Monthly Archives: July 2015

27, 28 & 29 July 2015 – Santo Pola, Alicante, Benidorm and Mareny de Barrequetes

Routes and stats for the last few days below – two parts to 27 July due to Garmin crash:

–> 27 July – to Santa Pola
Another day another failed hammock acquisition attempt; maybe it just isn’t meant to be. I did complete the last significant hill climb for hopefully several hundred kilometres. I’m classing anything over 1,000 feet as significant, however that’s not to say anything less than that isn’t a challenge, especially when there are lots of them in one day. I think it’s going to be fairly flat until I get close to Barcelona now, whereupon there’s another big climb to get to the city.

Morning at Los Madriles

Morning at Los Madriles

After a hot night I was feeling pretty manky, and it was good to get on the road to generate a cooling breeze. The climb over the mountains to Cartagena proved challenging, but not really an issue after all the practice I’ve had over the last few weeks and months. There was even a bit of cloud to obscure the sun for a bit, which kept things a few degrees cooler.

I enjoyed a fast descent down to the city, a big naval port in the province of Murcia; not to be confused with Mercia. Cartagena is another settlement that’s been around for a long time, founded in 227 BC by the Carthaginians, hence the name I expect. It’s been a major port ever since those ancient times.

I took a break down in the harbour, amongst lots of yachts, and was spotted on a webcam by the ‘stalkers’ at home; another good rendezvous completed, and at least you get to see a picture of me on my bike, thus proving I am actually doing some pedalling. As I was devouring a banana I started to hear the strains of military music across the water, and realised a naval ship was leaving port with the music as an accompaniment.

There followed a lovely flat ride from Cartagena to Torrevieja, with a slight tailwind helping me keep up a good pace. I waved at two other fully laden cycle tourers going the other way, the first I’ve seen for a while; I didn’t envy them the hills coming up.



Torrevieja is a big tourist spot, with another nice beach, and pristine waterfront. Again I was struck by the contrast between how clean and well-ordered these tourist towns are compared with the non-tourist and less affluent areas. I have to admit I stopped for a cheeky Burger King on the promenade, enjoying several free refills of cold Fanta, which I think I’m addicted to.

After that I rode on to Santa Pola and my campsite for the night; Bahia de Santa Pola. I passed through a very low-lying region, with shallow lakes on either side of the road populated by flamingos – the first I’ve seen on this tour. I covered a total of 109km today, in about 6 hours.

Flamingos in on the flats near Santa Pola

Flamingos in on the flats near Santa Pola

The campsite itself was fine for the night, with friendly staff. It had a good pizza van and a bar with free wifi, so I was happy, despite the noise going on into the early hours of the morning; it was too hot to sleep anyway. Oh, and the receptionist had visited Ely a few years ago, where I was born, and liked the cathedral; he commented on it after seeing my city of birth in my passport.

Tomorrow it’s on up the Costa Blanca, to such delights as Alicante and Benidorm. I need to plan in a few more mini adventures; must go swimming in the sea soon, rather than being lazy and just using the campsite swimming pools. Salt water will help neutralise mosquito bites too!

–> 28 July – to Calpe, via Alicante and Benidorm
A shorter ride of just 85km today, to give my body a bit of a break after a few strenuous sessions, and recovery time from the heat. I was hoping it would be flat again, but there were plenty of ups and downs to keep me occupied as I pedalled up the Costa Blanca.

Morning in Santa Pola

Morning in Santa Pola

I set off from Santa Pola in good time, after another very hot night during which I got little in the way of sleep. Today’s ride proved fairly unremarkable, passing through concrete sprawls and more tourist spots. I rode through Alicante, getting slightly embroiled in traffic and a confusing road system, however the waterfront was nice with lots expensive boats, and an impressive citadel up on the hill.

I had fun weaving in and out of fountains in  park near the waterfront; it’s good to play, whatever age you are, and the spray was very refreshing.

After Alicante it was on to Benidorm, via some busy roads that proved quite tedious, so I mostly just zoned out. Benidorm, true to its reputation, was packed with Brits on holiday, as well as lots of other nationalities. The beach was absolutely rammed, and didn’t look like a lot of fun to me. I saw several people turning, or having already turned, a similar shade or red to Travelling Lobster, which he found very amusing. There are loads of British themed bars and restaurants; I saw one offering authentic cups of Tetley Tea or Nescafe, with real milk; most of the milk you can buy in Spain is UHT. I was vaguely tempted for a minute, just for the novelty value, but would have preferred a ceveza, or even better some Fanta; my addiction is getting worse.

It was somewhat of a relief to get out of Benidorm, even if my morbid curiosity had been piqued, and cycle on to Calpe. The ride took me over some hills and through a series of tunnels near the aptly named Altea Hills; I wondered if it was a take on Beverley Hills – the houses definitely looked expensive, as did the big motor cruiser boats in the marina.

After descending into Calpe the first campsite I arrived at wanted to charge €35, so I bid them adios and pedalled 2km to the next one which was only 2km away, and €23 cheaper; it just wasn’t as close to the beach. €35 really is a ridiculous price for a patch of gravel, and I bet the wifi would’ve cost extra. It was a relief to stop for the day, as I’d been feeling a little uncomfortable due to a slightly upset stomach; sometimes I think I should probably be drinking bottled water rather than campsite water, however it should be fine in Western Europe.

After a cold shower I pedalled down to the waterfront and took a walk along the promenade. Calpe is definitely upmarket compared with Benidorm, with lots of nice looking restaurants and bars, and a lovely view across the water to the large rock looming over the bay.

The walk along the promenade did me a lot of good, easing tension after a hard few days, and stretching my somewhat weary legs. It was fun doing a bit of people watching too, noting lots of different nationalities including Brits, French, Spanish of course, German and American. After buying some postcards I headed back to the campsite via a supermarket, then ‘chilled’ out for the rest of the evening; didn’t have wifi so I wrote the postcards and read my book, a good break from blogging. I also washed my cycling gear again, and was somewhat dismayed by the colour of the water after just one day on the road; so dry and dusty.

I’ve just finished reading the first part of a Sci-Fi story, A Day of Faces, a friend from Norwich is writing; well worth a read and available free here, it’s really good:

–> 29 July 2015 – to Mareny de Barraquetes
Another shorter day, covering 88km; I wanted a shorter couple of days to act as recovery rides.

Climb out of Calpe

Climb out of Calpe

It had been almost cool when I went to bed, with a slight breeze blowing in through my open tent door and keeping me from sweating too badly; it can get a bit soggy in the heat in a small tent at times, most unpleasant. Unfortunately the breeze had dropped overnight so it ended up being very warm again. Coupled with the heat, I’d left my tent door open to let the breeze in, but this had the unfortunate side effect of letting mosquitos, or some other biting insect, in during the night; I woke up to find at least a dozen new and very irritating bites – very itchy. So not the greatest of rests again, and I was keen to get on the road and make haste to the next campsite for a siesta!

After trying somewhat in vain to apply suncream to an already sweaty face, and it running into my eyes causing the ‘stinging eye must find water bottle’ dance, I got going and tackled the challenging climb out of Calpe to rejoin the N332. The climb was a steep 800 feet, which definitely wakes you up first thing in the morning. I can’t call it significant due to my 1,000 feet rule but it was still knackering!

Through the hills to Gata de Gorgos

Through the hills to Gata de Gorgos

Thankfully after the ascent there was one of those fantastic descents; not to steep, and goes on for ages. I drifted lazily downhill for what seemed like miles, through a busy quarry area which coated me in more dust, before arriving in Gata de Gorgos. Gata de Gorgos is a brilliant name for a town, and will definitely be one for the parallel book; I haven’t looked it up but wonder if it’s got anything to do with Gorgons or mythology? I’ll have to have a search on t’interweb.

After remembering to post my postcards in Ondara, it was on to Oliva then Gandia, down a fairly busy road, but with some cloud cover keeping off the worst of the sun. I kept my eyes open for a Decathalon for hammock buying purposes but I don’t think there’s another one until near Valencia now.

