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Chapter 13: Bikepacking the Altravesur-Villanueve de Cauche to Valdeiglesias

You can see my YouTube on this ride here

From the hamlet of Villanueva de Couche the Altravesur had a long ride on a surfaced road, first across agricultural plains with some escarpments and mountains beyond, then onto some steeper mountain roads. These went on for many kilometres. It was very hot, although the ambient isn’t too high, perhaps mid 20’s degrees Celcius, the blazing sun is hard to shelter from on a bike, especially on your face. At times, when there was wind, I could stay cool enough, but for the most part it was a pretty uncomfortable ride, especially when a five kilometre section of steeply uphill road started.

Many motorbikes were using this road for a Saturday morning jaunt, perhaps 20 – 30 passing me by.

I stopped in any shade I could, eventually stopping to eat the half of Phillipe’s bocadillo that I’d saved for lunch and to have a rest. Checking the GPS at this time, I noticed I’d gone slightly too far up this road, only by around 200metres, it was a downhill ride back to where I needed to turn onto the camino towards Riogordo.

When I’m pushing my bike up a long uphill section I do like to eat sweets. I usually carry a bag or two with me in my rollpacker pocket so they’re easy to get to. I’m not really fussy over what type they are, often only Haribo types are available. It’s just something to keep me going. I don’t tend to snack on bars or nuts, I think perhaps I should do as I’m often very tired but have always put it down to the sun. Also it’s not great for my teeth either, as I’ve been quite sloppy with regards my toothbrushing routine so far.

The camino was chalky and rocky, but mainly dry. After a couple of kilometres ascending, the camino became a steep, rocky, fabulous descent! It went on and on, the hours of pushing up the mountain road was worth this descent, which passed through mainly olive groves. I couldn’t believe my luck!

The descent was very steep at times, but so very good, and so very welcome! I rode into the outskirts of the town of Riogordo, then as usual the steep push-up into the town centre itself. I asked around if there was a hostel, and an English couple that lived there pointed me to Hostal Méson, which was a restaurant, bar and very nice hostal.

The barman, Antonio, was pretty gruff, but very nice. He sorted my room out and found a place in the back restaurant for Bay. The rooms were quite new and very comfortable.

My face had got quite red from the sun, it wasn’t burnt and stinging, just red. After a shower and getting changed I took a walk down the supermarket to stock up on food, and stupidly forgot to put any sun-cream on.

I had some dinner in the restaurant when it opened at 8pm, then got an early night. The next morning, I had some coffee and a tostada sitting at the outside tables in the sunshine. The town was busy already, directly opposite the hostal was the swimming pool, which was being used as a polling station. It was a general and local election.

I have a small insulated bag that I put a frozen bottle of water in, to keep my perishable food fresh.It always causes a little confusion when I ask hostels if they can freeze the bottle for me, in this instance it had just been put in the fridge, not a freezer so it wasn’t frozen.I bought a couple of cans of coca cola to take with me. Leaving Hostal Méson at 9am was one of my earliest starts! It was an uphill ride to the top of town to the camino. The sun was blazing hot by 10am, I got lost many times, missing turnings. This always makes it a little harder, not only because I’m going farther, but I’m getting flustered by not knowing the way!

On finding the camino outside of town, I bumped into a young man, Josef, that had a gorgeous Border Collie puppy named, what I think was, Toro. It was so very cute, and wanted lots of cuddles!

Dogs are everywhere in Spain, luckily they are nearly always fenced in. If there's a cortijo on a camino, there is usually at least one dog barking at me. Sometimes, they are very noisy and very big dogs, so I'm pleased they can't get to me! But I think it's a case of their bark being worse than their bite.

These two dogs were friendly enough, but you never know, so I'm quite wary of them.

The views were beautiful, sometimes just olive groves but mostly green hills with the Mediterranean in the distance to my right and mountains to my left. On the dusty camino just as I approached a small hamlet, so small it doesn’t even have a name, I noticed a beautiful looking restaurant called La Casona de Guaro. It looked very inviting with a large flower-adorned carpark out front, and a pretty veranda leading from it. I stopped for a jolly spiffing cup of tea and an ice-cream, and took the opportunity to cool down, such a welcome rest in the shade.

