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I actually carried more maps than what is listed below, because I wasn't sure as the accuracy of some of the GPX files I was using. See the GR7, GR8 and GR10 trail guides for current GPX tracks and electronic overview maps. Those electronic overview maps allow dispensing with the IGN 1:200K paper maps.
My airline ticket has long since been bought and all other preparations completed, but I won't be leaving for Spain until end of the month. Getting increasingly antsy. Four weeks is the max I need to recuperate after one tour before starting the next, and it is now exactly four weeks since I got back from my Mojave tour. There were good reasons I had to come back early from that tour. Namely, an order I had to place with Thorn Bicycles in England and various modifications to my gear. However, in the future, as my system of gear maintenance becomes perfected and I build up a good collection of spare parts and consumables and hence don't have to order so frequently, I need to keep in mind that one month is the max I can stay here in Reno before getting antsy. Those who can be happy staying home and watching the boob tube are the lucky ones, whereas I am forced to move if I want to avoid suffocating and slowly dying inside. "I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move."--R.L.Stevenson.
Speaking of stationary, what madness that idea of buying and especially building a house was! [See previous trip report for details.] Just the thing to make me permanently stationary. Thankfully, I appear to be cured at this point of the madness.
Still not sure as to what I'm going to do in Spain when I get there. I don't want to bring a bunch of guidebooks, because they are very heavy. But loose paper maps are precious and hard-to-obtain, so I'll bring everything I have just in case. Too bad that GR4 book has the maps bundled into the guidebook. Loose maps are much better for my purposes. Maybe I should do a pilgrim's trail in lieu of these hiking trails?
Busy trying to track down GPX files for Spain. The usual story of disorganization, duplication of effort, and general incompetence, with occasional heroic efforts to overcome the forces of entropy and produce something of value. I probably should have recorded my own GPX files during previous hikes.
The large-scale topo maps I currently have cover quite a bit of territory: GR7 and related trails in Catalonia; GR10 in Valencia; GR8/GR10 in Teruel; GR10 and related trails in Castille y León and Extremadura; GR12 in eastern Portugal. Fill in the gap with GPX trails for the GR10 in Guadalajara and Communidad Madrid, add some other routes in Catalonia and I'd have at least 3 months worth of hiking available, and that doesn't even count the pilgrim's trails, which are actually the best-organized trails in Spain.
In the long run, I think the solution is an overview map of the entire Spanish hiking trail system, which I managed to obtain, plus 1:250K paper topo maps, plus GPS loaded with 1:25K topo maps for all of Spain, and finally my own GPX track files and electronic guidebooks. That would allow me to dispense with carrying all these large-scale paper maps and printed guidebooks, and also give me the flexibility to change plans on the fly.
Variety is nice, but one has to be careful not to get caught up with the "trail-bagging" mentality. The best approach is to join together a dozen or so medium or long trails into an intersecting network which can be hiked in a multitude of different ways. Compare with a single linear trail, which sometimes gives me the feeling of a rat stuck on a treadmill.
Having second thoughts about this whole European hiking business. Lots of work to get over there, and for what? My thinking was that I need something to do in the spring, but bicycle touring in the American southwest is unpleasant then due to the wind, and hiking in Europe was always more enjoyable for me than hiking in the United States, other than the southern PCT. But maybe I've changed so that the hiking in Europe is no longer so enjoyable. Certainly I'm not feeling the enthusiasm I used to feel prior to trips to Europe. Also, that I stayed home in the United States the past two years suggests something about flagging interest in foreign travel. For example, in looking at my trip report for last spring, it appears I was very quick to abandon my Europe travel plans because of some sort of payment difficulties. That sounds like a person who wasn't too keen on those travel plans to begin with. As for 2011, I'm not sure why I stayed in the United States then.
Managed to get a full GPX tracks for the GR7 and most of the GR10, plus I have maps for the GR10 for all but Guadalajara and Madrid provinces. Plan now is to proceed directly south from Igualada, which can be easily reached from Plaça de España in Barcelona via the hourly Route 6 train, then follow the GR172 to GR7, switch to the GR171 at Montblanc (since the GR171 is further into the mountains than the GR7), GR8 at Puertos de Beceite, GR10 at Camarena de la Sierra, and from there follow the GR10 west. Then walk the GR10 variants in the sistema central and finally turn around and walk backwards towards Madrid until I run out of time.
I think part of what was getting on my nerves a few days back was this feeling of obligation with respect to the GR4 and GR15. That is, since I had the guidebooks/maps in hand, and had never walked these trails before, I felt obligated to walk them so as to add to the list of trails that I've "bagged". Which is foolish, since I get no pleasure from impressing people with such a list. On the contrary, what gives me the most pleasure is a small number of quality trails that I can repeat over and over, getting more familiar with the terrain and resupply and lodging options each time. Quality over quantity. The path I outlined above may be all I need in Spain. If it turns out to be too cold, then switch to starting in the south of Spain and follow the GR7 north until the intersection with the GR10.
Spent a lot of time thinking about batteries, since I plan to do some GPS track recording. Aside from being expensive for extended use like this, lithium batteries do not show battery life correctly, since voltage doesn't drop until just before the battery is about to die, and that might cause me to miss recording some sections of trail. Whereas NiMH and alkaline both show battery life gradually decreasing, making it easy to know when to replace batteries. The NiMH charger is bulky, but it might work out okay. If not, then just chuck it and go with disposable alkalines. Main thing is to always have some spare batteries on hand and to keep the GPS warm when recording if using alkaline, since alkaline batteries don't work well in cold weather.
Also, spent more time playing with Nexus7 tablet. Much more powerful than the Nokia N8 for web browsing and as an e-reader, but not a replacement since it lacks voice capabilities and a rear-facing camera. Nor am I keen on the extra weight and bulk. What I really need is a "phablet", like the Samsung Galaxy Note or HTC One, plus add-on offline maps, at least for hiking in Europe, where weight and space are issues, and electronics needs to be carefully protected from rain. For desert bike touring in the United States, not a problem to carry both phone and tablet.
I'm becoming increasingly disenchanted with the Nexus7 tablet: LCD screen more tiring for extended e-reading than either the e-ink screen on the Kindle or the much larger LCD screen on my laptop; Firefox and Chrome browsers alike fail to work on many websites unless I use "desktop mode" and even then they are flaky; data entry tedious; doesn't run many programs I need. In other words, a tablet cannot replace a laptop with keyboard, at least for someone like me, nor can it replace the phone, since it lacks voice capabilities, and this Nexus7 tablet in particular lacks a good camera. So the final result is just more clutter in my life. I should probably sell both the tablet and the Kindle and then buy a "phablet", though the only real improvement over the Nokia N8 would be better web browsing and use as e-reader, plus a decent calculator and other minor apps.
Thoughts drifting again towards buying land in the desert somewhere and building a house. Madness, of course, since I dislike the idea of owning a motor vehicle and yet how am I supposed to build and then maintain a house in a remote location without a truck? This is what comes from sitting around doing nothing while waiting for my flight. I never developed nor am I interested in developing any other hobbies besides reading and traveling. But reading is becoming increasingly difficult, other than skimming the internet for information that is of immediate use, such as news that affects my investments, latest developments in smartphone/tablet/computer technology and camping gear, etc. So that leaves travel as the only thing left to absorb my energy. Too much time on my hands sitting here doing nothing. I need to be on the move.
Noticed huge crack in sole of left boot. Not sure when I started wearing this pair of boots. Maybe only six months ago, which means they haven't lasted very long. Details here. Replaced with another pair from storage. Good thing I noticed this before flying off to Spain.
Finished reading Fire and Sword in the Sudan, a personal account of fighting and serving the dervishes 1879-1895 by Rudolf C Slatin (1896), an Austrian who enlisted in the Ottoman military as an officer (hence Slatin Bey as his honorific name). See also Ten Years' Captivity in the Mahdi's Camp (1882-1892) by Father Joseph Ohrwalder (1892), an Austrian Catholic missionary (serving the black Christian slaves, since the Arabs were all Moslems) and The River War by Sir Winston Churchill (1902, abridged edition). All three books out-of-copyright and available for free via Google books or Gutenberg.org. Slatin's personality is the most sympathetic to me of the three authors, so his memoir is my favorite. Though I'm restless to where I can't just vegetate in front of the boob tube, I thank my lucky stars that I don't need to seek out "adventure" to cure my restlessness. An easy hiking trip to Spain is plenty adequate for me.
I wonder what I would do if I ever found myself in Slatin's position, having to constantly flatter a murderous tyrant to keep from being killed or mutilated (right hand and left foot sliced off with a butcher knife, a traditional Islamic punishment, search YouTube for some recent examples in Iran): "The proof of God's goodness is that he has put a man like you to rule over us! Allah be praised that I have been allowed to join the true believers under your wise and merciful leadership!" Would I really kill myself to escape such an existence? Or would I cling to life like everyone else? Easy to talk about suicide if and when the going gets tough, but look what happened when I had that kidney stone such that I began to feel life was no longer worth living. Though granted, I was pretty certain the stone would soon pass. Both Slatin and Ohrwalder remark that the most miserable of the Khalifa's subjects, those condemned to the prison, never committed suicide (though many of them died from other causes). Similarly, survivors of Nazi concentration camps recall few suicides by fellow inmates. Suicide would thus appear to be self-indulgent luxury, only available to those with nothing to worry about besides the meaningless of human existence.
