Day 10 – Riogordo to Zafarraya – 24km continued
Post puppy, the track gets steep once again. It’s a Sunday and this means there are others on the trail too. They are all on bikes and they are all, without exception men. I comment on this to Chris, wondering out loud what all the women are doing while their men recreate. Some more cyclists appear. They are all women. From now on virtually every cyclist is a woman. I keep further idle musings to myself.
Eventually the undulating track becomes flat; an old disused railway. It contours the slopes at about 900m. There’s a dramatic but ramshackle bridge – it’s the perfect lunch spot.
Pic – our bridge lunch stop
Chris downloads an ‘app’ on her phone that can identify plants and flowers via a photograph. She carefully takes a snap of the big yellow bushes you can see in the photo above. The ‘app’ announces that they are Crocus’s. £2.99 well spent I’d say.
In ‘other options’ it offers a second choice of Spanish Broom. It won’t be deleted just yet it seems.
For much of the day we have had a distant but clear view of Camares. It’s a mountain top white village perched high on an unlikely outcrop of cliff and rock. It’s quite something and now very popular with tourists just a short coach or car trip away on the Costas. I tell Chris about how I first visited in 1986 on that trip with mum and dad. Mum was determined to seek out various hilltop stuff including Ronda.
Pic – Chris approaching the gorge in to Ventas
In those days Camares was only served by gravel and dirt tracks. We had hired a VW Polo estate. The odd original one created by putting an estate boot onto the hatchback version because ‘older’ VW drivers couldn’t deal with hatchbacks. Dad was still active and able at this time, but he had ceased driving ‘on the wrong side of the road’ so I was designated driver. The track was precipitous and went higher and higher in zigzag fashion. Mum was navigating from a map that basically had the whole of Iberia on one A3 size sheet. If I went a bit too fast, dad would nail me with one liners such as ‘at what speed to we take off’
We arrived alive and at a reasonable time to eat (apart from when in Spain of course). Mum tells me that we were served huge amounts of hand cut Jamon. My first time. I don’t remember this, which is odd as it is now my absolute favourite food. Thirty years later and it’s like yesterday. Apart from the ham bit.
After lunch the remaining trail is easy but ever so dramatic. The railway approaches the short but narrow gorge that marks the entrance to Ventas de Zafarraya. On the approach side are the slopes of the mountains dropping away to the sea some 900m below and 25 miles away. The other side of the gorge is an almost flat fertile plain at 950m above sea level, which is rich in agriculture.After lunch the remaining trail is easy but ever so dramatic. The railway approaches the short but narrow gorge that marks the entrance to Ventas de Zafarraya. On the approach side are the slopes of the mountains dropping away to the sea some 900m below and 25 miles away. The other side of the gorge is an almost flat fertile plain at 950m above sea level, which is rich in agriculture.After lunch the remaining trail is easy but ever so dramatic. The railway approaches the short but narrow gorge that marks the entrance to Ventas de Zafarraya. On the approach side are the slopes of the mountains dropping away to the sea some 900m below and 25 miles away. The other side of the gorge is an almost flat fertile plain at 950m above sea level, which is rich in agriculture.
A short tunnel leads us to the final approach to town. Dropping in to the small town we see all the cyclists who passed us during the day tucking into, probably, their 3rd or 4th beer. Unfortunately, this town isn’t our town. Our accommodation is 3km along an arrow straight road across the flat plain. It’s not too bad and we are soon Zafarraya itself. Sundays can be funny in these Spanish rural towns. You know that somewhere will be open; you
just have to work a bit harder to find it. Our early stop is Bar Barrio where amongst noisy locals we quaff Cruz Campo 0,0 and eat small plates of paella. The trend for 00 beers in Spain is impressive and the liquid is good. It’s something I really want to push for when we get back to the UK.
Later, showered and changed, we seek out Bar Don Pepe. It’s on the other side of town but came recommended by our landlady. On the approach there is so much noise of shouting coming from inside I thought there was a fight going on. I should know better by now.
Spanish family gatherings are probably the loudest thing I have ever heard. Ever.
Everyone shouts as loud as they can to each other and all at the same time. It’s incredible. This particular gathering is a multigenerational, large family group, well-tailored and seemingly well off. We are the only other patrons and once the gathering leaves, tidying up starts to take place all around us. We take the hint, drink up and move on. On the way home we stop off at Metropolis. A highly unlikely venue in a sleepy Spanish rural town on a Sunday night. It is rocking.