Rice paddies down near the coast, Cullera

Rice paddies down near the coast, Cullera

I stopped in Cullera to take advantage of the free wifi and air-con at McDonalds, then rode the short distance on to the campsite in Mareny de Barraquetes. I passed a fun looking water park, with dinosaurs, and lots of rice being grown in paddy fields. The roadside was lined with bushes laden with pretty flowers; red, pink and white. In general the area looked and felt a lot less arid.

Thankfully the campsite had a lot of shade, so I pitched my tent quickly and proceeded to have that siesta, snoozing for about an hour and a half. I awoke to the sound of a noisy engine as my neighbours packed up and narrowly missed my tent with their caravan as they left.

Although it was cooler, it was very humid, and having checked the weather forecast it appears everything is building towards some significant storms over the next few days. I need a break from the heat so will welcome any rain, more clouds, and a nice breeze; hopefully a few storms will freshen things up. A bit later on in the evening I heard a few peels of distant thunder, but no rain as yet. The campsite tannoy was warning residents to batten down the hatches just in case, which mostly seemed to involve tying large water bottles filled with sand to awnings to weigh them down.

I visited a bakers in the village for dinner, procuring some fine pizza and bread for breakfast, then headed back to the campsite where I met up with Piers, who is down here with his son and daughter, all the way from Belgium, for a holiday. Piers is English, but lives in Belgium, and has lived in both Africa and Spain in the past. It was great to have a chat and relax over a beer, swapping a few stories and talking about life in general. Thanks for the beer and cuppa Piers; maybe see you in France should our campsites coincide. Good luck with future touring plans.

Tomorrow its on to Valencia and beyond; getting closer to Barcelona and France.

25 & 26 July 2015 – I need air conditioning (Mojacar & Los Madriles)

Routes and stats from a couple of fairly brutal days of riding:

–> 25 July – to Palomares, nr Mojacar
I think 08.30 is going to be my standard start time now. It’s hot all the time, so starting earlier doesn’t make an awful lot of difference, and I’m kinda used to the heat now; as used as you can be to cycling in temperatures of over 40 degrees Celsius!

My first stop of the day was the Decathlon just outside Roquetas de Mar, however this proved to be shut, and I didn’t know when it was going to open, so I abandoned hammock plans for another day and pressed on. I’ll get a hammock at some point, and a beer cooling foldable bucket.

After Roquetas it was a nice stretch up the coast to Almeria, alongside the sea, passing a lot of cycling clubs and a few big pelicans pelotons out for a Saturday morning ride. It reminded me that we’re in the closing stages of the Tour de France now, go Froome, however I’m also following the Transcontinental Race to Istanbul, which is very hardcore; you can track the riders here:

The Transcontinental Race might be one for future years, however I’d need to slim down my touring kit, and consider a lighter bike for the ride.

There weren’t a lot of options with regards to the route after Almeria, there being a big stretch with not many roads, in fact not much of anything at all. I decided, in my wisdom, that a challenge was in order, and turned inland to Nijar to cross the mountains, then down the other side to get back to the coast. This was also the route my helpful Garmin suggested, however perhaps I should have ignored it and stuck to map reading; sometimes Garmin discounts roads, such as Autovias, which are perfectly fine to cycle on. Check out part 1 of my route for the day via the link at the top of this post; it was challenging, to say the least.

I stopped in Nijar for a cold drinks break, then continued on up, and up, and then up some more; gotta love false summits. The road was very quiet, with only a handful of cars encountered all the way over to the N340. I ascended to about 2,000 feet before the road started to descend again down to Lucainena de Las Torres. Although it was a taxing ride the scenery was great, and perhaps gave me a taste of what it must be like cycling in parts of South America; I don’t know how people such as the The Wandering Nomads consistently tackle some of the passes in Bolivia and Peru, but their blog is great:

Maybe it isn’t quite as warm in the mountains of Peru? I did have a bit of a breeze today, especially during the higher bits, which provided much welcomed relief.

The road continued to be fairly challenging all the way to Mojacar, with continuous hills and the temperature in the 40’s. Despite all that I’d still recommend the route if you’re up for a challenge, just don’t underestimate it, and take lots of water; total ascent today was about 4,500 feet.

I reached Mojacar and the campsite for the night, only to find it was closed for July and August; not something you want to see after a hard ride. Shame really as it looked like a nice campsite, with the town of Mojacar perched on the hilltop above.

Thankfully there are quite a few campsites on this stretch of coastline, and I enjoyed a pleasant ride alongside beaches, via Garrucha, to Palomares near Vera, and the Cuevas Mar camping. I say it was pleasant, however there was one bit where a car decided to undertake me via a dusty road, throwing up great clouds of grime that thoroughly coated me and several people walking; we all swore at the driver!

Cuevas Mar camping proved to be another pitch with a gravel surface, which seems to just be the norm in Southern Spain. At least it had plenty of shade, and a campsite cat for company. The campsite is split in half, with the other half being ‘Nudista’; quite a few ‘Nudista’ sites along the coast, should you be inclined (I wasn’t, and apparently you need a pass anyway). Once set up, and having not cycled enough today, I took at 10km round trip to the supermarket to get some food. The whole area is packed with tourists, and looks like a big holiday spot for Spanish, Brits, Germans and French.

After a hard but very satisfying day’s ride it was good to relax and eat, whilst contemplating the route for tomorrow and mulling over today’s experiences and thoughts from the road. Here are a few of them:

  • Spain is pretty dirty away from the tourist spots, with rubbish strewn across the landscape in some areas. A shame really, and makes one realise how much waste we produce; not sustainable, and why do people just throw their litter anywhere?
  • Good to see in the news that Iberian Lynx numbers of on the rise, after being endangered for so long. There are some great conservation efforts going on across Europe at the moment, and species reintroduction programs. Got to keep the pressure on governments to keep up efforts and not let them get away with shelving green, sustainable or renewable energy initiatives.
  • Shame someone shot and killed Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe, paying the princely sum of $55,000 for the privilege. Cecil made more than that in a few days for Zimbabwe by attracting tourists, and was a national icon. The culprit is allegedly Spanish, what a plonker and another ‘win’ for the human race; I despair at times.

After planning a shorter ride tomorrow I retired for the evening, but it was so hot in my tent it was hard to sleep, even with all the vents and door open; really need that hammock. I eventually did fall asleep, slightly concerned about Velociraptors; either someone was watching Jurassic Park in a nearby tent or I was in for a rending.

–> 26 July – to Los Madriles (Mazarron)
After yesterday’s 140km (+10km supermarket run) I’d decided on a shorter ride today, covering just 85km. Thankfully I hadn’t lost any limbs to dinosaurs overnight, although the campsite cat was regarding me hungrily in the morning; I fed it some leftover ham, which vanished at speeds a Velociraptor would be proud of.

The night had proved sweltering, thus it was relief to get on a road and generate a breeze in an effort to keep vaguely cool. My legs felt tired after yesterday’s ride, however I knew I had at least one big climb to tackle today; the hills and heat are beginning to take their toll, so a few shorter days are in order.

I pedalled along the coast, up and down several lumps and bumps, on my way to Aguilas; this part of the coast definitely isn’t flat, but makes for entertaining riding. Aguilas proved a nice town, and I paused to watch a swimming race in the sea next to the beach. The water looked very inviting, however I prefer a slightly less frantic pace to the swimmers, who were almost keeping up with me on my bike; was going pretty slowly enjoying the promenade.

From Aguilas I turned inland once more, climbing into the hills as a couple of mountain bikers hared down to the town on a dirt track; looked like a lot of fun. A moderate climb was followed by a plain, with more greenhouses, before arriving at today’s big climb up to 1,200 feet. These elevations might not sound a lot, but they’re challenging on already tired legs, with high temperatures and little in the way of a breeze. Thankfully I’d chosen to carry extra water today, which was all needed, however my arms got a bit singed again due to suncream just sweating off.

