Estanys de Tristaina

If I paint a wild horse, you might not see the horse… but surely you will see the wildness!

-Pablo Picasso

If there was ever a place that was plucked straight from the pages of a fairytale, it would be Andorra.  Although it is only a three hour drive from Barcelona, the world’s 16th smallest country couldn’t feel more different from the mediterranean coast.  We arrived in Andorra in the evening after a full day of touring Antoni Gaudí’s architecture in Barcelona to find a lush and verdant country with mountain vistas in every direction.

Although we’d already had a long day, we stopped at one last historic site before going in search of our Airbnb, the bridge of Sant Antoni de la Grella.  This simple stone bridge was once the only way to get to La Massana, the town we would be staying in during our time in Andorra.

The medieval bridge crossed a peaceful creek, and the quiet, natural surroundings were a welcome relief from the bustle of Barcelona.  We didn’t linger long at the bridge, and we were soon back on our way to La Massana, where we found our accommodations after getting a little lost on the narrow streets.  When we finally found our apartment, we settled in for a relaxing evening while enjoying a lovely view from our balcony.

Vince, Courtney, and I got up earlier than David and Caleb the next morning.  We wanted to go see the Església de Sant Cristòfol d’Anyós before we all set out for a day hike on the country’s northern border.  We made a short drive up to the peak of a small mountain where we found the little stone church that dates back to the 12th century.

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Església de Sant Cristòfol d’Anyós

We just happened to arrive right as the in-ground sprinklers turned on, so we dodged streams of water as we looked at the adorable little church and the view of La Massana in the valley below us.  It was a quiet morning; we only saw a couple of joggers as we admired the building’s stonework.  Walking around to the back of the church, we noticed a large lavender plant, and upon closer inspection saw that it was full of bees that were just waking up for the day.

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A bee on lavender
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A bee on lavender

Courtney and I watched the fluffy bees float from flower to flower until Vince reminded us that we should be getting back to pick up David and Caleb.

After a quick stop back at the apartment, and then another for breakfast, we were finally ready to go.  It only took a half hour to drive to Ordino Arcalís Ski Resort, where we would be starting our hike to the Tristaina Lakes.  The trail was beautiful right from the start, where it went up a steep hill with sweeping views of a valley behind us.

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The beginning of the hike

I felt elated to be in the mountains.  Although the trail was busy, hikers were still spread out enough that it didn’t feel crowded, and I was appreciative of the personal space after spending time in Barcelona.  We were all in high spirits as we ascended up to a flatter section of trail and then crested a small hill.

A tram and a ski lift ran through a valley below us, but there was something else there that was decidedly more interesting to me.  David was the first to point to a coppery brown shape that stood out amongst lush grass beside a snaking river.  There was a wild horse grazing in the field, and suddenly I felt very much like a younger version of myself as I set off along the wrong path without giving much of an explanation to the others.  Caleb followed me, and soon we had a better view of the horse, who couldn’t be bothered to stop her grazing to acknowledge us.  We approached with caution, but she didn’t pay us any attention at all as we stopped at a safe distance to watch her.

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The wild horse grazing

My mind was racing with a flood of memories of my obsession with horses when I was a kid.  Seeing a wild horse like this, with the backdrop of rugged mountains behind her, was something that I never dreamed I would get to experience.  I felt a bit humbled and dumbstruck at the thought that I was unexpectedly realizing a long-forgotten childhood fantasy.  When the horse got bored with her patch of grass and ambled off in search of another one, Caleb and I returned to the group, and I babbled away about how excited I was as we resumed our uphill slog towards the lakes.

We were beginning to realize that the time estimates on the trail signs we’d been passing were definitely optimistic in our case.  The hike wasn’t especially difficult, but we don’t have ample mountain climbing opportunities in our daily lives in Michigan, so we were slower than the average Andorran.  This wasn’t concerning however, because we had ample time left in the day, and we couldn’t complain about spending a little more time exploring the gorgeous Pyrenees mountains.

Eventually we made one last steep, uphill push that brought us to the first lake, the aptly named Estany Primer.  It was surrounded by tall peaks, and fringed with vibrant, pink flowers.

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Estany Primer

A river running downhill from the Estany Primer made for another beautiful scene.

We took a break on the shores of the lake to eat some snacks, scurry up a boulder, and take a group photo before trekking uphill to the also aptly named Estany del Mig.

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Me, Vince, Caleb, David, & Courtney at Estany Primer

The trail near the lakes was even more beautiful than it had been before, and I stopped to snap pictures often.  Soon we had reached Estany del Mig, where a number of other hikers had stopped to rest.  This lake was more beautiful as we continued down the path, watching for trout in the waters along its shore.

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Estany del Mig

The trail changed from dirt to rock and followed a river all the way to Estany de Més Amunt, which roughly translates to Lake Above.  The third and final lake was a stunning emerald color.

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Estany de Més Amunt

We could have continued uphill to the summit of the mountain from there, but none of us felt inclined to do that, so we began our return journey after David and Caleb took a quick swim in Estany de Més Amunt.  The descent was even more beautiful and we got to enjoy panoramic views of the mountains and lakes as we hiked.

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A view of Estany del Mig and Estany de Més Amunt
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Estany Primer from above

Trekking back downhill was much faster and we encountered some fascinating insects along the path.  Once our eyes started looking for small creatures, we suddenly realized there were lizards everywhere.  We hadn’t noticed them before when we were gazing up at mountains, but now that we were watching our step going downhill we saw them quite frequently.

Aurelio’s rock lizard

We made it back to our car in good time, and then spent another relaxing evening in La Massana where we had a delicious dinner and then went back to our Airbnb to clean and pack.  During the night, a violent rainstorm materialized and we woke up in the morning to a downpour that had caused a minor rockslide on the hill behind our apartment.  We raced our luggage out to our cars and jumped inside, shivering from the cold drops.  Andorra had been amazing, but the rain made leaving feel a bit easier.  With mixed emotions, we set our course for my 25th country, France.

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