He looked at me and said it again, this time with noticeable frustration and urgency, “Hay Ere Onthi!”
I was puzzled. This word did not sound spanish and I was pretty sure that I’d never heard it before in my life. Maybe it was one of his odd Catalyan phrases. Something Latin? But I could tell by his exasperated expression that I should know intimately what he was talking about.
With a long sweep of his index finger he pointed down along the muddy trail and off to the eastern horizon, where the high Pyrenees were beginning to jut up out of the foothills like a disheveled pile of sharks teeth. As I looked eastwardly down the path, towards an unseeable Mediteranean sea some 430 miles away, I realized with great embarassment that he was talking about the path we had been walking together for the last 4 days, the GR 11.
I had read that the spanish call it La Senda, or the Gran Recorrido, but “Hay Ere Onthi”,´which I´d finally realized is the lispy Castillian pronunciation of GR 11, is what I´ve been hearing. The GR 11 is one of a variety of long distance trails in Europe that traverse the mountain ranges, follow the coasts or retrace pilgrimages to battered old iglesias. But the GR 11 is the most special to me as it starts at the Atlantic and finishes on the Mediteranean, all the while wandering the foothills and jagged peaks of the Pyrenees mountains in between. It passes through at least four distinct cultural areas of Spain, Basque Country, Aragon, Andora, and Catalyunia, all people of soaring individuality and pride. The trail also boasts ancient Spanish villages unknown to most North Americans, some of the best breads, wines, goat cheese, coffees and olives in the world, right along the path.
I had learned how to follow the trail, looking for the red and white stripes painted on trees, rocks, and ruins. But now, best of all, I´d finally learned how to say it.