Back on the road, I’d get a surprise view at every turn, from hedgerows, tall aloe vera plants, meadows to distant mountains. How lucky I felt to be riding this camino, on this day, it was perfect. The route got a little rocky at one point, with one of the very few descents that day, it didn’t last long. A way after this I wasn’t quite sure where the track went as it seemed to be going onto someone’s property, someone that had a few very noisy dogs, it took me a while to realise the camino passes right in front of this remote cortijo, what a beautiful view they had, especially with a grazing horse in the green and flowery meadow opposite. I sang the horsey a song, took a few photos and carried on my way. It was such a hot day with no shade at all until the lane is flanked by some large trees planted in a row along side it. These trees gave some much welcome shade, so I stopped to have a rest.

Still a dirt camino, a reddish dusty type of dirt, there was a lot of climbing and very few descents. On occasion there would be a huge puddle, most I could work my way around, but one was so big perhaps 10 metres or so, that I had to take my shoes and socks off and wade through it.

The camino was getting more and more mountainous as I approached the town of Ventas de Zaffaraya, a town that was completely destroyed in 1884 by an earthquake. I was back up to just over nine hundred metres by now. It seems to be some sort of tourist spot, possibly because of the mountain pass on which it sits and the stunning scenery. The town was busy with families out enjoying the sunshine. I didn’t have time to investigate, but did make a short detour to at a restaurant for a cup of tea and a cool down. The restaurant was packed, I sat outside with Bay in the shade and had a little rest.

As I left the town I was passed by five horses, all but one being ridden by men. It’s always looks so impressive when you see the Spanish ride, alas I’m not so sure the horses enjoy it, quite often they have very severe bits and the riders aren’t gentle at all.

Back on route, just outside the town, the Altravesur takes a single-track trail that skirts around the side of a mountain. The trail was sometimes rocky, at times a shaley washout that made it difficult to keep the bike from slipping down the mountain. Further in it was more rideable, but still rocky. I’d gone perhaps 800 metres only to find I’d gone too far and had to ride back at least half the way I’d ridden. The turning I missed was a nearly non-existent trail down the slope! It was overgrown, rocky, difficult to determine and a complete pain in the arse! I think this had been added to the route as there was some private land at the start of the camino, that was not permitted to be used. So this singletrack was running parallel to the camino, then dropping down onto it, after it had by-passed the private section.

Once onto the camino, it climbed and climbed. It was 5pm by now, I was tired, hot and bothered, and there was no chance of wild-camping in the area, with fences both sides, or cortijos in view. It was a tiring push-up, I was weary and had overheated again. An old farmer stopped for a chat, he said this is no place for a woman to be camping alone, and later I sensed what he meant, or was it that he had put worrying thoughts into my head?

The land went from meadows to arable land, with many, what the Spanish call Navés, a sort of brick built shed, where farmers can rest or keep their equipment. It looked like an intensely farmed area, and with that would come seasonal labour, and with that would come less security. I don’t know if it was what the farmer said, or that I just didn’t like the area, but it really gave me the creeps!

I was hoping that the village I was aiming for would have a hostel, I shouted across to a farmer who was ploughing his field, in Spanish, asking if there was a hostel nearby, and he shouted back No arblo Inglaise, translated into English he said he didn’t speak English! Even though I had asked him in Spanish, what a racist dick! This made me dislike the area even more!

The natural park was to my right, it was woodland. A sign pointed 4kms to a Campsite, but not only didn’t I have the energy to push uphill for 4 more kilometres, I really didn’t like the area, so decided not to go there. What I thought was going to be a village, was just a few houses. At the end of the camino I went onto a long straight surfaced road, for no more than a kilometer or two, which is part of the route. By now it was 7:30pm and I was quite desperate to find a camping spot, but there was nothing that wasn’t fenced off.

Just as I was starting to think that it would be dark before I found a campspot, I couldn’t believe my eyes, as though an unlikely occurrence like in a movie, I could see in the distance, letters standing tall on the top of the roof of a building. It can’t be, I was saying to myself, it can’t be a hotel, in the middle of nowhere! But it was. As I got closer the letters came into focus, they really did spell HOTEL. Rejoice!! I was so happy, and even happier when I found it was open and they had a room spare for me! After 35 hard kilometers, I was so happy at this unexpected turn of fortune.

After checking in, I ordered some food then went outside to look at the amazing sunset, a big yellow sky with what looked like a whirlwind in the middle of it. I've never seen anything like it before. This was a perfect end to a hard uphill day.

Los Caños de la Alcaiceria was the full name of the hotel, running by the side of it is the Parque Natural de Sierras de Tejeda, Almijara y Alhama, which is the way forward for the Altravesur route. Perfectly positioned.

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