Monasteries, Mountains and Montserrat (Or, why I needed to climb a mountain with my mother and my sister)

I’ve been waiting for weeks to figure out what I needed to say about Montserrat. Until today, all I had come up with is that I need to find 15 ways to say dark green velvet, because that’s what it looked like to me. I’ve always been amazed at the seemingly endless shades of green that exist in nature. I remember hiking the Chief on the west coast just after university and being mesmerized by the texture of all of the moss that lived in those woods, closing my eyes and wanting my hand to remember that feeling of soft, spongy green forever. I still do. I bought a sweater shortly after that trip because when I saw it I gasped and knew it would remind me of that moss whenever I wore it. I finally parted with that sweater in the last few years, but I kept it for decades just so that I could take it out of my cedar chest and bury my face in it from time to time.

The greens in, well – around Montserrat had the same effect. Standing on the highest point of our hike and taking in that view, I had to stop. Breathe deeply. Close my eyes. Look again. Memorize each layer of mountain in the distance, all looking like they were covered in velvet. All looking like they wanted my hand on them.


So many shades of green.

So many shades of green.

Layer upon layer of mountain. Beautiful.

Layer upon layer of mountain. Beautiful.

Then there were the faces. Part of the Catalan Pre-Coastal Range, the rock in Montserrat is different from anything I’ve ever seen. Mainly pink conglomerate, the mountain is multi-peaked, or as I saw it, multi-faced. Everywhere we walked, there was rock looking at us. The mountain is alive. I saw rabbits, elephants, puppies and aliens, myself. I’m sure they’re pretty much like clouds, though. Everyone sees something different.

Faces, everywhere.

Faces, everywhere. The chapel in the picture helps with scale. It’s immense.

What I realized about Montserrat, though, was that it was the getting there that was perhaps the most important part. First of all, this part of the trip was so important to me that I was quite ready to do it alone. Spending an entire day of our trip doing a hiking expedition was, I know, not a huge priority for my mother and my sister. But I am so very happy they decided to indulge me and come and do the hike. My mother’s original intention was to find something else to do while my sister and I did the 5.2km walk, but she decided to come along. It was hot that day, and there were some major fears to overcome just to get there.

Yep. That's our ride.

Yep. That’s our ride.

The three of us are terrified of heights. So, given the choice of train or cable car, I decided to do the scarier thing. Why? A talk with an old friend today about post traumatic stress syndrome helped me to understand why I needed to do this. Methodically facing fear can help. Somehow I knew that if I could choose to do something really scary and come out on the other end (or, in this case, on the top) having succeeded, it would be really, really good for me. And it was. I think my mother knew it would be too. We stepped, shaky-legged, onto the cable car, and my mother nudged me over to the edge, which was mostly glass.

‘If you’re going to do this, then really do it.’

There is no photo one can take that would come close to capturing the view from a cable car on its way to a monastery at the top. Or the feeling you get in your stomach when you’ve changed your mind, but  you know there’s no turning back. Or the ear to ear grin when you high-five your almost-70 year old mother when you get to the top. Well, yes – I guess I could have captured that. I was too busy grinning, and so was she, which pretty much made it worth the feeling in my stomach on the trip up.

There’s also no way to capture the complete and utter confusion you experience as you pass a monastery from mid-air and wonder how the hell one puts a monastery at the top of a mountain, and then feel really badly about having thought hell and monastery in the same sentence.

Needless to say, there was wine at the top, and my very smart sister decided she would carry some with us on the hike, just in case of emergency.

The yellow bag carries emergency wine. Just in case.

The yellow bag is the one with the goodies in it. The mountain face looks like he might want to share. It’s hot up there.

We finished the hike, me scampering off-trail a few times because the trail was too wide and I wanted to see what forest feels like on a mountain in Spain. Just before the end, after laughing at a little boy who we knew to be four and whose constant questions for his mother were incomprehensible to us because they were in Spanish but we knew all likely began with Why, or How come (there are some things that are universal, as the look in the mother’s face confirmed), we came across this lovely fellow.



He silently serenaded us as we passed, watched by the faces above. It felt like a congratulatory song, or at least that’s what I made it in my head. I haven’t climbed a mountain with my mother and my sister in much too long. They haven’t seen me in my happy place in much too long. This was a good day on so many counts.