My friend Guillermo and I are hiking the GR221, a trail that follows the northern coastline of Mallorca. At least we hope we are. We’re definitely hiking the coastline of Mallorca, but whether we’re on the GR221 is impossible to know. What is incontestably true is that we’re in a densely wooded valley and not where we want to be. It’s been a long day. We want to be in a town. Any town. Any town with a bar, I mean. One that serves cold beer and hot food and has a patio, preferably with a view of the Mediterranean since that’s why we came here, after all.
Instead of finding a town, however, we find yet another mountain. Worse, our mystery trail goes up it. We’re tired and sore and sweaty and so the thought of yet another uphill slog—there have been many—can only properly be described in language that I never use in public, but you get the idea. The only upside is that we must be fairly close to where the trail meets the road.
It takes us an hour to trudge up the mountainside. When we finally reach the top we can hear the traffic on the road–so close!–but there is one very big, very disconcerting problem. There’s a giant gate blocking our way, about twenty-feet-high and framed by two stone pillars equipped with a thicket of barbed wire.
Absurdly, we stand there for a few moments, scanning for weaknesses where we might be able to scramble over without needing stitches afterwards. Just for the sake of it, I try the handle. Locked. I figured that. The clanging metal alerts a couple of guard dogs in the distance and they bark with the kind of enthusiasm that makes you think they haven’t torn apart any hikers in a while and are really looking forward to the opportunity. And that’s clearly that.
“You have any food with you?” I ask Guillermo.
Yeah. I figured that too.
There is no going forward, and at this late hour, there is no going back, either. (If we managed to get lost during the day, who knows where we’d wind up in the dark.) So this is home for the night, and like chastised children, we’ll be going to bed without supper.
The GR221 is one of the jewels of European hiking trails. It weaves through pine forests studded by spectacular escarpments and past networks of stone terraces built up by farmers over millennia. But unfortunately, it’s broken. Two of the eight stages have been closed after disputes with landowners. (Let’s not speculate how wealthy landowners convinced a judge to overturn a fundamental rule of common law and ban access to a centuries-old trail because, well, nobody comes out of a mud fight clean and besides, lawyers are expensive.) But the point is this: you can’t hike the trail end-to-end. That’s the official word.
It is not, however, the last word. Lots of people still hike it, but you have to know which detours to take, and when it comes to that, nobody seems to agree on anything. Ask ten people and you will get at least 13 different answers. (Some people change their minds.) As if that weren’t enough, the trail intersects with all kinds of other paths and none of it is signed properly.
And so on our fourth day we set out from the village of Bunyalbufar. After walking past olive orchards and coves full of electric blue water, we met an older German couple coming the other way. We knew this was one of the tricky sections so we asked about the way forward. Unaccountably, despite four days of hearing erroneous reports from, as far as we could tell, everybody, we still believed them, as though this time it would be different.
“Ja, straight ahead all the vay, you can’t miss it.”
Well, I don’t know what to say. I know they weren’t lying to us, but it was not straight ahead all the vay, and we did, evidently, miss it. We eventually came across a chicken-wire fence that blocked our path, but it looked as though lots of other people had crawled underneath it, so we did the same, wondering the whole time how the older Germans managed it. We soldiered on until we emerged from a weed-choked ravine and that’s when we saw the trail up the mountain.
An hour and a bit later, after finally acknowledging we aren’t getting past the gate or the dogs, we follow the valley down to the seashore to look for a place to camp, which won’t be easy in this mountainous terrain. The outlook is bleak, but then miraculously, we find a flat patch of land big enough for the tent. Even better, it has a stunning view of the sea. It’s the best campsite we’ve had all trip, by far. Then, pulling things out of my backpack to set up camp, I discover a Snickers I’d forgotten about. Dinner!
The cove has a wild feel to it. There are no homes or roads in sight. The shimmering Mediterranean stretches on to the horizon. The setting sun bathes everything in a warm glow and listening to the rhythm of the waves crashing onto the rocks below has it’s usual mesmerizing effect. It feels like we are lost in a remote, forgotten corner of the island, and well, we are, but it’s just the kind of place we’ve been looking for all along. We just had to get lost in order to find it.