After have visited a couple of friends whose family has grown since my last visit, I received an invitation from Cris and her husband Joan, bike fan. These are their colleagues who heard about my visit to the region and that my route will take the roads leading to their village. Bellmunt del Priorat is in the middle of the exceptionally very snowy mountains this year. They want to meet me to share and help me to spend a warm night. This day of bike in the mountains will be a bit long, but the prospect of a meeting and an evening that will not require looking for a place to camp helps me to ride the 85 kilometers with enthusiasm. Despite the cold well now, the return of the sun have melted much of the snow facilitating me the mountain passes. They warmly welcomed me into their home under construction overlooking the vineyards. One of their friend, Lorenz, French and Catalan speaker, help for the communication that otherwise would have been chaotic. He will act as a translator a good part of the evening before that exhaustion of this long day take me into the arms of Morpheus and forces me to abandon them. Thank you all of your hospitality this week …
Joan, who often ride on the surrounding roads, explain me an itinerary for the next day, that promised me wonderful. This is the least we can say, the Priorat region famous for its wines, is magical.
I start the day with a steep descent and fording a river several times. For out of the valley, the road rises steeply before catching up with the National that I have to borrow to switch into the next valley. On this road, I saw the only cars of the day. After several hours alone in the middle of the olive trees, I head slowly and tired to the village of El Pinell de Brai. When I look up to heaven to relax, I live a magic moment. For a second, I see passing before my eyes a shooting star while we are in the afternoon. It also disappears quickly as it appeared. At that moment, his bright head changes from yellow to blue, which don’t have to envy the most expensive fireworks.
This is really possible ? I’m so tired ? Am I dreaming ? Saw I rather a spacecraft orbited by a major world powers ? Many unanswered questions that still intrigues me now … I’m speechless, I didn’t even realize that this phenomenon was possible …
It’s enough to give me the energy I was beginning to run out at the end of the afternoon, and the spectacle of Nature is far from finished. I now rushes at full speed in the mountain slopes towards a greenway along the ocher cliffs that make up the landscape of this descent. I thus arrive at the entrance to the greenway very easily. It’s now the time to go under the mountain after having climbed them so many times.
Then I commit myself on a converted railway that now serves as playground for cyclists. I’m still alone and now in total darkness, humidity and constant cold from the bowels of the Earth. Between two tunnels, raptors keep me company, flying over me and shout me their pleasure to step into the warm air currents. I just have to let me go, the gentle slope of the completely straight track pedaling for me for many kilometers. What a delight. I let myself sink quietly enjoying the last moments of tranquility before returning to civilization. Shortly before Xerta, I finally discovered the Ebro, one of Spain’s longest river that crosses from West to East. It still will freeze tonight, but it was by far the best day of cycling for a long time.
I went in search of Nature in the Ebro Delta, I’m not yet but I have already taken full in my eyes.
The next morning, where as I had established my camp in an orange grove already harvested, I only have to bend down to pick up my breakfast. Delicious oranges, barely damaged but unmarketable, are strewn on the ground in astronomic quantity. I’m getting frustrated not being able to take more. If you don’t want strange fruits in your shelves, it makes me happy … Full of energy, I quickly reaches the very old and beautiful city of Tortosa, overprotected by different Spanish fonts, where I will discuss with a really friendly old man. If I feel fit, he advised me to take the Alba mountain pass to go directly to the entrance of the Ebro Delta rather than choosing the easy but ugly trafficky road. Hating ride with the noisy cars, I would choose again the mountain. This pass will peak at 372 meters is short but deemed very difficult. I confirm … while the lower slopes are already stiff, the final would make pale the greatest cyclists in the Tour de France with a bike of 80 kilos only doped with Spanish orange.
Fortunately, the old man was right, the decor is charming. Since many dozens of years, men has shaped the mountain and built dry stone walls to make terraces where the centenary olive trees continue to thrive wonderfully. Finally reached the top, I rest in the chapel before switching on the descent also really abrupt. It will prove to be as the descent is a calvary as the road is narrow, with sharp turns but mostly with asphalt dotted with holes and in very poor condition … From up there, far away in the mist, I see finally the huge Delta, which covers 7736 hectares (77.36 km2) cut horizontally by the Ebro …
The mountains are only a few kilometers from the coast, which justifies the passage of major routes along the sea. Before entering the northern part of the Delta, so I have to cross traditional highway, national road and railway all parallel to each other.
