Notes from the Giant Rock

Travel

As we’re approaching another wave of COVID-19 in Spain, writing about short getaways when the summer was still around gives me a lot of energy and hope for the better days to come. Here is a short post about my getaway to Gibraltar last month. As we’re approaching another wave of COVID-19 in Spain, writing about short getaways when the summer was still around gives me a lot of energy and hope for the better days to come. Here is a short post about my getaway to Gibraltar last month.

Gibraltar is located about only 80 kms away from Malaga and to get there, you can easily drive or take a bus to the ‘famous’ La Linea de Concepcion, bordering town, allegedly one of the most dangerous places in Spain according to the latest Netflix series. Surely it looked rundown in some parts, and incredibly luxurious in others, which is never a good sign. To get to Gibraltar, you have to pass through a border control within a few steps away from the bus station. To get into the city centre, sometimes you may have to wait to pass through the international Gibraltar airport’s landing stripe, as space is very limited by the Giant Rock.

My first observations were related to the language, indeed both English and Spanish are heard equally often and in various constellations of Spanglish and Englanol. The old town also brings back memories of commercial streets back in the UK and at the same time, has a charm of any Mediterranean town. Beers are served in pints and tapas are counted in pound sterling, which does make a difference from the neighbouring La Linea, where apparently a lot of people eat out. Gibraltar’s location is strategically related to one of the most neuralgic point between Africa and Europe and its history remembers wartime, sieges and endless battles. The remnants of it are visible within almost every step, even in parks in a form of a childlike quiz.

The wildlife of Gibraltar reside in the special zones: Barbary macaques are kept away from the city in the Apes Den and are very much used to being fed by the human beings. They are quick to check one’s rucksack belongings in search of food, causing big havoc. My boyfriend has been confronted with such situation simply passing by, ending up with a macaque sitting on his head, who meticulously performed search for anything else than our camera or bottle of water. Unsatisfied with the result she left – unfortunately this moment has not been recorded. Also butterflies receive their daily portions on the Butterfly Feeding Table, to the amusement of the visitors of the Alameda Park.

Wandering around the Upper Rock Natural Reserve Park you can see two continents and three countries, including Spain and Morocco. If you are lucky, you can notice whales passing by the Gibraltar strait if the ship traffic isn’t too heavy. Looking at the closeness and yet, distance, one can reflect about the relativity of the perspective and history. On that day we spoke to a birdwatcher observing some species trying to cross the Strait for the winter. Possibly a Honey Buzzard, according to the birdwatcher, who struggled with the unfavourable wind conditions, similarly as the BA plane approaching the landing stripe.

Nowadays Gibraltar is home to investment banks and tech companies, and the wartime and ancient history seems to be indeed a distant past. The dine out options and nightlife concentrate around the modern neighbourhood of Ocean Village full of fusion and international food options, as well as very typical pubs. I stayed there for one night only and it was enough to see the National Reserve Park, wander around the city and its historical attractions. The highlight of my stay was the Rock Hotel itself: an emblematic location overlooking the bay, serving English Breakfast on their patio where hundreds of famous people ate out, including Prince Charles, Ernest Hemingway and one mysterious guest, whose picture (next to Prince Andrew’s…) has been removed. Wonder if this may be related, and still thinking of whom could be the persona non grata.

At the Sierra’s feet: Jerez del Marquesado

Travel

New month, new updates from Spain and particularly Andalucia: amidst the pandemic, however in the ‘new normality’ tomorrow, we will be allowed to enter so-called Phase 3. Apart from the freedom to leave home anytime, go to the beach and enjoy the nature, one can also gather up with friends at a safe distance. Hoping for discovering new, remote places nearby, I’m reminiscing a day in Jerez del Marquesado, a charming village at the feet of Sierra Nevada.

What brought me there? A recommendation from the local tourist guide I asked earlier on in Guadix, where to spend a relaxing day as well as hike around without a necessity of renting a car. There was no such place in Guadix opened on that day anyway. Jerez currently counts less than 1000 habitants and this number is sadly, steadily declining. On that day the streets of its beautiful old town were completely empty, apart from the cats laying lazily in the sun.

