Cabo de Gata: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Many of us have unknowingly seen Cabo de Gata, although we were made to believe those arid hills were somewhere in the United States. Cabo de Gata played the silent role of an unpaid movie extra in Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns featuring Clint Eastwood in A Fistful Of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad And The Ugly.

Just as you’re doing now, I hummed the latter movie’s theme song while riding through this southeast corner of Spain. Ennio Morricone’s score for that film is one of the most recognized and influential movie soundtracks in history and was inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Morricone and Leone were former school mates and began their long association in 1964 when Morricone wrote the distinctive score for A Fistful Of Dollars and the two subsequent films in the Man With No Name Trilogy. Morricone went on to score all of Leone’s films after that as well as working with many other directors for more than 70 award-winning feature films.

Instead of horses, we used our bicycles to traverse this beautiful corner of southern Spain. Both give independence to the rider and a sense of freedom that is difficult to replicate. The only other times I’ve felt this freedom is on canoe trips, especially the long ones I’ve done in northern Canada.

Almeria’s bike path.

We arrived in Almería by train from Granada, choosing to take a three-hour train ride back to the coast instead of doing a three-day ride in the 40C heat. The temperature on the coast was somewhat milder than inland with often an onshore breeze to help moderate the searing heat.

Riding along the beaches in the setting sun.

We arrived in late afternoon and after picking up some groceries rode out of town on a beautiful bike path to a campground about 25 km southeast of the city. The paved bike path eventually gave way to a dirt track along Playa Torre Garcia and Playa de las Amoladeras.

It took a bit of route finding to get to the campground as we had to cross the lagoon of the Rambla de Morales and a slightly convoluted track past some greenhouses. We made camp and a cool shower helped revive us from the still stupefying heat. The campsite’s restaurant was still open so we happily ate dinner there, washing it down with cold beer.

Camping Cabo de Gata.

The campsite was full of families who looked like they were set up for the summer. Groups of kids of all ages roamed around on bikes and scooters, reminding me of camping with my family and friends as a kid and the freedom we had. It likely sowed the seeds of a life of travel and exploration. I’m lucky to have found a willing partner 20 years ago in Jan, and we have continued this exploration together.

Jan climbing up from Playa de Cabo de Gata.

For about 10 kilometres, we rode along the beaches with a few holiday houses and restaurants at Playa de Almadraba. Not long after, the road began to climb along a rough track ending at a locked gate, closing the road beyond to vehicle traffic.

Gorgeous views of the rugged coast and the mountains inland formed a great backdrop for the ride down to San José, a small town where we took a break from the searing heat. We also needed to figure out where to spend the night. A campsite in Las Negras looked promising 25 kilometres further and would be a perfect place for lunch finishing our ride before the hottest part of the day.

No cars on this road.

It was a beautiful ride through rolling terrain in the searing heat. We met another couple of cyclists on the road. They were from Barcelona on a short holiday riding light road bikes. They thought we were riding e-bikes because we were not much slower than them. We had a little chat and continued on down the road.

Too bad the camp site was closed.

The sign on the highway indicated our turn-off for the camp site which had a nasty little switchback climb as it wound its way along the coast just south of Las Negras. Unfortunately, the camp site was under renovation and closed. It would have been nice to have had that posted on their signs, saving us the ride there and back to Las Negras.

Hot, thirsty and tired, we sat down at the nearest shady patio and ordered cold drinks and lunch. With no other camp site around we looked online for some cheap accommodation and found an apartment one block away. We texted the listing and had it booked a few minutes later. Now we relaxed and ordered more cold drinks.

The couple we had met on the road were also having lunch at the same place and we chatted some more. They still had more miles to ride and, after a while, took their leave. (Thanks for inviting us to stay with you in Barcelona)

We walked around the corner and found our accommodation up a flight of stairs on the second floor of the building. We’ve hauled our bikes up and down stairs quite a bit so this wasn’t much of a problem, although there was a 90-degree turn to negotiate before being able to enter the apartment. We would leave our bikes outside if able to lock them securely but that is rarely the case. Better to keep them in the apartment, careful not to damage anything.

Las Negras.

We showered and did what most people here do during the hot part of the afternoon: have a siesta. A few hours later we wandered to the store and bought some groceries to make dinner and then in the cool of the evening walked along the beach as the town came alive. We strolled toward the black-rock headlands which give this place its name. The town was now bustling with people. Restaurants and patios were full. Where had all these people been hiding? We found a little quiet bar across the street from our rented apartment where we had a nightcap as the azure sky slowly turned to black.

A quiet café in Las Negras.

There is a definite rhythm to the days: rise early and ride during the slightly cooler morning hours. During a break for coffee with refreshments we look ahead to see what is a likely destination and decide what is doable. Sometimes we like where we are and just call it a day. It’s a bit of a haphazard way to travel but it does leave room for spontaneity. It’s not for everyone but it works for us.

Negotiating stairs with the bicycle.

There was no sure way to continue along the coast. A road lead to a beach but from there only a sketchy track continued with no hope of finding water. We chose the inland road that seemed to be a quicker ride despite being longer in distance.

