Sendero Sur Fitness – Antequera, Spain
Sometimes in the excitement of planning a daventure – the boring details can be glossed over…until the reality hits. I was reminded of this when the reality hit me somewhere above the Atlantic that getting TO the adventure takes a really, really long time! I flew from Grand Rapids- to -Chicago- to -Madrid- to -Malaga -where I was picked up and driven about an hour further inland before I could settle down and catch my breath. I think I dislocated a rib (if that’s even possible) somehow after the travel part started and it made it hard to find a comfortable position while sitting on a plane for 8 or 9 hours…and then sitting in Madrid for 4 hours…and then sitting on another plane for an hour or so more… Not sure what I did to my side -but I hope it calms down soon. It really hurts. I don’t need to start out in pain here!
The first time I ever did this trip, the fitness escape was run by RFH Holidays – and even as I planned this one, I thought RFH still had a working interest in things. Turns out there’s a new sheriff in town – Sendero Sur, (senderosuraventura.com) which translates into “Southern Path”. Antonio and David have kept the best part of the old RFH way of doing things and have added their own touches. So far, it feels mostly the same as before -which is what I was looking for when I came back.
Even though I’d had very little sleep in the past 24 hours, after I arrived and unpacked, one of the first orders of business was hitting the gym for a fitness assessment. They use this assessment to decide what your starting physical condition is. I did OK for an old bat. I found out that I’m going to be the only participant for a week or so. That’s good news and bad news. Good, because it’s like having a personal trainer(s) with me day after day. Bad because there’s no one else to divert the trainer(s) attention while you’re working out and trying to skip a move or two, and, it is sort of boring sitting in the dining room completely alone for lunch and dinner. Of course, if I want a change of scenery I can always ask to sit on the outdoor patio -where I will also be the only one eating at that time. Our dinner is at 8:00 -but the normal dinner hour in Spain is more like 10 or 11PM- so the dining room is generally deserted when I’m there.
The hotel I’m staying at is called the Finca Eslava. Finca is a word for a type of “farm” and I think the original property and maybe part of the building were once part of a working farm from the late 1700’s.
I think it is a very cute hotel and the reason it is used for this program is because they also have a small membership gym out back with a pool, weight room, treadmills/ellipticals and a spin class area.
It’s a great set up for a fitness escape.
After the evaluation and informational session about the ins and outs for the program, I pretty much went to dinner and straight to bed.
Wake up at 6:45.
Meet with Antonio in the lobby at 7:30AM for the “morning warmup” Being Friday, the warmup took place at a lovely little hillside park in Antequera. I only know it’s lovely from the other trips I’ve done here -because on this particular day the sun wasn’t even up yet. We stumbled…I mean…walked energetically in near darkness up and down the pathways only stopping for a balance session which only proved to me how neglectful and cavalier I’ve been in my life about practicing standing on one leg and putting the other one into unsustainable positions while trying to remain upright and not look like a Weeble! (Weebles wobble but they don’ t fall down)
Morning Hike with David 9:15 -12:30
Gym session 3:00 – 5:15
Optional activities 5:15 – ? (I don’t think so!)
On the morning hike with David, I wanted to bring my bike GPS so I could get a reading on how far we went. Turned it on and- Oh, who can guess what happened next? – Yes, drained battery. So I decided I’d estimate the mileage. I think it was about 20 miles, but David swears it was about 6.5.
David is a native Antequeran and he grew up with the countryside as his playground. He is very knowledgable about the flora and fauna around Antequera and he seems to know endless hiking routes that he can lead participants out on. He knew that my Spanish is quite rusty – and his English is quite minimal- but that didn’t stop him from talking full tilt in Spanish at me anyway. I understood more than I expected to, which was a pleasant surprise. Today he picked a nice little route that starts on a hill above Antequera with some great views.
Then the path curved around to pass an old convent that has been turned into a hotel. Just before the convent was a very large, but otherwise nondescript rock. David told me that at one time the rock was used as an altar in a small chapel. He said there were originally walls and a door to it.
He explained that people going to the convent would stop at this altar/shrine for prayers before approaching the convent proper. The convent was founded in 1570 by a merchant who liked to live as a hermit in the area. By 1648 it had become known as a place for healing from the plague. Evidently there was an active hermit society going on -but they became corrupted enough that they were expelled by the Bishop of Malaga. An order of Franciscans took over the management of the convent at the end of the 1600s and they constructed a new convent in the early 1700’s. By the mid 1800’s the convent was abandoned. It was only a few years ago that it was converted to a hotel. On a previous visit we walked through it and it was really quite wonderful. Many of the original features of the convent were preserved beautifully.
There was a special assistant on the day’s hike. Her name is Lilly and she was very excited to tag along.
After the hotel, we entered an olive grove for awhile before climbing the back side of the hill near where we’d started. I thought, OK up and over the hill and done! No…no…but wait… there was more! It was a very nice hike. For some reason I didn’t take too many pictures at the end.
The afternoon gym session consisted of a one-on-one spin class for 45 minutes, a quick break and then some weight lifting.
Day 2 – The good news is that the program is a bit more relaxed on Saturdays and Sundays. If you hike one day. you bike the next. For my first Saturday, I was given the option to join a group bike ride they were planning (with friends/locals) or do a bike ride on my own with a guide. I thought a group thing would be fun. It was eye-opening to find out that I could be just as alone in a group. The language barrier and my basic lack of social skills ended up being too much to overcome. The group was comprised of several families with kids of all ages.
