Los Pueblos Montes
The next part of our winter break was to take us away from the White Villages of Ronda and east into the High Sierra. As we approached the city of Granada we could see ahead of us a different kind of white – the snows of the Sierra Nevada.
We chose not to stay in Granada, which is on the northern slopes of Nevada, but on the warmer southern side. Despite the sun and clear blue skies it is still winter in Spain and we knew that it could get cold in this area.
Our destination was the small town of Orgiva which styles itself as the capital of Las Alpujarras. Its 50-odd villages cling to the southern slopes of the mountains and were the last stronghold of the Spanish muslims, or Moors, who fled there in the late 15th Century to avoid having to convert to Christianity.
It being New Year’s Eve when we arrived, Orgiva was mostly shut for the following several days. Even our hosts, who live next door, were busy with visiting relatives and we didn’t get to meet them for several days. The house itself is modelled on moorish architecture. It has been described in some reviews as being a mini Alhambra Palace though that would be going rather too far with the hyperbole. It has its own charm though has some shortcomings too but it is very peaceful and at night the stars glitter above and with a log fire burning it is quite cosy.
We began our exploration of Los Pueblos Montes by taking the twisty road up the Poqueira valley to Pampaneira, one of the most popular of the mountain villages. We have discovered that if you wish to park in most of these villages you need to get there by 11am, otherwise you will be struggling for space. If you wish to find something to eat or drink it’s best to do so before 1pm because by then the bars, cafes and restaurants are full and remain so until 4pm.
Pampaneira is very much a tourist village with a wealth of shops selling everything from basket ware, ceramics and clothes to (cheap) trekking poles and ‘crafts’, and a lot of restaurants and bars. And if we thought the streets of Zahara and Setenil were steep we soon found out that mountain villages are even steeper.
Walking the narrow streets was like hiking up a mountain. The village sits at just over 1,000 mtrs so you really are walking up a mountainside as you wander its cobbled streets. There is even a Tibetan monastery a few kilometres out of town.
Delightful though Pampaneira was, the road went ever upwards towards the middle village of Bubion and then to the highest village in the Poqueira valley, Capileira. At 1,463 mtrs (4,800 ft) you know that you are high up just by looking down into the gorge below and up to the mountains above. And you can feel that the air here is thinner and sharper.
Although it has the same narrow, winding streets as its lower cousins and plenty of cafes, bars, restaurants and gift shops, Capileira does seem to have a different atmosphere. There are quite a few hotels, guest houses and apartments because Capileira makes a great base for exploring the Sierra Nevada itself. And there were fewer visitors and plenty of parking space.
From Capileira you can trek to the Refugio Poqueira at 2,500 mtrs (8200 ft) before attempting the climb of Mulhacen peak but my knee problem meant that it wasn’t on the cards for us. (Actually, it never was on the cards but don’t tell our mountain loving friends, Annie and Mike, that.)
I did decide that my knee/hamstring might be up to a rather less adventurous walk – the Sendero La Cebadilla, so we decided to give it a go. The first part, once over a short but steep ascent, seemed to be on fairly level terrain so we figured we could just turn back at any point the walk became too tough for my knee. To save space in our luggage Jane and I had brought with us only 1 trekking pole each. The thing is that I can go uphill quite happily, it’s only steep downhills that are murder. Jane on the other hand struggles with the uphill sections so our simple solution is for Jane to have both poles going up and me to have them going down.
The walk to La Cebadilla was relatively easy, passing a pastoral landscape and travelling along the side of an acequia, a system of irrigation channels which you can find all over this mountainous region and in many parts of Spain. Jane handed me her trekking pole as we descended an easy track into Cebadilla itself.
We hadn’t quite appreciated that Cebadilla was an actual place – we just thought it referred to a natural feature in the upper reaches of the Poquiera. However, hopes of finding a nice little cafe for a refreshing rest stop were dashed when we reached the collection of derelict and abandoned buildings which was La Cebadilla.
This small pueblo, complete with school and chapel, was built in the 1950s to house the workers who built the hydroelectric power station sited here and which is still in use today. As many as 200 people lived here in those years and every few days a volunteer would set out with a donkey to bring back food, drink and essential supplies from one of the villages down the gorge. It must have been a tough living.
From the power station you can trek up to the aforementioned Refugio and as we ate our lunch in the sunshine we met a couple who were doing just that. For us, having now crossed the very upper reaches of the Poquiera river, our journey would continue up the other side of the gorge, on a path which wound around crags and gulleys in the hillside, through abandoned cortijos (farms). There were steep, Jane pole ascents and equally steep, Rob pole descents. It was glorious walking but bone jarringly so.
Eventually our path wound back down to the river and a gratifyingly solid bridge over it. Which meant only one thing – the walk back to Capileira would be uphill all the way. By now we were both pretty tired, this being the longest walk we had done since my injury. It’s only 7.5 klms long but we had a real sense of achievement having completed it.
As we reached the village Jane said ‘Shall we have a cup of tea at one of the cafes’? ‘By cup of tea do you mean a beer’?, I asked. ‘Oh yes, that’ll do.’ And there was one single remaining table at a bar which appeared as if by magic before us. It was early January, we were high in the mountains, the sun was streaming down and we were so hot we could strip off our fleeces and sunbathe in our t-shirts. And the beer didn’t touch the sides!