Moved out of the motel where I've been staying for over a month now, and into another, to make sure I had packed correctly. Feels good to be on the move again.
Greyhound bus from Reno to San Francisco ($17.50), then BART subway to airport ($8.50), then flight to Barcelona via London leaving at 7:45pm ($857 round-trip, purchased via Kayak). Iberia booking, but both San Francisco to London and London to Barcelona segments flown by British Airways.
Plane landed in Barcelona about 7pm. Took the train to Sants station, checked into nearby Hostal Sans. 32€ for room with single bed, shower inside the room but toilet on next floor. Quiet inside, but howling winds and rain outside. Feeling headachey, as if from the onset of a cold. Flying is a nuisance, that's for sure, but what is the alternative? Even if I stayed in the United States and hiked the PCT or AT instead of coming to Spain, I'd still have to get to the starting point, which means either flying or an exhaustingly long bus trip. Need to accept that 1% of my life will be wasted in airports and airplanes in order to make the remaining 99% more enjoyable. A worthwhile tradeoff. Think of Slatin and Ohrwalder whenever I am tempted to complain of discomfort. Better yet, think of all those wretches discussed by both Slatin and Ohrwalder, with a hand and foot sliced off for some offense. Omdurman overrun with these cripples according to Ohrwalder. Mothers desperate to sell their children into slavery during the famine, lest they be snatched away and eaten by the desperate hordes who had turned to cannibalism for survival, heedless of the Khalifa's warning that those caught engaging in cannibalism would be punished by mutilation (loss of hand and foot).
Brought too much US currency and then lost $15 on the exchange. Should have either left the currency behind (best idea) or left it unconverted for when I return to the US. Make a note of this for next trip.
Illness is abating already. Still a stuffy feeling in my head, but the headache, coughing, sneezing and scratchy throat all gone. Managed to get some sleep last night despite the jet lag. Body and mind both feeling alive again after going sluggish during that six weeks in Reno. Movement is essential to me, I cannot emphasize that strongly enough.
Bought some 1:200K topo maps at Librería Quera, to supplement the maps on my GPS and smartphone, since it's hard to get an overview of the route on those small screens. I've never used these IGN provincial maps before, but they are exactly what I was hoping for. Librería Quera was unfortunately missing the 1:200K map for Teruel, so I stopped by Librería Altaïr to see if they might have it. Desolate atmosphere inside. A good indication of how bad the economic recession here is and which demographic groups are being hit hardest, since the typical customer at that bookstore is a college student or recent college graduate who wants to travel internationally on a moderate budget, say to South America or Nepal. Librería Quera was also empty, but that is to be expected, since that's a tiny shop focused on the Spanish hiking trail system and has never been crowded. Aside from the recession, there is also the factor of competition from internet-only retailers (Amazon and the like) plus the changeover from using paper books and maps to ebooks and GPS mapping. These travel bookstores need to focus more on selling gear, rather than books and maps exclusively. They would also be advised to have some sort of membership program to encourage customer loyalty and better compete with the internet retailers.
Guests in room next door kept me up most of the night with their chattering and arguing, then some noisy sex, then more chattering and arguing. Paper thin walls. Only reason hotel was quiet last night was because it was mostly empty. Last time I ever stay here. In the future, remember to get the hell out of Barcelona/Madrid as soon as possible. Don't even spent one night in those hellholes if not necessary. Of course, it was necessary to spend last night in Barcelona, so I could visit the bookstores today, but then I should have moved on to Igualada for tonight. Everything quieter, cheaper, cleaner away from big cities.
Took the train from Plaza España to Igualada. Clear and sunny, mild temps, a beautiful day to start my hike here in Spain. That howling wind Thursday night was from a storm, so the ground is damp. Followed a PR trail rather than the GR172, and ended up going way up and around some rugged hills. Camped on a dirt road in a patch of forest about 4km from Santa Margarida de Montbui. Body felt strong despite the lack of sleep. This is my first time using a mapping GPS here in Spain and I'm happy to say that everything is working fine.
One of my MSR 3-in-1 caps is leaking. Damaged threads evidently. Need to bring a spare for the entire cap rather than just the flip-top portion. The leak is very slow, so shouldn't be a problem if I keep the defective cap on the bottle rather than the bladder, since the bottle remains upright most of the time and isn't squeezed like the bladder is. If it does cause problems, I can just replace with 1.5L bottles from the grocery store.
Not sure about the mileage, since I didn't record before resetting the GPS trip computer. Also, I'm not sure as to the accuracy of that trip computer, but I'll nevertheless record distance traveled henceforth. No need to record speed or hiking time, since I know my natural hiking speed is a bit over 5km/hour, and given distance and hiking speed, easy to calculate hours hiked (though I also know my natural tendency is to hike 4 to 6 hours/day).
view from ermita mare de deu de collbas
Ice all over tarp, but bottle and bladder unfrozen. Sun soon warmed things up and I was in short sleeves by 10AM. A few patches of snow on shaded areas of trail at 500m altitude. Picked up water in Bellprat. No restaurants or stores in this area, so I'm eating my usual trail food: bread and cheese, milk chocolate, dry biscuits (Galletas María Integral), oranges.
Another short day, but I want to be careful with my feet lest I get blisters or other problems. Boots are brand-new and I'm out of hiking condition. Camped between Bellprat and Pontils on a field access road. That is, a dirt road which is used only to access fields and terminates in a field. So no risk of traffic in the night, no damage done to the crops (which would upset the farmers, remember that grass or hay is also a crop), flat, no rocks or bumps that cannot be smoothed out. Though not obvious from the photo below, I am concealed by a line of trees from the nearby thru-road. The woods surrounding the fields in the photo are totally unsuitable for camping because the vegetation is very dense and the ground is not level. And even I did miraculously find an open and level spot, it would probably be heavily used as a rest area by wild animals, and thus be tick-infested. Much of my camping in developed farming areas of Spain is on field access roads like this.
between bellprat and pontils
Cool with dry wind from east, temps above freezing. Sandwich at bar in Cabra del Camp. Checked into Hotel Pins in Prenafeta. 25€ for single occupancy of double room with bath. Very quiet because hotel empty except for me. Owner also sold me bread and olive oil for dinner for 1€ because I was out of food. Rechargeable NiMH batteries working nicely, so I decided to the chuck the alkalines I had brought as a backup. Future plan is to carry 6 high-capacity (2300mAh or better) batteries total: 2 in the GPS, 4 spares in the charger in my pack.
south of pontils
Rained heavily last night but stopped around 8am, thereafter cloudy and cool. Used the GR175 "Ruta del Cister" to get from Prenafeta to Montblanc. Checked into Fonda Bohèmia Riuot. 25€ for single occupancy of double room with bath. Noticed an energizer NiMH charger for sale at the store, but it has very long plugs for the European style socket, and these plugs are not foldable. Combination of foldable United States plugs plus US to European socket adapter is much more compact.
calle mayor in montblanc
walls of montblanc
Either still suffering from jetlag or maybe chocolate kept me up late. Slept a few hours, woke at 6:30am feeling refreshed, so maybe don't need much sleep these days. Drizzling outside. Trails converted into streams due to all the water. Had to move fast to avoid feeling chilled from being soaked. Checked into Restaurant La Botiga. 30€ for single occupancy of double room with bath.
plaza mayor in prades
Slept well and normally at last. Starting to realize I'm too early in the season and will likely hit snow at some point. Next time, take the GR7 north to Solsonés, then turn and take the GR171 south, so as to kill some time and avoid hitting the mountains too early. Or start the GR7 in Andalucía and walk north before turning west on the GR10 or GR8.
I had been using the belt clip to secure my GPS to my neckpurse, but it fell off twice today. The second time I didn't notice until I had walked 2km past the point where it fell off. So I had to backtrack and search for the GPS. Luckily, I found it. So much for that belt clip. I'll keep the GPS inside my neckpurse from now on. Almost as easy to access there. Losing the GPS would have been a disaster. Need to bring a spare GPS in the future. Unlikely to lose the GPS again, but definitely possible to break it by dropping on a rock or falling and smashing it between my body and a rock. Load both GPS's with GPX files and load one GPS with maps from the DVD and use the micro-SD card for the other (though probably possible to salvage the micro-SD card if the GPS breaks).
Later, I dropped my map because I inserted it between the neckpurse and my chest rather than inside the neckpurse. Again, had to backtrack about 2km when I noticed the loss. Wind is blowing hard, but luckily the map fell in a sheltered spot so didn't blow away. Need to be more careful.
