Week 5: Nerja – Almería

Stage Dist Stage
(km)
Dist Total
(km)
Stage 1.17: Nerja – Motril 78.0 481.0
Stage 1.18: Motril – Castillo de Baños 31.1 512.1
Stage 1.19: Castillo de Baños – Balerma 45.0 557.1
Stage 1.20: Balerma – Almería 51.5 608.6

4 runs / 205.6 km (week) / 608.6 km (total)

Week 4: Sitio de Calahonda – Nerja

Stage Dist Stage
(km)
Dist Total
(km)
Stage 1.13: Sitio de Calahonda – Torremolinos 32.5 331.2
Stage 1.14: Torremolinos – Málaga 23.3 354.5
Stage 1.15: Málaga – Torre del Mar 27.4 381.9
Stage 1.16: Torre del Mar – Nerja 21.1 403.0

4 runs / 104.3 km (week) / 403.0 km (total)

Stage 1.16: Torre del Mar – Nerja

In which I leave my beshadowed self behind, and am permeated by the beauty of the coastal road and the blue, blue sea.

Keen to get on, I pack up the next morning and continue up the coast. It’s a cloudy day, but the beach and bay look nice. Nevertheless, I’m pleased to be going. Part of the reason for my lack of enjoyment at this stop turns out to be that I’ve somehow injured my back and neck. Obviously, running with a backpack has its risks, but I’ve so far been mostly alright. Last night, however, I lay down for hours, and could barely turn my back without feeling a muscle pull. I must have twisted it, perhaps by turning my head at an injurious moment. Running a new stage the very next day isn’t ideal, but staying here much longer isn’t very practical either. I resolve to take it carefully.
All along the coast since may tens or more of kilometres ago, beach huts are decorated with style. I like the variety of the nautical scenes portrayed.
I run past a couple of people mending nets. Although this must be a common enough sight all over the world, I’ve barely ever seen it. Ropes attached to the ground run along, and the nets are attached to these to keep them in place.
Simply considering this bridge, it could be anywhere up the coast for maybe the past 100 km or so. I like the gentle arch; it lends something to the scene.
Like so many places, the river is completely dry. Not even a small stream makes its way along here. On the horizon, the mountains of the north loom above. These are an almost constant sight, for village after village.
The clouds clear a bit, revealing more blue sky over blue sea. The road snakes around, hugging the sea tightly.
I run past a couple of large apartment buildings with no windows. I can’t work out if they’re being built, or have already seen better days. Empty shells to overlook a blue sea.
I run through Torrox, which is a charming town. Everything around here is tri-lingual: Spanish, English, and German. I find it interesting how some areas I’ve seen are just Spanish, some Spanish and English, some also with German, and others with Swedish or Dutch. Russian is seen very rarely—just the occasional shop or so.
Continuing past Torrox, the coast becomes truly delightful. This is an area of wondrous beauty, and I could happily spend more time around here.
I take the beach for a while, the waves breaking white and frothy, most cappuccino-like.
Having rejoined the road, I pass some cars pulled up in a lay-by. I stop to see what’s causing the interest, and find a shine made out of rock. Lots of white stones are placed on it all around.
Again, the views around this part really are stunning. It must make for a lovely drive, as well. For the first time in around 40 km, including the past stage, I start to feel good. The soul-clouds begin to lift.
The road bends around and descends, offering an easy run with an excellent view of the mountains. Remarkably, my back and neck have been okay, although I can feel that they’re not right.
I look out towards the sea, with scene after scene which could be from a postcard. I’m already beginning to really like this place—a feeling which will grow and grow over the coming days.
I enter Nerja, with no idea about what to expect. I know nothing about the place, having chosen it purely because it worked out well with distances, me also being eager to leave the place before. And although there’s little to be said in the way of running, I discover what quickly moves right up into my list of all-time favourite towns. A remarkable and exquisite jewel.
I stop on the old bridge, again looking along a dry river-bed up to the mountains. Time to rest, and to heal. Checkpoint. 21.1 km (stage) / 403.0 km (total)

Stage 1.15: Málaga – Torre del Mar

In which I run along an easy road with some nice views, but fail to enjoy it very much at all because my soul is cloudier than the sky.

