Thursday, January 30, 2014

The end: Ronda to Tarifa

View from Ronda
Although this last stretch was definitely a scenic one it was a bit tainted for me because of health issues. Very unexpectedly I had developped a middle ear infection! It started very harmlessly in Ronda with a slight ear pain. When it did not get better I decided to see a doctor. I had found a medical centre in the internet and descended early Friday morning into the reception of my hotel - where I received the first blow. This Friday was a fiesta! Again I had become the victim of the Spanish fiesta disesase that strikes innocent tourists unexpectedly...

But the owner of the Hotel Arunda II was not only helpful but knowledgable. Patiently he explained to me that in Spain the emergency room takes care of tourists - and that treatment is for free. I felt a bit embarrassed because ear pain is definitely not a life threatening situation but he insisted that I should go to the ER. And for sure there were already other patients waiting. Soon it was my turn and the young doctor turned out to be very enthusiastic about me: She had studied in Berlin and loved the city. We talked more about Berlin and the bad conditions in Spain than about my ear, but she told me I had an infection and prescribed ear drops. It was an interesting insight into modern Spanish life to hear her complain about her working conditions - and frustrations. I got the ear drops from the pharmacy and hiked happily out of town hoping that my ear problem would disappear soon.

Unfortunately I could now not hear much in the infected ear which made for strange hiking. The scenery was truly beautiful and in another National Park but I was a bit distracted and disoriented. Although a national park cows were grazing everywhere and I started to worry about camping. Whenever I thought I had found a nice spot I either spotted cow poo or a cow sneaked up on me from behind. Luckily by climbing a fence I got out of cow country and found a nice spot. But my hearing problems continued... I realised that Ubrique was the best spot to seek treatment again for what I thought was water in my ear. It was the only substantial town before Tarifa and therefore my best bet. I went straight to the medical centre of Ubrique where they did not even take any data from me. You just queue with everyone else and see the doctor for free. What he said came as a shock for me. No water in the ear, no slight infection, no: a full blown middle ear infection and he prescribed antibiotics. I was not happy... but what choice did I have? I bought the medication and headed out of Ubrique after a last shopping stint at Lidl.

Again I was in a National Park abounding with oak trees that were harvested for cork. That means that the oak barch is cut off from the bottom of the trees which gives the forest kind of a weird look. Still oak forest looks very enchanting.The GR 7 actually becomes single file trail for a while following a lovely stream. And because of all the rain wild flowers had come out everywhere. Although it was January I felt more like spring! The only thing that kept worrying me was the ear infection - and the weather that turned bad again... Next was the beautiful hilltop forest of Castillo de Castellar but it was raining badly and I spent most of the time in the handicapped toilet waiting out the rain and researching travel options in case my ear problem did not get better.


Unfortunately a lot of road walking was next - even next to a busy road, but luckily there was brand new separate bike lane that made things easier. But when I turned off onto a minor road and started searching for a camp site I discovered I was in cow country again. Everything was fenced off - and I did not know what was behind the fence. I ended up sleeping under a high voltage power line that was cow free. But there were not only cows: This area was full of storks! They were nesting everywhere. Really, every powerline had its stork nest attached. I have never seen so many storks before in my life.

Two more days and one night to Tarifa and even on these last hours the GR 7 showed how beautiful - and how annoying it could be. I had to enter one last beautiful national park and everything seemed nice and easy. There were even sign posts for the GR 7 and the occasional trail blaze. And then I was standing in front of a high still gate with spikes on top and signs saying "No trespassing". Again, no idea what was going on. I ended up trespassing through another private property where only this lovely pig got upset about me and then fording a river and getting wet feet before joining the trail again on an old abandoned road. Then surprise: I saw the first long-distance hikers on the GR 7 in Spain, a Belgium couple whom I explained what to expect about the trail closure. 

The next - and expected problem - was the weather. The forecast was for torrential rain over night with very strong winds. This was not what I had hoped for for my last night on the trail.. I had know about this for days but could not come up with a good solution. There were no towns nearby where I could stay in a hotel and also I wanted to finish now. First the landscape looked very promising. Lots of trees and a wide strip between the dirt road and the usual cattle fence. But when it got time to camp things had of course changed for the worse. With rain threatening to start every minute I was desperate for a campsite - but nothing but open pastures or impenetrable brush. Then I saw my chance. There was an opening in the strip between the road and the fence. With a little bit of clearing it was just big enough for my tent and totally sheltered from the wind by the thick brush.

