Andalusia – Jaén Province – traumas in Beas de Segura

From Úbeda I travelled to Beas de Segura, a small agricultural village of just over five and a half thousand people in the mountainous area of Jaén province, on the edge of the Sierras de Cazorla Segura y las Villas national park. It’s probably the most remote place I’ve ever visited in Spain and no doubt there are some great walks to be had nearby when the weather is good. If you look at my Google map of the town, you’ll see that the street layout is that of a village on the slopes of a steep river valley. The reason I mention this will become apparent later as unfortuantely I didn’t have a very good time here! Apologies in advance for what I’m going to write if you live Beas , or are going to visit, I just had some bad luck. But more about that later!

The oldest thing in town, other than some ancient walls, seems to be this 17th century doorway in Plaza de la Iglesia on Calle Almenas. Built to be the seat of the local council, it’s now the Oficina de Turismo (open Tuesday to Saturday 10-2).

Just around the corner are a historic church and monastery which I can’t imagine would be of any interest to anyone except for acolytes of Santa Teresa.

An unexpectedly pretty corner of hanging plantpots, very reminiscent of Cordoba, can be found on Travesía Albaicin.

I stayed for four nights (reduced from five) at the Hotel Avenida The hotel is basic but fine (B-); the rooms are a decent size and they have a swimming pool on the top floor with a great view of the hills around, but unfortunately I didn’t get to use it. Breakfast in their bar is rudimentary but their dining room (open for lunch), while not great (C+), is probably one of the better places to eat in the village. I usually ended up back at the hotel bar in the evening for a nightcap.

You may or may not get slightly better food at Café Bar Carillo at 19 Calle la Feria (Low Intermediate C+) which competes with the hotel to be the best place in town. Their Serrano ham was okay (B-) and the rest of the food was entirely edible and more refined than elsewhere (C).

Despite it’s proximity to the hotel, it’s probably best to avoid Valparaíso Restaurante at 29 Avenida Don Manuel Ardoy, even if it does have a terrace on the street (the interior is quite gloomy). You do get very large portions of food, but if quality is important to you, I don’t think you’ll like it. Also, although it’s run by a woman, I know a female colleague who felt it to be too testosterone-heavy.

The nicest place to be in terms of atmosphere, if not the food, is Casa Arturo at 20 Calle la Feria. Streetview here. The bar itself is quite old and atmospheric and the terrace is well located under some trees on the rambla next to the river. For this reason I came here more than anywhere else.

It certainly wasn’t the food as I found the tapas to be quite poor. Half a deep fried potato anyone? My friend on the other hand said she ate quite well here but also mentioned a pleasant English-speaking manager who must have been on holiday when I was there. Anyway, this is where my drama begins…

The evening started off calmly enough. When I arrived at the bar there were lots of people enjoying the end of a relatively sunny Sunday afternoon. One group were playing guitar and singing flamenco songs, an idyllic scene. I chose to sit inside on a high stool at the bar, which turned out to be a highly fortuitous choice. Towards the end of the evening, around 10pm just before I was about to leave, it started raining so I decided to wait until it stopped. A few people came indoors except for one group who stayed under a gazebo on the terrace over the road who also thought it would stop soon. However instead the rain got heavier and heavier until the road between the bar and the terrace turned into a river, leaving the people under the gazebo stranded. Then the rain turned to strong hail and the river became a torrent of liquid ice! Some of the people on the terrace couldn’t bear it any longer so took their shoes off and splashed the short distance across the road just to be inside. Then all the lights in the entire village went off for a while although mercifully they came back on after about ten minutes. While we were all standing in the dark, at the front window looking out helplessly at the scene, we didn’t notice that the water had started coming in the back door! All the staff quickly formed a chain and spent half an hour brushing the water out of the front door with brooms. While all this was going on, I was observing the proceedings from the safe heights of my bar stool, brandy in hand!

Finally the rain stopped and I started to make my way back to the hotel. The streets were pitch black and still streaming with water running around the big piles of hail. My progress was lit only by the occasional flashing lights of emergency vehicles. I was fine until I got to the bottom of town where the main street is met my a few smaller streets coming down the hillsides. The flood had washed away four of five cars down these streets and buried them in a huge pile of rocks, tree trunks and other debris when it collided with another torrent on the main road. The approach to this dam was a foot deep in fine silty mud so I just had to give up on protecting my shoes and squidged my way through. Once I clambered over the pile of cars and rocks the rest of my journey was fine but I felt really sorry for all the people I saw along the way bailing out their homes and shops at 1am in the morning. The private language academy I was supposed to be working at was one of them so work was cancelled the next day.

As I got in quite late and spent a fair while longer cleaning the mud off my shoes and clothes, I didn’t leave the hotel until after midday the next day when most of the clear up had finished. In fact the huge dam of debris had gone the next time I passed the spot. Video here. Workers were still shovelling silt off the side streets but the main roads were clear. I don’t have any video of the events of the previous night as my battery died pretty early on but these videos, here and here, show some of what happened in the town of Cebolla which was hit in the same storm. You can also get a very small idea of the mess that needed clearing up from my photos.

Chatting with locals later it seems that while such fierce storms are common in the high sierra, this was one of the worst floods in their town in the living memory of most people. A special channel had been built parallel to the river to divert the run-off from the olive groves surrounding the town but as this video from my balcony shows, the channel somehow became blocked and the water was diverted back into town. Of course, wouldn’t you know it, the next day the weather was perfect with not a cloud in the sky, and the remaining silt rapidly turned into dust that was lifted into the air in huge clouds by the passing traffic. Walking through dustclouds going to work every morning was the last straw for me and I requested my employer for permission to leave a night earlier once I’d finished work.

And that was my experience of Beas, a place I hope never to return to!

Next up, escape to Albacete!

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