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Chapter 8: Bikepacking the Altravesur-Ubrique to Ronda

11-12th April 2019

You can see my YouTube on this ride here

On leaving Francisco and Rosamaria, I rode through Ubrique, further up into the main town centre, I struggled to not keep stopping to admire the town, it, like many other Spanish towns, is very well presented, and needs a second look. After stopping for a café con leche I had to get moving, although I would liked to have seen more. For some reason I didn’t think it would be so pretty and well presented.

Up high in the town is the start of the route I needed, which turned out to be an old Roman road. The theme was kind of cobbled, but the cobbles were rough rocks. The steep incline up, plus the very rocky surface and blazing sun made this a very hard route for pushing up 50 kilos of bike and luggage. Sometimes, there was a water drainage channel at the side, with smoother cobbles, alas this would end and it would mean returning to the very rocky road. The further up I got, the rougher it became. And sometimes it would become very steep, and with that came bigger rocks. I was heaving Bay up these rocks with all my might, it was a real test of endurance.

At one point I stopped for a break, propping Bay up against a large boulder. Unfortunately, he fell over, hard, onto the rocky road. Luckily it seems only my stills camera was broken. You have to count your blessings as he fell onto the derailleur side, with all the luggage on, it was a very hard fall, I think I got off lightly. I must be more careful. I seem to be good at carelessness!

Before the top of the Roman Road there are around three gates to negotiate, and the last part of the trail is a narrow singletrack path through vegetation. This part was exceptionally rough and very steep, at least I could see Benaocaz, the next village at the top, so it encouraged me to keep going. I had to hump and heave Bay over the rough terrain. Negotiating the last gate at the very top, I was glad that was over. I was absolutely exhausted, so rested for a few minutes.

To be honest, this Roman road section certainly wasn’t enjoyable; the views were nice but it was hard work.

I sat in the shade of an information board at the bottom of the village. I didn’t venture into the village, there was no reason to. It was late afternoon by now, so I thought I would head towards the next village of Villaluenga del Rosaria, and find wild camping en route.

Alas the surfaced road was long and uphill most of the way, with fencing along both sides, there was no chance of wild camping. So I kept going, thinking I would pass through Villaluenga, and find wild camping the other side.

As it happens this wouldn’t have been a bad idea, but by the time I got to the pretty whitewash mountain town, I was too exhausted to go through it, that Roman Road has really sapped my energy. What a pretty pueblo it was, so tidy, and with great effort put into the design of the town entrance. I'd only ridden 10 kilometers but I was done for the day!

Even though it was 17:30, a time when usually towns have awoken after the siesta, this one was deadly silent.

Villaluenga doesn’t re-awaken until 18:00 it turns out. There was no campsite, no hostel and only one hotel. I negotiated as lower price as I could at 36 euros and decided to spend the night there. La Posada, the hotel, was a traditional Spanish village style building, the staff friendly and also bike friendly. They have a rear entrance with double doors that you can use to take your bike up to your room. The hotel is literally shadowed by towering, jagged cliff like mountains all around.

It was so very nice to be able to take a shower and curl up in clean sheets! Before going to bed I sampled the restaurant’s menu del dia for 10 euros. It was a very welcome three course meal, my first proper food since Jimena. I spent some time working on Episode 5 of my Altravesur YouTube, alas I couldn’t complete it, I was too tired.

For every hour of published YouTube, I think I spend around 10 – 12 hours editing. So it would have to wait. That turned out to be sooner than I thought anyway!

After a hotel breakfast I set off around 11am. Later than I wanted but I spent time on the laptop editing Ep5 and then had to wait whilst the battery charged. On leaving the hotel, I needed to climb up and over the village, back down through the other side.

I couldn't work out what was going on. There was a lot of people around, mainly shipped in by coaches, lots of them. With police ushering coaches and people all over. it was quite frantic. I don’t know what the occasion was, but it was very popular. It seemed to mainly be senior citizens; I couldn’t figure out the occasion though. On reflection I think it was for a religious fiesta or festival.

Crossing by the coach park took me off road into the hills, this would be the Sierra de Grazalema. At first the road is surfaced, all uphill, then it flattens out after around two kilometres, onto the most excellent gravel road through woodland. It was perfectly smooth, very well maintained, and a good job too as the trees lined the route, with the sun filtering through, casting dappled shadows on the road, it was hard to distinguish any undulations of the surface. But without any potholes it was fine.

This woodland road forked twice, and twice I took the wrong turning. The second time I did this, I hadn’t realised I’d taken the wrong route until after negotiating one of the most difficult gates I had come across. Dammit, I was so pleased with myself, getting through it, only immediately to realise I was on the wrong road!

