Week 8: Mi Vuelta a España

17/10/22 – 23/10/22 222 km

Despite revelling in the familiarity of walking so close to the place I consider my home in Spain, I hadn’t really enjoyed the past two weeks. The GR7 had become repetitive. For the most part I felt like I was marching through an endless field of produce in its various states of cultivation. It had become a trudgefest and I was simply counting the kilometres until I finished crossing the high plains of Murcia and Andalucía.

So, as I sat planning the next stages of ‘Mi Vuelta’, I was thrilled to see that the Alpujarras were within reach. I first visited the area, located on the southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada, over a decade ago. I have since returned on several occasions in order to scale Spain’s highest peak – Mulhacén – with varying degrees of success!

With a new target to aim for, I left the Hostal on Day 47 with a fresh sense of purpose. I made my way south to Galera and then east to Orce. The shift in my mood was helped significantly by the recent change in landscape. I spent the morning walking along a path cut into the hillside which overlooked a fertile valley containing natural hot springs. One of the most remarkable things about the hills were the numerous houses carved into them. Although they had long since been abandoned, these Casas de las Cuevas (cave houses) provided an insight into how those who used to live here had manipulated the natural landscape to their advantage.

After a quick pit stop on the main Plaza (square) of Orce, where I ate yet another lunch of brie and chorizo I headed south once more on route to Culla. I was aiming for a hill on the horizon about five kilometres short of the town, where I planned to camp. I found a fantastic little spot next to an abandoned horse drawn cart and was forced to pitch my tent early as it was beginning to rain.

Just as night was drawing in, a herd of over two hundred goats appeared before me on the mountainside. Here we go I thought, I bet I am pitched in the same spot they usually spend the night. It was full of their droppings after all. With this thought in mind I sought out the shepherd to let him know I was there. I ended up had a wonderful conversation with the old guy. His face showed signs of a life spent on the slopes. He was taken aback when I asked for his permission to pitch my tent, it wasn’t his land after all, he was only working for his boss. Needless to say I told him, that whilst I was here, he was mine!

After speaking for a while he asked me where I had come from. When I told him I’d walked all the way from France he was so shocked that he said I could stay for two nights! I still don’t think he believed me. Perhaps he didn’t even know where France was? I’m glad I camped there, despite the wind, the sunset was spectacular and for once I think the photos did it justice. 

Despite his generous offer I was up and on the road again by 8am. I made my way down to Culla where I grabbed a quick coffee and stocked up in the local supermarket. From there I continued west through one of the strangest landscapes so far. I walked in the centre of what can only be described as a canyon, which meandered its way to the next town of Benamaurel. I was knackered when I arrived. It was unusually hot for this time of year, still over 30°c and the heat was sapping my energy. 

So I stopped in Bar Venus and spent a lazy few hours nursing a coke. Around 3pm I could see that the owner wanted to close up for the afternoon so I asked him if I could rest for a bit longer under his awning outside. At this point he seemed to take pity on me, as he clearly registered my tiredness. He gave me a free sandwich and a can of coke. It was so unexpected that it caught me by surprise. These random acts of kindness have been integral to powering my mind to keep on going. Yet again I left another location feeling eternally grateful. What a nice guy!

I continued to make my way west where I was supposed to camp next to an embalse (reservoir). However, as I got closer I could hear thunder and see dark clouds rolling in from three directions. Fresh with the memory of my previous experience at an embalse I was conscious to not leave myself vulnerable again, so I decided to head south and take a more direct route to Baza where I would ride out the storm in a Hostal.

After stocking up again in the supermarket in Baza, I headed back up into the mountains for the first time in weeks. The climb was brutal as it followed a path up a dry river bed but I was enjoying the challenge and the views afforded by my new vantage point. About half way up I stopped at an abandoned restaurant to eat lunch and I was shocked to see two vehicles that had passed me the day I said goodbye to Cristina. Either they were incredibly slow or I was fast!

I was low on water at this point and knowing that I would be sleeping in the wild I took a slight detour to a spring where I could fill up my bottles. The water flowed at less than a trickle. It took over twenty minutes to fill each bottle. It was just as well, as the climb got harder and temperatures were still roasting. I finally made it to 2,000m above sea level where I would sleep in an abandoned house. The views were spectacular but the condition of the house was appalling. I spent over an hour scraping dust off the surface I would sleep on. I can still taste it now!

Despite the eerie feel of the house I managed to sleep well and was up before the sun on Day 50. Unfortunately due to my low water I couldn’t make a coffee but I didn’t care, I had been walking for fifty straight days! I had a quick look at the map and found that there was a spring after 12km.

After two kilometres I passed an immaculate refuge. Bloody typical! It looked like it had just been built (which explains why it wasn’t on my map). I went inside to inspect and it was spotless. After the dilapidated building I’d slept in last night I was gutted!  

My water ran out just as I made it to the fountain where I stopped to stock up and eat some biscuits. Then I completed the final 13km to Charches along forest access paths. At least there I’d be able to grab a coffee! 

I only stopped once on the way, as I spotted two eagles riding the thermals in the distance. As I was filming them rising and falling I heard a noise directly above my head. I had another eagle no more than three metres away. It was a remarkable experience, I could see every detail on its body, however after a few minutes I did start to wonder if it was going to swoop down and attack me.

