Grazalema - Andalucia, Take One - CycleBlaze

September 21, 2004 to September 22, 2004

Grazalema

I have a generally poor memory for detail.  I’m envious of those who have a seemingly bottomless store of memories saved up that they can dip into and dredge up relics of the past at will.  I’ve never been like that, and it’s of course getting worse as I age.  Maybe it’s just genetics, maybe its because I’m introspective and don’t focus on the world around me as much as others do, maybe it’s even because I have no sense of smell or taste to evoke long-forgotten experiences.  All of the above, most likely.

I was reminded of this last night over dinner, talking with our son Shawn who is out for a visit with his daughters this week.  We were discussing what our earliest memories were, and he proceeded to describe the farmhouse we lived in for a season when we first moved to Salem not long after my first wife and I adopted him.  He would have been about two and a half years old at the time.  He proceeded to describe details of our home - the two wood stoves, the location of his bedroom, the play fortress I built for him from timbers of a barn I was disassembling in lieu of rent, even the name of Mr. McKibben, our kindly neighbor.  Details I’d long forgotten, and would probably never have thought of again if he hadn’t reawakened them.  Amazing to me.

But, back to this tour and my efforts to drag it back from my hazy memory.  As you’ve seen already, I’m not bringing back much detail other than of the route itself.  I have my moments though.  In my personal calendar of days, some are asterisked or in bold font because they had some feature or incident that really stuck with me.  The first time I saw an exciting new species is a common theme, like the Wilsons phalaropes circling tight circles on a pond in the Sand Hills of Nebraska forty years ago; or the Gang-Gang cockatoo in the Grampian Mountains in Australia that suddenly scooted around the trunk of his tree into the sunlight; or the oropendulas crazily swinging upside down from a branch high overhead in the Jaguar Reserve in Costa Rica; or even the blue tailed skink I saw in a cemetery in the West Virginia panhandle when I was about nine years old when we were up there visiting Uncle Bowen.

Gang Gang Cockatoo, the Grampian. This was so exciting to me. He came out into the sun for about five seconds before realizing his error and scooting back to the other side.
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Something about incidents like that affect me differently, and they’re permanently etched in my brain - a clear mental image of the scene and moment.  Sixty-some years later, I still have a crystal clear image of that skink and the headstones and the weeds, but can hardly remember a thing about Uncle Bowen.

You’ll of course have divined by now that today is one of those asterisked days.  There are several things about today’s ride that come back pretty effortlessly - Sentenil, tucked deep into a narrow cleft between sheer cliffs; Olvera, gleaming on the ridge a few miles to the north of us; the final steep and hot climb to Grazalema.  What really cements the day though is the large reservoir formed by the damming of the Guadalete River.  My memory of cycling up (steeply down, actually) to the edge of this reservoir is sharp, and I’m immediately thrown back to reliving the moment when we biked down to its northern shore, looking across at the hills of Sierra de Grazalema rising above the opposite bank.

I’ll never forget the shock and disbelief at seeing this large reservoir, with our road dropping down to and then disappearing into it.  On our Michelin map, this reservoir did not exist.  Our plan had been to ride this river south to Zahara de la Sierra and climb up to Grazalema from there.  In fact, this was the sole reason we chose this route - Grazalema is actually quite close to Ronda, but we came this way because I wanted to see the famously scenic Zahara on the way.  In fact, we may have even been planning to stay in Zahara for the night - I can’t recall now for sure, but it seems likely.  

The reservoir is fairly recent - the river was dammed in 1994.  I no longer have the Michelin map we followed, but I think it was probably printed in 1994 also.  I’d been thinking about touring here for a long time, and I still have a Michelin map of northeast Spain that I probably got at the same time; and it was printed in 1994.  The road we were biking on probably went under water years before we were there, but we were planning from a decade old map.

So there’s another lesson learned from this tour.  #6: Do your research, and validate your references.

Leaving Ronda. I think those hills must be the Sierra de Grazalema - not so far off, if we had just headed that way directly.
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Looking north to Olvera. We’ll bike more or less straight toward it before doubling back toward Zahara.
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Sentenil de las Bodegas
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Jacquie GaudetI presume you remembered this? It must be pretty unique!
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3 years ago
Sentenil de las Bodegas
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Looking down on Sentenil de las Bodegas
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She’s smiling because it’s another scorcher today and we’ve finally found a bit of shade.
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Looking back at Olvera, the ridgetop town on the left. To its right must be Torre Alquahime.
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Looking down at the reservoir on the Guadalete. Our road dropped us down nearly to the edge of the water. It was a hot, steep climb back out once we realized our situation. Thinking back now, I’m pretty sure we were planning to stay in Zahara, and believed we were almost at the end of the ride. Nope - the hardest is yet to come.
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The long, steep, hot climb to Grazalema. I think we were out of water by this time and were relieved to find a potable spring on the way up. Another indication that we were probably bound for Zahara originally and ran down our water thinking we were almost done for the day.
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Grazalema!
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Grazalema is a beautiful spot, surrounded by wilderness high in the Sierra.  We stayed here two nights, and took a hike on the layover day.  I’m uncertain of this now, but I’ll bet the plan was to spend one night in Zahara and one in Grazalema, only a short, steep climb away.   I’m sure I must have been sorry to miss Zahara, which looked so beautiful in the photo in my guidebook.  But we did get to see it years later, when we stayed in Zahara and climbed Los Palomas Pass to Grazalema the next morning.

A postscript: I wrote this over morning coffee, before talking it over with Rachael.  When I brought it up with her later she immediately remembered it and described it as one of those days so seared in her memory that she could never forget.  So, true for her also.  And, she added some details I’d forgotten.  When we got to that potable spring on the final climb we were both so relieved that we drank our fill and then soaked our head# in it to cool down.  And, our original plan for the layover day had been a loop through Zahara, Grazalema and Ubrique; but there was no way that we were going to take that on under the circumstances.  A hike was perfect.

Grazalema
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Grazalema
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Grazalema
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Hiking in the Sierra de Grazalema
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Hiking in the Sierra de Grazalema
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Hiking in the Sierra de Grazalema
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Ride stats today: 43 miles, 5,000’; for the tour: 136 miles, 16,400’

Today's ride: 43 miles (69 km)
Total: 136 miles (219 km)

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Carolyn van HoeveInteresting reading your comment on this Scott that maybe you don't focus on the world around you. While reading your Balkans trip account I was going to post that I love the fact you notice all the minutiae of life on your journeys, the smallest of things from butterflies to insects, lizards, birds and flowers. Very much a part of the charm of your journals. It was a lesson to me to make sure to be observational on our upcoming trip. I'm not sure I would normally notice such small details.
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3 years ago
Scott AndersonTo Carolyn van HoeveThanks, Carolyn. I think you’re right, really. It’s not quite correct to say that I’m unobservant - I think my filter is just a bit off center and I focus on different things than a lot of people do.
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3 years ago