Chapter 4-Bikepacking the Altravesur-Zahora to Barbate

Updated: Feb 1

25th March 2019

You can see the YouTube of this section here

My next destination was Barbate. When I checked out of the Pinar San Jose campsite, the lady on the reception suggested I ride through the natural parc, but that wasn’t the route, the route was along a surfaced road then up and over a hill consisting of sand duned woodland.

There was a few kilometers of road riding, to and through the seaside pueblo of Los Canos de Meca, it looked like it would be busy and buzzing with Spanish holiday makers in the summer months, but was very quiet as I rode through.

The very clever thing that has been done all along the Cadiz coast, over 100 years ago, to stop sand dune creep, was the planting of vegetation and pine trees that could survive in sand. Hence creating many wonderful woodland areas, with the added protection of the inland areas, from the off-sea winds.

I had a job finding my next turning, it was actually quite easy to find, I just didn't think it was where I should be going. So dicked about a bit, looking for somewhere I thought I should be going. Eventually realising, it was through the preservation area of wooded sand dunes, that runs adjacent to the cliffs, with some fabulous ocean views.

It looked like the right place according to my Google Maps so I started making my way up, what was a hill of deep sand. I managed to get around 200 metres and decided I couldn’t do it, I just couldn’t move the bike in the deep sand, negotiate the tree roots and go uphill, whilst overheating due to the energy I was expending. I turned back and took a road steeply uphill that I thought would take me to Barbate, which it would, over the top of a mountain and miles out of my way.

I noticed on my right was a gravel road into La Breña y Marismas del Barbate Natural Park, so I took this road, thinking it would go to Barbate, alas my no-sense of direction didn’t tell me that in an hour I would be back at the entrance to the cliff-top woodland!

I learnt something from this, I give up too easily, anything for a quiet life. That had always been my personal life trait, as soon as there was trouble, I’d choose flight over fight but funnily enough not in my work life, at work I would fight for what was ‘right’.

I decided to tackle this beautiful but energy sapping hike-a-bike, I had to trudge through the sand dunes, back to where I’d gotten the first time! Then onward for around perhaps an hour or two. For this effort, I was rewarded with beautiful views, not only of the woodland but of the ocean too.

Don’t under estimate this section, it is all uphill, a gentle incline, that becomes somewhat steeper at one point. Here I had to take some of the luggage off my bike and carry it up two sections, then go back for my bike. The sand was deep, the wind light, but the incline steep and the bike bloody heavy! On reflection this was early in my adventure, if it had been later, I'd have made my way up this hill much easier. As I rode, day after day, I got fitter and fitter. Considering I hadn't had any exercise for six months, it came quite easily really.

And one thing to look out for in this area are the pine tree roots, they run over the top of the sand, and in the sand. I had a nasty stumble over one of them whilst pushing my bike up the steep section. Unfortunately, the result was jarring my already injured shoulder. I felt it squelch, this means I’ve re-damaged it, and was very upset that it had happened, as I knew that if it had aggravated my supraspinatus, which is partially adrift from the bone, it would be months of pain, and the end of my ride. I also knew the symptoms wouldn’t show until the next day.

By the time I got up to the highest point I was overheating, the Levante wind wasn't gusting just a decent breeze but not enough to keep me cool.

Eventually, after the steepest part, the sand becomes rideable, this was more like it. Such pretty views, cycling at a comfortable cadence. Then the trail becomes a little rocky, nothing much, easy enough to traverse. Then you come to another old fortress tower, Torre de Tajo, which is at the highest point of the hill.

I sat at the tower, admiring the beautiful sea view, had a rest and something to eat. I also had a nice chat with a German couple that were holidaying in the area, it was their last day, I felt sorry for them as they were returning to work on their return to Germany.

After Torro de Tejo the trail becomes a roadway, semi-surfaced, from what I remember, and all downhill until Barbate! It’s around 3-4kms long, and the views are stunning, the turquoise ocean to the right, with some vegetation between you and the cliff edge, then on your left, more vegetation and more cliffs. Quite unique terrain, I’d not seen anything like it before.

I was so very pleased I’d managed to traverse the sand dune woodland, I must not give up in future, but persist and endure! Stop being a wimp!

So now I set about finding a hostel. I had decided to stay in a hostel for a couple of days, so I could keep an eye on the weather, and leave when the winds improved. Alas, Sunday was going to be the best day, from then on the winds were ramping up, to a maximum of nearly 60 knots on Tuesday/Wednesday.

After a bit of faffing, trying to get into Hostal Mediterraneo, I gave up and went to Hostal Barbate. I think the former must be closed, although the restaurant was open, so I’m not sure what was going on there. But so glad I got into Hostal Barbate, the hosts are so lovely, it’s a young couple that run it and the tapas bar too. I’ve yet to learn their names, they are always so busy because the tapas bar is rammed from breakfast to dinner! It seems really popular with the locals.

On arrival in my room, I slavered my shoulder in Fisiocreme, something I swear by, and had no pain that night. In the morning it was uncomfortable and weak, but there was no pain in the supraspinatus, which was promising. When I damaged my shoulder originally, in 2014, it pulled the muscle from the bone and also did some damage in the rotator cuff and to my shoulder blade. And it was this shoulder blade that was uncomfortable now. Usually when this happens, which can occur just swatting a fly, something comes out of position, and I’ve never been able to put it back into place on purpose, usually it just happens, with a click, when rolling over in bed, sometimes taking weeks. Luckily for me, this happened on Wednesday night, I just need to take care of it for a while and she’s a good’un!

Currently I’m writing this in a tapas bar in Barbate, an off-season seaside town, but still bustling with people meeting for their midday tapas and coffee. The tapas bar I’m in sits in a pedestrianised Calle, along which are many fixed stalls selling fruit, veg, beer, coffee, provisions, all sorts. The stalls are on the outside wall of an indoor market, where again there are stalls selling meat, fish and veg.

By the time I walked home, at 14:30, all is quiet, siesta time. I wonder what they do for those three hours? It’s a long day isn’t it, it’s like work is woven into their lives in a different way than a nine to five in the UK. I love it, and could certainly live this way, even being the loner I am.

I stayed in Hostal Barbate for 7 nights, the Levante wind ramped up from the Monday, it blew and blew. I would blow all night and all day long, quite amazing, but for the locals, it's a twice yearly occurrence, nothing out of the ordinary!

It is now Saturday, I've been here since last Sunday, the cost has been a big dent in the budget but I can't complain at 20 euros a night. The winds have been at around 20-30 knots today, but tomorrow they should be less than 20 so I have decided to resume my ride, Sunday…….onwards!

I'll leave you with some snaps of Barbate!

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