Final thoughts from Andalucia

We’ve been back for 24 hours and recovered enough for a summary of our trip.

Yesterday, the journey back to Almeria Airport reminded us of the bubble we’d been living in for the last few days. The minute we left the national park we were back in the land of tatty plastic greenhouses and they go on for miles. We’ve been told these greenhouses are the only constructions to be seen from space because they reflect so much light.

From plastic greenhouses to snow across the top of the Sierra Nevada, the first 10 minutes of the flight were interesting.

We had a fun and exhausting few days so we asked our friends for their most memorable moments but first our final group photo.

Ann was particularly proud of negotiating the steep descent into San Jose without falling and killing herself. That was the nastiest part of any of our routes and we were all relieved to reach the bottom. As to the most memorable? Standing in Eckhard’s garden at Rodalquilar and experiencing the stillness and quiet of such a beautiful place – it was very special.

The descent into San Jose will stay with Dave for a long time too but his moment was looking back at it, across the bay, from the terrace of the hotel and the sense of achievement. Dave used to play football and as a result has knees that don’t work as well as they once used to, we can’t begin to imagine how difficult it had been…..but we won’t tell him that.

Jacky and Ken enjoyed the walking in such an unusual environment, with amazing scenery and warming sunshine. Now it has to be said that Jacky is fit, competent and organised but still managed to fall over while looking at her phone. There was talk of confiscating it in much the way you would with a dippy teenager.

For John, a holiday is always about local experience and meeting people and to be fair, he doesn’t really like walking. Each day at Rodalquilar we visited Chrisol’s Bar. It’s run by an elderly, heavily bearded biker playing John Mayall blues music really loud and John loved it. He was also taken with the ice cold beer at the end of a long, hot walk.

And Kim? Well, she would have happily stayed at Rodalquilar looking after Eckhard’s garden but her highlight was somewhat different – the relief felt by her feet when she went for a paddle at Los Genoveses beach. Is now the time to admit that she slipped over three times and has grazed knees? At least she wasn’t looking at her phone….

Kim is taken with the Agave flower stems. Some of them have been over 3m high and everywhere we’ve been they are used decoratively. She finally recognised, with poor grace, that she couldn’t get one in the suitcase or on the plane as hand luggage. Research indicates that, if she’s lucky, she might get one to flower in about 50 years. It might be worth the wait for an alternative Christmas Tree.

Cabo de Gata lighthouse and some flamingos

This morning, breakfast resembled a group of poor students needing to save money. A taxi was booked for 08:30 to drop us at Cala Cabon for a 10 km walk back to San Jose. We’d decided that Inntravel’s options were too far and identified something shorter. Unfortunately we’d forgotten to arrange a packed lunch so our objective was to create lunch from breakfast items instead. Jacky won the award with a very dainty cheese and ham sandwich.

Rising so early meant we saw the sunrise.

Ricardo our taxi driver explained he couldn’t drop us at Cala Cabon because vehicles are forbidden in the Park and he showed us the route he needed to drive. It had always been our intention to see the nature reserve at Las Salinas but now we had to walk the extra 5km Inntravel recommended. Heroes that we are we decided to give it a go.

Kim had been keen to see the Flamingos that migrate to the salt marshes and was expecting huge flocks of brightly coloured birds. This is the best photo we managed…. how many Flamingo can you see?

Inntravel suggest that you add 4km to the 15km route by walking from the salt marshes to the lighthouse. We were having none of that and were dropped off right outside the lighthouse. 4km doesn’t sound much but the route was winding and surprisingly hilly. We whizzed, rather than limped, past the salt mines.

This protected area produces ‘Flower Salt’ relying on temperature fluctuations in salt pans which create floating crystals of salt flowers, these are collected manually using large shovels. The salt contains a micro algae called ‘Dunaliella Salina’ and is responsible for the pinkish colour of the salt flower. This is where pink flamingos in this area get their colour as the micro algae dyes the flamingos legs and feathers while they stand in the water. Obviously these particular flamingos hadn’t been standing around long enough.

The route elevation showed the toughest walking would be the first 5km with an elevation of about 300m. We delayed the start with photo opportunities of the lighthouse but Ricardo had gone, we were off the public road and had no choice but to walk.

The first hour was indeed tough with 500m of scrabbling up and down gullies before reaching the closed road and steep climb. The sun was shining and the views were fantastic. Each time we turned a corner, it was a relief to be briefly out of the sun and it was only 9:30

The highest point was the at La Vela Blanca. Helpfully, our notes told us we’d walked 4km and were within the estimated time. We might still have over 10km to go but we’d conquered the ‘mountain’. It wasn’t long before we rounded a bend and could see much of our route stretching ahead of us.

John made us stop for a photo opportunity. We’re not quite sure why he kept telling us to step back just a little further.

