I was trying to add the link to my Pinterest board to my blog the other day, and it got me thinking about some of my pins. I have one pin that is, hands down, the single most popular pin I’ve ever posted. When I’m notified that someone has liked or re-pinned something from me, 95% of the time I can guess which one it is. I have two different “Desfiladero de los Gaitanes” pins, one modern day and one from the old days (see above pictures). The modern day “Desfiladero de los Gaitanes” has been re-pinned and liked about 150 times, while the older one has only a few likes & re-pins. Of the two, I find myself drawn to the older photo, due to the history and the men behind the grand adventure, but most people are drawn to the newer picture, with the two people walking the pathway together.
Anyway, back in 1983, my friends and I saved every dollar we made and went to Europe. We hiked everywhere, camping high in the Alps, staying in hostels when we had money, and slept in city parks when we didn’t. We were hanging out at a flea market in Paris, when somebody suggested hiking the Camino de Santiago (some call it, The Way of St. James). Then someone else suggested we journey down to Seville, Spain, where we could go see the nearby Desfiladero de los Gaitanes (Gorge of the Gaitanes). The gorge was famous for the Caminito del Rey (The King’s Little Pathway), which was an amazing man-made walkway across the sides of the sheer cliffs in the gorge.
“The King’s Little Pathway” came about in 1901, when the nearby hydroelectric power plant owner decided that its workers needed a walkway to make crossing the gorges easier and to facilitate transport of needed materials. The construction took four years, finishing in 1905. King Alfonso XIII visited the place in 1921, crossing the walkway for the inauguration of the finished dam, after which they named it “Caminito del Rey”.
Sixty-odd years later and here I was, just below the Gorge, looking up at the walkway crossing the cliff face. Typical of Spain, the place was a semi-desert region, and very hot. A drought had stopped the normal flow of water from between giant cliffs. The wall walkways were an amazing sight, but I could not imagine how they accomplished it. It looked like an impossibly crazy task, especially for the time period. How many people died making it? There wasn’t a lot of information available back then, even in the nearby El Chorro, home to many of the original workers. We climbed upwards, towards the start of the walkway. A dry, hot wind pushed behind us as we climbed. Once we got to the start of the walkway, the age of the path is obvious. The concrete crumbles at the edge of the slabs, and right here at the start, two gaping holes welcome you to the path. Looking out across the gorge, it’s pretty easy to make out other areas of disrepair. The hot winds blow around me, pushing my backpack like a sail. I begin having second thoughts about walking the path. My friend’s girlfriend decides to forgo the “adventure” of the King’s path, so I decide to stay behind as well. My friend doesn’t hesitate at all, leaving his backpack with us. He’s braver (more foolish?) than we are. We climb back down to the nearby railroad tracks and watch his progress from one side to the other. His trip across the wall goes quickly, and he’s back pretty fast. Upon his return, he agrees it was a little foolish, but has no regrets. We head to town and move on early the next day.
Getting back to my “popular” pin on Pinterest, the appeal of this pin can gleamed from the comments people make and the boards they pin it to. To a great many, it has a certain romantic appeal; a last great thing to do when you get the time, an amazing trip I want to take! And they all pin it to same board “Places I Want to Go”, where it lives forever. Though it’s hard to tell from the pin picture, the walkway has continued to deteriorate over the last couple of decades. After several deaths in 1999 and 2000, the Spanish government closed both entrances to the walkway. The appeal of the pathway remains strong and people climb past the closures. Plans to make it a tourist attraction have failed since no one wants to pay for it.
So, in the end, maybe it’s a good it works out this way. The reality of this crumbling Caminito del Rey is that it’s becoming a place that you will never be able to visit, which fits perfectly with the reality of being a pin on a dream destination board that no one will ever go see. But something that will always remain is the story of the walkway’s construction and the men that built it. There was a lot happening in the world back in 1901, but true adventures were slowly running out as the world got smaller and smaller. The construction of the walkway and the men that built it were the end of an era.