Friday, 17 January 2014

Alcala la Real to Antequera

Fortress of Alcala
Alcala's claim to fame is its huge old fortress. Beautifully restored and with great views down onto the city. Arabs and Christians changed ownership of this hilltop city and fortress so many times that I could not keep track. Alcala was a border town between the Arab kingdom in Spain and the Christian kingdom. When the Christians finally conquered it for good (by poisoning the fortress's water supply) they built a huge church on top of the hill. But in the 18th century everything fell into disrepair. It is now hard to imagine from the ruins that this was once a bustling town. Still, the whole huge complex is definitely worth visiting.

Fountain in Alcala
I was staying in the Hospederia Zacatin where I was even charged less for a room than the official price list: 27 €. But I was not happy with their restaurant. Because they had not expected guests there was no menu del dia. After I complained they cooked up something for me but it was downright bad. The worst of all was that I had so much been looking forward to my beloved tinto de verano - and for the first time in Spain I was only given a glass of it with the menu. I decided not to visit this restaurant again but Alcala was strangely devoid of eateries despite its size. But I was lucky: By pure coincidence I found a Chinese restaurant - totally devoid of guests. It still offered an AYCE buffet. I ventured in and was assured that the AYCE buffet would appear within 10 minutes. To my great surprise it actually did: They cooked up several dishes to choose from only for me. And although definitely not haute cuisine it was quite good - and very filling. So if in Alcala la Real try the Chinese restaurant Hongkong.

The 5 day stretch from Alcala to Antequera was definitely not a highlight of this trip. First of all the weather was bad. It rained every day! This is a lot for Andalucia where it does not rain for months on end. I have the feeling that almost all the year's rain fall had come down since Christmas. Beside getting wet the biggest problem with the rain was that it converted the "trail" into one big mud slide. To make things worse the mud here is incredibly sticky. Hiking became very exhausting because I was constantly carrying around 1 kg of mud sticking on each shoe and another pound on each trekking pole. Sounds funny but I assure you it is not. I looked like a pig. My trousers were a mess. My backpack looked even worse than usual and I don't even want to talk about my tent.

Which brings me to the next problem: Camping in this weather on this ground. I was more or less constantlyhiking through olive tree plantations. The good news is that this usually guarantees flat camp sites. But with all this rain the ground had turned into one big squishy mud pool. As it was  harvesting time the ground had been destroyed by tractors creating huge mud puddles. I was dreading rain over night because the ground was so saturated that it could not absorb more water - and I was fearing to wake up in a little lake.

Another Spanish specialty was disturbing my night peace. Spanish farmers tend to have "outposts" in the middle of nowhere: a little shack or house in a fenced in compound. In order to guard this property they keep dogs on it. Not one, not two - usually half a dozen. These dogs are left alone the whole time except for feeding times. Apparantly they get so bored that they keep barking - all night long! And sound travels far in this landscape. I returned to using ear plugs. Luckily (for me) the dogs are chained and/or fenced in and not hunting clandestine campers. One night I camped so late that it was already dark when I chose my camp site. And I did not realize that I was very close to one of those compounds. I only noticed when the owner turned up for dog feeding - and all hell broke loose. The dogs took the whole night to calm down.

But the main problem of this stretch is that it is quite boring. Olive trees and more olive trees - and then some more. Nothing else but olive trees. If I see another olive tree I'll scream. I don't even like olives. So day after day I was hiking (or sliding) up and down hillsides with olive trees. Not exactly the most exciting hiking. There was one stretch approaching Rute when the trail leaves the olive trees and meanders between olives and national park. I was skeptical: My map did not show any trail. I had lost the gpx track for that section - and I knew from experience that the trail marking in Andalucia is scarce to non-existant. I actually found where the trail took off from the usual dirt road. I climbed up higher and even found trail markers. There was not really a trail and it looked like no one had hiked here in years. I had to camp in yet another olive tree plantation and when I woke up it was so foggy that visibility was less than 50 m. The trail markers led into one big scrub with no sign of any trail. I was so fed up that I just descended on dirt roads and ended up road walking.

This used to be a brigde
And this is my main frustration with the GR 7 in Andalucia. It has great potential but it is so neglected that I cannot really recommend hiking here. At least there was no mud on the road.... There were some other bad surprises: A washed out bridge (no problem to cross the little stream though) and a completely washed out trail coming into Cuevas San Marcos. The trail was supposed to be on an old abandoned road. There were even some red and white markers! The road signs that "Road closed" but I had assumed it is still passable for hikers. No such luck: The road had completely crumbled into the river and of course it started to rain when I realised my situation. I climbed up some olive tree plantations and walked around it - sometimes sinking ankle deep into mud. At least the weather was so bad that there were no farmers around wondering what I was doing on their property.

The towns were not much of a highlight either - except Priego de Cordoba. This would have been a great town for a rest day. Unfortunately I got there on a Monday when almost everything is closed. A real shame because Priego boasts several splendid Baroque churches. Only one was open and gave me a taste of what I was missing. The guy in the tourist office was really enthusiastic as well: He had even hiked 20 km of the GR 7 and printed out trail descriptions for me - but I still got lost. Best of all he gave me a little free sample of olive oil and I learnt that fresh bread and olive oil actually make quite a nice lunch.

But eventually I made it to Antequera - and just in time as another storm front is moving in. I swear I'll stay put until it has stopped raining... But only 250 km to go now! Hopefully my shoes will last that long.

1 comment:

Granny Flat Super Store said...

Thanks Christine for showing these beautiful photos of Alcala. I have never been here before, but since you introduced this wonderful place, I think it’s another place to visit. Happy travelling!