Every time I show my students or other teachers photos of my home state, Pennsylvania,I hear the same comments: “Wow, it’s beautiful–it’s so GREEN!”
Which is very true. Having spent most of my life in PA, I’m used to seeing forests, fields, and a constant backdrop of soft, tree-filled mountains. Now I live in a VERY beige concrete city here in Spain, and sometimes it can feel weird to be so far away from nature.
But luckily, the school that I work at has a “club de senderismo”–a hiking club.
The club organizes small trips and monthly excursions along various trails in the mountains surrounding the area. The bigger hikes are almost always on Saturdays, and I try to tag along whenever I’m free during those weekends.
So far, I’ve gone on three hikes with the club.
Hike #1: “Álamos Negros”
The first hike that we went on was in a mountainous area called Sierra de Baza.
Early in the morning, I met up with some teachers outside my institute, and we all piled into cars. We stopped at a cafe first to have some breakfast, and groups of other teachers from the surrounding towns joined up.
We drove up into the mountains along some winding roads for a long time. As we rode, I got better acquainted with some of the teachers, as well as the Canadian language assistant at the school next to mine, Vess.
We finally reached the mouth of the trail, and after distributing walking sticks and taking a group photo, we started off..
The trail that we walked on was dry and rocky at first, but then it led into some green woods. At this point in my stay, I was feeling a bit homesick for Pennsylvania autumn, so It was nice to see colorful leaves.
We crossed a stream, and then climbed up the steep side of a hill to an old ruined town. The ruins were beautiful and fascinating. We explored them and then stopped for a while to eat a snack. I’d only brought an apple and some pumpkin seeds with me, which was the start of a running theme of me being unprepared for hikes.
After our little break, we continued along the trail. We reached some areas of forest that gave way to some tall pines, and more colorful “álamos negros,” which are black poplars.
After leaving the cool, shady forest, we reached a long dirt road, which was exposed to the sun. It was hot and all uphill, so it was a more tedious part of the hike. Eventually, we reached a lookout. Everyone there stopped to eat lunch (except me–and again I felt silly for not thinking to pack food).
After another half hour along the road, we finally we finished the hike. Afterwards, we went back to the cafe from that morning and had some tapas–which were glorious after my very hungry day.
Hike #2: “La ruta de castañas”
The second hike was called “La ruta de castañas,” or “the chestnut route,” which is a traditional hike the club takes every autumn.
This was a much easier hike, so instead of just the teachers, many of them brought their children along, too. We spent the majority of the hike walking on the side of a mountain, along a stream.
There were lots of chestnut trees, so along the way we gathered the nuts from the ground. At a few places where the fallen chestnuts were particularly abundant, we stopped for a while to nudge them out of their spiny shells, and filled our bags with them.
Eventually we reached a gorge, where we stopped for a few minutes before turning back. On our way back, we learned that a nearby farmer with a cherry tomato patch had invited us to take some tomatoes.
I love tomatoes, ESPECIALLY sweet cherry tomatoes, so I happily joined the others picking the ripe fruits. By the time I was done, I had a bag full of chestnuts AND cherry tomatoes!
After the hike, we went to a restaurant for this trip’s traditional lunch, migas.
Migas are a typical Spanish dish consisting mostly of seasoned breadcrumbs, and I’d never had them before that day.
It was a huge meal. In addition to the migas, there was chorizo, melon, sausage, boquerones, peppers, dried figs, wine, and more. Much more food than we could all eat!
After the meal, people got up and sang songs, and then we went to a bar. It was a full day, and I went home with a nice, full bag.
Hike #3: “Estrechura de Guainos”
I went on the next hike in January. This time my roommate, Olivia, came along.
We all headed to a nearby seaside town called Adra, and from there we traveled into the Alpujarra mountains to a place called Guainos, where a river bed cuts between the mountains.
The beginning of the hike was tough. It was steep hill climbing for the first hour and a half, all the way up the mountains. Some of the slopes were so steep it didn’t even feel like we were moving! But as we got higher, we got some great views of the Mediterranean and the surrounding scenery.
Once we were up pretty high, we hiked along the sides of the mountains. Out of all the trips, I think this one had the most amazing views. Our perspective was perfect, and it was stunning to see them all laid out in front of us.
We stopped at the top of one peak to have a snack. Luckily, THIS TIME I’d remembered to bring a sandwich along with me (although later when we stopped again, I had nothing else). I’ve learned my lesson about these hikes–it’s better to just pack a lot food.
Then we started to make our way down the mountains. The area where we walked was interesting and very distinct from the mountaintop landscape–the soil started to turn much more red, and the plants were different. Along the way, we stopped at an old church to get some water from a spring and rest a bit.
Then we started on the last part of the hike, through the “ramblas,” which is the gorge where the river bed cuts between the mountains.
This was my favorite part of the hike. It was nice scenery, but the path was also challenging. We had to climb a lot more, sometimes holding onto chains or footholds that had been hammered into the rocks.
There were lots of “cane” trees, with wild branches, that we had to fight our way through. These were some of those “I am glad I have my camera to take photos, but I wish I didn’t have to carry it” moments.
Finally, we emerged from the ramblas back at the cars, where we’d started.
By this time, we were pretty tired. All in all, the hike had been 16 km, which is about 10 miles!
Overall, I’ve really enjoyed all the hikes I’ve taken so far, and I’m hoping to go on some more hikes in the future, depending on my weekend plans!