October 16, 2019

Throwback Thursday: The cascade at Gavarnie.

Cascade du Gavarnie, July 1982

It had been an exhausting 10 days. Chuck and I had visited penpals near Luxembourg, in Bordeaux and Barcelona. They ran us ragged seeing the sites, so we decided we needed a vacation from our vacation.

Driving north from Barcelona in a brand-new, rented, now beat-up Peugot, we cracked the Michelin guide at random to Gavarnie, a tiny town a mile up in the Haute Pyrenees on the border of France and Spain. Driving in at dusk, we could make out a thin white line against the peaks. As the light dimmed, we settled on the idea that it was ice in a crevice and worthy of exploring the next day. It must have been 9:30 when we checked into the hotel and found a outdoor cafe still open and a few guys with climbing ropes nursing bottles of Kronenbourg and sore knees.

Getting up far too early (still a bad habit from doing a morning radio show) I decided to hike the two miles in to check out the crevice. It was still dark when I started and a mile down the trail the remote Hotel du Cirque looked abandoned through the dim light and thick fog. I’d passed a river and the water sounded like it was raging everywhere around me when I decided I needed to wait for the sun to rise and burn off the fog to make sense of it all. I rolled up my sweater as a pillow and lay down on a flat spot near some grazing sheep.

I opened my eyes about a minute later. Through the lifting fog I could now tell I was within a bowl of cliffs and this 1400-foot-high waterfall revealed itself right in front of me. I later tried to see if I could touch it, but the spray was so powerful as it cascaded onto the rocks that you couldn’t reach it. The cloest I could get was leaning my full body weight into the spray and it actually blowing me back.

It was amazing to be the only human witnessing this. As I headed back, I said “bonjour” to one person, then another and another. I stopped counting at 137, but passed at least 1,000 people all headed to where I’d justy been. Including Chuck, who I almost missed in a crowd. Back in Gavarnie, Arribere Dessus was lined with tour buses. I asked the clerk at the hotel if it was mayhem like this every day. He said: “Non. Every other. Tomorrow you’ll have Gavarnie to yourself while the tour buses invade Lourdes.”

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Learn how this photo was copied from a 35mm Kodachrome slide with a Moment 10x Macro lens and an iPhone.

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