As the route flattened out we had views across a plain, dotted with Agaves and the odd European Fan Palm. Despite the green, the plants tell a story of an incredibly hostile environment with stunted growth. There are, however some pretty flowers doing their best to survive.

Our lunch break was taken at Monsul Beach which, like Los Genoveses in the next bay, has been used as the set location in numerous films. Now, we can be quite critical of beaches. Nothing ever meets the standard that Porthcothan set for us years ago. Monsul was a little bit special. Cliffs created from molten lava lead down to the sea and give a very special feel. It’s also one of the few beaches that has sand dunes.

Our greatest achievement of the holiday was working out how to use the timer to take a group photo. You’ll notice Ann and Dave are missing, yet again they found something interesting and cultural to do that doesn’t involve blisters and aching joints!

The next stop was Los Genoveses and it felt like we were almost back. We’d walked from here yesterday, knew the route and estimated it was only another 30 mins to the hotel. Time for a paddle! Ken and John are in this photo somewhere, you can’t see them because they’re snorkelling (not sitting on the beach, snacking, under eucalyptus trees)

5 hours and 12 km later we were back at the hotel! We’d cheated a little and chosen to stay on a more direct route than the official one. Unexpectedly it had saved us 3km and we were grateful it had. We may have missed a couple of bays out on the way but we’d probably seen the best.

A day in San Jose

The consensus was to take it easy today. A leisurely breakfast was a pleasant change but the weather couldn’t seem to decide what to do. Glorious sunshine or thick fog, it was changing by the minute!

Jacky looked at the map, plotted an easy route round to Los Genoveses beach and off we went leaving Dave and Ann, sensibly, reading on their terrace in the sunshine.

The walk started comfortably enough on pavements and roads before becoming another challenging rock strewn path.

The beach came into view and from our vantage point looked stunning. Scenes from Laurence of Arabia and Raiders of the Lost Ark have been filmed here.

We admired the view and decided to head back into town rather than going on further. There’s a long walk planned on Monday and we were feeling the effects of Saturday. Looking back over the beach was a very different landscape to any we’ve seen so far with wide open plains.

A better route back into town was identified, thanks to Jacky and her map. The path was reasonably flat and took us past the windmill at Molino del Collado

A leisurely afternoon was spent on the terrace, reading in the sun. Before we knew it, it was 4 pm and hunger drove us out to find a snack. We walked round to the harbour and found a table in one of the few restaurants open at this time of year.

We are used to tapas portions at home and they’re not generous. Taking that into account, we ordered three dishes….

There was enough to feed four and, luckily, we saw Ken and Jacky passing by. Ken was more than happy to help us work our way through grilled sardines, patatas bravas and a Roquefort salad.

The weather has been a real mix of sunshine and cloud but the evening ended with a beautifully clear sky.

Rodalquilar to St. Jose

It’s been long day! Finally after 8 hours of mountain climbing, and walking, we arrived in St. Jose and had our first disagreement. Ken recorded 12.9 miles against Kim’s meagre 11.5 miles while Dave and Anne were past the point of caring unless another hill was involved…… in that case they would have a very strong opinion..

This morning, we said goodbye to Eckhard our German host, but first we had to listen to another lecture. This time it was about which restaurants to avoid and why his boutique hotel was the best in Spain, so far we haven’t seen any other Nissen hut based accommodation so he may be right and he does have a fantastic garden.

Approaching the first road, we were passed by a peloton of Movistar team cyclists practising team tactics which they can do easily down here. Similar to Portugal and Madeira the lovely roads built with EU money, most of which John is convinced he donated personally, are completely devoid of traffic. They whooshed past us as we struggled up the first hill of the day to the viewpoint at Mirador de la Amatista. On a clear day, views along the coast must be spectacular. We checked route instructions and, at 2.7 km, we were 20 minutes ahead of schedule – go us!

Most of the landscape is low growing and scrubby but a short detour down to Cala los Toros through a grove of palms created a very different atmosphere. In this terrain, 3 trees are a grove – we are in the only official desert in Europe.

Next stop was La Isleta del Moro, a little fishing town with a cafe. Our walking location is quite remote and this is the only cafe mentioned in all seven walk options. According to our notes, we were still ahead of schedule and treated ourselves to a cuppa. 5k down only another 12 to go!

An hour later we’d rounded the bay and stopped for lunch at Los Escullos beach, in the shadow of the ruined fort of Castillo de San Felipe. Already tired and not yet halfway, with our highest climbs still to come, we had a great view across the bay to La Isleta. The white fossilised dunes lining the beach are oolite – calcium carbonate from animal bones worn down and encrusted with sand.

Leaving the beach we joined the ‘Loma Pelada’ route along the coast taking us all the way to San Jose. We’d walked 12 km in 4.5 hours and were flagging just as the terrain became hilly with lots of loose stones under foot. It was very hard work and we seemed to be taking it in turns to slip and fall. We will spare you the photos of grazed knees but here’s a taster of the terrain.

