Chapter 23: Bikepacking the Altravesur-Sierra de Baza to Zujar

Updated: Feb 17

13th-14th June 2019

I woke up at my wildcamp at the Refugio Canaleja Alta, in the Sierra de Baza, at around 7am, the tent had got quite wet from, I think, only condensation, although I was wondering if there had been a little rain. The surrounding mountains were one minute cloudy, the next in sunshine, the clouds and mist blew in and out. It was quite chilly, but I was at 1500 metres so to be expected.

After drying my tent, I filled all my water bottles then set off, continuing on the camino I rode in on. I’d only gone a few hundred metres when I had to stop and put on more clothes as it was so chilly. I still had no phone signal, so had no Altravesur map. I’d taken screen shots of the Altravesur on this Sierra, to help guide me and realised I’d missed a turning not long after setting off again but could see I could re-join the route in a few kilometres.

The camino soon became a more natural surface, quite rocky and rarely used by motorised traffic. The surrounding land was woodland both sides, mostly downhill and a pleasure to ride, albeit a bit chilly on my legs as I still had shorts on. The woodland was beautiful, and I was now back on the GR7. I came across an abandoned farm, so stopped to have a nose around, it would make a great hostal as it’s right on the GR7!

After the farm the route became the most fabulous piece of singletrack. It run along gorges, across dry riverbeds and through woodland. It was slightly rowdy but not silly gnarly, and it went on for many kilometres. I was trying to stay on the safe-side, but it was such a good trail I couldn’t resist the temptation of riding fast!I stopped for a rest at a dam, it was a strange structure, made of stone, it blocked off totally a wide and deep dry riverbed. I couldn’t work out why there was no outlet for the water??

I’d leaned Bay up against a rock wall, after having something to eat, I noticed just how interesting the wall was, it was layers of different types of rock, with a soil layer separating many of the layers. I wished I’d knew more about geology so I could identify the layers!

Anyway the delight of the singletrack continued, it went on and on, until I reached a gate. I had the Altravesur route back on my phone, but it wasn’t clear where to go from here. I went through the gate, into an olive grove, after around 50 metres the trail led into a dry riverbed. I thought this can’t be right, so pushed back up and out the gate. I spent around twenty minutes trying to work out where I should go but couldn’t figure it out, so decided to go back through the gate and onto the dry riverbed.

I only had to ride along it for around 200 metres, but I wasn’t too happy about being in there, it had very high banks and clearly when there was rain, a torrent of water ran along it, you could see this by the severe lateral erosion of the high banks. I took a camino out of the dry riverbed, that ran through olive groves on the right and rugged mountains to the left. Soon I came to a surfaced road, riding through the outskirts of Baza, with a few abandoned cave houses along the route. Once into a more built-up area, I stopped at Café Bar Urbano for a coffee and a Coke. Again, the staff and locals were so nice and friendly, I stopped here for an hour or so, then rode farther into the town. I stopped at a hostal and booked a room for a couple of nights. Just my luck again, I’d be there whilst they had their closed day, which happened to be a Saturday but luckily it was the day I would be leaving, so I’d only have to find somewhere to get breakfast.

Hostal Casa Grande was run by Miguel, he’s a mountain biker and was so very kind. He put Bay in his underground garage and gave me a great room with a good-sized terrace. And he made me feel so at home. Casa Grande also had a restaurant, which is where I ate on the Thursday, on Friday I ventured into the town centre of this large mountain town to do some shopping.

Thursday night I was woken in the early hours of the morning by heavy rain, thunder and lightning. The electrical storm went on for a couple of hours, how lucky was I that it hadn’t been the night before when I was camping in the mountains.

Before I went into town, I had breakfast on the terrace at the Casa Grande. I asked a couple to look after my things whilst I went to order more coffee, when I returned, we got chatting. Pepe was Spanish, but spoke English, when he did, he spoke with a Glaswegian accent! I found it rather amusing! He had lived and worked in Glasgow for three years, that’s where he’d learnt English and gained the accent. His wife Encarna didn’t speak any English but we chatted a while with my little Spanish. Which reminds me, I must message him a link to my YouTube.

Baza sits at 844 metres altitude, it’s a large town, which made me forget that it was a mountain town. I didn’t see an awful lot of it but there’s some good bike shops and restaurants! I’d spent a bit of time in the Specialized bike shop, I was looking at bike navigation devices, after all the problems I have with missing my turnings, I really need a proper navigation device but it turns out a good one is very expensive, around 300 euros! So I decided against it.

As the hostal and restaurant was going to be closed when I was to leave, I spoke to Miguel Friday night and we arranged that I could wake him early Saturday morning and he would get Bay out of the garage for me. He also gave me some info on the route I was to take, it was good to know what to expect.

I’d managed to make and download a YouTube film whilst at Casa Grande, so I was bang up to date with that, which is satisfying. As I had done whilst in La Calahorra.

Saturday morning Miguel got Bay out for me and we said our goodbyes. He really was a lovely man, he’s ridden in many mountain bike races, and has ridden to the peak of the Sierra Nevada mountain of Valeta, at just under 3400 metres!

I rode to a café that Miguel had said was open, but it was rammed, with not an inch of space at the bar, I decided to find somewhere else. That was a little more difficult than I thought it would be, everywhere was shut.

Luckily the Altravesur route itself was through the town centre, so I could make progress whilst searching for a café. I noticed a café owner putting his terrace furniture out, so rode over and had a tostada and café con leche there. Then headed off out of town onto the camino, passing the town cemetery as the road turned to gravel, it was quite beautiful with the sun rising behind the ‘Tarantinoesque’ high cemetery wall, with the contrast of the white crosses against the blue sky, I stopped to admire the view.

I was heading for a pueblo named Zújar, not very far from Baza by surfaced road, many uphill kilometres via the camino! But that’s the Altravesur, it aims to keep off surfaced roads, sometimes, as in this case, it can be frustrating taking, what can be, a very long way around.

There were some inspiring views looking back across the plateau to Baza, with mountains all around. I’d no idea what ranges they were, and I’m happy to not know. One thing I realised on this tour is that I’m rarely knowledgeable about geographical features, historic events, cultural tradition etc. I have a passing thought that I should be able to commentate on what I see, but then ask myself why? Why do we, nowadays, have to know everything? After thinking about it, I realise I’m happy not to! If knowledge comes my way, fine. If not, I can just appreciate, photograph or film what I see and not feel guilty I don’t know what it is!

When I tour again, I’ll make sure I’ve got a stand for my bike, in the meantime I’m using sticks to prop it up whilst I take a photo. After finding the perfect stick, and using it for a few days, I forgot to re-pack it so today I found another stick, and named it Pete Stick, in the hopes that humanising it, I wouldn’t leave it behind! And the tactic worked, I had Pete until my ride finished!

The sun was punishing, early, with little shade, by 9am it was a hot ride. Hot but dramatic, with the lone peak, Cerro de Jabalcón dominating the skyline. I stopped under the shade of an olive tree alongside this intriguing mountain. Having said I don’t need to ‘know’ about the areas I visit, I wanted to know more about this near 1500 metre high rock! It’s quite fascinating, it stands alone on this high plateau, the side I was riding by, an imposing shear rockface. Although not a volcano, there are thermal springs in Zújar and the Negratin valley. Here’s some info if you’re interested.

I was ascending on the camino only for around two hours or so, on hitting the surfaced, switch backed road, it’s all downhill to Zújar, where I stopped at the first bar for a Coke. It was one of those bars where the bar staff aren’t very friendly, but I’m used to it now! Still I wish I’d continued farther into the pueblo and stopped somewhere else! A quick drink and I was off.

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