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Chapter 15: Bikepacking the Altravesur-Jayena to Albunuelas

1st May 2019


You can see my YouTube on this ride here


I woke in a much better frame of mind the next morning, I hadn't felt well the night before and I felt quite grumpy. I had a decent night's sleep in the tent and woke quite early with the sun just starting to filter through the trees. I really wanted to get my shoes dry, so spent a lot of time tracking sunny spots with my trainers, to keep them in the rising sun, I did the same with my solar charger, as I needed to charge my power supplies.


I had some toast and jam washed down with some coffee for breakfast, packed up then set off on this red-soiled plateau, through a beautiful peaceful woodland.Immediately I took a wrong turn and had to back-track, but no matter it was a nice flat ride on the plateau. I was expecting a downhill ride into the close-by pueblo of Hay-enna. But no the landscape changed and there was lots and lots of climbing to do.Suddenly the trail ended when I hit a 30 metre wide strip bulldozed through the mountain, where the recently cut fire-breaks had trashed the beautiful sierra.All trails had disappeared with this mess too, and it was difficult to find the route


I spent a load of time hunting for the right way to go, riding right to the top of the hill to try and find the route, but I just couldn’t find the trail at all. I rode back down a ways and found a lone GR7 post, but it was impossible for me to know where to go because it was a couple of metres into this roughcut firebreak, but I guessed it was down an embankment, which I was please to find that was correct. Down the embankment I found a wooden signpost, a little ambiguous, two trails nearly in the same direction but to different places, it could have been either of the trails one slightly higher than the other, to Jayena I decided to take the one I thought it wasn’t, as I was usually wrong! Alas this took me higher and higher, I could see the pueblo, and knew I should be going down. I’d ended up in the brush on the mountain side. It was a trail, just the wrong one.


The trail faded out, it became quite precarious, there was long grasses, prickly bushes, rocks and shale. Holding a bike to your side, stopping it falling down the mountain, as well as keeping your footing is quite difficult. I felt a bit at a loss as to what to do, and I was getting a little overheated too. I’d gone too far down the brush by now to back-track, eventually I saw below me the trail I should be on. So I had to tentatively drop down the side of the mountain around 10 metres without dropping Bay or falling myself. It tested me! And this sort of thing bashes the hell out of the bike, the derailleur constantly getting tangled in the brush, the chainring hitting rocks, with sticks and grass getting caught in the chain and wheel spokes.


But make it down I did, I was so relieved to get onto the trail, it was a mountain edge downhill single-track, and was so fabulous. Mostly downhill, sometimes steep, sometimes rocky eventually becoming a very steep gnarly eroded double track, a good ride down into Jayena nonetheless, via another pretty river crossing, this time managing to use the stepping stones without getting my already wet shoes wet again.


I stopped in this sleepy pueblo for a second breakfast, this time of tostada and a coffee, I’d burnt all the calories eaten at breakfast getting down that mountain. In case you’re wondering a tostada is a 12 inch baguette cut in half and toasted, eaten with butter and jam. The town seemed a little weird, I didn’t know until the next day that it was a public holiday, that’s why nearly everything was closed, and why so many people were sitting in the street, and people gawping at me!!


I took a look around, there was a travelling market in town so I checked out the wares on offer, then I set off on the road out of town which then becomes an un-surfaced doubletrack camino, through the hilly woodland of the North Eastern side of the Sierra de Tejeda. The general direction was up, for hours, at least there were pockets of shade from the trees.

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My phone battery was running low, so I stopped to connect it to my power supply, but couldn’t get it to charge. I was flapping about, looked up, and there before me were two mountain bikers, with luggage!



It was Robert and Meta from Slovenia! They too were riding the Altravesur! They had only started on the Friday before, less than a week ago, although they started from Jerez, going straight to Ronda. What a fab weather window they had chosen, they missed all the wind and rain! Meta and Robert are riding this to a deadline, they have a flight booked on the 18th May, it was now the 1st of May, so they pedalled most of the route, whereas I push a lot of the uphill. They both looked very fit, their bikes and luggage looked pretty cool too.


We had a chat, they fixed my non-charging phone, realising my power pack couldn't be charged and charge at the same time, every day's a school day! Then they set off.


Seeing these two had encouraged me to get my arse into gear, and I rode more of the uphill sections, which went on for a couple more kilometres and upto over 1200 metres. Then a chalky downhill in open meadowland out of the Natural Park. At the end of the park sits a rather fancy tapas bar Meson Los Prados. I clambered up the slope only to find Robert and Meta there. They were sitting in the shade, quite sensible as the ride had been in blazing sunshine, but it got pretty cold quite quickly with your sweat drying on you!


The waiter was around 70 years old, and very grumpy, I found him to be hilarious, quite comical, everything you asked for, he kind of semi-acknowledged but gruffed and shrugged and stomped off. You couldn’t help but laugh at him. We all ate, and as Meta and Robert were leaving, I asked the waiter if he had Te Negro, and his only answer was NO!


The guys rode off, giving me an indication of where we were going next before leaving! I went inside and ordered a tea classico from the barman. He gave it to me in a huge lager glass, but it was very nice and most welcome. The waiter just stared!


Leaving the tapas bar was on a surfaced road for a short while, then back onto the GR7 camino. Little did I know at the time this was the Sierra de loss Gwahares, a place I’d get to know very well a year later. It’s one of the more spectacular sierras I’ve travelled, this rugged mountain woodland sadly getting vandalised by selfish greedy Spaniards, ripping out trees to plant lucrative avocado trees, draining the rivers of their water and depriving the villages of their water source. Don’t get me started, it infuriates me, if Spain doesn’t deal with what is in my opinion the endemic corruption this absolutely stunningly beautiful mountain sierra will be lost forever very soon.


