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Chapter 24: Bikepacking the Altravesur-Baza to Campo Camara

You can see my YouTube on the ride from Baza to Campo Camara here

15th June 2019

I’m having an internal fight! I know I should wear my helmet whilst riding, but often I forget to put it back on, or can’t be bothered to as I can see an ascent in a short while where I'll push my bike again and remove my helmet. So, I find myself riding without it, something I know is foolish. Because of the direct sunlight, without my Panama hat, my cheeks and nose get burnt. My helmet has a large peak, but it doesn’t protect my face from the sides, like the hat does. I spent some of the time this morning riding with my helmet over my Panama hat! It looked quite silly, and was very hot, so I didn’t do it for long, but it was an option!

After a short ride through Zújar I was back on the camino, it was quite a rough loose surface, through olive groves and small holdings, then opens out onto undulating hillside camino. With mountain to my right and to my left, a plateau with distant mountains. The loose camino, very steeply descending at times, eventually brings the sparkling turquoise waters of the Embalse de Negratin into view, directly ahead.

The camino runs around the reservoir perimeter, a short way along there was a sign ‘Baños Thermales’ so I thought I’d take a look. The steep driveway descends to a pretty circular building on the banks of the lake. This restaurant looks like a popular spot, with a small swimming pool, that I guess is heated by the amazing core of our planet, below the semi-circular terrace. I sat and had a Coke on the terrace that overlooks the lake. And ordered a cheese and tomato bocadillo to take away. The restaurant inside looked very nice. Possibly there’s a Spa too as people were sitting around in bath robes.

I didn’t hang around long, setting off back on the camino that soon starts to run along a water canal to my right. Possibly the canal has water pumped from the reservoir to the local towns or collects water from the mountain. Riding alongside the canal, it was by now very hot, with again, little shade. The Altravesur diverges away from the Embalse and the canal, it heads off across a very barren plateau. Everything is chalky white, somehow vast fields of crops are growing in this, what seems, under-nourished land. Strangely, a modern coach was parked up on the camino, it seemed to have brought people to this desolate area, to pick the crops, there was around thirty , all in rows picking some sort of crop.

After the plateau there’s a few kilometres of undulating camino, surrounded by meadows and sparse woodland, then the long hot ride on a surfaced road began. The surrounding terrain was barren, arid, chalky hills, the road mostly up hill. It was hot work, while the sun was rising, at every turn I seemed to be riding into it. At 2pm I arrived at the pueblo of Benamaurel, it came just at the right time, the hottest part of the day. I stopped at the first bar I came to and took root on the covered terrace for a couple of hours. I had a cup of tea, which was a palaver as the grumpy bar man only half filled the glass with water, I asked him to put more water in, he put about 10mm more in, so had to ask again, by now he was really grumpy! I built up a bit of a rapport with the older lady serving at the bar, having a chat or two out on the terrace. I had a couple of Cokes too; with each drink they brought tapas, so I had food too. I dozed a little whilst sitting there through the hottest part of the day. Continuing on my way at 4pm. More undulating surfaced road riding, through mainly white arid hills, with no shade I got my umbrella out to shade myself whilst walking.

Stopping to cool down under a tree, I remembered that I hadn’t lubed my chain for a while, so I did that whilst cooling down. I also found my Spanish fan in the same luggage compartment so got that out too, in case I needed it. Continuing on, the shade-free road went on and on, undulating through the desiccated hills, then alongside vast olive and almond groves, that disappeared off into the distance. After another 20 kilometres the scenery turned greener, which at least meant occasional shade.

It was 6pm by now, I found myself riding into the sun again as it very slowly descended in the sky, so no relief from the heat. The distant views to my left became a mountain range, I’ve no idea which one it was, ahead I could see the Sierra de Cazorla. I was hoping to get to the first Refugio in the Cazorla range, failing that a campsite just outside it, alas I hadn’t made that good time in the heat, it had been around 30 deg C all day. I’d started looking for a wildcamp, but all the land was farmed or inaccessible except for a small pine forest that had a lot of litter in it, looking like it may have been used for camping by seasonal workers, which is not somewhere I’d feel safe.

At around 8pm I hit the town of Campo Cámara, that is still 5km away from the campsite I was heading for. I was totally exhausted and suffering from mild heatstroke yet again, so decided to find a room in the town. There was an advertising sign for a hotel, so I phoned it, only to be told it was closed. I pushed up into the town and met an English kid, he told me where the Casa Pepe bar was, saying it was also a hotel.

I ordered a Coke and asked if they had a room in their adjoining hotel, Rural Campo Cámara. He said no, it was closed, at which I looked totally despondent and said I was desperate. I then realised it was the hotel I’d phoned. The bar was busy, the locals were friendly, I had a brief chat with a few of them. Whilst sitting outside drinking my Coke, phoning around, trying to find a room, the barman came out and said that I could have a room but there would be no hot water, I was so happy he gave me this option as there was no other rooms around, and I didn’t have the energy to get to the campsite, besides it would have been dark by the time I arrived. I accepted his offer, who needs hot water!

The reason they say it’s closed is because they only turn the water boiler on when they have bookings, I’m not sure why they don’t offer it to anyone who asks, with no hot water! That was the least of my problems, I was totally overheated, my face red from the sun, and feeling very weary. He let me put Bay in the hotel foyer, by 9pm I was in my room, I had a cold shower and went to bed early. This was day 88, Saturday the 15th June.

Campo Cámara is a remote town, the nearest larger town is Baza, that is 40+ kilometres away. Most of the villagers, I learned, work on the land.

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