4th January 2023: It’s a trap! (Tendilla, Spain)

It was not really a trap, but a hike. A very unexpected hike, as my family decided that hiking was the best thing to do to get rid of camel-riding soreness. Tendilla is a small village in Spain, dating back from Medieval times. It holds a yearly traditional fair, there are some ruins and historical buildings… It also has a pine forest that was planted in order to control the soil that used to landslide onto the village, and back in the day, a sort of ‘emergency gorge’ was built, in order to channel water in case of a flash flood.

With the years, the pine forest grew. In the 1980s, it was really well-kept, but politics change, and the forest stopped being cleaned and taken care for. These days, the artificial gorge is overgrown with plants and only some dams are seen. Recently, people from the village have tried to create a few hiking routes throughout it, using the fountains and streams that spring as landmarks, called the “Fountain Route” Ruta de las Fuentes. These fountains are old watering holes that were refurbished and some of them re-decorated recently.

The ground was covered with fallen leaves, the sky was bright blue, and the moss was growing – moss takes a long time to grow, so it’s protected. For a while, it was endangered in the area, but now it seems to be doing much better. Unfortunately, both leaves and moss were humid and frosty (literally) – and my shoes were definitely not waterproof.

Collage - a mossy fountain on a leaf-covered ground; a pine forest in dull winter colours; an excavated gorge from the container dam, the gorge is overgrown with green-grey plants

I was very happy when we walked out of the forest and into the trail where the sun was shine. We hiked up to see the brand-new weather vane Veleta, from where we could see the whole village and actually watch sunset, as these days the sun sets early. Then we walked back to the village, not before catching some fallow deer hoof prints, and getting hung on hunting for gypsum crystals, something I used to love when I was a child.

Collage - a pine tree foreest, in golden colours as the setting sun is hitting them, the sky is cleawr blue; a weather pointing southeast

Collage - a fallow's deer hoof print next to a fifty-cent coin for reference- the coin is about half the size of the hoof print; a few gypsum crystals on reddish sandstone

Sunset picture. The sun is sinking behind a low mountain. The mountain gives way to a valley where the village is peeking. On the foreground, there is a capricious-looking grey rock. The sun is a big gold ball flaring on everything

Afterwards, we just sat down to chat and eat leftover Christmas food until it was time to go back home. Not the most exciting thing, one might think, but I had a lot of fun.

25th September 2022: Ruta de las Caras (Buendía, Spain)

As I had a visitor, I proposed a hiking route I had heard about as a silly adventure. The area around the reservoir Pantano de Buendía is home to an… interesting hiking route.

In the early 1990s, a couple of friends called Eulogio Reguillo and Jorge Juan Maldonado, a builder and a pottery maker, got the idea to create a sculpture on the rock. That, which in other circumstances could have be just been considered “defiling nature” became a Land art project – the two “artists” have carved gigantic faces into the sandstone, and the route has become a tourist spot – the Route of the Faces or Ruta de las Caras.

The route has been on my radar for a while (but I’d been feeling lazy about the drive) and I thought it would be a fun bizarre thing we could do together. It did not disappoint. You can do the complete route from the nearby village of Buendía, which is around 9 km, or drive up to the beginning of the route at the edge of the reservoir and hike around 2 km. We decided to do this, as the complete route did not offer much else to do / see.

The route features a lot of official and unofficial sculptures, along with graffiti on the rocks. It is circular and runs through a pine forest which makes it suitable for both warm and cold weather – as long as the roads to get to the village are not frozen. Though temperature had plopped down compared to the previous day, it was still mostly over 20 ºC, so nice enough to be out in a sweatshirt.

Pine trees with a bit of water in the background - the reservoir

The rock carvings vary in size, style and elaboration. There are some religious motives, such a couple of Christian Virgin Marys, and some figures from Indian (Hindu and Buddhist) inspiration, but the ideas are so all over the place that they probably just let the artists do whatever they felt like. While the first carvings date from the 1990s, the route is still being carved, and we missed one of the faces as it is in a “new” area which is still not signalled. Some of the sculptures we did see include:

  • Moneda de Vida – The Coin of Life
  • Cruz Templaria – Templar Cross
  • Krishna (Hindu deity)
  • Maitreya (future Buddha in Buddhist eschatology)
  • Arjuna (a character in one of the Hindu epics)
  • Espiral del brujo – The Male Witch’s Spiral
  • Chemary (short for the name “José María”, Joseph Mary)
  • Sin nombre – Unnamed (and unfinished)
  • La monja – The nun
  • Chamán – Shamman
  • Beethoven (the composer, yes)
  • Duende de la grieta – Goblin in the Crack
  • Dama del pantano – Lady of the Reservoir
  • Virgen de la flor de Lis – Virgin of the Fleur-de-lis
  • Virgen de las caras – Virgin of the Faces

Different faces and shapes carved in sandstone

Different faces and shapes carved in sandstone

Our favourite was the skull overlooking the reservoir, called De muerte – Deadly – which one could actually climb – noooot absolutely sure it was “legal”, but the rules only said “do not carve or alter the rocks” and the sculptures are coated in a protective liquid. And after all, this started as a random art-vandalism thing.

Large skull carving (top) + the look from the viewpoint - the reservoir is pretty depleted, there is a lot of sand, but also some green trees (bottom)

On the way back we stopped at the dam that closes off the Reservoir Presa del Pantano de Buendía, where we played with the echo.

Massive concrete dam, and the water behind it, a rich azure. The water looks cool.

Then, we moved on and once again stopped at the dam in the Entrepeñas reservoir Presa del Pantano de Entrepeñas – and I got the exit wrong again afterwards, exactly like the previous time. We saw a flock of vultures, and as they were circling in search for prey, they were a ‘kettle’.

The silhouette of two vultures circling

To end the day with befor my friend was off to the airport, we headed back and stopped to have lunch at a tiny Mexican place in the shopping centre on our way. And there I discovered that yes, there is such a thing as too much cheese on nachos. In the end, we walked around 4.11 km (6464 steps), so I think we were allowed to deal with the junk-y food.

Nachos + tacos. Everything looks a bit greasy.

13th September 2022: Wadi Rum (and the bus) {Jordan, September 2022}

I had a boiled egg, potato hash-browns and coffee breakfast because my body was craving salt, I guess. Then we set off on the bus, where we ended up spending around seven hours (the 412 km are supposed to be done in 5 hours and a half, but that does not take into account bad traffic). Urgh. Our first stop was a viewpoint over the whole canyon area.

Wadi Musa valley panorama, showing the deep gorge from above

The second stop was a souvenir shop that had probably somehow bribed our guide or driver for it. None of us even bought anything, but we were forced to be there for about half an hour before we could continue to the only organised activity for the day – a two-hour jeep tour throughout the Natural Reserve and Unesco World Heritage Site of Wadi Rum | Wādī Ramm [وادي رم]. It is the largest wadi “valley”, created by alluvial fans and wind deposits, rather than the idea of a river bed. They are often found in deserts.

During the tour in Wadi Rum Reserve [محمية وادي رم] we drove through the desert and stopped at some rock formations that had built a gigantic dune. Wadi Rum used to be a granite and sandstone rocky formation. Thousands of years worth of wind eroded the sandstone back to sand, forming and shaping the desert dunes. Huge granite structures still stand, such as the Seven Pillars of Wisdom [عمدة الحكمة السبعة], just at the beginning of the route. One of the stops is the tourist-named Big Red Sand Dune, which you can climb for kicks, giggles and some nice views of the landscape.

Driving into Wadi Rum. The roof of the jeep is visible, along with a rock formation in the background. Between us and the rock formation there is the other jeep, causing a dust cloud

Back of a dune we had to climb, and the rock + sand landscape that could be seen from the top. Wind erosion marks have created soft ridges. The rocks are red-grey and the sand is rose-gold

Then we drove off to see some petroglyphs, and were offered dromedary rides. These petroglyphs, depicting early humans and their cattle – bovines and dromedaries – are the reason for the Heritage status.

