Needing a break from the urban bustle of Granada as well as the heavy doses of spanish grammar classes I have almost finished at the university, I sought yet another natural escape this past weekend. Most of my program had booked a trip to Portugal with a tour company, but I had other things in mind. Luckily (or not so luckily) my friend Kristen Seidel, an old acquaintance from Boulder, had come down with appendicitis a couple weeks ago and needed surgery to remove it in Granada. This operation left her unable to go on the Portugal excursion, and having recovered from her experience was looking to get out of the city and travel. She thus made a perfect travel partner to explore Cabo de Gata National Park, a location I had circled as must-see after doing some research on the place. We hurriedly booked a cheap hotel room in San Jose, the only town in the area, and after some quick consultations of bus schedules set off after class Friday afternoon. We took the bus from Granada to Almeria, the largest city in the region, and after a quick stop in the park between legs caught a bus from the station to San Jose, arriving just as the sun was setting over the magical Mediterranean. Exhausted after a day of travel, we stocked up on groceries and hit the hay, excited for the change in scenery.
Saturday we woke up ready to explore. After a lovely breakfast in our sweet hotel patio, we set off to hike around the park. Cabo de Gata offers an interesting, varied landscape consisting of arid, desert-like mountains, dry vegetation, endless mounds of sand, and stunning cliffs dropping off into the sea. The region is reminiscent of the American Southwest, and many spaghetti western films have been filmed in the park (the term "spaghetti western" was apparently coined after an Italian director who made many such films while living in San Jose). Luminaries such as Harrison Ford and Clint Eastwood have acted in movies on these grounds, and it felt a bit like home. On a hot late September day with temperatures in the triple digits we hiked from our hotel in San Jose around numerous bays offering stunning views, gorgeous flora, and absolutely no shade. We enjoyed lunch atop a windy ridge overlooking twin deserted beaches, and after getting a bit lost on the sparsely marked trails eventually made it to Playa Monsul, a beach where Indiana Jones was filmed. Unfortunately, the hordes of nude Europeans did not include Harrison Ford, but it was a relaxing stop nonetheless. Running low on water and tired from the sun, having hiked about 7 miles, we hitched a ride back to San Jose with a young couple from Madrid; my first hitchhiking experience, and I figured I had to do it at least once while in Europe. After a long siesta and a dinner of peanut butter (finally found some!) and banana sandwiches on a rye baguette, we walked up and down the San Jose beach at sunset, reveling in the moment. The day offered some great fun in the sun, another installment of my active European holiday. I even managed to avoid a booking error and negotiate a half-price hotel stay in spanish, and my confidence in human benevolence was reinforced.
On Sunday after breakfast we headed back to Almeria (we easily would have stayed in San Jose for the day but with two buses the entire day our options were limited). We took a walking tour of the city, absolutely deserted on Sunday. After following the main street next to the waterfront and massive port (Almeria is an important commercial port and ferry stop) we wound up through an interesting set of run-down neighborhoods largely consisting of the city's considerable Arab population. Music blasted from open windows as families lounged on the sidewalks on the swelteringly hot day, and the barrios seemed very north African in nature.
We visited the Alcazaba, a poor man's version of the Alhambra perched atop the city. The gardens and fountains inside provided some much needed shade and some more PB&Ns, and the towers of the fortress provided some great views of the city as well as Cabo de Gata in the distance.
After walking around the city, all other attractions being closed, we grabbed some quick tapas before catching the bus back to Granada. A great weekend full of reflection, exercise, and heaping amounts of Mediterranean sun had come to a tiring but satisfying conclusion.
Until next time,