The ride was pretty standard after that, aside from a bit of dirt track joining two roads together, which proved a little dusty; washing cycling gear every day at the moment anyway. I made it to Mazarron, and then on to the campsite at Los Madriles, which entailed another small climb. Touch wood I’ve only got one more big ascent to complete tomorrow morning, before several hundred kilometres of fairly flat riding, which’ll be a good break before taking on the mountains near Barcelona and whatever happens over the Pyrenees; not sure how much Pyrenees there is on the Mediterranean coast?

I made it to the campsite for about 16.00, then had a siesta after chatting to a French family. They’d just arrived from inland, where they said it was even hotter; Seville and Granada were apparently unbearable so they’d come down to the coast where at least there’s a breeze. Los Madriles campsite is a good one, with a friendly atmosphere, and nice bar/restaurant/swimming pool area I could chill out in. The only downside is there wasn’t much shade in the camping area, and it was gravel again. I washed the dust and grime out of my cycling gear before heading to the restaurant for some dinner; the water went a very brown colour!

I got to watch the final couple of hours of the Tour de France from the campsite restaurant, which was fun and made for a nice break from planning/blogging etc. Congrats to Chris Froome and Team Sky, excellent work.

After dinner I did some route planning, and thought I’d have a go at checking the distance I have left on this tour. I think I’m over halfway, which is good news as means I have enough time to get to Istanbul and back to the UK, whilst including some time off in France to meet up with old friends; about 4,500 miles left I reckon, maybe a touch less depending on route.

Rough route for remaining tour

Rough route for remaining tour

Watching the TDF 2015 had got me thinking about climate change again; it was raining in Paris. I know the weather in the UK is bad at the moment, and probably won’t get any  better unless the Jet Stream shifts, and people are again telling how extreme the heat is down in Spain. Then I read an article in the Guardian about the government cancelling wind farms and other renewable energy initiatives/incentives, and reversing decisions on fracking in sites of special scientific interest; when are we going to wise up and start taking things seriously? It’ll be too late  once the sea levels have risen, or people have run out of water in some parts of the world; it’s probably too late even now to reverse the changes in progress. I guess everyone is just too comfortable with their modern lifestyles and ‘must have’ possessions to think about it too much. Anyway, enough of that lest it turn into a rant; however I’ll definitely be trying to live/consume much more responsibly once I’m back home – living on the road means the weather and climate is a lot more close and personal, so you can’t ignore it.

On towards Alicante tomorrow, so expecting more tourist traps, but at least they’ll be lots of places selling cold drinks; hopefully they don’t damage the environment!

23 & 24 July 2015 – trundling up the Costa del Sol

Routes and stats for 23 and 24 July below:

–> 23 July – to Torrox via Marbella and Malaga
After starting Stage 2 of my tour on 22 July, I’ve been making decent progress up the coast towards France. I’m keen to get some good mileage done early on, as I’m planning some time off when I arrive in the Marseille area. That said, there’s a lot of Spain to go yet, including Barcelona which would be nice to look around. It’s very hot still making cycling pretty tough going, especially when you throw in some mountains, of which there are plenty. I keep getting told by locals that the weather is exceptional, and not in a good way; it’s too hot for everyone. I’m having to carry extra water and drink pretty much constantly to avoid dehydration, but it’s manageable so far.

Morning at Camping Parque Tropical - already hot

Morning at Camping Parque Tropical – already hot

Today was a long ride, covering 128km in about 7.5 hours. Meant to start earlier but my 2 days off have shown me slightly, and I didn’t get on the road until 08.30. I pedalled up the coast via lots of familiar sounding places on the Costa del Troll Sol, including such delights at Puerto Banos, Marbella, Torremolinos and Malaga. There were a few uncomfortable stretches on the Autovia, which turned out to be the only option for some parts of the ride, however there was often a ‘Via de Servico’ running alongside, and almost always a decent hard-shoulder to use. As far as I can tell you’re allowed to cycle on Autovias as long as there isn’t a no cycling sign.

There was a Via Verde running alongside the coast past Puerto Banus and Marbella, which made for very enjoyable riding. Via Verdes are the Spanish ‘Green Ways’ and excellent for cycling or walking on.

As the morning wore on the coastal stretches in tourist towns started to get busier, until the beaches were packed with people. Despite it being a bit of a concrete jungle the coastline was much nicer than I expected; clean and well-tended, with no litter and lots of little restaurants and cafes. It’s also great cycling alongside the Med, with a sea breeze keeping things cool, and lots of things to distract you from the tedium of turning those pedals; sailing boats, sand castles, and nice views. A few distant memories floated to the surface around Puerto Banus and Marbella, from a long weekend about 15 years ago, when work flew us all out for a break; quite a messy weekend as I recall.

I saw another police road block today, with officers checking the cars going past for someone; they weren’t interested in me though, despite carrying a shifty looking lobster. I wonder if they were looking for the same person or people as yesterday.

My arms got slightly burned today, despite studious application of suncream; it just sweats off. It’s the first time I’ve burned for ages, and is purely down to how hot it is. I must have drunk about 6 litres of water/fanta whilst cycling, and more when I stopped for the day. I took a pause in Malaga to visit a Decathlon in search of a hammock, or hamaca in Spanish. They’d sold out but I did enjoy the air conditioning for a while, and the free wifi allowed me to double-check the route into Malaga, which turned out to be slightly tricky due to rivers and motorways.

After a final climb into the hills above Torrox I made it to the El Pino campsite, and to a friendly reception for once. I set up in a nice shady spot, and decided to eat at the campsite restaurant as they had an all-you-can-eat salad bar, and decent lasagna, all for €10, winner.

Man it was hot though, even after 11 o’clock at night, making for a rather uncomfortable night’s sleep; a slight migraine didn’t help, must be slightly dehydrated despite drinking loads.

–> 24 July – to Roquetas de Mar
After yesterday’s efforts I had thought I might stop earlier today, but that depended on campsite options. As usual I had a few ideas as to where I might stay, with a stretch goal of Roquetas de Mar should I be feeling energetic. I ended up pedalling 160km in about 9 hours, so the legs are holding up alright.

As with yesterday I didn’t manage quite as early start as I wanted. I’d like to start earlier to avoid the heat, but as it doesn’t get light until about 07.00, and I don’t want to cycle in the dark; I guess leaving by 08.30 isn’t too bad. It always takes me a while to pack up in the morning, especially after a breakfast to make hobbits proud.

After a great descent down to the coast from the campsite, I followed the N340a to Nerja, waving and saying hello to lots of road cyclists out for a morning ride. The N340a runs parallel to the motorway, and is a quiet road as a result, barring the bits in towns. The mountains reach the sea along this part of the coast, leading to some wonderful scenery, tempered with fierce climbs, lots of bends, and quick descents. I must have passed dozens of cyclists during the morning, and even a couple of other tourers in the afternoon. I haven’t seen any other cycle tourers for a while so it was good to wave and say hello; always lifts the spirits to know you’re not the only daft individual cycling in these conditions!

After some strenuous pedalling I made it to Almunecar, which must surely be town name hearkening back to the time this area was under the control of the Caliphate, then on to Salobena, tackling one hill after another with very rarely a flat bit. I could have stopped in Castell del Ferro, but I’d only covered about 70km by that stage, and there looked to be lots of campsite options further on. Feeling good, despite the hills and heat, I pedalled on, stopping in El Pozuelo to buy a drink; after two litres of cold Fanta, two bananas, followed by crisps and biscuits, I was ready to continue.

I noticed towers on the hills at regular intervals along the coast today, often perched precariously. I don’t know when they were built, but imagine they must have once been manned as watch towers, linking the various forts and citadels; saw several of them too. It was good to be away from the busier tourist areas, instead passing lovely beaches with far fewer people, and smaller towns and tourist spots, probably mostly frequented by locals. Also saw a lot of goats, with the odd herd sheltering from the sun under bridges and shady spots made by the motorway; expect there’s been goat herding along this coast for centuries.

