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    • Day 73

      La Platera: La Laguna

      May 21, 2023 in Spain ⋅ ☁️ 64 °F

      We woke up this morning to drops of rain on the plants in the arbor, small puddles on the flagstones, and thick fog hiding the surrounding hills, but now, after a day of sunshine, everything is dried up again.

      Earlier this week, while combing through maps and tracks along the southern shore of the sprawling Embalse del Tranco that lies just below us, I kept finding references to a small lagoon. Pedro also mentioned this yesterday, saying that it was a source of salt, and that nearby was a particularly beautiful era whose floor was made with stones of various colors. This all sounded very intriguing, so we set out to explore that area this morning as soon as the fog lifted. When we reached the next aldea, El Carrascal, a dog followed us out of the village. We tried our hardest to get him to turn around and go home, but he insisted on staying with us throughout the entire day. It’s a good thing we were making a loop trip, or he would have ended up very far from home and very thirsty. The road along the edge of the embalse gave us colorful views, not only of the water, but also of forest glades followed by old olive groves with trees with very thick trunks. We found the lagoon, but were so distracted by our worries about the dog that we forgot to look for the era with the colored stones. On the way home, we decided to take a route for which we had no GPX track, but the trail showed clearly on the IGN map of Spain. It’s always a bit worrisome not to have a track to follow, but after a few wrong turns, we made it to an overlook with tremendous views of the entire area and felt quite happy that our adventure had turned out so well. In addition, our canine friend is now back in his home village. Whew!

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    • Day 64

      Moralejos to Rio Madera

      May 12, 2023 in Spain ⋅ ☁️ 64 °F

      To make it easier to say goodbye, Beatriz walked down to Moralejos Abajo with us this morning, and we then started up a beautiful climb to the pass that separates the Rio Trujala valley from the Rio Madera valley. There were lots of rocky outcroppings (Ned used his poles for the first time in two months), mountain dehesas (the first we’ve ever seen in high mountains), and plenty of birdsong the entire way. Once we were down in the Rio Madera valley, we had an even bigger surprise: the first acequia made from tree trunks that we have seen. And not just one, but two, both crossing the river at 90 degree angles. Pedro, the owner of the Rio Madera Hotel where we are staying, later told us that the first acequias that carried water from the Sierra de Segura to Murcia (190 miles east, near the Mediterranean) were entirely made of wood. Incredible!

      Pedro runs the isolated mountain hotel and restaurant here, and in fact, lives here year round. You can already guess that he is the only permanent resident. We had a chance to talk with him about the lack of rain and how it is driving up food prices in Spain. He says shepherds now need to buy grain for their flocks, so the price of meat has gone up as well as all the food crops that rely directly on water.

      As for today’s video clip, it’s a bit out of the ordinary. When I stumbled across these beetles this morning, I immediately thought of Chris Stewart who wrote a hilarious chapter about them in one of his books in the Driving Over Lemons series (recounting his efforts to create a self-sufficient life on his cortijo in Spain’s Sierra Nevada).

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    • Day 71

      Hornos: Around the village

      May 19, 2023 in Spain ⋅ ☁️ 61 °F

      Although today was mainly devoted to tasks that needed to be done before we move on tomorrow (like buying four days’ worth of groceries - no shops in La Platera - and making our onward reservations), there were some noteworthy moments. Top of the list would be the muddy brown water pouring out of the kitchen tap this morning. I bet one of those jackhammers we’ve seen at work around town accidentally broke into the water supply line. While that was being remedied, a visit to the 16th century church showed details of the fortress churches we’ve seen in other parts of the Segura de Sierra. This one is typical of La Orden de Caballería de Santiago.

      We had originally planned that Hornos would be the end of our walking route, so I’ve been waiting for inspiration to strike as to where we could go next before meeting friends in Cordoba and then flying home from Madrid. The winning idea: moving to the tiny grouping of houses near the Embalse del Tranco called La Platera. This will give us a chance to explore a different part of the embalse and the historic cortijos nearby before we fly home in less than two weeks.
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    • Day 67

      Hornos: Arroyo de los Molinos

      May 15, 2023 in Spain ⋅ ☁️ 68 °F

      With the tempting name of the arroyo, we expected to see some mills today, and maybe we did get a glimpse of them, but we were so far above the river, there was no way to tell if the roofs we were seeing were atop old mills or modern houses. We did have a great time exploring old fountains and what must be summer swimming holes, though. The biggest marvel of the day was the steep angle of the olive groves. They must have incredible tractors to be able to reach those trees.

      Today we ran into a new component of the shrinking rural population problem: Hornos - which still has enough people to support two tiny grocery shops, a bakery, two restaurants, and several bars - evidently does not have enough people to hang onto its previous bus service. The internet still shows two buses a day to the provincial capital, but both the ayuntamiento and the host of our casa rural have told us there is no bus service anymore. Hmm. That was going to be our connection for our return to Madrid next week as Hornos is the end of our planned waking route. Good thing there is still taxi service here!

      We did our first wash using a washing machine in our ten weeks here and managed to decipher the unfamiliar symbols just fine. The lucky clothes had a great view of the peak of Yelmo as they dried!

