Chapter 6-Bikepacking the Altravesur-Los Barrios to Jimena de la Frontera

Updated: Feb 27

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On the Wednesday morning I was to leave, I’d decided to set-off around 9am. I thought I should go and buy a spare chain link before leaving Los Barrios, I do have one, but it turns out it’s the wrong one. And after Sean's chain breaking I thought it best to have one. I don’t know why I brought the one I had along, I knew it wouldn’t fit, I am such a weirdo! I made my way to Runbaik, but it didn’t open until 10am. What a pain, I had to wait around for an hour, so spent it in a café just opposite the bike shop, who made me an excellent Café con Leche with Soya milk! It was rather pleasant just sitting there in the sunshine!

Whist I’ve been riding this route, I’ve been in contact with three people on Whattsapp; Jen, a lady that is bike touring, not specifically the Altravesur, but in the region I’m in. Currently she’s staying in Ronda for a few weeks, she tends to stay at homestays such as Warmshowers or Workaway.

Then there’s Sean, he was a few days ahead of me on the route but had broken his bike in the mud after all the rains, just before Jimena. He had flown from New Zealand to do this and was en route to a family gathering in Ireland, so he had a tight time-frame. After breaking his bike, he pushed it to Jimena, got a taxi to Ronda, and held up there for a few days. In fact, he met with Jen whilst he was there, which was nice. Then he needed to get back to Valencia to collect his bike box and catch his flight to Ireland. That was a saga in itself, usually the trains allow bikes, but due to some breakdown of a train carriage or something like that, he wasn’t allowed to take his bike on the train. After a lot of frustration, he eventually got a bus from Ronda to Malaga, then an overnight bus from Malaga to Valencia. What a palaver! I wonder what is going to befall me after all this!

The third person I’m in contact with is Tom Phillips, he rode the Altravesur in February, an excellent time window, before the winds and the rain! Although cold, it is the best time to go.

These three people have been a great help, when I’m stuck, when I need to know how, where or what, there’s someone to talk to. For instance, I wouldn’t have known about the terrible mud after the heavy rains if it wasn’t for Sean. Which is something I’m having to contemplate now, whilst typing this I’m in Jimena, and it’s been raining heavily for days.

So, on leaving Los Barrios, it’s a ride back out of town, past the Repsol fuel station, and through the Natural Park of Alconocales, at first on a surfaced road then onto gravel. It was a beautifully sunny and chilled ride, lots of gates, around six I think! There were lots of cyclists, I was passed by many mountain bikers. In fact, Los Barrios was very popular with both mountain bikers and road bikers.

It turns out this natural park is a big mountain biking area, with many trails at the Montecoche mountain bike zone.

There's a military installation on the right, I was told off for taking photos....oops!

The trail is double track gravel, with great views to my right across the green valley.

Once through the park the trail becomes a very well designed and maintained bike lane. I rode this for some time, then stopped and had a sandwich that I’d made before leaving. Learning little things like this seems obvious but I hadn’t packed a snack before, this was the first time, and it made it so much easier, not riding hungry!

I didn't realise at this point I had missed a turning, before the village of La Almoraima. So took a complete different route than the Altravesur, I was much deeper into the Parque Natural than the Altravesur, that skirts around the outer rim. When I hit a roundabout. I wasn’t sure where to go, but thought it was through some big iron gates, so got through them, but Google was showing I was wrong, so I back-tracked onto where Google was showing I should be. This turned out to be a nightmare. I started up this mountain road, it was steep and went on and on and on, in fact 8 kilometers. There was little shade, the sun was beating down, and it was just up up up. I knew I was on the wrong road although Google maps thought I was on the right road. Below, to my left, I could see a lake, and I thought I should be riding down by the lake, I’ve seen others on the Altravesur at this lake. But the lake is not part of the Altravesur route, I was much closer to the lake than the Altravesur would be. Anyway I had committed to this detour so I just had to keep on going to the top.

I could see the top, there was a castle right on the very top of the hill. Just before the castle I came to the start of a village of Castillo de Castellar, I stopped in a seating area, out of the sun and had a nap. Then I made my way up the last steep part of the mountain road. Getting to the castle I found a tourist shop, I started asking an old guy there which way the GR7 went, he told me, but said he wouldn’t ride it after all the rains. But there had been three days without rain by now, so I knew it must be drying a bit. The guy then started talking to an English lady, and she also said it would be best to turn around, go back down the hill and go on the road.

