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Chapter 5-Bikepacking the Altravesur-Barbate to Los Barrios

You can see the YouTube of this section here

If you have to be stuck somewhere for a week, Barbate isn't a bad place to be. I spent my time wandering around the narrow streets, stalls and shops, with nothing particular to do except wait out the Levante Winds. And boy did they blow! Mid-week they were at their height, nearly 60 knots, when it wasn’t gusting it was just blowing, the constant noise is something I got used to.

I can’t recommend Hostal Barbate enough. They are bike friendly, allowing Bay in my room with me. I could wash clothes in my room and hang them out on the washing line, so I had everything a bikepacker could want! The thing I value most is my privacy, I want leaving alone, and this they did. I could ask if I needed anything. Occasionally the cleaning staff would ask if I needed anything. Trinny, the housekeeper was very helpful, actually slowing down her speech so I could catch what she said!

Antonia and Vanessa

I’m sorry to say I didn’t get the gentleman’s name that I first talked to on arriving at Hostal Barbate. He was immediately helpful, knew that I’d want my bike inside, so the first thing he did was open the double doors. He didn’t speak English, so we got by with gesticulations and my little Spanish. He then handed me over to Vanessa, I think she may be his wife. We communicated using my little Spanish and Google translate, I’d left it open as to how long I would stay, I was hoping just two nights, which turned into seven.

Their tapas are very popular; morning, noon and night, the place is busy! The morning rush hour around 9am is mad, the waitresses, Vanessa and El Hombre are buzzing around like crazy, it seems like half of Barbate eat there. I indulged twice, and they really are exceptional, so I can see why they are popular.

I made a bit of a school-boy error on the Sunday I was to set off riding again, by forgetting to charge my devices the night before, so I had to hang around whilst I got some charge in them, eventually leaving at around 10:30, a lot later than I had wanted, and with devices not fully charged. This put me on the backfoot where electronics are concerned, so I wasn’t happy to have to do it.

I rode on the surfaced road, over the estuary bridge out of Barbate, riding south east towards Bolonia. With the coast to my right, the land between the road and beach was a prohibited military zone, although you could get onto the beach, I decided to stay on the road, why make it more painful than it needs to be for little gain i.e. I could see the same views!. I think I had gone off the Altravesur route around here, again I was total rubbish at navigating.

Riding through the small town of Zahara de los Atunes, it was a peaceful, lazy Sunday morning, the town just waking. Heading farther along the coast, through the resort and urbanization of Atlanterra, which seemed rather up-market and a great place to have a villa nestled into the cliffs, or a posh hotel if one was holidaying. Mostly closed due to being off season.

Down a steeply descending street, then a steep ascent led me to the Faro de Camarinal, a lighthouse. Obviously being on a headland the views of the Atlantic coastline were stunning. I could barely make out Barbate in the distance.

The Faro de Camarinal is quite a pretty lighthouse. cylindrical in shape, tapering slightly towards the top, very much like an old fortress turret, made from very large tan coloured stone blocks. It looked like it may have been restored recently. As there was no one around I decided to park-up Bay against the lighthouse, sheltering from the wind, and made myself some coffee and lunch. It wasn’t long before walkers, bikers and sightseers turned up, so I felt a bit selfish ruining their view, and any prospective photos of the lighthouse. But too late, I couldn’t pack-up and move, they’d have to wait until I’d finished. No one said anything, but I did feel bad, and apologise if anyone’s view was spoilt!

The lighthouse is on the boundary of the National Park de Estrecho, I found that a funny name!But anyway, turning right from the lighthouse took me onto the National Park road, at llast some decent off road riding was in store.At first the road was roughly surfaced, then it became gravel. The views were outstanding; of the coastline to my right, the turquoise ocean, the very green, undulating park and winding road unfolding before me, with bays, coves and coastline villages in the distance, to my left rocky outcrops and mountain forest.

Sometimes I question why I blog and vlog, why not be satisfied that I am doing what I’m doing and seeing what I’m seeing. After all, taking all the electronics is quite an additional weight, time consuming and a faff. I guess it’s all about showing off, look what I’ve seen, look what I’ve done. No really, it's not just that, I love watching back my YouTube videos, especially if I'm not able to be getting out and about doing fun stuff. They cheer me up no end but with that comes more of a longing to be out on the road.

I bumped into a couple of backpackers on this trail, two middle aged men, they were walking from Morocco to Seville. I didn’t get their names, but we had a good chat, I think they were from Belgium.

It was a blazing hot sunny day, I was stopping in what little shade there was, quite often, to cool down. It was a lovely ride through the park, then ahead I could see the road goes from gravel to steeply ascending and rocky to the left fork, and continues to the right as gravel, I keep going right, there’s no way the trail can be that rocky road! Alas it was, I turned back, and as I did I met three people that were observing, what turned out to be Vultures, flying over the pinnacled mountains to my left. They were very enthusiastic about these birds, and lovely to talk to.

The steep rocky road goes up and up, eventually levelling out to become part singletrack, part double track, through pastures and woodland. At one point Google maps was showing me off route, I spent perhaps half an hour trying to get back on the route, only to find it was the way I went originally. This would have been an ideal place to wildcamp, but it was too early, only around 5pm.

I enjoyed this ride, it was quite challenging due to the rocks, and quite fun with some decent descents. The road eventually becomes surfaced again and passes through many kilometres of wind farm. I appreciate these swooshing giants, the clean energy and the engineering, it’s no mean feat, they are massive, and have to withstand the exceptionally high winds of the area.

