Stage 1.20: Balerma – Almería, Spain

In which I bake in the sun, grind to multiple halts, glow in the dark, and arrive in Almería to find Twelfth Night festivities in full swing.

I leave the small town of Balerma shortly before midday. I take this photo soon into the run, not because of its artistic merit, but purely as an illustration of just how hot it is. The sun is absolutely baking, and this makes the first part of the run absolutely exhausting. I’ve never been much of a one for running in the heat, and with a backpack, this is something else altogether.

I enjoy the additional colour of the sea, however.
A path for meeee! :D Okay, it’s actually a bike path, and doesn’t last that long—but I decide it’s mine. After so many kilometres on the road, I feel oddly in control of the ownership and rights of way of various paths. :P
Another promenade. I take to developing the sport of ‘shade-hopping’, where I try to maximise the shade along my route, however minimal. Here, all I can shade is my feet—but I feel the slight decrease in temperature and effort makes a difference. Psychologically, at least. :P
I find Almerimar unexpectedly busy. I mean, I actually know almost nothing about it, so it shouldn’t really be unexpected, as such. But a mini-party is in full swing, with lots of people on the beach and windsurfing, and those intriguing Red Bull conveyances on one side.
It hasn’t actually been that far—around 10 km—but I’m already really feeling the heat. I walk slowly through, enjoying the shade. It makes a world of difference.
Discovering the marina, I realise that this is a really lovely place. A quiet weekend here could be very well spent. I buy some breakfast, and rest properly. Except… I make the mistake of buying some cheap, sweet stuff from a convenience store, and don’t enjoy it. This then seems to provoke my probably-already-unhappy stomach, and I spend most of the next part having a Bad Stomach Day. However nice the scenery is, this makes for a challenging and at times unpleasant run.
I take a path into the natural park, and shortly after am pleased to observe that it is shady.
Which continues for all of about a hundred metres, before I find the way completely flooded. I backtrack, but find an alternative path complete flooded, too. The entire area is under water, and there’s no simple way to sidestep it. It’s too deep to pass comfortably; besides, there’s no knowing what it’s like around the corner.
I retreat to higher ground, which has a different outlook entirely. This is very, very dry. I head up towards the road. I don’t strictly have to do this, as there’s a path between the water and the road, but I see from the map I’ll have to rejoin the road at some point anyway.
And by doing so, on reaching the top of the rocks, I’m afforded this expansive view of the area. I never would have seen it, otherwise. I look across, and see that the flooding is likely across that whole section of paths, so the different route is indeed in order. This doesn’t really add much in the way of distance, but it’s so, so, so very hot…
Oh, the joy of shade! Even now, I can remember how good it felt when huge greenhouses cast a shade along the road for a few hundred metres.
And the road goes on, and on, and on. Scarcely a view, enclosure after enclosure for the farm, which is really large, and absolutely mind-numbingly dull. The searing heat reflects off the road, and I can see the heat shimmering upwards in a haze. The enclosures block almost all inspiration, and I am alone with the sun, the road, some large farm lorries, my thoughts, and the frequent writing sprayed onto the side with telephone numbers and words like ‘repairs’. I cannot tell if these are part of the plan or simply self-promotion, but after kilometres of these, I grow very, very sick of them. This is absolutely not my favourite part of the run.
And the Bad Stomach Day is causing me to have to walk, sometimes for two or three kilometres. I finally reach the village of San Agustín and take a break, refreshing my water supply. It’s one of the only times I pour water away, but the water I filled this morning and last night doesn’t taste very good, and although seemingly drinkable, I do wonder slightly whether it’s contributed to my discomfort.
The farm, or collection of farms, is huge. It’s everywhere. I’m used to the map being wrong, so I’m not surprised the farm is sometimes where a natural park is marked. But I’m more surprised to see even a sign telling me there is such. This certainly doesn’t look like a natural park to me, and besides, access is often barred behind gates.
Against reduced to a mere slow walk, I take a break in a café, and have a coffee. This is already the second time I’ve had to stop for an extended period owing to IBS-esque discomfort. Some days are like that, and any hope of decent times or peace during runs goes out of the metaphorical window. The run becomes about completion, instead. The coffee’s great, though. :)
Onwards. I rejoin the beach, and am feeling much better. The trek suddenly becomes easier, and I am delighted to be able to run again. The route lies on a promenade alongside, and the heat has eased off. I begin to enjoy myself much more.
And then suddenly, I have to stop again—the third time this stage I’ve felt too unwell. This time hits hard and fast, and it’s some minutes before I’m all sorted and ready to try again. This is another thing that makes such runs so challenging: there’s no pace and continuity. Every time you start getting into it, you have to stop again.
On my way again, I am finally feeling better. As in, really better. With the problems and the heat and the road and the tedium and much of the distance behind me, I am able to really enjoy myself. The path runs through water, and I meet some runners who are out for a trip themselves. Lovely.
The sun picks out the cliffs ahead of me.
The sun is setting, one of my favourite time for beach views. Everything frames against the sky so perfectly, and I’m able to finally go at a decent pace. Which I’m pretty pleased with, considering how much work it was so far…
I am about to join the main road. With the sun setting pretty much this moment, I stop to modify my backpack and add my reflective cover. This was an upgrade I made before I left, ditching the dark one in favour of this luminous behemoth. More than ever, it probably looks like I’m carrying a very large shell…
I enter the first tunnel of the day, followed quickly by more. The road leads straight to Almería, and the traffic is constant, growing fairly heavy as I approach the city. I am glad I glow in the dark.
Looking out across the sea, the last colours of life stream across the sky. Some kind of permanent fishing installation breaks up the water.
I enter the outskirts of the city, and immediately like it. There’s just something about the lights, and this is a connected feeling I don’t lose during my stay here.
Navigating a couple of kilometres of town, phone map in hand, I come to a rest in the centre of the city. To my surprise and pleasure, the city is absolutely packed with people. I’d forgotten that Spain celebrates Twelfth Night! Roads are blocked off, the atmosphere is really festive, and this is a wonderful and memorable entrance for my first visit to Almería. It’s been a really challenging run, health-wise, but I’m glad I reached here, and now I can rest and soak up the celebrations. Checkpoint. 51.5 km (stage) / 608.6 km (total)