Firstly, the shouting party have relocated here. The woman are all sat in the conservatory
(polythene covered cage) out front, now both shouting and smoking. The men are all propping up part of the enormous bar. There are five huge TVs allowing for a range of random sports to be televised to no one. There’s thumping music, owners who couldn’t look more ‘mob’ if they tried, dark cosy corners and a DJ booth. There’s also no white wine. An extensive search out back yields a bottle of Macques de Caceres Crianza. It’s 2011 and awesome. I’m enjoying myself, so a couple of large Larios Gins follow. We decide that we are going to open up VENGA on Sundays, get the tellys on, jack up the atmosphere and become the Sunday place to be for those who don’t want the weekend to end. Larios does this to me.
We sleep well.
Day 11 – Zafarraya to Alhama de Granada – 22km
Slightly annoyingly the first 3km this morning are back along the arrow straight road to regain the GR7. On the plus side various dogs are out early to bark at us. The next 9km is really a flat road walk which is somewhat busy with trucks carrying various local produce. The trail does it best to keep just off the main road with side tracks and paths but these
are dotted with ugly farmsteads and houses all of which have leagues of dogs to contend with. It’s the first day that the mutts are just tiresome. Every house has what seems to be dozens of all shapes and sizes, all barking and growling, sometimes from several hundred metres out.
Some are genuinely pleased to see you. Most aren’t. The worst are the silent ones that try to sneak up on you from behind with the first bite. I catch a big German Shepherd doing exactly this as he got within about a meter of me in stealth mode.
We pass a big block of buildings stacked high all around with black vegetable crates. Thousands of them, all brand new. Some of these will end up at Venga and The White Hart in a few months.
Pic – Chris by the plastic crate factory. These are ready…
It’s slightly out of context in the surrounding olive groves but somewhat inspiring too. Shortly after the factories we are dumped back on the road again. A hotel that looks shut but isn’t serves us some great coffee. We sit overlooking a tiny village bull ring. It has a box for El Presidencia. This may be ironic
Finally, the road is left behind and a long wide track takes over. It’s an uphill trek. It’s quite busy in the sense of one truck/tractor/pick-up every few minutes and thus we are slowly covered in dust.
The track drags a bit and there are enough houses to keep the rabid dog quotient high. Eventually, after another 7km the track ends at a road by a rather pretty dam.
Pic – This is what they are made from.
The final 2km into Alhama de Granada are along a beautiful gorge. There are centuries old wash bowls carved in to the rock plus caves in the cliffs that were once inhabited. The climb into the town is typically steep. It’s all very beautiful and much welcome after the road and track. We find our overnight halt, La Seguiriya, easily. It’s charming.
Day 12 – Alhama de Granada – Zero Day
Last night we were starving by 6pm. Early hunger does not work particular well in Spain. We had decided on Tigres bar but it remained resolutely shut. We eat at Pulpo instead. It’s generous and alright. There’s a few hacking cough locals at the bar. We eat our fill and by the time we leave we see that Tigres is now open, so we decide to have a ‘roader.’ This is almost always a bad idea.
‘Vina Tinto’ without sarcasm is successfully ordered and it’s a velvety deep Ribera named Rivendell. Elvish Wine perhaps? We are stuffed by now, but our host keeps creating little treats and bringing us amazing free Tapas. I eat out of politeness obviously. I also keep drinking.
Pic – just one of the ‘freebies’ at Tigres.
Tigres has just 2 tables. It could have more, but a large area of floor space is occupied by a wine fridge, a fag machine and a fruity. We retire to our hotel feeling like we have painted the town red with hours and hours of eating and drinking. It’s 8pm. After midnight my phone rings. It’s mum. She’s crying hysterically. Joyce, her sister, my aunty, has died earlier in the evening.
In the morning we sit on the stunning terrace at La Seguiriya overlooking the Rio Alhama gorge. I ring mum and we chat. She’s no longer crying, and I get some detail. Joyce had gone into hospital after a fall. She had gone downhill very quickly but was peaceful at the end. Mum and I don’t really do platitudes, so we just talk as mother and son. Later I email her.
Alhama has an old Moorish quarter. It’s charming but also lacks bars in my base opinion. The main square offers good coffee and with the sun bearing down, we decide to walk 4km out of town to the famous local spa baths. An ancient Moorish hammam where the pools have been, literally, covered by a spa hotel. They’ve built over the top of it but preserved it too. It’s all a bit involved with staff escorting you at every stage so we opt for the free natural pools in the river bed which range from boiling to tepid. Well, that’s the plan anyway. We walk the 4km in our sandals.
After some perilous roadside hiking, the road to the spa ascends through a dramatic gorge. We opt for a pretty riverside path. This peters out after a few hundred meters and undeterred we climb a rocky ridge up over the top of the gorge. Unfortunately, this also peters out into a maze of steep olive groves. For reasons beyond my limited knowledge of agriculture, the groves are ploughed. It’s like walking in dry quicksand. Our sandals sink in to above our ankles. Oh well, at least we are going swimming.