A rock wall with some dromedaries in the foreground + a close up of the petroglyphs engraved in the rock, also showing dromedaries (by JBinnacle)

Finally we were shown a Bedouin tent at the feet of the Lawrence Canyon, a beautiful rock formation with faces of Jordan monarchs. Unfortunately, we did not get to see any onyx or fennec foxes, but I did see a small lizard. The Bedouins treated us to a cup of tea, but then we had to tip the driver about 10€…

Lawrence Canyon, a deep cut in the rock filled with sand at the bottom + details of engraved faces and Arab script, a lizard and a bit of tea, along with a traditional Bedouin coffee maker

Afterwards, we started off our trip back northwards back to Amman | ʻAmmān [عَمَّان]. Though the trip is supposed to take about 4 hours, it was way more than that, and we did not arrive at the hotel until way past 18:00. We went through the security checks and ended up learning that we could not travel between floors, so we could not go to the others’ rooms using the lifts, and the stairs were blocked… Well, at least we had… views?

A view of Amman skyline in the dark

After we managed to regroup, we had dinner and decided to try to check in online for the flight next day’s flight – and I was successful. Apparently, the airline only cared about us filling in our Covid certificate to enter Jordan, we were on our own for the way back.

12th September 2022: Petra {Jordan, September 2022}

Petra | Al-Batrāʾ [ٱلْبَتْرَاء] is without doubt the crown jewel of Jordan. It was the capital of the Nabataean Kingdom, and a strategic point in the middle of the trading routes. Nabataeans were one of the nomadic Bedouin tribes in the Arabian Desert that eventually settled and established the capital of their kingdom around the 2nd century BCE. Soon, Petra became a major trading hub and flourished as the Nabataeans were extremely skilful in harvesting rainwater and agriculture in the barren deserts. The Nabataeans also became very good at carving the sandstone of the canyon where they built their city. They lived in caves in the rock and created intricate façades in the sandstone of the mountains surrounding the site.

Eventually, water dried out and Petra fell, becoming a lost city, a tale told by crusaders when they returned home. In 1812, Swiss traveller Johann Ludwig Burckhardt “discovered” Petra for the Europeans, and excavations and archaeological expeditions took place throughout the 20th century. At this time, a Bedouin tribe, the Bidouls lived in the area, and in 1985 they were resettled in a nearby village built by the Jordan government before the site was designated a Unesco World Heritage Site.

As part of the concessions made for the Bidouls, they were given sole rights to the exploitation of the archaeological site, and their traditional customs were declared Unesco Intangible Cultural Heritage. Unfortunately, these traditions have devolved today into blatant child labour, peddling, and animal abuse. Barefoot children run after tourists to sell trinkets, women handle myriad of stands illegally selling rocks and fake archaeological artefacts along with imitation jewellery, cosmetics, decoration and so on, and men offer the services of thirsty and sad-looking donkeys, dromedaries and horses to move round the area. And while I can understand choosing to ride an animal in the long distances and heat, I saw a poor dromedary covered in red graffiti made by tourists that made me want to scream at people.

In 1989, Petra was featured as the lost city of Alexandretta in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, something that is considered the start of the Western tourism in the area. The film features the entry canyon, the Siq, and the Treasury as the Temple of the Holy Grail, possibly inspired by the crusade references from the Middle Ages. Aside from being a Unesco World Heritage Site, Petra is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, and a geoarcheological protected area.

We were picked up at 8:00 and driven to the visitor centre. We had been warned beforehand to say no to anyone trying to rent / sell us anything as long as we were with the guide, who insisted on “taking care” of us for a couple of hours until he gave us free time until 18:00.

As you leave the visitor centre behind, there is about a kilometre and a half of barren desert. To the right of the trails stand the Djinn Blocks [أنصاب الجن], so named because the wind makes a sound around them (a djinn is an invisible spirit, sometimes called a genie, from the pre-Arabian mythology that was later incorporated into Islamic theology). On the other side of the path stands the Obelisk Tomb [مدفن المسلات].

Petra: Djinn Blocks and Obelisk Tombs (by JBinnacle)

The following area is the canyon Al-Siq [السيق], another kilometre and a half’s worth of walking between two fantastic rock walls. The Siq is an opened fault that was subsequently eroded by wind and running water. It was used as the caravan entry to Petra, and the lower area shows rests of Roman roadway, and the water canalisation built by the Nabataean. There are also some sculptures, both religious (baetyli) and non religious, such as a merchant with their dromedary. Some of the side fractures have brick dams to protect the main route.

Petra: Different views of the Al-Siq, including the waterways  (by JBinnacle)

At the end of the Siq stands The Treasury | Al-Khazneh [الخزنة], the most famous building in town, built in the 1st century BCE, probably as the Mausoleum of Nabataean King Aretas IV. Older tribes of Bedouins thought there was a Pharaoh’s treasure in the upper urn, so they tried to shoot it down throughout the 19th century. I had wanted to go up to the view point, but the locals made sure that you could not do it on your own so you were forced to tip them and support their submerged economy – thus, I decided against it in the end.

Petra: first view of the Treasury through the Siq, and main façade (by JBinnacle)

The canyon opens to the right and you move onto The Street of Façades, flanked by Nabataean tombs. As the canyon opens, to the left stands the Nabataean amphitheatre [المدرج النبطي ] and to the right, the Tomb of ‘Unayshu carved into the rock.

Petra: Different façades, Nabataean amphitheatre, and Palace Tomb (by JBinnacle)

Once in the open, turning back you can see the Royal Tombs, from left to right Palace Tomb, Corinthian Tomb, Silk Tomb and Urn Tomb. To the right there are the remains of a Byzantine church that we did not climb to.

Petra: overview of the Royal Tombs carved into the mountainside (by JBinnacle)

The Colonnaded Street holds the Temenos Gate, the Great Temple [المعبد الكبير] on the left and the Temple of the Winged Lions [معبد الأسود المجنحة]. It ends on the Qasr al-Bint [قصر البنت], the only building in the traditional sense that it is still standing after thousands of years of erosion and earthquakes.

Petra: Colonnade street, Great Temple, and ruins of the gates and the only standing building (by JBinnacle)

Here we made a stop at the restaurant / bar to have a drink and gather a little strength before we took on the 850 upwards steps on the Ad-Deir Trail. The hike was a bit difficult due to the uneven steps and the donkeys constantly going up and down, carrying tourists. The views of the canyon were spectacular, and at the end of the hike stands the largest stone-carved building in Petra, The Monastery | Ad Deir [الدير]. It is 47 m high and 48 m wide, built in classical Nabataean style – an interesting detail is that the columns are purely decorative, and not at all functional. I enjoyed the hike, but apparently my family did not.

Petra: Different views of the Monastery Trail, up and down. The lower pictures shows and overview of the whole valley, 800 steps down (by JBinnacle)

Petra: Façade of the Monastery, a building carved ito the mountain side in reddish sandstone (by JBinnacle)

After the Monastery, we made our way down, leisurely, and stopped at the places the guide had told us about. We decided not to hike up any more sites and just strolled back to the visitor centre. From there, we stepped into The Petra Museum [متحف البتراء], where we could see some of the found artefacts and decorations up close and protected from erosion.

Petra: Overview of the Museum, pieces of the Nabataean piping, chapitels, teselae and a reconstruction of a Nabataean man's head (by JBinnacle)

We finished around 17:30, so we just set to wait for the bus at whatever shadow we could. Having read a lot of bad reviews about Petra by Night, I decided that 9.5 hours / 15 km (24326 steps) in the site had been enough and I did not need to walk the Siq again illuminated by candles. Yay me getting over my FOMO. We had some dinner in the hotel – and what I really regretted was not packing my bathing suit, because I would have loved a soak in the swimming pool.

31st May 2022: Anaga {Tenerife, birthday 2022}

I got up on the early side as I had booked breakfast at 8:00. I was surprisingly not hungry, even if I had not finished dinner the previous evening. My plane was a little before 17:00 and I had to return the car at 13:30 (I must have messed up the time, because I was convinced I had chosen 14:30). however, there was still one spot in the island I wanted to check out – the Nature Reserve Parque Rural de Anaga, in the north of the island and about half an hour’s drive away from the airport. This is a mountain area covered in primitive subtropical moist broadleaf forests, called laurisilva canaria. The mountain range is the oldest part of the island of Tenerife.

During the Tertiary Period, the whole Mediterranean area was covered in forests which had wide, dark leaves. They disappeared with the glacial era that started with the Quaternary. The forest has not changed nor evolved with time, so it has remained as it was 40 million years ago. It was preserved in several humid areas due to the wind patterns while the continents dried out and deserts opened. Sometimes, these forests are called laurel forests, as laurel (Laurus novocanariensis) is one of the typical plants. There are other trees as tils (Ocotea foetens), bushes, vines, ferns and mosses.

