My virtual October began in Alicante, a city with a long and varied history. More than eight thousand years ago the first tribes of hunter gatherers from Central Europe settled on the slopes of Alicante’s Mount Benacantil. Over the next few thousand years small trading ports were established and, in the third century BC, Carthaginian general, Hamilcar Barca, built a fortified settlement, Akra Leuka, meaning white mountain, where Alicante stands today.
In more recent times the tourist industry has transformed the city, with hotels, bars and restaurants springing up. With commercial port traffic on the decline, the port reinvented itself as a cruise centre in the 1980’s. The city has a lot to offer the visiting tourists. For those who like a little history, the castle of Santa Barbara sits on Mount Benacantil overlooking the port. Strollers enjoy the beautiful promenade Explanada de España with its wavy marble floor tiles and palm trees. There are beautiful parks and colourful narrow streets and a few kilometres off the coast is Tabarca Island, once the home of Barbary pirates, now a tourist attraction. My walk through the city would have been interesting if I’d been there for real.
My week one walk took me along the coast, through the small tourist resorts of Urbanova, Arenales del Sol and Costa Hispania. White sand, clean blue sea and dunes would have made for pleasant walking.
Around eighteen miles into the week I reached the outskirts of the next town, Santa Pola. It is a small fishing town, but interesting to visit and popular with tourists. The town was built in the sixteenth century over the ruins of a Roman village called Portus Ilicitanus, meaning Harbour of Elche. There is a castle and more than three miles of salt evaporation ponds known as the saltines.
Beyond the saltines were the small resort towns of El Pinet and La Marina and beyond them the River Segura where my week ended.
Week two began in Guardamar del Segura, meaning guarding the sea, near the mouth of the river Segura. Originally a fishing and farming community which began as a Phoenician colony, it is the southernmost Catalan speaking town in Spain. There is an eleven kilometre long white sand beach backed by a large pine forest, making it lovely to walk through. Guardamar also boasts the tallest military structure in the European Union, a tall radio mast called Torreta de Guardamar.
My virtual walk took a detour away from the coast for a while, partly to pass close to the Torreta de Guardamar, but also to walk beside Las Salinas De Torrevieja. These two huge natural salt lakes set in a park dedicated to their protection would have been well worth the extra miles if I’d been walking for real. The northernmost, Laguna Salada de la Mata, is a deep blue green colour while the southern lake, Laguna Salada de Torrevieja is pink, due to a species of algae. Both are saltier than sea water and, since the early fourteenth century, salt has been extracted from them. Today only Laguna Salada de Torrevieja is used to produce salt and a man made channel connects it to the Mediterranean where boats come to collect the precious cargo.
The lakes are too salty to support fish although micro organisms and brine shrimp do live in them. The nature reserve surrounding the lakes is home to more than two hundred species of birds, including flamingos. There are also wild orchids growing on the salt marshes.
Next I passed through the resort towns of La Florida, Dehesa de Campoamor, Mil Palmeres and Horadada. Pretty as they are, these tourist traps are beginning to all look the same, although Horodada did at least have the distinction of having a 16th century watchtower beneath which the rocks are peppered with small caves.
Then came El Mojón, a fishing village turned resort, followed closely by San Pedro del Pinatar, where fishing, tourism and salt harvesting are the main industries. The salt ponds here have been worked since Roman times. A little further along the coast I passed through Santiago de la Ribera, another fishing village turned holiday resort, this one boasting a large weekly street market.
All these resort towns were finally broken up by the sight of Murcia–San Javier Airport. Many of the tourists probably start their Spanish holidays there, although it is mainly a military air base, owned by the Spanish Air Force and managed by Aena, the main airport manager in Spain.
The week ended on the far side of the airport in Los Alcázares, a fishing village turned spa town. It sits on the banks of the Mar Menor, or little sea, Europe’s largest saltwater lagoon with a surface of around twenty square kilometres. The lagoon is warmer than the surrounding sea making it popular for sailing, windsurfing and other water sports. Maybe if I was here for real I’d go for a little swim?
My virtual week three began with Spain’s first military flying boat base, south of Los Alcázares. It was built here in 1915 to take advantage of the sheltered calm conditions on the Mar Menor. The adjacent landing ground, Burguete Aerodrome was used to train Spanish Air Force pilots. After the civil war in 1939, the airport wound down its operations, although it is still occasionally used today. There is an aviation museum, where film, photos, models and a few planes can still be seen.