Camped amidst pines, on a flat spot just off the trail, mostly sheltered from wind. No one else but me up here this time of year, especially with all the rain, wind and cold, so no need to conceal myself. Started to rain while I was setting up camp. Pitched the tarp high so as to be able to sit up while eating my biscuits. Gust of wind pulled a stake out later. Fortunately, the stake (secured attached to the guyline by a clove hitch knot) didn't boomerang and poke a hole in the tarp like it did several years ago on the PCT. Repitched the tarp lower and no further problems. So three mistakes for the day and I was lucky not to suffer permanent loss from any of these errors.
Wind ferocious up above. I could hear it all night whistling in the tree tops.
view from punto galera
Slept well and normally again, so jet lag is evidently over. Cool and clear in morning, should be warm by mid-day from sun. Picked up some food at the market in La Morera de Montsant. Cut through some thorns to avoid getting boots wet and ending up getting them wet anyway, and also tore both pants and shirt. These thorns are like those on rose bushes. Maybe they are roses, wild roses. Much worse than blackberry thorns. Sewed everything up in the evening. So yet again, I make a mistake but it has no permanent consequences. Made an early camp to allow time for the repair work.
Sky partly cloudy in morning. Lunch at El Racó restaurant in La Figuera. Woman charged me 24€ for fancy lunch, without wine, rather than giving me the regular lunch I wanted. I knew something like this was going to happen when I entered the restaurant, but didn't bother to object. Though I didn't much care for the price, the food was good. And really the money doesn't matter, since I'm spending nothing here due to camping so much. They need a system so tourists like me can wild camp in exchange for 5€/night to support the infrastructure. Somebody has to pay to keep the water in the fuentes running, after all. Camped on overgrown side road to spring. Motorbikes passed on main dirt road just 20m away, but didn't see me camped on the side road.
Drizzled a bit in the evening, but tarp mostly dry in morning. Button tore off shirt but I managed not to lose it, so was able to sew it back on. Camped in the vacant yard of a house just before Sant Jeroni. Don't like being on private property like this, but few other possibilities in this area. Should have camped about 7km back and made it a short day. Or walk to Mora d'Ebro and stay in hotel, giving me a chance to read the Sunday paper. Of course, that would then imply a very long day to get to Gandesa.
río ebro as seen from garcia
When it rains it pours! Not referring to the weather, but rather to the deluge of mistakes I'm making. Someone drove onto the property and parked behind the house just as I was breaking camp in the morning about 8:30am. Because I was well away from the house, and my clothing and gear is stealthy grey and black, they didn't notice me. Threw everything into my backpack as fast as possible and ran off before they spotted me and called the Guardia Civil. Yet again, I recover nicely from a mistake. Furthermore, it turns out there are plenty of good sites for camping in the forest a km or so past Sant Jeroni. Checked into Fonda Serres in Gandesa. 20€ for single room with shared bath. Feels good to be washed up again. Four days camping was too much, but I was anxious to spend some time outdoors after that long hiatus cooped up in a motel room back in Reno. Was able to pick up a Sunday paper (El País) at the stationary shop in Gandesa.
view from road to gandesa, note windmills in distance
Took things slow, so as not to arrive in Prat de Comte too early. Tripped on the highway and gashed my hand. Amazing how even a light pack can throw me off balance so that I can't check myself as I begin to fall. Very dangerous hiking downhill with a pack for this reason—need to remember that, especially since I seem to be making mistake after mistake on this trip. Checked into Fonda Ca L'Àngels in Prat de Comte. 20€ for single occupancy of double room with bath.
canyon of riu canaleta, sanctuary mare deu de fontcalda in distance
wild mountain goats near mare deu de fontcalda
sculpture of pilgrims' feet, one of many caminos de santiago in catalonia shares trail with gr171 here
Cold and windy, ferociously windy up high, with snow on ground. Ate bread and cheese sitting on a bench in Paüls, then decided to call it a day, though my original plan was to continue to Alfares de Carles. No need to suffer unnecessarily. 25€ for single occupancy of double room with bath and spectacular view at Ca Les Barbares.
wind and snow on way to paüls, those footprints are from someone else
Continued cold and windy. Nearly knocked down by wind on the way from Paüls to Alfares de Carles. Lots of blowdowns on the way to Caro, but I was able to climb under, over or around them all. Big problem would be if a fallen tree on a very steep section had dragged down bunch of thorn bushes, so that I couldn't climb around the tree due to the steepness, nor over or under due to the thorns. Luckily that didn't happen. Refugi Caro closed, with driveway and yard covered with snow. Water turned off, but plenty of snow to eat and streams should be running strong. Place next door had a sign offering rooms for rent, but no one there, though there was smoke coming from the chimney. Evidently they had driven off somewhere and would be back, but it was too cold to sit around and wait. Also, I suspected they wouldn't be open. Looked like they were renovating the place. I'm definitely here too early. Pitched the tarp on one of the few areas of bare ground on the Refugi Caro property, pointed away from the ferocious wind. Photo below is the initial pitch. I later got up and pegged the sides of the tarp closer to the ground to block the wind better. And yet this was ground level, with lots of trees to block the wind. Thundering noises all night long from the wind battering the peaks above.
view back towards alfares de carles, from near 1000m
camp near refugi caro
Slept well and warm, despite all the noise from the wind. Temps maybe -4°C (25°F) in the morning. Took the road route to Font Ferrera, since I suspected the GR7 would be blocked by blowdowns. As it was, plenty of blowdowns on the road. Wind diminished as the day wore on. GR8 overgrown where it meets the road. Also, as with the GR7, I suspected it might be blocked by blowdowns or obscured by deep snow. An alternative would be the blue star trail down the Río Matarranya canyon, which involves some rock-climbing. Something of a slog, though some people consider it among the best hiking trails in all of Spain (see www.estelsdelsud.com). I did it once and have no strong desire to do it again. Probably not many blowdowns, since the canyon should be sheltered from wind, but you never know. All it would take is a severe blowdown at the right spot to force me to backtrack all the way to where I started. Furthermore, the canyon trail involves fording/wading, especially in springtime. In fact, just to get to the start of the canyon trail requires knee-deep wading. Not a good idea when temperatures near freezing. So I decided to take the forest road to Beceite. Picked up water from one of many clear-running streams. Camped a few km past Font Ferrera, in a pine grove off the forest road. Cut the day short because this was such a perfect campsite and there is no need to go fast, since I'll arrive early at Beceite tomorrow.
road from caro to font ferrera, snow and fallen trees from recent windstorm
río matarranya, knee-deep wading to get to where trail crosses river, about 50m downstream from here
Temps near freezing last night. Not much wind down at ground level in the pine grove where I was camped, though I could hear it whistling up higher. Paid 20€ for single occupancy of double room with bath in Antigua Posada Roda in Beceite.
shepherd/hunter cabin at 1200 meters altitude, on forest road to beceite
bridge over río matarranya in beceite
Decided to stay another day in Beceite. Walked to Valderrobres to get a Sunday paper (El País), then had mid-day meal at the Posada. Excellent food. Dining room crowded with a mixed-sex motorcycle touring group, perhaps from Barcelona. Posada does good business with the Sunday dining, despite the recession.
Sunny and mild. Camped a few km before Monroyo, on an abandoned terrace.
santuario de la virgin de la fuente, now serves as luxury hotel
camp on abandoned field
Frost all over tarp and bottle partly frozen, so temps evidently below freezing. Slept cold due to condensation in quilt. Everything warmed up as sun rose. At Hotel Altabella in Aguaviva, paid 20€ at for single occupancy of double room with bath. Toilet wasn't bolted to the floor properly, so nearly tipped over when I adjusted my weight slightly to one side. Full at the time, what a mess that would have been. Add toilets tipping over to list of things that can go wrong in hotel rooms.
gravel quarry near aguaviva
Rained last night. Forecast for next week is for cool but sunny during the day, with overnight lows near freezing. Beautiful spring weather, in other words. Camped amidst pines after Alconzal Casas.
road to mas de las matas
bridge over río regatillo
Long hot day, and not very scenic between La Algecira and Puente del Vado, because ridgeline walk through an area that burned a few years back, so no tall trees, just saplings and scrub. Tore my shirt again on some thorns. Guardia Civil truck wandering around Puente del Vado, not sure what they are looking for. I was about to make camp in that area, but held off until the truck disappeared. Not that it was likely that they would see me, since I was deep in the forest.
Ran phone battery down while accessing internet a few days back. Need to be more careful about that. Camped on the plateau in a grove of pines, south of Pitarque at 1300m elevation.
