The mountain passes are the soul of Camins Vius, the most latent memory of those stories of cavalries, merchants, musicians, etc. that took the bridleways, with no other viable option, to cross from one valley to another in the Pyrenees. Stories of looting of merchandise and pastures; thefts of animals laden with Aragon wine and spices; macabre kidnappings with succulent ransoms that could end with bandits and thieves practicing the most cruel murder.
Camins Vius crosses 10 mountain passes that connect the Valleys: Coll de Saburo of 2680m, Puerto de Rus of 2600m, Collada de Basco of 1980m, Puerto de Vielha of 2440m, Paso del Coro of 1946m, Coll de la Cruz del Eixol of 2220m, Puerto de Gelada of 2060m, Puerto de la Bonaigua of 2060m, Coll de Fogueruix of 2080m and Coll del Triador of 2160m.
Port de la Bonaigua
In 1929, Josep Puig i Cadafalch subsidised an excursion to the Val d’Aran, led by the CEC expedition members Lluís Estasen, Josep M. Soler and Pablo Badia, to raise awareness of the advantages of skiing among the people of those isolated villages.
In July 1924 King Alfonso XIII inaugurated the Bonaigua road amid celebrations of those who saw the business opportunity to take advantage of the infrastructure as a business. For the first time, there was an open door of communication between the two regions.
Picture of M. Solé. Arxiu Fotogràfic del Servei d’Audiovisuals (IEI)
“I made three trips a week and the other days a companion carried the post mail, and when the weather was bad we passed the mountain pass together as a precaution. One day an avalanche took him but was saved thanks to the barking of his dog. The mail came from France and also from Spain, but equally everything went through France at that time. There was a commitment between the two countries to manage the correspondence of the Val d’Aran from France, until the tunnel of Vielha was built. I climbed with snowshoes through Tredòs and from there to Bonaigua, where I exchanged mail with Esterri’s mailman and sometimes, if a worker from FECSA left me his skis, I went down to the bottom.”
In winter and spring we met a group of 5 or 6 men, wanting to walk and earn a bonus, and each month we even did 2 or 3 trips to Andorra. One of the routes we used the most was through Irgo, Malpàs, Senterada, Montcortés, Baro, Tornafort, Puerto de la Esquina, bordas de Arcos and Andorra. Other times, depending on where the wind blew, we passed the Portarró to Espot and from there to the mountain of Alins. With very low temperatures and snow-filled roads, we carried sacks of up to 40kg of sheep wool and went on a good march, crossing mountain passages and riverbanks, to Andorra, to sell it at a good price. I remember a road before crossing the Noguera Pallaresa, below Tírvia, the civilians shot us, I think to scare us, but we dispersed and hours later we were all in Espot, safe.
Fotografia de M. Solé. Arxiu Fotogràfic del Servei d’Audiovisuals (IEI)
Port de Vielha
Port of Vielha This port communicates the Valle de Aran with the Ribagorzana region, and, given its intermediate situation between El Pallars and the port of La Picada (Benasque), points of more traffic, it turns out not to be as frequented as this one. Its passage is impracticable for more than half a year for horses and very difficult for pedestrians, because although the route is relatively shorter than the other ports of the Pyrenees, due to its considerable height in relation to the access points and its rapid watersheds, especially those on the Valley side with their Ubago exposure, make them snow-covered for a long time. Also, because of its close proximity to the Cursed Mountains, the blizzards and snowstorms are terrible. Few are the winters that there are not victims there with imprudent travelers. – La Vall d’Aran. Soler i Santaló, Juli.
Civilians and Republican soldiers crossing the Pyrenees. (Photograph courtesy of the Benasque Hospital Foundation)
“When I was young people used to come to Aigüestortes, but not like now. Everything has changed so much! People used to go more to Caldes, to take baths. They came from the port of Rus, from Cabdella; he thinks that in the thirties, the Pobla road on the bridge reached only the Cruz de Perves, it was more comfortable to come by Rus than the bridge.”
It was November 16, 1902, a couple of newlyweds from the Vall de Boí marched through France. The heavy snowfall stoped them at the Hospital. Three days later, on the 19th, with an uncertain time, they tried to cross the mountain pass. Six months later they found their bodies frozen, but perfectly preserved in the last snow of a long spring.
Hospital of Vielha and la Capella around 1930. Photographer unknown. Ecomuseu d’Esterri d’Àneu. (Photograph courtesy of the Benasque Hospital Foundation)