Transhumance time

The Llosar route: transhumance paths in search of eternal spring

Transhumance and transhumants require protection, and above all, recognition. In the year in which transhumance has been officially declared in Spain, Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO, only three shepherds from Teruel keep it alive on one of the routes to the Mediterranean, specifically the Llosar livestock route. On this occasion and to commemorate this more than well-deserved worldwide recognition, I have accompanied them in the seasonal movement of their herds, following a centuries-old tradition, just as their ancestors did through ravines and paths loaded with centuries of history, a heritage still alive that today accumulates a rich cultural and ethnographic heritage, reflected in festivals and traditions, in toponymy, gastronomy and architecture related to this activity.

At the gates of summer, one more year the livestock cycle repeats itself. Just like centuries ago, shepherds walk hundreds of kilometers with their livestock in search of that eternal spring that guarantees them natural grass and pleasant temperatures all year round. The two flocks of Eduardo and Gonzalo exceed 1,100 sheep and will begin transhumance in the Baix Maestrat, from Traiguera and San Rafael del Río, respectively, fleeing the heat in search of the green and fresh pastures of Teruel. When autumn arrives they will do the route in reverse, descending from the meadows located close to 2000 meters above sea level, this time looking for the winter pastures of the coast that have a more pleasant climate than the harsh winter of the mountains, in which a blanket of snow covers everything much of the time.

I will walk with them on this long journey from sun to sun, a path that brings enormous benefits both for the ecosystem and for the well-being of the animals, traveling an average of 25 km a day and sleeping under the stars… a transhumance can hardly be described. if you don’t live closely.

Story of the path taken in the spring of 2024 (May 23 to 26) by Eduardo Altaba Palomo (October 16, 1958) from Traiguera to Cantavieja.

Story of the path taken in the spring of 2024 (May 28 to 31) by Gonzalo Gargallo Altabas (April 30, 1970) from San Rafael del Río to Cantavieja.

First day of trail: We set off early in the morning from the corral in San Rafael del Río, walking among orange groves, which as the road progresses are gradually replaced by dry land: olive, garrofero and almond trees. Shortly before reaching the Cérvol River, we see flocks of multicolored bee-eaters flying elegantly and acrobatically, while emitting their characteristic song. We cross the waters of this river on a cement bridge, where the sheep take the opportunity to drink and rest. We resumed our march, progressing at a good pace towards Traiguera, where in the entire region there is the largest concentration of ancient olive trees in the world. Located at an altitude of 271 meters, it has almost the entire old town center of medieval design. We surround this town to follow the path towards the end of the Jana.Va spending the afternoon in the olive grove, under a blue sky with fluffy white clouds. Some greenlings, from the tips of the branches of large, old garroferas, sing near the path along which we pass. Following the pass we reach the national highway towards Zaragoza that passes through Morella, which in some sections coincides with the Cañada Real and which will take us to Chert1, where the path is wide and quiet. We enter the town through its main street, and when we leave it and after crossing the Zaragoza highway, we enter the Rambla de En Roig, a gravelly ravine that is very difficult to cross.

We spend our first night outdoors in En Roig, a neighborhood in Chert, near a watering hole with the town’s drinking water.

1 An old pastoral saying that said “per Chert passes awake”, warned of the cattle thefts that took place when crossing it.

Second day of trail: With the first fresh lights, we began our walk along the peaceful path. The path here is quite wide, and it is important to leave the boulevard before the sun gets hot. We left it around 10 in the morning at the Hostal del Maestre and between stone walls we entered the Maestre neighborhood, where the flock quenches their thirst in some ponds that always have water to drink. Continuing through the Barranco de Salvasoria, we arrive at Las Covetas. As the warm afternoon fades, a soft coolness spreads across the mountain. Gradually the sonority of the twilight replaces the daytime hubbub. The verse of the hoopoe, the chirping of a multitude of birds, the buzz of the blowflies among others, is changed by the hooting of the owls, the fluted call of the owl, the strumming of the crickets and the metallic clicks of the bats. We have reached the end of the second day, where in this setting that nature offers us we will also spend the night under a dreamlike starry sky.

 Third day of trail: In the morning, after leaving the Salvasoria massada, we arrived at the fountain with the same name, where we had lunch under the shade of some century-old poplar trees, while we listened to the reedy verse of the oriole from the foliage of the forest. Around twelve o’clock we start to continue along a steep slope, where the sheep have to slowly zigzag up this difficult slope that the flock is experiencing at this point in the route. The landscape around us is now different, we have gone from the extensive olive groves to a space populated by holm oaks and junipers that alternate with forests of black pine, aleppo and sessile, a low mountain in which numerous shrubs and herbs grow that some of They are used by the flock, such as rosemary, thyme, lavender, chamomile, pennyroyal, blackberry, boxwood, rockrose, hawthorn, blackthorn, juniper, gorse, mistletoe, fennel, holly, honeysuckle and poppies among others… Around two o’clock we have Once we reach the plain and we head towards the village of La Llacua, the southernmost town in the Morella district at an altitude of 1069 m. We cross this place, still inhabited today by some families, where from the top of a window a sleepy owl watches us without flinching. The ravine here is quite wide that takes us through ravines and hills to an immense plain belonging to Ares and Morella. It’s six o’clock when we arrive at the Green Raft. Here we have water and a great saffron that is usually always green.

