Archive for hiking

Cabo de Gata: Sea and Sun – and lots more

 

 

Like sun? Like nature? Like outdoor sports? Like lesser-known destinations, and don’t mind a longer drive or figuring out some transportation options?

 

 

Then consider Cabo de Gata, the southeast tip of Spain. Almost desert-dry, with the lowest rainfall in all of Europe, so your chances of warm, dry weather are pretty good most of the year, and there are things to do if the sun doesn’t shine during your entire stay.

So exactly where is this? Between Mojácar (south-ish on Spain’s east coast), and Almeria city (east-ish on Spain’s south coast), and everything east of a line through Níjar connecting the two places – plus a bit north of that line (Sorbas and Tabernas).

Cabo de Gata Natural Park: One of the main attractions of this area is the Cabo de Gata Natural park, declared in 1987. Thanks partly to park zoning, the coast between Mojácar and Almería has mostly escaped excessive development; farther back in time the lack of water also hindered development, so now you can enjoy a relatively pristine coast. “Relatively” pristine, as ironically, the park did bring some rather unfortunate building in urban areas, along with much needed money from increased tourism. Hopefully the park zoning and environmentalist interest will help guide the area’s development in the future.

So what’s to see?

Along the coast

— Villages or man-made: Mojácar, charming white village on a hill overlooking the sea. Agua Amarga (south of Mojácar) and Cabo de Gata (south coast, east of Almeria), two old fishing villages, now developed but still with a bit of old flavor. Cabo de Gata lighthouse on southeasternmost tip, placement and view. Cabo de Gata saltpans, probably used in Roman times and still in operation; saltpans are between lighthouse and village. Almeria city, castle and Cathedral built on site of a 10th century mosque; can see bits of mosque but not as spectacular as Córdoba. Almeria city also has a museum with some archeological artifacts from the area, though the best pieces are in Madrid.

— Nature: View from Mesa Roldan lookout. Rock formations, all along eastern coast but especially between San José and the lighthouse, in the sea and on the beaches. Crater of old volcano, northwest of Los Escullos. Flamingos and other bird life in salt pans near Cabo de Gata village. Sand dunes, especially Playa de los Genoveses. Best beaches: Monsul and Genoveses beaches near San Jose. Agua Amarga beach, small but nice, and beaches south of that village, some only accessible on foot at low tide. El Playazo, near Rodalquilar village. Cabo de Gata village beach is long but rather rocky. Some nice beaches near Carboneras (east coast) but nearby cement factory is a bit off-putting. Mojácar’s beaches are smallish and outside town. San Pedro nudist beach just north of Las Negras (nice walking path to get there, 40 minutes); this used to be a lovely, almost pristine beach but has some issues now –illegal bars, “alternative lifestyle” settlement that is not terribly respectful of the environment.

Inland

— Villages or man-made: Near Tabernes: several US – Western town film sets remaining from the 1950-1970’s era of “paella westerns”, host to stars like Clint Eastwood, Brigitte Bardot, Harrison Ford, Raquel Welch and others. Nijar village, one of largest in the area and typical of inland Almeria. “Norias” or water-wheels to draw water for irrigation from underground, one of the best is in Pozo de los Frailes. Abandoned gold mines near Rodalquilar. Cortijo del Fraile ruins near Rodalquilar, site of the events described in Federico Garcia Lorca’s tragedy Bodas de Sangre (Blood Wedding). Archaeological sites (prehistoric and Roman), interesting for history buffs.

— Nature: Tabernas desert, limestone “karst” formations around Sorbas: at least Aguas and Covadura caves, also some gorges so narrow they look like caves.

Environment / sports: There are lots of opportunities for activities in nature (diving, kayaking, hiking, cycling, horseback riding, caving in Sorbas) BUT please remember this is a natural park in a fragile environment, with permit requirements or restrictions for some activities. As always, leave no litter, and if you see any left by less considerate visitors, perhaps you could do a good deed and pick it up. Information on active travel companies in links below.

