26/09/22 – 02/10/22 219 km
Despite the absence of a window I slept like a log in the refuge! I was clearly exhausted after yesterday’s emotional rollercoaster. I skipped my morning brew so I could make a quick exit and began the steep descent to Andilla. There I planned to stop at the first bar and grab a coffee and tostada. All bars were closed. No worries, I would go to the supermarket…also closed.
This was a big problem as I only had one pear and some noodles to get me through the next 30 kilometres. At least there was a water fountain and my dwindling supply of Kendal Mint Cake. Off I went, pear in hand. The morning saw me climb up a never ending path that ended at the base of a wind turbine. The highlight of the ascent was seeing a fox stalking its prey and a chat with a man on a bicycle who was adamant that the GR 7 started in Greece. Just as well I didn’t know this before starting!
Halfway down the otherside I stopped in an abandoned cow shed to cook my noodles. Here I worked out I could have one square of Kendal every two kilometres until I reached Chelva where I would finally be able to stock up on food. When I arrived almost everything was closed, however a local tipped me off about a bar which was still open. I ordered a tortilla sandwich. It was worth every penny. Then I nursed a coffee until the supermarket reopened at 18:00.
It started to rain torrentially the second I stepped out of the bar however I still made my way to the shop and stocked up for the next two days. The bag was ridiculously heavy now but I managed to swing it on. There were no hotels in Chelva so I stealthily made my way to the village Ermita (chapel) where I would sleep that night. It was no hotel but at least it had a roof, of sorts. The place was like Piccadilly Circus, so much for being inconspicuous. I stuck out like a sore thumb and was starting to worry that the locals may think I was casing the joint.
So in order to reduce suspicion I struck up a conversation with a lovely local couple who offered me a place on their sofa. I declined. I think it is important that I only take advantage of people’s kindness when it is absolutely necessary. I knew this wasn’t the time. Just as they were about to leave, another family walked past and advised me that I’d left my walking poles in the supermarket. Word had got around, I was becoming a bit of a personality in Chelva by this point!
Even though every man and his dog knew I was there, I decided it was too late to find somewhere else. I was committed to my little doorway, so I got my bivvy out, put the footie on the radio and slowly drifted off. At 01:30 I was woken by the sound of wheels crunching to a standstill on the gravel. As I raised my head my worst fears had come true. All I could see were blue lights, it was the Guardia Civil. Bollocks! I was going to get arrested. I wasn’t even a quarter of the way round yet!
Half asleep and bleary eyed I struggled out of the bivvy and made my way towards the car as two uniformed figures approached. Here we go, I thought. The more senior of the two asked me for my ID and sent his partner off to make sure I wasn’t a wanted criminal. Whilst he carried out the necessary checks I was questioned as to why on earth I was sleeping there that night. Thank god I can speak Spanish. In my sleepy state I slowly explained how I came to be walking around Spain.
When his partner came back to let him know I wasn’t a criminal mastermind the mood relaxed and we chatted for over ten minutes about ‘Mi Vuelta a España’. They were both brilliant. Apparently I was well within my rights to sleep there! I will be eternally grateful to those two for the compassion they showed me that night. Nonetheless, I was gone before the sun came up!
After leaving Chelva I dropped into a valley and climbed out the other side until I reached a neverending plateau where they were growing olives. Eventually I reached the end where I would have to descend again into an even deeper valley. I could see a waterfall on the far side however it was too far away to photograph. When on the valley floor I crossed a fast flowing river on a rickety suspension bridge before climbing up through thick vegetation until I emerged right under the waterfall. Spectacular!
The rest of the day was unremarkable except for my first sighting of a wild boar. What a racket it made when I startled it. After 36km I reached a refuge where I could relax and eat my evening meal. More noodles! At least this one had windows. At 00:30 the door swung open and I was awoken by a hunter who had decided to turn in for the night. After taking an age to assemble his bed, I finally managed to fall back into a deep sleep and slept through to my alarm at 7am.