I drove around two hours to get from the Parador to Anaga, and was lucky to snatch one of the last parking spots. I asked at the visitor’s centre about a route that was not too long and I was recommended a two-hour one, called Bosque de los Enigmas, the Enigma Forest.

The beginning of it was really cool. The tils and the laurels twisted almost magically and I was alone on the path. I saw some birds, though capturing them on camera was hard, possibly a grey wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) and a female blackbird (Turdus merula; which is not really black). Aside from being a nature reserve, Anaga is also a bird protection area.

A path into the primitive forest. The trees curve over and around the trail, and everything is dark

A shot up a tree, the trunk is covered in moss

An old waterway or river bed turned into a path. There are walls of dirt to the side, and the roots of the trees are showing

Collage: a grey fluffy bird looking at the camera, and a black one with its back turned, completely ignoring it.

At some point, unfortunately, I lost the trail. I reached the viewpoint Mirador de Zapata going in the wrong direction. Though the weather was very appropriate for an evergreen subtropical forest, this meant that I could either backtrack, or go along the road for a while. I decided on the side of the road as that way I knew how long I would take to reach the parking lot.

A view of the tree tops from above. In the backgrond, partially obscured by the thick fog, there is a village, and the sea is beyond it.

I eventually reached the beginning of the trail again and I had not been run over a car, which was a plus, and before leaving I could look over a second viewpoint Mirador de la Cruz del Carmen, which offers a peek onto the whole massif.

Traces of water runoff paths, which have eroded the soil and torn some trees down

A view of the tree tops from above. In the backgrond, partially obscured by the thick fog, there is a village, and volcanic mountains beyond it.

After this, I drove back to the airport to turn back the car and have some lunch. I had hoped that the smaller airport would be less strict than one of the big hubs, but it turned out they were even more vigilant. So off with the shoes again. We took off at the brink of time, landed at the expected hour… and on the way back home got caught in an hour-long double traffic jam. Ho boy!

All in all, nothing really went according to plan, even if the plans were just a draft. But all in all I had a good time and got to spend some time with myself, which I desperately needed. So yay luckiest unlucky trip ever!

30th May 2022: The Slopes of Mount Teide {Tenerife, birthday 2022}

Due to the amount of near-misses, I had started thinking about this as the luckiest unlucky trip in a long time. Unfortunately, this was the day the luck ran out. As I woke up and turned on the phone I received the notification that the cable-car to go up Mount Teide was closed due to bad weather, which was a bit of a blow. I mean, I was in the middle of the natural park, without anything to do within a couple of hours by car as the hiking trails are closed on Monday mornings as it is then when the mouflon population is controlled – using rifles. I did not want to end up shot.

If you consider that the island Tenerife is one big volcano, Mount Teide is the most famous eruptive fissure. Considering it an independent item, it is a stratovolcano. The cone stands around 7500 metres from the sea floor, with an emerged 3715 m above sea level. Its base is located on a previous crater called Las Cañadas. Mount Teide last erupted in 1909, so it is still considered an active volcano, and it hosts a bunch of towns on its slopes, that might get obliterated in an eruption. Aside from being a National Park, the area is a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Historically, an eruption was reported by Christopher Columbus in 1492. Most recent eruptions happened in 2805, 1798 and 1909. Looking back, Mount Teide formed around 160,000 years ago, after the collapse of Las Cañadas. The last summit eruption happened in the 9th century, which caused the black lava blocks that seem to run down the slopes.

The whole point of my being there was going up the mountain, so I resolved to try and do that. I knew there was little chance I could make it to the top even with the access permission, but I would try. I decided to gamble the track Sendero de Montaña Blanca, which is the most typical one. For this, I had a good breakfast and started walking around 9:45 am. The track runs 8 km and starts at an altitude from 2348 m. If you have the permission, you can access the track Sendero de Telesforo Bravo that peaks the volcano at 3718 metres.

A stone and tile marker, with a map of the trail.

The first part of the morning, I spent on Montaña Blanca. I hiked around 3 km upwards in an hour or so. A park ranger told me that the bad weather was actually strong winds and to be careful. I’d never hiked with wind, so I decided that I would not do anything stupid. As I walked, I went by the accretion balls affectionately called “Teide Eggs” Huevos del Teide.

Collage: The Montaña Blanca trail. The landscape is desertic, reddish and brown, and there is barely any vegetation. When turning back, the sea peeks in the distance, and when looking up there are black rocks from an eruption.

Eventually, I reached the actual foot of Mount Teide, and this is when things got hard – and spectacular. The slope became much steeper and the wind made it hard to move forward. I walked between the two dark petrified lava flows, and could see Montaña Blanca and the Atlantic Ocean beneath.

View from the slope of Teide. Montaña Blanca is underneath, in red-gold. To the sides, the black and dark grey rocks trailing the old lava flows

I reached Refugio de Altavista at 3260 m around 14:00. At this point I was two kilometres away from the next station and 650 m away from the crater. Unfortunately, the elevation was still around 500 m. At this point the wind was very strong and shortly after the refuge I saw an area of the slope I knew I could climb up… but I knew I wouldn’t climb down with such strong wind, not safely. So I realised I had to turn back, even if that meant I wouldn’t see the peak, much less reach it. However, it was the sane thing to do.

Standing in the middle of the two solidified coladas - looking down there are black and grey rocks, and the sea in the horizon. Looking up, only more rocks.

It took me two and a half hours to hike down, and I made it back at the Parador around 17:30. I had a shower and I felt tired, though not as sore as I imagined. For dinner, I tried some local speciality “wrinkled potatoes” papas arrugadas, which are boiled in saltwater, and they are so high-class that can be eaten without being peeled. They come with some dips, a bit too spicy for my taste, but they were delicious.

Small voiled potatoes and three small bowls of sauces. The potatoes are unpeeled and they look wrinkled.

I was a bit bummed that I did not manage to reach the crater, but I think I did a good job, almost 1000 metres up and down. I guess it just meant I had to go back at some point…

29th May 2022: La Orotava, Icod de los Vinos & Parque Nacional del Teide {Tenerife, birthday 2022}

I got up rather early in the morning (especially considering that the Canary Islands are an hour behind my usual time zone) and I was surprised at how many people there were already on the streets of Santa Cruz de Tenerife before 8:30 on a Sunday morning. I drove out of the town and headed north-west, where I came across my first stop – a viewpoint of Mount Teide called Mirador de Humboldt honouring the German explorer from the late 18th century (though I kept thinking that there was a missing penguin opportunity there). The viewpoint overlooks the ocean and Mount Teide, which Humboldt climbed in 1799.

Mount Teide, a volcano, looms in the background. The top is bare and barren, but the slopes look green and fertile, with plantations and some villages. In the foreground, there is a bronze sculpture of Alexander Humbolt, sitting on the low wall of the lookout, and looking to the side.

I continued driving towards La Orotava, the municipality which Mount Teide actually belongs to. After parking the car, I walked towards the historical centre and ended up at the square Plaza de la Constitución, which stands next to the church Iglesia de San Agustín. Mount Teide loomed over the streets, ready to celebrate Pentecost Sunday. And guess what? The main church is called… Parroquia Matriz de Nuestra Señora de la Concepción. The initial hermit church was built in the 15th century, and it was completely rebuilt in the Baroque style throughout the 18th century, though the interior was remade in the 19th century and there was yet another renovation in the 20th century. It is considered the most important building of the Canarian Baroque.

A collage of La Orotava. The buildings are built with white plaster and black volcanic rock. Mount Teide peeks from the background.

The most representative construction in La Orotava is the “house of balconies” Casa de los Balcones. The house was built in the 17th century. The façade shows a front-long balcony on the third floor, and five smaller balconies on the second, all of them made from dark teak wood. The interior holds a museum, but I decided to give that a miss because I reached there at the same time as a very disorganised group of forty or fifty people who were going in at the time.

A colonial house. It is built in white brink. It has three floors. On the ground, there are brown windows. On the first floor, five balconies, with decorated ironwork. On the second floor, a long balcony or gallery in dark wood.

Instead, I went back to the car and drove towards Icod de los Vinos. There, my first stop was the butterfly house Mariposario del Drago, since the ethnographical museum Museo del Guanche is closed.

A collage showing colourful butterflies - red, orange, blue, black, black and white. One of them is chilling on the shell of a turtle, and another one is caught mid-flight. Most are on flowers and plants.

