Up and around Mulhacen

The whole time I’ve been in Seville, I’ve been conscious of the Sierra Nevada lying there to the east of me, just waiting to be explored.

I guess there are two types of people in the world. Those that are drawn to the sea and those for whom the allure of the mountains is the stronger force.

Me, I’m a mountain person. The siren call definitely comes from the hills and not the water, as far as I’m concerned.

So it was hard at times to sit there in Seville, and sense just how close those mighty peaks were. I had to get out and get up there into the mountains as soon as possible.

On the map, the little town of Capileira beckoned. It sits at the edge of the Sierra Nevada National Park, just below the Mulhacen, mainland Spain’s highest mountain at 3482m. So that’s were I headed.

Capileira is one of those white washed Spanish villages that cling improbably to mountainsides. In summer it’s cooler mountain climes and pretty geranium pots, lure hoardes of tourists up from the coast or from Granada, just an hour away. But in mid June it is peaceful enough to be enjoyed at a more lesiurely pace, to just wander its crooked narrow alleyways (a design from Arab times) and admire the fantastic chimney pots they have. As a base to walk out of it’s also perfect for what I call lazy man’s hiking.

Lazy man’s hikes are those day trip hikes you make from a comfortable base with just a day pack of food and water to carry and not much else – no tent, no cooking utensils, no sleeping bags and extra clothing. Just a camera, some food and a sturdy pair of legs. You head out for a day’s cavorting in the hills then head back down in the evening for some food and a few beers! Lazy as hell, like I say, but no less fun for all that!

And the nice thing about Capileira is that there are plenty of round trips in the area that you can make either from here or using the National Park information centre buses. Perfect!

The Mulhacen itself is within easy reach of the village, and as a day hike it’s really very easy. For while 3482m may sound high to some, it’s actually not a steep climb at all. The path upwards is clear and gently sloping and on the way up you are treated to visits by the local fauna, the Ibix goats.

At first you are only aware of their presence from the sound of the rocks clattering around you every now and then. Looking up you have to strain to catch a glimpse of them as they leap nimbly around.

But it doesn’t take long though before they are very close indeed. For wild animals the are incredibly curious and fearless. They do hunt them under license here in the park, so I had imagined they would be a little more wary of any visitors clambering around, but it didn’t seem to bother them in the least. In fact, this little chap in the photo was the most curious of the lot. He stayed right beside the group as we sat atop the Mulhacen taking a well earned rest. Perhaps he was wondering why it took us so long to make the ascent? Perhaps he just wanted on of our biscuits? Who knows.

We sat there quietly for a while, the goat watching us, the group staring out over the hills trying to catch a glimpse of Africa and the Atlas mountains. Today the summer haze had clouded the horizon, making it impossible to see much further than the valleys below us. Morocco was just an illusion in the haze.

As I sat there I wondered how may people were sitting there on the other side of the straits, dreaming of a life so tantalisingily close and yet so impossibly far away. Every year thousands of people attempt the passage from the Maghreb to Europe, over the Straits of Gibraltar. It’s a short passage but a deadly one, a lethal fact which leads some to call the Straits the “cemetery of the Mediterranean”.

It’s a sobering thought, as you sit there, high up in the hills, to see just how close we are to Africa, and yet to sense at the same time, just how dark and far away that whole continent seems from the vantage point of Europe.

Atop the Mulhacen, Africa never seemed further away…..

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