After two and a half weeks in the Alpujarras the one thing we have learned is that it’s impossible to walk or run the same distances we might be able to cover in milder climates. For those who are unfamiliar with the southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada, trust me, they are steep. And it’s hot here, very hot.
Not wishing to abandon our physical activities altogether, Harri and I have taken to doing very short runs (no more than three miles for me, slightly longer for him), figuring that running on this terrain is so tough that three or four miles is equivalent to twice the distance on level surfaces. It made sense to take the same approach to hiking, which is how we ended up doing two shorter walks this weekend rather than risk a repeat of our walk from Pampaneira.
On Saturday, we started out by skirting around the back of the house on Harri’s recent discovery – an acequia – before heading in the direction of the Guadalfeo valley. We know this section of lane/track quite well now because it forms what feels like an endless uphill section towards the end of our runs. Covering it in reverse gave us the opportunity to really appreciate the pretty traditional dwellings and carefully tended agricultural terraces dotted with olive trees.
Boy, what a racket the grasshoppers were making on this sunny morning in mid-July; we could barely hear ourselves above the noise (which tends to stop as suddenly as it starts).
From this position, it wasn’t possible to see the Rules dam, built across the Guadalfeo river to supply water to the coastal population; however, we were treated to spectacular views over one of the reservoir’s three ‘arms’.
We followed a rough track downhill and, after a few false starts, located a footpath leading to the valley floor. The landscape here was quite startling. Underfoot, the ground looked like volcanic, dusty sand, while our onward route saw us wandering between various shrubby plants and towering bamboo canes.
It was poignant to note the many abandoned farmhouses, dilapidated drystone walls and even acequias, which would have once irrigated the crops. I wondered how long ago the inhabitants of these farms had upped sticks; from the condition of the properties, I guessed it was long before the construction of the reservoir.
Here in the valley, the mountains above us looked terrifying high and inaccessible, though of course they are nothing compared with the grand peaks of the Sierra Nevada.
Something we hadn’t anticipated when we came to Órgiva was the number of alternative communities in the area and, as we made our way along the riverbank, we spotted several intriguing little paths leading from the valley floor up to the members’ various semi-permanent homes. On one level, living that kind of non-materialist existence really appeals to me; however, if I’m totally honest I know I’d struggle without my home comforts, and I’d certainly hate any lack of privacy. Plus, an alternative lifestyle might seem idyllic in these July temperatures but you’d want to live in a tipi during the winter months?
At a fork with the River Chico (currently dry), we headed ‘inland’ and were faced with another endless uphill walk, past more exquisitively pretty cortijos, including the one our pet owners lived in until recently. Eventually, we were back in the centre of Órgiva, conveniently close to the supermarket. By the time, we reached home, we were soaked in perspiration and ready for a beer and a dip in the pool … we’d covered just 12 km but it felt as though we’d covered twice the distance.
For our second walk of the weekend Harri chose a waymarked route (PR-A 345). This involved a short car drive to Lanjarón, my current favourite town/village in the Alpujarras (of course, this might change as we explore new places).
The route – as sold to me – was a circular one around the town’s Moorish castle, although at first it seemed we were heading in completely the wrong direction (note, this is becoming a theme in my Andalusia blogs). At just 9.15am, the air was already hot and still; it didn’t help that, having parked in a lay-by just outside Lanjarón, we crossed the road and immediately began a steep ascent up a rocky footpath.
Fortunately, the scenery more than sufficient reward for the hard climb. We stopped briefly at the Ermita del Taja de la Cruz to enjoy the panoramic views, before following the same zigzagging path downhill that we followed two weeks ago.
One of the bonuses of walking in the morning is that there is a bit more shade around; as we’re learning fast, walking in high temperatures saps one’s energy levels more than you could ever imagine. Though obtaining water supplies wouldn’t be an issue in these parts. A spa town, Lanjarón is home to the first bottled water company in Spain and there are numerous fountains in the streets. So indebted is the town to agua, that the residents transform their annual fiesta of San Juan on June 23 into a massive water fight for one night-time hour (midnight to 1am). Frustratingly, we missed this year’s extravaganza by just three days.
Our meanderings led us along some beautiful high-level tracks and narrow roads, some with terrifying, unprotected drops, before eventually returning us to the town. Unfortunately, it was here that we had an equipment malfunction, or more precisely, the main strap of Harri’s much-loved GoLite rucksack detached itself from the sack. Closer inspection revealed that the stitching had simply come unravelled and a repair was needed. It could have been much worse. Harri was carrying very little for this short circular hike, and when it was clear that a temporary safety pin repair was not going to work, he simply held the strap for the remainder of the morning. We vowed to stop overloading our rucksacks with shopping (the likely cause of the damage).
From Lanjarón’s main street, we headed uphill again and joined an acequia which provided us with more great views. From this vantage point, Harri took the opportunity to point out our distant car. I really wish he hadn’t because it looked an awful long way off.
This was superb walking through a beautiful wooded landscape (and as we were heading downhill, I was able to enjoy my surroundings!). We passed the Museo de la Miel, a museum dedicated to the history of bee keeping and honey. The museum is on the far side of a pool and is accessed by a wooden bridge. Entry is 3 euros. I’d have liked to stop for a look around; however, (Harri needed to work after lunch and we were conscious of the time.
Now I was in for another surprise. To the right of the tourist information office the beautiful Parque del Salado follows the steep contours of the wooded valley. Initially, there are walkways, a children’s play area and what looked to be an outdoor stage and seating, before the park becomes wilder with several waterfalls and tall trees.
Suddenly, Harri spotted the castle between some trees. We’d crept up on the main landmark of the route without even realising it. We entered the castle car park (one of the prettiest I’ve seen) and followed steps at the far end to join a rocky promontory. In fact, so rocky and steep is this location that it’s hard to imagine how the Moors ever managed to build this castle. Despite there being no entrance charge, the castle is well maintained in terms of access to its various parts (there are a lot of very steep steps, both stone and metal). Even if you’re not massively into castles, this one is well worth the detour for the panoramic views alone … as long as you don’t suffer from vertigo!
The final stage of our hike was undoubtedly the toughest. Faced with a steep descent into another valley and the inevitable climb out or a less scenic but also less strenuous walk along the main road, I’d probably chosen the latter. Unfortunately, Harri generally likes to stick to a plan, so off we went, down a horribly steep, stony footpath under the full heat of the sun.
When we finally reached the valley floor, we were surprised to find another alternative community set up here, albeit one where there seemed to be a lot of renovation going on, both on properties (some were being rebuilt and had temporary tarpaulin roofs) and the main acequia. There was no denying the landscape was beautiful; however, we were now gazing up at some very high cliffs, one of which boasted a sizeable landslide at its base. How can anyone feel safe living in a tipi with so much unstable rock high above them?
The final long climb of the day was tough. Though the wind had picked up, at least affording us some reprieve from the relentless heat, it was still hard going. Just as we’d gone down and down to reach the valley floor, now we were going up and up to leave it. Harri admitted later that the suggested starting point for this waymarked route is next to the tourist information centre. Doing so would have meant us tackling this climb within the first hour or so. After Pampaneira, Harri thought it was better to postpone the toughest climb until the end of the walk. I guess there’s a certain logic in that, if only that it ensured my mood wouldn’t plummet so soon!
Overall, we’d had two good days of hiking, albeit mornings only. With the Andalusian temperatures set to soar over the next month, goodness knows what distances we’ll be able to tackle in the future. Thank goodness, we’ve got a swimming pool to cool down when we get home!