We start from the Balsa Verde looking for the Cañada de Ares, crossing a very long and large valley under the watchful eye of the vultures that fly over us.

It is almost night when we arrive at Llosar, a district of Villafranca del Cid, where we keep the sheep in a sheepfold that in turn has a shelter attached to it for transhumant shepherds, where we will spend the night, this time under cover, in this last night on the trail.

With the waning moon behind them, the white blanket of sheep, having rested overnight, is ready to set off with the first light of morning. Eduardo Altaba Palomo’s flock in the Llosar corral (Fourth day on the trail).

Fourth day of trail: From the Llosar corral, while we listen to the lilting verse of the enigmatic cuckoo, who has undoubtedly been the protagonist of this exciting journey, especially on this fourth day, we embark on a new path. After 10 minutes, still between two lights, and with the flight of the bats sharing airspace with that of swallows and swifts, we passed in front of the Virgen del Llosar Hermitage, an emblematic place of passage for migratory livestock.

Typical image of the passage of transhumant herds through the Virgen del Llosar Hermitage. On the left Eduardo Altaba on May 26, and on the right Gonzalo Gargallo a few days later, specifically on May 31.

Now a difficult stretch awaits us before reaching Puebla del Bellestar, because for approximately 2 km, the livestock track coincides with the same road, which forces motorists to queue behind the livestock, and not everyone understands the situation. . It should be reminded that the Livestock Roads Law of 1995 establishes that animals have right of way over vehicles. Transhumance is an ancient activity that has been centuries ahead of four wheels and the engine.

The Puebla del Bellestar. Gonzalo Gargallo’s flock. may 31.
An iconic and already recognized image of the passage of sheep crowded between the stone walls on the bridge of La Puebla del Bellestar, which marks the beginning of good weather. Eduardo Altaba flock. May 26.

We arrived at Puebla del Bellestar around 8:30 in the morning. The entire complex formed by the hermitage of San Miguel, the bridge and the adjacent farmhouses form one of the best examples of medieval Valencian rural architecture. It is, without a doubt, a place of great historical and artistic interest that serves as a boundary between the Valencian Community and that of Aragon, between the provinces of Castellón and Teruel.We crossed the dry riverbed of the Rambla de las Truchas by the Gothic bridge, a true jewel of medieval architecture, sober and stylized at the same time, capable of having withstood the passage of time and the powerful avenues of the “Riu de les Truites”. , one of the best intact river channels in the Valencian Community and which has an environmental environment of great beauty and ecological value for its fauna and flora. According to the King’s chronicles, this bridge was where James I came from Aragonese lands to conquer the Kingdom of Valencia. In the nearby poplar grove we hear the insistent and strident call of the Iberian woodpecker, in the thicket the monotonous “u-pu-pu” of the hoopoe and the melodious, fluted and slow song of the common blackbird, while three sinister crows emit caws flying overhead. top.

Leaving Puebla del Bellestar. Gonzalo Gargallo.
Gonzalo leading the flock in a place between La Puebla del Bellestar and Iglesuela del Cid. Observe the dry stone walls, an artistic manifestation present in many places in the Maestrazgo, and specifically here in the Iglesuela del Cid, where it has been declared a Site of Cultural Interest since January 22, 2002 with the figure of Place of Interest Ethnographic.
Gonzalo’s flock quenching their thirst in one of the water troughs at the entrance to the Iglesuela del Cid.
Today, May 26, 2024, the first transhumance of spring has passed through the Iglesuela del Cid. Eduardo de Cantavieja returns to the Maestrazgo region with 600 sheep after spending the winter in Traiguera. This year you will not find as many fresh pastures due to the great drought we are experiencing.

The day is very calm with a very restful path, there are no banks or anything to watch because the path goes between walls. At the entrance to the Iglesuela del Cid, around 11 in the morning, we are greeted by the insistent croaking of frogs from a nearby pond, which mixes with the sound of shearing and the bleating of sheep. We cross this magical and beautiful town in which this transhumant event is received with great joy by its inhabitants, some tourists or curious people from the region who approach.

Eduardo Altaba stopping the flock so that the sheep can group together, after having passed under the bridge near the Church.

At the exit of the town we find a watering hole, then we continue along a dusty path that runs between walls full of thistles and other ruderal plants, among which the Panical Eryngium bourgatii stands out, widely used in the pastoral world, in which the spikes of Its flowers are used to bite the viper and also to prevent the newly made cheese from swelling.

We leave the Iglesuela del Cid while the eleven o’clock bells ring.

