyjamas to enjoy the Pyrenees Symphony. After all, sleeping in a concert hall is a faux pas.
Standing in the blue dawn, I literally fall out of time, tumbling headlong into a – how best to describe it? – almost a trance. While I’m being bewitched and lulled in equal measure by the various birds’ voice in the dead silence of the early morning, my gaze turns to the buildings opposite, which are lit by a single street lamp. In the early morning light, I can just make out the words ‚Hostal Cortina‘ on the desolate neon sign. I wonder about the history of this empty house in the middle of the Pyrenees, while a bat flits around my head. Why aren’t there any guests coming and going, as there are at the Hotel La Morera, where we’re staying? The old hotel would make a fabulous backdrop to an exciting thriller! A little murder, perhaps?
Back to my feathered friends. Birds and the Pyrenees – as I learn over the coming days – somehow belong together. For now, however, I’m anything but well-versed in ornithology, something I come to seriously regret after my musical experience on the balcony in València d’Àneu. I don’t know which voices belong to which birds. I’m able to recognise a blackbird, a swallow and a finch on sight, but when they’re hovering magnificently in the air I can’t really tell a golden eagle from a falcon. It’s a shame. I’d like to learn!
In the Pyrenees, birds are everywhere. The isolation of the mountains are an ideal environment for them to live and breed, so we’re treated to some spectacular displays of flight during our walks: imposing birds of prey like falcons, vultures and hawks are often circling the skies, and golden eagles, wood grouse and buzzards are native to the Pyrenees. But we also see significantly smaller birds suddenly come sailing by: ring ouzels, citril finches, wallcreepers and water pipits. Some of them, like the white-backed woodpecker, you hear but never see.
There are numerous agencies specialising in the bird-watching market, organising multi-day trips for twitchers from across the world. Claudia from Munich, whose hobby is ornithology, is a member of our walking group, and in Torla she suddenly flips out. Eating dinner at the Hotel Bujaruelo, she sees a man standing at the salad buffet whom she recognises from various specialist journals and publications: no question. It’s Roberto Cabo! If you’re trying to picture the situation, it’s as if I abruptly bumped into Lionel Messi in the dining room.
Roberto who? For us, the clueless ornithological newbies, Mr Cabo is just another hotel guest, albeit one who looks a bit like Richard Gere. But the German natural historian is a pretty big deal in the bird-watching scene, and his book A Guide to the Landscape of Spain is a kind of bible to anyone interested in Spain’s flora and fauna. Roberto is leading another German tour group. They’re exploring the Pyrenees on foot, focusing especially on botany, ornithology and natural history. Sightseeing for naturalists, in other words.
Insofar as the terrain permits, from now on I keep glancing up into the air as I walk …
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