Daz’s birthday – Canyoning and Via Ferrata

Daz’s birthday – Canyoning and Via Ferrata

 

Sunday 6th March

Happy Birthday Darren! And today we’re off canyoning to celebrate – my kind of hell – I hate heights so general feelings of trepidation tinged with fear!
We have a quick breakfast then we are picked up by Jose and Victor from Sport mountain in their Vw van.

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They are both Spanish but have good English. We are off to Zahara de la Sierra to the Green Throat Canyon – La Garganta Verde. We see Griffin vultures circling as we arrive at the village then find out we are meeting more people and need to wait for them, so much for the early start. But the views from the village looking down on to the Zahara El Gustar Reservoir are spectacular.

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The other group, all Spanish men, turn up and we are off in the van again, climbing up to the head of the gorge. In a small carpark we are kitted out with wetsuits, harnesses and helmets, don’t we look splendid!

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Then there’s a short training session.

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Then with the sun beating down we start walking along the rocky hillside towards the Canyon before descending by rock steps and a zig zagging path to the very bottom. We stop a couple of times to rest and rehydrate. With the wetsuits on it’s very hot and very uncomfortable.

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Normally at this time of year the water level would be higher, but with the lack of rain it is quite dry once we start walking along the Canyon. The going is tough at times climbing over large boulders and slithering down some on our backsides.

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Then we come to the first of 3 descents that we need to rappel down. This takes some time to get the whole group down and waiting around in the cool of the canyon is a nice respite.

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As we go further we start to encounter water, and need to take the plunge a few times, either jumping or sliding into it. Another time we have to wade, swim and navigate a series of narrow fissures before we get to the final pool where we need to jump down.

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It’s about 12 foot and unfortunately this time my bottle goes. I get lowered down by rope and we all get going again.

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It’s a fairly long walk / swim down the river now.

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Daz has really enjoyed it, and I am glad he has had a nice birthday. At the end of the Canyon the vehicles are waiting with a little picnic and a couple of beers – I’m starving and knackered so I get stuck in.

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And then it’s back to Ronda – the views back are stunning.

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Back in Ronda we’re too tired to bother going out and have a quiet night – publishing the blog arghhhhhhhh!

 

Monday 7th March

Today we were supposed to be on a via ferrata. We booked 3 days with Sport Mountain, one day canyoning Garganta Verde, one on Vía Ferrata Benalauría and Benadalid and the third Vía Ferrata Gaucín. Unfortunately the weather forecast was predicting rain for most of the day and our guides didn’t think via ferrata was a good idea, they did suggest more canyoning but we decided against that. So we have a day off. Possibly this is a good thing because we can barely walk we ache so much. We spend the morning looking round the old town; the Almocabar, Town Hall and Saint Mary’s church and then follow a path to some viewpoints of the bridge. We even follow a track under the bridge where there’s a hydroelectric pumping station.

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Early afternoon finds us lying on the sofas having a little nap – very nice. Then we head out to an organised tour of the bull farm – the one the American ladies mentioned.

 

SWIRLING the cape like a whirling dervish, you could tell we were having fun.
Jumping at the chance to attempt a classic bullfighting move at Ronda’s exciting new bull breeding estate Reservatauro, it didn’t matter that we looked more like a Teletubby attempting a new dance.

Whether a fan of bullfighting or not, visitors will enjoy seeing how well the fighting bulls live before being dispatched at four years of age. Luxuriating in the grounds of this 200 hectare estate, they live off a mix of acorns and meal and have no shortage of space to roam.
Set up by Ronda bullfighter Rafael Tejeda and his wife Nuria, this ancient estate, known as a dehesa, is a fascinating place to visit.
Set in stunning oak woodland on the edge of the Sierra de las Nieves natural park, visitors have the chance to see first hand how the ancient art functions. As well as breeding bulls, the estate also trains horses, in particular the giant Spanish shirehorses, who can stand the weight of any bull charge. There is a trainee bullring and visitors are taken on a tour of the estate and given an explanation of how it all functions.
Most interesting of all is how the grandmother cows, known as Mala Fes, some as old as 22, are kept to socialise the young calves in early life.
And then there is the chance to pick up and handle the cape, as well as the sharp sword (actually we had the capes which are surprisingly heavy, up to 6kg, but no sword) used to dispatch the bulls in the ring.