After some time on the lovely gravel road, it comes to a gate, where the sierra then crosses a pretty, but boggy series of meadows. The meadow has streams filtering through it and patches of standing water, there had obviously been a lot of rain here. There are a couple of stream crossings, that if you’re clever you can stay dry crossing. Alas I am not! Now I’ve got wet feet!

Another gate, another boggy meadow. Then your out into a vast plain, with jagged mountains in the near distance. It’s nicely lonely out there, a long road in front and a long road behind, with nothing but brush and vegetation until the mountains.

The Sierra de Grazalema eventually runs into an area with small farms either side, then it ends at a surfaced road. At this point there is a restaurant to the left. Rather a nice one, so I stopped and had some soup. I have a new found penchant for Coca Cola! I never drink coke, probably I wouldn’t average one can a year through my life, all of a sudden, I need it! So, I had a lovely cool Pepsi Cola to go along with my soup!

Now this is where it gets tricky, the Sierra de Grazalema route continues, to my right. I could see I needed to get on the surfaced road for only around 20 meters then turn right back into the woodland. I did this, but a man, an official looking man in a council de Grazalema van, told me I couldn’t ride down there. I got back onto the road and found some very high gates leading into the park. They were padlocked and there was no way I could get over them. So I stuck to the road.

I wasn’t that bothered, I could see it was similar terrain as to that I had just travelled, and on the mountain road I had better views of the mountains to my left. These wouldn’t have been visible in the woodland. I’m making light of it, I wished I was on the right track really!

After a very long climb up a hot and shadeless mountain road, it then went down hill onto some plains. This was great, a long section of downhill, but I knew it would climb steeply again to get to Ronda, so bitter sweet!

The mountain road was quite busy with traffic, it was narrow, windy and undulating. A lovely lady drew her car alongside me and asked if I was OK, which was nice.

I guess I started riding on the mountain road at around 2:30pm and was on it for a few hours. My next major town was Ronda, but between where I was and Ronda, a few kilometers to my right there was the village of Montejaque that I would be missing, as the mountain road bypassed it. I could have made efforts to go to this village and return to the Altravesur route. But to be honest, I just couldn’t be arsed. So onward to Ronda, but following my new regime of not stopping in a town at night, I was looking for a wild camping spot.

The road up to Ronda goes up, up up. Nearing the town, I found a way back onto the off road Altravesur route, alas this was a wrong decision, as it was steep, rocky, gnarly up-steps, that couldn’t be ridden. I was getting closer and closer to the town, thinking I’m not going to find a wild camp again, and would have to look for a hostel. By now I was very hot and bothered, the climb up to Ronda was relentless as was the sun, with little shade. There seemed to be a lot of military land on nearing Ronda, so camping was out of the question, although I did contemplate it, what's the worse that can happen!

I messaged Jen, the lady I’ve been speaking to on Whattsapp, as she is in Ronda, to see if she knew of anywhere to camp. In the meantime, I found, just before the first urbanization in Ronda, a kind of nature area, with pine trees, poplar trees and brush. I scouted it out, I could see there were some trails on it. But bugger it, it was around six in the evening, and I needed to rest. So, I set-up camp right there, I was in view of the gravel road. I was kind of worried, camping so close to a town, and in view of walkers and the road.

The evening brought many dog walkers, runners and cyclists. All were friendly and gave a wave. Except two teenage girls, walking their dogs, who told me to go away.

I was slightly worried that I would get some sort of trouble, camping there, I don't think it's actually legal but I'm sure the police have better things to do. It was out of town, and after dark I think I only heard around two people pass by. And they were cyclists.

By now Jen had replied and suggested we meet up, and go for tapas with her friends, as she was going to Granada for a few days on the Saturday morning, so it was our only chance to meet. I explained that I’d set up camp, I had only the clothes I was wearing, I was muddy, I was smelly, and I couldn’t repack my camp, just to go out. So, she suggested meeting for breakfast. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make it, as I like to wait until the sun dries my tent of the morning dew.

I had a reasonable night’s sleep, I woke around 7:30, it is still dark at this time. A beautiful view greeted me when I unzipped my tent, the silhouette of the poplar trees, against a dark bluey/black sky, with the Ursa Major constellation in full view. It was beautiful. Anyway, I thought as I’m up, I’ll get packed up quickly and go and meet Jen.

I was nearly an hour early arriving at Café de Agata, where we were to meet, and Jen was a little late, so I could have waited and let my stuff dry out. But no matter, I didn’t want to get lost, then mess up our meeting.

It was so lovely to meet Jen, I truly think she is lovely. I had formed an opinion of what she would be like, from our chats, and thought she would be too out-going and party animal for me. But she turned out to be quite normal, extraordinary but normal!

I was so glad I liked her, and am really disappointed that we couldn’t spend more time together, we would get on fabulously. Jen’s friend Natty (Natasha) also came to breakfast, she was on a weeks holiday from the UK, where she is an anesthetist! OMG can you imagine the responsibility!! She was off to Granada too, having been to a yoga retreat for a few days before arriving in Ronda.