Whilst I was drinking my coffee I received a tip off about an albergue (hostel for pilgrims) about four kilometres off route. For €16 it was well worth the detour. So I left the bar and made my way across a windy plain surrounded by wind turbines that were whirring away. The noise was deafening and as the tumbleweed rolled in all directions I started to feel like I was in some kind of apocalyptic sci-fi film set in a dystopian future. Or the Houses of Parliament, you decide. When I finally arrived it was well worth the detour. The highlight being a bar of soap and brush so I could finally give my clothes a proper scrub.

I felt like a million dollars when I left in the morning. I had a real spring in my step, well as much as someone can after walking 1,500km. Things were really looking up for me. I had completed a third of the walk in only fifty days, the clouds were creating beautiful patterns in the sky and perhaps most significantly I had just received fantastic news. Stewart and Paul, whom I have spent many a weekend walking with, were going to drive to Trevélez to visit me on Saturday!

I was beside myself with excitement, there was only one small problem. I had to walk 76km in two days which included a total climb of over 3,000 metres. With the prospect of a few beers and some great company, it was a no brainer, challenge accepted!

So I headed east to retrace my steps back to La Calahorra, where I ate a second breakfast. Then I headed southeast to Ferreira where I filled up my bottles in preparation for the big climb up to Puerto de la Ragua at 2,000m above sea level. The climb was so difficult. The first section followed a small stream along an overgrown path. The brambles were so thick that at one point my arm was caught as if it were in a bear trap. It took me over ten minutes to release my contorted skin from the thorns. The whole event reminded me of my uncle untangling my fishing line when I was a kid!

Just when I thought I was over the worst of it the path then became vertical! It was like walking up a wall and my achilles tendons felt like they were going to snap as I forced my way up. That was definitely my slowest kilometre of the whole trip. Eventually the path joined an immaculate road and from that point I felt as if I sprinted to the collado (mountain pass). 

When I arrived at the top I quickly discovered that there was absolutely no running water. Thankfully a wonderful German man offered to fill up my bottles. Although it may not have been a big deal to him I was so grateful as I am certain I would have struggled even more as I dropped down into the sunny southern side of the Sierra Nevada. I could not believe that I was here at last. The views were immense. After a quick chocolate bar I sprinted off from the collado and then spent the next half an hour or so running the gauntlet through a narrow valley full of cows. They’re faster than you think and incredibly nimble for their size. 

Then the path became super technical. It was no more than a foot wide with a massive drop to my left. To make matters worse the terrain had changed to loose gravel but it didn’t matter, I was loving the challenge and the number of changes in scenery over the day kept my mind fresh. After around three hours descending I finally made it to the first of many whitewashed villages that are synonymous with Andalucía. I only had seventeen kilometres left to reach my stop off for the day. My feet were pulsating, so I walked a mixture of path and road.

That night I had decided to stay in Yegen, a village famous for its association with Gerald Brennan, the British author who had lived there for five years in the early twentieth century. I was disappointed with the village. It was nothing like I had imagined from reading his books, however I did have yet another lovely conversation with an older Spanish gentlemen as I left the following day. He kept referring to me as ‘el fenómeno’!

So, I left the hotel on Day 52 with thirty kilometres to go. I knew I was going to make it but it wouldn’t be easy, I still had to climb 1,700m over the course of the day. I made it through the first two villages relatively quickly despite an incredibly technical descent into Bérchules where I stopped to grab a sandwich. From there I continued to Juviles to embark upon the final (and most difficult) ten kilometres of the day.

The climb, up to the tree line around 1,800m was tough but I made it to the town in under three hours, giving myself enough time to shower before Paul and Stewart arrived. It was so good to see them. We had a wonderful night full of lovely conversation, food and far too much alcohol! I’m not sure I will be drinking pacharán for a while! 

It was so nice to be around people I know and I am grateful to them both for allowing me to talk non-stop about the trip and my experiences so far. I also want to thank them both for their incredible generosity, as before they left they paid for me to stay in a Hostal and take a much needed two day break. The first time I’ve done this since starting the walk. 

Although it will be the last time I see people I know for a while, it has given me the impetus to complete the last few weeks of the GR7 and make it to Tarifa and the southern coast of Spain. I cannot believe I have made it this far, it’s crazy!

First things first though, there is the small matter of climbing Mulhacén (3,482m) – well it would be rude not to!

4 thoughts on “Week 8: Mi Vuelta a España”

  1. Timing wise would have been better to meet you closer to home. That said, I am left in awe of what you have achieved so far and know you have the ability to complete this adventure.. Many times you have dragged me to the tops of hills when I could easily have given up so I hope our visit has spurred you on knowing there are many people walking every step with you, not literally but in spirit. Stay safe and see you again soon. Paul

  2. Hi Michael
    Glad you are safe and making such good progress. I am still enjoying your weekly accounts. Your holiday blogs are the only ones I can be bothered to read( I get 2 others). It must be because they are so removed from my daily life and there is no way I could do what you are doing. Keep your chin up. Lots of love Gwen


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