Snow still on ground at 1600m altitude. Paid 35€ for single occupancy of double room with bath at Hotel Mercadales in Fortanete. Stinking of perfume, gaudy modern decor, overstuffed pillow, plastic mattress cover (which I removed), sounds of snoring from other rooms, not nearly as nice as that Posada back in Beceite.
la cañada de benatanduz
Decided to visit Mirambel, Cantavieja and La Iglesuela del Cid. However, route to Mirambel is no longer waymarked. From the map, it appears the route is mostly on a paved road. So I decided to skip Mirambel and go straight to Cantavieja. 18€ for single occupancy of double room with shared bath. Ate at the restaurant (10€). Typical home cooking. Good, but not great like the Posada back in Beceite. Wanted to buy a Sunday El País, but only the local newspapers available.
cantavieja as seen from far away
Beautiful pine forest at 1600m, with some snow still on ground. Decided to cut day short and camp there, as I'm tired of hotels. Windy day where there are no trees, but not here in the forest. Light rain on the tarp in the evening.
getting ready to make camp at 1600 meters
Continued on to Iglesuela del Cid, looked around, picked up supplies, then walked back towards Fortanete. Rained picked up along the way but poncho worked well enough. I was planning to try out the hostal rather than that stinky hotel, but it was closed for the season. Homosexual offered to suck my cock while I was sitting on a bench making phone calls to the hostal and hotel. It was one thing back when I was in my teens and twenties to have these unwanted propositions, but you'd think they'd leave me alone now that I'm in my fifties, bald, dressed like a homeless person and probably not smelling too sweet. This isn't the first time this has happened. Apparently, Spaniards assume any single male tourist with northern European racial features is homosexual and hiking in Spain because he wants sex. The worst case was when some middle-aged shepherd invited me to watch him feed his sheep. I always thought they ate grass in the pastures, but then what do I know about sheep. Maybe he'll show me something interesting. After all, I always liked feeding time at the zoo when I was a kid, and I still enjoy feeding stray cats some of my El Caserío cheese, which they love, though I'm not sure it's good for them. So I followed him into the barn. As soon as we were inside, he turned around and pointed to his crotch, where there was a visible erection under his pants and said something like "look at this". Then he took advantage of my surprise to try and thrust his hand down my pants. I shoved him away and walked off. Didn't know what to say. In English, I have all sorts of ways of expressing contempt and making a person look small. But my Spanish is too clumsy to be used as a weapon, especially when I'm under stress and start to forget words.
Anyway, checked back into that stinky hotel, mainly because I need to shower and charge my cell phone, in anticipation of not being able to find vacancies between now and Sunday due to Semana Santa (the worst of the holidays facing the spring hiker, with Puente de Mayo, the weekend before or after May 1, being the other big spring holiday). I also needed to buy groceries and eat, and didn't want to do so in the rain, nor did I feel like camping in the rain, unless I was certain of being able to find pine forests like yesterday, and I wasn't. The stink dissipates in a few hours if I open the windows, put the perfume canister outside wrapped in a plastic bag, and then leave the windows open. Really low-class to be using perfume like that. Albergue was an alternative, but it wouldn't have been empty, since I saw a crowd of bike tourists.
la iglesuela del cid
I don't have the GPX track for the GR8, but rather am following old maps, and these are wrong. The correct path for the GR8 runs up Barranco de Zoticas, whereas I took the road towards Valdelinares part way, then turned off to the side, which is the old GR8. Still a nice walk. Rained off and on all day, but temperatures were mild, so I didn't feel cold. Camped at 1800m altitude in a terraced pine forest, on the way down to Alcalá de la Selva, as I was unsure as to wild camping possibilities further down.
Guardia Civil stopped me and asked where I spent the night. Told him Valdelinares and he was surprised, since that is far away. Told him I was an early riser, then I showed him some maps and talked about walking all the way to Portugal and asked about the campground in Alcalá de la Selva—throw up a smokescreen, in other words, so he wouldn't question me further about where I slept. He let me go after checking my passport. Alcalá de la Selva crowded with tourists. Holy week is always a hassle. Camped amidst scrub on way to Valbona.
abandoned masía, or rural farmhouse
mora de rubielos and its massive castle
Cut day short and camped a few km short of La Puebla de Valverde, because forecast is for cold temperatures tonight. Otherwise, I would have camped high on the way to Camarena de la Sierra.
good friday procession in valbona
Camped between Camarena de la Sierra and Valacloche, on abandoned bancales. Tore the nail on my right thumb while trying to move a log to make a bridge over stream. Ended up taking my boots off and fording like I should have done to begin with. Need to stop being so lazy about these boots. Costs so far on this trip of being too lazy to remove boots: (a) torn nail on thumb today; (b) torn shirt and pants from thorns; (c) wet boots due to trying to jump and missing; (d) detours looking for a bridge, that ended up taking far more time than simply removing the boots then putting them back on.
campsite on abandoned terraces
Near freezing last night, with some rain, and forecast for well below freezing in the next week: -8°C (15°F) in Griegos (which is at 1600m) plus maybe ten centimeters of snow. Trail from Valacloche to Cascante del Río is horribly overgrown. Probably better to follow highway, unless you like pushing through prickly weeds (aliagas they call them in Spain, compare with those devilish thorns, which are impossible to push through). From Cascante del Rio to Orden, good dirt road. From Orden to Villel, make sure to stay up high, about 50 meters south of the acequia, since close to the acequia is overgrown with nasty thorns. Trail poorly waymarked and eventually I lost the waymarks. But the GPX track I made is a good trail. Paid 35€ for single occupancy of studio apartment (bedroom with double bed, living room, bathroom, access to kitchen and dining room elsewhere in house) at a the Antigua Fonda de Villel, in the town of that name. These casa rurales can be a good deal, but there is no rhyme or reason to their pricing. Sometimes it is 500€/night for a full house that will sleep 12 people, sometimes they rent individual rooms but only rent by the week, sometimes they rent individual rooms by the day, as with this place. Feels good to be washed up again. Feels even better to have Semana Santa over with.
cascante del rio
Used the PR-TE6 to get from Rubiales to the city of Teruel (about 20km or 3:42hours for this PR), where I checked into the Hostal Aragon, 20€ for single occupancy of room with double bed and shared bath.
muela de teruel
Picked up excellent directory of accommodation options for province of Teruel in the tourist office. Tuesday after Easter is a local fiesta here in Teruel, so I was lucky hotels were mostly empty yesterday. This Fiesta de Vaquillas involves some sort of horseplay with aggressive heifers, plus an excuse for the young people to get drunk. Left after an hour. Note sure why I went in the first place. All tourist attractions are tedious to me. Thinking of staying here in Teruel through the weekend, partly to avoid the heavy rain/snow forecast, partly because I need a break from hiking.
plaza torico in teruel
Picked up the IGN 1:200K topo map for Teruel province at Librería Perruca. Three copies of this 1:200K map in stock, plus one copy each of the Prames GR10 and GR8 book/map packages.
Snowed today. Melted as soon as it hit ground here in Teruel, but accumulations visible in the hills south of the city. Forecast is for clearing and warming after tomorrow, and then mild weather for several weeks.
Off I go again, using PR-TE6 to get back to Rubiales and then west on the GR10. Camped between Rubiales and Bezas. Felt sick upon lying down, plus splitting headache. Might be caffeine withdrawal from all the dark chocolate I've been eating. Forced myself to vomit. Most of an orange plus a little cheese from lunch came up, plus pieces of tomato from breakfast. Slept well after this vomiting episode. Rained during night. 24km for day.
Woke up refreshed. So whatever it was that made me sick yesterday is gone. Checked into Hostal Casa Oría in Albarracín. 28€ for single occupancy of double room with bath. 30km for day.
albarracín, view of famous walls
albarracín, typical street
Beautiful day: sunny, mild temperatures. Camped between Monterde de Albarracín and Bronchales amidst pines.
Windy and cold this morning, but above freezing. Dry cold, with wind from west and partly cloudy skies. Hostal in Orihuela closed (only open Fri-Sat this time of year), no answer from hotel, casa rurales either closed or no answer, office of tourism closed. Loaded up with water and camped a few km away on some semi-abandoned terraced pastures. Batteries in smartphone were running low, because I had anticipated a hotel tonight and so spent several hours browsing the internet. Need to always assume camping will be required, so always conserve batteries, always have extra food on hand, always pick up water in towns.
Cold and windy, but above freezing. Decided to stay in Checa, because probably no hotel in Chequilla and I would arrive very late in Peralejos de las Truchas. 27€ for single room with bath and excellent view at Hostal La Gerencia. Very pretty town, with stream running through it under numerous bridges.
between orea and checa
Wind diminished, partly cloudy and mild. Followed the GPX track between Chequilla and Peralejos, which is mostly on monotonous asphalt forest road, and then more asphalt on the highway. Both forest road and highway quiet, but asphalt is still unpleasant compared to dirt. According to a woman at the store, correct GR10 route runs over the mountains, but is very overgrown and poorly waymarked. Paid 25€ for studio with huge bed in loft, fancy bath, kitchen, wood burning stove (I declined the offer of firewood, as I detest fires), fabulous view, terrace outside. Spectacular bargain, especially since I have the whole hotel to myself. Traveling in the off-season is the way to go.
