Often after the Flamenco Tour I travel here and there. To explore, to scout things out for future tours, to visit friends, to see more flamenco... A couple of years ago after the trip ended I headed to Prado del Rey in the Sierra de Cádiz for a few days.
I did not rent a car and instead chose a home base with plenty of trails and places to explore on foot nearby. I spent a lot of time getting lost then finding myself in unintended places. While I look forward to hiking and discovering more of the sierra in the future, I'm very happy with my decision to travel sin coche this time around.
Some people considered the overall experience I had there (and my persistence in certain situations which you'll read about below) to be quite flamenca which makes me want to share this account of my adventures there with you:
A Good Mistake: I thought this was the trail I was looking for. It wasn't. It was just a back road. (And a good mistake.)
The Pigs: After an unsuccessful attempt to find the first trail I went seeking another. This time I found the trail I expected to find, Las Lomas. What I did not expect were the pigs. I was walking up a hill when things quite suddenly smelled horrible. I came around a corner to find a big black Iberian pig staring right at me. I proceeded cautiously and pretty soon I was seeing giant pigs all over the place. They began making all kinds of noise and running around then quickly calmed down. I am not an experienced pig person, so that basically scared the pants off of me. I backed away and watched them, taking pictures and deliberating. To continue my hike I would have to cross through the pigs! Are pigs dangerous? I had no idea. The woman at the tourist office had not mentioned any dangerous pig crossings. I was thinking of heading black when I saw a woman approaching with her dog. She told me they were not dangerous and that they were accustomed to people passing by. She told me further along I'd see goats and horses. She told me there used to be cows and that though they weren't dangerous either they were scary. She also told me ahead there'd be a gate I would need to open to continue on the trail. Had she not told me this I would have assumed it led to private property and never opened it. So far I'm noticing the trails aren't very well marked here. This definitely keeps things interesting, but I'm very glad I speak Spanish.
This morning I was in the city; now I'm in the sierra, and it feels incredible.
Camino de la Romeria: After a chat with the woman from the tourist office who tried to convince me to go to the show that night at the planetarium and visit a spa that was an hour and a half away (neither of which I chose to do), I found the trail I had been searching for the day before, Camino de la Romeria. I passed by several very efficient guard dogs, horses, pigs, goats, and beautiful scenery like this.
Looking for the Castle: I passed by this church, Nuestra Señora Del Carmen, on my way to find a moorish castle. It was raining, almost pouring, when I started out, but that didn't stop me, a born and bred Portlander. (An umbrella helped too.) I'd seen the castle high on a hill the day before and asked Juan Carlos from the hotel about it. He told me I could walk there and gave me directions. He even drew me a map with two possible routes telling me it was easy to find. I would argue that it was not so easy to find. I looked all day but never found it.
Another Attempt: After an unsuccessful attempt to follow a road to the castle (which was supposedly the easy route), I tried again following a trail that Juan Carlos had described to me. "It's easy to follow at first," he told me, "then it becomes harder to navigate, but as long as you keep going up you can't miss it."
I discovered all kinds of things along the way, a shrine, a climbing wall, even some wild rabbits. Eventually I came upon a wire barrier pictured which I had been told to go under then continue up the mountain. I was so excited to be on the right track considering there wasn't much of a trail to follow. But a bit further along anything that looked like it could have been a path seemed to disappear, and I saw nothing but dense bushes ahead. I actually tried to get through them for a moment, but when I saw how much further I had to go in this manner, I headed back down.
Farm Crossing: This path was not recommended to me, but I discovered it just as I was about to head home after my unsuccessful attempts at finding the castle. I saw an abandoned building and decided instead to take a peek. Nearby I noticed a sign indicating a path to the castle. Ah ha! Where the path began wasn't entirely clear, but I went with my instincts, and was eventually led to a marker. Good news. (Unfortunately this was the beginning and end of all markers.)
You walk through a lot of people's property on many of these trails, and apparently that's totally okay. (They just ask you to always lock the gate once you've gone through so that their animals do not escape.)
After three attempts, by sundown I had yet to reach the castle. I was fine with that though, for I encountered so many beautiful sites along the way.
Success: The following day, on my sixth attempt, I finally made it to the castle. It involved lots of mud, passing thorough gates I felt I ought not pass thorough, cows blocking the road, scary barking dogs, and finally two nice young German guys who helped me at the moment I had decided this castle was best left to see on a future trip.