When we both got up in the morning we chatted for a long time and he kindly topped up my water and gave me some fruit and nuts. Before he left I told him I wasn’t surprised that he hadn’t caught anything judging by the amount of noise he made putting his bed up!
The first 4km were cold but it eventually warmed up as I dropped into another stunning valley where I crisscrossed a river as it made its way downstream. Unfortunately I ripped my shorts on one of the crossings. I chose the brambles over falling in! After coming out the otherside I followed the road into Requena where I had booked a hotel. Finally I could shower and clean my clothes. After three days sleeping rough I stank.
I took Day 29 off. Except for one trip to the supermarket where I bought enough food to get me through the next four days, I did absolutely nothing.
The next morning I struggled to motivate myself to leave Requena after two nights of relative luxury. I was also feeling apprehensive about where I would source water as I knew I would only pass one village in the next 135km. After slogging through the first 10km I stopped next to an aerodrome to eat the remainder of my chorizo and brie whilst I watched the small planes take off. Next the walk took me past two eerie looking campgrounds where I could have pitched my tent had it been later in the day. At least they had water sources. I then started the long climb up to a refuge where I planned to sleep that night. When I got to around 1,000m I could see the sea again for the first time in two weeks.
I arrived to find that the place was locked which shocked me as every single refuge so far had been open. I guess this one was privately owned. I didn’t have the energy to carry on so I pitched my tent in one of the car park spaces with a stunning view of the landscape beyond. I was rewarded with the most stunning sunrise over Valencia the next morning. I had a lazy breakfast and then made my way down to a hamlet (population 0) before climbing up onto yet another plateau. The markings were poor but I managed to stay on the path until about 10km where it disappeared into a barranco (dry river bed). There was a fifty metre drop and no sign of a path. I was too scared to carry on.
I could and perhaps should have risked it but instead chose to divert around. I couldn’t afford an injury so soon into the trip. Fourteen kilometres later I was back on the path and heading towards the stunning reservoir that Cortes de Pallas is famous for. Although the views were incredible I was furious with myself for the time wasted. Frustrated and tired I decided to order some proper food when I got to town to raise my morale. After a wonderful pork dish I enquired as to whether there was a hotel in the village. I knew I had to recharge if I was to walk the remaining 76 km.
I spoke to a young woman working in the bar and she advised me that they had beds but they were all taken. No problem, she would call another place. Again fully booked, what did I expect, it was Saturday after all. Deflated but determined not to give up I told her not to worry and started to prepare my stuff to leave. I always had the tent to fall back on after all! Just as I was about to leave she told me that she was going to contact the Town Hall and see if I could sleep in the house that was reserved for teachers (this concept is too difficult to explain).
After a few phone calls I was in and it was free! As we walked to the house I told her about my trip and why I was doing it. She cried. I genuinely could not believe my luck. After the frustration of the detour I was now feeling euphoric. What a wonderful person!
I slept really well in the house and left at 8am to return the keys to the local bar. Before setting off I had a quick coffee and tostada. I then climbed out of the village before walking the length of the embalse westward through a woodland path. The shade afforded by the pine trees was glorious. I then turned south and climbed up to a deep valley where they were growing olives. The heat was intense.
After this I climbed up to 1000m before dropping down and climbing up to the same height. It was brutal but fortunately a couple of guys riding trail bikes stopped to chat. It was the first human contact I’d had since the bar. Crucially they told me that the fountain was flowing so I immediately downed my supplies. I had been rationing water all day and it was really starting to take its toll. As the light faded I made my way onto a meadow where I planned to but unfortunately it was occupied, by hundreds of goats.
Eventually I found myself a spot under some pines and managed to pitch the tent just as the sun set. After 47km I was ready to sleep on the path!
What a week! Next stop Alcoy where I will meet up with Armand, who will be keeping me company for the next two weeks.