Perhaps it was a form of retribution, for me daring to spring a ‘surprise’ adventure on my beloved, for now, she has declared that she has a further three ‘Shazza Adventures’ planned for us !! To be fair, her latest, was not one of those no notice ‘surprise’ varieties as we had been discussing this particular one for a couple of days.
Shazza’s plan was to do the mountain trail walk up in the mountains about 13km away from Ronda. The start of the walk would begin at the ‘Estacion de Benaojan‘ (Railway Station) and finish at the ‘Estacion de Jimera de Libar‘. These are two small mountain towns in the ‘Guadalete Valley’ which are 8.5km apart. The mountain trail follows the course of the ‘Guadiaro River‘ and running alongside is the Ronda to Algeciras railway. Once we had completed the walk we would have lunch in one of only two Bar/Cafe’s in Jimera de Libar, before catching the train back to the station at Benaojan, sounded like a decent plan to me.
It sounded straightforward enough but, and there is always a but, this train line is not a very busy one in the Winter months, so we would have three options, the first option would be, to time our walk so that we could catch the 1pm train back, or option two would be, to wait until the next train at 5pm or, the final option would have been, to walk back the way we came, we both much preferred the first option, funny old thing !!
Our other concern was that in October last year their were devastating floods in this region, we remembered, at the time of these floods, watching the Spanish National Television news programmes and seeing the mountain rivers overflowing in to villages and towns, banks of major rivers just fell away washing huge trees, and other debris, down river including vehicles. Roads and Railways were washed away or severely damaged. Ronda was severely damaged and as there are many major mountain rivers up in those mountains we did not know whether the damage in the smaller villages and towns had been repaired, although Ronda, as one of the largest towns which had a large population and relied heavily on tourism, had very quickly had its major infrastructures repaired. Whether or not the railway link had been damaged or repaired we did not know, although an online check showed no cancellations or stoppages to the schedule.
As I have mentioned before, we are always careful when we select walks in the mountains to ensure the weather is appropriate, so we discount days when the temperatures are low or when the ‘Works of Fiction’ forecast mainly cloudy overcast weather. The weather can change on a sixpence up there, we did experience it when we were touring around the mountains last season in the ‘Little Fokker’, so we are aware of just how quickly it can and does change. For the day we chose to do our walk, Wednesday 27th February, the weather in the area was forecast to be clear and sunny with a High of 18 degrees(c) and only a light wind, perfect walking conditions.
There was some discrepancy between our Guide books estimated walk time, stated as being two hours, and the Spanish National Parque estimation of three hours, so for planning purposes we went with the longer estimation. The drive to Benaojan would be approximately two hours, we elected to do the more scenic route, my estimation also took into consideration that Louis Hamilton would once again be acting as my personal chauffeur !!
Just fifteen minutes from leaving our apartment down on the Coast, and we were up in the foothills of the Andalusian mountains. The whitewashed town you can see in the distance on the right, is the much photographed town of ‘Caceres’
On the morning of our walk, Shazza had set the alarm for 7:30am, but I was awake and up by 7:00am and still enjoyed my early morning coffee on the balcony, although it was still dark outside as the sun does not rise until a little before 8:00am at this time of year. We left the apartment at 08:30 and the sun was up and the outside temperature was 11 degrees(c) but there was still a bit of a chill in the air. Just a short fifteen minutes later and we were up in the lower foothills of the mountains and the temperature had already fallen by 4 degrees(c). We had driven these particular mountain roads several times over the last four years and I have to say that they have improved the road surfaces in that time. It does not matter how many times we drive anywhere in the mountains, the far-reaching views, the various mountain peaks, the variety of colours of the trees in the thick and lush forests, the steep winding roads, all of it just combines and I am always gob smacked by the amazing beauty of it all.
The roads are nearly always pretty traffic free up here, just the occasional sighting of the odd car, tractor or truck. We are also used to seeing people walking on the side of the roads, not tourists but locals, some females with shopping bags walking to the next village to get to the shops or walking the children to school. Men, which I assume because of the way they were dressed, were agricultural labourers, or even the owners themselves, who walk between their various fields or outbuildings on their vast expanse of wilderness to tend to their animals or olive groves.
