Our checkout time wasn’t until midday so we took full advantage of that and had a lazy morning in the hotel room, dipping into our supplies for breakfast rather than going out to find somewhere to eat. We used the free WiFi to look into our options for staying in the Cabo de Gata Natural Park.
We found out there was a lot of abandoned buildings (and even some whole villages), so maybe this would be a more discreet way of wild camping there, as long as we didn’t have any fires. There were also a lot of caves in the area, which could be an option. As a last resort, we also found a few campsites that were quite reasonably priced at this time of year. Just knowing the names of a few campsites could come in handy; if we were stopped by any kind of law enforcement we’d have somewhere above board where we could claim to be heading.
We had come on our trip with €100 between us and were almost out of cash. With four days left until our flight from Murcia, we decided it best to get some more whilst we were in a town so we could do a big food shop that would last us a few days and still have some spare money on us for emergencies. So the first place we headed when leaving the hotel was to a bureau de change.
After stocking up at the supermarket, we headed to the outskirts of Almeria to find a good spot to hitch from. We got to an industrial area on the edge of town and found some cardboard to make some new signs – ‘Auto Estop – dir. Cabo de Gata/ San José’. We’ve started writing ‘autoestop’ on our signs to help explain what we were actually doing to confused Spaniards and it does seem to help. San José is somewhere with a particularly nice beach that was recommended to us at some point, but our actual aim for the day was to get into the Natural Park.
We didn’t expect much luck in our chosen spot, but wanted to take a break anyway so decided to give it half an hour before moving further out of the city. However, we were only actually there for 10-15 minutes before a 4×4 pulled over.
Our lift had just finished work in Almeria and was on his way home to El Toyo. He was very friendly and chatty and told us that most people would not pick up hitchhikers on the way out of Almeria, so were were lucky. He gave us some more tips on camping in the Cabo de Gata, asking why we wanted to go to San José as it was very expensive. We explained that we weren’t necessarily going there, it was just a direction to put on our sign. He suggested some other places, including Las Negras – his home town – which also happened to be near one of the cheaper campsites we’d found.
We asked him about El Toyo and he told us that twenty years ago there was nothing there then they built a lot of big houses for rich people, mainly for sportspeople from what we could gather. He pointed out a famous golf course on the way into town and we all marvelled at the big showy houses.
“They have too much money,” he chuckled and shook his head.
He dropped us at a roundabout which he said we should get lucky from as one road basically only went to Cabo de Gata. We thanked him and got out, finding some shade beneath a tree to decide what next. The concern was that we hadn’t yet filled up all our water containers, which we wanted to do before finding somewhere to camp for a few days. So, O went on a hunt for water whilst I sat in the shade and edited our sign to say ‘Las Negras’ instead of ‘San José’. O didn’t have any luck finding water but we decided all we could do at the moment was continue in our direction and trust that we would find water on the way – it was unlikely that our next lift would drop us in the middle of nowhere.
We put on our bags and walked about ten steps before another car pulled over!
“Cabo de Gata?” the woman driving asked.
She smiled and beckoned us in.
There was some confusion in the car as we tried to gather where in the Cabo de Gata she was going, and she just kept repeating ‘Cabo de Gata’. O consulted the map and slowly it dawned on us that CdG was not only the name of the natural park, but also the name of a small town nearby.
By the time we’d realised this it was too late to do anything about it, so we thought hey ho, let’s go check out this town for a bit – it had a beach at least.
The woman dropped us near the beach and we walked down to take a look. There was obviously a big fishing community in the town and we admired the different boats and little shacks on the beach. It was also clearly a place people stopped, probably on their way to the CdG, as there were quite a few caravans parked up near the beach entrance.
We found some shade for our food bags by a bigger boat and had a little siesta in the sunshine, enjoying the sea breeze. We could have easily stayed there longer, but our aim for the day was to get to the natural park and we weren’t quite there yet!
After about an hour break, we headed back out the way we had come. It was very hot and the walk was tough. We turned to hold out signs and stick out our thumbs whenever a car came up behind us. Half an hour in and we were having no luck, but we were at least being acknowledged, more than in Madrid for example. As we passed a lake on the way out of town, O called out to me.