Shopping: Traditional crafts include ceramics (often cream and blue, some greens and grays). Rag rugs called “jarapas”: these rugs were often used on beds to protect the bedspread. Woven grass mats and baskets. “Indalo” fertility goddess symbol, a stylized stick figure with outspread arms. Good places for shopping: Níjar, Sorbas, Mojácar, San José.

When to go: October – May, with early June and late September a possibility though with higher temperatures. I have swum in the ocean in December (and don’t consider myself especially fond of cold water). BUT….. If it rains, it (usually) pours: Yes, this is the driest part of Europe, but when it rains, it is often a downpour that can cause flash floods. Notice the number of no-bridge stream crossings, where minor paved or unpaved roads dip down over a gully. Heavy rains can and do fill these empty gullies with roaring rivers (hard to believe but true). If that happens, do not try to drive across what was yesterday a dry gully. Ask locals about alternative routes, or even better, ask local police or Guardia Civil; they’ll be in charge of any rescue operations so give them a chance to stop the rescue situation before it happens.

Best villages to stay: Mojacar, Agua Amarga, Las Negras, Rodalquilar (a little inland), San Jose, Cabo de Gata all have hotels of different styles and prices.

How to get there: By car: Fastest but less scenic: southeast to Murcia, then south through Lorca; this is the best route if you plan to stay in Mojácar or Agua Amarga. Most scenic, more challenging driving: to Granada then south through Sierra Nevada and southeast to Almeria through the Alpujarra mountains on smaller roads (several possible routes). Other transportation: Almería station is centralized for train and bus. Madrid – Almeria is a very long trip, so direct bus not a good idea, but Alsa buses run from Jaen, Granada, Sevilla and Malaga. Renfe has direct Madrid – Almeria train service, usually one or two trains a day, sometimes more April-September (www.renfe.es); alas, the convenient night train seems to have disappeared. Almeria does have an airport, and flights may be cheaper than the train. Many towns in this area are connected to Almeria by bus, so if you don’t plan to move around much, public transportation is possible.

And last but definitely not least, that question you may be asking yourself: Why is this called Cape Girl-kitty? And the answer is: the name doesn’t come from “cat” but from “agate” (semi-precious stone) that used to be found along the coast. And yes, if you know your rocks and you’re really lucky, you still might find an agate or two.
Websites for more information / pre-trip planning: English version not always available or complete.

https://www.cabogataalmeria.com/ Good general site with lots of links, well organized. This would be my first pick. On this site, info on the “Western” towns: http://www.cabogataspain.com/Gata-Nature-Reserve/Activities/Leisure/Western-Village-Tabernas.html

Other sites:
www.cabodegata-nijar.es
www.degata.com
https://www.turismodealmeria.org

http://www.museosdeandalucia.es/cultura/museos/MAL/      Website for Almeria Archaeological museum.

https://www.turismodealmeria.org/prepara-tu-viaje/como-llegar/    Some info on bus lines in the province of Almeria.

More information, once you’re there:
Park visitor’s center: Centro de Interpretación de la Naturaleza Las Amoladeras,
Highway AL-3115, Tramo Retamar-Pujaire Km. 7.

Other places for additional information (park or general tourism), take your pick here: https://www.cabogataalmeria.com/Cabo-Gata/Parque-Natural/Puntos-Informacion.html

 

Hike Like a Girl

Hike in a skirt? Really? The same thing you wear for dress-up days at the office, to church, out on a special night on the town?

Yes. Oh my yes. I’m a total convert.

Hiking skirts came across my screen many years ago and I sort of laughed off the idea, but it stuck in the back of my hiking-brain. Last year I did my first serious forays into the world of skirt-hiking. It only took a few days on the trail to realize what I’d been missing all along.

And we’re talking skirts, not skorts. Skorts are fine for many things, excellent for travel or if skirts just feel too airy for you in some situations. Skorts also let you go with a shorter length, if that’s what you want. But when it comes to hiking, skirts have some real advantages over skorts, shorts and long trousers.