The Spot Where I Decided to Bring my Castle Search to a Close Which Then Turned Into the Spot Where I Decided to Give it a Final Go: In the picture you can see the castle way atop the hill in the background. The sign on the right reads, 'DANGER, wild cattle.' This offered me little encouragement to continue on, but I did so anyway.
Just past this gate I came to a fork in the road. One path definitely went up but appeared to lead to a private farm (because it did) while the other was a continuation of the path I was on. I followed the path I was already on. Along the muddy path I went, circling the castle above, navigating through mud and cow pies not seeming to get any closer. Eventually that trail turned into another dense brush situation similar to the one I'd found myself in the previous day. I peered up at the castle, perplexed, and began heading back.
I decided to try the seemingly dead end road to the farmhouse. Why not? It went up. I needed to go up. I began walking up, and that's when I saw cows. Lots of cows. I remembered the sign, PELIGRO, danger. I also remembered the woman from day one who had told me not to be afraid of the pigs. She'd also told me there used to be cows on that trail and that the cows weren't dangerous either but that they were scary. So, I reassured myself and continued along. I saw more and more cows. A cow crossing the road, two cows literally lying in the middle of the road, a cow with her calf... Hold up. A mama with her baby might not like me coming around. So I backed away.
I wanted to make it to the castle so badly! I'd come so far and made so many attempts. I decided to call the hotel to ask if I was on the right track. It was the second time I'd called them. (I called once the previous day to confirm that I was supposed to cross over a giant barricade in the road. When I first arrived Juan Carlos told me it was easy to get lost on the trails around here so to take his card and call if I should ever get lost.) My phone had no reception, so I went further down the hill and tried again.
His son answered, "Yes, that is the right way." "Yes there are cows." "Yes you can walk by them; just don't get too close to them." This encouraged and discouraged me at the same time considering multiple cows were literally in the middle of the road and not getting close to them would basically be impossible.
Still I braved my way through and made it past the cows only to encounter another wire gate. I searched for an opening while a tied up guard dog barked ferociously at me. My fear grew. Even if this was the right way I didn't feel comfortable continuing alone. Enough was enough. I took it as a sign that I was meant to come back someday, that this trip was not the castle trip but another trip would be. So I headed back down, past the barking dog, through the cows, and at this very gate I stopped to write down my thoughts when two German guys suddenly appeared on mountain bikes.
Are You Going to The Castle? Until now I had not seen a soul on any of the so-called castle trails. I greeted them and asked if they were headed up. "Yes," they told me. I asked them if you had to pass by cows. "Yes," they told me. I asked if you had to pass through another wire gate "Yes." I told them I couldn't figure out how to open it. "It's kind of tricky," they told me, "If you want, you can come up with us." So they walked their bikes, and we continued together. When we got to the cows they were surprised and told me they'd not been blocking the road the last time they came through. When we got to the gate they told me not to worry about the dog. That he would bark and bark but that he was tied up. We passed through the gate, and I thanked them and told them to go ahead on their bikes, and I'd see them up there. Up the muddy mountain they zoomed on their electric bikes.
As you can see from the picture it's not so much a castle as the remains of one. What you see is a (controversial) reconstructed wall of the Castillo de Matrera. You can read more about the castle and the reconstruction here.
Cows And The Castle: The closer I got to the castle the more cows I encountered. My cow fear lessened with each encounter. (These are some cows I passed on the way back down.)
The Sunset: While I didn't make it to all of my intended destinations that day (there were only two but still) I did manage to find a marvelous spot to watch the sunset. This was on the Camino del Pilar on my way to my second desired destination. I realized I wasn't going to get there before dark seeing as how finding the castle had taken much more time than I'd imagined it would, once again. Still I felt satisfied having walked 27,150 steps this day through amazingly beautiful landscapes.
Departure Day: I had time in the morning before I left town to do one more hike. This trail took me to the top of the Cerro del Verdugo where I had been hoping to go the previous evening. I got there by way of the Camino de la Granja. Thankfully, it was relatively easy for me to find, perhaps because a.) I'd had a bit of a trial run the evening before and b.) There were signs and the trails were obvious.
I'm dreaming of a Flamenco Tour add-on trip, or just a tour of its own, to visit these white hill towns and walk in the Sierra de Cádiz. Would you like to come?