The road out of Málaga to the east is easygoing, and I am glad of it; I’m really, really not in the mood for this run, today. After a few days over Christmas, getting back into exercise can be challenging at the best of times; add carrying a backpack and the weather being overcast, and this becomes pretty hard. I am probably also still not entirely clear of my whisky, and this joins me as begrudgingly as a kidnapped friend.
The sea comes close to the road, so close the spray blows across. This is a nice thing. I intend to run about 20 km, which is a lot less than my original plan. Just a few kilometres in, I’m glad it’s not my original plan. I tell myself the first 10 km or so will be hardest, and this at least does turn out to be mostly true.
I’ve really enjoyed Málaga, and it’s possible that this contributes to my lack of inspiration for running this stage. I voice that now, because still some time after completing the stage (spoiler alert: I do finish it), I still can’t quite work out what went wrong. I doubt it’s the remainder of the alcohol; it might not be scientifically correct, but it feels like this is sweated out in the first few kilometres. But goodness I don’t feel much like running.
There seem to be a lot of wide, dried-up rivers, in this area. I don’t know why or how, but it feels weird to run across bridges built across dirt.
The path takes a direct route through the rock, and I run through a couple of longish tunnels. I enjoy the unusualness of this.
I find it challenging to take particularly impressive photos, because it’s so overcast. The area I run through is quiet, and for some reason this bothers me. This is, perhaps, another reason for my lack of peace of mind today: although I usually don’t mind running for even hours completely alone, in contrast to the city, I want there to be people around. There are some walkers, cyclists, and runners, so I suppose it isn’t actually that quiet. Again, probably the main problem here is me…
The route remains easy. I opt for keeping to the road, rather than take any diversions. I like how the sea is washing up along the beach.
I like the ingenuity of layered housing like this. It’s nice that all of those at the front have their own areas for a morning coffee or an evening glass of wine. If it seems like I’m becoming diverted, it’s because I’m still not having a particularly good run, and I simply can’t work out why. Some days are like that.
The sun comes out briefly, and that’s a least brightening, both metaphorically and literally. I’ve been analysed my state of mind mid-run (as well as afterwards), and objectively, this part is quiet pleasant. If it were a sunny day, I imagine a very pleasant afternoon could be spent with a book on the beach. But I can’t connect to it today. However, given that the day is a little brighter and I am still attempting to analyse my mood, I decide to replan the route live, and extend it by a few kilometres.
The sun gone, I find this stretch of road so extremely depressive, I can’t currently imagine wanting to go back there. I have no idea whether it is actually that bad—but all I can think about it is the lack of anything interesting around, the smell of some kind of sewerage or something, and seemingly the highpoint being a statue of a bull on the hill. This is visible for quite some distance. I can’t work out if it’s supposed to be a pun or not—the place being Torre del Mar, ‘torre’ meaning ‘tower’, but ‘bull’ being ‘toro’—it probably isn’t, but I like the idea of putting a huge pun on a hill.
The rock on which the bull lives is interesting. I know almost nothing about geology, but I like the layers. As I run past, dogs start barking, their barks echoing against the rock. My back’s been twinging a bit, but I make do with some brief breaks and decide it’ll probably be alright. (Spoiler from future self: it turns out I’m very, very wrong about this.)
A sobering approach. There really are quite a lot of flowers, here.
I don’t usually mind no-one being around in the country, but in an urban area, I like there to be people. I find the first few streets eerily-quiet, and feel a bit like I’ve run into a zombie apocalypse.
A little while later, I’m there. Even looking at this photo now as I write this, I know that it’s a lovely view, and a nice place. But it’s simply not mine—not on this visit, at least. If you ever visit Torre del Mar, you might well have a lovely time by the sea; what I’ve seen of the town is pleasant, and there’s plenty of beach of choose from. Just perhaps don’t approach it from the west, running along smelly roads, when it’s overcast and your soul is even cloudier than the sky. :) Checkpoint. 27.4 km (stage) / 381.9 km (total)

Stage 1.14: Torremolinos – Málaga

In which I reach Málaga in time for Christmas, reflect on city-building strategies, and extend it as a wider metaphor in life. Merry Christmas. :)