 

So why hike in a skirt?

–   Ease of pee: it’s a lot easier to flip up a skirt and drop the undies than to unsnap, unzip and drop trousers or shorts as well as the undies. It’s also faster and more discrete – less likely you’ll get caught showing the unshowable if you’re wearing a skirt.  And wedgies? Less likely in a skirt, less noticeable and easier to fix.  Ummm.  Some women even talk about going commando (no undies). I’m not ready for that, at least not yet and maybe never, especially in a knee-length skirt.  But it’s an idea.

–   Temperature regulation: in the summer skirts are much cooler than shorts. In cool weather, wear with leggings, and if it gets warm, just pull off the leggings without having to change everything.

–   Less washing: Since skirts are less in contact with your body (especially the sweaty part of lower body) they stay cleaner for longer.

–   Go everywhere. If you are on a multi-day hike / cultural trip and trying to pack light, a skirt goes more places than shorts or even trousers. Yes, you can wear trousers or shorts many places, but not in all countries or all situations. And even if there are no cultural issues, skirts are nicer and you might feel better at a restaurant or cultural sight wearing a skirt, especially if your other option is shorts (because skirts are almost always cuter than shorts, right?)

 

Making your trail skirt selection:

–   Length: Best is between just above the knee and about mid-calf: shorter and you need to be careful about sitting down or legging up on the trail, longer and you might trip over it – unless there’s an easy way to shorten temporarily like the Macabi skirt.

–   Style: too straight / tight will restrict movement, extremely loose may get tangled on trailside vegetation. Some of the straight designs have kick pleats or shaped hem that gives a little more freedom of movement, but generally speaking flared, gathered or with gores are a better choice. Especially good: a style that is not too obviously for the trail – or at least something you feel ok about off-trail if you will be doing any multi-faceted trips.

–   Waistband: many skirts are designed to ride on the hips instead of the waist – is that ok for you? Some skirts have fold over knit waistbands instead of woven waistband – that probably means pull-on style and adjustable length by folding over the waistband – is that ok with you? If the skirt has a waistband and zipper, look at zipper placement: zippers and buttons in the back or side might not be comfortable wearing a big pack and hunky waist belt. Personally I prefer a real waistband with belt loops, letting me adjust the waist size with a tug on the belt -on long hikes my waist measurement can vary somewhat, so having a real waistband and a belt (just one tug to change size) is better for me – but a waistband and belt is just a bother for other women.

–   Fabric: As for any trail clothes, all cotton is not the best because when it gets wet (sweat, rain, washing) it takes forever to dry. Better to look for blends of some cotton but more synthetic , or a technical textile like supplex nylon – feels almost like cotton but zap dries (technical textiles are not as cool as natural textiles, but zap-dry is a real advantage). Some trail skirts are wool, which I’ve never used but people who have absolutely rave about wool (cool, warm, doesn’t get stinky, etc) . Some trail skirts are knit, which I probably would avoid because knits usually take a little longer to dry, snag more easily (brambles, oh dear), and get stretched out or baggy more quickly than woven fabrics.

–   Pockets: Yes, yes and yes. It’s especially nice to have at least one security pocket closing with a zipper or snaps. Check pocket design and location – will the pockets interfere with a big pack? Are the cargo pockets nicely designed and in a place where they don’t emphasize the widest part of the anatomy?

 

Try skirt hiking before you buy: If this is starting to sound like a good idea but you’re still not sure, check your closet. Maybe you have a skirt to test the idea on a few day hikes: pick something you already have that is more or less right for the job and go for a hike, maybe with shorts or trousers in your pack in case it really doesn’t work. And if it really doesn’t work, ask yourself why. Are trail skirts just not for you, or was your skirt not the right thing? If it was the skirt, what wasn’t right?

