A TNT Travel Writing Awards entrant
Author: Kate Morioka
After two hundred and ten breaths of oxygen, half a litre of H2O and releasing a shirt full of sweat, we had reached our destination. Our journey had taken us past a natural spring, giant stone pinnacles, wild vultures, intriguing flora, and limestone cliffs of all sizes, colours and shapes. This really was somewhere strange; somewhere off the beaten track; somewhere on a road less travelled.
No, we weren’t in one of those slick modern gyms in a luxury hotel (that’s somewhere we, budget travellers, consider as being ‘off the beaten track’) and we were not in Pampalona running away from an angry bull. These weren’t the reasons why we were in a state of perspiration.
At 760 metres above sea level, we began our journey in Rodellar. From Barcelona, Rodellar is about a three hour drive, north-west of Lleida.
As there are no roads, no train tracks, no tram lines and no cable cars, the only way to reach our destination was by foot for seven kilometres. And where were we heading? The small village of Otin, in the heart of the limestone massifs known as the Sierra de Guara.
Sierra de Guara is known for cannoning and rock climbing and sure enough we pass many enthusiasts who enjoy these outdoor activities. We know for sure that this is the place to be if you want to see or be the next Chris Sharma or Lyn Hill, world’s best rock climbers. This is the place where the mountaineers of the 1950s had ascended some of the best and hardest climbs!
After walking past the popular climbing sectors, there were very little signs of other human life. One may come across the occasional group of people cannoning upstream but other than that it’s just you, the limestone cliffs, the Muscun River, wild native vultures and whatever else that can live, rest and play in the Sierra.
The walk to Otin is itself amazing – the flora changes as one reaches higher altitude; starting with riparian vegetation at the bottom of the gorge which give wayto thick, dense and desert-like bushes on the plateau about 300 metres above the river Rio Muscun. Limestone pinnacles pop up from the land beneath and caves and arches imprint the huge cliff walls.
Soon we noticed wild vultures circling the sky above, looking for their next prey. Vultures are able to see an object 30 centimetres in size from three kilometres away. Fortunately we weren’t their typical prey.
With a rich landscape, fauna and flora the beauty of the sierra before modern civilisation is just unimaginable. It is no wonder that the early humans, namely Neanderthals, had occupied this area and their presence is captured in many of the rock paintings and dolmens which can be found at the southern end of the Muscun Gorge.
About an hour into our journey, we stopped at a junction. We saw a crooked sign which read “Otin Bar” with an arrow guiding us to the right direction. Another kilometre or so past cleared farmlands, we finally reached Otin.
Otin was a tiny village with only six houses and a village church. The buildings were made of stone, laid neatly on top of each other to form a solid structure. Though we expected a village bar (after all that walking we were in need of a cerveza) there was none. The sign mislead us!
We were able to walk freely into one of the houses in the village. We felt like we stepped back in time. The semi-intact stone house had a wooden door with the year 1737 engraved at the top, and a large reception room forming the entrance. The reception was joined to the kitchen, which had remnants of a traditional fire oven in the corner. At the other end of the house was what seemed to be a barn, where animals and feedstock used to be kept. An old wooden staircase led us upstairs, where we found a small opening to a well. We could merely see the surface of the water, which seemed to be vibrating from the breeze flowing down the well shaft. The upstairs was the sleeping quarters of the inhabitants who once occupied the house. Another set of wooden stairs linked the second level with the third but as the stairs looked extremely unsafe, we chose to explore no more.
We walked along a dirt track, past the other houses and towards the church. The church was once painted white but now its exteriors were stone rubble, neglected and weathered. The interior was in a similar condition but what we could make out of the mosaic designs painted along the cornices of the church and the physical marks of where church alters one stood were enough to fulfil our imagination. It must have been a small but a beautiful church, a focal point for the villagers.
We sat down on the church yard to eat our lunch – salami and lettuce sandwiches on stale loaf bread and a cup of tea. Before we could finish, the rain began to fall. A sprinkle here and a sprinkle there, and then the thunder came. Yes, this kind of weather was not uncommon in this part of Spain. We quickly gathered our belongings and started our return journey.
As we left the church grounds, past the old stone houses and along the dirt track, we couldn’t help pondering when the next visitors will come to Otin. With the empty village of Otin now behind us, we left with a sense of history, a history of what life used to be like in Otin. No one seems to know what happened to Otin, why it stood so bare, so alone. It is doubtful that anyone would be alive to tell the story because the last of Otin’s residents left the village more than one hundred years ago. And to this day the village remains abandoned.