San Jose tantalisingly came into view but there was another 3km descent on nasty loose stones before we came to a beautiful tarmac road into town.

We arrived at the hotel and collapsed, rather too tired to appreciate the views from our terrace.

Eckhard had told us sternly not to eat in the hotel. In low season there’s not much choice so that’s where we are! Kim was pleased that Dave offered to share Creamy Lobster Rice with her, she’s just not sure it was lobster

A circular walk from Rodalquilar via Cortijo del Fraile

The day started with an al fresco breakfast on the terrace. Our host, Eckhard, pointed out that we wouldn’t be able to do this at home and thought we might like it. It was a little chilly, but he was correct. Today’s walk took us inland through mining and farming country across 14.5 km of dirt tracks and rocky paths. We started with an early detour into Rodalquilar’s Botanic Garden. It is presented as an environmental management centre for the Cabo de Gata – Nijar Natural Park and divides plots into distinct plant groupings and environments. Apart from Palms and grasses not much is happening this time of year so here’s a photo from the hotel garden which is interestingly planted.

Walking out of town we passed an old abandoned gold mine. The area has a long history of mining starting with lead and silver. Gold was discovered in the late 19th century and was mined until 1966 when it became too costly and environmentally destructive. As a result the town population dropped dramatically from 1400 to about 200.

We walked through the valley, following a dry riverbed, before heading up along a pass with glorious views back down to the coast.

We turned a corner and the view changed completely. Suddenly we had views across lush agricultural fields to the Sierra Nevada in the distance.

The route for sensible people was fairly flat, following another dry riverbed and taking us into farming country and the fields we’d seen from the top. Rows of lettuce, fennel, cauliflower and broccoli greeted us and this was the prettiest.

At this point, and after a long climb, we became a little confused. Our holiday is categorised ‘easy walking’ but the route was taking us up yet another steep climb. There was dissent in the ranks so John, heroically, offered to check it out. He scrambled up the mountainside and, by the time the rest of us had read the instructions properly and realised we didn’t need to be up on the ridge, he decided it was too dangerous to scramble back down. We didn’t see him again!

The highlight of the walk was the ruin at Cortijo del Fraile. Not only was this farmstead the inspiration for Garcia Lorca’s ‘Blood Wedding’ but it has featured in many Westerns including The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and a Few Dollars More.

The long walk back took us past more abandoned mines and, if you look carefully, you can see the evidence of mine shafts in the cliff face.

The next stop, accessed through a short tunnel, was the abandoned village of El poblado minero de San Diego before finally arriving back at the top end of Rodalquilar, overlooking the mining buildings we’d seen earlier.

Back in town we met up with John in Crisol’s bar, for a well earned drink in the late afternoon sunshine. Today’s walk was a tough but enjoyable 9 miles, tomorrow’s is longer and steeper……….ouch

Walking in Andalucia

We are walking in the Andalucian reserve of Cabo de Gato park with friends. The trip has been meticulously planned and started, last night, at Gatwick. Today’s flight was an early one and we didn’t trust Thameslink trains or the M25 to get us there on time.

Up before 5, our luggage checked by 5:15 and on the plane by 7. Everything was running smoothly until the pilot announced our take off slot had been delayed by a French Air Traffic Control strike! That gave fellow passengers the opportunity to mess up the schedule even further. The first was an elderly gentleman who felt faint. A paramedic arrived and it was agreed he needed to leave the flight. While we waited for an ambulance, another passenger was discovered to be so drunk he couldn’t be woken! Quite how it’s possible to get that drunk that early is beyond us!

Passengers were removed, safety checks carried out and we were off…. or not as it turned out. We taxied back to the terminal -the luggage door was showing a fault. Finally, 4 hours later than scheduled, we left the ground accompanied by applause and cheers from fellow passengers.

We flew South West over Normandy and the Pyrenees and as Almeria approached we were greeted by the Greenhouse Revolution. It is the largest number of Greenhouses in the world, in reality thousands of plastic greenhouses, which grow most of the fruit and vegetables eaten in the UK. It’s a huge contributor to the local economy but with significant environmental costs.

Our approach to Almeria airport was accompanied by more cheers and the Captain announced how emotional he was at the thought of us leaving. We had been together for such a long time.

We headed into the Almeria Miracle which is a tiny corner of Almeria preserved from development by Francisca Diaz Torres who refused to sell her family estate to commercial pressures. It became the Cabo de Gata National Park where we will be walking for the next few days.

Our hotel is unusual to say the least, located five minutes outside Rodalquilar, with glorious views.

And the ‘rooms’ are quirky, set inside what look like Nissen huts.

We wandered into town and found an open bar. Run by a motorcycle enthusiast, the beer was good and music even better

Finally, after a very long day, we dined out at a local restaurant where we sampled grilled artichokes, beef cheeks and rosemary smoked cheese.