What I’ve used: Macabi original skirt and Kuhl Splash skirt. For me, the first is better for spring and fall, it’s a little hot for summer in Spain (though I love it for general travel in the summer). For summer hiking my favorite is the Kuhl Splash skirt (thanks to the person who clued me in, you know who you are). It’s cool, cute and the right shape for my body – only negative aspect is that it has a little too much cotton so it takes a little longer to dry. Alas, this skirt has been discontinued, you still might find on dealers like Campmor, Sierra Trading Post or Zappos.

Some brand names for hiking skirts: Some of these are general sportswear manufacturers so you may need to filter a little to find the skirts (no websites, sorry, but a quick google will turn up any of these, perhaps adding the word skirt if you don’t find on the first try): Purple Rain / Macabi / Sierra Designs / Mountain Hardware / Patagonia / Exofficio / Kühl / Columbia / Marmot / Royal Robbins

Can’t find what you want on these sites, or looking for deals? Look on end-of-line places like Campmor, Sierra Trading Post, Zappos, Moosejaw, Shoebuy.

Not thrilled with the style of the hiking skirts you see, though you really like the idea of hiking in a skirt? Look at the more general sites for travel or urban leisure clothing like Travelsmith, Lands End, LL Bean. Especially if you end up on one of these sites, before deciding what to get think how you’ll use your skirt. Fabric content and pockets (for example) are less important on a skirt for day hikes than for long, self-contained through hikes.

Not just for girls: Some secure and forward thinking men have posted their skirt-hiking experience on websites and gear reviews. Ease of pee is not an issue; most have tried and liked skirt hiking because it’s so much cooler –avoiding what some call “crotch rot”

GR PR SL

GR in Soria, a personal favorite

GR in Soria, a personal favorite

What? Is this some kind of code?

Sort of – though most Euro-hikers are already smiling. These cryptic letters are for the network of European walking trails: GR for Gran Recorrido (long distance), PR for Pequeño Recorrido (short distance) and SL for Senda Local (local trail).

This network of trails is mostly in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain and the official trails are certified by the regional or national organization that manages walking and hiking in each country. The signage is the same in all countries, and some of the trails are international.

Theoretically these routes have few if any technical difficulties (no scrambling or extremely steep climbs) so they are accessible for almost everyone. Theoretically the routes access towns or other supply points frequently so there’s no need to carry huge amounts of food on long trails.  And theoretically the signage is so easy to follow that walkers don’t need to worry about getting lost.

In practice, here in Spain the trails range from fabulously laid out and marvelously signed to anything but: challenging mountain trails suitable only for fit and experienced hikers, or virtually unmarked trails are not unusual in Spain.

Part of that problem is specifically Spanish: recreational walking is relatively new in Spain, while other European countries have been walking for fun for much longer.  (The flip side of that: due to underdevelopment and relative isolation, many traditional footpaths and cart roads were in regular use in Spain until the 1960’s, so right-of-ways still in place and walking trails easy to re-create.)

Another possible issue:  in Spain the walking trails are under the mountaineering federation, often more interested in high-adrenaline sports like technical climbing and peak-bagging, while in France there’s a specific federation for walking.  Also, on long-distance trails different regional federations or organizations must coordinate marking trails, not always easy to manage.

And last but of course not least, part of the problem is money – it’s expensive to lay out and mark a trail, and sometimes there is no money left over to maintain signage once a trail is created.

But in spite of the issues, these trails are a wonderful option for walkers, a great way to discover rural Spain.  Just do your research ahead of time, take maps and any additional information you can, and of course follow all the usual safety procedures for walking and hiking.

Read on to learn more

PR blaze in upper Manzanares valley (Madrid)

PR blaze in upper Manzanares valley (Madrid)

Where to go:  see list at the end for information on these trails. There is a huge difference in the number of trails and how they’re managed between Spanish regions:  Catalunya is where it all started (1974, no less) and they still have more trails and more fondness for walking than most regions.  Most of Spain’s north has good trails, and there are some excellent trail systems in central Spain, most notably provinces of Soria, Burgos and Valladolid, possibly due to specific, forward-thinking individual or local development groups.

