The Rain in Spain Stays Mainly on the... Sierra Nevadas?- page 2 | Travel | Smithsonian
Andalusia offers abundant trails, with one-fifth of its land under government protection. (Marina Koestler Ruben)

The Rain in Spain Stays Mainly on the... Sierra Nevadas?

Traveling to Andalusia after the wettest winter in decades brings unexpected surprises to a hike through Spain's southern region

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The previous day, we had arrived at our hike departure point without incident, traveling southeast from Granada by bus and arriving in the evening in the town of Pitres, in the Sierra Nevada range. We stayed overnight in a hotel, woke before sunrise and left on foot by 8 a.m., carrying all our gear. Our plan: to hike the ten miles to Trevélez in 5 1/2 hours, arriving by midday.

An initial run-in with a dead end left me clinging to a cliff, dizzy, but we had descended to an alternate route, wading barefoot across a freezing stream. Then, for several hours, we had a pleasant climb through the pueblos blancos, or painted ”white villages,” of Pórtugos and Busquístar and past olive trees, oaks, chestnuts and evergreens. The air smelled of pine and manure, birds chirped and, as the day warmed, we removed our sweaters and bared our arms to the bright blue sky.

We stopped for a picnic lunch of pan and queso on a rocky overlook to the edge of the path, bounded on one side by a mountain view and the other by pines—some wearing the white cotton-candy nests that signal caterpillar infestation. After lunch, we continued uphill. The path narrowed, and at times we had to walk across snowy ledges, unable to rely on the wet, loose slate walls for support.

By 2:30, we had reached the high dirt path that would lead us along the mountainside on the final ascent and descent to Trevélez. But something didn’t look right. The trail, formerly wide enough to accommodate cars, now ended abruptly in the aforementioned sheer drop.

We backtracked, our options limited. We would have to venture across the valley on the route our guidebook said the GR “purists” favored—a route that would have us lose all the altitude we’d gained over the past several hours so that we could cross a bridge at the base of the valley.

Had we known what we would later learn—that the bridge, too, had been washed out, along with the path on the opposite side of the river—we might have tried to turn back to Pitres. Of course, had we fully understood what it meant to hike in March, at the start of the hiking season following a winter with a record-setting amount of rain that weakened Andalusia’s renowned bulls, destroyed a third of its citrus crops and even flooded the meat off the drying ham haunches of Trevélez, we might not have taken this route at all.

According to Rosa Espinosa, an employee at Trevélez’s Hotel La Fragua (spoiler: we eventually did make it to the village) and a lifelong resident of Trevélez, the trails were not usually dangerous, but this year was different. In the five months from October to the beginning of March, some regions in Andalusia received three times the average annual rainfall.

So, when we reached the shady, bridgeless base of the trail, realizing that sunset was drawing nearer, we had no choice but to officially abandon the GR-7. We climbed carefully over boulders alongside a raging brook, its strong current sweeping away the test rocks we dropped in as possible stepping stones. Eventually, we found a big rock from which we could throw our backpacks across the river and then jump. Then we scrambled up the steep hill, tearing our hands on brambles and barbs, and found ourselves in a clearing, surrounded on all sides by trees and mountains.

We were off the trail, and it was now around 4 p.m.—I wasn’t entirely sure, as my watch had been ripped off my wrist earlier in the day. But then Danielle pointed to the distant side of the valley, where we could see the height of the road that traced its way around the mountainside. In theory, a path could exist at the same altitude on our side of the mountain.

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