It was getting really hot again, with the breeze only making itself known when not blocked by the mountains. I was a bit worried about getting burned, as any suncream I put on just sweated off again. At one point my head must have got too hot as suncream kept running into my eyes, leaving them sore and stinging; I had to stop to wash them out to avoid crashing.

I had a look for the campsite in Adra, but couldn’t find it so carried on, the cycling getting easier as the landscape flattened out a bit. I began to see more and more greenhouses as I left the tourist areas behind, and entered a massive agricultural area, with peppers, tomatoes and no doubt many other fruits and veg being grown. I expect some of it makes its way to the supermarkets in the UK; shame about the carbon miles. The farming looks to be pretty intensive, and it makes you realise the effort that has to go into keeping all those supermarket shelves stocked. Imagine the chaos if the supplies ever stopped flowing; anarchy within 48 hours I reckon.

The cycling was a bit boring after the mountains, and I stopped in Almerimar to try to find a campsite. This town looks to be a purpose-built tourist settlement, with marina, beaches, and a huge golf course. The wind also looks like it’s pretty consistent so probably a good sailing/surfing spot. I couldn’t find the campsite although I didn’t look too hard; the golf course was tempting with its lovely greens and little lakes, but I figured they might object to a grimy cycle tourer pitching their tent on it; might raise the par for that particular hole. I’d actually passed a couple of other campsites but they didn’t really appeal, being a bit blasted by sun, sand and wind, so I decided to carry on to Roquetas de Mar.

After mile upon mile of greenhouses, accompanied by some Jack Johnson on my phone (on speaker not earphones), I made it to the campsite in Roquetas, having covered 160km. I had fairly wobbly legs after over 4,500 feet in ascents, and a big distance, so it was with some grumbling I pitched my tent on yet another gravel surface; at least it was shaded.

Campsite in Roquetas

Campsite in Roquetas

After washing my cycling gear through, vital in this heat, I phoned home then bought dinner from the campsite shop, settling in for a quiet night. The campsite was fairly busy and noisy but very little can keep me awake after a long day on the saddle. Talking of saddles, did a bit of maintenance on mine, tightening it a notch and applying some Proofide; got to look after the Brooks to ensure it keeps looking after my posterior!

I hear there are big storms in the UK, with lots of rain. Don’t know how anyone can deny climate change is happening when we have such extreme weather patterns everywhere. I wonder what it’ll take for people to finally realise our current lifestyles just aren’t sustainable; might write a longer post on this at some point, but it’ll wait until I’m back on the UK.

Will try and find another Decathalon in the next few days, really want a hammock now!

20, 21 & 22 July 2015 – break in Tarifa and Stage Two commences

Aside from pedalling a few kilometres from the campsite into Tarifa each day, I didn’t do much cycling on 20 and 21 July, in fact I didn’t do a lot of anything, which was very pleasant. Here’s my route and stats for 22 July, and the start of Stage 2 of my tour:

20 & 21 July –> rest days in Tarifa
As previously indicated I didn’t do a lot over the course of my two rest days in Tarifa, however that was the point I suppose; it was lovely to just laze around, read a book, catch-up on some washing, and not have to pedal too far.

Camping spot at Rio Jara, Tarifa, washing done

Camping spot at Rio Jara, Tarifa, washing done

Tarifa is famed for its consistent wind, making it the ideal place for wind or kite surfing. Of course over the two days I was there the wind dropped, so there was little to see in the way of surfing action; typical, and takes me back to a holiday in Nidri years ago when we were christened the ‘No Wind Team’ for exactly the same reason.

I enjoyed a couple of good meals in Tarifa itself, cycling the 2km to town each afternoon to explore and feed; some nice Tapas and admittedly a burger, but it had salad with it! Tarifa is a lovely small town, and somewhere I felt immediately at home in, with a relaxed atmosphere, narrow streets to explore, and lots of little shops and restaurants. If you’re not being completely lazy like me, there are plenty of activities to partake of besides water-sports, including whale watching, trips lover to Morocco, diving and going up in a microlight. I was content to eat, sleep and read a book or two, occasionally taking a break from such strenuous activity to chat to fellow campers, who weren’t impressed with the lack wind, or sit in the great little campsite bar to update my blog over a ceveza or two.

I did a bit of thinking about Stage 2 of my tour too, and the route I want to take. I’ve decided to skip Morocco this time around, for a number of reasons. I think it would be a better to tour with someone else, from security and assurance point of view, and it would be prove more worthwhile to plan it in more detail, and spend at least a couple of weeks exploring; one for the future. I want to be back in France and in the Marseille area by the middle of August, so I’m going to head on up the coast of Spain, enjoying what the Mediterranean has to offer.

One warning if you’re visiting Tarifa; bring some Mosquito spray, they’re voracious! I’ll definitely be back in future.

22 July –> Gibraltar and Estepona
Stage 2 is underway! It felt strange to be cycling East, or North East, after so longer heading South and West. I felt recharged after my two days off; I considered taking another day off but realised I’d just be bored, and if I was going to learn who to kite surf I’d need at least another 2 weeks, probably more like 2 months in my case.

After a slightly late start, as it took me ages to pack and clean the bird muck off my tent (I’d camped under a sparrow roost), I pedalled past Tarifa and up a challenging climb to get over the mountains to Algeciras; over a 1000 foot and quite steep, however not too bad on fresh legs, and got waves and shouts of encouragement from several other cyclists out and about.

After a rest at the viewpoint, I finished getting over the mountains and enjoyed a long descent down to Algeciras. There’s not much to say about Algeciras; it’s a big port and working town, where you can get a ferry over to Ceuta or Tangiers. I pedalled straight through it, trying to find the route to Gibraltar, which isn’t signposted until you get close, I imagine deliberately by the Spanish. I had to use bits of a couple of Autovias before joining quieter roads to the border, where it got busy again, with large queues of traffic waiting to cross in both directions.

I had to use my passport to cross the border into Gibraltar, for the first time since arriving in Norway two and a half months ago, kinda ironic. Saying that I only waved it at border control as I cycled straight through, then across the runway into Gibraltar town itself. I was spotted on a webcam by the stalkers from home as I set foot on UK soil again, good work!

Right up until Algeciras I’d been unsure as to whether I’d bother nipping over the border to Gibraltar or not, but as the road seemed to naturally take me in that direction I thought I may as well. It was quite strange being back in UK territory, however thankfully they still drive on the right so I didn’t get confused. Little things like the traffic lights being the same as in the UK, along with red buses, and signs for things in £’s were all bizarre to see.

I had a quick wander around Gibraltar, but as normal it’s a bit tricky sightseeing with a heavy bike; you can’t really just leave it somewhere with all your luggage on, even if the bike itself is locked. It was nice walking through the main shopping area, listening to lots of people speaking English, and feeling like I was briefly back in the UK.

I made my way out of Gibraltar via the old city wall, scene of many a battle versus the Spanish. Today the noise of cannon fire was replaced by the wonderful melody being played by a guitarist busking in the tunnel through the thick walls. I stopped to listen and had a quick chat; he was having a hard day, with people stopping to listen but not sparing any coins, so I gave him a couple of euros. Despite being a very talented musician the busker couldn’t find any work, and was having a hard time of it, so i was happy to pay for a tune.

After Gibraltar, and a cold drink stop at a garage, it was on to Estepona. The temperature soared in the afternoon, to over 40 degrees Celsius, and that coupled with some fairly big hills and a few stints on Autovias made it tough going. I passed a police road block in the hills near Gibraltar which was pretty serious looking. They had guns at the ready and spiked chains on standby to throw across the road should anyone try to make a break for it; they didn’t seem particularly interested in me, so I figured it was allowed to cycle on this particular auto, but were obviously looking for someone.