Upon my arrival in the Delta, I discovered with amazement how the place is flat. This hadn’t happened to me to see this since many weeks. So I understand very quickly that the place isn’t conducive to the bivouac, especially as wild camping is strictly forbidden and severely punished of 6000€ fine.
Rice fields, the specific agricultural Delta aren’t irrigated for the moment and the thousands birds peck quietly sometimes the paws in the mud, sometimes on the cracked earth by lack of water. It will be very hard to hide myself as I usually do it as the visibility to for kilometers around is big. Here there is almost no house except the traditional houses used to store tools. No trees, only a few asphalted roads, dirt roads and irriguations canals that crisscross huge plots of crops.
I spot the scene and discovered a small house close to a shed near the Port del Fangar. The door isn’t locked and a big mattress smile me. I go in search of water until night falls, and it’s also a difficult task, as people living here are rare. I come back to the small house, the only solution I found, explores, and understand that this place serves as a point of meals and rest during harvest periods when the activity is important. I hope that no one will come to work tomorrow …
All night, a little curious mouse don’t stop to climb on my bag and play with plastics. I hear approaching her and with a quick gesture, I turn on my headlamp. I surprise her to watch me. Surprised, she didn’t dare to move and we remain face to face, eyes to eyes, until I sketch a movement that will scare her …
When she ends up visiting the bag that I use to keep food, is too much. I don’t care that it serves, this is the game with animals and I accepted it since a long time, and I also leaves open the bag so she found the exit easily before digging one herself in the tissue. But the incessant noise of nibbling cakes don’t stop to wake me up, me who thought a good night on a big mattress. When exceed I hunting her loudly around 4 o’clock in the morning, she takes refuge in a corner of the room, and I can hear her tiny stressed and jerky breathing. Thousands of birds outside begin to give voice while the dawn begins to point the tip of his nose.
I go back to sleep but soon the sound of tires on gravel in the driveway of the factory told me the arrival of a car. I woke me up quickly, go out of my sleeping bag, jumps into my pants and load the bike as fast as ever I did. I discovered in passing that the mouse spend a full night snacking 4 tiny corners of cakes …
The worker opens his shed, takes a tool to cut grass, and goes to work in a nearby field. When the engine noise seems sufficiently distant to me slip away, I jump on the bike and on the way, smile on my lips, greet my friend who work hard. He smiled at me !!!
It’s early, it’s cool and foggy, and there is a religious silence only disturbed by the singing of the birds. I go to the center of the Delta to take some informations in the only city in the north of the Delta with the most original name: Deltebre.
At the tourist information center, they listen the reason for my coming, my desires, my aspirations. This is how they orient me to the southern part of the Delta consists of Encanyissada and Tancada lagoons . This is the main place of refuge for thousands of waterfowl of dozens of different species, including a colony of flamingos more or less important following the season. The Delta is sparsely populated and is a fine example of coexistence between Nature “totally” intact and human economic activity constantly growing. Each has its place, his interest, without preventing the other to exist and live. Men cultivates rice through an irrigation system made possible by the strong presence of water, without encroaching on the natural area of the birds now protected. These last one, don’t hesitate to invest the fields to peck everything they can find. They stay at home after all.
In this time, I am totally alone to visit the Delta for two days, and yet, every time I slowed the bike to shoot a bird species that I had not yet seen so far with my camera, the whole colony flies to enough safe distance for her and too far for my the already powerful zoom.
This is proof that despite everything, our presence disturbs. What about in times of great tourist crowds?
However, they don’t seem the least bit frightened by the tractor who plows because they follow them very very closely to retrieve freshly turned abundant food leaving a white trail of thousands of birds behind the farm machinery … not idiots, that’s the beneficial cohabitation !!!
