Stories

 

Spain


From the 15th of January to the 19th of February, 2017



After a month locked in a sealed container sailing from South Africa, Hyundi made it back HOME. We welcomed him in Rotterdam and got him ready for the next journey : A winter trip around the Iberian peninsula.

In Barcelona, we were welcomed by Esther and Graham, Rapha's old friends. For a few days, we wandered from one quarter to another, discovering nice parks, imposing monuments as well as the colorful creative artwork of Gaudi. The mix of architectural styles of the Sagrada Familia is the most surprising and gigantic of his chef d'oeuvre. One facade resembles the sand castle I was doing as a kid while on the other side Jesus is standing side by side with some Star Wars characters. Inside, the colors shimmering through the enormous stained glass windows are so overwhelming that one could have the feeling watching a kaleidoscope. I'm not even mentioning the giant pillars which are splitting like the branches of a tree to hold up the upper floors. For sure Gaudi wasn't lacking imagination...

    

For many years my friend Pepe has been promoting his home town Denia for being a kite surfing paradise, a scuba diving spot, having a beautiful coast with beaches and cliffs overlooking the ocean. The day before reaching, for the first time in 35 years, Denia was covered in snow! Very unlucky with the bad weather, we didn't get the chance to enjoy the place as much as it deserves. Never the less, between two rainfalls, we managed to see the beautiful Cueva Del Moraig. Most of all it was nice to see Pepe and his family again after so many years!

    

One magic thing about traveling is to briefly meet people in one corner of the world and meet them again thousands of kilometers away. I met Adeline & Paco while scuba diving with sharks in South Africa. "If you come to Spain, come to visit us!" Don't invite me if you don't mean it... Even though our first meeting was pretty brief, we were welcomed as if we had known each other for a long time. They were very enthusiastic to guide us through the charming old Town of Elche, the basilica where they got married, the Arabic houses and castle. But the most surprising was the 2000 years old Palm garden right in the city. No doubt, we are getting closer and closer to Arabic culture!

    

After driving past the over-developed and, in winter time, under-occupied holiday towns of the Costa Brava, Cabo de la Gata and its untouched coast was a pleasant break in our journey. For a couple of days, we took it easy, discovering the beautiful little coves as well a dramatic rocky cliffs. Also for the first time in our trip we were blessed with bright sunshine, blue sky and temperatures rising shy of 20 degrees in the day.

In Almeria, I was shocked to witness kilometers and kilometers of plastic see. It is here, in one of the driest place of Europe that most of the veggies we are consuming throughout the continent are being grown. What an absurdity! Every little corner is flattened in order to exploit every possible meters of the area. On the ecological side, as if the water shortage wasn't enough, the plastic waste generated by green house sheets maintenance is enormous. On the ethic side, North Africans are being exploited working crazy hours for poor money in terrible conditions.

    

We made our way inland, driving by the Tabernas desert and its beautiful rock formation where western movies are being shot. We then passed the Sierra Nevada mountain chain and reached Granada. The Alhambra, a fortified palace built during the Arab empire is nicely overlooking the city. From the 8th to the 13th centuries, Spain was ruled by the Arab emperors. The Alhambra was one of the last fortresses to be built before Spain regained power in the 14th century. The emperor Carlos V and his wife Isabella took possession of the fort and sacrificed parts of the Arabic palace of Nazaries to build an imposing renaissance palace. The different Arabic palaces are decorated with fine mosaics, stuccos, wooden ceilings, fountains, columns and patios while the renaissance palace standing right next to his Arabic counterpart is of a totally different style. The mix of the two cultures is fascinating.

    

With the beautiful snowy Sierra Nevada on the background, I couldn't resist getting up there. On the ski lift my neighbor was wondering why a Swiss should ski in Spain while the Spaniards dream of skiing the Swiss Alps... Well, when I left Switzerland in mid-January, there was still no snow to be seen in the Alps. Here in Spain I got fresh snow, bright sunshine, nice slopes and guess what? I was skiing with an ocean view!

