• Hans Faber

Reservoir Dogs and Oranges: hiking in Andalusia


The last two weeks of 2021, one of the Frisian bastards hiked most of the Andalucían Coast to Coast Walk in Spain. A hike from Nerja to Bolonia. From the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. As hikers of the Frisia Coast Trail, any long-distance coast-to-coast path is attractive. Moreover, hiking through the countryside of Andalusia gives you the opportunity to taste some of the spirit of the andaluces, the Andalusians. A taste without vegetables, though. Produce is not part of the region's staple. In total the bastard hiked 250 kilometres in 12 days, with a daily average of 600 metres climbing and descending. Quite doable. Besides the corona pandemic, it was also off season too. The entire walk, the bastard met only a handful of fellow hikers.


Preparations for this trip had been poor. With the corona pandemic still scaring the hell out of the world, justified or not, planning too far ahead was not an option. Flights might be cancelled, sudden restrictions in the country of destination concerning lodging, supermarkets, food and/or restaurants, or public transport etc. But, it was possible to go at the end of December. So, the bastard bought a flight ticket to Málaga last minute and made some reservations for accommodation for the first legs of the trail. Due to corona, finding lodging was not an issue, unless premises were closed. Once in Andalusia, corona restrictions practically were non-existent.


Part of the bad planning was that the bastard had assumed the trail was waymarked. No, not the case with this coast-to-coast walk. Indeed, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions and assumptions. Luckily, the bastard realized his thoughtlessness the night before in his hotel in the centre of Málaga. Publisher Cicerone offers digital guides including GPX files which you can (buy and) download on your smartphone. This turned out not be a luxury. Several long stretches through woods and rough hills without a path really demanded GPS if you wanted to find your way, as we will see further below. Google Maps would not have been sufficient.



The bastard started hiking at the village of Riogordo and finished at the town of Los Barrios. That was thirteen days on the trail with one day rest. A taxi from Málaga dropped him there early in the morning. Most of the trail was in rural area. That meant also, except for three occasions, there was never a possibility along the way for refreshments. The villages you stay at during the Andalucían Coast to Coast Walk are mostly dotted in valleys, hugged against mountains, and filled with charming houses painted white. Ronda, with its amazing high bridge and its old plaza de toros ‘bullfighting arena’, was the only significant town during the hike. When visiting the plaza de toros, one can easily imagine Ernest Hemingway in the stands watching the bullfight in the Roarin' 20s.


 

Tasting the spirit of Mediterranean Spain - Northerners like to think they are the rougher type of Europeans. Maybe they are, but not in the morning when compared to the Andalusians' and Valencians living on the countryside. At the village of Montejaque the bastard stayed at the local inn annex bar-cafe. In the morning before 08:00 o'clock already, the bar is filled with men before they go off to work. The eat maybe a sandwich, have a coffee, ánd have several shots of local spirits. The liquor bottles are placed on the counter by the innkeeper for his customers to help themselves. Before they leave in their cars to go to work, they settle the bill. It is identical to the experience the bastard had when he hiked the Els Ports Loop in province Valencia in 2014. Well, chew on that fellow northmen!

 

The landscape was varied. Stretches with hills, skirting the sierras ‘mountains’ las Cabras, del Torcal, de la Chimenea, de Huma, Blanquilla, de la Hidalga, del Palo, de Juan Diego etc. Besides these mountains, you walk along ancient drovers, through fields with orange trees, through hills with olive trees, and through thick forests with cork trees. Some stone pine forests as well. The rougher stretches, and there was plenty of it, consisted of crossing woodlands and rugged vegetation, and sometimes a bit of steep climbing. The animals you come across are, of course cattle and many sheep, but also deer, marten (with big plumes on their tails), and really countless vultures.


Reservoir Dogs

One thing the bastard had to get used to, were the many dogs. Really every house or farm on the countryside has one or many dogs. Nearly all of them large, watchful, and very aggressive. Carrying walking poles suddenly had an additional function. Reading and understanding dogs was never a talent this bastard possessed in his life. And to be honest, everyone who would see these mouth-foaming dogs will fear them. Imagine, hiking all alone early in the morning when it is still dark, approaching a building and you hear several dogs going berserk because they hear or smell you coming. Taking a detour does not work. You can only hope and pray the animals are behind proper, well-maintained fences, or on a chain. If not, you would not stand a chance. For this reason, owners had nearly always taken care of this. To avoid serious accidents.