From the Aerodrome I headed inland, past Bahia Bella, a small village of rental villas that looked strangely delapidated from what I could see, and Barrio de la Fuensanta, a smaller but more upmarket version of the same.
The next five miles were spent on a lonely, dusty road running across flat agricultural land. This seems to be what Spain is mostly like away from the coast and I think I’d have enjoyed the walk.
Once I’d passed through a tunnel under the Autopista del Mediterraneo, there was more of the same for five more miles. This stretch of road had exciting things like farm buildings and even a chapel Ermita el Pasico to ease any boredom I might have been feeling at this point.
All this rural walking finally led me to Cartagena, which actually felt quite exciting. This major naval station is Murcia’s second largest municipality and was one of my goals for the month. People have been living there for more than two millennia and it was founded by Hasdrubal the Fair in around 227BC as Qart Hadsht, the name the city of Carthage was also first called.
This is certainly a place I’d like to spend some time. The area is home to an extrodinary variety of plant and animal life, with some Ibero-African plants that are rarely found anywhere else and many endangered plants. As for fauna, endangered species such as the peregrine falcon, Eurasian eagle owl, golden eagle, Bonelli’s eagle, Spur-thighed Tortoise, Greater Horseshoe Bat and the Spanish toothcarp are all found here.
For me though, one of the most interesting aspects of this city, comes from its rich history. Over the years many cultures have left their mark on Cartagena and there are several archeological sites worth visiting. Some of the oldest are the remains of the Punic rampart dating from 227 BC. Many others date from the time of the Roman Empire, such as The Roman Theatre of Carthago Nova, the Cathedral ruins of Cartagena, the Roman colonnade and the Torre Ciega built by the Romans for burial.
Of course there is much much more to be seen, including some wonderful buildings dating from less ancient times along with the busy port and a wealth of sculptures, parks, shops and restaurants. If I was there for real it would be almost impossible to leave and I could easily fill a whole post just skimming the surface of the place. As usual I was merely passing through. Soon I came to Canteras, a small village on the outskirts of the big city. It is named for the quarries where sandstone called tabaire was cut to built the Roman city of Carthago Nova, now called Cartagena.
The next nine miles or so were taken up with getting over mountainous Sierra de la Almenara to the small coastal village of Isla Plana. The village is mostly overlooked by tourists meaning it’s unspoilt, just the way I like things.
The week ended in the Bay of Mazarrón, with its unspoilt beaches and coves sheltered by the mountains. It’s a popular place with holidaymakers who enjoy nautical sports and there is a fishing dock, salt preserving factory museum and fish market.
The first town I passed through in week four was Bolnuevo. Originally a sheltered fishing bay, the golden beach is popular with families seeking a peaceful retreat. A sanctuary was built here in the sixteenth century as a memorial to locals who perished in numerous pirate attacks. There was also once a fortress, called the Tower of Horses, or Bolnuevo Castle.
It was the last town I’d see for some time. The next twenty miles or more were spent on lonely roads crossing agricultural land, with tents and polytunnels to maximise harvests, and up and down mountain paths. It made a change from all the resorts and it was beautiful, if desolate countryside.
When I finally came to a town it was Águilas, at the southern end of Murcia’s Mediterranean coastline, on a small peninsular between two bays, near the border with the Province of Almería. The second half of the nineteenth century saw the arrival of a huge British colony and many of the buildings and infrastructure remain today, including the British Cemetery, the Hornillo Pier and the house of an English merchant. Earlier buildings include the Castle of Saint John of Águilas, used as a defence tower. The economy grew up around mineral extraction but today the main industry is agriculture and tourism thanks to Águilas’ numerous beaches.
Over the next few miles I crossed some of the beaches that drew the tourists, Calarreona, Las Palmeres, Calataray and the little coastal village of San Juan de Los Terrreros, with a beautiful beach and a sixteenth century castle.
The last few miles of the month were along the coast dotted with tiny tourist villages above more stunning beaches, Puzo Del Esparto, Cala Panizo and finally El Calon, where I ended my October walking. I can think of worse places to stop.
My goal for October was to beat the 131.98 miles I walked in September. That much I achieved. This month I walked 137.70 miles. Not a huge victory but progress. With just two months left of 2017, getting to Morocco is looking doubtful unless I manage to squeeze in a lot more miles. It would be nice to get to Malaga but, at over 200 miles, that may be a bit of a stretch. Then again…
All photos from Google Streetview