After a rest day in Cortes de Pallas, my feet were not great and I was still tired, but thought I would push on. My goal was to get within 10km of El Rebollar, which would put me on pace to reach Chera the following day. The day started with a bunch of road walking out of Cortes de Pallas, walking through a tunnel and then across the reservoir bridge before heading into the hills. My feet didn’t mind the road walking. Then things took a turn for the worse when I exited the road onto single track trail, which was horribly maintained. At times it was impossible to find the trail. There was waymarking, but most were painted on rocks down low. This made the marking very difficult to see, especially when the trail was completely overgrown. I went off trail many times and had to keep checking my GPS to get back to the “trail”. The trail looked more like an animal passed through about three years ago, and it hadn’t been touched since. I was basically bushwhacking to get through, which was extremely slow and painful. More than half of the vegetation here has some sort of spines or thorns. I tore a small hole in my pants, and also in my shirt sleeve pushing through the vegetation. The only type of plant I don’t mind rubbing against is the rosemary that grows everywhere, because it makes me smell all savory. In my opinion, you can’t call something a trail or path if there isn’t one there. With that piece finally done, it was a rocky descent into the small village of Venta de Gaeta, where I stopped at the restaurant for lunch and a water refill for camping later. The afternoon was a bit better, starting with the climb out of Venta de Gaeta where I saw some mountain goats hanging out on a cliff face.
That trail then turned into an old, unmaintained access road, which was welcomed after the morning debacle. It was then a very steep and rocky drop off into the river valley below, where I lost some time trying to determine which side of the river I needed to be on. After a hard climb out of the river valley and passing a group of abandoned houses, the trail merged with a two-lane highway for a bit. Exiting the highway, things got interesting again. The trail crossed a river and led me into a small hamlet that was not on my maps, and even Google Maps didn’t show a place name. The hamlet was eerily abandoned, as there was no one about and no cars around. That was when I lost the path and could not find any waymarking. Had to rely on Google Maps with the satellite overlay turned on to find a road that would go to where the path was supposed to be. That worked, but cost some time. I eventually made my goal for the day, but it took much longer than expected. I camped on the grounds of a large abandoned house or hotel, with a great view overlooking the mountains.
As I was changing clothes, I found a tick starting to burrow into my leg, which was no surprise given the day I had.
The next morning, I was scared awake by a group of Ibex that decided to crash through the area where I was sleeping. Looking for some positive redemption, I broke camp and covered the remaining few kilometers of hilly dirt roads into El Rebollar, where I took a lunch break. El Rebollar was very quiet, except for the service area where the main highway and train line passed through. The exit from El Rebollar was good, following farm roads before eventually dropping into an area that was used for some sort of timber operation. The good progress then slowed as the path moved up into the hills to areas that were poorly maintained. It was clear where the trail was, but getting through was another story. It was overgrown, and the poor forest/soil management practices left the trail littered with fallen trees that were difficult to pass. While eventually passing the overgrown part, the unmaintained rocky road took a long-winded trip around the entire valley rim before a steep drop down to the main paved road that was the gateway to Chera. While it felt good to transition to the paved road, the road was quite busy due to a bicycle race.
Staying as far on the shoulder as possible, I finally made my way into the town of Chera. Just outside of Chera are the remains of a castle with a huge waterfall just to the right of the castle, which was a dramatic entrance. I stayed at a completely empty albergue, which was strange given the bicycle race and a distance walking/hiking race that was taking place on Sunday.
After the punishment from the days leading into Cortes de Pallas, and the two long days from Cortes de Pallas to Chera, my feet were in terrible condition. They were very painful, and I made the executive decision to take a local (yellow) route for part of the way to Benageber, which would give me a break from the really rocky terrain. I was looking forward to a normal day of walking for a change. The road headed out through orchards, and there was a nice view back into town. It was a gradual climb through the hills, where I ran across a dirt bike rider, four mountain bikers, and a group of forestry workers along the transition from the mountains to the small valley that was home to Benageber. My feet were really hurting during this piece, even though the conditions were better. Arriving in Benageber, I had a coffee and food at the restaurant before learning that there was no available accommodation in Benageber. There was a “casa rural” next to the restaurant, but they would not rent it to a solo walker. I thought about camping around town, but that would have messed up my walk plan and left me with camping two days in a row (hard to keep a mobile phone charged and working hard for that long, even with a power bank). I decided that the best thing to do was to continue on to Chelva, since I still had time left in the day. This is a hard decision to make when your feet are killing you and mentally you are finished for the day. I scrambled to cover the roughly 14km to Chelva. The way started with a steep descent into a river canyon, followed by an equally steep climb up the other side. There was a nice little suspension bridge to cross the river. The trail turned to a dirt road that carved through the hills, passing through a largely abandoned village, although there were still a few occupied houses.
The road gradually descended from the hills into the orchards of the valley, passing an old spring fountain along the way. Nearing Chelva, I decided to take a different entrance into town than the GR7, and I’m glad I did. I was presented with panoramic views of Chelva, and old city with walls integrated into the patchwork of houses. It was stunning, and a just reward for the effort of moving on. This was a very hard day mentally, and it was another very long day on my battered feet. I need to rejig my walk plan so that the next two days are shorter, because my feet need to recover. The ball of my left foot is quite swollen, and I need to work on reducing that.
Walking days: 44
Total distance walked: 1244km (773mi)