On hitting the highway, I make my way towards the village of Facinas, but by-passed the village on a well-maintained walking path, with the village to my right. This path, on this Sunday night was popular, people out for a stroll, I started to ask people if they knew of any camping, alas there was no official sites around.

The path passes by a large recreational area, which has a café on it, I took a look, it would have been ideal to set-up camp, but it was forbidden, and too early to stealthily set-up.

I kept going, a German guy told me the lake was only half an hour away, I didn’t think I’d get to the lake before sun-down. And knew, by experience, when someone says half an hour they mean much much more! But I went for it.

It was hell of a push up a steeply ascending gravel road, around one mountain, then dropping down towards the reservoir. I was now on the Camino de Ojen, a popular walking track in the southern part of the Parc natural de Alcornocales, the route is also part of a eurovelo route and is the GR7 a near 2000 kilometer footpath from Tarifa to France. This was the first of many encounters on the GR7 on this ride.

If I had wanted to camp by the lake I’d have had to divert off the route and the Camino de Ojen, to get to the shoreline. This I didn’t realise at the time. I wasn’t going to backtrack, I’d ridden around 40 kilometers and was totally shot-away by now, and needed to rest.

I was too tired to go on, it was around 8pm by now, and going to be dark soon, so I decided I would setup camp just after the lake, by the side of the Camino de Ojen. A rather inauspicious first wildcamp for me!

I was too tired to go on, it was around 8pm by now, and going to be dark soon, so I decided I would setup camp just after the lake, by the side of the gravel road. A rather inauspicious first wildcamp for me!

It was pleasant enough, some mountains were opposite, the meadows and lake behind me. A few people passed by, on foot and in cars, but I had no trouble…..until 3:30 in the morning, when torrential rain, thunder and lightning set-in!

It was fine, not scary at all, but obviously some things get a bit soggy. I had a decent night’s sleep, on and off, and waited until it stopped raining around 9am before getting up and packing up.

It was going to rain again, the clouds were black, so I packed up in little spurts between rain showers. Trying to keep as much of my kit as dry as possible.

I set off, riding the wet gravel road, in my very thick plastic poncho, that I am so so grateful I brought along! It not only keeps me dry but keeps my bike luggage dry too.

It rained on and off for hours, there was some fabulous descents to ride, and some push-up ascents.

I bumped into two English guys that were walking from Lisbon in Portugal to Budapest, on the GR7 and E7 routes. One of them wasn’t that happy, and stopped to rest, the other continued, I sensed some tension! They needed to get a grip, it was wet and shitty, so best to stick together. Eventually the one that went off, waited for the other guy. After I stopped to talk to him, I didn’t see them again, as there were so many fabulous descents to ride, I was a long way ahead of them by now! It was great albeit a little wet.

I really enjoyed that section despite the rain. I passed a cottage that looked like it was a tea house, but it was closed, shame, a nice hot cuppa would have gone down well.

Eventually I hit the road, it was the sort where an old road had been side-lined for a newer bigger road, so there were slip roads and all sorts! But best of all, an oasis in the form of a Repsol fuel station which serviced the motorway that had been built adjacent! I stopped here, had some food in the excellent café whilst pondering over whether to go into Los Barrios and re-supply or to continue on to Jimena. It would be possible to stock up on water from the café, where they also let me charge my electronics, but being the half-hearted lazy person I am, I decided to go into Los Barrios and stop over for a couple of nights.

It’s a lovely mountain town. The Spanish seem to take so much more pride in the aesthetics of their towns than we do in the UK. It was just beautiful, palm tree lined avenidas, with well-tended roadside shrubbery and trees. I'd only ridden around 25 kilometers this day, it was mid afternoon when I arrived at the hotel.

I found Hotel Real along the main strip into town, getting a room for 27 euros a night, for two nights. The room I took was very basic, but clean, with a balcony which was great for cooking on my stove! And for hanging out my washing.

I washed my clothes and hung them to dry on the balcony, I unpacked my tent, sleeping bag etc and hung them to dry too. the room looked like a bomb had hit it!

After a good night’s sleep on Monday, I went exploring around the town on Tuesday. I found a great littlel bike shop, Runbaik, and what a fab place it is. No sooner had I taken Bay in there and asked if it would be possible to clean and lubricate the chain, that Jose Miguel had whisked him away and started work, for free! He was such a lovely young man, I gave him a fiver for his efforts.

Whilst Jose Miguel was working I’d been talking to Salva regarding GPS as I wasn’t happy with Google maps offline capabilities, you can’t see walking and cycling routes for one thing! We chatted about me buying a Garmin, he had one he could let me have at a discount but it was over 200 euros, and I couldn’t afford that. He said he uses an app called Orux, I installed this when I got back to the hotel, and spent sometime trying to figure it out, but there just wasn’t enough time for me to learn the intricacies of it in a few hours, it wouldn’t seem to let me have the map of Spain as an offline map. So eventually I uninstalled it.

I spent some time working on my YouTube, but then couldn’t upload the film once finished, as the WiFi isn’t so good at Hotel Real. I wandered around the town on the Tuesday evening, it was like other small Spanish towns, busy and buzzing with couples and families doing what they do. And quite lovely, I could easily spend more time here.

One thing I really miss is having the money to eat out. I've only had two tapas to date, I need to keep expenditure to a minimum, and would rather have enough to pay for hostels, when necessary.

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