The butterfly house stands next to a botanical park Parque del Drago built around the symbol of the town – and maybe the whole island – the Drago Milenario. This is the largest and oldest specimen of Canary Islands dragon tree or drago (Dracaena draco). Folklore says that it is a thousand years old, hence the name “the thousand-year-old dragon tree”, though in reality, it is probably around 600 years.

The dragon-blood tree. It has a knotted grey trunk and bony branches. Around it there are bright-green palm and laurel trees

The park, built around the drago, holds local species trying to reproduce the local biotopes with height, there is also a small volcanic cave. It was here where where I managed to catch my first glance at the local fauna – two of the endemic lizards (though not as big as the one I had seen in the museum): lagarto tizón (Gallotia galloti) or tizon lizard, a blue-spotted male and a brown-striped female.

Two lizards. One camouflages on the grey and brown ground. The other on has a brown tail, but the body is black and bright blue

Then I went back to the car to climb up a crazy slope until I reached the visitors’ centre of the lava tube Cueva del viento. A lava tube is a “cave” formed the flowing lava of a volcano. As the outer part solidifies, the inner core continues flowing until it empties the tube. The guided visit is the only way you can enter the tube, so I had reserved that a few weeks earlier.

The visit started with a small introduction in the visitor’s centre, with a lot of “gotcha” questions on the guide’s part. I tried really, really hard not to be a smartarse, but I did sit down on the floor at a point because I did not feel like standing around for twenty minutes. The important information we received was that there were two types of lava that had formed the island of Tenerife: pahoehoe and block lava.

Then we took the centre’s vehicles to the outer area of the cave, where we could see the solidified lava, now turned into stone. Pahoehoe lava is basaltic, it flows slowly, and it is the responsible for creating the tubes. As it flows and solidifies, it creates undulations and wrinkles. On top of it, only small trees and bushes can grow.

Old Pahoehoe lava trails. The rock looks wrinkled or similar to pillows.

Block lava is more acidic, with a higher silica contents, it flows less and creates “blocks” as it solidifies. Pines can be found growing on top.

Pines around an old colada, which seems rocky and broken.

The cave itself was very cool. Unfortunately, there were a couple of families with kids and grandparents, all trying to be braver than the next – and thus acted loud and boisterous. More interesting information – mummified guanche aboriginals had been found in the cave, along with remains of a giant rat and lizard that were the ones reproduced in the Museo de Ciencia y Antropología de Tenerife. It is one of the biggest lava tubes in the world, with up to three levels and maybe 18 km of tunnels, though only a short walk can be had.

Inside the lava tube. It looks alien, like the rock is going to start dripping any second

Back in the parking lot, I had a snack and headed off towards the Parador de las Cañadas del Teide, where I had booked my next couple of nights. On the way, I went through several amazing volcanic landscapes that I could not photograph as I was driving. However, I did stop at several lookouts throughout the Parque Nacional del Teide.

Mirador de Samara.

Pines growing up on the dusty remains of a lava flow. In the background, there are three mountains - three craters of the same volcano

Mirador de las Narices del Teide, which shows the collapse on the mountain during the last known eruption.

A view of the black collapse of lava from the last eruption. Everything is barren, brown and grey, except for a black spillage coming down ominously. The sky is blue in the background, which makes the whole thing look even more bizarre.

Mirador Zapato de la Reina.

The top of Teide. This is the point where vegetation has become scarce, with low bushes, that creep up the slope. The summit looks naked.

Finally, I arrived in the area of Las Cañadas del Teide or Las Siete Cañadas where the Parador de las Cañadas del Teide stands. I was lucky that the season was good to see the flowering bugloss Echium wildpretii (tajinaste in Spanish), an endemic flora species mostly found on the Teide slopes. After checking in I wandered around the different tracks and paths – Cañada Blanca, Roques de García and Mirador de la Ruleta, which show the different stages of various volcanic eruptions.

Mount Teide rises in the background. It looks wrinkled due to the different eruptions. At its foot, a low building, looking completely out of place. In the foreground, small bushes in grey and green.

Collage: Different rocks and structures created by lava and erosion, the rocks are reddish or grey, and they have weird shapes. The tajinaste is a tall bush, with tiny red flowers, it stands about 1m above the rest of the plants.

I turned in early, and I had booked my dinner in the Parador both nights I’d be sleeping there, so that was an easy one. The staff made it a little awkward though, even if I was not the only solo traveller around. After dinner, I tried to get some pictures of the night sky, but I was unsuccessful.

1st January 2022: Barranco de la Hoz & some towns around (Spain)

I found myself socially free on the first so I decided to kick off the year by improvising a hike – and when I arrived at the parking lot I realised I was crazy person #3 to have the same plan. To be honest I kind of went along the flow for half of the day trip, with just a faint idea of what to do.

My first stop was an area in the natural park Parque Natural del Alto Tajo. One of the tributaries, the River Gallo, has eroded a deep valley in the sandstone and calcareous rockbed – Barranco de la Hoz, which translates to something akin to “Gorge Ravine” (though technically it could also be “Sickle Ravine”). The gorge is located in the north of the province of Guadalajara. Two hundred million years ago (Early Triassic period), the area was covered by the same sea that gave way to all the fossils that can be found in Albarracín and reached the muddy areas where dinosaurs left their footprints in Enciso.

When the sea level receded, it left behind different layers of rock, that have been painstakingly excavated by the river Río Gallo for the last two million years or so (Quaternary period). There are conglomerates at the very base of the gorge, and red sandstone, calcite and dolomite in the upper parts. The vertical wall is around 115 metres high. At the base there is also a small hermit church. According to the legend, during the Middle Ages, the Virgin Mary appeared to one of the shepherds in the area – that is the reason why the area is also called Barranco de la Virgen de la Hoz. Next to the sanctuary there is a restaurant / hotel, and a parking lot. Along the river bank there are several tables for picnics and so.

Being the insomniac I am, waking up after the New Year celebration was not excessively hard. As mentioned though, as I was not sure I would be free until the previous evening, I just went along the flow of the day. I drove off and reached the gorge at around 11:00. The the car measured a temperature of -1 ºC. I was wearing five layers anyway so I was all right. Just before reaching the parking area, I had to yield to a sounder of wild boars.

The sanctuary is the starting point of a path of around 400 steps carved and sculpted onto the vertical wall, ascending over 110 metres. The climb was not as hard as I expected, especially as the sun shone on the steps. I reached the mid-viewpoint in less than 15 minutes and sprawled on the stone ground for a little to bask in the sun. As I continued upwards, I encountered a small lizard doing the same sun-basking routine – Iberian wall lizard Podarcis hispanicus (maybe?). I finally reached the top of the gorge and I was the first on the upper viewpoint area for a while. Throughout the hike up, the strata can be clearly seen, along with fossilised ripples, fracture lines and the hints of some folds. The steps and viewpoints are protected by markers and verandas (helpful at points).

Halfway up a reddish sandstone wall. The picture faces the rising sun, and at the bottom of the ravine is the river, with the evergreen trees around.

Close up of a lizard hidden amonng leaves

Although you are technically supposed to stay on the trail, I honestly wanted to explore the upper edge of the gorge, so I went towards the rocky cliffs to the east. I came across marks caused by of boars, and European wildcat (Felis silvestris) paw prints, I also saw some birds of prey (very maybe a golden eagle, Aquila chrysaetos) , but not the right time to see much fauna – probably because around noon people started arriving with dogs. Also, it was stupidly warm for a first of January… Good thing I was using the good-old technique of having a lot of layers and shedding / putting them on as I felt warmer or colder.

A panoramic view of a rabine, with the river at the bottom.

A panoramic view of the top of a ravine, with the cut-off walls dropping from sight

A view of the vertical sandstone walls that create the ravine

A flying bird of prey and some animal tracks: a paw print and removed ground from a boar digging for acorns.

After an hour or so, I made my way downwards and I visited the church now that it was empty and walked into the area where the legend says the Virgin appared.

