The Angry Corrie 55: Oct-Nov 2002

Postcard from Pollenca

Dear TAC

How are things in sodden-Gore-Tex, leaking-sky Scotland? It's hot and sunny here in Mallorca (the correct spelling, pace Grant Hutchison in TAC54), and I'm enjoying a San Miguel beside the pool, admiring the surrounding Serra Tramuntana. After the last two dreadful summers, the hills of Muirkirk and New Cumnock just lost their dreich charm and I got fed up of ploutering through swamp, mud and glaur. You can get too much of a goo thing, after all.

Being a soi-disant middle-class traveller rather than a lumpen, Majorca-spelling tourist, I thought it incumbent on me to learn some of the language before I arrived here. So a couple of weeks back I paso dobled to my local library and borrowed a paperback called Barron's Mastering Spanish Vocabulary. Sitting down with a glass of Rioja and a plate of stuffed olives, I prepared to do just that. Barron turned out to be a most remarkable phrasebook, filled with phrases for all occasions. I did wonder, however, if I would ever feel the need to inform the waiter that mis abuelos hacían el amor (my grandparents made love); or Maria es lesbiana; Marisa es virgen (just as it looks); or indeed mi amiga tiene Sida (my girlfriend has AIDS). And what sort of scary darkness, what fearful history, is there in the soul of the guy who contributed mato a su hermano por violar a su hija (he killed his brother for raping his daughter). You would have thought that this one might have raised a sub-editorial eyebrow or two.

Spanish vocabulary duly mastered, I flew here last Saturday, skidding on to the flooded runway of storm-bound Palma Airport: the rain in Spain falls mainly on the planes, it would seem. After collecting sodden rucksacks and cases from the immense and crowded Baggage Reclaim, a sort of Versailles Hall of Mirrors as imagined by Dante, it was off to the Betacar kiosk, where I managed to refrain from Barron's suggested conversational gambit en mi opinion, se debarán legalizar las drogas duras (I think hard drugs should be legalised) while picking up the Corsa.

I soon discovered that Spanish is the second language here in Catalunya (sorry Grant), Catalan being preferred. It's an interesting hybrid of Spanish and French: they say bon dia rather than buenos dias, and in its written form they miss out the phonemes (like nasalised n) the French can scarcely be arsed to pronounce. Bread is pá, for example.

Never having been to Mallorca before, I'm surprised at how beautiful it is: azure seas, precipitous cliffs, jagged mountains. The Balearic government has lately reconsidered its tourism policy in response to the challenge of cheaper destinations such as Turkey and Third World resorts: realising that it will soon be unable to compete at the bottom end of the market, it is attempting to reposition itself at the top end. The new Unique Selling Point is the natural beauty of the islands, and an environmental improvement tax is now levied on all visitors. Thus the Govern Balear is shrewdly shaking down the punters thronging Arenal and Shagaluf to fund the rebranding of Mallorca as an upmarket and environmentally green holiday destination.

Increasing numbers of British and German walkers are tramping the Serra de Tramuntana, the Ridge of the North Wind, in the temperate seasons of spring and autumn. Lovely hills they are too: but unfortunately the highest and most spectacular, Puig Major (1445m), has been occupied by the Spanish Air Force and topped with radomes, so that it now looks like Lowther Hill with the vertical hold gone wrong. The next highest is Massanella (1352m) and then Puig Tomir (1103m), the hill I wanted to climb. I was drawn to this Mallorcan Munro by the Rother guidebook's summary of it as an "Alpine summit with short interim climbs". Despite the fact that this description proved to be something of an exaggeration, I would commend these wee Rother Walking Guides: not only do they look good, and have useful maps, but they are also entertainingly and enigmatically translated from the original German. The preface, for example, describes Mallorca as "equally luring celebrities and the smart set as well as coffee circles and the merry bowling clubs which pursue their sangria rituals at the notorious Ballerman 6". Entschuldigen?

So yesterday I parked the Corsa outside the Binifaldó mineral water plant just off the winding mountain road between Pollença and Sóller. I yawned as I tied my bootlaces, it being not yet 8am: the plan was to be off the hill before the heat of noon. Soon I was merrily bowling along the marked path through cool pine groves. Now, without wishing to stir up the Great Paint Debate once again, I have to say that I was grateful for the assistance of the ubiquitous red marks on the hill, primarily because of the inadequacy of the maps. The normally reliable Freytag-Berndt's cartography, for example, features a contour interval of 100 metres(!), with the result that the jaggiest peak looks like Cairn Table. So the map was of little help when the path forked into two steep scree runs. Which to choose? The nearer run had some sort of broken pole sticking out of it, a bit like the abseil post in Coire Leis. Presumably this was the one ... but ten minutes later I found myself hanging from hand-lacerating grass as my boots slipped on ball-bearings above a leg-breaking drop. Not the correct choice, then. Ten more scary minutes saw me back at the pole, encrusted in scree-dust and streaked with blood and sweat. I noticed there was a small envelope-shaped bit of tin lying below the treacherous pole. It was painted black and white, diagonally divided, and looked exactly like the continental No Entry symbol. Which, of course, is what it was.

Back on the right track again, I toiled up the scree towards the first of the climbs promised by the guidebook. It turned out to be a three-metre slab protected by two artificial footholds and a wire handrail. Reader, I scoffed at such mollycoddling (as it turned out, though, I was grateful for it on the descent). The path then continued up a rocky and thorny gully, half way up which I met the only other person encountered on the entire walk. I had paused to wring the sweatband of my hat when he appeared from above in a pother of dust and scree. Eenglish? he enquired. Uncertain as to whether he was speiring my native tongue or nationality, I stuttered out yes ... no before remembering, shamefaced, that I was a traveller for goodness sake, and not some monoglot tourist. Si y no, I began, before he informed me that his name was George and he was from Dundee: I bade him a safe journey on the road and the miles home.

Another brief section of path and via ferrata brought me from the shade of the gully into the metamorphic heat of the summit ridge. The view sizzled through the haze: the Bays of Alcúdia and Pollença, rough arms embracing the Mediterranean; the Cavall Bernat (Mallorca's Aggy) Ridge; Es Puig Caragoler, like a dozing snail; the wedge of Puig Roig and the twin peaks of Massanella; and behind them, regal Puig Major and its pulsing orbs...

Imagine a Glen Coe summit, the view splashed with sunlight and blue sky, above an azure sea. And imagine having it all to yourself. You'll forgive me if I don't finish by saying Wish you were here,

Gordon Smith

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