I know I have written several letters about astronomical phenomenon, but this chapter, whilst about stars, is a little different. It all began with a flashback, and I am not sure exactly what caused it. It was probably the fact that Grease was broadcast the other night on telly. All I know is that I found myself flashing back to the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. My brother had, for as long as I can remember, been involved in the music business, and even growing up, he was somehow connected to the music scene where we grew up. He used to receive demo records in the post on an almost daily basis from record companies. And whilst he seemed to know everyone who was anyone in the music business that came to Milwaukee, I was relegated to just being one of the throngs who sat in the cheap seats of a venue. Of course in those days, a live performance was not what it is today.
I can remember going to see the Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars when they were on tour in 1960 (I think). The acts included Frankie Avalon, Duane Eddy, Fabian, Connie Francis, the Platters, and just about everyone else who had a hit record then. This was well before what we now know as ‘band tours.’ Way back then (and it does seem like a terribly long time ago), music promoters would put together these huge shows that had many artists playing their stuff.
Each group would play a song or two from their pseudo-massive repertoire (usually a repertoire of two or three songs) and then the next singer/group would come on stage. This is the way it was until a certain English group came on the scene. And then it changed once again when there was this big music festival on a farm in the state of New York in America. But even with all those changes, and the current flood of incredibly expensive live performances of big-time artists, there is still nothing that can compare to the way things were.
And speaking of ‘those times,’ this morning, I decided that I needed to do more of looking up. I am not exactly sure of the connection between ‘those times’ and my sudden need to look up, but it is my chapter, so you will have to just keep reading.
For all three years I was living in Puigpunyent, one of the constants was Galatxo. Galatxo is the highest point on the island, and soars almost 1,000 metres toward the stars. Compared to say, Everest or K2, 1,000 metres isn’t all that high, but when it towers over a little island village, it is pretty impressive. I remember many times thinking that I should see what the village looked like from the top of Galatxo, but for some reason, I never did. Today, I decided it was time.
I have a friend who recently went to Galatxo so I sent him an email asking his advise about the easiest way to get on the right road that would take me to the mountain. He responded with what I thought were pretty concise directions, so this morning, I packed some fruit, a big bottle of water, and a jacket, and drove off on this adventure. I found the right road, and after driving for a bit, parked my car at the large stone gate. With my camera and rucksack, I went off to begin my big climb. I knew before getting there that it would be quite a hike, but I had no idea how long it would be. This was complicated by the minor fact that whilst the directions I were given were good, they were not going to get me to where I wanted to go. My directions took me to a place called Finca Publica Galatxo, which is a unbelievably large finca that had been given to the government of Calvia, probably to avoid tax problems.
After about 1.5 kilometres, I came upon the finca and after a quick view, continued to follow the path noted by the signs. The path I had chosen was to Pou de Ses Sinies (Po-de-Sez-SEE-ne-ez) and according to the distance noted on the wooden sign, I should be able to get there in about an hour. I had decided to head in that direction as it was the highest spot identified on the signs at the finca, and my reasoning was that the higher the better. After all, I was going to the highest point on the island, and I assumed after reaching Pou se Ses Sinies, there would be another sign pointing the way for the rest of the journey. I was wrong.
I did stumble along the rock-strewn path as it wound its way up through the scenery, and after a little more than an hour, I encountered some bloke running along the path coming toward me. Running. Shit, I was struggling walking on the rocks and this guy was running as if there was a lava flow chasing him. I knew that lava was not an option, so I just assumed that this guy was some psychopathic health freak and kept stumbling along. Within another 15 minutes, I came to a clearing where there was a couple who looked as knackered as I felt. They asked if I spoke English, and with a great look of relief on their faces, I said that I did. After a few minutes of chatting about how pretty it all was where we were, one of them produced a trail map (something I didn’t have) and I discovered that whilst I was definitely climbing higher and higher (something my legs already knew), there was no way I was going to make it to the top of Galatxo today. Actually, I was on the wrong side of the topography completely. Apparently, when I had asked for directions to ‘Galatxo,’ my source gave me directions to the Finca Publica Galatxo, and not the mountain-top. Right. That was okay, as I had had a brilliant hike through some spectacular scenery, and had most probably worn off 32 kazillion calories.
As I hiked back down the hill, I began to think of what lessons I had learnt on this little expedition. This thinking process was only interrupted once, and that was when four men on mountain bikes went whizzing past. What was that all about? I must have been on the path for health freaks. Lesson 1: Know where you are really going. I had asked for directions, which were spot on. They just weren’t going to get me where I wanted to go. Minor problem. Lesson 2: Carry a dictionary. This would have been quite helpful as all the hiking trail signs were printed in Catalan (Mallorquin) and not in Spanish. I do love the language, but the language I do love is the national language (Spanish) and at my age, learning one new language is hard enough. Lesson 3: When hiking up mountainous terrain, do not wear boating deck shoes. I didn’t see a single piece of teak along the path, and my deck shoes and the rocks I was walking on did not seem to get along well. Lesson 4: Having an entire team of Sherpa guides to carry supplies is a good idea. This may be a bit overkill when out on an afternoon hike, but I would have liked to have them today.
