In the world of virtual walking November began in El Calon, Spain. In the real world it began with a particularly nasty stomach bug, caught from CJ, that laid me low for almost a week. This was not good news for my mileage but I limped along anyway and walked as much as I could.
The first five miles of the month took me along a lonely coastal path overlooking the sea. A few houses were dotted here and there on the edge of the cliff along with the odd nameless ruin.
The first real sign of civilisation was the Deretil factory. It seemed like a small town but is actually the place where the raw materials for antibiotics are made. Maybe the virtual world was trying to tell me something. This is the only industry in the area apart from tourism.
The factory is just outside the small town of Villaricos in the shadow of the Sierra Almagrera mountain. Once a pretty little fishing harbour it is now filled with villas, hotels and restaurants to cater to the streams of tourists who visit every year.
Two miles further on I reached another beach resort, Playa Vera. The long wide beach is one of the largest naturist areas in Europe and there are apartment complexes and facilities to cater for those who like to do their sunbathing naked. In 2013 the world’s largest skinny dip took place here with seven hundred and twenty nine naturists going for a swim together. If I’d been walking here for real I’d probably have felt rather overdressed.
The last town of the week was Garrucha, a seaport on the bank of the River Antas. The Harbour is defended by an eighteenth century castle. This was once a thriving agricultural and mining area and was used for the export of lead, silver, copper, iron, esparto grass and fruit. These days the only export from its harbour is gypsum, mined in nearby Sorbas. The majority of the boats that come and go are either fishing boats or small leisure craft sailed by tourists.
The final ten miles of the week took me along the Mojacar Coast on the coastal road. Every so often I passed through little beach resorts, like Vista de los Ángeles, La Parata and Ventanicas-el Cantal. The religion has one of the warmest climates in Spain’s with sunshine almost every day of the year. The sand is fine grained on the long beaches, the sea is warm, this would be a nice place to escape to on a cold autumn day, if only everyone else hadn’t already escaped there first.
The first five miles of week two would have been hard going if I did been walking them for real. My virtual walk was through the Cabo de Gata-Níjar Natural Park, a wild and isolated landscape, with volcanic rock formations and steep climbs. What I saw on Google Street View reminded me very much of Lanzarote. The climate here is more desert than seaside resort and I think this would have been a struggle in the real world, but a rather beautiful one.
The first town I came to was Carboneras with its white painted houses facing the deep blue sea. This is a popular place with tourists who like to be active, walking, running and hiking in the spectacular environment or scuba diving. There is a sixteenth century castle, the Castle of San Andrés, and beautifull beaches.
The beaches of Carboneras would be the last I would see for a while. When I reached the town I turned away from the coast and began to climb into the mountainous landscape. After a couple of lonely miles I reached the small village of El Llano de Don Antonio. The village once belonged to the Arabs who conquered Carboneras but was later owned by the Los Fuentes family who used the land for agriculture.
Five miles of beautifully rugged and slightly desolate walking followed. There wasn’t a single dwelling, not even a ruin.
The next eleven miles took me past a sea of plastic covered greenhouses, called invernerados. These and lots of makeshift huts seem to have swallowed up the town of Campohermosa. Apparently, the town is pretty but I didn’t get close enough to see it.
Finally, twenty four miles into the week, I came to the next real town, San Isidro de Níjar, although it was barely more than a village sitting in the middle of all those plastic greenhouses. It would have been a great relief to see real houses and shops after so much lonely wandering.
The week ended just over three miles later in another, even smaller, town, El Viso. It had probably been one of the loneliest, emptiest weeks of this whole year but at least I would have had somewhere to sleep.
The first nine miles of week three were pretty much indistinguishable from the last of week two. Miles and miles of dusty roads and plastic covered greenhouses with barely a real building in sight. If I was walking this for real I’d have needed an iPod and some music to relieve the boredom around about then. When I reached the tiny airport town of El Alquian I’d probably have been quite excited, although there is very little of interest there to see apart from the airport itself.
Four more miles of plastic and agriculture and I reached Almeria the city served by the airport. Unsurprisingly, agriculture is the main industry, mainly plasticulture, hence the miles and miles of ugly plastic. The greenhouses produce fruit and vegetables, most of which are exported to the rest of Europe through the city port. The enterprise is not without controversy. The ramshackle huts I’d passed are where many of the labourers live, conditions are not good for them. The plastic itself is also an issue, it often ends up in the sea causing pollution and killing marine life.
The city was founded in the tenth century by Abd-ar-Rahman III, who called it Alazaba, the citadel. Silk and other textiles were the main industry until, after many sieges, it came under Christian domination in 1489. In 1522 the city was devastated by an earthquake. Rebuilding and recovery didn’t really start until the nineteenth century and the economy was rebuilt around agriculture.
It is a place I’d like to stay and wander around. There is much to see, not least the wonderful Moorish castle, the Alcazaba of Almeria, the second largest among the Muslim fortresses of Andalusia and, connected to it by a line of walls, the ruined Castle of San Cristobal.
It would have been good to be back by the sea after all those dusty roads and I stuck to the coast road through the suburbs of Aguadulce and El Campillo del Moro, before heading off inland again through another sea of plastic greenhouses. There was at least some light relief when I passed through the small villages of Las Hortichuelas, La Gangosa, Vistasol, Pueblo de Vicar, La Venta Del Viso and Santa Maria del Águila.
The final stop for the week was in the little town of El Ejido. Unsurprisingly vegetable and fruit production is the main industry here and, like almost everywhere I’ve been this week, it is completely surrounded by fields of plastic.
As soon as I left El Ejido, I was back to the plastic, and week four began with five miles of nothing but greenhouses until I reached Balanegra and the sea. The village of Balanegra is large, more a small town, and the beach is mostly gravel. The sea may be a beautiful turquoise blue and the houses pretty but, even here, the greenhouses are everywhere, even on the beach. This would not be a place I’d enjoy visiting for real.
Seven more miles of plastic followed. The next town was Adra, founded by the Phoenicians as a trading colony. The Phoenicians called it Abdera and it was the last stronghold of the Moors in Spain. In 1492 the forces of Boabdil were defeated here and power of the Moors in Spain ended. Today the town is besieged by plastic. Even so there’s a pretty little port, some fragments of ancient walls and some interesting buildings to look at.
For the next seven miles, as I walked along the coastal road, the plastic seemed to be thinning out, at least a little. There were sea views and white walled houses in the the small villages of Guainos Bajos and Alcazabra.
The plastic was soon back though. The next villages El Pozuelo, La Rabita, Meliocena, Los Yesos and La Mamola were all beleaguered by the stuff. It seemed to be everywhere and would have spoiled what would otherwise have been a pleasant walk.
Castillo de Baños, Casarones and El Lance we’re no better. Everywhere seemed to be covered in plastic. There really was no getting away from it.
The month ended in Castell de Ferro, another town dating from Phoenician times. A ruined tower stands on a hill above the town, it may be Phoenician or Arabic, no one seems sure. There is a small port, mostly used by fishermen, and a shingly beach. If you could close your eyes to the plastic all around it might be a pretty place to stay.
In many ways November was not the month I’d hoped. Sickness at the beginning meant I was never going to walk as many miles as I’d have liked, no matter how hard I tried. All in all I managed a measly 123.83 miles, leaving me with almost 160 miles to reach Gibraltar where I could catch the ferry to Morocco. What December holds and whether I’ll make it remains to be seen but, hopefully, I will be able to at least get away from the plastic covered landscape that has dogged most of November.
All photos from Google Street View
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