Sierra de Grazalema mountains breakes the Andalusian countryside plains with its limestone massif. Its crags erect as a natural wall to the Atlantic winds filled with humidity, making it the most rainy area in the southern half of the Iberian peninsula. On top of a rock the white of Zahara blooms amongst dark scrubs hanging on the steep face of the mountain.
Knotted in the Andalusian White Villages itinerary, the ancient Moorish Fortress of Zahara seems to stare at us as it hangs from the rock above the El Gastor dam. By cars number plates it looks like we are in Brussels during an European summit, Germans, French and British come to discover the hidden side of Spain.
As we try to reach the downtown area with our van the steep gradient convinces us to start walking. We use the castle tower as our guide and although the distance is short, it is hard to climb. As if it's an omen we now we see why the Ibex is one of the most representative animals on the local fauna.
We get lost in the charming lit streets while searching for some beers, in Al-agua’s bar terrace a Moroccan waitress with a strong local accent wonders if we speak Spanish, for a moment it looks like we go back centuries as we laugh. For only 30€, 3 people have 5 dishes packed with Spanish specialties, cold beer, cakes and coffee.
At first sight, with only a GPS track in our pocket that looks more like a digital patchwork sewed by the expertise of our guide Jorge Talus than a real MTB tour, Monte Prieto’s hillside that we intend to ride looks crazy. We came blind. The excitement of the adventure almost doesn't let us sleep. Will it be possible to descend over that face? Will it be rideable? As the sun goes down it looks and feels like an ancient chant should be sounding over the hills, like a call to prepare our mounts, to look after our weapons.
The sign at Puerto de Las Palomas (Pigeon Pass) shows 1375m, our GPS which is more reliable shows 1189m. We got here from Zahara, better with an uplift. Our goal is to go down back to El Gastor dam across one of Monte Prieto’s faces. We studied three variants but chose to ride the highest trail on the west face that looks very flowy both up and down.
The trail is track of red dirt over limestone, narrow and with rocks lined on the external edge like a warning of a dangerous fall, one mistake would take us to landing where thorns would be our best friends. Even so it’s fast and technical and makes us enjoy the possibility of ride across an unequaled landscape. Except some small passes without traction or some steps we can pedal most of the trail, only the views make us stop.
As we flow on the trail, the Zahara-El Gastor dam looks like a turquoise blanket over the brown dirt. Created in 1995 to irrigate the Villamartin countryside it flooded part of the Royal cattle route Seville-Ronda and the Ventas Nuevas salt mines, only the medieval bridge that was dismounted and moved was saved from the water.
The flow ends on steep switchbacks where we have to stay focused although farther down there are sections where we’ll be able to release our brakes and feel the adrenaline. In some parts it’s so open that unconsciously we get closer than you should to the edge.
We reach a small pass from where we can see both faces of Monte Prieto. It's a technical section where we dismount due to a big cliff, we would have been forced to dismount anyway later on a tight switchback that links to other section that leads to Los Espartales rocks.
Looking north we can see the peaks of Tajo las Grajas (left) and Tajo Algarin (right) between which passes the border that divides Cadiz and Malaga. In the background we see the table of old Ronda that holds the Roman ruins of Acinipo and to the south east Libar range, that hides Ronda.
Here the easterly wind blows hard and we need caution to lead us through exposed areas. We enter a gorgeous trail that ends in a olive tree field. As we reach Los Espartales rocks we dismount again and see vultures flying over our heads, it’s a reminder that, in places like this, mistakes can be costly. In Grazalema lives one of the most important vulture colonies in Europe. They fly so low that we get a hint of their size and huge wingspan.
As we keep riding the trail starts to vanish, just a few people pass through here. We keep going and we feel like we are entering into a book of fairy tales. One pro of riding a non crowded trail is finding no one as you go, on the contrary is fighting challenging thorn bushes that claim scratches on the arms and legs. It’s highly recommended to have good tires and carry spare tubes, patches, etc. The trail is precipitous and besides cutting rocks there are sections with many types of thorn bushes.
As we reach the end of the trail we come to the turquoise again, a splash will heal our scratches and floating in the waters of El Gastor dam we look up those walls that looked impossible as we arrived. Now as trophies.TrackMTB
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