Gran Senda de Malaga

LA GRAN SENDA DE MALAGA: GR 249. 21st OCT. JIMERA de LIBAR to BENALAURIA ( 17km)

Our last days journey along the trail for this trip was going to take us through the Rio Guadiaro valley on fairly flat ground for about 8km and then on a long steep climb up and over Penon de Benadalid at over1000m before a steep descent a couple of km into the Rio Genal valley.
We set off under a clear blue sky luckily on the shady side of the valley, stopping to admire the Fuente and washing house on the outskirts of the village.

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We were again passing through the Natural Parque de Sierra de Grazelema and after following a little cobbled path through patches or parcelas of vegetable gardens we crossed a cattle grid and entered a vast area of cork and acorn covered Holm oaks, perfect for raising pigs, but here sheltering herds of impressively horned cattle, flocks of sheep and a lot of goats all seemingly free to mix and mingle.

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The freshly peeled cork oaks were a beautiful bloody shade of red in the early morning light.

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As we climbed higher we crossed grazing lands, leaving the oaks and coming to walnut plantations.

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Further on the landscape changed again to a mix of low shrub and more open grassland where the path was lined by stone markers.

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Sally let out a shriek when a little adder on the path struck out at her.

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As the sun climbed higher so did we and we reached the little gaggle of buildings at Siete Pilas, named after the natural spring Fuente that made this an important intersection of ancient paths.

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A cobbled path took us up away from the village and we were joined by a tabby kitten who followed us for 3 km to the peak.

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There is an abundance of powerful springs in the area which makes farming possible to a great height as the rain filters down through the limestone until it hits the underlying clay and emerges from the ground. The fuente near the top which we were very grateful for was dated from the 1700’s.

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Finally, hot and sweaty, we clambered the final few steps to the top where we discovered a car full of a young family that had come up the easy way, a steep concrete track on the eastern side. The towering slab of Penon de Benadalid was impressive and offered a couple of via ferrata routes. We preferred to rest and soak up the views.

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I’m pretty sure that view included the Rock of Gibraltar and the Morrocan Atlas Mountains.
We left kitty to walk with the other family and hopefully avoid the soaring vultures and started down the track. Crossing a main road at the bottom we were suddenly into chestnut country, an important crop over a huge area here.

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Briefly getting lost when our usually reliable markers abandoned us on the last leg we made in down into the attractive village of Benalauria with spectacular views of the surrounding hills.

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Our friends were waiting in the plaza for us, so we settled down for some cold beers and tapas, with the publican teaching us how to use an acorn cup as a whistle.
A great weeks walk, very varied,was over and the GR249 will have to wait till next year for me to complete it.

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LA GRAN SENDA DE MALAGA: GR249. 17/18th October :El Chorro to Ardales (16.7km) to El Burgo (25km)

We thought we might not make it.
Booked to fly from Shannon to Malaga the day that Hurricane Ophelia swept across Ireland and all media were constantly telling everyone to stay at home, we didn’t think we’d be taking off at all.
Miraculously though,our plane was still not cancelled as we chain sawed our way through fallen trees on route to the airport through the maelstrom.
As we approached we saw the first post cancellations jet wobble its way down onto safe ground, and we knew we’d be off soon.
And so it was. After a remarkably smooth flight we landed into a barmy still night on the Costa del Sol, seemingly on a different planet to the storm tossed coast we had escaped.
Here for another week on the GR 249 trail, continuing the circumnavigation of Malaga Province for just over 100km over 5 days hiking and finishing with a bit of R+R.

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Studying the map board at El Chorro station, where I’d finished up last time, we were disturbed to see the route had been changed from all the info we had and now went 6 km longer past Carratraca before turning towards our objective, Ardales. However the GR7 still went along the original route so as it was already nearly midday we decided to stick to that.
It was a bit daunting to look up at the tower atop the hill we had to climb.

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The tower was connected to a reservoir 350m higher than those below, and water is pumped up at times of surplus energy and allowed to run back down, through turbines, at times of need.
We climbed relentlessly for over 4 km, passed some interesting looking rock formations with life clinging to it precariously.

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The higher we climbed the better the view, and after an hour or so we arrived at the wall of the reservoir and the tower with it’s resident vultures/ eagles and many more riding the updrafts around and above.

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From this vantage point we could look down on a line of people crossing the new bridge at the end of the Caminito del Rey gorge, and continuing along the cliff side walkway.

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We were now on a high plateau with extensive views over the surrounding Sierra , a landscape of pine trees and herbs which supplied a glorious scented background to our walk.