What neither of us were ready for was for a lone female walker to turn around, when she heard our car approaching, and stick out a thumb to hitch a ride !! Now we do not often stop to pick up hitch hikers, not these days anyway, it is quite sad really because in my younger days as a child, I used to hitch hike all over the place. We were intending to drive straight past, it was not until we got very much closer that we realised it was a female, probably in her early fifties, with a bronzed weather-beaten face, she was dressed quite smartly and wore a coat and headscarf. We decided to stop and at least ask where she was headed, she could speak no English, fortunately, although still not fluent in Spanish, Shazza is pretty good at picking out lots of words and can interpret from them the general gist of what is being said. In this case the lady was going to work in ‘Gaucin‘, a mountain town several miles away, and as it happened, one which we would be passing through, so we gave her a lift. We asked, in our pigeon Spanish, if she walked this route everyday, she told us that she lived on a Finka (farm), not far from where we had picked her up, and looked after animals but she worked during the day in the town. She would set off walking but would sometimes get a lift, and sometimes not, so today was her lucky day. It was not just the distance that this lady possibly had to walk each day that impressed me, but the steep climb, the photo below shows where she was heading towards.
‘Gaucin’, another much higher mountain town which we had visited four years previously on our early ‘Shazza Adventures’. The lady hitch hiker we had picked up was ‘walking’ there to get to work !!
After dropping our unexpected passenger off, who was, as you may imagine, extremely grateful, as would I have been if someone had saved my legs that sort of punishment before commencing a days work, we continued with our very scenic and pleasant journey.
What is that saying ? ‘It is not about the destination but the journey’. We will never tire of this amazing scenery. For anyone worrying about bringing a Motorhome up here, do not be, they are more than suitable and think about it, why would they have Motorhome Aires in some of these mountain towns if the roads were not suitable ?
Two hours later we arrived in Benaojan and parked ‘for free’ right outside the railway station. I always comment on the ‘free parking’ on our travels because in the UK there is very little parking that is free, except in large outdoor retail parks, perhaps there is a message there for town Councils in the UK who comment that the local retailers are going out of business in towns !!
There were a handful of cars parked already, probably locals who caught the early morning train to either Ronda or Algeciras to go to work, but their was no sign of any other human being. Although it felt nice in the car as the sun shone through the windows, the external temperature was still only 7 degrees(c) and we immediately felt the chill in the mountain air when we got out to put our walking boots on. Whilst doing so we noticed a small Bar/Cafe, opposite the railway station, had its doors open and their were tables and chairs set up outside. Shazza needed to ‘powder her nose’ so to speak, so we wandered across to see if it was open for business. There were already two people sat at one end of the very small bar and I noticed that they were not drinking coffee, a bit like a lot of the locals in France, the morning ritual consists of a glass of cognac with their coffee, and so too it appears is the Spanish tradition amongst some, but they forgo the coffee, well we all know by now that too much caffeine is not good for us. I ordered two coffees and we sat outside to drink them in the sunshine, although we kept our hoodie tops firmly zipped up !!
Whilst we were checking our walk directions for the starting location of our walk, an elderly gentleman came out and commenced a conversation with us, politely I said, “Losientos, no hablo espanol” (Sorry I do not speak Spanish) but he just kept talking and sat down in a seat next to us. I pointed to the glass he was holding and said, “Cognac” and smiled, “Non, Whisky” he replied. Shazza put on her ‘Spanglish’ persona and was able to establish that this very nice old gentleman was enquiring whether we were here to do the ‘Sendero’ (Walking Trail). She confirmed that we were and then he started talking again and gesturing with his finger towards the river. Shazza managed to establish that he was telling us that the bridge across the river, our starting point for the walk, had been destroyed in the floods and had not been rebuilt so we could not cross it. The gentleman started to gesture with his finger again, he told us that we would need to walk in the opposite direction, out-of-town, across a road bridge and there we would find a track which would take us down to the opposite side of the river where we needed to be, but it would be a 2km diversion !! I wish Shazza would be more confident in ‘speaking’ to Spanish people more often, she obviously understands quite a lot and can interpret what she hears but she is just not confident in speaking Spanish, but that said, I do not know what I would do without her, and not just because of her interpreting skills !! Another good thing that we have learnt since visiting Spain, especially areas we are not familiar with, is first stop should be the Tourist Information office or if there isn’t one, a Spanish Bar/Cafe and get into conversation with the locals.