Today started with a nice (and free) natural hot spring bath nearby the tiny village of Alhama de Granada. We then set our navigator to guide us on the shortest route for our next destination rather than the usual setting 'fastest route'. We got rewarded by a dirt track leaded us through rolling green hills covered in olive tree plantations and shepherds herding their sheep along the road. As we climbed over the Sierra de Loja, we discovered a beautiful moonlike landscape with the snowy mountains in the background. On the other side of the mountain pass, we reached the via ferrata of Cueva de Hora and enjoyed our climb with the beautiful sunset light. As often, the highlight is not only the end destination but the journey to get there.

    

Perched above the olive plantation hills, El Torcal is an amazing place where the Karst erosion has reveled horizontal layers on hug pillars looking like giant cairns. Although the sun was hiding that day, the little hike around those rock formation was really nice.

The Caminito del Rey is a path full of history. In early 20th century, it was built to transport men and material to the construction site of a hydro power project up the gorge. At 100 meters above the river, the camino is perched on the vertical rocky face of the narrow "Garganta del Chorro" gorge. A century later, the structure felt apart and became a playground for climbers looking for a shot of adrenaline on what was rated the most dangerous via ferrata of the world. After many fatal accidents, they finally built a totally new structure leaving the old one underneath as a reminder of the old route. Nowadays, anyone can experience this beautiful walk following the gorge high above the Rio Gadalhorce, following the water channels which are still channeling water to the power station located at the end of the gorge.

    

For a change, we are not meeting on a parking in India, nor on the Bolivian Altiplano, neither in a forest in Finland and surely not along a lake in Switzerland. This time we are meeting in Andalousia on their own land. A few months ago, the Six en Route family found a nice little piece of land in the Malaga region. The tree eldest kids successfully passed their BAC last year and are having a year off to enjoy each of their favorite hobbies. Zoe, the youngest one has to hold tight for a few more years of home schooling. All of them are working together to arrange their new home "Los Sueños". They leveled the terrain, installed a few caravans, decorated them, arranged the existing cute little wooden chalet, built a new shared bathroom and created a cozy terrace area. Just like Casita and Baloo, the place is full of colorful paintings and feels very homy :-) With the mild winter climate and beautiful natural surroundings, this place has the perfect setting to accommodate the participant to their workshops "daring your dreams". Any other guest is welcome of course. It was nice to see them is this new environment, as always they keep a positive vibe and are full of energy to push their projects forward. For more information of their conferences and workshop, have a look on their website www.sixenroute.com

After spending a few relaxing days at Los Sueños, we got back to our traveling rhythm and reached the charming white village of Ronda and its famous Puente Nuevo offering beautiful view over the Tajo gorge. What a better way to attract the adventurous crowd than installing a via ferrata. On the way to the starting point, we passed by abandoned water channels and ruins covered in vegetation. The climb followed some old steps and offered beautiful views of the bridge. We ended our day by wild camping at the bottom of the gorge, with the illuminated bridge as our bedroom view. Not bad... excepted that it was a freezing cold night and in the morning our windows were covered in ice - on the inside!

  

The region of Ronda is full of little surprises like the Roman theater of Acinipo or the Andalusian white village of Setenil de las Bodegas which is build half-way in the rocks. In the south there are some caves including the Cueva de la Pileta which not only has beautiful mineral formations but also hides 8000-33000 years old realistic paintings of animals. We did more via ferratas in the region and one we particularly liked was Benalauria. Located on a promontory rock, the via goes through an arch, follows a rock wall full of mineral formations, continues with some monkey bridges and ends in a moonlike landscape. Compared to the once in Switzerland they are not the longest nor the most extremes but they are definitely a nice way to enjoy the nature.

    

On our way to the coast, I had the privilege of having a swim in the Hedionda Roman bath built on Julius Cesar request. Although the sulfuric water wasn't the warmest ever, for a moment, I was in the skin of a Roman Goddess having a bath with my Julius. I'm very surprised to see this kind of ancient place trustfully open and free to public use. Viva España!