I took a somewhat circuitous route to avoid some of the busier autovias, even though I’m allowed to cycle on at least some of them, but made it to Estepona and then on to my campsite for the night without succumbing to heat stroke; drank a lot of water though. Thankfully the beaches all have water fountains next to them so I could refill my water bottles. After 114km I was happy to reach Camping Parque Tropical, and check-in for the night, even if the campsite was expensive at €20. I have a feeling a lot of the campsites along the coast are going to be more expensive, it being the high season now, and a more touristy area.

One thing that could be improved upon at many Spanish campsites; friendlier receptionists that don’t make you feel like you’re putting them out when you turn up. It makes a real difference when you arrive tired after a hard day in the saddle, and are greeted by a smiling face that wants to help, and is even just slightly interested in what you’re doing. I’m definitely more likely to remember and return to the friendlier ones; maybe they should take some tips from the pilgrim hostels, that without fail always offer a warm greeting.

Despite the lack of welcome I spent a pleasant evening and night at Camping Parque Tropical, buying some dinner from the onsite shop (pasta) and relaxing for the night. It was extremely warm again so I didn’t feel like doing a lot, so had an early-ish night, looking forward to carrying on up the coast alongside the Mediterranean tomorrow. Alhough I couldn’t catch them on camera the campsite kittens were fun to watch, going mad chasing each other round as night fell.

18 & 19 July – to Tarifa and end of Stage 1

The last two days of stage 1 of my tour, routes and stats below; I felt very excited to be getting close to Tarifa, after what for me has been an epic pedal across Europe, from its Northernmost to Southernmost points.

–> 18 July – Cadiz and Conil de la Frontera
I travelled 61.65km today, but only pedalled about 51km, as I took the ferry to Cadiz from El Puerto de Santa Maria. Cycling into Cadiz from my overnight stop would have proved a very roundabout route, as cyclists aren’t allowed over the bridges. I decided to split the ride down to Tarifa over two days, to allow time to see a bit of Cadiz, and permit a more leisurely pace.

I thought the Catamaran ferry to Cadiz started running at 09.00, however it turns out it doesn’t start until 10.00 on Saturdays, so I had an hour and a half to burn by the time I arrived at the ferry terminal. El Puerto de Santa Maria was quite busy as I took a quick tour around its streets, with a bustling market, and lots of people eating breakfast in the many street cafes. At the market I saw a couple of stalls selling Prickly Pear fruits, and watched a lady deftly peeling pears one after another, in rapid succession, using a short knife; they look a bit like kiwi fruit when peeled.

After a swift look around and realising I might have been here before, when I visited my brother at flying school in Jerez several years ago, I returned to the ferry terminal and bought a ticket; very reasonable at €2.85. The ‘voyage’ over to Cadiz only took about 20 minutes, but it was lovely to be on the sea, with a cool breeze, and the deck gently rolling in the swell. If I wasn’t cycle touring I’d love to sail around the coast; bit more expensive though. Smaug wasn’t particularly happy about being out on open water, so I left him below decks in a cubby hole for the duration. I was privy to some great views of Cadiz during the crossing, and saw lots of small boats bobbing about, either fishing or sailing.

Once off the boat I visited to the nearby Tourist Information Office to get a map, and also checked with them about cycling East out of the city; yes it was alright to cycle on the Autovia for a bit. The ancient city of Cadiz was originally founded as far back as 1104BC, by the Phoenicians, although some say the city was founded by Hercules after completing his 10th labour. The Phoenicians were a massive trading culture around the Mediterranean, from 1550BC to 300BC, and sound pretty advanced for their time; I wouldn’t be surprised if archaeology that can be attributed to them has been blown ISIS recently, b*st!!ds! Of course the Romans also figure in its history, as do the Carthaginians, so a really interesting place to visit.

I spent a few hours wandering about, taking in the cathedral, the narrow city streets packed with small shops and people, several parks including a lovely botanical garden, and the city’s several beaches as I cycled a circuit around perimeter. The beaches were packed with people basking in the sun; I don’t see the attraction myself, however the beach volleyball was entertaining to watch for a bit. I also passed several stalls selling Churros, and really must try some soon; they’re like doughnuts – fried dough, cooked fresh, and often served with chocolate sauce.

Cadiz is definitely a big tourist trap, and very busy, so it was quite a relief to make my way East and out of the city. I had to join the Autovia for several kilometres, to Chiclana de la Frontera,  as there’s no other road to use on the narrow strip of land that connects Cadiz to San Fernando. Although cyclists are allowed to cycle on the Autovia, it was still very busy. The hard shoulder was nice and wide but I had to be pretty careful but assertive when crossing the slip roads.

I stopped for a cheeky Mcdonalds in Chiclana, but shouldn’t have bothered as it wasn’t very nice, and the Wifi didn’t work which was a first for this particular fast food chain. It was only a short ride down to Conil de la Frontera, which turned out to be bigger than I expected, and a resort in its own right. The town was thronged but pleasant to walk around, and even better once I’d found a cold can of Kas (Fanta equivalent) to drink. There was a 3 piece band busking near the beach as a walked through, with a merry crowd of Spanish holiday makers dancing to the drum, trumpet and saxophone combination; I think the band may have been English, nothing like music to bring people together.

A couple of kilometres riding brought me to a campsite picked at random from the several situated around Conil de la Frontera; Rosaleda Camping. It has a good ACSI review, and to be fair the facilities and pitch were fine, but it turned out to be the most expensive campsite of the tour so far at €24. I couldn’t be bothered to find somewhere else, so settled in for the evening on my own private and well shaded pitch, enjoying a siesta before doing anything else. I hope this isn’t the beginning of expensive campsites as I travel up the South coast of Spain, however it could easily be the case; might have to throw in the odd wild camp to balance the books, however I’m not going to worry too much about it until after Tarifa; one day to go!

The stars were lovely and bright this evening, and I spent a long time lying down gazing up at them, enjoying the darkness and falling temperature. I really must give some thought as to exactly what I’m doing post Tarifa; I know I’m heading to Marseille, to hopefully meet up with old friends, and then on to Istanbul, but need to decide whether to visit Africa or not.

–> 19 July – Tarifa, end of stage 1
The day was finally upon me, the final leg to Tarifa and the end of this stage of my tour; I felt pretty excited when I woke up, but did faff quite a lot packing up, and was consequently a little late leaving. A late departure isn’t such a problem down on the coast, as it’s several degrees cooler than inland thanks to a sea breeze and the odd bit of cloud.

Conil was quiet as I cycled through it, and then on to El Palmar, passing fields full of cows regarding me suspiciously; at least they don’t have a tendency to start following me, or even chasing me on the other side of the fence, like they did when I toured in Scotland, don’t know what all that was about.

After Zahora I hit a steep climb up through a natural park, but in general it was fairly easy riding compared with the rigours of central Spain. I even cycled under cloud cover for a bit, which came as a welcome surprise; lovely cool breeze with moisture in the air. Other features of the today’s ride:

  • Snails on fence posts, thousands of them
  • Wind farms; Spain must produce a lot of its energy from renewable sources, which is great to see, especially after perusing a few recent climate change reports which aren’t happy reading in the slightest. I worry that it’s too late to reverse a lot the changes that are going to happen over the next few hundred years, with sea levels rising; what sort of world are future generations going to be left with?!
  • Fences made out of cactus; these make an excellent barrier to just about anything I imagine, and you get to harvest prickly pear fruit as a secondary benefit. Note: must include equivalent in my parallel novel idea.
  • Cycled past Trafalgar and its lighthouse, no naval battles in evidence today.

I had to head inland at Zahara, as the coast road stopped, taking the main road (N340) the rest of the way to Tarifa. The road was moderately busy, but fine to cycle on, especially with the hard shoulder to use. A French family passed me, slowing down to ask for directions to Tarifa; I pointed down the road and said ‘vingt kilometres’, slightly bemused at how they could be lost when there are lots of road signs, but happy I could help out.

After a final climb I came down out of the hills to a long stretch alongside the beach that runs all the way to Tarifa, which has various sections for windsurfers and kite surfers, but never the twain shall meet. I passed the Rio Jara campsite, where I intended to stay for a few days, before heading into town to complete this stage of my tour; Nordkapp, the northernmost point of Europe accessible by road, to Tarifa, the Southernmost point, awesome.