Pic – heading for the ‘spa’ – Alhama de Granada in the background
Eventually, the spa hotel is found and it’s busy. Really busy. There are dozens of bath robed guests wandering around. All ancient with Mrs Tiggywinkle body shapes atop purple tree trunk legs. We find the river pools next to the walls of the hotel. There are what appears to be five tramps and one dog taking the waters. The pools themselves are clearly part of the drain system for the treatment pools inside the hotel. One of the ‘tramps’ leers up at Chris watching from the bridge. We return to Alhama unbathed and dusty. This time on the road.
Pic – the ‘drains’ at the spa.
Back at base we relax on the terrace and talk of Joyce and life. Soon, Rafael and Vicky arrive. They are great friends; I’ve been best friends with Rafa since the age of 12 and Vicky ever since they met at Oxford. We haven’t seen them now for a year and they are to join us on the walk for the next three days. Several years ago, they moved from Bath to Granada. They live in a villa they built themselves overlooking the Alhambra palace. If we get through the GR7 then their hospitality will be our relaxing reward.
Tonight, we manage to nab one of Tigre’s two tables and have amazing Tapas. Fat generous
Aubergine slices with add your own molasses. A huge pile of Iberico pork chops. Andalucian salad crammed with tuna and orange. Peppers stuffed with cod and cheese. We drink toasts to old friends reunited and loved ones departed.
Tomorrow is another day.
Day 13 – Alhama de Granada to Arenas del Rey – 26km
The route retraces itself back up the gorge for the first 2km. It’s lovely in reverse too. After that it’s tracks and groves. The first dogs of the day are cute and friendly; very unusual.
We pass the time on today’s long forest ascent catching up with all the news. Raffa and Vicky moved to Granada out of a love of all things Spanish and some things Moorish. He is a Captain with British Airways and commutes to London. Apparently, this is not at all unusual. They have both learnt what we regard to be good Spanish although they would modestly say differently. Certainly, our ordering of food and drink becomes easier when left to them and I am afforded a few days off from being buerre bullied.
After some 12km, it becomes necessary to tape up Vicky’s feet. She always has a bit of a blister nightmare and has already skinned an ankle. On the subject of injuries, Chris’s bad knee is holding up well and some early blisters are now long gone. For my part, I appear to have developed a gnawing bone ache in the right hip which is worse on the long ascents. It’s frustrating only in the sense that otherwise we are both feeling fit.
It’s often hard to find a lunch spot on the walks. Everywhere ranges from pretty to stunning, it’s just a lack of things to sit on. If we sit on the ground the ants find us very quickly. I already have several ant bites and they itch like crazy. Today we have a ‘standing’ lunch apart from Rafa who is so laid back he lies back on the ant infested ground. I look at the map.
Our destination is a little over 4km away. However, the trail rather grindingly goes off at a tangent up hill for 5km and manages to take 12km more to arrive at sleepy little Arenas del Rey.
We find an unlikely bar in a community centre. Beers and Tapas restore energy; odd sausages covered in odd sauce with odd chips. We’re not complaining; it’s free. Arenas del Rey is tiny and our lodgings are a few km out of town. Along a road with views of the lake followed by the obligatory ‘hill of death’ to gain access to the lodge.
Day 14 – Arenas del Rey to Jayena – 15km
We are looking forward to a shorter day today. Under 20km for a change. After some road and track walking we arrive at a ruined pine resin factory. It has a museum (closed) and some information boards. The factory itself is either out of bounds ruins or flats in equal parts. The gardens are pretty. The factory suffered significant output reduction after a forest fire in 1979. A second forest fire ceased all production in 1983. Now, of course, the forest has all grown back. The trees remain safe as there seems to less demand for pine resin in rural Spain these days.
After a stunning climb through the now secure pine forests we find ourselves walking along a firebreak. Ahead is a large fence and beyond that a well-kept runway of a small airstrip.
The fence has to be climbed (or in Raffa’s case, dug under). We scale it and then scuttle across the runway half expecting Jeeps with machine guns mounted on the rear to hove into view. The identical fence on the far side is scaled with only one minor knee scape incurred. No one gets shot at.
It’s a steep and dramatic descent into Jayena. A small town once again with a ramshackle selection of bars. As with all rural bars evidence of actually being open can only be deduced observing someone sat outside or, as this is often not the case, by noise emanating from within. Generally, most or all of the outside seating chairs are stacked high and chained up.
We find a suitable bar that has the double win of a number of drunks outside plus noise inside. It suits our refreshment needs perfectly with the added bonus of an old villager who does ‘cat screeching in pain’ impressions every few minutes.
Numerous ‘MAMILs’ turn up on carbon fibre bikes for coffee and water. Numerous dogs wander around barking, fighting and crapping. We drink Alhambra Reserva.
