I was extremely healthy while I was in Valencia. In my consistent attempts to keep myself occupied I often found myself going on long runs in the extreme heat or long walks to far off beaches. Because I didn’t really have the money to eat excessively and the hostels 8 hobs and no oven were often being fought over, I ate simply and not in great amounts. Valencia is a city which encourages fitness: The nine kilometre Jardines del Turia or Park Rio is constantly full of runners and even has a runner rush hour between 6:00 and 7:00 in the evening. The closest beach, Playa de la Malvarrosa which is 6 or 7 Kilometres from the centre gives you a target to walk or run to and instant refreshment when you dive into the sea. Valencia is also one of the most bike friendly cities in Spain as it is nearly entirely flat and has bike lanes going to its every corner, even leading out of the city along the coast, past “the locals beach” Playa de Pinedo, towards Albufera natural park (Which I will talk about on a later date).
No cycle lanes seemed to go northwards out the city and the mountains to the north intrigued me. You can see distant mountains in every direction from Valencia and those to the North of the city are closest. Early in June, I decided I was going to use my discount with a bike rental company the hostel I worked for recommended to patrons, and decided to cycle towards a specific town I picked out on a map which looked like it was at the foot of the mountains. I told another of the staff members of my plan and she said she would like to come too; an Italian girl who often worked on reception with me. We set off in the morning on our inner-city bikes which really weren’t meant for long distance rides. The start of our journey was very slow as we made our way between a few fields and back lanes that had been suggested online. Eventually we reached a well paved road that wasn’t too busy and began to speed towards the mountains. The town ended up not being at the foot of the mountains but very much within them. The gradual incline turning into a steep incline coinciding with the full heat of midday pressing down on us sapped energy. However the latter part of this journey also had a wide cycle lane as the route was very popular with large groups of regular cyclists who gave us very strange looks as they passed us, lycra clad on their expensive road bikes. We, on our rented inner city bikes reveled in our amateurism. The journey was nice, the roads weren’t too busy and the crops we passed were bountiful and floral. The approaching mountains gave a dramatic backdrop to our journey and sun was once again on full blaze. Eventually we cycled up to a big sign set in concrete: Nàquera.
The wrong way
Having peddled our inner city bikes to and into the mountains, we reached the small town of Náquera. The town sits in a valley bordered by two short, steep mountains. Náquera itself is very small and simple, as me and Lucia road into the center there was almost no traffic or people and one of the central streets was being bordered off. We slowly made our way to the other side of town where we chained our bikes to a park fence and went for a sit down. Something had caught my eye as soon as we had crossed the bridge into the town and looked back at the overshadowing mountain. Atop of it was a cross and there were visible paths leading up to it, paths I now wanted to explore.
Lucia decided she was going to lay down in the park and have a rest while I attempted to climb up to the summit. I thought it wouldn’t take too long as it didn’t seem that high, I told Lucia that I’d be back in around an hour and a half. I made my way back to the start of the path which we had ridden past on our way into the town. I passed a sign that said I was entering the path to Pinar, which had a summit of 438 meters (Náquera is already at 250 meters). I started my accent up a well-trodden path that had an extremely loud chorus of buzzing crickets coming from either side. The crickets made a tunnel of noise that drowned out everything else. Soon, I came across a second smaller path that was much less trodden but appeared to take a much more direct route to the top. Time being an issue I decided to take this path which ended up being a big mistake.
The path soon disappeared and I ended up climbing amongst the many tough, dry, spikey shrubs that covered the face of the mountain. It had become extremely evident that this was no path but I decided to press on to a ridge to assess the situation. When I reached the ridge things didn’t look any better, in fact the opposite. Over the ridge was a steepish drop that then turned into an even steeper incline. The whole landscape was of low spikey shrubs that had already scratched the hell out of my legs but I did see a path far to the right of me. I know I should have probably turned back but time was of the essence and adventure called. Slowly but surely I made my way down and across, no trees shadowed me from the baking sun, my shorts weren’t protecting me from the hardy foliage and my 6 year old Adidas gazelles didn’t provide much grip. I was annoyed at myself but the childish adventurer within was thrilled. I looked back at the town and thought of its townsfolk looking up at the mountain face and thinking “what the hell is that idiot doing?” Eventually I reached the path and from there I hastened to the summit, the cross I had seen from the bottom was thin, metal and ugly but the views of the dry, wild and beautiful La Calderona natural park were well worth it.
The First Bull
After allowing myself a few minutes to admire the view and take some pictures, I started my decent down the dry, dusty path of Pinar. The hills and mountains of the La Calderona natural park became more hidden as I re-entered the valley which cradelled the town of Nàquera. Not knowing exactly how much time it would take to descend the path or in fact where it would end up, (as my accent had been unintentionally off road) I quickened my pace and was soon back in the town and the park where I had left Lucia.
We slowly made our way back through the town centre and back past the boarded off road that unlike two hours previous was now teeming with life. The road had been blocked off with big wooden pallets because of that most famous of Spanish traditions, a bull run. This was my first encounter with such an event and whatever your views on such a sport/tradition, it is extremely peculiar watching it for the first time. The bull was not very large and didn’t look that dangerous, confused and quite scared is more the description I would have given it. The lack of danger imposed by the small bull was typified by the amount of 12 to 15 year olds confidently antagonising it. Still, a small bull could do a lot of damage to someone so young but the casual attitude of them and the onlookers hinted that this was extremely rare, then again Spaniards are normally very relaxed about everything.
We watched this strange spectacle for a short while before taking some photos next to a modern sculpture of a man riding a bike. It seemed particularly in-keeping with our journey before we departed back on our way to Valencia. Despite having cycled the 27 km up to Naqurea and physically scrambling the extra 200 meters in altitude up the view point and back, our return journey was surprisingly pleasant. It was downhill all the way and me and Lucia took it easy and chatted our way back to the city. My Legs were scratched and I was a little sunburnt but we made it back with our inner city bikes in one piece.
I enjoyed my mini adventure and I hoped for more. It was relatively cheap and my spirits were high. I didn’t want this to be my only adventure in Spain but it was increasingly looking like it could be. I didn’t want to go back to England (If I did need to go back) with no money and “no money” time was fast approaching. I arrived back in Valencia knowing that I needed a way of earning money and keeping my Spanish poverty battle alive.