Here are some stats covering the ride from Nordkapp to Tarifa (haven’t included the few hundred miles I did in the UK):

  • Distance pedalled: 4,452 miles or 7,165km (need to double-check Garmin has counted it right but appears correct)
  • Number of days: 75
  • Average distance per day (including rest days): approx 96km or 60 miles
  • Number of rest days: urrr, maybe 3, need to check, people keep saying I should have more, and I will when I feel like one, but I enjoy the pedalling
  • Number of punctures: 5
  • Number of new spokes: 6 (all at once due to chain slippage spoke mangling incident)
  • Number of new chains and rear cassettes: 1 of each
  • Number of new saddles: 1 – the Brooks saddle has been a wonderful replacement
  • Min temperature: 0 degrees Celsius, although might’ve dipped below that some nights
  • Max temperatures: About 42 degrees Celsius
  • Favourite stop: Got to be Tarifa, however loads of great stops along the way
  • Next target: Probably Marseille area

I felt pretty elated cycling into Tarifa itself, letting out an involuntary whoop as I approached the beach and Isla de Tarifa. The island can be reached by a causeway, but you can’t get onto it without a permit as there’s a Guarda Civil base there, as well as a lighthouse. Crossing the causeway to the gate was enough of me, with the Atlantic on one side, the Mediterranean on the other, and Africa just 12km across the Straits of Gibraltar. I hadn’t quite realised how close Morocco is, it being clearly visible and almost looking within swimming distance; wouldn’t like to try it though, lot of ships and I bet the currents are pretty fierce.

I paused for quite some time at the end of the causeway, reflecting on my journey and the things I’d seen along the way. I’d made it, stage 1 of my tour completed, with a travelling Lobster, Smaug and the road being my constant companions, along with some great people met as I pedalled through 10 countries to get here (including England). It had been a journey of considerable contrasts, from the frozen North, with lakes covered in ice, and snow abounding, to the verdant stretches of forest in Sweden and down into Denmark and central Europe, amazing old cities, points of solitude followed by great companionship on the Camino de Santiago, and then hot arid stretches through Spain to get down to the cooler coast. Wow. One constant thing, as always, is just how friendly and helpful most people are when you’re on the road, often interested in what you’re doing and ready to assist should the need arise. The majority of the human race really are the same, good and hospitable people, often with their own stories to tell.

After a quick phone call to say hello to my parents, I made my way back into Tarifa town itself, watching a traveller lead a laden horse across the causeway; his horse was packed with tent and equipment in the same way Smaug is, I wonder where he’s travelled from. I took a stroll around, mostly taking in the old town which has a lovely atmosphere, with lots of small shops and restaurants, and with a lively atmosphere but in no way trashy like some coastal towns can get. Definitely looking forward to spending a few days here.

Feeling relaxed and happy I pedalled the few kilometres out-of-town to the Rio Jara campsite, my home for the next few days. It’s a great campsite, and not as expensive as I feared at €15  night, with a bar/restaurant, small supermarket, shaded pitches and access straight onto the beach. Once set up I watched the kite-surfers out on beach; lots of kites zooming back and forth. A bit later on several were careering up and down the river next to the campsite, doing some pretty impressive jumps in the process.

As night fell I could see many lights twinkling across the straits in Morocco, which appeared if anything closer in the darkness. I still need to decide what I’m doing next; Morocco is very tempting, despite a few Foreign Office warnings to the contrary, however it might be better to plan a more extensive trip for some point in the future. I’m also keen to start my journey back up to France to meet up with friends I haven’t seen in about 20 years. All stuff to mull over during my stay here.

Thanks for following my  blog thus far, I hope you have found it interesting and enjoyable. As always if you have any spare pennies please consider making a donation to the Big C via my charity page.

16 & 17 July 2015 – Seville and El Puerto de Santa Maria

Routes and stats for the 16 and 17 July below:

Bit of a blog catch up in order; I’ll try to be succinct, however there’s been lots to see!

–> 16 July – to Seville and Dos Hermanas
I didn’t want to get up today, but the fear of cycling later in the day, when it gets really hot, eventually forced me out of my tent and into the pre-dawn gloom. I say gloom, it wasn’t really gloomy, the sun just hadn’t risen over the mountains yet.

The descent from Monesterio was punctuated by climbs, as the mountains did their best to remind me they weren’t quite done yet. Trees made more of a regular appearance, and I found myself cycling through beautiful woodland at one point, a nice chance from the arid plains higher up.

I made fairly good time, averaging 20km an hour, despite a 700 foot steep climb prior to finally getting out of the mountains, that left me very hot and two water bottles down. On the way up I passed a lot of road cyclists going the other way, who all shouted encouragement which was nice; I love the bond between cyclists on the road, everyone looks out for one another and is generally friendly. I was welcomed to Andalusia by a herd of horses that galloped alongside me for a bit, pretty cool.

I stopped in Las Pajanosas for a break, buying a drink and pastry from a small supermarket; 1.5 litres of cold milk didn’t last very long. It felt a bit like I was back in civilisation as I started to pass through more modern looking towns, with more cars and people. The road flattened out as I approached Seville, and got steadily busier and harder to navigate as I finally bid the N630 farewell, and tried to find the cycle path into the city; I did, but after a few wrong turnings.

After locating a Tourist Information office, and picking up a map, I took a slow walk around the city taking in its various sights and sounds (and smells, not all pleasant). My walk was punctuated every few hundred yards to stop to buy a can of cold drink; this got a bit expensive, but I was beyond caring due to the heat – my internal thermostat was sending out warning signals. At least Seville has lots of shady spots (not shady as in risqué, shady as in cool) to pause in before the next sunny bit. I found the Cathedral, the old Arabic Palace – the Alcazar, and several lovely plazas, before coming upon a Costa which pushed aside sight-seeing motivations for a bit. I don’t often frequent coffee shops, however they do fruit coolers, which felt like a fitting reward for reaching Seville, so I stopped for lunch and used their free wifi. It reminded me a bit of coffee stops with Lu, and I know she would have loved the city with all its old buildings and history; when we visited Cyprus she dragged me round most of the archeological sites on the Greek side of the island – you can get a bit bored of holes in the ground and mosaic remains after a while!

On my way out of Seville I visited the Plaza De Espana, a square built in the 1920’s, and pretty spectacular. It’s situated in the Parque de María Luisa, has a large fountain, boating canals, and is enclosed on one side by a large continuous building; town hall and government buildings. The half circle of buildings represents the four kingdoms of Spain, with tiled alcoves for each of the provinces; a nice place to pause and cool down in the fountain, even if you do have to pay a 50 cents premium on a can of drink. Lots of other people were also taking advantage of the fountain, which regularly sprays large clouds of fine water droplets over the surrounding area, blown by the wind, and was very refreshing.

After the delights of Seville, well worth a visit, it was back on the busy road to find the campsite in Dos Hermanos; Villsom camping. I cycled through the rest of the Parque de María Luisa, a lovely spot to chill out in, then joined a cycle path alongside the main road for the first 10km out of Seville. I missed a turning at one point, and had to double back and cross over a couple of motorways, but made it  after 15km of very hot riding.

Villsom camping did the job for an overnight stay, but I wouldn’t want to stay there for any longer. Reception weren’t friendly, always a bad sign when they seem put out to have customers, the wifi was rubbish, and the pitches a bit bad for tents. It did however have shade, and a swimming pool, which helped alleviate the extreme conditions somewhat.

I cycled to a nearby Hypermercado to get some supplies, and was somewhat dumbstruck by the  sheer size of the place, and selection of goods on offer; the air-con was also very pleasant. After that it was back to the campsite, a couple of beers, and a chat with a Dutch couple who have toured extensively; by camper van not bike. He used to work for the EU and had some interesting stories about mediating between rival factions in Sudan, and told me about the cisterns in Istanbul which sound like a must visit. I went to sleep listenimg to a group of French ‘kids’ playing guitar in the pitch next to mine, lovely.

