Our route south from Guadix takes us over the Sierra de Baza, marked on our road atlas with a green ‘scenic route’ line. The highest mountain in the range is shown as 2271m, but we’re not sure how high the pass is since the map is not sufficiently detailed. We’ve been trying to find some better maps ever since we arrived in Spain! As almond orchards gave way to scrubland, we gradually climbed, winding our way up through pine woods. There’s snow beside the road, and posts for the snow ploughs and we’re glad of our new all season tyres as in some sections there was snow across the entire road. Crunchy in places, and definitely giving a sense of ‘slipping’, it felt very lonely and cold. Once the phones ‘bleeped’ that we had service again and it was clear we were on the descent, we both admitted we’d been a little worried! It was interesting to note the change of road surface as we passed from Granada (tarmac) into Almeria (gravel covering old tarmac). Sadly, there was no view of the Sierra Nevada as it was really cold with low cloud, mist and drizzle. As we reached Escollar we noticed the ‘Cadenas’ sign flashing on the road up. Looking this up, we discovered it means ‘Chains’!
Heading for Almeria, where we hoped the weather would improve, we drove through the Desierto de Tabernas, one of the most dramatic landscapes in Spain, loved by the film-makers of ‘Spaghetti Westerns’. It is the only semi-desert in Europe with a surreal almost lunar landscape with eroded ravines, dry river beds and barren slopes. With poor soil, low rainfall and temperatures that range from -5°C to 48°C, the landscape has been little changed by agriculture or other human activity, with just a few pockets of subsistence farming. After taking in this strange view, we headed for the Parque Natural Cabo da Gata.
What a disappointment! Much of this so-called Natural Park has the largest surface of greenhouses in the world. The intensive agriculture produces a huge output of soft fruit and vegetables, despite the area having such low rainfall. There is obviously a wide range of opinions on the benefits and consequences of such practices, but commercial farming on a large scale started in the area in the 1960s. It was late, but we decided paying to stay in such an uninviting area would be a bad move. We drove back to the other side of Almeria to find a site (with mixed reviews) on the coast. It was ideal, especially as the wind blew up with forecasts of 40mph gusts. We parked the van in a sheltered spot on the small, well-managed site with a private beach! It was 1900 and we’d done 157 somewhat challenging miles today.