Today’s objective is to reach Málaga, where I intend to spend Christmas. After an brief, accidental trip to a cemetery, I am on my way. The route down through town is fun to run, dropping quite quickly to get back to sea-level.
I reach the beach, and continue along the coast. It’s another lovely day. :)
I opt for some beach-running, rather than follow the road around. But also, it’s a nice day for it.
For long stretches, there’s a wooden path laid across the beach. I didn’t know about this, and it makes the run much easier. It really does pay to ignore the map, sometimes. Sometimes. ;)
I have to head inland for a couple of kilometres or so, so a couple of rivers can be crossed. It’s quite a diversion, but it seems there are no bridges along the seafront at that point. I don’t seem to be the only one making the detour; various runners and cyclists, some with small children, also take the route.
Main river crossed, it’s a dry, dry road back to the sea. Easy to run, but not exactly picturesque.
Rejoining the beach, it’s rather a nice stretch. It becomes busier and busier as I approach Málaga, with runner after runner. It seems everyone’s out, today—perhaps rightly considering a sunny Sunday Christmas Eve a good opportunity for a run. :)
Working my way around the port, it’s much less beautiful, but on the opposite side to the sea, I do cross a pleasing stretch of water.
I’m becoming a bit tired, probably because of this run following yesterday’s so quickly. I stop for a breakfast-break. The promenade is really busy, busy enough to have to change direction frequently whilst running. But there’s enough room to get past—unlike trying to run in waterside places in London.
As the centre is left behind, the route becomes much nicer, again. It’s interesting how often, the centre of a town or city really is nowhere near as nice as the areas just a few kilometres out. Whilst I suppose this makes some sense, given development, it seems rather a shame than we can’t develop cities whilst keeping the beauty of the surrounding nature intact. I encountered much the same problem the other day, when trying out SimCity. ;) It occurs to me that it’s either necessary to plan everything a long time in advance, or maybe to have the complete opposite strategy and develop everything very slowly and carefully. But rapid expansion just destroys the surroundings. Perhaps this can also be a bit of a metaphor for life; there’s no single approach which is superior, but certainly some approaches are more sustainable and quality-preserving than others.
And a few kilometres after, I reach the end of my run. It’s been uneventful, but pleasant. It’s been a bit of a stretch these last few days, as I haven’t felt quite as well as a week or so ago, but I’m pleased I’ve reached Málaga. I feel a bit like it’s the end of a group of stages, for me; it’s been a little over three weeks since I began this project, I’ve run over 350 km, I’ve reached a major city, and of course now it’s Christmas. Time for some recovery, time for some relaxation, and time for some whisky and contemplation. Merry Christmas to you all. :) Checkpoint. 23.3 km (stage) / 354.5 km (total)

Stage 1.13: Sitio de Calahonda – Torremolinos

In which I meet a Jehovah’s Witness on the mount, almost become meat for two dogs, and indulge in a little Dutch food and directions.