After a couple of hours Agua Amarga was the perfect beach town for a break and think about how far to ride that day. Lots of beach resorts lay ahead so it wouldn’t be that hard to find a place to stay.

Just north of Carboneras, we rode past a huge construction site. It looked like a resort hotel and was completely out of place. Signs of protest were everywhere and it looked like the construction had been abandoned quite some time ago. We carried on up the twisty road to the Mirador de la Granatilla with fabulous views north and south along the coast.

Looking back down the road from Mirador de la Grantilla.

We enjoyed the downhill cruise from the viewpoint as the road turned inland again for a few kilometres. We were riding north through one beach resort after another, backstopped with agricultural land. It looked like a lot of the tourist services – hotels, restaurants and golf courses – had been built in the last 10 years, catering to sun lovers from northern Europe.

Downhill cruising.

Leaving the tourist beaches behind we ended the day in Palomares, a small town surrounded by agricultural land. The small campground on the edge of town was not the best place we’ve been but also not the worst (think sheep shit covered culvert in Morocco). It had a shady spot to pitch the tent and a pool to go for a dip, and that was good enough for us. A cold beer by the pool was just what we needed and the pub across the street was the perfect place for dinner.

The rugged coast north of Villaricos.

The next section along the coast was a real treat with some amazing beaches along rough but rideable tracks with no car traffic. We took an extended break in a nice cove where we swam and had lunch. The ride out of there was hot and we were low on water but we stopped at a house alongside the road to ask for some and they kindly obliged.

Beautiful beaches.
A refreshing lunch and soak.

A long, hot climb from there got us around a regional park and back down to the coast where only a small town provided some services and restaurants. There was no store but we were able to find some cold drinks, food and water and a great place to camp along the beach.

The summit of our climb gave us a great view of the coast we’d just ridden along.

Chiringuito Parazuelos, a beach-side restaurant, had fantastic sea food and we were able to roll our bikes a hundred metres down the beach to camp between the trees in our own private little cove.

Beach camp site.

Instead of continuing along the coast to Cartagena, we headed inland to stay off busier roads and to cut some distance off our eventual destination of Dénia where we planned take a ferry to Mallorca to visit a friend.

We were please to find another camp site in Los Narejos on Mar Menor, a large lagoon. Most camp sites have restaurants but this one stood out for it’s atmosphere and amazing quality of food. We had not expected to find 5-star dining in a camp site. A real treat.

Riding through coastal swamps.
Fixed a puncture with some bacon.

We were heading steadily north along the coast through the “ugly” part of this ride. The Costa Blanca is one beach resort after another from Allicante to Benidorm. Camp sites were full and catering mostly to RVs and trailers. We desperately rented a “cabin” at one such camp site in Benidorm because the only place for our tent was a huge gravel pad in full sun. The cabin was expensive but at least it had air conditioning.

Seafood pasta.
Can you spot the climber?

Once through Benidorm and away from the sun-worshipping masses we found some quiet roads to take us to Dénia. We had a nice lunch on a shady patio followed by a refreshing swim in the Mediterranean before boarding our ferry to Mallorca.

Climbing away from the Costa del Sol towards Dénia.
Looking back at Dénia from the ferry to Palma de Mallorca.

Seven straight days of riding in the heat had taken its toll and we were ready for a break. Our friend Christoph was happy to oblige. He met us at the ferry dock in Palma after the eight-hour crossing and we managed to stuff both bikes in his rental car for the drive to Sa Pobla where he lives part of the year.

We spent eight days with Cristoph, exploring a bit of Mallorca, riding, swimming and walking but mostly just relaxing. A typical day was a short 10-km ride to the beach in the morning to go for a swim before it got too busy. Ride back and have breakfast. Then a siesta while waiting for the heat to die down and out for dinner in the cooler evening. It was a perfect week and a great visit.

From the northern port of Alcúdia we took a ferry to Barcelona where other friends awaited us but more about that in the next post. Meanwhile, some images from our time with Christoph in Sa Pobla.

5 thoughts on “Cabo de Gata: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

  1. Hi Jan and Paul
    I read and enjoy your blogs with envy and admiration. You’re right Paul, you are so lucky to have Jan to share your love of travel and outdoor activities with.

    My travels so far since Covid have only taken me to Australia to visit my son and grandsons of which there are now 3. That was to end this year after celebrating a significant birthday, but Richard doesn’t want to travel at all so after Australia, and a trip to Wanaka to go skiing with some friends (I haven’t skied in many years so should be interesting 🤣), I’m hoping to meet one of my Canadian friends and do some real traveling. She’s busy with a lot of challenging things right now, but we’ll decide where and when soon I hope.

    We still have the boat and are right now in Napier visiting with friends and doing some cycling. From here we’ll go to Ohakune and do some exploring, walking, and easy cycling. I’m encouraging Rich back onto his e-bike 😊.

    Take care, travel safely, and keep blogging.


    Sent from my iPad

  2. Hi Paul, First off, thanks for the earworm… The film clip accompanying the theme song with all the gun violence looks like a travel-log for some American cities. Keep these stories coming.  I love being exposed to these off the beaten path locations.  There’s so much to see in this world and I admire your openness to people from all walks of life who you encounter on your travels. Best to you and Jan,Norman

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