Beautifully clean whitewashed town houses. The one on the corner with the chairs outside was a Bar/Cafe and it was deserving of closer inspection. Well actually, after the drive, with all the hairpin bends and sheer drops, Shazza needed to change her shorts !!!
The Cafe/Bar already had two customers, and they were not drinking coffee !!
Well we could not have used the facilities without ordering coffee, it would have been rude not to !! Note the hoodie top Shazza is wearing, the sun may have been shining but the temperature had dropped 4 degrees(c) from what it was down at sea level.
I guess I should state that for this walk I had brought my small ‘Canon’ pocket camera, I refer to it as my ‘point and shoot’ but in reality it has a lot of different settings but it works quite well just set on ‘Auto’ and the zoom lens is not too bad. However, as usual, I took lots and lots and lots of photo’s, but rather than stretch these ramblings out over several episodes I will just be including a much smaller selection, but hopefully enough to give you a real flavour of our route and the scenery. So, no more time to waste, let’s get this walk started.
Not a bad landscape feature to have in one’s garden ? There must be gold in them thar hills !!
This was not part of the ‘officially designated’ walk but a last-minute 2km bolt on, at least this was a nice flat and wide bit of dirt track right by the river.
The bridge that should have been just a 750 metre walk from the rail station and our official starting point. It was destroyed in the devastating floods that occurred in this area in October last year and which had resulted in our 2km diversion. So our 8.5km walk would now become our 10.5km walk.
Eventually we reached the first ‘Way Marker’ that told us the trail had commenced.
We were quite pleased to see that the railway tracks did actually run very close to our walking trail, although we knew that it was not a busy line in the Winter I was hoping that we may see some trains pass along it and was quite pleased when, just a few minutes along the trail, I heard the distinctive sounds of a train whistle.
A bonus attraction, we actually got to see a freight train heading down the mountain !!
Our walks are not just all about getting from one point to another, it is also about enjoying the spectacular scenery !!
We were not expecting to encounter another destroyed bridge but nimble-footed Shazza just took it in her stride !!
Bit too much of a renovation project for us, but fantastic views. Right on the hiking trail, perhaps this would not only provide a comfortable home but also a ‘walkers rest’ Cafe with the sale of a few ‘Snackeroonies’ to help recoup some of the rebuild costs ??????
We already knew that our route would entail quite a few Ascents and Descents, we were after all effectively walking on the side of a mountain so were mentally prepared for them !! The width of the path had become narrower than the nice wide gravelled trail we had approached on but nothing untoward, so far at least !!
Probably just a cautionary sign, we thought ? Well the walking trail had not been that bad so far ?
At this point, the railway lines were above us and the river below but as we climbed higher up the trail, the distance between us and the river below and the rail line got even greater and, as we were soon to discover, the trail got narrower the higher we climbed and just that little bit more hazardous underfoot !!
We were about to lose sight of the Railway track as it disappeared into the tunnel but we were still following the course of the river.
The views were magnificent, there were times when we could hear, but could not see, the rapids on the river below us. However, we had to keep our concentration as one wrong ‘wobble’ could have led to disaster. Now where did Shazza go ?
It was tempting !!
Loose Rocks, Shale and Gravel occasionally made it a bit tricky underfoot !!
The sun had not yet come around to shine on our side of the mountain so in the shade it still felt chilly, but the physical excersion of climbing up some quite steep ascents was certainly beginning to take its toll. We made the right decision to wear our sturdy walking boots and bring bottled water.
During our bouts of jibber jabbering with each other whilst we walked, as you do, I said to Shazza, “It was nice to be able to experience lots of different terrains during this walk“, she gave me a confused look, “What are you on about ! We have only see one Train so far ?” She said. I could not help it, I laughed out loud, “What are you laughing at ?” She said. I tried to stop laughing “I said Terrains” emphasising the word terrains, “Not TRAINS“. She looked at me, “Oh !” she said “I wondered if you were suffering with altitude sickness and were seeing things” she smiled. “Nice try” I said, “But that one is definitely going in the blog“.