I took my time to wander around the town, drink tinto de verano in the bar Los Cortijillos. Unlike in touristy places, the drink was followed by a huge portion of migas tapas, famous in this region as high-protein leftover food. The owner must have thought I would be hiking all the way up to Pico de Jerez, while I only took a famous Chestnut Walk all the way to a millenial tree, which could shelter up to 4 adults. 

The mountain range surrounding Jerez is particularly steep and was a place of a US military plane crash in the 60s, where thanks to the brave help of the locals all the crew members miraculously survived.

After all, I spent half a day hiking in Jerez and it stole my heart completely. Blossoming chestnuts, vivid streams and creeks, and a green forest oasis on this Spanish ‘Route 66’ will stay on my mind as one of the perfect days I lived.

Sierra de las Nieves

Travel

February = springtime at its fullest in Andalucia. It is probably one of the best months to experience hiking trips in the Malaga province, and this post is dedicated to describe a gorgeous hiking trip in Sierra de las Nieves, aka Snowy Range near the picturesque town of Tolox.

I was encouraged to take part of this hike thanks to the nature- and outdoor-activity loving community from the tech world of Malaga. I love to meet new people and also get to know them while doing things I enjoy: breathing the fresh mountain air while working out over a moderate 12 km route with over 600 m ascension/descend.

The route starts at the Balneario of Tolox – and in this part of the year is very green. The scent of the forest, multiple birds and water creeks are present throughout the first 3-4 kms. My hiking boots survived walking around the ice trails on Svalbard so I was not worried about their condition.

On the way you can spot at least three waterfalls: the first one is great for taking an actual leap on warmer days, the second one can be noticed from afar – taking winding curves and thus making it the highest waterfall in Andalucia. The last one you are literally walking over a tiny bridge. Unfortunately, as the land is quite arid, it dries out for most of the months. We were very lucky to see it, but we could also be unlucky if it’s too humid: the trail might be slippery when not properly dried out after springtime rainfalls. As in Andalucia rain is rare, when it happens, it is torrential.

After 13 kms the descend starts towards the picturesque village of Tolox, one of the emblematic ‘while villages’ of Andalucia. On a Sunday afternoon, it is the oasis of tranquility. After a straining hike, resting in the local bar overlooking the various mountain ranges, up to El Torcal and Sierra Nevada while eating tapas was the best reward.

To top it up, Tolox is full of actual art, depicting the local art inspirations, naive art and poems of Pablo Neruda. I can’t help falling in love in a place like this.

Montes de Málaga

Travel

Málaga is associated primarily with the sea, and a gateway to the ‘Sunny Coast’ known as Costa del Sol. Nothing more misleading: its province is by far the tallest in Spain, containing of some of the youngest, and highest mountains in the country.

You can easily experience their scope already while approaching the landing at the airport, especially if you take some additional turns around the province. One of the first trips I’ve done when I moved here, was to hike around countless trails of the National Park of Montes de Málaga, just a few kilometers away from the city centre, and within the public transportation reach. I learned though that hiking in June is already too late – it’s too sunny and too dry to truly enjoy it.

Instead, I visited the historical Botanic Garden, home to abundant and exotic flora and fauna. This stunning scenery can be found in the Northern part of the city and is also accessible with the public transportation, followed by a 15 minutes walk. The garden hosts shelter to various bird houses: if you are patient you can spend hours looking at their nesting areas and spot interesting species. It is great that Málaga has made this garden available to public, especially that the city itself lacks green spaces.

Another destination worth mentioning is Mijas Pueblo, a little village located in Costa del Sol, about 45 minutes drive from Málaga and again, accessible with public transportation. It is one of the typical white, Andalusian scenic villages with castle ruins, beautiful town hall square and breathtaking views over the coast.

Also the trip through the winding road can take the breath away, if you are sensitive. I think that the village itself is as touristy as Ronda, and it takes its toll. I was particularly saddened by the use of donkeys for the touristy rides. I escaped the crowded trap quite soon and wandered around the hilly streets followed by eating lunch at an inexpensive, unpretentious place far away from the masses.

I enjoy the little escapes around Málaga, even without having a car for now. I am conscious that the best places are out of my reach for now, but I am trying hard not to own a car – driving though is a good skill to acquire when living on Costa del Sol and is a different story. Looking forward to bringing you more tales from the trips I will take in 2020, to be honest I have not planned anything and have no idea where my imagination will take me.