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    • Day 68

      Hornos: GR 247 toward Capellania

      May 16, 2023 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 63 °F

      The GR 247 from Hornos to the aldea of Capellanía starts out winding through terraced olive groves north of town. They are a reminder that the prized local olive oil has its own denomination: Denominación de Origen de Aceite de Oliva Virgen Extra Sierra de Segura. If only the bottles weren’t too big and heavy to carry in backpacks! The trail then narrows and winds deep into the forested area below Yelmo Chico. On the way back, we met a local man out walking his dog who pointed out a soaring eagle, one of a pair that nests on the nearby cliff. He said the buitres that nest closer to Yelmo can be seen about 2 pm after the air has warmed up.

      Back in town, it was market day. Beautiful dark red peppers, cucumbers, and tomatoes made our lunchtime salad, and mushrooms spruced up our chicken and mashed potatoes.

      This afternoon‘s task: search for a way to walk to a village with bus service.

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    • Day 69

      Hornos: Salt pans

      May 17, 2023 in Spain ⋅ ☁️ 68 °F

      Today we saw salt pans (salinas)!!! We’re 300 kilometers inland and there we were, standing by evaporation ponds where salt was recovered! Not the big, huge, industrial-sized evaporation ponds like we saw at Cabo de Gata, but still, we never expected to see salt pans so far from the ocean. There must be a spring nearby that supplies saline water.

      It’s fantastic when you have an A+ walk near the end of a trip, especially when you didn’t have any particularly high expectations for the day. We started out on a Wikiloc track that would take us down to the level of the reservoir and then loop back up. At about the halfway point, I remembered reading about salt pans in the area. But where were they? No waypoints on our track indicated salinas. I checked the other tracks I had saved for the area. No luck. Giving up on finding them, we just enjoyed the butterflies and the flowers. At one point, I just happened to look backwards into a brushy area…and there they were, almost hidden in the reeds. What a stroke of good luck.

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    • Day 70

      Hornos: Peña del Águila

      May 18, 2023 in Spain ⋅ ☁️ 55 °F

      We managed to sneak a quick walk in before the predicted thunder and lightning started. Quite dramatic- but none of the predicted rain yet.

      Peña del Águila is a ridge that gives good views of the olive groves that surround the embalse, each with its own special colors in the soil - red, blue, green, and grey. The last ten meters to the peña were unfortunately inaccessible due to a locked gate, but since we were already up to within a meter of the maximum elevation, it didn’t really matter. The handy boulders nearby made a comfortable spot for a mandarin orange break.

      We are always speculating about how a person could make a living in these small villages. The walk today gave us some hints. First we passed a man working down in a manhole on the water system. He joins the other five men we see every day using jackhammers to dig up areas of the town streets that we assume are over waterlines. Next we had a good view of the hoppers and conveyor belts that move the olives that are trucked in to the local oil processing plant. The plant isn’t processing right now (wrong season) but we saw some local farmers on a robust tractor headed out to their olive groves. Finally, we passed the imposing sand and gravel quarry. So our conclusion is that if you want to work in Hornos, you should either be in the hospitality business or know how to run machinery.

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    • Day 66

      Hornos de Segura

      May 14, 2023 in Spain ⋅ ☁️ 63 °F

      We are now in the village of Hornos de Segura, where the houses are balanced on overhanging rocks and the night skies are celebrated for their lack of light pollution. In fact, we spent several enjoyable hours at the castle which has been turned into an astronomical center housing a planetarium and offering nighttime telescope tours of the stars.

      We were really looking forward to walking here, but decided it was still beyond the capability my foot and knee have recovered to. So we made use of the local taxi, and over the next few days, we’ll walk whatever parts seem reasonable.
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    • Day 65

      Río Madera

      May 13, 2023 in Spain ⋅ ☁️ 59 °F

      What could be better than spending a day with friends? Roman and Teresa drove all the way across Andalucía only to arrive on our coldest day yet temperature-wise, but the warmest day imaginable in terms of friendship. It was a day emblematic of all the things that make life truly good.

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    • Day 72

      Hornos to La Platera

      May 20, 2023 in Spain ⋅ ☁️ 63 °F

      We have our very own era to admire every time we step out our front door!

      Choosing the tiny aldea of La Platera for our last four days of walking turned out to be a very lucky decision. When Pedro, the owner, opened the door to our casa rural, we noticed right away that the table in the living room was a trillo, a sled-shaped board with pieces of blade-shaped rocks embedded in rows to thresh the wheat. Pedro beckoned to us to follow him, and not ten steps from our front door, he gestured with his arm - and there was an era where the threshing took place. Pedro could tell we were really interested in the history of the place, so he stayed for an hour and a half, telling us that there were a “montón” of people living here when he met his wife here 36 years ago. Now there are two year-round residents left. “Una pena,” he said several times.
      He showed us how the threshing took place with a donkey pulling the trillo around and around over the wheat spread on the era. The era was located in a breezy spot so that after the threshing, if basketfuls of wheat were thrown in the air, the wind would blow away the chaff, allowing the heavier grains of wheat to fall to the ground. The families of the aldea were self-sufficient, he said, growing or raising all their own food. Now, all the young people want to live elsewhere and have paying jobs to buy their food. In an opinion we haven’t heard before, he said the formation of the park accelerated this trend because even if a young person wants to try to make a living here now, it is very difficult to get permission for land use from the park authorities.

      Our walk today took us past the neighboring aldea of Carrascal and by scattered cortijos. We saw olive tree after olive tree with no budding olives and with dying yellow leaves that we assume are showing the effects of heat and drought.

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