A hermit church built against / into the vertical wall of the ravine

Then I walked around the river bed for a while. The river bank was covered in frosted leaves, and the water was quite cold. I layered up again…

The wall of the ravine from the riverbank

Ivy and fallen leaves on the ground. The rims are white with frost and ice

At around 13:15 I decided to head over to Molina de Aragón. It was New Year’s Day, so I did not expect anything to be open, so I just wanted to wander round for a while. Though the town is considered one of the coldest places in the area, when I parked it was warm. I found the castle Castillo de Molina and wandered around for a bit. The castle has three distinctive parts – the walled fortress, the lone watchtower Torre de Aragón, and the back area, which was cordoned off, but not walled, Prao de los Judíos. The first Arab castle or alcázar was built the 10th century, over an older Celtiberian hill fort. In the 12th century, it was conquered by the Christians and rebuilt in the Romanesque style. Out of the eight towers that the castle had, four of them have survived, along the ruins of two more.

A rectangular castle with quite a few towers and battlements on top. Around half of it is reconstructed, the rest is in ruins

Afterwards, I took a stroll down the town. There are many churches dating to the Medieval times, most of them Romanesque style, some already showing hints of Gothic: Parroquia de San Felipe, Iglesia de Santa Clara, Iglesia de San Pedro, Iglesia de San Martín, Iglesia de Santa María la Mayor de San Gil. There were also some mansions and palaces.

Buildings in Molina. They all look reddish due to the characteristic rocks used to build them

I tried to locate a bridge I had seen trying to find a parking spot, and it only took a couple of wrong turns to do so. The bridge is Puente Viejo, the old Romanesque bridge, built in the reddish calcites that are characteristic of the area. From there I also peeked onto Monasterio de San Francisco, originally from the 13th Century, though the current building dates from the 18th century.

A reddish stone bridge over the river. It has three arches, but today only the left arch is over the river, the other two are over grass.

A church with an angel on top of the belltower

It was already late afternoon, and I had a couple of options. In the end I decided to head back in order not to drive through the sunset – at this time of the year, the sun’s glare would hit me square in the eyes in the highway. However, on my way towards the gorge, I had driven through a tiny village, Rillo de Gallo, where, for some reason, there is a Modernist-style house, called, more or less formally, El Capricho Rillano (The Folly in Rillo), as a lot of Modernist buildings have the “whim” name in them. It was apparently erected by a builder who apparently liked the aesthetics, without an architect being involved. It was… interesting, though the village was tiny and it was difficult to get into it and find a place to leave the car without blocking a street.

Bizarre modernist house. The construction looks wavy, with snakes and twisted columns. The balcony is held out by gigantic hands.

That was the whole day in the end, I drove back home, and did not have much trouble with sunset. As a whole, I drove around 300 km, and walked just a little over 10 km. And it was way warmer than expected for a first of January! Here’s to hoping that it was a promising start to 2022…

12th November 2021: Beech Unplugged – Hayedo de la Tejera Negra (Spain)

One of the Unesco World Heritage Sites is “Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe”. The “other regions of Europe” actually makes the site expand into 94 forests in 18 European countries – three of these forest are in Spain. A primeval forest, in layman’s terms “old-growth forest” is one that has been allowed to thrive without significant alteration from humans. Most of Europe’s temperate forests have been altered by human activities, so the protected areas are patched throughout the continent.

One of the protected areas is the beech forest Hayedo de la Tejera Negra. The European beech (Fagus sylvatica) is a deciduous tree from the same family as oaks. The trees usually measure up to around 30 m, tend to have a slim trunk and grow branches high on the tree. The leaves are simple, though they are toothed, the shape is soft. They change colour in autumn from green to gold and tend not to be shed but stay in the tree unless the weather brings them down. They grow in humid areas, but they require a well-drained soil. Forests tend to be thick and dark, with few other species as the beech canopy takes up all the light.

The forest is located in the centre of Spain, and it is part of the natural park Parque Natural de la Sierra Norte de Guadalajara, some 30 km away from the Aljibe Waterfalls. Beech forests tend to grow in colder climates, so this one is a relict forest from times when Spain was cooler and wetter (maybe what is called the Little Ice Age between 1300 and 1850). The fact that it remains is due to a very precise location – low valleys with a lot of shades and shadow where fog and mist are common and it rains rather often. Furthermore, the calcite-rich area makes the soil ideal for beeches. The reality of it being a Primeval forest is thrown has doubts cast as the forest was actually cut down twice – 1860 and 1960.

The beech forest technically belongs to Cantalojas, in the north of the province of Guadalajara, Spain. There is an inner parking lot that has to be reserved in advance for just under 5€ (access between 10:00 and 13:00), and a free-access parking lot at the edge of it. In order to get there, the first step is to arrive in Cantalojas. There, a bumpy rail gets to the beginning of the park, where the checkpoint stands, you can either leave your car here and walk the longer trail (Senda del Robledal), or if you have an inner parking reservation, you will get waved through the longer driving path, 8 km long. Once in the parking lot, you may walk the inner trail.

After my first try to visit the park was fouled by the driving path being closed on weekdays and the parking lot full, and my second by the bad weather, I was finally on my way on Friday the 12th of November – took long enough! The roughly 100 km took a bit more than expected due to a good part of the road having a lower speed-limit than normal, as it is considered a “dangerous mountain road”. There is also loose cattle around the roads, and I came across a few cows having a field day. In the end, I drove for an hour and forty-five minutes, and started walking around 11:30. I took the shorter, inner trail, called Senda de Carretas, which is around 6 km long. Depending on which resource you look at, between two and three hours are expected to hike it.

The trail starts in the lower valley, between the creek Río Lillas and the lower pine forest, whose trees won’t lose their leaves anyway. Thus, even if the weather is turning cold this area is still very green. The name of the trail translates into “Trail of Carts” as it was used in the past to transport coal that was produced in the beech forest. As the trail turns to the left, it starts ascending, leaving behind the valley and the pines. First, there is an area of low bushes and trees, where pieces of calcite rock are abundant, then it delves first into the oak forest, which has already turned brown.

A sign reading Senda de Carretas. Behind it, a small valley. A creek runs at the bottom, and the sides are covered in pines and other evergreen trees.

A rock formation, with vertical cracks, and bushes in the background

Beech trees, looking brown / orange / golden in the autumn weather.

There were way more people than I had been expecting for a weekday – a lot of them were hiking in groups and unfortunately loud, which made catching a glimpse of any animal impossible. The forest was beautiful though. Around one-third in I came across the sculpture that recreates the old coal-ovens, La Carbonera.

A hut made out of thin trunks. The autumn leaves have accumulted against

I continued hiking up, and after a pretty wooden bridge, the steep slope started. This was a bit harder than I had anticipated, and made the mistake of taking a break in-between, so I lost my pace. At the end of the slope I found the open prairie Pradera de la Mata Redonda, which looks down on the valley and up onto the multi-coloured mountain.

The valley from above. There are no trees, but a high plane with bushes and scattered grey rocks covered in lynchen

After a short look-around, I continued on the hiking path. Here I could actually see something unexpected… snow! Do you remember that my second attempt had been thwarted by the weather? Well, there were the remainders of so… This was in my opinion the most beautiful part of the forest, as the descend starts. The beech forest was completely golden at this point, and the ground was also covered on leaves. This is the part that gives the forest its fame, and it is well-deserved, at least in autumn.

Grey path into the forest. On the sides there are brown / gold trees, green bushes, and even a bit of snow.

A whole forest of beeches in gold, brown and golden colours; the ground is covered in leaves.

When I reached a fork on the road, I continued for a little on the Senda del Robledal (Oak forest trail), then took the path down towards the parking lot. The forest opened up and I eventually got to the parking lot, where I got on the car and drove away at around 14:45. I took a little over three hours in total and walked 7.46 km.

A whole forest of beeches in gold, brown and golden colours; the ground is covered in leaves

On my way back I drove past more cows chilling out – the complete drive was a bit under 200 km. And I did not have signal for the whole day, which was a nice change for a while.

A black cow chilling at the side of the road - they actually have the right of way in this area

8th October 2021: Tamajón & Cogolludo (Spain)

When I went to the waterfalls of the Aljibe I drove past a little village I had never heard of before – Tamajón, and a side sign reading “Pequeña Ciudad Encantada de Tamajón”. The term “Cuidad Encantada”, meaning Enchanted or Magic City, is used in Spanish to refer to karst formations. Karst is the name of a particular topography, created by the dissolution and chemical weathering of soluble rocks, chiefly but not just limestone.

The particular Spanish karst landscapes were formed by precipitation of salts – calcium carbonate – in the quiet waters of the Tethys Ocean during the Mesozoic Era (251-66 million years ago). Plate tectonics made central Spanish arise during the Cretaceous (the later subdivision of the Mesozoic, 140-66 million years ago) emerge, and the calcium carbonate became exposed to the elements, which started the erosion process. The most famous karst landscape in Spain is the Ciudad Encantada near Cuenca, which I guess spread the name.

