Stuart and I were enjoying a relaxing couple of weeks in a lovely little eco-friendly casita (Casita Bolero) up near Bobastro in El Chorro. Having spent much of our holiday thus far sleeping lots, getting up late, eating and moving at a very leisurely pace and generally taking things easy (a welcome change from the bustle of our UK lives), we decided to use a spare afternoon to check out the activities at The Ardales Lakes.
On previous visits we had taken our own inflatable dinghy to the water’s edge for some impromptu fun, games and picnics with friends, who would also take their own kayaks. However, apparently for conservation reasons (there being some unique and important species of mollusc inhabiting the lakes which cannot be endangered through cross-contamination), only the boats and other water-craft that “live on the lakes” can be used on the lakes. This meant that, like it or not, we would have to behave like normal tourists and pay for the rental of the equipment that they keep there. We had never done this before, so it was a good opportunity for us to check out what was available and how it all worked (and also to practise some basic Spanish).
We pulled over into the “Zone 3” car park on the left near to the start of El Caminito de Rey. Parking was signposted as costing one euro per person, but the man in the booth only charged us one euro for the car. We have learnt to use signage only as a rough guide as prices and details can change day-to-day. The booth here sells refreshments and drinks and only takes cash. The man who served us spoke a little English and was friendly and helpful.
It is a short walk from the car-park down to the lake’s edge. This is a really great picnic site, with lovely views; lots of seating dotted around in the trees and banks overlooking the lakes; and decent, well-kept toilets just visible to the side of the car-park.
There is something very therapeutic about an expanse of water – especially a calm one that glitters turquoise and gold in the sunlight. It was very quiet - there were very few people around and the soft blue movement of the lakes, together with the wind gently gusting through the surrounding greenery, made for a very peaceful and relaxing atmosphere.
We hovered for a bit, people-watching, trying to figure out who was the right person to pay. There was a sign showing all of the different options and prices – we thought it was actually very reasonable at 11 euros for a two-person kayak.
Kayaking is great! It was so lovely to be paddling rhythmically out in the water, enjoying the views of the landscape and accompanied by the gentle splashes and occasional sightings of fish leaping out of the water. We heard all sorts of bird song, but didn’t have the knowledge to be able to identify them. There is even a spot at the front of the kayak for a Go Pro but we’d forgotten ours so made a mental note to bring one next time. The kayaks have a little indented and splash-free cubby hole at the back to put phones, bags, valuables in – very useful. Other than that though, no room for much else.
The angle and short height of the seat back started to become uncomfortable for me after a while, and I found myself shifting about a bit to ease the discomfort. The great thing is you can stop paddling at any time and just let yourself drift. If you wanted to, you could really go for it and have a full-on workout (paddling/rowing is a great form of exercise – good for the core and the upper body) and the lakes provide enough space if you want to cover long distances. We did none of this. We just enjoyed the tranquillity and peace of the space and light and water and paddled gently around.
There is a popular local restaurant, El Mirador, nestled in the trees at the top of the bank that rises up from the lakes. It has a lovely terrace with fantastic views through the green of the trees to the blue of the waters below but looking up at it from the kayak gave us a completely different perspective.
After a peaceful hour on the kayak we paddled back in to the little bay. One of our missions is to learn to paddle-board and we did have a go earlier in the year on a South Pembrokeshire beach. We didn’t get on too well however – it was very wavy and we were being a bit pathetic so we only managed a few short “stand-ups” and spent the rest of the time paddling about on our knees. Here at the lakes, once we were back on dry land, we watched enviously as a paddle-boarder cruised effortlessly in, making it look easy and making us feel inadequate.
We will definitely hire paddle-boards next time – the water here is so much warmer and calmer than the sea on the Pembrokeshire coast – it’s bound to be easier...
We were left to our own devices to haul the kayak back onto the shore and to put the paddles back – there was no sign of the man in charge. As we made our way up to the car, we realised he was with some friends round one of the picnic tables, lunching and laughing with them and their dog. We don’t begrudge him this at all, but felt sorry for the visitor who was wandering around on the shore, wanting to hire something and feeling uncertain about where or how to do this.
We took some pics of the toilets (we lead such an interesting life!) on our way back up to the car as we were so impressed with how clean and well-kept they were. Reading back over this, I'm feeling I'm feeling doubly inadequate! In the hope of imparting some genuinely useful information though, I will say that often you are lucky to find toilet roll in public toilets here, let alone clean sinks and loos, but these were fresh and shiny, came complete with toilet roll, mirrors and more than one cubicle! Definitely worthy of a comment.