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After a couple of km along a forest track along the ridge we joined the Tarmac road that serviced the high reservoir briefly and passed by the entrance steps up to the 9 / 10th century fort of Bobastro.

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This was where the Mozarab rebels led by Omar Ibn Hafsun hung out and built an impressive citadel complete with this church and subterranean cemetery.

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Off on tracks again the next couple of hours took us across an empty quarter of sparsely populated farmland of sheep and grain ,now mostly within a Natural Paraje or park. There were a few tasteful finca to holiday home conversions but mostly simple farm worker ” navvyies” or houses surrounded by stock sheds.

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The subsistence grain growers had left the old cobbled threshing grounds, or “eras” behind, for the few passers by to admire the view from.

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The ringing of bells heralded a large flock of sheep minded by dog and man.

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A little earlier we had passed a long water trough with an elaborate welded cage around it and been puzzled.

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Looking back as the flock surrounded it we could see it was to allow the sheep to drink without climbing in and fouling the water.
Another flock was being minded by a large but mild mannered dog who seemed to let them wander at will.

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The last 4 km were downhill through open country until Ardales came into view on the other side of a busy road.

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We found the stage end and sign board for the next leg and bought the makings of a huge tuna salad to fortify ourselves for the following day.

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The night was full of thunder and rain and , as forecast, the next day dawned drizzly under leaden skies. We dressed for rain and headed out under the ancient hill top castle and down to the Roman bridge over the Rio Turon.

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Fair play to the Roman builders, that bridge has been carrying traffic for 2000 years.

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We now had 10 km of ascent ahead, taking us from 350 m to 820m. As we climbed, the view back over the mountains we had climbed from El Chorro was of darkness and light, with white clouds rising from the gorge.

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Atop of the first ridge was a medieval fortress from the war between Granada and Seville kingdoms.

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We climbed up into the vast public forest, 1000’s of hectares planted to help with erosion and as an amenity, although this is a little known and remote area- we saw no one all day.

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The rain started to come down relentlessly although the trees gave us some respite for a few hours until we reached more open ground of deep soiled mixed crop farmland. Luckily, at more or less the same time the rain became drizzle, then stopped, and then the sun came out for awhile and we stopped to dry out.

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A long line of bee hives were laid out next to the track and a copse of fine eucalyptus soaked up the rain from the arroyo.

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We were now back down to Rio Turon level. While the river had meandered its way through the mountains we had gone over them. As we neared the town we passed the fertile riverside gardens and a little shrine to the saints

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And finally, still pretty wet, a couple of km further than expected was El Burgo with its welcoming streets and hot shower.

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The cloud is well down again and tomorrow we have to climb, over 25 km, up to 1160m and back. So I really hope the forecast is right and we can stay dry.
But now some internal liquid is required.

LA GRAN SENDA DE MALAGA: GR249. 5/6th SEPTEMBER. ARCHIDONA TO VILLANUEVA DE TAPIA (17+3km) to ATALAYA (17km)

It’s been 3 1/2 months since I left this trail to swelter in the heat of the Spanish summer and there has been precious little rambling since so I approached my return with a little caution, starting with what I thought would be a couple of easy days to ease my way into some kind of track fitness.
As soon as I stepped off the plane I realised that the heat was still going to be a problem. 11 o’clock at night and still 30 degrees and it was somewhere in the 30’s when I passed the thermometer sign we had sweated passed last trip.

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Cap and shades on I set off through town and out onto the sandy track towards Tapia with as much water as I could carry.

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Which was just as well as the bountiful Spring I had noted in the GR249 YouTube film was dry as a bone. Not that I could carry too much as I was travelling with minimal package. In a desperate bid to keep the weight on my back down as I had failed to reduce the weight of my front , I was planning a few nights camping without tent or sleeping bag just silk liner and mat. Even so, with some spare clothes, book, map, electronics, bit of food and my 2 lt water bladder my 25lt pack was bulging.

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The landscape, thankfully, was gentle with only about 200m of ascent and descent to Tapia. The dusty track led me through a “Dehesa” of scattered holm oaks among the olives, almonds and grain fields.

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There were also more rabbits around than anywhere else I’d seen in Spain, evidently many had escaped the numerous cartridges scattered across the ground.
The route went under a railway and motorway in quick succession

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and soon after across another rail line empty of trains but busy with tractors.

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The relatively flat open spaces means the farmers can employ big machines unusable on the rugged mountain slopes the GR had been though in its first dozen stages. Perhaps it was one that had flattened the rabbit that provided me with a “lucky” foot.

