The Way to Uli Alto

Barcelona let me leave! As advised by I get the train from Sants in Barcelona to Castelbisbal, just outside it. I follow the directions I copied down in my notebook and eventually find the dirt track, with the help of some cyclists. A man drives past in a taxi and stops as I´m approaching the service station. His accent is crazy and he has a strong speech impediment that makes it sound like he´s speaking Spanish quickly underwater with his nose held. He seems quite concerned about me and asks a lot of questions which I can´t understand. Then he gives me a peach and a pomegranate and writes down a taxi number for me. I tell him I have no money but he makes some more noises and gives it to me anyway. Then he offers to give me money, which I politely refuse. I thank him and he shows me an obscure gate by which I can enter the service area.

Two women stop for me while I´m making my sign. They ask lots of questions about my family and how often I speak to my mother. They seem confused by my answers to their questions about where I am going and for how long will I travel: “No sé” (I don´t know).

I wait a little longer at the second service station, but get picked up by a man who speaks good English and works in the wine industry. The place he drops me, another service station, is almost completely deserted. A woman inside grimaces when I ask for something “sin carne”. Oh no, not round here love. She points at the wilting bocadillos filled with various kinds of flesh, indicating that´s all I´m getting. I leave still hungry. I´ve not eaten since breakfast. I ran out of emergency travel muesli a week ago and forgot to pack bread. All I have is half a stick of carob from Can Masdeu and the pomegranate the man gave me earlier.

Every few minutes or so a car comes into the service station. The second car I ask, a couple, agree to take me to Zaragoza. They drop me in a massive truck stop where I now sit drinking a beer (blame Alex!), having just finished a meal of microwaved chips, fried green peppers, lettuce and tomato salad and a dry bread roll – everything they had that was vegan. I have stuck my “Pamplona” sign on the table, but everyone is studiously ignoring it.


I awake under a tree near that same truck stop and spend the first half hour of the new day extracting pine needles from my mosquito net. No need for a tent last night – too conspicuous and my waxed army sleeping bag (thanks Ninja Dave!) kept me plenty warm enough.

Despite finding a good spot it´s a very slow start. After a three hour wait I get moved on by police and return dejectedly to the truck stop. I ask everyone in sight if they are going to Pamplona, but it´s another hour before I find a lift. He buys me a coffee and I sit embarrassed in the same cafe/bar where I ate dinner the night before and breakfast this morning.

Finally I am crossing Navarra in a car with three Moroccan men. We drop off the two passengers in a pueblo on the way. “You are lucky”, says my driver, “I never come this way”. I have been having some difficulty with the words “casada” and “cansada”. One means “married” and the other “tired”. He asks a question and I answer that yes, I am tired. When the following question is about children I realise my mistake. “Oh sorry, no, I´m not married and I don´t have children”. After another coffee he drops me off in Taffalla and I begin walking down the road to Lumbier with my thumb out. Who should stop but my Moroccan friend! He asks if I would like to marry him. I am a little taken aback at this and can only stand, open-mouthed while he, thinking I have not understood, takes pains to explain again more slowly and with hand gestures. But I do understand. I politely refuse telling him thank you, but no. I use hand gestures also. He shrugs and drives away.

All my drivers think I´m crazy trying to hitchhike to such and out of the way place, but I am confident and luck is with me. Each place I´m dropped off is more remote than the last, but before long a car comes along and takes me a little further. All I have to go by is the directions on the website, which on the English version of the site are as follows:

  • To come it’s easy just take a map of spain (north) find the N240 road from pampluna to huesca just go to lumbier folow Aoiz
  • On this road folow Elkoaz during 20-25 km corossing different’s villages, you’ll meet rock’s tunnel
  • 200 m after this tunnel start a concrete pist and the fisrt pannel uli-alto
  • There is 13 km of pist with few cross, just folow the little pannels with goat drawing…

What´s “rock´s tunnel” and what the fuck is a pist? On looking at the French and English pages and running it through google translate, the best I can came up with is “piston”, which isn´t very helpful to me either.

A lift gives me a detailed map of the area which shows Uli Alto. I am delighted – it really does exist! – although the map shows no roads leading there, only the words “Uli Alto” floating in a midst of mountainous area. I become even more certain I can reach my destination tonight. My last lift takes me far past his own village and joins the hunt with me for a while, stopping twice to ask directions to this mysterious place. He takes me right to the start of the “pista”, which turns out to mean “track”.

I begin walking. According to the directions, Uli is 13km up the pista. Well, at least it´s a beautiful walk and if I get too tired or night comes I can just sleep in my tent by the track.

But no, luck is still with me. After walking a few km two girls come down the mountain in a landrover. They have been staying at Uli for two days and it has obviously had quite an effect on them. They think I´m crazy for trying to walk, especially when they feel the weight of my backpack as they load it into the boot, turn around and take me back up the mountain.

I arrive, a little embarrassed at being unexpected. I had tried emailing and calling both the number on the website and the number Matt gave me in Barcelona, but there was no reply. I needn´t have worried. Most of the others are guests also and say it was the same for them arriving. I arrived just in time to help finish preparing dinner. My first proper meal in two days!

Space for sleeping here is a problem, but if I´m only staying a few days I can sleep in Violetta´s van, which I will share with her dog. Good thing I still have allergy tablets! It´s a beautifully decorated little hippy van, which Violetta obviously lived in before the yurt she lives in now with her French partner Leo and their newborn baby. Most of the others sleep in vhicles, but there is also one other yurt and one fabulous newly built wooden house, lived in by a family who are part of, yet a little seperate from the rest of the community.

There are six squatted villages in this valley and Uli is the newest. It has been occupied for a year and a half and so is still being established. I am quickly told “there is no organisation here”. There is one communal room and an outdoor kitchen with a roof, currently in the process of being enlarged for the fiesta Uli is having on the 24th-25th October. Most of the buildings are unfinished, except the church, which has recently been bought. The rest of the village belongs to the state. It´s unclear to me why somebody would want to buy a little church 800m up a mountain in a squatted village full of French hippys, but this seems not to bother my new friends.

Communication is difficult and it´s hard to get the details of a story. My Spanish is coming along well, but apart from Violetta and Anna, everyone is French and some speak only French. What I most want to know is the details of the two previous occupations of this village, but all I can gather is something about a crazy man putting garbage under the earth and some kind of problem with the water.

It´s a beautiful place and the people are friendly and hospitable. I have long rambling walks on the mountains and a lot of rest. I´m pretty exhausted and it´s bloody freezing up here. I can´t believe I spent that night under the tree in only a sleeping bag a few nights ago. Winter is coming quickly in this part of Spain.

Uli has a wbsite with pictures here:

4 thoughts on “The Way to Uli Alto

  1. “What I most want to know is the details of the two previous occupations of this village, but all I can gather is something about a crazy man putting garbage under the earth and some kind of problem with the water.”

    Thats great – sounds like the beginning of a neo-myth… hmm… I wonder how it might end…

    Missin u too

  2. Montains of spain is a bit loose…. Uli goiti as it’s called in the native tongue is in navarre, Basque Country!!!

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