"plaza de toros" of chequilla, actually used occasionally in past for bull-fighting, after closing off gaps in natural circle amidst rocks
Clear skies, mild temperatures. GPX may not show correct GR10 from Peralejos to the campground 1km south of town. Also, use highway to get around campground, since the path along the river is flooded. After campground, path is good all the way to the bridge. Paid 20€ for single occupancy of double room at Hostal Alto Tajo in Poveda de la Sierra. There is also an albergue in the hostal, for only 12€. Manager initially suggested the albergue as a way to save money. I guess I really look like an impoverished vagabond these days. Mining of kaolin, a type of clay used in glass and other industries, is major industry in town, with active tourism (kayaking in the Tajo river, hiking, mountain biking) starting to become more important.
salto de poveda, abandoned hydroelectric dam, now a scenic waterfall
Sunny and warm. Monotonous dirt road along the Tajo river for 20 or so km, then asphalt to get to Villar de Cobeta (no services there), then finally dirt path after that. Decided to camp a km before the monastery La Buenafuente del Sistal, which supposedly offers some sort of accommodation, because I wasn't sure what exactly they offered and the site where I camped was very nice, an abandoned terrace next to a stream. I would have like to cool down and rinse my body of salt in that stream, but impossible to reach it due to vicious thorns. Long and tedious day, due to all the road walking, but with a nice ending.
Trail horribly overgrown from where I camped to the monastery. Amazingly, it appears some off-road motorcyclist went through on this section. Not sure what to think about this. In the United States, I despise the way off-road motorcyclists and ATV's deviate from the trail in the desert and so chew everything up so the whole thing looks like a wasteland. But that's because vegetation takes decades to recover from damage in the desert. Here, the problem is that the vegetation grows too fast, so maybe motorcyclists are good, as a way of keeping the trail open. Pretty amazing that a motorcyclist can plow through a trail that I have trouble walking on. Though I've also seen then zoom down and then roar back up the other side of ravines that I would find impossible to either descend or ascend other than on all fours. Trail also horribly overgrown and/or missing waymarks and/or muddy from Huertahernando to Ocentejo. Flies a nuisance both today and yesterday whenever I paused.
Alternative to GR10 might be to follow GR113 to Huertapelayo and Valtablado del Rio, then rejoin GR10 at Oter, so as to avoid the miserable stretch from Huertahernando to Oter. This alternative route might also offer better resupply options.
Bar in Huertahernando was out of normal bread, but improvised some cheese and chorizo sandwiches of "pan de molde" (American-style sliced bread that lasts for weeks due to preservatives). Also bought some sugary desserts, because I'm running very low on food. Should have brought a lot more food. Only one store in each of Peralejos de las Truchas and Poveda de la Sierra, both with limited hours and limited selection. Lucky they weren't closed or low on inventory. Important to carry a few extra days food on remote stretches like this. Bar in Ocentejo closed in the afternoon, when I passed through. Fuentes working in Ocentejo and Canales del Ducado, but not in Huertahernando, however I was able to get water at the bar there.
Camped after Ocentejo in a pine forest. Another long hot day, with over 2000m of ascent and descent according to the GPS (not sure how accurate it is for elevation changes, though there was definitely a lot of up and down).
puente de tagüenza over río tajo
Fuente in Oter is about 200m south of town along the GR10, which follows the road here, next to a small building. Bought some bread and chocolate from a traveling fresh bread man. Very happy to see him, since I was completely out of food and had run down my glucose stores with all that uphill hiking yesterday. Trail much better today. Mostly little-used dirt roads, clear trails, a few crossings of fields where the roads/trails have been plowed under. Checked into Hostal Secuoyas in Cifuentes. 24€ for single occupancy of room with bath and double bed. Wonderful to wash myself clean of salt with an ice-cold shower!
carrascosa de tajo, nuclear power plant in distance on right, not sure as to peak in distance on left
Decided to stay another night in Cifuentes. Last three days have been hard due to not enough food and perspiring in all that heat.
Heat won't subside until tomorrow, but I decided to push on anyway. Camped in marshy area a few km north of Navalpotro. High-speed rail only a few hundred meters away, but shouldn't be too noisy at night. Remarkable that, despite marshy ground, no mosquitoes or biting flies. What a blessing that is, since it means I can sit in the open air until the sun sets and temperatures drop. Would be insufferably hot if I had to take refuge in the bugbivy while the sun was still blazing. Lots of frogs chirping. Earlier, surprised a wild boat wallowing in a mud puddle just a few meters from the trail. I'm also pretty certain I've heard boar several times passing in the night.
campsite itself slightly elevated and thus dry, but surrounded by marshy ground
Overcast sky with cold north wind. Dew all over tarp, but no rain. Things warmed up later in the day as the sun came out, but still much cooler than past few days, which is a relief. Hostal in Mandayona closed, so camped about 2km past town, on a field access road.
barranco del rio dulce
Frost all over tarp, so temperatures near freezing. Sky clear and sun soon warmed everything up. Checked into Hostal El Castillo in Jadraque. 27€ for single occupancy of double room with bath.
road to jadraque
Sunny and warm. Easy hiking on mostly dirt roads. Dawdled reading the Sunday El País (which I bought back in Jadraque) at various rest stops along the way, so another short day. 35€ for single occupancy of double room with nice view at Hospedería Ballestero in Cogolludo. Apparently, I'm the only guest in the hotel. That's the advantage of weekdays in the off-season.
castle of jadraque
another view of castle
Cooler than yesterday. Camped between Tamajón and Retiendas, not too far from road (which has no traffic) but still stealthy due to dense vegetation (for once I have something good to say about those thorn bushes).
Frost all over tarp, some ice in water bottle, so temps slightly below freezing. Everything warmed up as sun came out. Camped near the old electrical plant of the Canal de Atazar, a few km before Patones, just after crossing the Guadalajara/Madrid boundary. Very nice campsite, in a ravine amidst pines beside a stream, and really the only suitable site in the area, since the hills are all bare of trees around here, plus there aren't many flat spots.
after alpedrete de la sierra
campsite, just after entering province of madrid
GR10 requires crawling through fence to get between Torrelaguna and La Cabrera, to get past aqueduct. Might be possible but dangerous to jump over the gap between the twin aqueduct pipes. Correct solution would be to simply lay some boards over the gap, with some means of attaching them to the pipes so they don't slip. 33€ for room at Hostal Cancho del Águila in La Cabrera.
patones de arriba
GR10 waymarks differ from GPX track, so I followed the waymarks. Very roundabout route. New route passes close to Soto del Real, for possible resupply or lodging, and then uses footpath through mountains to get to Manzanares El Real, eliminating a long stretch of highway walking. Most of the area around here is built up with ranches and vacation houses or with barbed wire fences surrounding pastures, so not a lot of good camping possibilities. Also, a forest guard passed me and I don't want to encounter him again tomorrow morning, so I kept on walking. Once the trail left the dirt road for a footpath, little danger of forest guards, nor of hikers late in the day or early morning. So I camped on the trail itself, which was the only good spot available.
campsite, la pedriza de manzanares in background
Rained a bit at night, but tarp dry in morning. Drizzled off and on all day. 20€ for single room with shared bath at Hostal Longinos de Aribel, which is near the train station.
Decided to take a zero day. Need a break from all this hiking. Though probably not a good idea, since forecast is for rain and snow starting tomorrow evening, which might block trail on Monday. Trail through the Guadarramas goes over 2000m and is consistently above 1500m.
Ate too much yesterday. Horrible pains in kidneys last night. Felt okay this morning. Cold but clear skies. Wind strong, but not so bad as yesterday morning. Very rugged going. Camped after Alta de Leon, on the road to Tablada.
trail at 2000m in sierra de guadarrama
Snowing in the morning, so I decided to hibernate. I'm not sure as to whether the train still runs from Tablada to Cercedilla, nor what the schedule is. If no train, then I'll have to find a road down to Guadarrama, and not sure if there are any, and going cross-country might be a problem with all this snow. Besides, it's very pretty and peaceful here in the snow. No one but me and the animals. Compare with the hundred or so day-hikers I saw yesterday. First time I've ever seen a lot of hikers on this trip. Maybe because Madrid province, maybe because a Sunday, maybe because Puente de Mayo coming up soon, maybe just a very popular hiking area. Doesn't seem any more interesting than the rest of Spain to me. Just enough food to last me today and then get me to El Escorial tomorrow, assuming the snow stops and melts tomorrow. And water easy to get with all this fresh snow.
hibernating at 1450 meters
Packed up and walked back along the road to where I had left the trail. Tracks along the road from a snowmobile, and lots of footprints of animals. The map on my GPS indicates the trail is a dirt road, but in fact it is a footpath, and steep and rocky and hence very slippery when snow-covered like today. It would be madness to try making my way to El Escorial on a trail like that, especially without some sort of traction aids (Grivel Spiders or similar). So I turned back and walked down to the train station in Tablada, where the trains do indeed still stop. Passed a hostal along the way. That would be one way to split this Cercedilla to El Escorial section of the GR10, for those who don't want to camp. Took the train back to Cercedilla, which is the other way to handle this section without camping. That is, hike from Cercedilla to Tablada, then back to Cercedilla by train, then return to Tablada by train the next day and resume hiking. Train is scheduled to be shutdown at some point, since it has been superseded by the high-speed train between Madrid and Segovia, which runs through a tunnel and hence does not stop at Tablada. There don't appear to be many dirt roads leading out of Tablada and walking along the highway is extremely inadvisable due to the heavy traffic, blind curves and narrow shoulder. So camping or the hostal will be necessary once the train shuts down. Checked back into Hostal Aribel. Decided to stay here two nights while thinking what to do next.
trail covered with slippery snow, footprints are mine, photo taken after I turned back
Map outside train station indicated there is a trail from Cercedilla to Fuente Archipreste (just north of Tablada) via the Camino de los Lomitos, which runs along the 1400m contour for about 7km. So that would be another way to split the Cercedilla to El Escorial segment. That is, walk from Cercedilla to Fuente Archipreste, then back to Cercedilla via this Camino de los Lomitos trail, then back to Fuente Archipreste the next morning. No way snow will melt in next few days, given forecast of cloudy conditions, so I decided to skip the section of the GR10 between Tablada and El Escorial and take the train instead.