-> 17 July – to El Puerto de Santo Maria
Today won’t go down in my touring annals as a particularly noteworthy day. I covered 114km yesterday, and 101km today, however the latter were definitely duller, and smellier, the highlight being reaching the coast again.

I set off early from Dos Hermanos and Villsom camping, keen to be away from a not particularly great overnight stop; it had been far too hot all night, not going below 30 degrees Celsius. I joined the NIV heading South, but after a few kilometres turned off to follow smaller roads through farm and marsh land; this is where the smelliness came from. I think there were a lot of peppers and tomatoes being grown. There was lots of interesting birdlife to watch out for, but I couldn’t tell you what most of them were; Egrets maybe.

After a while I rejoined the NIV and headed to Jerez de la Frontera, on a very busy road that luckily has a wide hard shoulder. It was mostly pretty dull and hot. Close to Jerez the NIV turned into an Autovia, that apparently I’m allowed to cycle on, and I did so to get into the city; if anything it was quieter than the NIV. I passed the airfield where my brother learn’t to fly aeroplanes, watching a light aircraft doing circuits; must have been a student learning the ropes.

I had a walk around Jerez, taking some time to cool off in the hot and slightly humid conditions. I visited the city several years ago, during a short break to see my brother, but couldn’t really remember much about it aside from its the centre of a lot of sherry production.

After some fruit and a few cold drinks I pressed on to El Puerto de Santa Maria, down on the coast, and was rewarded by my first sight of the sea after several weeks. Back in France I’d assumed the next sea I’d get to would be the Mediterranean, however it’s still the Atlantic to the West of Tarifa. It was lovely to reach the sea again, and several degrees cooler down by the coast; I stopped at the Playa Las Dunas campsite for the night.

Arrived at Playa Las Dunas camping in El Puerto de Santa Maria - bar close by

Arrived at Playa Las Dunas camping in El Puerto de Santa Maria – bar close by

The rest of the day involved a siesta, planning the route into Cadiz and the next couple of days, and shaving my beard off! It felt like the right time for it, as it was getting slightly irritating in the heat, not to mention unkempt. I would not however recommended doing this with just a slightly blunt razor; I feel much better for it, with the wind on my face, but it took ages. I also had to ditch my icebreaker cycling top which had developed holes, and appeared to be disintegrating slightly. It was sad to see it go, but I really couldn’t warrant it’s continuing existence; I probably should have burnt it for health and safety reasons.

Quick mention to the Playa Las Dunas campsite, a good stop-over even if the wifi wasn’t working. Good pool, and nice little bar close to my tent, and great can of Heinz Baked Beans to round off the day. Tomorrow it’s on to Conil de la Frontera,  the last stop before reaching Tarifa!

14 & 15 July – to Merida and Monesterio

Riding through central Spain is proving very hot work. The temperatures just keep on going up, meaning I can’t really ride past 14.00 at the latest as it gets just too hot. I’m still making good progress, and should be in Tarifa at the weekend, touch wood.

Here are my routes and stats for the last two days:

I forgot to mention this at the point it actually happened, but I’m over the 4,000 miles mark for this tour now, actually over 4,200 since Nordkapp. That’s an average of about 60 miles a day (96km), including rest days, which is about where I wanted to be. Then average has dropped a bit since Spain, but it had to really, given the conditions.

–> 14 July – to Merida
I felt well-rested after my tent pitch with ensuite experience, if a little lighter than expected in the wallet for it.

Goodbye posh camping spot

Goodbye posh camping spot

I’d been hearing noise from birds during the night, and recognised the squawking but couldn’t quite place it. The dawn light revealed the source; a barn owl had its roost in the tree next to my camping spot. As I packed up I watched it and several bats flying about as the sun rose, a wonderful sight.

I didn’t stop in Caceres on my way to Merida, as it would have taken a couple of hours and I didn’t want to end up cycling in the heat of the day. I’m also a bit saturated as far as taking in Spanish towns go, so decided to give this one a miss, and spend a few hours in Merida instead. The ride down to Merida was fairly standard for this stretch; plains, a few hills, dry, hot, some olive trees, and a few castles thrown in for good measure. I also saw cactus by the side of the road for the first time; prickly pears, but failed to stop and take a photograph.

I made it to Merida by about 11.30. and spent a couple of hours looking around. The narrow pedestrianized streets had a great addition; small water jets at regular intervals spraying a fine mist into the air, which really helps keeps things cool, and was very refreshing for a hot and tired cycle tourist.

Merida - water jets spray a fine mist, genius

Merida – water jets spray a fine mist, genius

Merida is the capital of the Extremadura region of Spain, and is another UNESCO world heritage site; there seem to be a lot of them in Spain. It’s a fascinating city to look around, with tonnes, quite literally, of Roman and Arabic history and architecture to take in.

The city was founded in 25BC by ex-Roman soldiers, and given the name Emerita Augusta, after the Emperor who ordered it built to protect the pass and bridge over the Guadiana river. As a result Merida has the largest collection of Roman monuments in Spain.

The old Roman bridge is very impressive, and is still used by pedestrians today. It’s over 700 metres long, with over 62 spans, and has been repaired by successive occupiers of the city; Visigoths, Islamic Caliphate, and then Spanish. On the Merida side of bridge and river you can see the old Islamic Fort, dating back to 713 when an Islamic army led by Musa bin Nusayr conquered the city, as well as most of the rest of the Visigoth Kingdom in Hispania, making it part of the Umayyad Caliphate. I think I’ll read up more on this period of history when I get back to the UK, as I don’t know much about the Caliphates and the period post-Roman rule.

The Caliphate were kicked out in 1230, when King Alfonso IX brought it back under Christian rule. It makes you realise how long the Christian versus Islam wars have been going on. They started way before this, and are still going on today, yet people on both sides are basically the same, really nice and hospitable when you get to know them, and the trouble caused by a minority stirring things up; a ridiculous state of affairs that really needs a big empire like the Romans to stop people from being stupid, although they did their fair share of butchering. Merida was last invaded during the Napoleonic wars, when unfortunately lots of the old buildings and architecture were destroyed or damaged, but still lots to see.

I didn’t pay to go into any of the old buildings or amphitheatre, as they were quite expensive and would have blown my budget, plus it’s a bit tricky with a bike with loads of stuff on it, however they were impressive enough from the outside. I stopped for a break in Burger King, enjoying the air-con and a fine burger which just about sated my hunger. It was so nice to be out of the heat for a bit; the temperature must have been close to 40 degrees Celsius.

After sightseeing I pedalled my way from Merida to the East of the city, where there’s a campsite. The campsite has had some bad reviews, but I found it to be fine, with a swimming pool and shaded pitches, and an onsite restaurant. Like a lot of these places if you come to them in off-season they’re often not up-to-speed and a bit run down looking.

I met 3 British bikers at the campsite, over a cold beer, and got chatting to them; Peter, Jan and Graham, who were on their way to Faro in Portugal for a massive motorbike festival. They were great company of the evening, chatting about touring experiences and life on the road, as several more groups of bikers turned up to camp also on their way to Faro. They kindly donated some money to the Big C, so thanks very much! In a sad turn of events Peter found out a few hours later that his ex-wife has just been diagnosed with Cancer, which came as a bit of a shock, and was odd because I’d been just been discussing my reasons for raising money for the Big C. Cancer really does affect so many people.

After a standard campsite meal of chicken, chips and a couple of cold ceveza I retired for evening, bidding the biking trio a safe journey down to Portugal; I almost expect I’ll bump at least Peter again at some point, just seems to be the way of things when you’re travelling. Incidentally, just found out River has made it to Madrid, so he’ll be on his way to Korea shortly.

