A holiday to Marco’s homeland, Spain, what a fabulous idea! Our arrival into Malaga was a little behind schedule thanks to a small delay with our flight. We dropped our bags off at the following nights Air BnB before catching a train into the countryside to the small village of El Chorro. We only had small day packs with us for the next 24 hours but our minimalistic strategy more than paid off. The weather was not looking good for the week, worse than England in fact. Typical.
After checking into hotel La Posada del Conde we went for a little (three bars) bar crawl as the weather was too bad to go for our intended walk. The first bar we went to had views overlooking the surrounding hills and a lake. We asked for a cloth to wipe down the wet tables and chairs outside. It was cold but the rain had finally ceased so we took the chance to enjoy an al fresco caña (small beer). The view was amazing and reminded us both of South East Asia.
The next bar served €1-€2 tapas, which is a good price considering the area is somewhat touristy. Marco thought the tapas were rather poor but I thought they were good value. After our two beers we returned to our hotel and had dinner in the restaurant. I had creamy cod and Marco had wild boar. Both dishes were nice but far too big and rich for 11pm at night. The next morning was an early-ish start and breakfast at the local tapas bar. Marco ordered a typical Spanish breakfast for us; jamón, tomato, bread and olive oil plus a cortado. Not something I would order but I very much enjoyed it.
The purpose of our countryside escape was to walk the Caminito del Rey, a 7.7km historic walking trail that has recently been re-pathed. The origins of the walk began in the 19th century when Spain built hydro-electric power through the El Chorro gorge to power the important railway line connecting Malaga and Sevilla. Walkways were built on the rock face to allow maintenance work on the gorge.
The Caminito del Rey translates to “the small walk of the King”. The reason for this name is that King Alfonso XIII enjoyed walking in the area and used to have tea with the engineer who designed the hydro dam in his house, close to where our hotel was. The hydro power dam is still in use today but the walkway is no longer used for its original purpose. Caminito del Rey was closed in 2000 after several walkers lost their lives. Before its closure it was named “the worlds most dangerous walkway”.
A new walkway has now been built on top of the deteriorating original and opened to the pubic in 2015. Now the Caminito del Rey is accessible for all which has resulted in such popularity that tickets for a specific time slot are allocated. The only way we could get a ticket was to stay at our hotel, which wasn’t cheap. After breakfast we walked roughly 2.5km to the start of Caminito del Rey. It was a lovely scenic walk and the forecasted rain held off. The queue for the walk was incredible, so so busy. We were luckily enough to be let in straight away and because we spoke English, they explained the safety/security procedures first and we were allowed to set off before all the Spanish.
The walk was busy and very touristy but we knew that. It didn’t make it any less spectacular and it exceeded both our expectations. Nowadays it is compulsory to wear helmets on the walk which I think is utterly ridiculous because in my eyes there is very little risk of danger on the new and improved track. I guess our silly-looking helmets made it fun and the authorities are only covering their backs after the fatalities.
Our favourite part of the Caminito del Rey, is the third canyon desfiladero de los gaitanes section which showcases the railway tracks through the rock face. You can see how the rock has been blown up to make space for a track. We read that it is a lot safer and cheaper to combine small perforations (Marco just taught me this word and spelt it for me) and bridges through the rock than to make one big tunnel.
There are no toilets, bins or places to buy food or water on route but we are well prepared people and had packed some snacks and a beer. Due to the large number of people on the track and the lack of places to stop, we waited until the end of our walk to crack open our beer with some crisps. I suggested sitting slightly below the track at a nice scenic spot but we were spotted by a security guard. He grumpily told us that we were not insured if we left the path and therefore we must stay on track. Oops.
The lack of toilets didn’t bother me too much as I have acquired a talent for peeing on the path unnoticed. Marco and I made a good team as one of us kept watch while the other went along their business. We agreed on a little call sign, a pigeon expression, which would notify the person peeing that walkers were approaching. This kept us both entertained.
We walked the 5km main section in about two hours, a lot quicker than if we had had our heavy backpacks on. Once finished, we sat down on some grass in El Chorro and drank our beer and discussed how to kill the four hours we had until the next train. I Googled some walks in the area and found the Arabic Staircase to be a popular one close by. I was surprised at how mountainous the region is and how many cool hiking trails it has, including some of the famous GR routes. We didn’t have time to walk the Arabic Staircase but we set off on the Sendero del Rio path which was a pleasant upwards stroll.
We passed some outstanding rock faces and unsurprisingly a large number of rock climbers enjoying the favourable conditions. It was neither too hot nor cold and a relatively dry and cloudy day. The place is a Mecca for rock climbing and I dreamed of joining them too. We had a good chat with a couple of Canadian climbers who were looking for routes. They showed us a picture of a rock face and asked if we knew where it was. Climbing routes all look the same to me, rock looks like rock, but I was pretty chuffed that they thought we were climbers too. Marco and I did have a little climb a few metres up but we were weren’t prepared to take risks and go any higher. The Los Gaitanes Natural Park is rich in history and used to be part of the coast of Spain. This was proven to me as I stumbled upon a fossil embedded into a rock. I kept it to add to my collection back home.
It was an hours wait for the train so we had a beer and a tapas at the cafe on the side of the platform. The place was heaving with walkers and very chaotic but we were in no rush and enjoyed people watching. We returned to Malaga in good time and freshened up at our Air BnB which was home to a local artist. It was very well decorated and felt like a museum. His studio showcased his work which included photos and paintings, all of naked women. We checked the bedroom for cameras.
On the way out for dinner we stopped off at a Taberna and had a glass of wine and some complimentary salted beans (chochos), which you use your mouth to suck them out of their peel. In Spain, chochos can also mean a women’s private part, I bet men have a giggle when asking for Chochos at the bar. We went for a very early dinner (7:30pm) at a place I liked the look of called Buenavista Gastrobar and Tapas.
Not only does poor Marco have to eat at an earlier time when with me (in Spain they eat after 9/10pm) but he is also dragged along to modern fusion restaurants. He’s a good egg. We shared a number of small dishes which were similar to the tapas he loves. All our dishes were tasty but the oxtail croquettes were really something special. Marco enjoyed them so much that he ordered another portion.
We walked the bustling streets of Malaga’s old town and had a glass of wine outside looking out to the Castillo de Gibrafaro. We went in search of dessert but it was close to midnight and both of us were ever so tired from our walk and travels. In the end we settled on a small bar of Spanish chocolate and went home for a much needed sleep.
It was Easter weekend. Easter in Spain is very different to in England. There are no chocolate eggs or Easter bunnies but instead, week-long religious processions which go on for hours. Huge statues of Jesus, Mary and the like were carried along by men followed by a large number of people with candles and a very loud band. It was pretty spectacular to watch. We visited a few churches that morning as they were alive with festivities. After a morning wander we picked up some empanadas at a local bakery for our afternoon ferry crossing to Morocco. We loved Malaga, it has great shops, restaurants and it’s definitely somewhere I could live. It was time to explore new places though and Morocco was next on our list. It is my first visit and I was extremely excited to see what it has to offer.