We cross the Castellón-Teruel highway and enter the Arahuet ravine to ascend all the time along the GR8 towards Fortanete, always guarded by the Scots pine forest, where bushes such as hawthorn and hawthorn grow on the margins of the road. the wild rose or calambrujo. This environment will accompany us for long hours until we reach the mountain pastures of the summit, the kingdom of the boxwood, the creeping juniper known locally as chaparra, the juniper…

We arrive at a point from which we can see the metal cross of Tarayuela, located at the top of a limestone hill at 1,738 meters above sea level, above the river with the same name, a splendid viewpoint that dominates everything that the midday view of Cantavieja. I stay for a few moments observing it, and Gonzalo, as if reading my thoughts, decides to accompany me to the place, we are only 10 minutes away from reaching the Masía de Altaba, and to get to the cross we have to divert our path, but Gonzalo, in a boast of fortitude and passion for what he does and after four days on the path and more than 100 km accumulated on his legs, he directs his steps towards the cross, while the sheep continue along the other path, grazing peacefully, because they know the route. . Upon reaching the hill we stop for a few moments silently observing the wonderful spectacle at our feet: green pastures that disappear in the distance, a farmhouse with its corral and its abandoned fields, the town of Cantavieja… everything around us exudes the air of other times . A solitude up here that rejoices and feeds the spirit, only interrupted by the whistling of the wind…Suddenly the sky gives us one of its best gifts: not too high up you can see it, with your hand on your forehead to avoid the strong sun , the conspicuous silhouette of a black-and-white raptor that settled in these lands from very distant worlds at the beginning of spring. With a clueless and eccentric appearance, with a buoyant flight, a lover of the cliffs and ridges and of slowly traveling through the plains, the moors and the pastures: the Egyptian Vulture, which flies over these immense and desolate mountains.

With the excitement of the moment, we retrace our path in search of the herd, which we finally reach to continue through the Nava pine forest to the Masía de Altaba, the end of this exciting journey.

Eduardo Altaba’s flock arriving at the end of its journey at the Masía de la Cima del Rayo.

In the summer pastures in the Gudar-Maestrazgo region everything flows more calmly, the sheep can be left alone among the pines and montane grasslands in the care of the shepherd dogs and are only guarded at night in the masada. Quite the opposite occurs with wintering in the Levant and Catalonia where they are more complicated, due to real estate speculation on the one hand, and the proliferation of intensive agriculture, on the other, which implies more direct control over livestock to prevent them from damaging the crops at the same time that can be poisoned by the intensive use of herbicides and pesticides. All this is causing the area of ​​usable pastures to recede, to which are also added problems such as the aging of the shepherds, who despite this tradition inherited from their parents and grandparents, recognize that they do it because of the harsh weather conditions that the region endures. region in the winter months, finding it necessary to look for a more benign climate that allows them to reduce costs by having access to natural pastures. 

Gonzalo Gargallo, from Mas de Altaba de Cantavieja, returns to the Maestrazgo region from San Rafael del Río with 514 sheep to spend the summer, on a transhumant route that he has been doing for four decades, at just 15 years old, a profession that he inherited of their ancestors.
Eduardo Altaba’s flock ascending the Arahuet and arriving at the heights.

With the hope that it will rain soon to green even more some pastures that now paint the Maestrat mountains more ocher than green.
Gonzalo arrives with his herd at Mas de Altaba (1700m) after more than 100 kilometers and four days on the route, in a practical World Heritage Site that only three ranchers from Maestrazgo maintain. Throughout this trip, it has not helped him at all to know that upon reaching the high and cooler lands of Cantavieja in the Maestrazgo, he was not going to expect the best of scenarios. The streams are practically dry. A persistent drought due to the lack of rain has made the natural pastures of thyme, gorse and sage groves scarce, so the shepherds fear, if not soon remedied by the rains, that their expenses will multiply as they have to supplement their food with forage.

When the month of October arrives, the autumn atmosphere will intensify, temperatures will drop significantly, with icy winds, sleet, frequent downpours and snowfall.The mountains and the pastures, the valleys and the groves will remain a little orphaned, returning to solitude in our mountains until the harsh days of winter, while the summer fauna will leave for distant lands, as will also, for centuries, the transhumant herds. 

Radio interview with Gonzalo Gargallo:

Until a few years ago, the shepherds carried horses that transported the food, “the herd,” and they also carried some lambs that were born to them along the way. Animals that became ill or lagged too late due to fatigue had to be abandoned. This year, the transhumance with Gonzalo Gargallo has had, in addition to the company of Marisol Forés, Gonzalo’s partner, the invaluable help of two volunteers, Juanjo Muñoz and Josep Matamoros “Rampó”. The first, a true lover of the world of herding, with many years of experience collaborating with shepherds and in the promotion of cattle dog competitions, who with his support van, brought us our belongings and served on more than one occasion. to carry some tired or injured sheep. The second, Josep Matamoros, who this year has joined the event, helping at all times during the entire nomadic trip, whether with tasks with the sheep at the shepherd’s direction, or with the delicious meals that he has prepared for us.

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