Tamajón has a short hiking route around its karst formation, and while it is true that they are on the relatively smaller size, there are different shapes. I started my hiking route at the Ermita de la Virgen de los Enebrales, hermitage church dedicated to the Virgin of the Juniper Forest – the current building was reformed in the Renaissance style, thought the actual dates are shaky.

I started on the hiking route from the hermitage, along the road, and there were no markings there, so I kind of winged it for a while. After I took the first turn and started going up the rocks, I found the painting marking the routes – I had a handmade map because someone had shared it online, so I just went along it, and when I finished I redid about a fourth of it to take a detour to the other side of the road. There are cracks, arches, caves, cavities and capricious forms. I spent about an hour and a half walking around almost completely alone, which was awesome.

On my way back I stopped by the Church of the Assumption Iglesia de la Asunción, also a Romanesque – Renaissance mixture. The porch is typical of Romanesque churches in the Camino de Santiago (St. James’ Way), to shelter pilgrims.

As it was still early and I was relatively close, instead of driving home I headed off to another village called Cogolludo. I parked the car at the edge of the village and walked towards the main square, where there is a famous Renaissance palace Palacio de los Duques de Medinaceli. It is considered the first Renaissance Palace built in Spain, and it is reported to have been finished in 1492. The palace was designed by Lorenzo Vázquez de Segovia, with exquisite decoration, and the blaring lack of towers, which were very popular at the time. If I’m ever in the area again I might want to try to see the interior, which is only open in the guided visits.

The Palace stands in the main square Plaza Mayor which has a typical Castilian arcade with stone columns (unfortunately workers, sun and cars made it hard to take a good picture of it).

Cogolludo has two churches, Iglesia de Santa María de los Remedios (Our Lady of Remedies) and Iglesia de San Pedro (Saint Peter), both dating from the 16th century, but both completely closed down.

Finally, there are also the ruins of the Medieval Castle Castillo de Cogolludo, but there was not much incentive to climb up. All in all, it was a short but interesting morning – though I glad I teamed the two visits up, going to Cogolludo on its own would have not felt productive.

Driven distance: around 115 km
Walking distance: 7.27 km

18th August 2021: Hiking the Pyrenees: Ruta de la Cola de Caballo (Ordesa y Monte Perdido) {Spain, summer 2021}

The Parque Nacional de Ordesa y Monte Perdido was the second national park to be formalised in Spain, in 1918, and expanded in 1982. The area has been considered a Unesco World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve since 1997. The park is located in the southern area of the mid-Pyrenees range. The mountain called Monte Perdido, the “Lost Mountain” is the highest calcareous mountain in the world, which also has one of the few glaciers of Spain, and the different mountains around it create the U-shaped Ordesa Valley Valle de Ordesa. It is home to a wide variety of flora – pines, firs and beeches – and fauna – vultures, chamois and stoats among others.

Well, the plan was clear – wake up early, drive to the entrance of the national park Parque Nacional de Ordesa y Monte Perdido and hike the easy route to the final waterfall, Ruta de la Cola de Caballo. For that reason, we chose the hotel which was closest to the entrance of the park.

Then, upon arrival, we learnt that we could not drive, and had to ride the bus. In normal times, urgh, but in Covid-times, even urgh-er. Furthermore, the bus stop at the visitor centre was dead right on the other side of the village, which was not far… But in-between there was a little one-way tunnel that buses had preference for, and zero visibility when you approached from the hotel side.

Anyway, we had been fortunate enough that at least we could buy bus tickets at the hotel (because what is more Spanish than making something compulsory, then charging for it?), we had set the alarm and went to sleep… And the alarm clock did not go off. We got up a little after seven, got ready in a hurry, then drove off to the bus stop, which fortunately had a parking lot to ditch the car. By the time we arrived a few buses had already left, and there was a queue worth almost four buses worth of people before us – well, we got on the fourth bus a bit before eight. That was at least lucky, because there’s supposedly only a bus every half-hour at that time, and we were on our way just before 8 o’clock.

After a short journey we arrived at the start of the route, the valley called Pradera de Ordesa, where we had coffee and a toast to get going. Then we started walking. The problem was that my group did not really realise the difference between a walk and a hike – which ended up being exhausting.

The route Ruta de la Cola de Caballo runs through a Unesco Heritage area. It is an easy, return trail that starts at the Pradera and trails up parallel to the river Río Arazas to the high valley at the feet of Monte Perdido, called Circo del Soaso. You basically walk up and down the same route, around 18 km in six hours. If you remember, I took a bit under two and a half hours to hike the whole Cascada del Aljibe three-hour trail. This… was not like that time. By the time we had been walking for 4.5 hours, we had only reached the two-hour mark. That was the time when my group got cold feet and I continued alone, covered the remaining hour and back, and caught up with them as they walked down, in an hour and a half.

We started off at the Pradera de Ordesa, the area where the bus left us and we had our breakfast. The trail is easy to follow, marked with abundant signs, and, going straight you leave the river Río Arazas to the right. As you walk up the trail, the forest opens around you, and the trail is continuously upwards.

From the trail you can sometimes climb down to the riverbed and even stand on the boulders in the river.

As the sun came up, in the clearings of the way you could look up above the tree line at the peaks, with two distinctive colours: greys – calcites, quartz and slates – and reddish-brown – sandstone and red clays. Both these types of rocks tell that over 250 million years ago, the area was covered by the ocean.

The first milestone we reached was the waterfall Cascada de Arripas from the viewpoint Mirador de los Bucardos.

Around us, the forest stood tall and straight, seemingly holding the ground at points – mostly pines and breeches at this height.

The next spot was a second waterfall, I think Cascada del Estrecho.

As time passed and we walked, the day became brighter and the trees more scarce, giving the area a brighter look.

Eventually we ended up at the tree line for our valley – while there were still trees on other slopes, we were under the sun until we reached the next group of waterfall Gradas del Soaso – the river finds a fracture area and falls in a number of waterfalls that look like stands (gradas).

From here, the route became steeper and more arduous and my group decided to call it a day, at a quarter to one. Given the option to continue and able to do so faster, I went on and we agreed to meet back at the parking lot. I popped my headphones in, then hiked up for about thirty minutes through some stairs half carved, half built into the rocks and I eventually reached the upper valley at the feet of Monte Perdido, the cirque Circo del Soaso. A cirque is a bowl-shaped valley created by ancient glaciers.

The trail there becomes… paved for a while, which was a bit bizarre. The valley opens in front of you with Monte Perdido in front of you towards the left, and the Pyrenees stand all around you.

As I walked into the valley I spotted a small hill and behind it finally stood the end of the trail and the beginning of the valley – the biggest waterfall of the area Cascada de la Cola de Caballo (Horsetail Waterfall), which was packed!

I did not walk to the foot of the waterfall, so after hanging around for a little, I turned back, had something to drink and hiked downwards. I put the camera away as I came down in order to protect it, and picked up the pace. Around half past two I caught up with the group. I am not made for sprints but I am like an ox – once I find my rhythm I can go on forever.

On our return way, we deviated to another route to walk back, and stopped by another waterfall, Cascada de la Cueva.

Once again the pace was slow, and we eventually reached the lower valley to catch a bus around half past four, but I swear the last half hour felt eternal. By the time we reached the hotel we were too tired to explore the village, though I would have liked that. But there was ice-cream, which was nice. In the end the total walked distance clocked at 20.11 km – though the official legth of the trail is around 18 km.

3rd June 2021: Hike to the Aljibe Waterfalls (Spain)

The Ayllón Mountain Range or Sierra de Ayllón is the of the chains that conforms the Spanish Central System Sistema Central, on its easternmost edge.

The Central System was formed during the early Cenozoic Era (the current geological era) in a process called the Alpine orogeny – when the African tectonic plate crashed against the Eurasian plate, a geological event that gave way to the main European and Asian mountain ranges, from Spain in the west to Java in the east.

It rests on a granite base that became first folded, then fractured during the formation of the system. As the rocks eroded, the sediments deposited and formed new sedimentary socks. Other processes that influenced the formation and shape of the ranges have been the action of glaciers and rivers and the subsequent weathering of the exposed rock.

