Go forth into the hills: a pueblos blancos group hike

“We could just <pant> get down on all fours and crawl. <pause for breath> Don’t think anybody would mind,” I said to the person co-trudging nearby (no idea who since I couldn’t break focus by turning my head – but I could hear footsteps) 

<wan giggle from somewhere close>

The first 30 minutes of the 3.5 hour hike were heart-pumping. At one point I had to double up on muscle strength by using my hands to push my legs down and back with each onward step. It wasn’t Everest by any means, but I’ve barely walked outside for like, a year and a half, so this was the first significant hike in a long time for my atrophied quads and calves.

Jon Keogh

Going on guided group hikes is such an ideal way for me to get into nature when I’m traveling alone. When I’m in a new place and don’t know the terrain or how well the trails are marked it’s good to go with a guide my first time out. It’s also a good way for me to scope out if I’d feel safe going on trails by myself in the future. And last, but not least! I get to spend a day with new people and make new friends.

I’m thrilled with the guide I found, Jon Keogh of Hiking Walking Spain, which he runs with his brother Graham. For a very reasonable price, he brings the group in a private minivan to the hiking location, gives wonderful information throughout, and on some hikes a tasty local lunch is included. He runs hikes all week long, every week (with I believe vacation/break during the powerful heat of summer days) with varying intensity and locations.

Every person I met on this guided hike was such a delight, so companionable. You’d fall behind or jet a little forward and fall into step with another walker and start chatting. What’s your name, where are you from, have you been here before? The hills were so hard at the beginning that this also stoked the bond. We all struggled and we were ebullient when the land flattened a bit, which lifted us to even more friendliness. 

Want to meet some of these lovely walkers?

First off, meet my tocaya, Julie (Tocalla: Spanish for a person with the same name as you **thanks to my server Juan at Restaurante Mediacaña in Torrox Costa for teaching me this glorious word**).

A bashert moment (kismet/fate): there were only two seats left in the minivan when I got on and they were both next to a woman with beautiful long hair and a baseball cap. Our similarities shone out immediately and only grew throughout the ENTIRE day. 

We both landed in Spain on January 6. We’re both here for the whole month living/ traveling solo. We both live in Washington (state v. DC but still!). After ten minutes I asked for her name and my jaw dropped. She said, “don’t tell me your name is Julie, too,” so I said, “I will not tell you” and started laughing. 

We’re both travel writers. She has written multiple guidebooks and is a copy editor for a guidebook series!

There’s Janice who has bagged all the Munros in Scotland (over 200). “Well I started climbing them when I was 17 and I’m 70 now. We didn’t have enough money to travel abroad for vacations so we stayed home and camped and climbed the different mountains in our own country”. 

Guide Jon added that “walking is a wonderful way to get to know your own country. Or another country.” He also noted what a great and honorable accomplishment bagging all the Munros is. Whether that was the ultimate goal or not, and perhaps especially because it was not. 

Grace, a petite, retired woman with effervescent pink highlighting her short gray hair, was visiting Nerja (the main coastal town in this area) on a walking holiday from England. Halfway through her week stay she and her trusty hiking poles had already been on TWO hikes with Jon. And she was going on the big Thursday climb the following day. INCREDIBLE. Such fitness. 

Kind Declan from Ireland who connected me with his daughter who learned to surf during the pandemic and now travels the world to catch big waves. 

Castine from Germany. Her English was so good! She said she learned it back in school and being in Nerja was the first time she’d used it to actually talk with other people.  She’s also learning Spanish because her daughter is married to a Mexican man and she wants to be able to communicate with her machatunim (the Yiddish word for your child’s in-laws). 

I’m mesmerized by these rolling mountains we’re walking though. They’re approachable, accessible. People live here. They’re not terrifying and foreboding like those in Alaska. Cascades of white buildings nestle in their nooks and crannies – built sufficiently inland from the Sea to safeguard from marauding invaders (whether pirate or empire) in centuries past. 

Almond blossoms and hills

Each town has beautiful painted tile plaques with images, inscriptions, and sometimes poetry, telling their history. In Cómpeta there was a monument and accompanying poem honoring the traditional fandango folk dance. Do people in town still dance the fandango? I’ve danced the fandango before, back in high school during summer dance camp. The fandango, flamenco, and the Campagnian Tarantella (which was my favorite).

Avocado fruit just starting to grow
A century tree

Continuing along the footpaths, we passed orchards of avocado trees with baby fruits growing. Delicately blossoming almond trees. Trees laid heavy with lemons or oranges on terraces and in backyards or hanging seductively over a wooden fence within hand’s reach.

Jon stopped and told us about the huge succulents we’d been walking by, spines very close to our faces. “These are called century trees. They’re actually GIGANTIC aloe plants. In the old days, people thought they lived for 100 years. They do live for a long time, 50-60 years usually, but not quite 100. They’re planted in order to prevent erosion and landslides. They have deep root systems that hold the soil in place.”

The leaves are probably as tall as I am. But if you tied a bunch together they’d be a horrible impromptu mattress because of the sharp spined edges. 

The walk finished back where we started in the village of Árchez. Jon had brilliantly put in our lunch orders with the local restaurant when we started the walk. So, when we arrived famished and exhilarated from the vigorous mountain paths, everything was ready for our group of 26. 

After a lounging lunch of grilled meat, sautéed zucchini, and espressos, we got back in the minivan and headed down the switchback roads. 

To tie up the experience with a sweet bow: as I was leaving the van, I had talked to so many people that halfway down the aisle I decided to turn around, give a big wave, and say, “Goodbye everyone! SO nice to meet you all”. And don’t you know, everybody waved back and said their goodbyes as a big group. It felt like a scene from the Sound of Music. 

3 thoughts on “Go forth into the hills: a pueblos blancos group hike”

  1. Everything about this is delightful, tocaya! Your words and photos capture what a glorious day it was—the alchemy of companionship, scenery, and fresh air—and how solo travel can be filled with connection.

    Thank you for a fine souvenir of a perfect day. Anytime I want to relive it, I’ll reread this (and I’ll be sharing it as well). So nice to meet you, too. Walk on!

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