Saturday, 11 January 2014

Quesada to Alcala la Real

I am now hiking through hardcore olive country. Olive trees everywhere - millions of them. And now is harvest time. I had to learn that hiking in olive country during harvest time is a noisy business... This is how olives are harvested: A plastic net is placed underneath the tree and then the branches are shaken - either by beating them with wooden sticks or with a stick-like motor-device which leads to a constant humming in olive plantations. The content of the nets is then collected and transported to the olive mills. Early morning and late evening basically everyone on the roads here is driving a 4WD (to get up the steep slopes), towing a covered trailer full of olives and carrying the tools of the trade (plastic nets and wooden sticks). Afterwards the olive trees are pruned which adds chain saw noises to the concert. The cut off branches are burnt next to the fields and therefore smoke is often in the air.

Hiking here can be a bit boring - all you see is olive trees. Harvesting time also makes stealth camping interesting because you don't know if you are going to be woken up by farmers... On the other hand you'll always find a flat clear spot in these olive plantations for camping. But as there is no undergrowth and the trees are usually far apart it is difficult to hide. I set up camp very late and try to be away before sunrise and the arrival of the harvesters.

Nothing but olive trees
Hiking in winter I can observe very well what great influence the location of the camp site has on night conditions in the tent. On my first night out of Quesada there was nothing but olive trees to camp. I got a bit scared when some of the plantations were suddenly fenced in. Do the owners think someone will steal their olives? Luckily, this fencing is the exception. Still, there was a lot of harvesting activities in the area and I tried to get away a bit. After the recent rains the ground is incredibly muddy and I went down a flooded dirt road that seemed unaccessible by car in this state. Unfortunately this also brought me close to a river and the plantation ground was so soft that I had to camp in a patch of grass in the open without tree cover. The result: First the tent got soaking wet from condensation which then froze over completely in the morning. When I broke camp I heard workers nearby and tried to pack up quickly. I nearly froze my hands when rolling up the frozen tent...

Although it can be freezing cold at night the days are warm, almost hot. I did a quick shopping in Jodar and was then off to Torres. The GR 7 climbs up a mountain and then descends steeply into the next valley. The climb up was easy on a dirt road and the views from the pass down into the valley great. But how would I get down this steep slope? Someone had driven up an old car and then pushed it down the slope. The car wreck seemed an awful reminder of what can happen to you if you slip... But the descent was not as bad as it looked and I was soon down in olive country again. The climbing had taken its toll and I did not make it as far as expected that night. I ended up on the the steep ascent up to Torres when the sun set. One of the terraces rescued me by providing a flat spot for camping. And despite the altitude of 1.200 m and no tree cover I did not have frost in the tent.
Sierra Magina

Next day was a real highlight as I was crossing another small National Park, Sierra Magina. From Torres I steadily climbed up to 1,600 m on forest roads. Once up on the pass I was greeted with spectacular views of the snow covered Sierra Nevada. I sat on top of the pass and had lunch. It is January and I was sitting there in the sun enjoying the fantastic views - and felt incredibly happy.

Unfortunately this happiness quickly disappeared when I realised a couple of hours later that my gpx track had been cut off. Although I had downloaded the whole track for this Northern variant only half of it was on my GPS. My only explanation is that the track must have had more than 10.000 track points and had therefore been cut off when sending it from my computer onto the GPS. That meant no tracks for over a week!  And here the GR is badly or not marked at all. Luckily I have paper maps with the trail marked on them but a GPS track would be much better...

Along the River Cambil
The first trial without gpx track was soon to come. After Cambil the GR 7 follows the valley of the river Cambil. Sounds easy to navigate but there was no trail and I didn't know which side of the river to be on. It did not help that a recent flooding had washed out the bridges and I didn't know if they had been rebuilt. So I decided to camp first - and so close to the river this was condensation hell of course. Next morning the navigation turned out to be quite easy as the bridges had all been rebuilt and "bushwhacking" through olive trees is easy. After crossing underneath the motorway and a bit of roadwalking to Carchelejos I came across another highlight of this section. After climbing up to a pass the GR 7 descends into a dramatic river gorge on an old foot path. The views down into the gorge were fabulous and I had another "Life is good" moment. I even found a nice pine tree campsite in the evening in a terrace. Life has been very good on this stretch: Nice sunny weather during the day and some fabulous scenery amidst the endless olive trees.

Only the last day into Alcala la Real dragged a bit. I had chafed my feet on the downhills and I was hurting a bit. Plus Alcala does not come into sight until you are literally standing in front of it. I had a reservation and just limped right to my hotel where I spend the evening trying to heal my feet.


Juan Holgado said...

Christine. So the wrecked car is still there down the slope? A pity the missing track on the GPS and I can not help you or do I?
A nice surprise expects you when arriving at the great village of Priego de Cordoba, wait and see.

German Tourist said...

I had read about the car wreck on John's blog and therefore was not surprised to see it. I'll survive without the tracks - at least I hope so....

Juan Holgado said...

With a smartphone you can download OruxMaps and with the incorporated GPS on the phone you can follow certain trails and secondary roads on the topo maps with your position and destination as well as on the paper maps you carry.