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There is a long overlap with the E4-GR7 hereabouts, that, had I followed it, would had led me to Athens and beyond, but in this heat I was happy to stop at a lovely hotel rural for a cold drink but less happy to discover they didn’t serve lunch on Tuesday.

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This threw the timing off a bit and after another weary couple of hours I arrived at Tapia just too late for lunch in the bar and a couple of hours too early for post siesta shop opening. A fountain in the park cooled my head and feet and I rested up. There was nowhere to stay here and I was going to have to head for the hills to find somewhere to lay my mat.

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By the time I’d eaten and restocked with water etc it was 7 and thankfully a little cooler as I clambered up the steepest climb of the day for a few Kms getting increasingly apprehensive at the severe lack of camping opportunity. Steep and rocky, the abundance of ruined and deserted homes declared that this was not an easy place to live, or camp.

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I was a little concerned about wild boar and mosquitos of which there seemed to be plenty.
But the late evening light on this ancient drovers track lent a magic to the land and as it finally faded I at last came to a ruin with an open barn and straw to lie on. With a full moon rising and mosquitos gone it was all I could wish for.

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Next morning I was up by moonlight and on the trail in the gloaming, the olive groves slowly lit by the rising sun. The landscape I’d crossed 2 years ago on the Camino Mozarabe was ahead of me with the head shaped lovers leap and the mountains of El Torcal behind.

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There were well kept farms here with a variety of fruit and vegetables hidden away amongst the vast olive groves. One little finca had the least effective guard dog I’ve ever seen. Unlike most in Spain there was no yapping or growling and leaping up and down. This poor fellow couldn’t do enough to hide away in an attempt to avoid all contact.

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They seemed very “grove proud” in these parts with men and machine watering, feeding, clearing and flattening(!) their fincas. I’d never seen anyone with a leaf blower tidying up around their olive trees before. And why do they need it so flat?

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Eventually my path descended down to a stream bed, passed a ruined mill, and across a lot of the detritus of past flooding.

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I came into Algaidas past the vast olive mill, idle for the moment but awaiting a storm in a few months.

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Stopping for a cafe con leche I google mapped my Air b+b but upon arrival the mailbox was for different names. A very friendly policia local knew exactly who I was looking for and directed me to a village a couple of km further. The route out there was on the Camino Mozarabe and brought back memories of the shady path and bridge, although it looked like there had been some raging waters here too.

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There is a whole load of new signage for the Camino and I saw that it has been given the GR designation.

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And so I will miss out on the next stage of the GR249 to Cuevas Bajas as we did it on the Mozarabe and continue on to Alameda. Hopefully a good rest and an early start will allow me to climb the initial 250m without heatstroke.

LA GRAN SENDA DE MALAGA: GR 249. 13/14th MAY COMPETA TO CANILLAS de ACEITUNO (22km) to PERIANA AND BEYOND(29 km)

Continuing my circulation of Malaga province for a few days Sally and I spent a night in a Competa townhouse with views over a jumble of interconnecting roof terraces.

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Leaving the village in the morning past the Ermita de San Antonio, we were startled by the surreal sight of an ostrich beside the log railed path.

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The way was lined by the thrusting stalks of agave flowers.

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Canillas de Albaida came into view with the Maroma mountain range towering to over 2000m in the background.

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This area is renowned for the grapes grown between the olive trees and dried on netted sloping pens.

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We entered the wild and forested Naturel Parque de Sierra Tejeda, passed the deserted Casa de Haro and down to the old Roman bridge at the start of a long steep climb up to Puerto de la Cruz del Muerto.

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The wild flowers were a glory to us and the multitude of bees feeding on their nectar and gathering their pollen.

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A long drop down to the hidden village of Salares over another Roman bridge and a quick coffee break was followed by another steep climb past an old threshing circle or “era”.

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The grain winnowed here for generations was still growing feral in the deserted fields.

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Another descent, another ancient bridge and we climbed into the flower bedecked streets of Sedella.

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Our last big climb of the day led us past a series of narrow terraces of neat vegetable ridges and grain crops surrounded by more wild flowers.

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The lushness was enabled by irrigation channels emerging from a water mill on the hill above the village.

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As we climbed the views opened up eastwards passed the irrigation canals to the mountains and firebreaks

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and south towards the sea.

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At the summit was the well equipped recreation area with camping spots, showers, toilets , water taps, barbecue pits etc and Sally rested briefly on the designated bench.

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From there a long descent past impressive holm oaks took us finally to our accommodation for the night and a very welcome but chilly dip in a pool.

