Thursday, October 6, 2016

Purgatory Falls

Waterfalls. Again, for a Canadian who grew up with Niagara Falls on her weekend travel circuit, it can be hard to be impressed. When Tall Guy suggested a hike to Madrid province´s highest falls, a whole 15 meters (!!), we tried to avoid any expectations. Sometimes, thanks to lack of rain, waterfalls in Spain are rather pitiful, just this side of completely dry. But I had wanted to visit a nearby monastery to hear their Gregorian Chant mass for a while, so we decided to combine the two.

We started the day with a trip to El Paular. The monastery was under construction, so we skipped the tour and went straight to the mass. It was very peaceful, listening to the ancient words and music, and we left feeling very calm.

We then went to the nearby Presillas Recreation Area, which could be a trip in itself! A beautiful expanse of flat land along the beautiful River Lozoya, a bar (obviously - it´s Spain, after all!), some shade trees, and even cows wandering around, it´s a great place to let kids run around and enjoy being outside. We hung around long enough to go over the map and directions, and to change Baby´s diaper, promising to spend some time on our way back.

The first part of the hike passes through a summer camp complex. Again, lots of people, and this time the crowds didn´t thin out. It was still very pleasant, and once we entered a more forested area, it was easy to find a quiet area for our picnic lunch. We took advantage of a smooth, flat rock, threw down a blanket, and let Baby kick and stretch while we ate. Our picnic was, for me, the highlight of the hike, and not just because the main dish was Tall Guy´s excellent tortilla espaƱola. It was just so nice to spend time as a family in nature, enjoying each other´s company.

baby is not impressed
There were many family groups, hikers of all ages and unfortunately several groups that had to turn back due to lack of proper gear. It´s quite common to see people in flip flops or without water along these types of trails - perhaps they had only planned on spending the day in the recreation area, and then a sense of adventure struck. It´s really sad to see unprepared hikers having a bad time on the trail. Yelling and tears do not need to be part of a family nature trip! Anyway, I can´t stress enough the importance of being prepared, even for a half day trip. We always, always pack at least three litres of water, healthy snacks, a first aid kit, and some basic survival tools. We dress in layers and wear appropriate footwear. You just really never know.

After walking through both oak and pine forests, we came to a lovely treed valley, where, on our return, a cow would join our merienda (afternoon tea)! The valley was idyllic, and the light was amazing. I kept expecting a fairy or a sprite to pop out and say hello. The most difficult part of the walk was after the valley. There was a bit of a scramble over a wet boulder, and a rocky climb up a narrow path. I was considering staying behind with Baby, but Tall Guy and a kind stranger made sure I felt secure and kept my balance, and in the end we arrived at the foot of Purgatory Falls as a family. The hike continued to a lookout from the top of the falls, but we left that for a future visit, when Baby is not a Baby and can do the climb himself!
our picnic crasher
We rested our feet at the recreation area, and took advantage of the beautiful light to take some pictures of Baby, and then we were on our way. A full day, but worth the drive and subsequent traffic jam. From the recreation area to the base of the falls was about 10 km, and took us more than the suggested three hours. We did take our time, and didn´t hurry over lunch or our afternoon snack.