Signage:  All three trails use the same kind of signage painted on trees, rocks or sometimes vertical signposts:  two horizontal stripes, the top one white and underneath color for the trail system.  Turnoffs or changes in direction should be signed with white right-angle marker next to the stripes, or by right-angling the stripes themselves. At crossroads, the wrong direction should be signed with an X, one arm white and the other arm the color for the trail system. Altogether this painted signage can be called flashes, waymarks or blazes.

GR / Gran Recorrido (long distance).  Blazes: Red and white. Distance: usually over 50 kilometers (31 miles), though might be a little shorter if there are some challenging parts.  Spain has more than 120 long distance trails: the longest is the GR7 from Andorra to Tarifa, 2,699 kilometers (1,677 miles), part of a trans-European trail that continues to Athens.  The GR10 crosses northern Madrid on its way between Valencia and  Lisbon; at 1,600 kilometers (994 miles) it’s one of the country’s longest. Other long trails follow the Ebro or Duero river, but most of the GR trails are 80 – 300 kilometers  (50 – 186 miles) long.

PR / Pequeño Recorrido (short distance). Blazes: yellow and white. Distance:  usually 10-50 kilometers (6-31 miles).  Sometimes these routes are loops off the longer GR trails, sometimes traditional routes between villages and sometimes more hiking than walking. A quick look at the list of PR in Madrid (see below) was a bit of a shock: I know the mountains quite well and signage for some of the trails listed is not in place, or just barely.  (eeek!)

SL/ Senda Local (local trail).  Blazes: green and white. Distance: usually under 10 kilometers. This kind of trail is less frequent, probably because the requirements for certifying a short trail are more trouble than most local organizations can manage, when they have the option of creating their own trail system outside the European network.

More information

GR / Gran Recorrido (Long distance), list of trails sorted by number. Many have links for additional information, though initially no information on region, easy to find by clicking on link for trails.  http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gran_Recorrido

PR / Pequeño Recorrido (Short distance), list of trails sorted by region.  Most trails do not have links for additional information, but knowing where trails are located you can find more on internet or at regional mountaineering federation.   http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peque%C3%B1o_Recorrido

More info, though irregular in quantity and quality:  Google Federacion de Montaña together with the name of the province or region that interests you most.

Hiking safety, basic tips at www.apinderinspain.com  Mouseover Travel Tips to find Hiking Smarts

 

Road of St. James – Back in Madrid

Santiago de Compostela: Officially pilgrims!

Santiago de Compostela: Officially pilgrims!

 

 

Past pilgrims know the meaning of the photo above – it’s official, we’re all pilgrims! They’ve changed the system a bit – no more waiting on the stairs, the checkin desks are at the back of the courtyard. That’s good as long as it isn’t raining, if wet it would be soggy. And…. new layout makes it easier for people to cut in line. Someone tried it on us but between Julie and I we cut her off at the pass.

Now back in Madrid and going through withdrawal – want to walk! This always happens – need to get out for a stroll before bed.

Also have empty nest syndrome – where are my pilgrims, 1 to 9? This is also usual. Hard to cold-turkey on walking and being mom-for-a-week.

Yesterday wandered Santiago’s lovely old quarter, visited the Cathedral museum, visited too many jewelry stores (browsing mostly, well…….). Lunch was a last yummy caldo gallego soup and octopus on the less touristy side of Azebacheria street, fewer shops but nicer walking if shops are not the main objective.

Night train back to Madrid shared a compartment with three about-my-age English sisters who had walked from Leon in two weeks, in remembrance of their walking mother. They loved Cebreiro and Foncebadon passes. We had a good chat and I gave them some pointers for their day in Madrid.

Blogging summary…. this is fun, but it’s definitely a challenge when out of Madrid. Internet connection is not great at most of the Road hotels, don’t have a lot of extra time and this year I’m still on a learning curve with my new tablet. Definitely need more practice.

Buen Camino!

(originally posted early June 2014, just after return from weeklong trip on the Road)