Hot springs, cave dwellers and Lorca

Moving on from the Lobo Park we now hit the road hard.

Very briefly we moved towards Granada before taking a 50km round detour south from the A92 to the small town of Alhama de Granada. There is a hot spring here and we need a wash!
The Spring is thankfully still free to the public though there is an enormous hotel/spa on the site hogging most of the water. The freebie locals get to use one stream which feeds into three pools of varying hotness. There is a small amount of sulphur in the water – and at 8am it does feel warm enough.

After our wash we again hit the motorways (non-toll paying). Travel on a motorway is pretty fast. Right now we are in Lorca.

We did pass by Guadix as well and could not help a peek at the cave houses. The inhabitants of large parts of Guadix and the surrounding villages are cave-dwellers. The caves are built into sandy rock protrusions that come out of the ground like giant pillars. The cave have normal terraced house fronts, but with chimneys and windows in the rock face. It is very original – and seeing a whole neighbourhood of them looks great! We had a walk around the city (the cave museum was closed for two hours of lunch), which is very pretty – a combination of medieval Moorish medina and renaissance buildings.

Barrio de cuevas

Barrio de cuevas

One of Guadix many churches

One of Guadix many churches

Lobo Park

This was an unplanned stop for us. We are feeling that Anika has not had much to do of late. The loneliness of being a single child on a childless road is getting to her. Playgrounds are far between – and the language barrier prevents casual play with other children. Walks are fun but after a while they must seem all the same to a four year old.

The other day I sat down to play with her animal toys. The game was ‘museum’. She was the curator ‘Monkey’ and I was the visitor ‘Ostrich’. I was told to sit down and be quiet. Do not talk. Wait. Go over there and be still. Don’t touch that. After a while I realized that this is her impression of some of our family excursions!

So when we picked up a flyer for the Wolf Park with Petting Farm, we thought ‘great!’.

This attraction is a mixture of interest and disappointment. More interest for adults and disappointment for kids. The Park is a private project run by a German couple. They are passionate wolf lovers. What they have are several very large pens in which they keep different wolf packs. Using a technique developed by the owner, ‘nurturing’, they are able to reduce the shyness of the pack in order to study their behaviour. The technique involves taking the pups away at 4 weeks for 10 days of hand feeding, then again taking the older pups away at 10 months for another short period to expose them to humans. It is argued that this maintains the natural wild nature of the wolf pack but makes them more familiar with humans. Interestingly the Iberian wolfs have now skipped over this exercise but are teaching their pups to not be afraid of humans.

The wolf packs include Iberian, European (Asian), Canadian, and one Alaskan Tundra wolf (the only one in Europe and only one of 20 in captivity – there are only 200 left in the wild – an extraordinarily beautiful wolf that has developed a white coat for the snow).

The Tundra wolf, she has evolved black eyeliner to combat snow glare, a short muzzle and ears to reduce heat loss, longer legs for deep snow.

The Tundra wolf, she has evolved black eyeliner to combat snow glare, a short muzzle and ears to reduce heat loss, longer legs for deep snow.

The park also houses mis-treated animals, mainly Rottweilers and German Shepherds, angry, bitter dogs that just want to sink their teeth into someones neck. The owner is a dog therapist and his heart goes out to all animals. He had just been brought a little wild boar pup, a tiny thing, though already covered in bristly hair. It was an audacious creature, charging around in circles, picking up things from the ground with its mouth and tossing them in the air. I have seen piglets before, this boar piglet had no fear of humans, it is quite extraordinary. His mother was killed by an illegal hunting party (it is out of season). Someone came across the pup and brought him to the center.
The tour felt quite quick though it was a little over an hour. At the end of it we were told to wait for the petting park (which looked diminutive). Anika was already fed up and did not want to wait around. They had an enormous trampoline that she wanted to go on, but it was out of order. So we set off again feeling that the park did not quite meet the expectations of children.

It is a great place for those with an interest in wolves – its purpose is education and conservation. It is poor at entertaining. My suggestion, build a playground.

Entry is 11euros per adult, 7euros per child (3-12)
Opening hours 10:00-18:00
Wolf tours are every hour till 16:00.

El Torcal – travels on another planet

El Torcal is a wonder that can not be missed if in the area of Granada. It is like walking through a city of stone, traveling to another planet, or a Jodorowsky movie set (the Holy Mountain).

This is a mountain 17km south of Antequera. Its steep sides are primarily cliffs, like a great fortress rising out of the hills, impregnable. From its bottom one could not guess what is on top, just another mountain of rock debri. Its secret is revealed as we take the very steep road, seeking out the easiest passages like a goat track, upwards to its top. Then the mystery of this mountain is revealed. It plateaus out onto twelve square kilometers of limestone rock formations that have been carved first by the ocean millions of years ago, then by wind and rain, freezing winters, ice ages and earthquakes. The result is twelve kilometers of limestone blocks, chasms, gorges, rock stacks, piles, creating the weirdest landscape. Some of the most unusual rocks have won affectionate names such as the Camel and Canary. Some balance precariously on others like a ball upon a seal’s nose.

Could that be the camel?

Could that be the camel?

From the information center there are two marked routes, the easy 1km route or the medium difficulty 3km route. One is not instructed ‘not to’ wander off route but twelve square kilometers is a pretty big area and it is a labyrinth from end to end. Through prior arrangement guides can take a party off route to see some of the inaccessible wonders.
One of many canyons that form the labyrinth.

One of many canyons that form the labyrinth.

The landscape is rock but there are blessed green pastures tucked between the rock stacks. Knarled oak grows where ever soil has built to sufficient depth, trees covered in lichen. In the shade of deep gorges moss grows over the rocks. We did not come across any springs and I wonder if there is any water there at all save what rain collects in the rock pools. These days El Torcal is inhabited by Iberian Ibex, fox, deer, vultures and eagles. But once it was an important neolithic and copper age sacred site. There are three known about caves with rock paintings.

We had great fun. However Anika’s strength expired half way through our one kilometer walk. It was revived through some creative play, hide and seek.

Go hide and seek

Go hide and seek

Thorn in the foot

Thorn in the foot

Entrance to the site is free. It is at a high altitude so bringing a fleece top is recommended though without any breeze and overhead sun we were too hot. Sheltered from the cold wind, the air is very still up here, very quiet, adding to the atmosphere.

There are opening and closing times.

We found a great camping spot at the bottom of the mountain. It gets busy during the day (especially on weekends) as it is the source of a fresh water spring that gushes from under Torcal. At this time of year the water comes out with considerable force. The water fills a pond. It is so crystal clear, without any sediment, that it is like looking at a chlorinated pool. Unfortunately swimming is prohibited.
The Spring is on the road to the El Torcal, shortly after the turning for the A343. There are picnic tables, a playground, good walks and parking on both sides of the stream.