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Chapter 9: Bikepacking the Altravesur-Ronda to El Burgo

16th April 2019

You can see my YouTube on this ride here

I had another encounter with Spanish kindness on leaving Hotel Arunda. The lovely clerk, Jose Miguel, gave me a nice discount on my room. I'm not sure if he felt sorry for me or if it was because I asked for my room not to be cleaned! Whatever the reason, it

was very welcome!

Riding out of Ronda, I was soon into the hilly countryside. A theme was set for the day, I missed a turn on the gravel road and had to back-track a kilometer, uphill. This was the easiest of my corrections due to my inability to follow a map!

The gravel road crosses some meadows, very steep and rocky. Then I'm onto the GR249 that traverses the Sierra de las Nieves. It's a double track, not well surfaced and uphill, interspersed with some short downhill sections. This cuts through some beautiful mountains, the views always interesting.

A local farmer, Paco, stopped his Land Rover to have a chat. He was very friendly, and told me a little about the mountains.

There were some decent but gnarly descents, quite steep and I was having to exercise caution as sheep and goats are lining the route. They're a little like Pheasants, on trying to get out of your way, they run across in front of you.

Eventually continuing straight ahead comes to a gate and turning right following the track, leads to a farmhouse. Google maps had lost the Altravesur route by now. I had no phone signal but as I was using offline maps I've no idea why it disappeared. The track ends at the finca, and there’s no where to go. Not knowing where I'd gone wrong, I decided to back-track until I found a GR249 signpost to confirm I was still on the correct route. I'd gone around half a kilometer back up the steep hills that had been my fun and epic descent a short while before. Once I got a phone signal, the Altravesur route returned. So I turned around again and slowly made my way along the track, watching the map carefully. It was very hot, there was no shade and I was getting flustered and overly hot.

Again I ended up at the finca and again as soon as the phone signal disappears the Altravesur route disappears too. I still had the Orux maps on my phone at this point, I didn’t know how it worked but I opened it and it was showing that I was in the right place when I was at the finca and that I needed to go through the farm.

Just before the finca is a GR signpost, but it doesn't point in any direction, the options are across a ploughed field to my left or go through a gate straight ahead or to the finca to my right. I started to cross the ploughed field but Orux was showing I wasn't on the right route.

For some reason there was no indication that I should go straight ahead through the gate, which with hindsight is the correct way. So I go up to the finca and open the gates to the property, it felt wrong, as though I was going through someones garden. Which it turns out I was.

I start crossing the farmyard, with two dogs barking at me and feeling like a trespasser. I had no idea which direction to go, then I hear someone shouting, it was coming from higher up than me, turns out it’s the farmer, yelling from outside his house. He wasn’t angry, he was trying to indicate to me where I should go. I dithered around, and he continued to gesticulate. This went on for 10 minutes, I'd go where I thought he was pointing, then he would indicate i was going the wrong way, and I'd try another direction. Eventually I got to a gate, this being opposite the gate that I hadn't gone through earlier!

When I got to the gate three other mountain bikers appeared, they'd came across the field, through the gate (the easy way!) that I had thought was the wrong way. We had a brief chat, and the farmer came over for a chat with them, then we all went through the gate. The trail then becomes a very rocky single-track. I was riding behind the others, but we were all having trouble riding the steep rocky trail, so we all pushed out bikes for a while.

The trail was cut into the mountainside, it was rocky and narrow and often we hit a rock-fall shale section. These shale falls were quite difficult to traverse, it was all a little precarious.

Having overheated, I let them go and stopped for a drink and some food. Luckily I had brought a brolly with me so I sat in the only shade there was, beneath it.

The rocky shaley narrow track went on for around two kilometers, eventually becoming interspersed with less rocky sections that could be ridden. Eventually it becomes a great downhill ride across a bush-populated meadow. It's a good fun piece of singletrack, after a while it enters woodland. It was a nice ride in the woodland, very up and down.

The trail suddenly ended at a dry riverbed crossing. In my excitement at the great descent, I’d missed my turning, this became a theme through my tour. I hadn't been looking out for the signposts, and at that time I didn't realise GR signs with an X on them was the wrong way. I got horribly lost. It was like a heatsink basin, extremely hot, I hadn't drunk enough water and was struggling.

Back tracking until I found a sign, was very difficult, steeply uphill with a slippery dry dust surface. I had gone down so far and looking at Orux I needed to get up to the turning I missed, onto the Camino.