Read a National Geographic article about arctic explorers: "we don't seek death, we seek to be more alive". I understand the concept, since I feel dead when I am not moving myself, but is it really necessary to ski all the way to the north pole in winter to feel alive? One of these explorers lost a chunk of his nose and a few fingers from frostbite, another sank through the melting ice and died, another was on the verge of sinking and had to be rescued by helicopter at great risk to the rescue team.
looking southwest towards cercedilla, with snow-covered sierra de guadarrama in distance
Noisy neighbors last night, but I managed 4 hours sleep, which is probably all I really need, given that I've been oversleeping lately. Starting to feel like I've been sucked into a vortex here in Cercedilla. Need to be on the move again. Took the train to El Escorial, via a connection in Villalba (3.40€). Lots of day hikers, as this is a long-weekend holiday in Spain (day after Labor Day, with the long weekend referred to Puente de Mayo). Area after Robleda space station is undeveloped, but not many good campsites. Everything exposed due to limited number of trees (probably kept open by shepherds to provide more pasture) and lack of flat spots. Ended up camping on the top of a treeless hill, very exposed location, but at least it was reasonably flat. Forecast is for mild conditions tonight, though that could change.
view from alto navahonda, skyscrapers of madrid barely visible in center distance
Wind picked up in night, but I had tarp positioned okay (facing west, wind from south), so not a problem. Wind blew away the clouds, so clear and warm in morning. GPS maps showed GR10 running across dam over the Río Alberche, versus road route shown by the GPX track. I decided to investigate this dam route and avoid the stretch of road-walking. Big mistake. Route was blocked by fences topped with barbed wire in two places: next to the dam itself, around the complex of buildings associated with the dam. Someone had conveniently cut holes in both these fences, so I was able to crawl through and get to the road to Pelayos de la Presa, but I wouldn't that recommend anyone else follow this route, since the holes in the fences might be repaired at some point. Or someone might call the Guardia Civil. 20€ for single occupancy of double room with bath at Hostal Plaza del Pilar in San Martín Valdeiglesias.
Room was quiet once street noise died down. Forecast is for warm and sunny for next few days. Terrible hiking day, almost entirely on paved roads. Should have taken the GR10.3 north of the embalse. Camping Las Cruceras looked wretched from the entrance, so I hurried past. Things looked better from the rear, but I was already on my way and didn't want to turn back. In any case, wild camping is infinitely better than the best campground. A forest guard truck had passed me earlier, and the guard inside eyed me suspiciously, as if knowing that I was going to try to wild camp, so I worked on stories to tell in case I was questioned. Best idea was to say I'm planning to meet a friend in La Rinconada. As it was, just past La Rinconada the GR10 mercifully left the paved road for an overgrown dirt road, which ascended into the hills and then petered out into an overgrown trail. Very unlikely to see anyone up here past 8pm, so camped on the trail itself, which was the only flat spot available. An exposed location, but forecast is for clear conditions with no wind. Didn't bother to setup tarp even. Wondering whether I have enough food. Should have bought more biscuits back in San Martín Valdeiglesias.
Small amount of dew on gear, which quickly burned off in the morning sun. Picked up Sunday paper (El País) in Navaluengo and also some fresh food. Stores in Spain used to be closed on Sunday, but that seems to be changing. GR10 much nicer today than yesterday, with mostly dirt roads rather than asphalt. Lots of barbed wire fences bordering these dirt roads, but mainly to keep cows in place rather than to obnoxiously mark off private property, and hence not annoying. 30€ for single occupancy of double room with bath at Hostal El Alberche in Burgohondo.
Another beautiful day and more good hiking (other than a few annoying km parallel to the N-502), mostly trails and old dirt roads, with not too much asphalt. Quiet little mountain villages, what I love most about Spain. Passed a hostal at Venta de Rasquilla, but it seemed a desolate location. Checking in there on a day like today would have been like checking into prison. Campsite is highly illegal, because inside the Gredos park boundaries. And I stupidly wasn't careful to conceal myself. Able to see a forest ranger truck passing on a nearby road about 7pm, which means they would have been able to see me. At least in theory. In practice, hard to spot my grey tarp if not looking carefully. Then again, these forest rangers are trained to look for illegal campers.
hoyocasero, with sierra de gredos in distance
Drizzled a bit in the evening but clear in morning. Picked up water from a stream, first time I've done so since just before Beceite. Trail is mostly dirt, but stuck at the bottom of a narrow river valley (Río Tormes) with obnoxious "wild camping prohibited" signs everywhere. Not that there are many good campsites. Definitely want to bypass this stretch on the way back, though probably won't have time for it. Camped past Navacepeda de Tormes, in terraced pasture, starting to be overgrown with wild thorns.
scene from sierra de gredos regional park
Drizzled a bit last night and early this morning. Overcast skies, mild temps. It appears the GR10 is now running just north of the Gredos park, so no more of those obnoxious no wild camping signs today. (Before I forget, I should note in this report that I've encountered very few mosquitoes or biting flies on this trip, and not a single tick. Spain is a very pleasant place to hike in the spring, in other words. Compare with the ferocious mosquito infestations in much of the United States.) 25€ for single room with bath at Hostal Rosi in El Barco de Ávila.
Room was nice and quiet last night. Hotel seems empty. Day started overcast but dry, then began to drizzle as I ascended toward Puerto de Tornavacas, with a ferocious headwind blowing the rain in my face and soaking my pants completely, then the wind abated and the drizzle stopped as I descended from the pass. Hostal in Tornavacas wanted 45€ and wouldn't go lower. I wasn't too keen to stay there to begin with, since it is 2km from center of town and staying in Tornavacas tonight would mean either a very long day or a very short day tomorrow. So I made a few more calls and decided to proceed to a few km past Jerte (just after the GR crosses the river), where I checked into the Hotel Los Arenales. 30€ for single occupancy of a double room with bath and nice view. They actually quoted me 40€ on the phone, but when I arrived and said I wasn't interested in breakfast, they reduced the rate without my asking.
mist near puerto de tornavacas
valle del jerte, famous for cherry trees
Blue skies again, with forecast for more of the same for the next week. Steep ascent out of Cabezuela del Valle to Puerto de Honduras. 25€ for single room with bath at Hostal Roma, 2km from center of Aldeanueva del Camino, direction Salamanca. Camino de Santiago (Via de la Plata, starting in Seville and running north) runs through here, so they are familiar with hikers. There's also another budget hostal closer to center of town.
road from cabezuela del valle to gargantilla
Another beautiful day: clear skies, mild temps. Camped on field access road a few km before Guijo de Granadilla.
view from campsite
Slept well despite cows bellowing loudly in nearby pastures both evening and morning. More blue skies and mild temps, though mild temps combined with sun and uphill hiking equals heavy perspiration. Trail from Casar Palomero to Caminomorisco impassible due to vegetation growth. Perhaps there was a fire here a few years back and vegetation has grown back more densely than when the GPX track I'm following was originally made. 25€ for single occupancy of double room with bath at Hostal El Abuelo in Caminomorisco. Price includes breakfast, but I'm not interested. Dining alone, especially with no other guests in the hotel but me, is annoying.
embalse de ahigal lake, occupied stork nest on electrical tower
Called a few Casa Rurals in Robledilla de Gata, but either no answer or occupied. Not that I was disappointed, since I really wanted to camp, with my only concern being availability of a suitable campsite. Town is something of a tourist attraction due to the well-preserved and very pretty traditional architecture. Camped on a field access road a few km past Decargamaría.
covered passageway with fuente in robledilla de gata
typical street in robledilla de gata
24€ for single occupancy of double room with bath at Pensión Las Ruedas in Gata. Another pretty town, not so touristy as Robledilla de Gata. Be sure to visit the upper part of town, from which the photo below was taken.