The most common rocks in the Ayllón Range are granite, as expected, gneiss, and slates, some of the latest mixed with clays. For centuries, the villages of the area have been known as “black villages” (pueblos negros) as slate has been extracted to build them. One of such villages is Campillo de Ranas, which translates to something akin to “Little Field of Frogs”, and one of the neighbourhoods adjoined to them is Roblelacasa (literally Oak-the-House).

Roblelacasa happens to be the start of a hiking route to one of the highlights of the range – the Pozas del Aljibe (Aljibe Pools), with Aljibe being a word of Arab origin that means “cistern” or “well”, so not that original a name, I guess. I had been wanting to see these pools – also called a waterfall – for a while, so I decided to drive off and hike the route to see the Aljibe, which is considered one of the most beautiful in the centre of Spain. The hike is about 3.3 km each way – but guess what? I ended up taking a detour or two (≧▽≦). The pools are formed by the Soto Creek, Arroyo del Soto, a tributary to the river Jarama which in turn flows into the river Tagus.

Off I went. The drive took about an hour and twenty minutes. I left home around 8.20 and arrived in Roblelacasa around 9:40. The drive went well, most of the road was a nice national road, and as it was a local holiday traffic was scarce. Some people were in a great hurry though, ignoring speed limits. This was my first time driving on my own with the Sat-Nav, and it went all right. However, as I drove towards the range, there was a dark cloud I did not like one bit.

Just after reaching the “village”, I found a parking spot right behind the panels, as the expected parking lot was closed off. I had packed some frozen water, biscuits, the camera and my cap – but I had forgotten the umbrella, and it was a bit grey. I decided to leave taking pictures of the village for later, and I started walking just behind a couple who had arrived virtually at the same time, but I passed them as they stopped to take pictures.



The route is officially named “PR-GU 09: Sendero de los pozos del Aljibe” and it is part of the natural park Parque Natural de la Sierra Norte de Guadalajara. Upon leaving Roblelacasa, the first couple of hundred metres crossed fractured and weathered rock before crossing a symbolic gate that marks official the beginning of the trail with a white and yellow double-line. Then, I walked onto a gravel path flanked by the remains of old fences. To the left opens a valley, and looking back I could see the village, in black.

Start of the route

Old slate fences


Valley and village

The route widens into a dirt track that is obviously travelled by car sometimes, as the range peaks stand in front of you. There are no trees but a lot of bushes and aromatic herbs, and as you walk the scent is very pleasant. Then there is a small forest and a second barrier, which marks the turn where you are going to start climbing a new hill – slowly, the terrain rises to your left while it lowers on your right, giving way to the creek’s valley. Just before reaching this I passed a family who had started walking before me.

Mountain Range in front

Mountain Range around

Eventually, you reach a fork in the trail, with the choices of going left towards the waterfall or right down the valley to see a former dam-turned-bridge. I went to the waterfalls, figuring out that I could always go down to the dam on my way back. The track became narrower and rocks started popping up again.

Fork on the way


Creek in the valley

Geological formations

I wandered off the trail (you can see the markings on the upper picture) a couple of times because the views were neat, but a few minutes later I crossed a little bridge to get access to the waterfalls viewpoint on the left-hand-side bank… which was closed. Believe it or not, the actual waterfall area had quite a few “do not walk, falling risk” signs that… okay, I have to be honest… I pretended not to see. I hiked up to the viewpoint and sneaked a little to the side to see both waterfalls. As it has been storming, there was a good amount of water flowing, so the view was pretty cool.

Wooden Bridge

First waterfall

The upper waterfall is about three metres high, and the easier one to see, without needing to ignore any warning sings. When I walked up to the viewpoint I got an amazing view of both the upper and lower waterfalls, the latter being about 7 metres high. It is easy to see how they are called either waterfalls or pools.

Both waterfalls from the left bank

Both waterfalls from the right bank

Remember that I said that I passed a family on my way up? This is kind of important because it means that I was basically alone in the waterfall area for about ten minutes, enough to take a good bunch of pictures from both banks of the creek without having to edit people out. I was however very cautious about cracks and faults. I think most of the rocks in the area are quartzes but my geology skills are a bit rusty.

Cracks on the rock

As I decided to turn around, the family arrived, and so did the couple I had first passed and another group that must have started behind me. That was okay because I was done, and on my way back I could stop for a lot of pictures that I had not taken before. Here you can see the difference between the quartz /gneiss (surrounding the flowers) and the slate (in the middle).

Flowers growing from the rock

Also, at some point before I started my return hike, it cleared up. All of a sudden it was hot so first I shed off my sweatshirt and when I reached the crossroads again I really needed a drink and some shade – but I had packed water and the cap, so everything was fine, and I could divert to see the old dam, Presa de Matallana over the creek Soto – from both sides. This must have been around 11 am.

Valley on the way back

Presa de Matallana from the left bank

Presa de Matallana from the right bank

I turned back towards Roblelacasa and I noticed that the wide track was a bit more “upwards” than I had noticed the “downwards”. I had a bit of a tired moment as I adjusted to hiking up in the heat – why is it that normal hills tire me more than uneven paths? But it was over in five minutes and I was back in the village a bit before twelve. On the way now I stopped to take pictures of the flowers and bushes around, and of the valley that Roblelacasa overlooks – and ran into four or five more groups / couples who must have started walking around 11, so it was a good call to get there early.

The track back

Roblelacasa from the outskirts

Flowers on the way

This is how the village looks in the light of day, just before I took the car and drove back around noon. I decided that I would go back to the area some other time to explore other villages around, mainly Tamajón, which is reported to have an interesting geological area, and some other black villages.

The village

Oh, and a the pictureless anecdote of the trip, for obvious reasons. There were a lot, and I mean a lot of “caution wildlife” traffic signals, and on the drive there I thought that I had very rarely encountered any wildlife crossing the road. I had also not come across any wild (or domestic) on the trail, aside from some little lizards and a few pet dogs with their owners. Well, good thing I was driving a good 10 kph under the speed limit, because on the drive back I had to yield to a wild boar! Live and learn (to drive slowly in wildlife areas)!

Driven distance: around 130 km (2h 30min)
Hiked distance: 6.7 km / 11,106 steps (2h 20min)

4th August 2020: Meanders and Curves {Spain, summer 2020}

The area we were visiting that day, called Ribeira Sacra, is sprinkled with Christian monasteries [mosteiros] and churches [Igrexas] in the Romanesque and Gothic styles. These religious sites became commonplace during the Medieval times, along the way that leads up to Santiago de Compostela, an important Christian pilgrimage site. The route is called Camino de Santiago (St. James’ Way).

We started off with a fierce battle against the car’s sat-nav as it refused to take us to our first stop, the church of St. Michael in a tiny hamlet. I managed to trick the navigator and we arrived at the Iglesia de San Miguel de Eiré only a little later than expected. The church is small and it was built in the Romanesque style, which is common the Ribeira Sacra. The church was built in the second half of the 12th century, and has a remarkable archway. Back in the day, it belonged to a monastery.

Afterwards we backtracked to what is probably its successor – another monastery, the Monasterio Cisterciense del Divino Salvador in Ferreira, which was built in three styles – the church is Romanesque (12th century), the main building and the walls are Baroque (18th century) and the inner cloister is Renaissance (16th century). There are also two Romanesque wooden sculptures.

Then we set off towards a salad of curves the heart of the Ribeira Sacra, the area of the River Sil where the water has excavated a deep canyon – well, ish. There was a lot of tectonic activity going on in the area a long time ago that helped the development of the river canyon, the Canón do Sil. It is dammed at the moment, which has made the river depth increase.

We had booked a “cruise” in a “catamaran” that turned out to be a plain-old boat and way too packed for my peace of mind. Fortunately everybody wore masks, we had the N-95 that protect both ways ones, and used a lot of hand sanitiser – my nails are really, really off due to the use and abuse of hand sanitiser. We sailed off the wharf Embarcadoiro do Santo Estevo and the views were pretty nice. Both the narrator and narration not so much, though the bit about the “special” vineyards perched on the canyon walls was interesting.

After a ninety-minute sail, we disembarked and took the car again to drive to the Parador de Santo Estevo to have lunch (cue stamp number three), where I tried the local beef with foie, while the rest went for the octopus.

Then we took a stroll down the Parador, which is an old monastery that has not one but three cloisters, as the Monasterio de Santo Estevo de Ribas de Sil has existed since the tenth century and buildings have been added. Two of the cloisters are Renaissance and the third is Baroque / Gothic.

