Even though we have been in Andorra for a couple of years, we haven’t yet hiked in the highly recommended Vall d’Incles. Last week we fixed that.
The trailhead was deep in the valley, at the end of a narrow single-lane road, reachable by car only until 9 am. We drove in early to skip that part and also, coincidentally, a large school group.
It was overcast on the way up, which helped with the ascent. The trail climbed a mountain slope with very few trees, letting us enjoy the open space and stunning views. By the time we reached the pass of Fontargente at the top, the sun had come out, and we enjoyed some snacks next to the lake, caressed by a refreshing breeze.
This time we hiked with another expat who described her experience living in Russia. She had to be constantly aware of her surroundings because no one would help her if she got kidnapped, mugged, or attacked in the middle of the street in broad daylight. Many people behave with learned helplessness because “I can’t change the corrupt government, I can’t complain about it, I can’t leave because I only speak Russian, and nowadays the world hates anything Russian 1.” She talked about how you must constantly cheat the government to survive. She told us that children in Russia are frequently shouted at and made to feel ashamed to not bring attention and problems to themselves later in life. I have experience working with Eastern Europeans, and these stories helped me better understand their behavior. Her words also made me wonder about freedom and truth. They are only psychological constructs, as Yuval Harari would say, but they feel such an essential requirement for a good life that I find it hard to imagine not having them. Her story also reminded me of the first time I returned to Spain while studying in Japan; I had to remind myself to pay attention to my surroundings and be careful with my belongings. I wonder how much mental energy humanity collectively wastes because of living under the law of the jungle and approaching strangers with a dog-eat-dog mindset.
On most of our hikes, we encounter people once or twice per hour; however, on this hike, we met people every five minutes, many of them French. It made me wonder about the environmental effects of over-tourism. They don’t seem to be categorically different from ecosystem changes caused by invasive plants and animal species, but the scale seems different: a fire can kill an invasive tree species giving a chance to the local species to recover, but a fire can’t kill an asphalt road. Until we can build Dyson spheres 2, though, neither human nor non-human environmental effects seem to matter.
The most memorable parts of the hike were the view of the small lakes at the top of the mountain, and knowing that we had crossed the imaginary line that separates Andorra and France.
How do I grow from this?
Remember to set an intention when you go hiking. When you don’t, the mind tends to carry your attention into the past or the future, making you miss the present. And when that happens, you finish the hike and feel like you came out of a trance.