In one day, I haven’t done less than 50 kilometers within the Delta, leaving me often to contemplation, preferring Nature, fresh air and open spaces than museums. However, if you have the time and desire to understand this ecosystem more deeply, you will be able to visit the ecomuseum and the Casa de Fusta.
The museum of the Ebro Delta Natural Park aims to explain the operation of natural and human aspects of this particular environment. It shows the different elements that make up the Delta, its landscapes, its activities and its architecture. Visitable for 2€, it is in the Tourist Information Centre, which also contains a video room and a permanent exhibition. It represents amply the reality of the Delta and serves as an introduction and complement to any information content in the museum.
Through these visits, we observe and understand that as a whole, the Delta consists of two major parts: the human zone and another corresponding at the systems “no altered” of the Delta.
In the first case, there are representations of the agricultural system with irrigation examples of the delta plain, dam, irrigation canals, tree crops and paddy fields. In the second case, natural environments are lagoons, a “Ullal”, the river and its island and a small representation of a forest in the river.
Typical barracks shows activities like inland fisheries or traditional rice cultivation techniques. As evidence of the important role played at other times by river naviguation, one can see a real “llaüt” recovered from the river bottom and restored. An aquarium also offers the opportunity to observe the main species of fish and amphibians Delta.
The museum helps to interpret a complex reality as the anchorage of the human being in these places, and the weight of economic activities who coexist with protected areas for their significant natural value.
The Casa de Fusta, her, is near to the lagoons and the cyclabes routes settled in the Delta. This iconic building of the Delta is actually an installation of the Natural Park which hosts also a permanent exhibition on the Delta lagoons. But originally its function was not the same.
She must its origins, in 1926, at three rich men from Barcelona attracted by the presence of large amounts of waterfowl in the lagoon of the Encanyissada. So they decided to create a hunting society, with a concession period of 10 years. The fact that this contract was temporary and due the needing to have a place to settle during their stay at the Delta, they decided to build this shelter removable, completely with wood from Canada. The concession was extended for 40 years until 1966.
During the Civil War, the house was recovered to give refuge to the inhabitants of the region and it’s through this that its preservation was guaranteed.
After this date, the Ministry of Agriculture began to protect the lagoons and to negotiate with the hunting society. The State recuperate la Casa de Fusta ten years later, what was finally ended the hunting society. Then gradually, this hunting lodge was converted into an open place, with the desire to facilitate a better and deeper understanding of the Ebro Delta Natural Park.
In 1998, a complete restoration of the building was started, and the permanent exhibition that we can discover today was install. This explains the formation of lagoons and a comparison between the current state and the state before the agricultural colonization of the Delta, and the close relationship between the rice fields and wildlife and vegetation.
La Casa de Fusta also serves as local shop where it’s possible to acquire products from the Delta in particular and from the “Ebro Land” in general as well as a recreational area for children and a place of picnic.
Exploitation and conservation: a difficult balance to achieve , but possible if one wants to provide the means. But all of that is especially necessary for the natural conservation of the Ebro Delta, like many other places on Earth would enjoy.
After all these discoveries, night falls quickly in this season, and it’s time for me to find a new place to install my tent. It’s equally difficult in the southern part of the Delta, perhaps even more because of the proximity of lagoons that I don’t want disturb.
Like the birds were with with my camera, people are also afraid from me. This is a Spanish caracteristic to considerate and pose many problems when night is coming. If the environment doesn’t allow me to pitch the tent, it’s very difficult to find a place.
After many kilometers in the dark, I finally found a secluded house with a beautiful lawn. The grass is almost non-existent in the Delta, all the space is used to its maximum potential for agriculture. Once again, people invent me an incredible excuse to push me out. It’s so easy to say “yes” or frankly “no” rather than inventing a false pretext to justify his refusal or to hide his fear of the other …
It’s finally Rafael, who run after his dog in the street, that will come the unexpected help. He accepts that I pitch my tent on a beautiful synthetic grass beside the pool just as neat as the rest of his small property fully concreted in the middle of this huge Natural Park …
He runs at home and I wonder during a long time whether those attracted by the magical landscape of the Delta, still have consciousness after a few years of how lucky they are to live in this privileged space with the birds …
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