Monday, November 24, 2008


It’s been a very good week for hikes. Last Monday, we did the Montserrat hike, which you can read about in the Barcelona entry. On Saturday, our friends Lola and Eduardo took us on a walk in the Trassierra just out of town. We didn’t bring the camera on that walk, but I wish we had. It was beautiful up there in the hills, much more forested than I would have expected in this part of Spain. On the way, we passed the ruins of an old Moorish mill. Now, the Moors were kicked out of Córdoba in 1236 A.D., so the mill is nearly 800 years old at least. However, this isn’t like the Alhambra or the Mezquita; it hasn’t been maintained and restored for tourists. It was crumbling, with vines and tree roots growing through the walls. It looked like something from an Indiana Jones movie. Further along, we saw the entrance to an old Roman copper mine. There were actually two entrances. The first was a pit which had a modern ladder going down, but it’s fenced in to keep crazy hikers like us from trying to go down. The second was a tunnel dug back into the hillside. We followed it back until it was too dark to continue. It’s probably just as well that we didn’t have flashlights; I would have liked to go on, but it was getting late, and we didn’t want to be caught out in the hills after dark.

On Sunday, I joined my buddies in Llega Como Pueda (remember that the name means, roughly, “Get there any way you can”) on a hiking excursion to Despeñaperros. See the pictures at This is a natural park which includes the site of the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa (1212 A.D.), a critical battle between the Christians and the Moors during the Spanish Reconquista. Ángel, the rutero (leader) of this particular hike is a history teacher, so we got some fascinating stories about the battle as we saw the sites. King Alfonso VIII of Castilla prevailed upon Pope Innocent III to declare a crusade in Spain. (Ángel´s description was that the Pope got onto his medieval television, and broadcast a call to battle to all the Christian soldiers.) The soldiers obligingly gathered in Toledo, and moved south to the critical mountain passes La Losa and Despeñaperros through the Sierra Morena. The Muslim armies held the strategic passes, and there was no way to bring them to battle. In this sort of situation, there is a serious danger that the soldiers will just desert and go back home. When the need was sorest, a local shepherd came to the Christian army and told them that he knew of an unguarded pass. The army successfully got through the mountains and attacked the Muslims on the Mesa del Rey. The Christians won a decisive victory, opening the way to the southern part of Spain. From that point, the progress wasn´t quick, but it was inevitable. Córdoba fell in 1236 A.D., and Jaén in 1246 A.D. By 1250 A.D., Granada was the only remaining Moorish kingdom in the Iberian Peninsula, although it held on for almost another 250 years.

On this walk, we also saw another old, unmaintained, unrestored ruin: the Castillo de Castro Ferral. Seeing these amazing relics from the ancient world, I found myself looking more closely at every rock formation as we passed. Was it natural, or man-made? You just don´t see things like that in Oregon.

On this walk, the rutero had recommended that we bring walking sticks for the steep descents. I grumbled a bit…I´ve never used walking sticks, although I know they´re quite popular with other hikers. Still, I didn´t want to be known as the stupid American who hadn´t come prepared for the hike. I paid 20 euros for a set of sticks. Much as I hate to admit it, they turned out to be quite useful when we came down the barranco, on a steep slope covered with loose rock. One stick allows you to create a tripod, and even when you´re taking a step, you have at least two contacts with the ground. It´s sort of like having a rock or a branch that you can grab to stabilize yourself, but at a location of your choice. I still don´t think they´re much use on a level trail or a mild slope, but I´m a believer for the steep downhills.

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