The skies were clear and the air crisp and cold when we set off at dawn from the campsite and returned to the beach. The skyline of Moroccan mountains were sharp behind a gentle mist rising from the sea as we climbed the mountainous dune to reach the road recently cleared of sand that threatened to bury the trees.
The road crossed the top of a forested peninsular that was or had been abandoned to the military although still part of the Estrecho natural park our whole journey was contained within. A really attractive stretch of wild country that was spoiled somewhat at the end of the cul de sac by the deserted military buildings.
Surprisingly, beyond the military flotsam was an enclave of fincas and villas and a couple of restaurants with wonderful views across the straights. The road became a sandy track that wove its way over the headland between the pines with their rounded pincushion canopy.
The cloudless sky had warmed a lot and, exiting the shade of the trees into more open country, we took a drink and snack break after about 10km in El Lentiscal, another favourite camper parkup.
The sea here was calm again. We had been blessed with slight breezes since arriving on the coast famous for its strong winds beloved by kite and wind surfers. We hadn’t wanted to be struggling against a maelstrom of sandblasting particles.
A little out of the village we called up to the imposing visitor centre building for the equally impressive Roman ruins of Baelo Claudia. In fact the 2000yr old archecture was fairing better than the modernist structure. Inside the towering exhibition spaces were lines of buckets collecting drips from yesterdays rain and streaks of water stains marred the plain white walls. Many of the digs finds were in other museums and the display barely warranted such an ostentatious edifice but I admired the donkey head jug handle among other relics.
Realising that a track leading off from the back of the site would save us a circuitous loop around on a steep road we snuck over one fence, wandered through acres of scattered Roman stonework, and scrabbled under another to gleefully regain the trail having ” beat the GR system!”. But our smugness was short lived as we still had a long climb ahead to take us way up above the famous Bolonia sand dune and over the Punta Camarinal peninsular, home to another military exclusion zone. Work was ongoing on the trail with new signage, car parking and concreting.
It was a spectacular section of trail , worthy of upgrading to attract more visitors, through a tapestry of rock and palm and pine and flowering scrub with views to the sea and Africa in the distance. Some goat farmers were privileged to live here overlooking the 500 year old Torre de Cabo de Gracia, whose lookouts warned of Barbary pirates back in the day and whose light protects seafarers still. The beach below, accessible only by foot or boat, is reckoned to be the finest on the coast.
From the tower it was a short walk to a shock. From an empty and wild natural environment we emerged to a view of a controlled and subdued one. One where mankind had definitely made his mark. Mostly in the form of the kind of macho but minimalist architecture that would feature in a Bond movie. Our last bed of the trail was here somewhere and we walked a long way on broken and weed choked paving to find it. Obviously not a place where people walked. No shops, restaurants, bars or social hubs to walk to. Just multi million euro villas to drive into through electronic gates.
As it happened our place in Atlanterra, a suburb of Zahara de Los Atunes, was more modest and rustic although part of a Finca on the market for €5 million.
Lovely gardens and views more than made up for the lack of dramatically cantilevered roofs and floor to ceiling glass walls.
The complicated bus and train timetable homewards meant we didn’t have any time to walk further up the coast and Jesus, the gardener, would give us a spin to the bus stop in the morning.
Time to chill and take stock of our hike. That day we’d covered over 20 km of ups and downs and although the last steep climbs were a struggle we were pleased with our efforts and the scenery, weather and slow motion discovery had, as usual, made it a joyful experience. The Parque Natural Estrecho had been yet another wonderful ingredient in Spains diet of delights to sate our hunger for rambling riches. And in the morning we walked onto the beach at the trails end in the town that celebrates – the Tuna.