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The next morning we started by climbing down a steep path into the Rio Almanchares, up into the village and down again on a woodland path to the caves of La Fajara which have tunnels and passageways of 1500m.

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A 3km climb on a track with the forested Natural Park on one side and clumps of waving grasses on the other was followed by a steep clamber down through an olive grove into Alcaucin.

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Passing the traditional graveyard and a very untraditional housing block we found a bar for cafe con leche.

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From there a concrete track took us down down to the riverbed and up again to cross the road leading to the Boquete de Zafarraya, the gap in the mountains that led towards Granada.

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From the mirador del Pilarejo there were views back over the Maroma range and westwards over Vinuela reservoir.

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The concrete track continued for another 5km or so through olive groves and an amusing chameleon juddered across our path.

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On the outskirts of Periana was an area of unfinished development the bubble had burst over. Plazas and plots empty and waiting.

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We were soon climbing away from the town on the bed of the old railway which ran from Malaga to Zafarraya till 1960. Steep enough to need a cog system to draw the trains up the slopes the track makes for a fine walk under bridges and through cuttings to the high point at 875m and fine vistas westwards across the yellow rape fields.

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We stopped at the spot we had reached from the other direction last year and after relaxing in the shade from our efforts and soaking up the views we returned the 5km to Periana and a lift to dinner, beer and bed.

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LA SENDA DE MALAGA : GR249. 18th Feb La Capeta de Velez to Nerja

I managed to get 2 stages completed today, a total of 28 km altogether which according to my computations was the same as yesterday, the difference being that today involved my first real climbs and first contact with the wilder side of the Costa.
I started from our quiet seaside street and continued along a paved beachside promenade.
I’m always impressed by the facilities provided on the Spanish beaches with changing rooms and showers every 100m or so.

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The early morning sun shone through the palms as dog walkers and joggers fulfilled their daily routine.

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The high rise apartment buildings and tourist bars and restaurants ran out as I came into Lagos, a small scale traditional settlement without the sandy beaches that fuelled the development elsewhere. The simple seaside dwellings around there continued through the busier town of El Morche, sometimes with large tower blocks behind them.

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There were a series of fortified watch towers keeping an eye out for pirates and privateers along the coast and the route led me through patches of flowers and cactus past the winches used for hauling the boats out of the sea.

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As I approached Torrox Costa the hulks of unfinished developments again reared their ugly heads above the beach.

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But back on the prom of the town proper I admired the exotic plantings and the creative pruning.

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Just before the lighthouse was a strange construction with a glass floor built out over the ancient ruins of a necropolis and fish salting factory where they also made the unappetising sounding ” Garum sauce” whose chief ingredient was “guts”.

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This was the point where I finally left the Costa behind and headed for the hills. I started up a track beside the dryish river bed with irrigated fields to one side.

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Before long I had to make my first river crossing, described in my translated guide as wading.

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I climbed up and up, the track getting smaller and smaller towards the humming edifice of the A7 motorway that strode across the valley on giant concrete legs.

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Strangely some youth had decided that the undercarriage of this alien environment was a good place to have a good time and declare so in graffiti.

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Incongruously, as I passed under the most modern transport route I started down the days oldest, a mule and walkers track that wound down to the valley bottom and over a tiny old stone bridge.

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The vegetation was lush and small little subsistence farms plots were still tended in the shadow of the gigantic motorway structure, the slow movements of the gardener in contrast to the rushing traffic above.

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Climbing back under the A7 on the other side of the valley I rose up on higher ground until I was looking down across it, to another huge area of unfulfilled property speculation. We’d seen the signs for years as we sped down the motorway, advertising houses that never got built, but now I could see the extent of infrastructure that had been put in. Roads to nowhere.

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I’d been hearing the noise of the motorway for too long and was relived when the traffic was swallowed up by the gaping mouths of tunnels that I climbed high above.

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Passing by a hill seemingly held together by lines of plastic webbing

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IMG_3074.JPG I finally came to the peak of El Puerto at 265m where I sat by an ants nest and had my lunch gazing at my destination , Nerja , a long way below me.

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The landscape changed again as I started down the long descent with a vista of avocados before me.

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A little later I came across a grove of the most radically pruned olive trees I’ve ever seen.

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There were some spectacular villas on the hills here with sea views and very wealthy inhabitants but alongside that , a simpler lifestyle continued.

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As I walked through a tunnel under the motorway for the last time I found more graffiti evidence of youth seeking freedom in unlikely places

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Just before I emerged into the town proper with its roundabouts, shops , bars, and general busy 21st century life I passed another reminder of simpler times, one that is still managing to co exist with the present.

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