As I leave Sitio de Calahonda, it’s one of the cloudiest days yet. I’m pretty happy about this, as it means it’ll be cooler whilst running. Time to journey Málaga-wards; I have about 30 km to cover, today. One of Father Christmas’s reindeer could make this much quicker, but I’m feeling rested and content enough.
Briefly, another wooden road. There really are so many lovely views along this stretch of coast.
As I’m crossing a road in a small village, a car almost drives straight across the crossing. The driver slams on the brakes, and come to a stop around half-way into the crossing. I’ve spotted them just before they’ve spotted me, despite being half-way across the road, and everything is alright. They clearly see it’s their fault. I wonder what they were thinking of, or whether the person next to them had just said something. Easy to do, but could have cut my trip rather short. After some smaller roads, I join a path and head up into the hills.
The path stretches out before me, rolling up and down the slopes much like a rolling-pin might. Perched on a far hill, a sign which reminds me of Hollywoo(d).
I rest at the top, after walking up some of the steepest slopes. I experiment with zig-zagging up some of the others. There’s far enough to go; there’s really no point tiring myself out, and I can feel it a little in my legs. Whilst resting, a Danish person comes over to chat. They’re here with friends, taking a coffee-break after calling on people as Jehovah’s Witnesses. They show me some photos of their own trips around the world, complete with a military-style off-roader, which apparently has everything, including a generator. I realise travelling with such a vehicle might’ve been quicker—and more convenient when being a power-vulture…
A quiet road leads me down the hill. Much faster than I came up. (Obviously.)
Taking a hairpin bend which does look remarkably like a hairpin, I follow a small path which runs alongside a dried-up river. The riverbed is wide and dusty, and it doesn’t look like water has flowed there for some time.
Finally, some water! It’s mostly just sitting there, and not flowing very much. Which I guess makes sense, considering the riverbed higher up is so dry. It seems a shame; it could be such a pretty river. I wonder why it’s dry.
Today’s dogs are not friendly, not small, not restrained, and not with any visible owner. As I round the back of a less-than-clean housing-block, I see the two dogs. Initially, they’re just playing with each other. I slow to a walk past, and they take interest in me. They bark and bark, and one moves after me. There are a few seconds when I genuinely wonder if they’re going to attack me. No one comes. I keep walking slowly, and after some very tense seconds they stop moving after me. I reflect to myself that given all the dangers of the trip, the most likely is still that I’ll be attacked by a dog or hit by a car.
At Fuengirola, I rejoin the sea. The path is easy, and the journey pleasant.
Running along the promenade through town, I continually experience very strong déjà vu. Checking later, it turns out I’ve been here before—around two decades ago! I keep looking around, filled with that strong-but-not-quite am-I-sure-or-have-I-never-seen-this-before feeling.
The road climbs, and I’m having to take more rests; the clouds have flurried themselves along, and it’s actually now pretty sunny. Thankfully, I brought enough water today. :) Hurrah!
The path wraps around the edge of the coast, behind lots of apartments. It’s a nice stretch, but I’m feeling pretty tired. For a nice change, I’m not dehydrated, today—but I haven’t eaten or brought anything, and I’m simply getting too tired. I’ve been a little over 25 km, so don’t actually have all that long left to go, but I take three or so rests in quick succession, and am definitely losing my rhythm.
Just around the brow of the hill, I discover that Amsterdam might not be as far away as I’d thought. The local store sells a variety of Dutch products, to my surprise including Oude Kaas! Like all imports, it’s pretty expensive, but not all that much more expensive in comparison to the less-exciting cheese they’re selling. I buy some, and have breakfast in the sun on a small roundabout. 48-day Dutch, washed down by Spanish beer. And within a few minutes, my energy returns. Really must get the hang of this eating thing.
I start walking as I finish the last of my sandwiches, and am stopped by a couple. Speaking English, they very politely ask me if it’s possible to get to the beach by some particularly route. I say I think so, and check on my map. Where are you from?, I ask. Belgium—do you know it? I give them their directions in Dutch, which they seem happy about, and with a cheery Geen Dank, set off on my way. Not bad for an unexpected breakfast: a little Dutch conversation to go with my Oude Kaas. :)
Grateful for the food, I set off on the final few kilometres. Along the way, somebody is making townscapes out of sand, and they’re pretty darn awesome.
Entering Torremolinos, it gets a lot more busy. This seafront has a very different feel about it compared to Fuengirola, and I much prefer it. I join the scooter-traffic. ;)
The stage ends with a sudden ascent, and I simply walk it. I’m pretty pleased overall, and the run’s gone pretty well, especially considering it’s one of the longer stages. Checkpoint. 32.5 km (stage) / 331.2 km (total)

Week 3: La Línea de la Concepción – Sitio de Calahonda

Stage Temp
(°C)
Weather Dist Stage
(km)
Dist Total
(km)
Stage 1.9: La Línea de la Concepción – Castillo de la Duquesa 17 Mostly Sunny 31.4 239.1
Stage 1.10: Castillo de la Duquesa – Estepona 15 Mostly Sunny 22.6 261.7
Stage 1.11: Estepona – Marbella 18 Sunny 20.6 282.3
Stage 1.12: Marbella – Sitio de Calahonda 12 Sunny 16.4 298.7

4 runs / 91.0 km (week) / 298.7 km (total)

Stage 1.12: Marbella – Sitio de Calahonda

In which I am offered two ways to relax, pick a bone about dogs, and discover the way to Amsterdam.