The British overseas territory of Gibraltar is built around a huge rock forming a kind of peninsula. It had its political ups and downs with Spain, resulting in land border being closed for 17 years. By seeing the number of canons and super guns as well as bunkers, I know how they managed to keep their little piece of land since 1713. Somehow it has something of Cape Town in South Africa. A city built around a big rock, a cable-car to enjoy the view, winding roads overlooking the ocean, monkeys climbing around and a Cape which is not THE cape. Although it gave its name to the straight separating the two continents, the tip of Europe is another 50 kilometers south on the Cape of Tarifa.

    

The Costa de la Luz remains way less developed than the rest of the Spain coast we have seen so far. It is super green with coastal pine forests, long empty beached and beautiful dunes. Of course, being famed for surfing and wind-surfing means it can get pretty windy too.

We left the Spanish coast in Cadix and headed inland for a few more cultural highlight such as the heart of flamenco in Jerez de la Frontera and most of all Sevilla and the Alcazar, a smaller version of the Alhambra in Granada. Once again, the mix of Arabic and Christian architecture is fascinating.

In Minas de Rio Tinto, we hoped on a beautiful train journey following the Rio Tinto (colored river). The colorful scarred landscapes formed by the different mining steps was totally eerie. The red-brown color of the water is due to the high concentration of copper and iron. When seeing the big hole of the nearby active mine, it is hard to believe there was still a mountain in 1968.

    

The Sierra de Aracena is hiding a treasure. I'm not talking about the castle which sits on top, but what is deep down the mountain. Las Cuevas de las Maravillas (the cave of wonders), is a beautiful 2130 meters long cave system with beautifully lit chambers fully decorated by very delicate mineral formations as well as crystal clear lakes.

In the Parque Natural de Aracena y Picos de Aroche, we discovered amazing oak pastures with horses and donkeys separated by old stone walls. The trunk of the freshly harvested tree is bright red while the upper part is showing the different layers from the previous harvests. It was as if a red tree was wearing fluffy green-grayish gloves on the branches while keeping the lower trunk naked.

Click here to read the following story about our journey in Portugal.



Northern Spain


From the 8th to the 15th of March, 2017



After a bit more than two weeks in Portugal, reaching northern Spain was like coming back home. Not only I could speak the language again, but driving was more enjoyable. Portugal felt like one giant rural village. With houses everywhere along the road, it was hard to tell where one village started or ended. For sure with the number of speed bumps and roundabouts you won't get a ticket for speeding.

Before reaching the north coast, we admired the orange eroded pics of Las Medulas popping out of the green rolling hills. This ancient gold mine is a beautiful place, specially at sunrise or sunset.

    

In Galicia, the high cliffs offered gorgeous vantage points over the powerful Atlantic ocean. Wild horses were rooming freely in the green meadows and forests. More to the east, we enjoyed the rock formations of playa del Silencio as well as the hidden beach of Gulpiyuri. Actually this is a beach with no ocean and surrounded by fields and a cliff. Depending on the tide, the water flows in and out through a little crack connecting the beach to the ocean hiding behind the hill a hundred meters away. For a change to the coast, we zig-zaged our way up the massif of Picos de Europa to admire the beautiful mountain lake of Ercina surrounded by steep snowy peaks and green meadows.

    

We are reaching the end of the winter and therefore the end of our winter trip around the Iberian peninsula. Time has come to go home and... get ready for our road trip through Central Asia!

After Africa, it felt good to travel in such an easy country where safety isn't a concern, where finding amazing wild camping spots is a piece of cake, where people are friendly and tolerant. Spain has beautiful historical cities as well as very diverse landscapes. Although it can get pretty cold at night, winter in Andalucía is nothing like Switzerland. Of course this is not the right time for the sunbathing in your bikini, but the climate is perfect for outdoor activities such as hiking, climbing or cycling. And how many times did we repeat ourselves: "I don't want to know how this place looks when packed with tourists in summer."

Click here to read the following story about our journey in Iran.

Album "Spain - January-March 2017"