“It looks like there should be flamingos on that lake…”
After stopping to take a picture, we realised there were flamingos on that lake! This little observation of nature cheered us up somewhat and helped us carry on with the long, sweaty walk.
Just as we were thinking we’d have to walk all the way to the roundabout which turned off towards the natural park, a car stopped. It was two guys from Barcelona on the way to a festival (not far from Murcia) but going to check out a beach called Playa de los Muertos first.
Now, we needed to decide what to do. We still hadn’t filled up our water containers and even with this lift, we would still be quite far from San Pedro (which was the beach we had picked out on the map as a vague aim). The guys said they could drop us at a town called Carboneras or we could stay in the car and head towards the beach with them – which was more the direction we wanted to be, but they would be leaving again in the evening and we were planning to stay around there until Friday, meaning we were going to need more than the five litres of water we had on us.
It was a tough call, but we got out at the edge of Carboneras. We went and sat on the beach for a bit to have a snack and watch the fishermen lined up on the shore. O had been planning to go on a mission further into town to find water whilst I waited with our bags on the beach, but then we realised there was a cafe/bar right there on the beach – surely they’d have water? I was also desperate for the toilet, so maybe I could kill two birds with one stone.
I was feeling grumpy and tired at this point, I had had a thumping headache all day and it seemed to be getting worse. In hindsight, I probably had just had too much sun and not enough water. After a pep talk from O and some Spanish phrase practice, I mustered up the courage to go and ask if I could refill my 6 litre water container and use the toilet (where I also planned to fill another 2 litre and 1 litre container I had in my bag).
It was all a bit of an embarrassing and awkward song and dance and I ended up having to buy a €1 doughnut, and pay another €1, but I succeeded in using the bathroom and refilling the water containers.
Soon, we were on the way. We walked along the roadside, heading west this time in the direction of the natural park and of course sticking out our thumbs whenever a car came behind us. It was cooler now, but we had a heavy load with our sixteen litres of water. After about thirty minutes of walking, I stuck out my thumb for a vehicle coming without bothering to turn around at all. The car passed and I realised it was the police. Shit. I’d just stuck out my thumb to hitch a ride from the cops – we were walking towards an area where wild camping was forbidden and we were quite clearly going camping.
Thankfully, they either hadn’t noticed or had more pressing business to attend to and they didn’t stop or turn back. But we were feeling vulnerable. We realised there wasn’t even any campsites nearby we could pretend we were going to. There was another town 10km away which we could say we were trying to hitch to… but if we were going to a town at 8pm, why were we carrying so much water?!
We were seriously on edge as we carried on walking by the side of the road, too nervous to really even stick our thumbs out anymore.
We were reaching the end of the industrial area and coming to the beginning of the natural park. It was getting late and there wasn’t much traffic in our direction. We came to a small track off the road to our right and decided to take it. We were feeling unsafe on the road and worried that, at this time of day, any story we came up with for police wouldn’t be believable. We weren’t currently breaking any rules, but it was clear that we were planning to.
There were two cars parked just inside the track but we couldn’t see anyone around. We had another ten minutes to walk until we were in a valley and completely hidden from the road where we were worried the police might come back for us at any moment. Once in the valley, we breathed a sigh of relief. We put down our bags and took in our surroundings. The evening sun shone down on the incredible array of colours around us, wild flowers in reds, purples, yellows, pink, white and of course green green green. It was amazing to see so much life flourishing in such a hot dry place. We were right on the edge of the natural park (we could see the signs for where it officially started) and we deiced the best thing for us to do now would be to find somewhere we felt safe to sleep tonight as nearby as possible.
I still had a thumping headache and was feeling pretty exhausted from all the walking and the heat of the day. I lay down for a bit with our bags whilst O explored a valley that would be hidden from the path. He returned five minutes later saying he’d found a good spot and off we went. It wasn’t the easiest walk but it was a good spot – soft grassy ground to lay our blanket on. We set up camp and I got straight into bed, with a scarf over my head and face to protect from the evening midges.
I was asleep before dark.
Sneak peek of waking up the next morning: