25 Jan Bedar Boot Camp
An action-packed few days since my last post. Boy, have I been through my paces! Seemed like a good plan to get some discipline into the routine here and get fitter. So, the training regime has started and my body aches in places I never knew existed – but oh, the sense of utter virtue that has settled on my soul….
I was astonished to find that our little whitewashed village also boasts a gym. Right on the main road as you enter Bedar is the Gimnasio and here, rather incongruously, from early in the morning until well into the evening the throbbing beat of dance music blasts out of the open doorway as a few people do their stuff on the various fitness machines or ripple to the odd zumba, bums ‘n tums, or body building class. The Gimnasio is in the perfect location, just next to the El Cortijo bar where you can counterbalance all that hot, healthy stuff with a nice cold beer or a rib-tickling cup of coffee, après-ski as it were.
I signed up for what was loosely called ‘pilates’, which turned out to be an amazing blend of keep-fitty-yoga-y-pilates-y exercise, a completely exhausting workout with the wonderful Maggie. Maggie expects your muscles to burn, baby, burn; she expects your heart rate to soar; she will make you do that last and excruciating sun salutation; she wants you to be begging her to stop as the hour creeps on to 70 minutes; she works you hard; she gives good value for your €5. This was no gentle morning’s exercise with a few women of a certain age – although most of us were a certain age and we were all women. Nope, this was high-impact, character-building, death-defying, lycra-frying, sweat-inducing, gruelling manouevres, your daily dozen squared, and such a load of fun. I returned from Maggie’s class with quivering knees and thighs in the certain knowledge that, come the next morning, I would ache.
As luck would have it, the next morning, the other drill sergeant, Himself, The Artist, had planned a major hike as he starts off the training regime for the Coast to Coast walk, that fabulous 200-miler across the north of England that we plan to do for the third time early this summer. He rarely plans our holidays, a task that’s usually left to me. But the C2C is the exception, requiring his special skills; all those years in the logistics business really have paid off. He takes planning to meticulous detail, with draft and redraft on tiny handwritten notes then transferred to complex spreadsheets, distances calculated, times calibrated, hostel and B&B bookings made, packed lunches ordered. Inevitably, therefore, he takes our transition from relative winter idleness to super-sprung summer fitness very seriously too, necessarily these days as the road from fitness zero to fitness hero becomes longer and more tortured with every passing year since three-score was reached (and ten, in his case!!). No doubt some secret spreadsheet hides deep in his hard drive plotting our training milestones, scoring commitment and enthusiasm, measuring moans and groans, assessing aches and pains, totting up the perfect but elusive pain/gain quotient.
In any case, he decided we would start the long road to peak fitness by doing one of the local walks, the Ruta de las Minerias (Route of the Miners), a trail that takes you into the sierra just south and west of Bedar where iron and lead was mined for about 100 years from the mid-nineteenth century. The route starts from the main road just short of the village and about 2 km from our cortijo. Since it claimed to be only 7.6 km in length, we decided to add some extra mileage by walking from the house. The little leaflet with the plan of the route and its points of interest was confusing, its timings and distances seemed incompatible and the scale somewhat imprecise; we had convinced ourselves that 7.6 km was the circuit, there and back. Ho hum, we were wrong. So, our total walk was just short of 15 km – and that was taking the shorter route back! Training regime well and truly under way.
But what a spectacular walk it was. Several buildings remain from the mining days and, most especially, the tunnels and the narrow gauge railway track where man- or animal-powered cars were loaded with ores to be taken out of the sierra for onward transport. An aerial cable once extended from here right to Garrucha on the coast, a distance of about 10 km, taking the ore by the most direct route to the sea for shipping. That must have been quite a sight. What looks to be the inland tower for this cable still stands on the hillside towards the end of the main section of the walk through the mines area. The first tunnel is long and very dark. Jim paced out 396 steps from the entrance to the exit. Then the trail leads through some small valleys of olives and almonds, a few large cortijos dotted here and there. A big right hand sweep uphill and you come out overlooking a massive valley many of the old mine buildings and storage sheds standing dark, solid and abandoned on its slopes. Views from here are spectacular, as you look across the scrubby sierra, with no sign of human habitation save for a single ruined house at the bottom by a river bed that has probably been dry for 30 years or more.
The trail follows the old railway for much of the way with some pretty sharp drop-offs here and there that made me gasp. Imagine how they constructed that track; wooden scaffolding here and there, we supposed, but exactly how you erect wooden scaffolding on the sheer sides of some of these sections is beyond me. One step, one sneeze even, and you’re a goner. The path is well waymarked and extremely well maintained by the local council, the Ayuntamiento. As we emerged from a narrow section with a steep drop on the left hand side, we ran into a couple of young people doing some maintenance work on a set of steps. Seizing on a chance to practise my Spanish, we chatted to them as they stopped for a Coca-Cola and a fag and we stopped to catch our breath.
The mining life up here must have been pretty brutal. We passed gaps issuing darkly into the mountainside, like the entrances to narrow caves, closed off now because they’re dangerous, I guess. These are just deep gashes into which the miners would climb so that the whole mountain is on top of them as they shovel and pick away at its base. Gives one a queasy, uneasy feeling. A monument in Bedar commemorates the many local men killed or maimed during the years of working the mines. You climb out of the mining area and you are back among the pale, chalky-dry soil with olives and almonds planted at all angles on the slopes leading to the tiny village of Serena. This is the end of the waymarked trail and confirmation that we have been thoroughly misled by the plan… so back by the quiet road into Bedar and home, 22,500 paces tripped and trudged, tired legs, sore feet, happy hikers.
The sun shone all day and all along the route, away from the tended groves of olive and almond, in the wilder sections you pass through those scrubby, shrubby hillsides such as we have at the door of our cortijo. They look dull and colourless from a distance, but close up they give up their rich aromas and astonishing varieties of subtle colours. A feast to feed on (literally) in the next post.