She too was just lovely. We had less than two hours over breakfast, so we had a hurried ‘Get to know each other’ kind of chat. Both were my kind of girls! Oh well perhaps one day we will meet again!

Whilst we were chatting, my neck and throat started itching, Natty said I should get something on that. I thought it was just a little irritation due to my camping being in long grass, I’m allergic to grass. But as the day wore on, more and more lumps, bumps and wheals were appearing. They go right around from one side of my throat, round my neck to the other side, from my collar bone to my hairline. Horrendous!! I also have them on one of my shoulders, from my collar bone to the bottom of my shoulder blade. And some random other places. I wonder if I had been bitten? There was some flies crossing the Grazalema sierra, but I can’t remember being pestered.

Jen and Natty went off to meet their BlaBla Car driver, that was taking them to Granada. I went in search of the Hostel Jen had recommended. But first I took Bay for a jet wash, there was no way anyone would let me take him in a room in that muddy state!

So funny, Bay is really hard to stand-up, due to all the luggage weight. I had to let go of the jet wash at one point to stop him falling, resulting in the hose thrashing about the wash bay like a demented snake, eventually the attendant caught it for me! He was a lovely young lad, very kindly.

Jen had told me about a hostel she had used, so I went to seek it out. I arrived at the hostel around 1pm, only to find it didn’t have any spare rooms. It was so very hot in Ronda, I was overheating already. I was so cheesed off the hostal was full.

I telephoned the cheapest hotel in the area, started cycling in its direction, where the road forked, I wasn’t sure where to go, so stopped two mountain bikers that were coming from the direction I was heading. With the language barrier they found it easier to turn around and let me follow them towards the hotel I was looking for. They were great guys, cycling back around a kilometre just to show me the way!

The guys pointed me in the right direction, before we parted ways we stopped for a chat. Their names were Gocky and Habby. I rode off for around twenty minutes then realised this was too far out of Ronda to be economical, I’d have to get a taxi to go shopping! By now I’d been cycling for nearly an hour to get here, I turned around and went back into the centre of Ronda.

I stopped at the first hotel I saw, Hotel Arunda, on the main strip. It was pricey at 45 euros a night, but there was a big religious festival happening Sunday, and it was their last room. Jen had also commented that this could prove a problem, so I grabbed the room.

The room, on the 4th floor, soon looked as if a bomb had hit it. I needed to dry out my tent, and other gear. I washed all my clothes in the bidet, then hung my washing on the balcony and generally scattered my crap everywhere!

I am soon going to run out of money, I’m spending too much on hotels!! The food is cheap, as I cook in my room on my camping stove, the costly part are the rooms, I must camp more!

Ronda, it’s buzzing, I don’t know if that’s because of the religious festival or if it’s always like this. But it’s a very traditional, very historic, very beautiful mountain town. It looks like the town is built on a cliffs edge, with a gorge running through the middle.

So, I’m in Hotel Arunda for three nights. And it’s a good job I am, this rash has got worse and worse. I’d had some hydrocortisone cream with me, and some antihistamine tablets. I think they allowed me to sleep well. I didn’t wake until 10am this morning. But the rash is so very itchy, so I thought I’d go find a Farmacia and get some antihistamine cream. Being Sunday, there is only one open in town, the other side of town.

No matter, it’s a beautiful sunny day. And I would see some of the sights on my journey. Getting to the pharmacy was easier said than done! I ran into the religious parade, the streets were lined with hundreds of people, and many more adorned in costumes, or carrying one of the two huge religious floats. It was a struggle to get through. I didn’t want to be rude, I just needed relief from this bloody itching!!

Once I’d got my antihistamine cream, I made my way back to town, and spent time filming and photographing the parade. For some reason I got very emotional watching it, I’m not sure why!?

I don’t know what the parade is called, but it looks like it’s a build up to Easter, with old and young playing a part. Probably a couple of hundred people all told. Each float held 24 people inside! In this heat it must have been sweltering! They carried the huge wooden floats, one carrying ‘Jesus’ or 'Joseph' (not sure which) and one carrying ‘Mary’. They were very well constructed, with fine detail and quite beautiful. Many brass bands marched behind the floats, that seemed to be of different military contingents and also of different schools; the sun was blazing down on these guys in full uniform. They must have been longing for a cold drink or an ice cream!

I have to say, the parade was very moving, and on more than one occasion, I found my eyes leaking! I followed the parade for around an hour, then set off back to the hotel to write this!

In the evening sunshine the street below my hotel room is bustling with people, everyone dressed in their finery. Everyone enjoying the celebrations

So here I am scritching and scratching my blog out to you!


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