Sometimes, seeing the trail stretching that far ahead is not always motivating when you are beginning to feel the calf muscles tightening from the continual ascents and descents !!
The point where the railway track passes over the aqueduct and the course of the river flows away from us
But not for long. The only difference now is that the railway track is now nearer to our side of the trail with the river on the far side.
When people go to the trouble of providing you with a rail to stop and lean on, well it would be rude not to, wouldn’t it ? It was a long way down and this was the only bit of fencing along the route. My hoodie was now unzipped but it was still a little too chilly to remove it completely.
When we started along this trail we had seen a couple of walkers behind us, at some distance, but as I was continually stopping to admire the views and take photographs, they soon caught up. However, for the most part, there was little opportunity for us to find space for them to pass us safely. I did wonder what happened in the Summer when this trail had walkers coming and going in both directions. That would probably explain why the vultures were sat perched on rocks on the valley floor, waiting for the inevitable feast that would be bestowed upon them !! Today however, they would have to look elsewhere.
The dry river bed !! Note the walkers on the left of this photo which we eventually let get past us.
Shazza has much better long-sight than I have, it’s an age thing !! But even though I was constantly scanning the rock face on the opposite side of the valley it was her that saw the movement. I followed with my camera in the direction she was pointing and after a few sweeps with my zoom lens I eventually locked on to the mountain goats following their own narrow precarious trail and occasionally stopping for a snack.
Eventually we saw the tell-tale signs of human habitation, through the trees, still in the distance I could make out a number of whitewashed houses, it raised our weary spirits and put a spring back into our step, we were ready for a sit down and a nice cold drink and some food. We came to a bridge across the railway, but there was no way marker to tell us which way to go ?
Do we cross the bridge or not Shazza ?
After checking the walkers guide directions, which stated, DO NOT cross the bridge but carry straight on and then bear left past the goat farm, we came across the said goats.
The Goat Farm
This little fella kept escaping under the fence so now he has to be tethered, kids eh ?
A little farther along we came to some Information boards, these marked the start of the route back to Benaojan and it stated that it would take an estimated 3 hours, our guide-book had stated 2 hours and we had done it in two and a half hours, what we do to prevent arguments eh ? This however was not the end of our walk, not yet anyway, we still had to make our way to the railway station.
This information board marked the official starting point of the reverse route
Very considerate, information in English. Please note the very last sentence !!
It was a small but very pretty looking village, but with no signs of life, it was like the apocalypse had happened and we were the sole survivors, quite a strange experience really. Where were all the cheering crowds ? Whooping and clapping in encouragement as we staggered towards the finishing line, water bottles thrown at us to quench the fire in our burning throats, just before they patted us on our backs for our achievement, then presenting us with our gold medals, had no-one told them that we were coming ?
. Forget the renovation project, we will take this one please !!
Got to be one of the most scenic Railway stations I have ever seen !!
‘Plaza de San Roque‘, opposite the rather delightful railway station, was not a large plaza in the grand scheme of things but it had, for us at least, one of the most important aspects, a Bar/Cafe !! Shazza’s research had revealed that here was the ‘Bar Allioli‘ which had received lots of good recommendations for its ‘Speciality Burgers’.
A church, a house, a bar that serves food, mobile grocery vans, a railway station across the road and absolutely stunning views, what more could you want ?
So this is why we did not bring a Picnic, Shazza knew from her research that this bar served special burgers ? The smile says it is on its way.
On the extensive list of Speciality Burgers from several International Countries their were, Camel, Llama, Bison, Ostrich and Zebra listed, amongst other’s, Greek was with Feta Cheese, Italian with a Bolognese sauce etc. I cannot recall the full list and he also served a selection of Tapas. I was intrigued by the ‘Zebra Burger’ so that is what I ordered, Shazza played it safe with a Greek Burger. Over our much-needed cold drinks of Coca-Cola, I turned to Shazza and said, “How will I know if it is really Zebra that I am eating ?” And as quick as a flash she replied, “It will have stripes I would imagine” then she chuckled.
Meet the bar owner, Paul ………. from Sheffield !! He was a very pleasant, friendly and informative host.
