After a week in Cádiz I headed into the Andalusian countryside. I was looking to do some hiking before I starting the Camino de Santiago later in September and had read about some good trails in the Sierra de Grazalema mountains, several of which began in the white village of Grazalema.
One such hike, “El Sendero del Salto del Cabrero,” takes you south from Grazalema to another white village called Benaocaz. There’s a unique geological formation a little over half way that’s touted as the highlight of the hike. For me, the best parts were the goat ranch and a close encounter with a donkey. The unexpected treats always beat the promised experiences which rarely live up to the hype.
So many of my days in Spain began with cáfe con leche and a bocadillo. This morning’s bocadillo was made with slices of a Spanish tortilla. I had many of these on the Camino. They’re more filling than the bocadillos with the super slim sausage meat, but bland by comparison—especially if you’re used to salsa on breakfast tacos—but they make great energy food. Unlike a breakfast of donuts and Dr. Pepper I once had in Colorado. The first quarter mile up the mountain I felt great, then CRASH.
Click on any image for a larger view
Any hike south of Grazalema begins with a ascent of the village’s vertiginous streets.
A slot of fallen rock separates the sharp ridge in the upper left from the rest of the hill. This cut is called “Salto del Cabrero,” which I think translates to “Goatherder’s Leap.”
This is goat country.
Those hikers ahead of me managed to survive the perilous track through this goat ranch. Their success gave me hope.
The Andalusian landscape continuously reminded me of central Texas. The mountainsides of the Sierra de Grazalema look a lot like some of the rocky, scrubby areas around Enchanted Rock and Inks Lake.
The trail just gets more rocky as you approach the edge of Salto del Cabrero.
This is it: Salto del Cabrero. It looks more impressive from a distance, probably because the the sharp edge of rock on the right is more visible from far away. I ate lunch on the edge of this sort-of-canyon. The dinging of collar bells echoed off the rock faces as goats climbed up and down.
This was the lead donkey, so to speak. The one that really got in my face. He kept staring at me as I worked my way around the rocky hillside.
First sight of the white village of Benaocaz. I’m not saying this is a great photo, but it’s the best wide shot I’ve got of the village.
Below is the trail as it descends a plateau, taking hikers into the valley below before the ascent back up the hill to Benaocaz. Later I found out this was not the trail for hikers, but rather the trail for goat herds.
The trail joins an old Roman road which takes you by pig farms and across this Roman bridge.
I bought some water and took a rest in Benaocaz. It was early afternoon and hot and I had a decision to make. Plan A was to walk to Benaocaz (a four hour hike according to the guidebook) and then take an alternate route back to Grazalema, one that goes by a more mountainous track. There wasn’t really a plan B, but I had heard there was a bus that I could take back to Grazalema. I wandered around Benaocaz, it takes about 10 minutes to walk across. The bus schedule said there was a bus coming by in an hour.
I thought it was worth trying Plan A, so I walked back across town and found the trail leading into the hills.
I followed this route until the trail fizzled out. I didn’t have a good map, only a very simple one with a lot of words. This verbose guide said the trail goes through two columns. No description of the columns. I thought “two columns” sounded like a pretty significant and reassuring landmark, so I continued on through knee-high dry grass and arid shrubs looking for these columns.
Shortly I found two columns of sorts: squared brick columns about five feet high. There was a metal gate between them, but beyond the gate was a solid wall of trees and brush. No trail.
The idea of pursuing this more-uphill, poorly marked trail in increasing heat after already walking four hours went from sounding challenging-but-rewarding to dangerous and stupid. I decided to backtrack to the village and catch the bus. Now the question was would I make it in time? It was Sunday and this was the last bus to Grazalema that day.
The fact that I am writing this from the comfort of my apartment in Austin, TX tells you I survived.
See it on a map.