Although definitely not the most scenic camp site of this trip I thanked God every five minutes for it when the storm broke loose. The winds were incredibly strong which was to be expected from the many wind farms nearby. Despite the sheltered site two tent stakes came loose overnight and I hardly slept at all. When the storm finally stopped in the early morning hours I fell asleep for a couple of hours only to be woken up at sunrise from the cars passing by - I was camped only half a metre from the road....

But nothing could stop me now: Only about 25 km to Tarifa now! But they dragged on and on despite the weather improving and the sun coming out. Then finally I saw the sea! And then I saw the mountains behind it and realised that I was looking at Africa! The last final stretch was along the beach. 7 km of fine white sand - and strong wind. Luckily there was also a beautiful forest nearby that gave a bit of shelter from the wind. Hiking along that beach was actually not as easy as it sounds. There were deep streams on the beach that could not be waded through and I had to detour to the paralleling national road several times until I gave up and just road walked the last 2 km into Tarifa.

View onto Africa from Tarifa
It was a strange feeling to finally arrive in Tarifa after 3,800 km and five months on the trail. I was exhausted from the sleepless night and the worries about my ear. But I was also very happy about the hike that I had enjoyed thoroughly. And I was already looking forward to the second part of this hike across Europe from South to North: Next would be Germany to North Cape. And the good news was that my hearing problem was finally disappearing! I went to my prebooked hostal, took a long hot bath and then celebrated the end of this trip in a vegetarian restaurant.

The official Tarifa finish photo
Next morning I had a stroll around town to find a good place for the finish photo. Unfortunately, the Isla de las Palomas which sticks out into the sea is closed to the public now, so that you cannot access the light house at the Southernmost point of Europe. But I walked up the causeway that divides the Atlantic Ocean from the Mediterranean Sea and came to a map and a signpost officially claiming that I was standing now at the Southernmost point of Europe. So I guess this is the official wind blown finish photo!


Let me finish with a short outlook: If my ear problem permits it I will soon fly back to Germany to prepare my next trips and update this blog. There are still a lot of photos missing and I will write the usual conclusion and tips for future hikers. I know from several emails that there are a lot of people reading this blog who are planning to hike the GR 7 soon. Let me know if you have any questions and I will try to answer you or even include the information into a final blog post.

13 comments:

Juan Holgado said...

Thanks Christine for our nearly daily interesting reading of your adventure in Spain that have finished well and prepared for your next trip through north Europe.
I am also happy to read your ear pain has disapear. So rest yourself and have a good trip back to your country.
Hope to "see" you again in Spain.
Congratulations.

Mark A. said...

Hi Christine,
congratulations for finishing your hike!
Hope your ear will get better soon!
Thanks for your interesting blog posts.
Btw. we are in Tasmania and have just finished the Overland Track. Nice hiking but expensive and crowded with tourists...
Herzliche Grüße
2tall & Good Grip

Amy L said...

Well done! Congratulations.

andreas said...

Congrates and greetings to Tariffa

lg

Anonymous said...

Thanks Christine for investing the effort of blogging about your adventures! It was a very inspiring and -at times- entertaining. Gute Genesung! and a safe trip back home. canada_fan

womacht said...

You look great! You made it!! Congratulations my darling! Hope you get well soon und we see each other in Berlin. Many kisses from Mexico, Wolfgang & Thomas

Gerold und Uschi said...

Hallo Christine, Glückwunsche an Dich, Du hast es tatsächlich geschafft!! Und das zu Fuß, (fast) unglaublich.Wir haben Deinen Blog in den letzten Monaten regelmäßig gelesen, danke für die spannenden Berichte. LG aus dem Rheinland Gerold + Uschi

German Tourist said...

Melde mich bald mal bei euch zum Brainstorming für Radtour-Ideen....

craggy said...

Well done,a fine example of determination and adventure,regards Malcolm.

Daniel said...

Hi Christine!
Glückwunsch zum Erreichen des Süden Europas. Wann steht der Norden an? Dieses Jahr noch oder erst nächstes Jahr? Wenn du Buchholz passierst, dann melde dich ruhig bei mir. :)

German Tourist said...

Deutschland - Nordkapp kommt wohl 2015 dran..

Juan Holgado said...

Good to hear you are at home again recovering from your hard adventure and getting ready for your next one.
Have a nice time in Deutschland

Anonymous said...

Christine, you're a real inspiration. Thank you and stay gold.