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

Updated: Feb 1

3rd-4th April 2019

You can see the YouTube of this section here

On the Wednesday morning I was to leave Los Barrios, I’d decided to set-off around 9am.

Whilst I'd been slowly riding the Altravesur, I'd been chatting on Whattsapp to a New Zealander named Sean, who was also riding the route. He'd started after me but was ahead of me. He had run into trouble between Los Barrios and Jimena. There'd been a lot of rain on that section, which also happens to run alongside the Hozgarganta River, on low-lying farmland. It was boggy and muddy, resulting in Sean's chain breaking and his derailleur getting pushed into the wheel and buggering that too. If only I'd known about Runbaik before, I could have said get back to Los Barrios, they could have fixed it. Unfortunately he was on a tight schedule, and decided to not ride the rest of the route. He was due at a birthday party in Ireland, so needed to make sure he got to that whilst in the Northern Hemisphere!

Anyway after hearing of Sean's problems, I thought I should go and buy a spare chain link before leaving, I do have one, but it turns out it’s the wrong one. I don’t know why I brought the one I had, 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 two 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.

And then there was Sean, who I learned after breaking his bike, he pushed it to Jimena, got a taxi to Ronda, and hold 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!

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 many cyclists, the Los Barrios area was very popular with both mountain bikers and road bikers.

I was quite nervous to start this ride, simply because I was worried about the mud and getting stuck.

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 a wonderfully 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'm really not sure if I took the correct route after the bike lane. 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 thought this was the wrong although Google maps thought I was on the right road. In fact, on reflection, I don't know if I was on the wrong road at all, I have no idea!! 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, if it was a 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 entered the small pueblo of Castillo de Castellar, I stopped in a seating area, out of the sun and had a nap. I think, not for the first time on this trip, and not the last either, I was suffering from mild heatstroke. I made my way up the last steep part of the mountain road. Getting to the castle I found a tourist shop, I asked the guy behind the counter which way the GR7 went, he pointed me in the right direction, but said he wouldn’t ride it after all the rains. 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, the thought of, what was at least three hours I’d spent in the punishing heat, 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. Riding downhill from the castle, on a surfaced road then a right turn onto a rocky camino. It seemed that a blanket of rocks had been deposited on the camino, I guess as a surface better than what was there before, possibly just mud? After a few kilometres the rocks ended, and the camino becomes grass and/or soil.

It was an enjoyable ride, pretty flat ground, nothing particularly exciting but for negotiating ploughed fields, standing water and boggy terrain. The camino tracks roughly alongside the route of the Hozgarganta River, I guess that's why this low-lying land gets so very muddy when there has been a week of rain. I could see why Sean had problems. There was some very muddy areas to negotiate but nothing insurmountable at all. 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, or boggy land with standing water. 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 would like to camp there, I can’t speak any Russian, Alexi spoke a little English, and we established that we would both camp there!

Alexi 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 our own meals, filtered some water, said goodnight and went to bed. Alexi 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!

Alexi 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.

It was all very pretty and serene, no dramatic views, but very enjoyable nonetheless. I was so happy to be alive and free, and not suffering with exhaustion!

I stopped to have an avocado sandwich and a drink on the roadside, 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 a steep pueblo it was. I’ve spent time in mountain villages in the Sierra Nevada, that have steep roads 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 hotel that Sean had stayed at, 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, that run a B&B would be drinking in a bar, so I should go to the bar and find him. 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 find another 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 by looking after a holiday rental house, making it presentable for new guests etc. She tried to contact the owner of the house she looks after, but no reply.

Sharon knew the people that run the B&B I was heading for, 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.

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 cup 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 rental 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.

I walked to the shops to stock-up on food, and made myself a lovely mushroom and chickpea curry, heaven to have proper fresh food not camp crap!

I spent the rest of the evening on the roof terrace, it was wonderful. I felt so lucky! I really love this house, I could live here!

It rained heavily, as forecast, on that Thursday night, and on Friday, Saturday, it’s now Sunday, with heavy clouds looming and drizzle in the air.

Alas Friday night I think I had caught some sort of bug or had consumed something off. At first I thought I was suffering, for the first time ever, from acid reflux, after brushing my teeth and gagging because I’d gone too far back with the brush. That’s what I put my terrible Friday night down to, I was nauseous, my stomach bloated, and it was painful.

I barely got any sleep Friday night, on Saturday morning I was feeling a little better so decided to very slowly check-over Bay, just to make sure everything was tight. I realised that the front axle, where the over-centre lever is fixed, was loose. And I didn’t have an Allen key that fitted the screw to tighten it up. Damn it! I knew there was a construction material shop in town. All the shops in this town are right at the bottom, I really didn’t feel like walking, with my tummy still not right, but I’d have to get down there and see if I could find an Allen key.

So, I took a slow walk to the shops, and hurrah they had Allen keys, I had to buy a whole set, but at least I could fix Bay. I also bought some stomach acid pills, they were very expensive, natural ones 6.50 euros! I’m going to run out of money very soon at this rate!

I slowly walked back up to the house, tinkered with Bay, then went to bed at around 4pm. I slept until 1am then got up for a while, then went back to bed and slept right through.

My tummy still isn’t right. I haven’t got diarrhea and haven’t been vomiting, it’s just nausea, bloating and uncomfortable. It feels like a hangover. I hope it goes soon.

One thing I wonder, Alexi gave me water he had filtered from the Hozgarganta River, I didn’t drink the water I filtered. I wonder if it was his water? Whether it was or wasn’t, a rule from now one, don’t accept water from others except in an emergency!

The weather forecast is for rain until Wednesday. I can’t stay here after then anyway as the house has been booked by someone else. So, decisions need making!

Whilst I was down the shops on Saturday, I noticed there was a guy on a mountain bike, so stopped to talk to him. Simon’s from Canada, his visa only allows him to stay at his house here for three months of the year much to his annoyance! He was very helpful to me, I asked about the ride from Jimena on the GR7 towards Ubrique, he said he wouldn’t attempt it after all the rain. And that there was a really nice old country road I could take instead. I valued his advice, he had ridden it many times so knew what he was talking about. So, I will either take that country road, or I will go straight to Ronda on the main road.

I will wait until Tuesday to decide which way I will go and when. So that’s me, holed up in a lovely house in pretty but stormy Jimena!

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