Hiking to the sand dune
by Thomas Brückmann
Hiking to the sand dune with Jörn – an excursion to the dune of Bolonia during fierce “Levante”
Text and pictures: Thomas Brückmann
the very stormy conditions turned the sea around Tarifa into a spotted carpet of white crests.
No way could we have gone out with the boat to the whales and dolphins in the Strait of Gibraltar on this day. Because of the rough sea it would have been almost impossible to see the animals – let alone the uncomfortable conditions on board. This is why on days like this we offer an appropriate alternative program ashore for the participants of our observation courses. So we can also show them the rich flora and fauna of the different coastal areas near Tarifa. While the Mediterranean coast in the east is steep and rocky, in the west – towards the Atlantic Ocean – you can find wide and long sandy beaches.
Special features on the western coast line of the Costa de la Luz are the two dune landscapes at Punta Paloma and a few kilometres further north at Bolonia.
They were formed by wind conditions like today. The “Levante” blows the sand of the long beaches frontally to the end of the bays so that, over years, two impressive sand dunes were created. Near Bolonia the dune is more than 30 metres high and over 200 metres wide.
And the process is still going on, which you can see clearly at the peak of the dune. Here the sand pours over the growing pines, moving into the direction of the interior land while slowly burying the trees underneath it.Actually, the pines are no natural vegetation; they were planted by human hand to stabilize the coastal areas.
The top of the dune was also the destination of our hike with Jörn. From up there you have a fantastic view of the sea and the coast line as far as Tarifa.
But first our way led us along the ruins of the Roman city Baelo Claudia from the second century BC. Well preserved are the areas where the Romans processed and stored their catched tuna and where they made the fermented fish sauce “Garum” which was very much in demand at this time.
On wooden planks beside the beach we moved further on towards the sand dune, partly in the pleasant shade of the pines. At the end of the path there is an information board that provides details about the geology and the creation of the dune.
Then we walked over the beach passing some fishing boats that were pulled ashore and several lines of beach grass (of the botanical genus Ammophila) parallel to the water. This modest grass is the only plant that can steady itself in the loose sand by developing horizontal as well as deep growing vertical roots. In this way the plants develop a wide root system that also stabilizes the whole dune.
When we arrived at the bottom of the dune we started to climb up alongside the rests of tree stumps that are indicative of a former vegetation cover of trees at the edge of the dune. It seems like, after a long time of being buried by sand, they were uncovered because of the movement of the whole dune.
Now the peak of the dune was only a few steps away. The wind nearly blew us away and we were all sand blustered – not only at our feet and calves like at the beach but also in our faces.
For this reason we were all very happy when Jörn led us further on to the edge of the sand dune and into the adjoining pine forest where the sandblast stopped immediately. In this environment it smelled very good of pine resin and the crowns of the trees spent nice shade.
On a sandy path we walked downhill parallel to the dune, always in the shade of the pines. Jörn drew our attention towards a flower with yellow petals and thin silvery leaves at the side of the road. The plant’s characteristic is the intensive smell of curry exuded by the leaves which brought it the byname “curry plant”. The subshrub (of the botanical genus Helichrysum) is used as a spice plant in the traditional Mediterranean cuisine.
As the pines became less the path was lined by juniper trees and the last metres we went down quite steeply along characteristic sand stone formations. Those rock formations do not only consist of sediments of sand and pebbles but also of shells and other animal remains.
At that point in time, we had reached the “official end” of our hike with Jörn who left it up to us to stay a bit longer at the bottom of the dune. As we were standing in a sheltered place everyone was happy to accept the offer.