I was expecting a descent, but it didn’t come for a couple of kilometres, we were at nearly 1300 metres by now. When the descent did come, it came in style and made up for the past two days of pushing up and down!


The scenery was dramatic, a deep dry-river bed littered with large boulders, probably deposited through large flood events which the sierra is known for. To my right, rugged mountains both sides, this dusty twin-track switchbacked camino went on and on, for around an hour. I was enjoying it so much I over-shot a couple of turnings, but still it was heavenly! Downhill, twisty, dramatic, rugged, just beautiful.



You had to keep an eye on the route, I over-shot a couple of turnings, but still it was heavenly! Downhill, twisty, dramatic, rugged, just beautiful.




The pueblo of Albuñuelas was where I was heading, charging down this fabulous trail, I missed the hidden turning onto a barely-there singletrack down to the town. So had to push back up the hill, luckily nearby was the one cortijo on this rugged mountain, a lady was tending her land, I stopped to ask if she knew where the turning was, she didn’t understand what I was looking for so her husband came out. He pointed me in the direction I needed to go, but told me it is 'muy peligroso', very dangerous and that I shouldn’t go down it!


He was right, it was a completely crazy, rocky, overgrown single-track. Just mad, I only rode one section, I didn’t have the energy to attempt any other sections, and some I wouldn’t even attempt on my downhill bike. It was very steep, some sections were rocky steps twisting downwards, I struggled to get Bay down these, it was so steep the back of the bike kept lifting and nearly somersaulting over the handlebars.


On reaching the outskirts of the pueblo, as usual, it starts very steeply uphill. It was around half seven in the evening by now, and I was exhausted. Whilst on this pushup, I checked Google maps for accommodation and found ‘Casa Azul English B&B’. I called! Ken answered. He had a room for me, I was overjoyed, and this spurred me on to get up the hill that was scattered with fallen and squashed oranges!


Riding down the narrow streets of this whitewash pueblo, I found Ken’s Casa Azul very easily from his directions, he ushered me and Bay in, with Bay to sit in an internal courtyard. I wasn’t only greeted by Ken, there was his oh so lovely dog Lina too. She was just the sweetest girl ever, who took a liking to me and from that night on, she slept on my single bed with me each night. My room was self-contained with a bathroom and a kettle, so I could make tea when I wanted.


Really there would have been plenty of wild-camping in the Sierra de los Guajares, and I should have done that but at twenty euros a night, and with the chance to get to know Ken and Lina, I didn’t regret it at all. I ended up staying fooure nights, really I should have stayed five, for a reason you’ll learn later but basically I’m a nincompoop!


I filled my days walking to the mirador in the village, a mirador is what the Spanish call a lookout. This landscaped mirador overlooked the gorge on which Albuñuelas is nestled. It was hard to capture just how stunning the views were with a camera. I’d take Lina with me, occasionally we’d meet a local in the mirador courtyard and have a chat. The pueblo only had one small supermarket, a bread shop and a pharmacy, which was enough for me to resupply. Luckily I didn’t need any gas, which I could have got when I went out in the car with Ken one day. I needed to buy a new baseball cap, from the start I’d been wearing an olive drab peaked military cap, with earflaps, it was just about perfect albeit a little bit big for my unfeasibly small head. I’d left it somewhere, I’m pretty sure I’d left if when I’d stopped for a rest after leaving Riogordo, under the shade of a big tree that lined the camino.





It’s now Saturday afternoon, I’ve been here since Wednesday night! Ken has been the best host ever, he’s such a nice gent, his house is lovely, so is his dog Leena and cat Fred! To be honest, I could have lived at Ken’s for weeks, everything about my time there was perfect.


Ken’s been in Albuñuelas for fifteen years, he and his wife bought Casa Azul as two ruined houses, they completely reformed them into what it is today. It’s a big townhouse, complete with internal courtyard, roof terrace and plunge pool!


Sadly, Ken’s wife MaryAnn passed away four years ago, Ken, 80 next birthday wants to retire, so is selling Casa Azul. Such a shame as they'd built it together. He wants to stay in the area as Mary-Ann is laid to rest in the Albuñuelas cemetery.


I’ve loved listening to Ken’s life story, he’s lived a really interesting life, and he and Maryann have been life’s risk-takers, with various successful business ventures over the years. He, with a friend, was the founder of Heyford Fisheries, a popular angling spot near my home town! Originally from London, Ken and Maryann moved to Daventry in the 1980’s, Daventry is just 20 miles from Banbury, where I have lived for the last sixteen years!


Lena, the doggy, that I have re-named Lady Magdalena de Albuñuelas, was a rescue pooch, she is of the most beautiful character. I love her, she sleeps with me, we go for walks and generally I love being around her. Fred, the pusscat, well he’s a little aloof, wants to know you when he wants something only!!

Although I got plenty of rest, after my four nights at Ken’s I can’t say I was yet feeling on top form. I think I have stacked up so many heat exhaustion days, that I really wasn’t well.


On reflection I should have stayed at Ken’s for another week, but I planned to get going tomorrow, Sunday.


Adios


**UPDATE 2021**


Sadly I have recently learnt that both Lena and Ken have passed away. I was so very sad to learn this. Lena had a wonderful life with Ken, who apparently passed away one month after Lena. Rest easy my friends.











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