Driving the tracks and minor roads in Spain can be something of a headache. Gravel or dirt tracks in particular quickly degrade so that what was a good drivable route in the autumn can, after heavy winter rains, become a switchback ride of deep ruts, gaping mini-sized holes and sump obliterating ridges by the spring. So if somebody tells you this or that track is in 'good condition' then make sure you check when was the last time they actually drove along it. If it was a few months back, especially if the winter has since intervened, then take their description with a pinch of salt. Amongst the most notorious such tracks is the one that runs through the Ojen valley between Facinas and Los Barrios. Still marked on many maps as a 'proper' road this gravel track can have holes the size of small cars and seems one of the most prone to rapid degradation during heavy rains. At such times tackle it in an ordinary car at your peril – more often than not a 4x4 is needed to drive from one side to the other without some very nervous navigation around gaping holes. Remember too that your hire car's insurance might not cover you on such a track.
The same can even hold for relatively little used metalled roads across the mountains. Even at the habit of just slapping on another layer of tarmac combined with deep roadside ditches can make road edges precipitous wheel slipping mini-cliffs. I often adjust my inside wing mirror on such roads so that I can more accurately judge how far I am from the verge. The winter of 2013/2014 seems to have wrought particular damage on the road from Puerto Gallis (on the Ubrique/Alcala road) to Jimena de la Frontera. When we drove the route in April there were 4 or 5 points where large chunks of the road were missing. I couldn't stop to photograph all of them but the photos I did get should give you some idea. By this September most had been repaired although not always sufficiently well to inspire confidence that the same thing won't happen again this winter.
It was, perhaps, telling that the one section of badly damaged road that hadn't been repaired at all and, indeed seemed worse than ever, was along those few kilometres of the road that are in Malaga province. I can't see repairing a mountain road between two parts of Cadiz province being a high priority for Malaga's politicians! In August 2014 La Vuelta, Spain's top cycle race, was to come through the Alcornocales and through Alcala de los Gazules, but wrangling about whose responsibility it was to reepair the roads meant it went elsewhere. Naturally bar owners in the village were none too pleased.
It's not all bad news though. A few years ago the road up to the TV aerials above Jimena (see an earlier entry) was described to me as being 'atrocious'; I wouldn't know since it was so bad Liz wouldn't let me drive more than a few tens of metres along it! At the moment this thin tarmac strip is in excellent condition – smooth and unblemished all the way up to the top. It still suffers from having those precipitous edges and is so narrow that meeting meeting a car coming the other way, let alone a lorry, could be very problematical. By sheer good luck when we drove up the road in September the two lorries we met were at points where I could pull over! Once again the views were terrific and the rocky habitat must be worth checking in winter for Ring Ousels and possibly even Alpine Accentors both of which frequent similar habitat in Grazalema (c25km)
About me ...
Hi I'm John Cantelo. I've been birding seriously since the 1960s when I met up with some like minded folks (all of us are still birding!) at Taunton's School in Southampton. I have lived in Kent , where I taught History and Sociology, since the late 1970s. In that time I've served on the committees of both my local RSPB group and the county ornithological society (KOS). I have also worked as a part-time field teacher for the RSPB at Dungeness. Having retired now spend as much time as in Alcala de los Gazules in SW Spain. When I'm not birding I edit books for the Crossbill Guides series.