This last month of August has indeed been a black one..for many reasons. On the last day of July, late in the afternoon, my ten-year-old son tripped and fell in a relatively innocent way while walking down the lower Lliterola Valley in Benasque..it didn’t seem like a terrible fall, but he was in pain, and the grass was glowing fluorescent. Back in town a couple of hours later that evening, he was in better shape but could not use his right hand. Next day, early on the morning of the 1st of August, a doctor at the regional hospital in Barbastro diagnosed a broken bone in the hand..the clean fracture in the middle metacarpal was clearly visible in the X-ray.
A small accident, not a big deal if compared to others..fourteen people were to lose their lives in various accidents in the Spanish Pyrenees this Summer. Nevertheless it was the end of our vacation as far as outdoor family activities were concerned, this being day four of two weeks in the Pyrenees..no visit to the range’s dying glaciers, no first three-thousand-meter peak for my son, no kayaking..and no more outdoor-active Summer in general, no rock-climbing, no biking, no swimming at least until September.
So, having decided to cut our stay short and come home early, we were heading back to the center of the Peninsula at the end of that first week of August..when news of a wild fire in Sierra de Guadarrama began to filter thru. Not one fire but two, in fact, at two different locations, one to the South in the vicinity of Puerto de la Morcuera and the other to the North having its origin close to La Granja. The Sierra burned for several days, particularly the blaze on the Segovia side. Were it not for massive human and machine intervention, the consequences might have been much worse..even so, over 400 hectares burned in the La Granja wildfire and 300 in La Morcuera. It may not sound like a lot in comparison with a million hectares burning in the Amazon or three million in Siberia..but we don’t have that much Sierra.
And then at the month’s end, as if all this were not enough, another drama took place on the stage of the Guadarrama mountains.. Blanca Fernandez Ochoa was the only Spanish woman to win a Winter Olympic medal, and her bronze in 1992 was only the second ever Spanish Winter medal after her brother Francisco won gold in 1972. Two further bronze medals were added to the Spanish haul as late as 2018. In 1988 in Calgary Blanca had led the pack after the first run in Giant Slalom, but unfortunately fell in the second run. In those same Olympics she placed fifth overall in Slalom, and that year in the World Cup she placed fourth overall. So finally taking third place in the Slalom event at Albertville in 1992, in what was her fourth and last Olympic participation, and thereby winning a medal was a considerable reward after much frustration.
Back home she received a hero’s welcome. Her life after giving up skiing seems to have been an ongoing slalom, with ups and downs..maybe not so different from many other lives. An early marriage followed quickly by divorce, another marriage, two children, another, apparently acrimonious, divorce. Her professional life also saw fluctuations and swings of fortune, ebbing and flowing from running small businesses to appearing on reality tv shows..it would appear that in recent times she was finding it hard, and feeling forgotten and even abandoned. She had also suffered from bipolar disorder since early in her life, and it seems reasonable to think that this may have been a factor in decisions she made this last month of August. Whatever her motivations, on the 24th of August she decided to hike up the mountains that had seen her grow one last time..and on reaching a secluded spot, in all probability that same afternoon-evening she took her own life.
What followed was one of those human circus events that make it difficult to distinguish tragedy from comedy. Her family did not realise the seriousness of her disappearance for some days..after the authorities were eventually alerted and her car was located parked in the Fuenfria Valley, a huge search operation was mounted. Hundreds of forestry agents, police, firefighters and volunteers spent four days combing certain specific areas of the Sierra accompanied by multiple vehicles, helicopters, drones..and all to no avail. All this massive activity was supervised by hundreds of journalists. In the end Blanca’s decomposing body was located by an off-duty policeman and his dog some ten days after her disappearance. By which time the media circus had acquired gigantic proportions..and the amplification of this personal tragedy was truly overwhelming.
Now they are going to name sports centers, streets, ski runs after her..too little, too late?