Every once in a while we need to stop being tourists. No more cathedrals, palaces, or castles. No more ruins. No more museums. For the love of gawd, no more free audio guides. Give us a respite. Give us the steady tempo of our shoes on an earthen path and a good long sweat. Every once in a while we need to go hiking.
We’ve embarked on three hikes during our time in Spain and each one has brought us wonders we hadn’t seen before.
Through the Cork Trees
During our first few days here we rented a car and drove up into the mountains of the Huelva Province. We had a delightful time exploring a series of little hamlets, including one idyllic place called Aracena. There, about 500 meters (.32 miles) past the municipal pool there’s a path marked PRA48. This path ambles through a green valley for five kilometers (3.2 miles) to another small town, Linares de la Sierra.
It was a cool, foggy day in early January when we took this hike, which made it all the more mystical. Our first delight was finding a grove of freshly harvested cork oak trees lining the path:
We first learned about cork production in Portugal, so we were excited to be able to get up close to a grove in Spain. The trees we saw were young judging by the narrowness of the trunks and how little of the bark was taken. Although “young” is relative in this case as a tree needs to be at least 25 years old before they can begin harvesting it. They are careful about how much cork they take as well since taking too much exposes the tree to disease.
We stopped in Linares de la Sierra for lunch. Not knowing much about the place we decided to walk into the first restaurant we saw and were soon enough joined by several dozen locals. Maybe they were all there to watch a fútbol match. Maybe they were there because it’s Spain and going out for tapas en masse is like church here. In any case we were greeted with a few glances of the you’re not from around here variety, but the mood was inviting and warm. The Spanish are a happy people.
On the walk back we were greeted by a passel of black pigs. These guys have free range of the cork oak fields for three years where they fatten up on fallen acorns. They will become food later, but it’s a good three years while it lasts.
The Green River
Next up was the Sendero Rio Verde, a trail along a beautiful scenic drive in the Granada Province. We decided to take this drive because it’s supposedly the path of the proverbial “Moor’s Sigh,” where the last emir, fleeing from the reconquering Christian army, turned around to gaze upon his beautiful Alhambra and let out a regretful sigh.
It is, indeed, a beautiful drive. The trail head for the hike is along the same road and made for a nice excursion. It is about a seven kilometer (four mile) hike with a 400 meter (.25 mile) descent down to the river. We spotted a few mountain goats a long the way, but the real treat with this one are the views.
Our final hike was the Garganta Verde – the Green Throat. This hike is so popular we had to get a permit. Seriously, anything that well-liked is worth a look. The permit is free.
The hike is challenging, I won’t lie to you. It’s only 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) each way, but it descends 400 meters (.25 miles) in that short distance. The path does not make use of switchbacks, so it’s pretty much just straight down via uneven stairs cut into the rock. Strong legs and sturdy knees are a must.
Once again the views are stunning, and the hike terminates at an impressive cave. But the highlight is the fact that we were walking under a nesting ground for griffon vultures. They took us a little by surprise, floating on the wind currents so close to eye level.
We were quite fortunate that there were only a handful of people on the hike that day. We were alone for long stretches and could stand there watching the vultures soar past us. If we were quiet enough we could also hear the whoosh of the wind across their wings. I swear it sounds just like an airplane, only not obnoxious.
This last hike was a peak experience for yours truly. I came back with wobbly legs but a revitalized spirit. I am ready for the next museum.