|View from my campsite|
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|
|Forest burn in the rain|
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.
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!