Sunday, 29 December 2013

Murcia

The stretch between Elda and Pinoso, the last town in Valencia on the GR 7 had been described as boring and treeless by other hikers. I therefore set out without great expectations and wondering where I would camp. In the outskirts of Elda I passed the huge municipal cemetery and a very active little chapel where people had left little papers with their prayers on. It was warm and I was soon hiking in a shirt only instead of several layers. Although not exactly exciting the trail was not as bad as expected - but I definitely would not want to hike here in summer. There were even some little stretches with trees and that lured me into the wrong decision to make some miles and hike through Pinoso to camp after it.

View from my campsite
When I left Pinoso with the last daylight I realised what a huge mistake I had made. All I could see in front of me was an endless brown and flat landscape. Nowhere to hide behind - a stealth campers nightmare. To make things worse I was walking on a paved road with occasional traffic and I was extremely conspicuous. I had no other chance but to press on to where I had to turn off onto a dirt road and thank God there were olive trees and terraces there. Not great but better than the great wide open. Then I spotted half a dozen lonely pine trees on the top of the terraces and as I had hoped this spot turned out to be a great camp site. Nice pine duff, some shelter from the tree and great views over the lights of Pinoso.

Vineyard
Next day was more of the great wide open. I had now passed from Valencia into Murcia. There was even a border marker. Empty fields, some olive and almond trees and sun scorched, hard baked ground. No shadow whatever. Hiking here in summer must be hell. After passing under another motorway with hardly any traffic I came across the huge fruit plantations. All fenced in, some with netting above to keep the birds out and endless rows of fruit trees. There were few people working there mostly pruning trees. Some nearby houses looked more like a slum than a settlement. I asked for water at one house and learned that it was rain water. The houses were off grid... but all had dozens of dogs which led to a loud barking concert when I passed. The nearby gas station could easily be the setting for a Spanish version of "Deliverance". At last I know now where the fruit in German supermarkets comes from: these plantations in Murcia.

Luckily the trail climbed out of plantation valley and I could again camp under pine trees - where I was woken up at 10 pm by some late mountain bikers passing by. Next day was Dec 24 and time for my Christmas shopping in Cieza. Hiking into town along 5 km of busy highway was the worst hiking so far in Spain. I passed endless industrial estates and illegal garbage dumps, but I can't really complain as I had hardly had to hike on roads before in this trip in Spain.

The weather forecast was pretty miserable. After weeks with no rain the skies had decided to dump water on Spain just on Christmas day. Depending on the region this ranged from a biblical deluge to a simple downpour. In the region I was hiking in now the forecast was 15 mm of rain whereas Ronda where I would be in three weeks expected 80 mm of rain and gusts up to 90 km/h. I would have happily stayed in a hotel especially since it was Christmas but Cieza had very little accommodation options and all were over 50 € per night. Instead of shelling out 55 € for a hotel I bought an umbrella for 5,95 € and decided to hike on.

Cieza from above
But after doing my Christmas shopping I still needed water and could not find a water fountain. When I was desperately looking around a plaza a lady in a bathrobe came out of her house to ask me what I was looking for. She must have felt very Christmassy because she not only gave me water but would not let me go before kissing me and trying to give me fruit and sweets. I climbed up to a hilltop overlooking Cieza and decided to hike till sunset. I was rewarded with an incredible sunset colouring the landscape almost surreal.

Forest burn in the rain
I found a brilliant pine tree camp site and enjoyed my Christmas dinner: fresh mushroom stuffed ravioli and cheese cake for desert. I then rewarded myself with reading an Ian Rankin novel. Now I could only wait for the rain which arrived on cue early next morning. It basically rained the whole day. Not too bad (and my new umbrella helped) but I can think of better things to do on Christmas than trudge through an incessant drizzle. At 3 pm I was ready to throw in the towel - and had to hike through a burn area with no trees or bushes whatsoever. Grudgingly I hiked on and after an hour I was back in trees. It took a while to find a campsite but that didn't matter: it doesn't make much sense to call it a day early on a winter hike. There is not much you can do in a tent in winter - it is just too cold. Even reading is not much of an option as your hands will freeze quickly. The only thing you can do comfortably is sleeping and I am already sleeping 10 hours per day...

Calasparra
I woke up to a beautiful morning and blue sky and had a great views of Calasparra, the next town en route. As Dec 26 is not a holiday in Spain I could even do some unexpected shopping. Then onward to Moratalla which marked the end of low land hiking. The low altitude had provided relatively high temperatures. I had been back to hiking in a shirt only and sleeping with less than all layers on. But now I was approaching the Sierra Nevada and was gradually climbing up to 1,500 m, the highest point of the GR 7 in Murcia. In the recent precipitations snow line had been 1,200 m in Southern Spain and I was a bit afraid of snow problems.

The GR 7 now follows the River Alharabe and its gorge made for stunning views again. The river actually had some water. After a climb up through lovely pine forest you arrive in top of the altiplano - where it looks almost as flat and desolate as lower down. It is only a lot colder... I was desperate to find some trees now for camping. Instead I ran into an old lady who asked me if I had seen her run away goat. I could not help her. (Actually I could hardly understand her. Maybe she was looking for her husband...) Again with the last rays of daylight I found some trees and spent a relatively warm night despite an altitude of 1,200 m.