I had a think about it, and the thought of the, what was at least three hours, I’d spent pushing up that sodding hill being wasted, I wasn’t about to ride down it! Plus there had been three days of sunshine to dry out the track. This is the track Sean broke his bike on.

I went with my gut feel, decision made, I took the GR7, and luckily I didn’t regret it. It was a fabulous ride across woodland and farmland. I could see why Sean had problems, there were still large puddles, ruts and boggy areas to negotiate. At one point the farmer has decided to plough up the GR7 so that was pretty muddy. By now it was around 7 o’clock, and I was looking for a place to camp.

To the right of the GR7 runs a train line, so there’s nowhere to camp to the left, and mainly to the right was fences or crops. I got to one pine tree planted area, just a small copse, but the ground was so bumpy it wouldn’t have been good for camping. I continued, for around another hour and eventually there was a small clearing on the right, with some woodland beyond it.

Sitting against a tree was a backpacker! I said to him I wanted to camp there, was he thinking of doing so. I can’t speak any Russian, Alexie spoke a little English, and we established that we would both camp there!

Alexie flew into Ronda from Russia and is walking to Marrakesh! He was quite a shy 33 year old. We didn’t talk a lot, we both set-up our tents, had a meal and went to bed. Alexie had already given me some water he had filtered, but we both needed more so before going to bed we took a walk to the river, that was beyond the trees behind our tents, to collect and filter water.

I had a good night’s sleep, we both broke-down our camps, moving our equipment into the sunshine to dry out the heavy morning dew that had soaked everything!

Alexie set off on his way, I was still drying out my stuff and eventually got going around 10am. It was another lovely sunny ride through farmland, then through vegetation lined double track, then bramble lined double track, eventually becoming a surfaced road at a small hamlet.

I stopped to have an avocado sandwich and a drink, in the distance I could see another castle upon a hill, with a village below it. I guessed it was Jimena. It looked a very steep ride!

And that it was. I’ve spent time in mountain villages in the Sierra Nevada, but nothing like this, so very steep! It’s again, a beautiful town. Well presented, the streets are a modern cobble, but steep oh so bloody steep. And it was hot. I was struggling my way up, to find a bed for the night as heavy rains were due.

I couldn’t afford the boutique hotels that were in the town at 55 euros a night, so was looking for a B&B, I found a couple of them, but couldn’t get an answer at the door or by phone. What a pain. A few locals chatted with me, not that I understood most of what they were saying, but basically one of them was saying that Pedro would be drinking in a bar, so I should go to the bar and find him, he runs one of the B&Bs I was trying to book into. There was no way I was walking down to the bar after struggling my way up this far, I would go on up to the other B&Bs.

I struggled on farther up the town, to stop at a B&B, and whilst deciding which way to go a lady was passing by, she looked English, so I spoke to her, told her that I was looking for a room. Sharon had lived in Jimena 16 years with her husband, it was their home now, originally from England.

It turns out one of the ways Sharon makes money is looking after an Airbnb house, making it presentable for new guests etc. She tried to contact the owner to see if I could stay there. But no reply.

Sharon knew the people that ran the B&B I was heading towards, so we made our way up there. She could see I was struggling with pushing my bike up the steep roads, so she offered for me to leave the bike at her house and then I could find somewhere to stay easier.

So, we made our way to her house, a little bit higher in the town. A lovely cottage, she lives there with her husband Alan (or Allen), three Scotty dogs and a cat! Surprisingly Sharon let me put my muddy bike in her living room! And what a godsend, she made me a proper cut of tea! It was glorious! The first decent cup I’ve had since I’ve been here!

We chatted whilst drinking our tea, then the owner of the Airbnb house replied, and Sharon managed to negotiate the price right down, a bit more than I wanted to pay, but I thought I should just take it, so I can get my head down.

We walked a short way down from her house, near to where we had met in the first instance, down to Casa de Luna, the house I was to stay in. I'm so thankful to Sharon, it's perfect! And I have it all to myself. With three outdoor terraces, I was able to wash Bay before bringing him inside.