Now at this point I really do have to clarify something before I get inundated with adverse comments from animal conservationists. This is a very small bar in a very sleepy village in the mountains, with very few customers, although I have to concede that it may be busier in the summer months ? But for reasons of financial business acumen, I do not really believe that Paul could practically invest and carry all this stock of different variety of animal meats. My gut feeling is that this is just a ‘gimmick’ and that whilst each Burger he serves comes with the International Flag of its origin, e.g. greek flag on Shazzas, South African flag on mine, I think it is more the additions or spices that have been added that are actually representing the Country, and that the actual Burgers were all Beef, the Feta cheese in one and I am not sure what South African spices or other ingredient was in mine because it actually tasted pretty bland !! But, it was well cooked and it was hot and it came with lovely french fries and I ate every bit of it, I was hungry and to be honest I would have eaten a scabby horse at that stage !! Coming to think of it, horse meat had been on the menu ?
As I stated earlier, this Bar/Cafe/Eatery was only one of two in the village but it appeared that this was the social hub as there were many posters that were advertising forthcoming weekly musical events. Paul told us that he organised events every Saturday night and engaged musicians of all types and from all Nationalities. He even had travelling nomadic musicians, people who lived fulltime in their vans travelling around Europe and ‘busking’ to fund their lifestyle. Every June he held a musical festival with multiple musicians performing and in October he held an Annual ‘Oktober Bierfest’.
Musical Events every Saturday night in the small Plaza.
No entrance fee, Paul runs the bar and an external caterer provides the food, both of which do have to be paid for of course. But the event is an annual one and is always well attended, Motorhomes from all over turn up and Park in the streets around the town, although there is a Campsite quite literally just down the road.
Zebra Burger for me, well after this walk I believe that I have well and truly, “Earned My Stripes“
Paul enjoys his Specialty Beers !!
Now it was a good thing that we got talking to Paul, if we hadn’t we may well have been stood at an empty railway station for hours, waiting for a train that was not going to arrive !! Because of repairs to the line due to the devastating floods, there had been a restriction on the number of trains permitted to use it, being Winter here in Spain with few tourists to speak of, it meant that the 1pm and the 5pm trains were cancelled, a mini-bus replacement service had been put in their place, that would be the mini-bus we saw leaving as we were eating our burgers then ? So we now had to make the choice, lay down in the sunshine on a railway station bench and wait for three and a bit hours for the next bus, or, walk the 10.5kms back along the same route we had taken to get here, deep joy !! Now I have to say that the first of these options would have got my democratic vote, but that is only good if you are in a democratic sort of relationship, you guessed it, onwards and upwards !!
As you may imagine, with basically the same scenery, I took a great deal less photo’s on the return leg of our walk than I did on the outward one.
This goat was up on its hind legs eating buds and leaves off the tree, but the look certainly said “Who is that interrupting my lunch”
Being down and this close to the river meant only one thing ? We had a lot more steep ascents before we would get back !!
What could be more refreshing than ice-cold water from a mountain stream ? Any excuse for another rest stop !!
I have to confess that it was a little harder going on the way back, both the ascents and the descents felt very much steeper and we both thought that we had stopped for breathers much more than we had on the outward leg of the walk. However, we were both extremely surprised when we got back and checked our watches to discover that we had made it back in two and a half hours, exactly the same amount of time. We knew well before we reached the car that we would suffer for this one, our 8.5km mountain walk ended up being over 20km and our calf and thigh muscles were already tightening up !!
The Bar/Cafe we had used in the morning was still open, there were several chaps sat outside drinking beer and chatting but they all turned as we approached and said “Hola”, we managed to gasp a sort of Spanish type pleasantry in return. The old chap who had given us the information about the bridge being down earlier that morning, the one who had started his day with a whisky, was stood inside at the bar but now he was drinking Gin & Tonic, we do not know if he had been there all day. Once again he started talking to us and Shazza did the honors with the interpretation, he was surprised that we had decided to walk back instead of taking the bus, you’re not the only one mate, I thought to myself. But it dawned on me that, in the morning he had kindly informed us about the bridge, but he had failed to mention that there were no trains to bring us back and that we would have to catch a bus !!
The healthy option at that stage would have been to order two cold bottles of water to re-hydrate ourselves, instead, we ordered two cold beers and I cannot tell you what it tasted like, as it never touched the sides when it went down !!