The last few days have passed quickly as the rhythm of the Camino has become established: get up, breakfast, walk all day, shower, wash clothes, eat, sleep and repeat. In saying that there has been nothing routine about this route which has some of the best views and finest walking of my many caminos. However there are some caveats. So far there have been two or three stages which are not for the faint hearted, unprepared or inexperienced pilgrim. I also think that the way this route has been designed using local hiking trails in the National Parks which may be suitable for day walkers isn't always safe or comfortable for full rucksack carrying pilgrims.
The best, or should I say, most testing example of this is the 12 kms stage from Colmenar to Cortes de la Frontera. "Only 12 kms?" I hear you saying. That's what we thought until discovering the stage entails walking up the side of a steep gorge which is 100 metres deep. The route goes up one side then plummets down to the bottom so that you can then walk up the other side which is even higher although perhaps easier to walk. Using wire ropes as hand holds to pull yourself up this stage takes several hours longer than the 12 kms distance suggests at first sight. This national monument is affectionately called the Cañón de las Buitreras ("Vulture's Nest Canyon"). For some the most exciting part is going through a tunnel and crossing the Puente de los Alemanes, the German Bridge across the gorge. Don't look over if you are afraid of heights. In fact in one You Tube video I watched a man was crossing on hands and knees! But the vistas are of course gorgeous.
The first part of the next day to Benaojan was shrouded in early morning mist and when the sun broke through a vast green valley opened before us bounded by mountains on either side. The train track ran parallel to the walking path and soon we were in the picturesque village of Jimena de Líbar. We ate our sandwiches on a bench and just as we were set to leave the local bar opened. We stopped for coffee and chatted to the owners a husband and wife from England and Denmark who have made their life in Andalucía. The area is very popular with day walkers and the husband showed us the Wikiloc tracks he'd recorded. "Do you know the Cañon de los Buitreras?" We asked. "Oh yes, " he replied, "I was so scared I had to cross the German Bridge on hands and knees and some blighter put a video of me on You Tube!" Yes, we know.
The path continued and we followed the yellow arrows. Then came a sign in Spanish and English. The English read, "Use extreme caution there is danger of falling." I thought this was a bad translation meaning "there is a danger of landslides or falling rocks". I was soon to discover the danger was of me falling off the narrow ledges often with the aid of hand ropes. We walked high above the valley and the river below until we reached Benaojan. Next day was straightforward to Ronda although at one point it looked tantalisingly close when the path descended rapidly and we had a long slog back up again. As you can see in the photo Ronda is very beautiful. The following morning the skies were clear and blue and we enjoyed the vast panoramic views as we descended from the cliff top town.
I've concluded that the folk who designed this route must have been youthful Olympic athletes because the distances recommended are prodigious and frankly too much for me. So rather than the long stage to Olvera we decided to stop after 20 kms in Setenil de las Bodegas. This was the best decision so far because we discovered it is a quite beautiful and magical pueblo blanco built in terraces with many houses built right into the rockface. It is surrounded by dozens of homemade wine cellars, the bodegas, which sprout from the rock.
By splitting this route into bite size portions we've been able to recover from the exertions of some stages which felt like getting on a step machine for several hours. We've also been able to explore ways of walking round one or two portions which may make the route inaccesible to many pilgrims. These will be described in the walking notes which will follow.
Leaving Setenil this morning I felt that we had discovered a very special place which otherwise we might have missed.
Then it was on to Olvera. "Only 14 kms" but with several elevations enough for a good cardiovascular workout. We saw the town nestled on the hilltop and just below it the pueblo of Torre Alháquime. They sat there perfectly like siblings of different sizes. Of course the way to Olvera was to climb, climb, climb up through the steep streets of Torre Alháquime then up again to the hermitage of San Isidro. Thankfully the way flattens out from here. I hope.