Day two of the Galatxo saga, and when I awoke this morning and all I could think about was finishing what I started yesterday. So, lessons well learnt, I put on thick socks, put on better shoes for climbing, packed more pears and some chocolate bars (for energy) and headed back to Galatxo. It was 0930 and I was ready. This time I headed to the road from Puigpunyent to Galilea, where I was told by another friend I would find a turn off that would take me up the mountain. My directions were clear (again). Take the turn off toward La Reserva and follow it for 3.4 kilometres, then take the turn when you see the sign marked Es Cucui. Okay. No one bothered to tell me that the road toward La Reserva hasn’t been maintained since the Moors were here apparently, other than the odd patching job. Sadly, the patching of the tarmac must have been done with marshmallows. The road was just plain terrible and Amelia was none-too-chuffed about trying to survive the potholes, some of which appeared to be deep enough to swallow Ibiza. I have no idea what the grade was, but at times, it did feel as if I was driving up a 45-degree hill. Just after I had gone the 3.4 kilometres, there was a sign that said Es Cucui, and I obediently turned and found myself heading up an even steeper hill.
After another few kilometres, the road sort of ended in a huge pile of gravel that held a sign that said Puig de Galatxo, 1 hr 15 min. Right. I could almost taste the looming excitement as I began to hike up the path that extended upward from behind the sign. At the time, I was thinking how treacherous this path was, but was soon to find out that this path was quite a luxury for what lay ahead. It was now shortly after 1015 and I found myself really struggling as the angle of the hill that I was climbing kept increasing at the same pace that the path became smaller. It wasn’t too long before I realised that the real plus to my packing time this morning was including a very long wooden rod that I was using as a walking stick. As it was still early in the day, and the path was pretty slippery in spots, having this assistance was a real plus.
At first, there was the rather infrequent wood signpost with an arrow that I assumed pointed the direction to follow, but after a while, the arrow indicators became simple piles of stones that someone had made for the hikers who came up here. After finding yet another pile of stones, I saw something through a break in the trees. It was an observation tower, and I knew that all this effort had been worth it. I was almost there. Having said that, after another 10 minutes, I could see that the observation tower was not actually at the top of Galatxo. No doubt about it, it was pretty flippin’ high however. Although the tower – a fire prevention vantage point – was locked, even from its base the views were pretty spectacular. To the south, I could see the sea near Sta. Ponca. To the east, I could see parts of Palma and Palma bay. To the north it was easy to see where Soller was behind the mountain range; and to the west, I could see Estellencs and the sea. I had to keep going…I was so close to the top…or so I thought.
I still hadn’t seen anyone on the path this morning and was beginning to believe I was the only one out here as I kept dragging my excessively tired legs up the side of the mountain. When I looked around after another 30 minutes, I was astonished to see how much further up I had managed to get. And that was about the time I heard voices. The sounds were coming from a different path that was snaking along the western side of the mountain. Undoubtedly, this was the path up from Estellencs I had been told about. The voices belonged to four young men who I saw were on bicycles. BICYCLES. Shit. I was struggling to do this climb on foot, and here were four guys on mountain bikes. Incredible.
Feeling a bit whimpy about the fact that I was knackered and they seemed to be feeling no pain at all, I started to go back down so I could get to a spot where I thought they would stop. It took a few minutes to get there, but as I negotiated my way around this big rocky corner, there they were. Luckily for me, they spoke Spanish (as opposed to Catalan) and I asked them how long it had taken them to get this far. Well, one of them told me they had ridden their bikes from Palma to Puigpunyent and then up the mountain earlier in the day. THEY FLIPPIN' STARTED IN PALMA AND THEN RODE THEIR BIKES UP THE FLIPPIN' MOUNTAIN? Shit shit shit shit shit. Okay, in all fairness, each of these guys were less than ½ my age, but geeez. I took a photo of them and they jumped onto their bikes and went bouncing down the path. I just sat there, totally flummoxed by how these guys could do this. Right…the age thing. I turned around and continued my journey up.
After a while, I encountered a couple who appeared to have done this type of exercise before. They were both kitted out with matching spandexy-looking hiking kit, seriously impressive climbing shoes, a portable GPS-looking thing, and a map. I couldn’t resist, and asked them how high we were standing on the side of the mountain. The man checked his map, and then the electronic thingy and said that where we were standing was 748 metres high. Right.
The peak of Galatxo is 1026 metres high. I was then at 748 metres. I needed to climb another 278 metres to make it to the top. After looking at the helpful couple, then looking at the remaining 278 metres, I decided that this challenge was for another day. Besides, I had just come upon a sign printed in Spanish, Catalan, English, and German. The English translation was 'Big Game' along with one of those generic siloulette sign pictures of a man with a rifle. I don't think they meant there was a huge Monopoly board around the corner.
I was at the level where what remained looked to be serious mountain climbing, and I wasn’t quite prepared for that. Not quite prepared means that I didn’t have the right kit, nor did I think my legs would be able to make it all the way up AND THEN make it all the way down. So instead, I devoured a pear whilst sitting on some rock, pretty chuffed that I had made it as far as I had.
Quite obviously, I did make it back down the mountain, just in time to write this letter before I fall asleep for the next few days.
Dick Clark, in the Bandstand days
Frankie Avalon, apparently trying to look cool
location of Galatxo
the entrance to Finca Publica Galatxo
the view from the courtyard
wall detail of the finca
the place to turn
one of the understandable path indicators
one of the not-so-understandable path indicators
the fire-lookout tower
the last 278 metres
the view from 748 - note the fire observation tower
vista toward Sta Ponca
vista toward Palma
copyright 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, James B. Rieley