Rained during the night and temps much cooler in the morning—a blessed relief after the heat of the past few days. Found a perfect campsite on an abandoned terrace next to a field access road. Camping under the pines, my favorite location. While looking for a campsite, I spotted a fox ahead of me and was able to stalk and get to within 5 meters before it heard me and ran off. Wind was evidently masking my footstep sounds. Also, lots of eagles and other birds of prey in this area, I'm not sure exactly which species, but magnificent whatever they are.
Strong winds around midnight kept me awake for a few hours. But it was just noise in the treetops and not a problem down at ground level, precisely because of all the trees. Cool in the morning, under partly cloudy skies. Town of Trevejo is probably the prettiest I have ever seen, and there are plenty of very pretty towns in Spain and France. A few km north of Cilleros, I decided to turn around and start back to Madrid rather than continuing on to Portugal. Getting to Monfortinho tonight would make for a very long day, while getting there tomorrow would mean a very short day. Unless I just stop in at Monfortinho for supplies tomorrow, then turn around, which seems sort of pointless, as if hiking there just to be able to say I set foot in Portugal. Also, I'm not sure how long it will take me to get back to Madrid nor what sort of bus service there is in the small towns in Salamanca. I don't want to feel pressed for time. Though yoyos are demoralizing compared to circles, the town of Trevejo is definitely worth the short side-trip south from San Martín de Trevejo before heading north to the province of Salamanca. Another possibility is a local trail (SL-CC 211) between Hoyos to Trevejo, indicated by a sign about 2km south of Trevejo and waymarked green-and-white, which would allow for bypassing the section of the GR10 from Hoyos to San Martín de Trevejo.
When I called an asked the price for Hotel Rural El Duende de Chafaril in San Martín de Trevejo, I misunderstood twenty-something for hundred-something ("viente" versus "ciento"). My mistake was evident as soon as I set foot in the sumptuous hotel lobby. This is the first time I've seen the term "Hotel Rural". It appears to mean luxurious establishment with spa. The manager gave me directions to a cheaper establishment, the Hospedería Conventual Sierra de Gata, though it was only relatively cheap, since I paid 54€ for single occupancy of a double room with bath. They also offered spa services. Big spacious room, nice view, all sorts of chi-chi furnishings and fittings in the bathroom. Have to read the sign to figure out how to work the shower and still couldn't get ice-cold water like I prefer, just lukewarm or hot. Square toilet seat. Different just to be different, not because better. Built-in hangers in the closet, so I couldn't use them to hang my clothes after washing. Furthermore, a nuisance to wash, due to the tiny washbasin supported loosely on the wall rather than resting securely on a ceramic pillar like in most bathrooms in Spanish hotels, so that I had to be careful not to press down and rip the washbasin off its brackets. High-quality king-size mattress with a cheap plastic mattress protector under the sheet. At least it was removable, and remove it I did, because I'm certainly not paying 54€ to sleep on plastic. Fancy minibar—always a nuisance, since these require careful checking to ensure they are properly stocked upon initially entering the room, so as to avoid disputes later. If the guest is falsely accused of taking from the minibar when they didn't, the hotel creates ill-will. If the guest is not charged when they should be, the hotel loses money. What idiot invented this minibar concept? What is wrong with old-fashioned room service or vending machines in the lobby? Desk suitable for office work, but no electrical outlet nearby so as to plug-in a computer. I could see a middle-aged couple wanting to stay in a place like this, especially when the wife is the sort who has to be pampered with a massage and soaking in the spa and than a fancy dinner before she can work up any desire, or maybe she's self-conscious about sex noises so needs sound-proofing before she can relax, and the husband needs to impress everyone that he's a big shot before he can get an erection. I appear to be the only guest here tonight, and I believe I was the only guest back in Gata and the only guest in many other hotels on this trip. Either spring (exclusive of Semana Santa) is more off-season that I realize or the tourism industry is really hurting here in rural Spain. Never have seen many non-Spanish in these mountains, nor do many people speak English in the mountains, which suggests most of the clientele for mountain hotels are the Spanish themselves (also some Portuguese, since I see lots of signs indicating Portuguese spoken).
ruins of castle of trevejo
Room was quiet as a tomb—luxury hotels do have their advantages. And clothes managed to dry despite lack of proper hangers. Rained last night and still drizzling in the morning, then heavy rain and hail up at the pass (1050 meters), then mostly dry again down below. Hostal in Navasfrías closed according to person who answered when I called, though it wasn't clear whether permanently or for season, so I continued on and camped in a patch of scrub vegetation about 20 meters from the road between El Payo and Peñaparda. Stealth site, despite being so close to road, because shielded by vegetation and because no one would imagine anyone camping in a such a location, nor would anyone likely venture into this patch of scrub vegetation except during hunting season. But flat and perfectly comfortable.
shepherd cabin near puerto san martin
Rained last night, including hard rain for a while. Cloudy and cool in the morning. Guardia Civil stopped and questioned me for a while, but didn't ask where I slept last night, only where I was going. If they had asked where I slept, I would have been forced to tell the truth, since they surely know there are no hostals around here. Camped on field access trail a few km past Sahugo.
between peñaparda and villasrubias
Rained heavily last night, so dew all over tarp and condensation in quilt in morning. 35€ for single occupancy of double room with bath at Casa Rural Valle Agadón. Standard washbasin and plastic hangars, so no difficulty washing clothes like back at that luxury hospedería. Ice cold water for my evening shower (hot water also available). No plastic mattress protector. Just as nice a view. Potential noise from other guests, since rooms are small and tightly clustered. As it turns out, the other guests were considerate for a change and didn't slam the doors or shout in the hallways. Mostly outdoor types here, day-hikers, since the hostal is right next to the park. Outdoor types expend their excess physical energy hiking rather than by slamming doors and flapping their jaws.
A few patches of recently fallen snow on the ground at the summit of Peña de Francia. Cold and windy up there. Checked into Hostal San Blas in La Alberca. 21€ for single room with bath, quiet and spacious but not much view, not that I really care. La Alberca very well preserved medieval town.
view west from peña de francia
Considered remaining in La Alberca a few days, then decided better to move on and finish my trip in El Barco de Ávila. Dawdled sightseeing in La Alberca and Mogarraz then felt a bit sick, perhaps from overeating yesterday, so cut the day short. Camped between Cepeda and Sotoserrano, on a side trail off the GR10. Not a very stealthy sight and indeed someone came along on this side trail about 8pm. Hope he doesn't report me to the Guardia Civil, since wild camping is explicitly prohibited here.
Once again my thoughts turn to a bugout shelter, someplace to take refuge in case a natural disaster makes living in the city impossible. Doesn't have to be complicated. Doesn't even need running water. Deliver water by truck and stockpile it along with food, guns, ammunition and other necessities of survival. Read something on the internet about solar storms that could destroy most satellites and electrical systems. No electricity, no phone system, no internet, no ATMs, no credit card authorizations, no GPS, no aviation. Outage could last several months supposedly, with full recovery taking years. Need to carry more cash while in Spain and store some extra cash in my storage locker. Though money solves all sorts of problems, it's useless if you can't get to it. Also, bugout shelter in the United States wouldn't help much if disaster struck while I was in Spain. Maybe the Red Cross would save me. That would imply they stockpile enough food for both permanent residents and tourists. I have my doubts about that. [Later comment: Funny how these worries about disaster crop up when I'm physically ill, then go away later. The mind is a peculiar thing, and no more independent of the body than the body is independent of the mind. Not that this proves these worries to be groundless.]
mogarraz, which stages rapid portrait painting contests, with better results permanently exhibited on outsides of buildings throughout town
between mogarraz and monforte, serena by virginia calvo: "Siren is a minor deity, sometimes called water nymph or sea witch. Upper half of body is that of a woman, lower half that of a fish. Lures men to their doom with songs and other feminine arts of seduction. Sculpture has her emerging directly from the rock, but only partially, as if she were longing to sink into the water and become invisible. Here it is the sound of running water in the stream which embellishes her, rather than her singing. Possibly she is the source of these water sounds. White color accentuates the magical and unreal aspects of mythology."
Small amount of rain in early evening yesterday, but tarp dry by morning. Clear skies and mild temps, with forecast for more of the same until middle of next week. Running a bit late, so followed the paved road after Horcajo de Montemayor, in order to save time and kilometers. Checked into Hostal Blazquez-Sanchez in Béjar. 22€ for single room with bath and nice view.