Hunting dogs
 Dec 28 seemed to be hunting day. I saw several signs announcing "Danger! Wild Pig hunt in progress!" Despite my neon orange cap I was slightly worried. After an entire week with no washing or shower I might resemble more like a wild pig than a hiker... Dozens of cars with trailers for the hunting dogs passed me. There must have been a lot more dogs than wild pigs in the forests this day. I felt pity for the pigs. I now approached the 1,500 m point in Murcia and to my great relief there was no snow. There were plenty of snow covered mountains around me but so far no snow on the trail. If there is no major snow fall in the next two weeks I will hopefully be able to make it through the Sierra Nevada without any major problem.

Again I decided to push it until sunset before camping and encountered a rare but feared problem. It was nearly dark when I passed a seemingly  abandoned farm. Totally out of the blue (or dark in this case) a weird looking guy stepped onto the dirt road and stopped me. He didn't even say hello but just asked where I was going. Of course I didn't tell him that I was looking for a campsite but said I wanted to reach the highway. He seemed to be a farmhand and was probably harmless but I felt threatened by his neglected outfit and toothless unshaven face. He then asked me for a cigarette which struck me even weirder. I left quickly before he could ask for more. I turned around several times to make sure he was not following me and took extra care to find a well hidden far off the trail campsite. I am probably doing him wrong but this was one of the very view occasions in my hiking career when I felt uncomfortable as a single female.

It was freezing cold in the morning when I passed from Murcia into Andalusia, again celebrated by a "border" marker. Strangely enough my GPS track indicated a long road walk whereas the sign posts wanted me to stay in dirt roads. Because I had read in John Hayes' blog that he had to climb another set of deer fences on this route I opted for the road walk which was not too bad because there was little traffic on a Sunday and a little shoulder. And after over a week camping I now wanted to get to my hotel quickly and without any surprises.

Murcia has not been the most scenic hiking but was still pleasant, especially the warm temperatures. I had progressed much faster here than expected because the terrain is mostly flat and you are hiking on dirt roads instead of overgrown trail. The only thing that slowed me down was that the dirt roads became mud tracks after the Christmas rain. Navigation would have been a problem without my GPS track because there is nowhere to place a blaze or marker in the great wide open.

I am now in Puebla de Don Fadrique in the cheapest hotel so far. 20 € gets you a nice ensuite room with wifi. I am just resting as I will already leave tomorrow. I want to spend the New Year gumbo deep in the Cazorla National Park in my tent and not be disturbed by fireworks and drunken people. The GR 7 splits soon into a Northern and Southern variant. I will hike the Northern variant because it is lower and hopefully snow free. A happy new year to you all!

14 comments:

Juan Holgado said...

Happy New year Christine. So you are taking the Northern variant through Sierras de Jaen. I would recomend the other one. Just one part high which is the Puerto de la Ragua on the Sierra Nevada range but just a col and then going down the Alpujarras with a warm temperature.
Anyway have a nice time in Cazorla where I have walked a few days ago from Santiago de la Espada to Pontones and the river Segura spring.
Have a nice time on the Guadalquivir river valley and Cazorla with the olive treees open land.

eArThworm said...

HAPPY NEW YEAR, TO "GERMAN TOURIST"
FROM "eArThworm"!!

German Tourist said...

Linda, good to hear from you and a happy new year to you, too.

lividlili said...

Happy new year, German tourist! I've been reading and enjoying your blog all year. Enjoy the rest of your hike :)

martinblack said...

I've been enjoying this series of posts, hope you have a good (and quiet) new year's eve.

German Tourist said...

Thanks for your comment. I did not know that I have so many readers. That is quite an incentive.

German Tourist said...

Yes, I found a very nice campsite and enjoyed a quiet new year's eve.

Anonymous said...

Happy new year darling. I am glad the hunters didnt get you;) We are in Mexico reading your posts in pretty San Miguel de Allende. Feliz Año Nuevo! Wolfgang & Thomas

Anonymous said...

Happy New Year Christine. I have been following you blog for about a year and it's inspirational! You are one tough woman and I mean that as a compliment. Looking forward already to your next adventures.

John Hayes said...

Hi Christine - a belated happy New Year.

You must have done the terrible road walk by now - it goes on forever - but the next stretch is wonderful although I suspect a bit wet. Keep going!

John

German Tourist said...

Beste Grüße zurück und auf bald in Berlin!

German Tourist said...

Thanks for your comment and compliment! And don't worry: I have two interesting trips planned for 2014...

German Tourist said...

John, happy new year to you, too. I am in Cazorla now and the road walk was not too bad. Whenever I set off after a town stay I read your blog as a preparation for the next stretch. Thanks for all the work you have put into your blog -it has been a great help.

John Hayes said...

Hi Christine so glad it helps. Hope things aren't as wet in Spain as they are here - if they are you will get stuck in the mud. Whatever you do don't try and count the olive trees!

John