Walking (or not) From Banyuls, France to Portbou/Port Bou, Spain
Actually, we didn’t walk. I had surgery three weeks before this trip and faithfully promised my surgeon that I wouldn’t overdo. After yesterday’s 9-1/2 mile walk, it was the easier option (and smarter) to train it from Banyuls sur Mer to Portbou/Port Bou.
A skimpy breakfast at hotel with only rolls, juice and coffee, left the bags to be transported and walked to the Banyuls sur Mer train station for a short ride to Portbou right over the France/Spain border. Cerbere is the last Cote Vermeille town before you cross the border into Spain and is supposed to be another extremely beautiful little village. Cap Cerbere has a solar lighthouse referred to as the lighthouse at the end of the world. In French, “Le Phare du Bout du Monde.” According to Cerbere’s Information office, there are four self-guided walking tours that leave from the center of the town. A person could just park themselves there and do some gentle walks in the area.
The Border police came on the train at Cerbere to check passports/identity papers, and one of the Police looked at ex-Marine’s and immediately said, “Tom Jones!” This is not the first time that someone has remarked on his resemblance to either Tom Jones, Anthony Quinn, Tom Flores, ex-coach of the Oakland Raiders, and Smoky Robinson. Once in Portbou, you must show passports/identity papers once again to get from the platform into the station itself.
A short, three-block walk downhill from the Portbou train station and there was the Hotel La Masia with hiking directional signs almost directly in front of it. Miracles of miracles, for once we didn’t get lost looking for our hotel and Reception let us into the room without any problem. Suitcases delivered by 11:00 a.m. and we went out to walk around Portbou.
Portbou is an extremely small fishing village with only a few interesting facts:
– The rail yards were laid out in 1929 in conjunction with the International Exhibition held in Barcelona;
– The Catalan town of Portbou is best known as the first stop on Spanish territory on the Mediterranean side after crossing from France; and
– Portbou was one of the most used border passes where refugees from other countries crossed into France until World War II when refugees trying to escape both France and Germany reversed direction into Spain for several reasons. To avoid the concentration camps and to join the Allied Army in North Africa or England. Once refugees reached Spain, they were kept in concentration camps and prisons until they were allowed to continue on towards their destination.
There is a memorial to Walter Benjamin, an important Philosopher who first fled Germany in 1933 for Paris and then made his way south, when Germany occupied France. He eventually committed suicide in Portbou when the authorities refused to grant a transit visa. Just one story of many.
It was extremely windy today and locals kept referring to the wind as the “Tramontane” — whatever that meant. There was a couple from London, Helen and Kevin who had booked the same trip as we had but through La Balaguere while we had booked through La Pelerine. They are both French companies with websites in French only. We met Helen and Kevin in Collioure and discovered their itinerary was exactly the same as ours, staying in the same hotels and eating in the same restaurants. When we saw them at dinner tonight, they related horrendous stories about the extreme winds on the mountains and mentioned it was good that I missed today’s hike. Helen, who is even shorter and lighter weight than my 5’3-1/2″, 116 pounds stated she was almost blown off the mountains.
Well, at least today was relaxing (if not downright boring) and we’re looking forward to the hike from Portbou to Llanca tomorrow.