The plan was to ride the Via Verde, a Spanish version of rails-to trails. The original rail line was built between 1923 and 1929 before the project went bust. In that time they managed to connect two cities: Olvera and Puerto Serrano -a distance of about 22 miles. It is definitely more downhill than not if you start in Olvera, which is what we did. Taking into consideration the group’s abilities, Antonio suggested that I ride at my own pace and we agreed to reconnect at a few different checkpoints along the way. The trail is partly paved, but mostly dirt or crushed gravel. It is really pretty because the location is already quite high in the mountains. They had to make 24 tunnels and several bridges/viaducts to get the tracks set.
Thankfully most of the tunnels are lit -but even with the lighting it can be a bit disorienting to ride through the longer ones. For some I could easily see the “light at the end of the tunnel” and for others I wondered if it would ever end.
About 1/2 along the trail there is a conservation area for vultures. You could see them flying above a rocky outcrop but they were basically just black dots they were so high.
Very close to the end there was a price to pay for all the downhill benefits I’d received. The mother of all hills. 🙁 You know it’s going to be bad when you see a sign that says 10% grade. I am proud of myself because I made it about 2/3 up before I had to walk. By my standards that was a victory! My sister Jane also enjoys riding her bicycle and she says she refuses to walk up a hill. If she gets to a point where she can’t get all the way up, she’ll go back to the bottom and start again and try harder. This is one hill she would have walked up -or the vultures would have found her! As I was getting to the top I could see a man with 3 little girls up ahead, he was walking and pushing a bike in each hand. The third girl was a bit older and she was pushing her own bike. As I got to the top the man saw me and walked back toward me asking if I had extra water for the little girls. I did. I grabbed my bike water bottle and began squirting water into their mouths -they were like baby birds! I was glad I could help.
Not long after that I arrived at Puerto Serrano -the trail head for the Western end.
I was ready to be done after that hill! Because we’d be gone most of the day, I was told to order a “picnic” lunch from the special menu. Believe me -nothing on that list would say “picnic” to you – but I decided the least of the evils was a chicken salad. Someone else ended up carrying it for me and by the time we were both in the same place, it had been marinating in a hot backpack for 5 hours. The hotel had added vinegar and oil (which I didn’t want) and so it was also practically soup. I said… “Um, I think I’ll wait for dinner, thanks but no thanks!” It was a really fun ride.
Day 3 – Another leisurely start and a day at El Chorro with Jose, David’s brother. This is an area about an hour away where a couple of rivers meet up to become the Guadalhorce River. In the 1920’s several dams were constructed and they created 3 artificial lakes which are now open for non motorized recreation. There are hiking trails, picnic areas, overlooks and some restaurants/concessions.
We had another guest hiker on this day. Her name is Vaca (which means little cow) and she is Lilly’s mother. She was so excited to go hiking that she howled for the last couple of miles until we reached the parking area.
We began our hike by climbing up the trail that leads -ultimately- to the place where my picture was taken a few years ago from behind with the dams in the scenery below me. We didn’t go all the way up there for this hike, but we climbed to a spot where we could see the gorge, which is in the opposite direction of the dams.
The dams were officially opened in 1921 with an official visit from King Alfonso XIII. As part of his visit, they created a pathway through the gorge that they called the Caminito del Rey (the King’s little pathway). Over the years the Caminito became so unstable they blocked it off from use. Jose told me that they are actually repairing it and it will be reopening in the spring. Also scenes from this area appear in the 1965 movie Von Ryan’s Express. There is a train that runs right next to the river down there – it would be fun to take the train just to get a closer look (although I’m sure it goes through a tunnel at the gorge.)
After admiring the view…we went back down. I was happy that the big climbing part was over…but wait, wait…there’s more! (I’m learning there always is). We meandered through the trails up and down and before I knew it, we popped out at the parking area. According to Jose, we walked about 6 miles (at least 10 of them up!)
Next up was a bit of kayaking. We went to a different part of the park and Jose unloaded the kayak -a tandem sit-on-top- and we hopped on. If Vaca was excited to go for a hike -she went bananas when we pulled up to the boat launch. We only paddled for about an hour, but I was happy about that because it was actually quite windy and paddling a sit-on-top is difficult enough in good conditions. It was windy enough that I was surprised Jose still wanted to go out.
I had a hat with a tie/string on it and several times I almost achieved lift off as the hat would fly straight up from my head and then off to the back or side. There was no way that hat was staying on my head. For some demented reason all I could think of was the old TV show The Flying Nun. If any nuns from one of the local convents had been there on a picnic they might have immediately adopted me as their own local flying nun* (*not that I’d really qualify for the nun part, of course). The lake was quite pretty. When we got halfway, Jose pulled up at a “beach” (more mud than beach) for a quick break. It was located behind a rental house and they had a small raft/dock in the water.
Jose had been told to get me back to the hotel by early afternoon because I told them flat out I wasn’t going to eat a picnic salad again! (Not that I ate the first one). We got back in plenty of time. After lunch I decided I wanted to run, but around here I don’t know what a good route would be, so I went to the gym and used the treadmill for about 1/2 hour. Back at the room, I did some laundry, took a shower and decided I was done with chores. Time to work on the blog and eat dinner!