I can't describe how awful this back-tracking was. I was exhausted and overheating. I spent half an hour trying to get up one two meter incline. I exerted myself so much, I wanted to vomit. I was straining my arm and leg muscles trying to get up this bastard incline, but I couldn't. It was so dusty that every step I took, I slipped back down, the bike was so heavy I was getting desperate and more exhausted by the minute. So I ploughed through some dead bushes to the left of the dusty incline, it wasn't pretty and took another twenty minutes but I got up it eventually, only for there to be another 300 metres of exhausting slippery rocky push up. I could see the top, there was a signpost, but I was still 100 metres away from it. By now I was getting cramps in my hands, feet and legs. I was really struggling and I was on the verge of collapse, when I saw a man at the top who shouted down and asked if I needed help.

Pepe is my hero, he ran down and pushed my bike up the last bit of the hill. I all but collapsed at the top, where his girlfriend, Inma and he had been deliberating which way to hike. We had a chat whilst I recovered, my fingers were in a rigid cramp as were my feet and leg muscles, I was in a ridiculous state, totally dehydrated and suffering from dehydration and heat exhaustion. I know not to get into this situation, yet I often do, what is wrong with me?

They were reluctant to leave me but I said I'd be fine, and they decided to hike in a loop to El Burgo, to the right. My destination, El Burgo also, but my route was to the left, to follow the Altravesur. The 9kms of track to El Burgo was a road cut into the mountainside, unsurfaced but in good condition.

It wasn’t a tough ride out, I rode and walked. The views were some of the best thus far on my ride. I was continually looking for a wild-camping spot, to the right was a steep embankment up the mountain, to the left a long drop down the mountain. So it wasn’t possible to find anywhere to set-up camp.

I stopped to filter some water at a fuente on this camino, to top up my supplies. My water filter consists of a pouch to catch some dirty water and a small cylindrical filter that screws onto the pouch, you squeeze water through it and it comes out clean. It's best to get water when you can. These mountain towns all have natural mountain water fuentes, occasionally there is one on the camino.

The gravel surface was in good condition, and by now was going downhill towards El Burgo, I could get up some speed and cover ground with little effort. Running on fumes, this was good, being a near ten kilometre ride from where I had met Pepe and Inma.

On entering El Buirgo at around 6pm I stopped at the first open restaurant to get a cold drink and an ice-cream. I often stop at restaurants, and always there is a group of old men, chatting and drinking usually coffee or beer. I started asking if there was a campsite nearby, or a hostel. No camping, but there was a couple of hostels. I started phoning around, one was closed, the other was too expensive at 55 euros a night.

The restaurant owner had joined the conversation by now, and as I couldn’t find a place to stay, I asked him if I could camp at the restaurant. He didn’t hesitate and said yes, but I would have to wait until he closed at 11:30pm and that I’d have to be out by 6am. This was fine with me, it was going to be a long wait, so I started writing this blog! And this is where a somewhat surreal night began.

When food was served at 8pm I ordered a meal, along with several cups of tea, to while away the time. I chatted with a few English people that were also sitting in the sun on the terrace and hung my solar charger up from one of their chairs as they were in the best location to get a good charge.

When I ordered my food I asked again if it was OK to camp there, and that it wasn’t going to cause a problem, again Juan Miguel, the owner, said yes it was fine. But around 10pm he came to me to say he knew of a better place I could camp and said come with me. As I was walking with him, I felt uneasy, as we were walking into the town, and I’d left all my stuff, including Bay at the restaurant. Anyway we get deep into the town and he leads me to the loading bay of some sort of commercial premises. He said it would be much better to camp there. It’s hard to describe, except it was just a concrete area, up some steps leading to these loading bay doors. I thought there’s no way I’m camping in the centre of a town, but pretended I was fine with it. We returned to the restaurant, I packed my stuff and left as though going to this alternative camping spot.

It was night-time by now. I decided to get back on to the Altravesur route and to find a wild-camp. I couldn’t be bothered to stop and put my bike lights on, so I rode just by, what I thought was the starlight, I think a full moon was probably behind me, as I could see very clearly.

Riding out of the town, it was deadly silent except for the sound of dogs barking as I passed each residence. Less than a kilometre into the route I found a gateway with a steel rope across it, that looked like it led to some unused land, so I ducked under it and set up camp there. By now it was around 11pm. I was slightly worried that I’d be spotted as I’d set off so many farm dogs barking, but luckily it was very windy, so I guessed that some of the barking was down to that, or that the dog owners would think that.

I had a good night’s sleep, waking around 6am, even though it had been very windy that night. I looked out of the tent and saw my first ever moon-set, the sky was black, the moon was yellow, it was beautiful, like the sun setting in the dark. I so wished I had a camera that could capture the scene.I had some breakfast and coffee then packed up camp and set-off before daylight. I didn’t want to get arrested for trespassing!


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