In fact, only a few times the bastard was confronted with dogs running loose. Two of these encounters were threatening but went well at the end. Both happened early in the morning, and in a village. When maybe the owners thought nobody would be on the street yet. His walking poles did help to keep the dogs at bay. One other encounter started with anxiety but turned out to be friendly:


It was during the stretch between the village of El Burgo to the town of Ronda. A cloudy and foggy day that ended with rain. After following the rio ‘river’ Turón for a long time, through forested mountains and after crossing the pass Puerto de Lifa at 1,100 metres, the bastard had to cross an open grass land belonging to a farm. Because of the low clouds, there was only about fifteen metres visibility tops. And yes, the bastard heard a dog barking in the distance. The sound came closer, closer and closer. “It is running loose! No doubt about!” the bastard thought. Only, he could not see a thing. Suddenly, jumping out the fog, there was a big white, long-haired hound. But with its tail pointing up, sweeping to all sides. It was friendly. The dog smelled at the bastard and happily ran away again. Back into the clouds. Leaving the bastard relieved behind to continue his path with his heartbeat on a lower pace again.


Naranja & Arancia


Somehow, oranges were another reoccurring thing during this hike. Already on the third day, during the leg between the villages Villanueva de la Concepción and Valle de Abdalajis. When the bastard got thirsty, because he carried too little water, he found out of nowhere a perfect juicy orange lying on the ground. In the ditch next to the track. Literally the hikers' saying: the path will provide. It did. From that moment on, the bastard mysteriously had an insatiable appetite for oranges which would last the whole trek. Every occasion the bastard could get his hands on a few oranges, he did. “Una arancia por favor,” he would ask for days. Until one day, a polite shopkeeper explained to the bastard he could also ask for it in the Spanish language by using the word naranja instead of arancia, which was in fact Italian. "Rude northerner," everyone must have thought all previous occasions.


It was on the last day of the hike that things really got tricky. It was the stretch between the village Castillo de Castellar and the town Los Barrios. That day, the bastard had no GPX files on his smartphone because they lacked on the website of Cicerone. But the route ought to be quite simple, the bastard estimated after consulting the map in the guide. So, no worries. Guide map and Google Maps would be fine. However, the whole situation of a part of the trail had changed, and the guide was outdated. The old route through orange orchards had been closed off for hikers in the meantime. A fence was placed and, of course, two big dogs barking aggressively behind it. The bastard thought to circumvent the orchards, through the forest next to it. But the orchards were huge, the forest confusing, and the reception of the smartphone poor.


After maybe an hour of endless going back and forth in the forest, trying to find a passage more or less the direction the bastard had to go, he gave up. The bastard finally decided to illegally climb over the fence of the orchard farm, far from the entrance with the dogs, and to sneak through the orange trees to the other side where the trail had to be somewhere. It was really scary. Everywhere workers in little vehicles, and the bastard secretly moving from one row of trees to the next one. He could clearly hear the men talk. Terrified that watch dogs would notice the intruder and attack. It went well. After fifteen minutes of walking on tiptoe through the orange trees, the bastard climbed over another fence to get out. He was safe again!


However, yet another obstacle had to be taken. A high fence with barbed wire was waiting for the bastard at the railroad. This turned out to be reason why the coast-to-coast trail had changed its course. There used to be railroad crossing, but it had been closed off and fenced. Apparently, the farmstead had closed off its orchard as well, to avoid hikers pointlessly running around everywhere without ever being able to reach the trail. There was only one option left. Getting across the high fences on both sides of the railway track. With all the warning signs on it that doing this was forbidden by law. The bastard managed to climb over them, He was back on track.


Soon after the illegal railway crossing, a reward was waiting on the trail. It was one of the few times the bastard found a restaurant along the way. Vente Juan Carlos was the name of the eating place, and they served hot tortilla sandwiches and cold beer! The waiters were dressed in traditional black and white, did not speak any English but still wanted to know where the bastard was from. "Los Países Bajos," the bastard explained. The men in black responded with saying the name Cruijff, and followed by a serious question with serious faces. Whether the bastard preferred Barcelona or Madrid? He chose to say "Madrid". Both men cheered. Now the bastard could enjoy his food and drinks.

 


Note 1 - In (pre-) early-medieval Frisia, there were dogs everywhere too. From big war dogs to small dogs that sit on your lap. Read our post How to bury your mother-in-law.


Note 2 - This hike fits a series of semi long-distance walks in the territories of Europe’s autochthonous minorities in an effort to experience, understand their landscape and culture. Exactly where the Frisia Coast Trail is all about. For this reason bastards hiked the Cape Wrath Trail in northern Scotland (read our posts "My God, the Germans bought all the bread!" cried Moira and A Horsewoman from Harlingen in the Scottish Highlands), the GR20 dissecting on altitude the island of Corsica (read our post Support for the Corsican Cause in jeopardy), and the Pembrokeshire Coast Path in Wales (read our post Croeso i Gerddwyr).


Note 3 - For more pictures of this trip, check this link.



Suggested music

Beach Boys, Help Me Ronda (1965)

George Baker Selection, Little Green Bag (1970)


Further reading

Butler, S., Hiking in Spain (2010)

Hemingway, E., The Sun Also Rises (1926)

Hunter-Watts, G., The Andalucían Coast to Coast Walk. From the Mediterranean to the Atlantic through Spain’s Baetic Mountains (2018)

Nichols, F., Andalusië (2000)

Noble, J. & Forsyth, S., Andalucía (1999)