Another gloriously-sunny day. Although I suppose it would be more newsworthy to say when it isn’t… As I leave my accommodation, the water has broken. In many places, this could’ve been a big problem, but along this beach there’s drinking-water. I stop off almost immediately, and refill my recently-purchased hydration-pack. I’ve already grown to really like this, as I no longer have to worry about cracked plastic bottles, or think about all the PVC decaying into my water. I bring to mind an English translation of a sign I saw, saying something like: It is not advisable to drink this water since it is not potable. Which, translating the remaining Spanish, basically says: It is not advisable to drink this water since it is not suitable for drinking. Which explains a lot.
My mappy-friend would like me to spend a pleasant day by the dual-carriageway. So I mute it, and run along the beach. The sand isn’t too deep, but I feel the extra effort pretty quickly. I love beach-runs, and I’m clearly not the only one; I pass lots and lots of runners. (Well, I presume runners, since they’re dressed in running fashion—but admittedly today most of them are walking.) But the extra weight makes sinking into loose sand much more of a problem. I try to follow in the tyre-tracks of Good King Wenceslas, who sometimes drives a car, and sometimes a tractor.
Not all villas are as stylish as the ones I’ve been seeing these last few days. Does the job, though, and the beach around here is far quieter.
The beach feels a little bit like a road, with all the tracks and various walkers and runners. Now and then I change lanes, in an attempt to find a more level surface. One of the problems with beach-running is often the beach is slightly sloped, and this can really tire the muscles of one leg. I counteract it for a while by running with my left foot in the tyre-track, and my right alongside. Somebody stops me, with a big smile on their face. Speaking English, they offer me yoga—or yoghurt, I can’t decide which—for free tomorrow in the nearby beach-bar, if I need to rest. Both free yoga and free yoghurt sound good, and I make a mental note in case I’m in the area.
Just a few minutes later, somebody else stops me. This time the offer is a massage. Except I’m pretty sure this isn’t for free, and besides, I should probably get on with my run rather than dream of massaged yoga-yoghurting sessions.
I’ve actually been struggling rather with this run; I could feel it already after about 4 km. I’m feeling a little unwell, and it’s a bit of a trek. It’s a good job today’s not a long stage. In places, I can see why it’s easier to just go along the beach; the path will presumably get repaired. One day…
My first obstruction, barring dogs. The rocks are easily scrabbled over, with a larger set around the corner taking longer, but posing no difficulties. But dogs… I think I’ve had some sort of too-close encounter with a dog almost every single stage I’ve run. Sometimes they’re friendly, and just think you’re a frisbee. Sometimes they’re a little less friendly, and think you don’t live there. (One of these notions is true.) But for goodness’ sake, if you have a friend of the four-legged kind (by which I mean canine, not human), could you not allow them to run at or chase runners? Without wishing to appear sheepish, it can be very worrying, and regardless causes a runner to slow down or stop or do some stupid dance to get around a dog. And if you’ve just run 10 km or 20 km or whatever, and it’s hot, this is really, really tiring. Thank you. (This applies mostly to small, medium, and large dogs. If you have a hamster-sized dog, I’m just mostly worried I’ll step on it and squash it…)
Briefly, a wooden path. I decide I really like running along these; they don’t waste effort as you’re running along, unlike loose dirt or sand, but have just enough give so as not to feel tiring, unlike tarmac. I’d like to see lots of these all over the world, just for the joy of it. :) They’re good for cyclists, too.
I pass a sign saying ‘207 [km] Cádiz’. And yet, I’ve run about 50% extra to get here. It really would’ve been faster by car. ;)
A path up through the trees. The green makes a pleasing change, and the sunlight in the treetops causes a blend of colours.
Another wooden-highway, for a short distance. A lovely section of coast, with villas built accordingly. I’ve been going a fair bit slower than yesterday, not just because of the sand.
I pass another beach-bar, which is closed. Many cafés and bars I’ve passed have been in fact. I don’t think it’s simply the run up to Christmas; lots of them have signs saying they’ll reopen in March! A collection of signs tells me not only where the mojitos aren’t (because it’s closed), but also that Amsterdam is apparently 1921 km away. That journey might have to wait for another day.
A small beach, and it’s the end of my stage. The weather’s been lovely, and I’m glad I took the beach route rather than follow the map. But I’m also glad it’s the end of the run; it’s not really my best running day, today. But I’m on-track; I hope to get to Málaga in time for Christmas. Checkpoint. 16.4 km (stage) / 298.7 km (total)