Decided to remain in Béjar, as the hostal is cheap, quiet and otherwise pleasant. Perhaps stay here until Monday and then take the bus to Madrid and forget hiking to El Barco de Ávila. Map suggests this last stretch of GR10 Ramal Norte simply parallels the highway, so it's not like I'm missing much. The purpose of hiking for me is to relieve feelings of restlessness, and right now I have no such feelings. So no point hiking until the restlessness returns.
park in béjar
Suffering from a frightful case of internet addiction. As bad as when I used to play marathon sessions of Doom, except at least that was enjoyable, whereas now I'm just jerking my dopamine receptors around with the equivalent of tavern chatter. This is what comes from withdrawing too much from the world. By starving my mind of quality intellectual food, I open myself to cravings for junk intellectual food. Should have brought along that Nexus7, not so as to browse the internet better, but rather as an e-reader. And then make sure the thing is loaded up with quality books. The classics, not this newfangled crap that excites my dopamine receptors just because it is new. Books like Slatin's and Ohrwalder's memoirs that I mentioned at the start of this trip report. Or the Bible—after all, Ecclesiastes is the last word in wisdom: "the best a man can do with all the days of his life is eat, drink and be merry, everything else is grasping after wind". Preacher doesn't mention travel as a solution to the problem of excess physical energy. Perhaps he was a low energy sort, or maybe he had a hobby, like gardening, which naturally burned off his excess energy, so that he never suffered from restlessness himself and hence didn't need to travel.
Bus to Madrid (16€). Stopped by La Tienda Verde for the IGN 1:200K topo maps for the GR7, which I plan to walk next year, but they were out-of-stock of everything except Málaga. As with the lack of customers at Librería Altaïr back in February in Barcelona, this might be a significant economic indicator, since travel books would be one of the first discretionary expenses people would cut during recession. (The fact that many of the hotels I've stayed at have been mostly empty may or may not be an indicator of recession. Other than Easter week, springtime has always been off-season in the mountains, which is one of the reasons I've always preferred traveling in Europe then versus the middle of summer.) In addition to lacking the 1:200K maps, I didn't see the guidebook/map combinations I had used in the past. Even the Camino de Santiago selection was sparse. Maybe they are being hit as hard by Amazon and the other internet retailers as bricks-and-mortar bookstores in the United States. So then I walked the kilometer or so to the IGN offices and bought the maps I wanted at their bookstore. Good thing I took the early rather than late bus from El Barco de Ávila, since the IGN bookstore is only open in the morning.
Checked into Hostal Perez. 18€ for single room with washbasin and shared bath down the hall. I had been feeling increasingly ill as the day progressed, and as soon as I lay down on the bed, I felt nauseous. Unsure as to whether I could make it to the toilet down the hall, I allowed myself to vomit into the washbasin, which then became clogged by the undigested food I had eaten earlier, so that it filled to the brim with stinking brown liquid, like diarrhea coming out of my mouth. I scooped this stinking liquid into one of my opsaks (whose ziplock was on its last legs) and carried it down the hall to the bathroom where I dumped it into the toilet, then some real diarrhea from the other end of the alimentary canal, then a cold shower to clean myself up. I next asked the manager for a plunger so as to unclog the washbasin (I made it clear to him that I'd do the job myself, since I didn't want him seeing the mess I'd made). Thanks be, the plunger did the trick and I managed to clean everything up as if the vomiting had never occurred. Finally, I lay back down on the bed and waited for sleep to come rescue me from a splitting migraine headache. Illness to start the trip, illness to finish it, both of these illnesses no doubt with a strong psychosomatic component. Maybe my body objects to traveling for long periods of time at high speeds, either in buses or airplanes. Motion sickness, in other words. Another possibility is caffeine withdrawal, due to consuming an average 150g of milk chocolate per day for the past three months, though I always thought the caffeine content of milk chocolate was low, even when consumed at the rate of 150g per day. Or maybe just a run-of-the-mill bout of food poisoning and the fact that I was also sick at the beginning of this trip is pure coincidence.
Woke up feeling refreshed after a long sleep. I was worried this hostal might be full of rowdy Brits come to Spain to get drunk every night, but in fact the other guests appear to be mostly quiet students and working people who keep normal hours. Felt limber and strong doing my morning yoga. And no problems downing half a sandwich, left over from yesterday, so evidently my digestive system back in working order. Maybe these illnesses at the start and end of each journey have a purpose of some sort, such as priming my immune system for new bacteria versus what I've become accustomed to.
Long flight back to San Francisco, with a layover in Chicago. Need something to read on these long flights. Better yet, take a red-eye so I can sleep the time away. Red-eye would have the additional advantage of bringing me back to San Francisco in the morning instead of late evening, making it easier to catch the bus to Reno. Though that's not a problem this trip, since I had arranged to spend a few days with an old friend in the Bay Area before heading to Reno.
1879 km, according to GPS, in 71 days hiking, for average of 26km/day. Additional walking around town during 18 rest days.
89 nights in Spain, of which 39 nights wild camping (43%), 50 nights in hotels (56%).
1252€ total hotel costs, so average of 25€/night for the 50 nights in hotels, or 14€/night for the 89 nights total, since all the camping was free.
Under 900€ total or 10€/day for food/drinks. I dislike restaurants and thus mostly self-catered and tend to eat simply, and I seldom go to bars because I dislike the noise. (Rural bars in Spain are more like coffee shops in the United States. Many patrons order nothing but coffee, tea or soft drinks, children are allowed, sandwiches and snack food are often served. Going to a bar in rural Spain does not imply boozing it up, though it is certainly possible to order alcoholic beverages, nor does it imply prowling for sex partners. Bars in Spain do imply talking, usually loudly, along with watching idiotic shows on the television and scratching off lottery tickets and other low-intelligence ways of passing the time.) A typical rural restaurant charges 10€ for the mid-day meal, including dessert and wine. So those who anticipate eating frequently in restaurants, or stopping frequently at bars for coffee, should budget about 20€/day for this.
Under 400€ total or 5€/day for miscellaneous items, including approximately: 75€ for Movistar prepaid voice/data service; 50€ for bus/train service (Barcelona to Igualada via train, Cercedilla to El Escorial via train, Béjar to Madrid via bus, several subway trips in Barcelona and Madrid); 225€ for maps, books, newspapers and other miscellaneous items.
So total of about 2500€, or 28€/day (or $37/day at an exchange rate of 1.33 dollars/euro, including exchange fees).
There is also the cost of getting to/from Spain from Reno, which was about $906 for me, or about 8€/day if spread over 89 days, thus bringing the total travel budget to about $45/day. Transportation costs are very significant, and the best way to reduce them is fly less frequently but stay longer. Which is why all my trips to Europe have been for at least three months. (90 days every 180 days is all Americans tourists are allowed in Europe nowadays, though I didn't realize this when I first started traveling to Europe, nor did the border control agents in Spain or France ever caution me for staying longer than 90 days. I was cautioned by the Greek border control agent when I exited to Turkey, after 90 days in Greece, that I wouldn't be allowed back until 90 more days had elapsed.)
Non-discretionary ongoing expenses (such as storage locker rent) and costs for replacing worn equipment should be ignored in calculating cost of travel, since these costs would be more or less the same whether I travel to Spain or remain in the United States. I also do not include one-time equipment expenses, such as the Garmin GPS maps, since I anticipate traveling to Spain for many years to come and thus the cost/year of these one-time expenses will be very low.
Though I seldom have unpleasant hotel experiences in Spain (and none on this trip), I nevertheless find it stressful to move into a hotel that I've never patronized before. So I had a strong tendency to want to alternate between hotels and camping under my familiar tarp, which feels like home. And there were times when I wasn't sure as to availability of hotels, and so stopped early upon encountering a good campsite, rather than continue on and perhaps be forced to camp in a very poor location. If I ever repeat part or all of these trails in the future, I will probably camp less, perhaps 25% to 33% of the nights rather than 43%, since it is less stressful to check into a hotel for the second versus first time and because I will be more familiar with the availability of hotels and good campsites. Also, I suspect hotel rates are currently being held down by the economic recession and that the discount for individuals versus couples will be reduced in the future. Thus my average hotel expenses will probably be more like 25€/night in the future, bringing my total expenses in the future to around 40€/day, not counting travel to/from Spain.
Hotels in Spain aggressively cut rates for single versus double occupancy, so there is less savings for a couple versus an individual than in the United States or France, to cite just two examples of countries where the cost is normally per room rather than per person. A couple should budget 50€/day for hotels, plus 20€/day for food if mostly self-catering, or 40€/day if eating frequently at restaurants or stopping frequently at bars, plus 5€/day for miscellaneous costs, for a total of 75€/day to 95€/day. A couple wild camping 25% of the time and mostly self-catering could probably manage on a budget of 60€/day.
For those on a tight budget, there are also albergues, which provide dormitory sleeping, and organized campgrounds, which allow for bathing and washing clothes in addition to providing a flat spot for pitching a tent, as cheaper alternatives to hotels and hostals. Combining these forms of paid lodging with free wild camping 50% or more of the time allows for reducing overall lodging costs to well under 10€/day, thus reducing the total budget to well under 20€/day, assuming self-catering and few miscellaneous expenses. If even that is too much, then at least for Americans, it probably doesn't make sense to travel to Spain, given the huge cost of airfare (8€/day, as noted above). A tight budget with airfare dominating the budget argues for traveling closer to home. I am mainly thinking of Europeans, and especially Spanish residents, when I suggest it is possible to hike in Spain for well under 20€/day.