Our hostel is basic. We end up at the same bar for Tapas later. Cheese, ham, prawns and pork. Straightforward. We don’t care as we have loads to talk about. We weave our way towards bed dodging around endless piles of dog crap. Jayena is pretty but I’ll remember it for its dog crap. It’s piled up every few feet along the lanes.
Day 15 – Jayena to Albuñuelas – 24km
I plot a route for today that ‘evades’ some elements of the GR7. Basically, none of us feel up to 32km. Vicky’s blisters plus Rafa has been soldiering on with a calf strain incurred only weeks ago back country skiing in the Sierra Nevada. I have my hip (very Basil Fawlty) but Chris is as strong as ever.
The ‘route’ starts with a 7km climb. Unavoidable I might add as there is a huge flank of mountain to cross. By the time we reach the top all four of us are now experts on the BA pension scheme; the new Spanish cabinet, whether Trump will go for or indeed gain a second term plus an episode of Coffee-time Spanish. Having climbed, the paths and tracks meander around and across high Sierra scenery. The sun is blazing and it’s all rather pleasant.
It’s a long windy, forested descent to Albunuelas. The next two days walking is now visible panning out before us. Raffa has adopted a kind of Sherpa crossed with hobbit gait over the final miles as his injury pain level increases. We stop at the first bar we find in the village and order beers.
The Andalucia region remains the last stronghold of ‘free’ tapas in Spain. Of course, many bars in Spain or indeed around the world will give you a bowl of nuts or something but not like this. Even across Andalucia it’s dying out but in Granada province it remains common practice. It’s usually tortilla, mushrooms or a small salad. Quite often some ham on bread. The general rule is; every time you order a drink you receive a snack alongside. Of course, you rarely have a choice as to the snack but it’s usually tasty at worst.
The most common so far has been a slice of cooked pork on bread. At our little bar in Albunuelas our host serves what looks like dog food in a bowl. It’s tasty and some might say, ‘authentic.’ The bar displays an ice cream board. We make our selections and Raffs goes in to order. There is no ice cream.
Quite often menu items are not available here and when you happen to choose one, the response is a simple but very firm ‘no’
Can I have the calamares please?
Oh, ok, er the trout?
You just move on to and find something they have got
I cannot imagine responding to our customers in such a manner at VENGA. It would be fun though; just ‘NO’ – no excuses or apologies. However, given the nature of the odd customer review where we have actually dared to run out of something, it’s probably not worth trialling.
Beers and pedigree chum done we have to say our goodbyes and find our little B&B. We will miss our walking companions and they leave us with the thought that if we need ‘extracting’ they’ll come and get us! Our B&B host is Ken. He, his dog plus cat, are delightful company too.
Day 16 – Albunuelas to Niguelas – 16km
My right foot had a small blister yesterday. This morning it is 2 inches long and infected. The whole heel around it is very painful to the touch. I never have a problem with blisters and I conclude, expertly of course, that it’s a consequence of my odd gait caused by the hip pain. I can’t even put my boots on, so decide to walk in sandals.
We require a supermarket, a pharmacy and, if possible, coffee on the way out of town. All options are closed. The trail passes through little white house villages, across streams and acequeia, up some very steep tracks and at one point up a very, very steep hill topped by massive windmills. Niguelas is charming. All the towns are. We sit at a bar and are served beer and coffee efficiently by a ten-year-old boy.
The sandals plan worked reasonably well.
After dropping out of the village first thing the path changes from the usual track we’ve become used to. It’s a crumbly, steep and exciting path in to the mountains. Height is gained quickly, and the high windmills of yesterday are soon left far below.
Pic – climbing up out of Niguelas on a great path
As ever, the route is deserted. We reach a track and turn along it, still climbing. We meet a family just setting out from their parked car for a walk. There’s a few cyclists through the day but that’s it. We have to remind each other it’s Saturday.
Having gained a large amount of height, the trail crosses the mountain flank and begins a long descent.
From here the trail does, unfortunately, follow a track used by remote houses and it’s therefore designed for cars not walkers. As a result, there are endless hairpins with little height loss. At one point, after 23 hairpins, we contemplate a gully ‘short cut’. Probably wisely we move on.
The trail, views, weather and company are all fantastic. I must put my ‘zigzag rage’ down to little stones endlessly getting in my sandals. Lanjarón is great. It’s busy, bustling and very touristy. Touristy in many senses is good; things are open at normal times, service is better as is choice. The quirky laziness of bars in the rural towns is charming at first but does drag a bit after a while. We are hot, tired and dusty. Our hotel, Alcadima, is an oasis of calm. Complete with pool and pool service. We indulge without any limititation of guilt. There’s actually enough pillows too. A rarity in Spain.