„We’re here!!“ I grin at Thomas and take three hesitant steps to get out of the bus. My knees are buckling slightly under the weight of my backpack. It is 16th October, 2019 and we have just arrived to a small mountain village – Pampaneira. From there we will shortly continue to a neighbouring village – Capileira. In order to reach it, we will have to conquer the first elevation gain of around 500 meters. In Capileira we will officially start our journey – our trail – long distance trail GR240 also known as „Sulayr trail“ which stretches around the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Andalusia, southern Spain.
We take a short while to find our bearings and we begin our search for what could be considered a „centrum“ here. It is 2 p.m. and I’m quite hungry. That’s a dangerous situation…when hungry I can be a pain in the ass. For that reason, my travel (as well as life) partner is typically forced to follow a simple rule: „First we eat than we do everything else“. The mission is hence clear – find a restaurant for the lunch asap. Nevertheless, first we want to pass by one of the three main info points on this trail, which should be located here – in Pampaneira. Unfortunately turns out that we are too late. They’ve just closed (at 2 p.m. which is a standard closing time here in Spain and the beginning of the well-known siesta). Too bad…no information for us, no paper map for us…the modern technologies will have to do.
On the way to Mesón Rural Alberto – our chosen lunch place – we admire the beauty and cosiness of Pampaneira. Honestly we are quite surprised as we had no expectations whatsoever. Shiny white houses, little streams of crystal-clear water running through steep narrow streets, fountains with mountain springs surrounded by catchy legends, shops with hand woven carpets and homemade marmalades. Sitting at the lunch table looking at the menu an interesting dish catches our attention…
Mmm…sounds interesting but I think we will stay conservative and order Vino tito (red wine), Cerveza (beer), traditional Gazpacho, Tortilla (watch-out! In Spain „tortilla“ stands for an egg omelette, not the wheat/corn flatbread you may expect) and typical local dish – Plato Alpujarreño (plate with the selection of local sausages – chorizo, jamón, blood sausage served with potatoes mixed with eggs and peppers). After eating all that we are so full that we can’t even handle a dessert (I was especially curious about the typical Flan de leche (milk pudding)). Maybe next time then…We are finishing with a shot of freebie super-sweet digestive Chupito and we are on our way.
The beginning of the hike is already quite tough. We have not even left Pampaneira yet and we are already sweating and breathing heavily. The food in my belly turns into a rock. The streets are really steep. Reeeeally steep. After finally leaving the village we continue on a grassy path and a beautiful view on Capileira (our short-term aim yet long-term start) opens up in front of us.
And suddenly it happens – sharp pain and before I know it I’m laying on the ground squished on my backpack choking as my chest strap is digging into my throat. “What the f….?“ I’m shocked but I’m starting to realize what happened. I know it well….this kind of pain. It comes from my left ankle – yes, it is sprained…and not just a little. On top of that my right knee is burning from abrasion. I can feel the tears running down my face and the sweat on my forehead. “Fuck!“ I yowl. I’m pissed….At the whole world but most of all at myself. The uncontrolled stream of thoughts begins to flow through my head: “How the heck could this happen? How can you sprain your ankle right on the first kilometre which is not even yet the first kilometre of the trail itself? The trail you were saving your vacation days for the whole year? The trail that’s out there yet to be explored and experienced? Such an adventure ahead that you’re gonna miss thanks to your stupidity”….Enough! I cut the inner voice in my head and stand up uncertainly with the help of Thomas. OK, good, it hurts but I can stand on it. Hopefully it will work. It has to….Giving up now before we even begin is NOT an option!…No way…And so it happened that already on the first kilometre we are unpacking the aid kit and I’m bandaging my feet.
As we are continuing, I keep repeating in my head: “It’s gonna be OK, it’s gonna be OK, it’s gonna be OK“…But still, I can’t really suppress the negative thoughts. The world around me suddenly stops existing, I’m fully focused on holding back the desperate tears. In Bubion – tiny little village between Pampaneira and Capileira – I’m losing my ground after all. I sit on a pavement which is totally covered in bird’s poop (I don’t care at that moment) and I burst into tears. I feel desperate. I was looking forward to this so much that I can’t imagine stopping now and spending the vacation by laying on the beach for instance – that’s not what I came here for. In addition I’m trying to figure out the meaning of this event. I sort of believe that everything happens for a reason. So what the hell? Is the Universe trying to discourage us from this journey? Is it a sign that we should give up? Or is it a first “will strength” test? I’m confused. Confused and hopeless. No! I won’t give up. Not that early. As long as I can stand and walk, I will walk. And so we walk. Due to this bigger problem with my ankle, I’m totally forgetting about the weight of my backpack and also about the awfully uphill path.
After arriving to Capileira, I’m heading right to the pharmacy. With the use of “Spanglish” and pantomimic body language I’m trying to explain what my problem is. The pharmacist finally makes a sound of realization: “Aaah” and reaches out for the blister plasters. Well, that did not work. Time for a higher calibre then – Google Translator (thanks God for the modern technologies!). Finally we come to an understanding and I’m leaving the pharmacy with a curative gel for effusions.
We are continuing without further delay and very soon we are reaching the first notice board of the Sulayr trail which offers a structured information about our first stage. My desperation is replaced by euphoria – we are here. We are at the beginning of our journey. Let’s do it!