Leonids 2002 Expedition to Andalusia, Spain - The Pictures

Below is a short overview of our time spending in Andalusia, during the Leonids 2002 expedition. It's a small sample of pictures, showing some of the Andalusian gems that Kathleen and I explored.

Saturday November 16, 2002

We left Brussels airport on the morning of Saturday November 16th. And apparently, we were not the only ones on the plane travelling towards an Andalusian Leonids experience : we met some meteor observers from the Gamma Andromeda team (Belgium), headed by veteran observer Michel Vandeputte. They were traveling to the Calar Alto observatory in Spain. 


Click to enlarge

Shortly before landing on Malaga Airport, we flew over the Guadalhorce reservoirs of "Ardales Nature Park". We knew our hotel was situated very close to this nature park, and exploring one of the canyons in the Guadalhorce area was on the top of our list of planned excursions. 

At Malaga airport, we rented a car and started our journey to the Andalusian interiors. Our destination was Cortijo Valverde. It's an old Spanish cortijo (farm), turned into a very special retreat, that nestles peacefully on a rising spur between two river valleys near Alora, in the midst of olive groves. For sure, this is amongst the best small hotels we ever visited, offering a perfect combination of tranquility, excellent food and above all hospitality we never experienced before in a Spanish hotel. Cortijo Valverde is run by Moyra and Rod, two of the nicest hosts we have encountered. Highly recommended !!

Click to enlarge

View from our room in Cortijo Valverde on the hotel properties. Perfectly situated for our astronomical activities, far away from any source of light pollution.

The afternoon of our arrival, we spent hiking the immediate surroundings of Cortijo Valverde. There's an excellent walk of about 2 - 3 hours, starting right away at the hotel, that will take you through the Andalusian landscape with its citrus fruit trees, olive groves, rocky outcrops and rolling hillsides. We walked past small farms, and enjoyed spectacular views of the white Andalusian villages.  

Click to enlarge


Sunday November 17, 2002


Click to enlarge

One hike, that we absolutely wanted to make in the Alora area, was to walk the Garganta del Chorro, or El Chorro Gorge. The gorge has been carved by the Guadalhorce river, and is up to 400m deep, and in places as little as 10m wide. The gorge, about 4 km long, is traversed not only by the main railway in and out of Málaga (with the aid of 12 tunnels and six bridges) but also by a footpath, the Camino del Rey or Kings Path, which for long stretches becomes a perilously decaying concrete catwalk clinging to the side of the gorge up to 100 m above the river. The camino has been in a state of alarming disrepair for years and has been officially closed since 1992.

The head of the Garganta del Chorro, as well as part of the Camino del Rey, are visible in the picture at left. One will also notice the small bridge in the gorge, that brings the Camino Del Rey from one side of the gorge to the other.

We first tried to approach the head of the Camino del Rey following the train tunnels, close to El Chorro village. This is an easy walk, and contrary to what some have written on other Internet sites, absolutely not dangerous. Whenever a train is passing the tunnels, you will hear it approaching from far, and you will see it  passing the tunnels slowly, exactly because of the hikers !


When we arrived at the start of the track, it immediately became clear it would be impossible to hike the Camino del Rey from this side : the first 30 meters of the path have completely collapsed (see picture at right)!

Yet, we strongly recommend to continue the walk through the tunnels, as it offers superb views of the canyon and the Camino del Rey. It gives a perfect impression of how wonderful this hike would have been. We were told that plans are getting more or less official now to restore the Camino del Rey (which is the good news) and to turn the entire Guadalhorce region into a big leisure park (which is the bad news).

Click to enlarge


We knew there was a second entrance to the Camino del Rey, that was part of another hike we had planned in the El Chorro region. It starts off at the "El Mirador" restaurant, and after approximately 40 minutes brings you to an electricity central, right at the entrance of the Camino. 

Unfortunately, the situation at this part of the Camino del Rey is not any better. Again, the first 20 to 30 meters of the path have completely collapsed, making it impossible to start the hike at this point. 

Although we didn't manage to locate alternatives, there must be another possibility to reach the Camino, as we saw 2 persons walking the path !

Click to enlarge
Addendum January 2005 : we received following email from Mr. Jason Moffat, UK, regarding accessibility of Camino del Rey : "The Camino del Rey can be gained by several methods : (1) ab-seil onto the electricity station end, (2) rock climb onto the lower gorge end, (3) scrambling up onto the catwalk from the middle of the flat valley, still need rope for ab-seil descent from the lower gorge.
Also, the paths did not collapse, the Spanish authorities destroyed the beginning and end after numerous accidents in the gorge. The worst being the flying fox across the gorge that snapped when three people tried to ride it all at once. "

Addendum August 2005 : email from Mrs. Jo Willett, UK: "I found your website when I was searching for pictures of the Camino del Rey. I thought I would let you know that it IS possible to walk along the Camino, but you need to be a rock climber, or to hire a rock climbing guide to take you along it.
If you walk from El Chorro village, through the train tunnel where you can see the head of the walkway, and through the next tunnel, you will be able to see across the gorge to the start of the Camino. You can scramble down to the river, cross it and scramble up the other side to the start. Then you need a climbing harness and a head for heights! There are metal cables fixed to the rock all along the Camino, and you clip your harness into the cable and follow the walkway - you need to do some climbing as bits of the walkway have disappeared. At the end, you can either abseil (rappel) down to the ground, or retrace your steps back to where you started.
It is great fun, my husband and I did it in December 2004, but I would not recommend it for anyone who has not had any climbing experience as it is a little dangerous."

Click to enlarge The Conde de Guadalhorce reservoir is depicted at left. El Chorro was founded as a village to accomodate the workers who built the reservoir, and who had access to it through the Camino del Rey


Monday November 18, 2002

This was "the" day, with the Leonids meteor storm predicted to occur in the night of November 18/19th. Since it was still a long time to go, we decided to undertake a long walk. On the menu was the Sierra de Aguas (949m high, where Alora itself is about 200m above sea level).

Click to enlarge

The Sierra de Aguas ("Range of Waters") mountain range is located on the road from Alora to Carratraca. We walked part of "Rutas 5", which is well signposted (taking into account you are walking in Spain).

Our destination was the mountain top at the left of the picture. We were very lucky with the weather, as the sky was extremely clear, offering views all the way from the coast to the Andalusian interiors. We could easily see Malaga airport, the El Torcal National Park, the Guadalhorce reservoirs, Sierra Nevada, etc. This is probably one of the finest walks in the entire region !


Click to enlarge
On the way to the top of Sierra de Aguas. View towards El Torcal National Park.


Leonids night was quickly approaching, when we left the Sierra de Aguas walk and entered Alora village in the evening (picture at right). It's a typical white Andalusian village, with many picturesque streets (easier to walk than to drive). Worth a visit is the castle, that is constructed over one of the two hills of Alora.

We enjoyed our stay in Andalusia from the very first minute till the ... well, not exactly. See what happened to our Leonids maximum !

Click to enlarge





Copyright © 2002 - Tonny Vanmunster.