Finally we stopped over at the church, whose interior is late Romanesque but with a later façade (and a very Baroque altar).

And then we went back to the curves. Lots and lots of curves. The road ran along the canyon, so we stopped over at a couple of viewpoints to observe the canyons – Miradoiro de Cabezoás:

Miradoiro Balcones de Madrid:

Then we continued onto the ruins of another Romanesque Monastery, Mosteiro de Santa Cristina de Ribas de Sil, with some very nice paintings and a very pretty cloister.

Afterwards we drove back up the road and we found another viewpoint Miradoriro Xariñas de Castro (a.k.a. Miradorio A Mirada Maxica) for more views of the canyon.

We continued to the monastery Mosteiro de Santa María de Montederramo, where we had booked at 19:00 but could join the 18:00 visit instead. Shifty, I know, but we were there at 18:04 and… yeah. Not really worth the wait, even though the Gothic church and cloister were neat, even if a bit unkempt.

And as we were finally driving back towards Monforte de Lemos, we came across the castle Castelo de Castro Caldelas, which was actually on the planning for the next day but we thought we would… how to put this… avoid some curve-driving if we took the stop.

All in all: 135 km driving; 6.96 km walking; around 20 km sailing; hundreds of curves.

3rd August 2020: On the road again {Spain, summer 2020}

After having to cancel London and Greece, we decided to try to at least take a few-day’s worth road trip within Spain as some sort of consolation prize. We were, of course, very careful, using a lot of hand-sanitizer and never taking off our face masks except within the car, hotel rooms or when we were eating – strictly so.

We started off just in time so we surrounded Madrid right after rush hour so we did not get caught in any traffic jams. We drove northwards towards Medina del Campo, a town which played an important role in Spanish history, specially around the time of the Catholic Monarchs and their direct descendants. We were there at 11:00 sharp, right at the time when the castle Castillo de La Mota opened to visitors. Mota is the Spanish word for motte, which is a raised area of ground where a castle keep, and a walled courtyard or bailey, are built. They are protected by a ditch and a palisade. These castles are thus called motte-and-bailey castle. In particular, the castle of La Mota is made of red brick, typical to the area, but it is heavily restored today. The visit included the outer building, the yard and the chapel of St. Louise.

We stopped for a quick lunch at the Parador de Puebla de Sanabria. Paradores is a Spanish brand of state-owned hotels and restaurants which have a good reputation all around the country. In our lunch stop, I got my stamp passport because I can find stamp rallies wherever they are (≧▽≦), and Paradores has launched one.

Then, as we were a couple of hours ahead our very informal schedule, we decided to take a small detour and check out the Parque Natural del Lago de Sanabria y alrededores, the natural park that surrounds the biggest natural lake in Spain, Lago de Sanabria. It is also one of the few, if not the only glacier-origin lake in Spain. It was full of people swimming and sunbathing, but the landscape was still beautiful.

After lounging for a while we continued on our way towards Galicia and our destination, Monforte de Lemos. We stayed at the Parador de Monforte de Lemos, situated in the Monastery Monasterio de San Vicente do Pino at the top of a hill. It is part of a monumental compound, along with the former castle Keep and the palace of the former Count’s family, Palacio de los Condes de Lemos . Due to some kind of fluke, my room was doubled as “supreme” and the door came out to the actual cloister of the monastery, which was super-cool! (Also: Stamp number two)

We took a short stroll down the village, and we passed by the small sanctuary to the Virgin Mary’s image Santuario de la Virgen de Monserrat.

Then we saw the walls and the old gates.

Finally, we went back to the hotel to have dinner over there. Our choices included trying a species of scallop I had not tried before, the zamburiña, variegated scallop (Chlamys varia). We also tried the local pie, empanada. For dessert, they had a ‘variety of chocolates’.

The day finished watching the sunset before turning in for the night.

Driving distance: Aprox. 600 km
Walking distance: 5.02 km

25th March 2018: Main roads that feel like secondary {Dinosaurs in Teruel, 2018}

We arrived in the Albarracín area after driving for about three hours. Some of the roads were horrid and I was secretly glad my offer to drive had been rejected. We arrived in Albarracín around 11:00 and our first stop was the first Dinópolis mini museum, called the Mar Nummus (Nummus Sea).

As this mountain range used to be sea bead (like 150 million years ago), a bunch of marine fossils can be found in the area. Dozens of ammonites fill up the museum, along with the skull of a Liopleurodon, a marine reptile of the order of the family Pliosauridae, quite obviously a carnivorous one judging by the teeth. As a matter of fact, it was the apex predator of the Middle and Late Jurassic oceans.

Mar Nummus building, featuring a life-size liopleurodon + the skull of the liopleurodon + a lot of ammonite fossils

The visit did not take long, and then we moved on to drive to the Mirador de la Escombrera (Slagheap Viewpoint, don’t ask me) to watch the pineforest Pinares de Rodeno. We decided against walking through the forest because the shortest route was a couple of hours already.

Sandstone cliffs + pine trees

Instead, we drove back to Albarracín and walked throughout the historical centre, a medieval nucleus of streets and houses dedicated to shops and restaurants catering to tourists.

Albarracín, a Medieval city in reddish tones. It is surrounded by a wall

We had lunch, then drove the short 40 minutes to Teruel, where we found our hotel. After dropping our things off, we walked to the centre of the town – which was barely a ten-minute stroll away. Carlos Castel Square is widely known as the “little bull square”, Plaza del Torico.

Teruel is known, aside from dinosaurs, from its Mudéjar style buildings, such as the Towers or the Cathedral. Mudéjar style was used by Iberian Christians between the 13th and 15th Century. It incorporates motifs, decorative elements and construction techniques that were common in Muslim Al-Andalus (such as archways, porcelains, bricks, and so on…). On the first day we saw two of the Towers: Torre de San Pedro (left) and Torre de San Martín (right).

Mudéjar Towers

The second architectural characteristic of Teruel are the Modernist houses, built in the 1910s, such as the ones in the Plaza del Torico – Casa La Madrileña (left) and Casa del Torico (right).

Plaza del Torico: a little bull standing on top of a column. Behind it stand two Modernist Houses at dusk

After this we had dinner and we headed back to the hotel.

28th August 2015: Matsushima and Sendai {Japan, summer 2015}

The day started in Matsushima [松島], the Pine Islands, where there are… lots of pines. And temples. We paid the small fee to cross the bridge to the biggest island, Oshima [雄島] and headed off there, to just walk around it. There were pines and other trees, but I am no tree expert, so… I could identify the pines… However, there were nice views and it was a good way to start the morning, even if I was not feeling 100%, as I had a small accident coming out of the station that ended up with me sprawled on the floor. Not fun.

This bridge survived March 11, although a smaller similar one was destroyed. In general, the area was quite spared by the tsunami.

A walkable bridge with concrete ground and vermillion guards that crosses the bay towards a rocky island with small pines

View from Oshima into the bay:

A view of the bay. There are pine branches in the foreground, and two small rocky islands with more pines

After the main island, we visited a few of the temples around. First, Zuigan-ji [瑞巌寺], which has some really cool cave altars.

A standing Buddha in front of a cave sanctuary.

Entsuin [円通院] – Mausoleum of Date Mitsumune.

Main building of a temple. It's made of wood so old that it has turned white-grey

Back in Sendai, our first stop was the combini Ōsaki Hachimangū [大崎八幡宮], also known as the Black Shrine, as it was supposedly erected to enshrine the kami of war. It was ordered by Date Masamune, who was a very important figure in the history of feudal Sendai.

Shrine, built in black with golden decoration

Though we did not make it to Date’s mausoleum, we did see the sculpture erected in his honour up on the ruins of Aoba-jō [青葉城]. Here are the Date Masamune memorial on the ruins of Aoba Castle

Statue of a samurai, riding a horse. The samurai has a crescent decoration on his helmet. The horse is mid-step, with its front right leg bent

View of Sendai from Aoba Castle:

A view of the skyline of Sendai with a line of trees in front of it

Afterwards, we headed back to the station as we had to catch the 19.30 train, since we had an appointment in Ginza [銀座] at 22.00. We had a reservation for VAMPS Joysound special karaoke booth, which was normal karaoke, but in a room decorated with VAMPS stuff and a special video, along with some themed drinks. Just one of those cute fandom money-drainers activities.

The Vamps karaoke booth and theme drink