The possible mother and stud are assessed in a ring with a matador and his cape; looking for their response to the cape, intelligence, bravery, and general behaviour. But a possible fighting bull is never assessed. He will go into the ring only once. To allow a bull a repeat experience is far too dangerous. He will have learnt too much from his first experience and be a danger to the matador. Most bulls who enter the ring will die there.

 

If the matador has performed particularly well, the crowd may petition the president by waving white handkerchiefs to award the matador an ear of the bull. If his performance was exceptional, the president will award two ears. In certain more rural rings, the practice includes award of the bull’s tail. Very rarely, if the public or the matador believe that the bull has fought extremely bravely, the event’s president may be petitioned to grant the bull a pardon (indulto). If the indulto is granted, the bull’s life is spared; it leaves the ring alive and is returned to its home ranch. Then the bull becomes a stud for the rest of his life.

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After the visit to the bull farm we do some shopping and cook dinner in our apartment; yes bizarrely our traditional B&B with Moroccan influences turned into an apartment. Not that nice but we have the entire place to ourselves (there are 3 bedrooms) and there’s a kitchen and sitting room. So a quiet night in again.


Tuesday 8th March
9am and Jose picks us up. I assumed because we’d missed a day we would just be doing Vía Ferrata Benalauría and Benadalid but no, we’re going to also do Gaucin. For those of you who don’t know, I’m not fearless like Daz and have a fear of heights. It’s obviously not an uncontrollable fear but enough that even in the vehicle I’m worrying about the day ahead. So why do I put myself through shit like this? Who knows…… because I’m stupid! Because it’s a challenge and I don’t want to be ruled by my fears!!!

It’s about a 30 minute drive and then about a 20 minute walk to the base of Benalauría. There’s only Jose and me and Daz. And off we go! I get through this via ferrata without too much hesitation although I did start to question my sanity when I had to cross the monkey bridge.

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1 done only 2 to go. The views from the top are incredible; we can see Gibraltar and beyond that Morocco.

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From the top we take a gentle walk and eventually arrive at Benadalid. OK this turns out to be a slightly tougher gig; it’s entirely vertical. Sounds easy at the bottom but the gaps between the metal steps are huge and then there’s areas of overhang. Jose and Daz are keen that I learn to hook on and lean out to rest my arms. ‘Relax, relax’ is their constant refrain. I’d happily shove ‘relax’ up their respective……., they clearly don’t understand that I can’t relax whilst terrified because I’m hanging off the side of a cliff. But I push on but have just a minor meltdown. Jose is back with me in a shot and for the next 20ft I’m on a rope controlled by Jose for added security. And then it’s done. We have a quick bite to eat and then it’s on to Gaucín. This is, according to Jose, 2 levels up from what I’ve just done. I’m contemplating bowing out gracefully but Jose says I’ll be fine ( lying bastard!!).

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This route is characterised by significant parts going down the iron ladders and also considerable traverses. I thought this sounded easy but failed to factor in what’s in my eye range. When going up all I’m prepared to look at is the immediate steps up. I usually refuse to look round at the scenery. Now I have to look down or across and I can see what’s there, or more importantly what’s not there – level, safe ground to put my feet on. So I become increasingly nervous and then on the traverse I become very anxious. Fortunately, again Jose comes to my rescue, and he helps me across. Then there’s another monkey bridge that I cross but the next one is much longer and I have a complete refusal. I’m put on a pulley and dragged across whilst I keep my eyes firmly shut. But then I manage the 30metre zip line and the Tibetan bridge. And then it’s done. Hurrah!

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Yes I know there’s been no mention of Daz. He has quietly and confidentally brought up the rear, happily removing his hands and leaning out on his harness for all the photo requests as required. He is fearless, my hero, and thank God for that because Jose had his hands full with me – bless him.

(Daz) I’ve really enjoyed my birthday activities and Hels has stored muchos (Spanish for ‘many’) brownie points for use later. I just hope I can rise to the challenge of Hels 50th birthday later in the year. The canyoning was good, but the Via ferrata was amazing and even made me wonder at the mentality of hanging off the side of a mountain! Thank you Hels for a fab birthday xxx

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