It was still over 30 degrees Celsius at 23.00, so I had a bit of trouble getting to sleep, despite being tired from the day’s ride and needing to get up at dawn again for a long ride tomorrow. I need to cover over 100km to get down to Monesterio, where there’s another campsite; could be tricky, it being uphill, and in these conditions; I’ve just heard this heat wave is due to go on for another two weeks, however it should, touch wood, be cooler on the coast. A demain 🙂

–> 15 July 2015
Another day another 6am wake up call. It’s a bit odd getting up and packing whilst it’s still dark, but I’m used to it now, and at least it’s cool. I’ve no doubt I’ll quite happily fall into a getting up later pattern once it cools down a bit, however it’s nice seeing the sun rise every day.

I was a little anxious about today’s ride; it was destined to be quite long, with a fairly big climb, and it’d no doubt be hot again, that much you can guarantee. 110km normally wouldn’t be an issue, however the conditions make it feel at least 1.5 times that, and I want to avoid heat stroke at all costs. At the moment it’s still over 30 degrees Celsius until after midnight, so there is little respite from the temperature, but it’s manageable as long as you drink water constantly, interspersed with beer, or the odd sangria of course.

I pedalled off and rejoined the N630, just as the many bikers at the campsite were starting to rise, some of them looking a little hung-over. I rode back past Merida and headed South again, with just one more stop to go before Seville and the end of the N630.

With the weather as it is I’m very thankful I invested in a Brooks saddle back in Sweden. It’s definitely worn in now, and very comfortable; I dread to think how badly the old one would have been rubbing in this heat. I’d thoroughly recommend one to anyone thinking of long distance touring.

Today’s road gradually climbed, interspersed with the odd downhill then steeper sections. I cycled past Villafranca, then Zafra which had been a potential stopping point, passing fields of grapevines and melons, then mile upon mile of Olive plantation; the noise from cicadas in the Olive trees was almost deafening. I was going through water really fast, and valued my decision to carry an extra 2 litres today, even if it does make the load heavier.

I passed a family of travellers; can I call them gypsies or is that offensive these days? They were travelling by horse and cart, sun-browned and weathered from being out in the open all day. The young girls in the back cart were singing a lovely melody, their voices complimenting each other in wonderful harmony. I gave them a wave as I passed and was rewarded with smiles and greetings in return.

In Fuente de Cantos I stopped for a cold drink at a garage, consuming 2 litres of Fanta in an effort to rehydrate and cool down. I felt a lot better afterwards, and ready for the final section to Monesterio, before which I suspected there was a long climb. As I rode across the plain, with hills rising in the distance, I noticed a large bird of prey circling overhead. I’ve seen lots of Black Kites and Buzzards, but this was much bigger; I think it must have been an eagle, but I’m not sure what sort. The plumage under its wings was mostly white, with black wing tips, and having just had a search on Google I think it might have been a Short-toed Eagle. It could of course have been a vulture, waiting for me to fall by the wayside and become dinner!

The climb up to Monesterio turned out to pretty fierce, as anticipated, especially coming at the end of the day’s ride. I ended up climbing up it 2,400 feet, and felt very tired by the time I reached the top. I could have climbed further and visited a monastery further up the mountain, but thought I’d give it a miss. There’s also a museum of pork in Monesterio, however again I thought I’d save that one for a rainy day…

Monesterio looked like a nice small town, however I more appreciated the descent down to the campsite, arriving at about 13.30 to a friendly greeting and a shaded pitch. The ground to pitch my tent on was rock hard, as is normal for Southern Spain, and pretty sandy, but this was made up for by the swimming pool, which did wonders for bringing my core temperature down a notch or two.

After a siesta and some planning I had dinner in the campsite restaurant, avoiding chips for a change and going for the chicken (pollo) with roasted pimento; also snuck in a chocolate brownie desert, and a couple of beers, all for under €15.

A light breeze sprang up in the evening, which cooled things down a bit, and clouds even appeared for a while; a strange sight after so many days with a clear blue sky. Tomorrow it’s on to Seville; getting very close to the end of my Nordkapp to Tarifa leg now.

12 & 13 July 2015 – to Plasencia and Caceres

Wow it’s getting hot! I’m pretty used to it being warm, but the last few days have seen temperatures ramp up a notch as I cycle through central Spain. The hot weather is accompanied by an unforgiving sun, and a wind that rises in the afternoon and dries your mouth out, leaving you feeling dehydrated if you don’t drink constantly; I’m carrying a lot of water. The only solution is to start early and finish before it get’s too hot; I’m aiming to finish riding by 15.00 at the latest, getting up at 06.00 to ensure and early start. The Spanish lifestyle is dictated by these conditions, with stuff happening in the morning, then not a lot going on between 13.00 and the evening, whereupon everywhere comes alive again; kids and adults will all be up late taking advantage of the cooler temperatures. Even the Spanish are saying the current weather is exceptional though, with it due to go on for another couple of weeks!

Here are my routes and stats for the last couple of days:

–> 12 July – to Plasencia, a great day’s riding
I did some fast pedalling today, covering 137km in about 7 hours, including an ascent up to 1,202 metres, following by a lovely descent that resulted in my quickest 40km on Smaug. In total  I climbed about 1,200 metres, but descended about 1,600 metres, so the Mediterranean must only be around the corner, surely!?

It doesn’t get light until about 06.30 at the moment, and I struggled to wake up this morning, which might have been due to the cheap yet entirely satisfactory Rose wine I had the previous evening. I still managed to get going by 07.30, pedalling away from Salamanca and joining the N630 again.

The N630 runs alongside the autovia (motorway), but is much quieter, as all the traffic is on the bigger road. At times I didn’t see another vehicle for over an hour, so it’s a bit like cycling down a really wide cycle path. I did see lots of cows and bulls, and was somewhat alarmed when at one point a large number of the latter ran into the road being herded by a farmer to another field. They ran straight towards me as I pedalled straight towards them, wondering what to do. I was just about to turn around, or get off by bike and hop over the wall, when another farmer arrived with a big stick and turned them into the other field, accompanied by lots of shouting. He smiled at me and said something in Spanish. I nodded back and said thank you, relieved to have not had re-enact the Pamplona bull run with little in the way of escape options. I don’t think turning around and pedalling off would have worked as they were running pretty fast.

Early on I passed another cycle tourer, Pedro, who was mending a puncture by the side of the road. I stopped to chat for a few minutes and to see if he needed a hand, which he didn’t. Pedro has done a lot of touring and is also on his way to Tarifa. He did some of the Camino de Frances on foot earlier this year, but it hurt his knees and shins, so he’s back on the bike now; a wise decision, much more efficient form of travel. Pedro usually aims to ride 100km a day, but was stopping earlier today due to the heat; it’s entirely possible I’ll bump into him again further down the road to the coast.

I cycled onwards as mountains loomed in the distance, which was slightly worrying. I kept hoping the road would turn slightly West, to take me through a shallower section, but the big climbs grew inexorably closer until I was pedalling upwards for quite some time.

It being Sunday there were a lot of road cyclists out and about, mostly overtaking me or zooming downhill in the opposite direction. They all said hello, wished me ‘Buen Camino’, or said something else in Spanish; the same phrase each time but not sure what it means. There was also quite a lot of ‘allez allez’, sometimes from people just by the side of the road, which spurred me on to the top of the climb. I eventually made it, after a series of switch-backs and with no pushing involved despite the soaring temperatures, passing over the Puerto de Vallejera at 1,202 metres.

After that I got to go downhill for a while, towards the large town of Bejar. The scenery on the other side of the mountains was less arid, with lots more trees providing some shade, and with it more birds singing away, or in the case of the kites and buzzards lazily soaring about using the thermals. There are some different bird species down here which I’m going to have to look up; some of the bird calls sounded pretty unusual, almost something I’d expect to hear in the tropics.

I really enjoyed the descent down to Bejar, and beyond to Banos de Montemayor, however the road started to get busier, which I thought a little odd, until I found the source of the plume of black smoke I’d seen from further up the mountain. There was a lorry fire on the motorway which meant a lot of traffic was being diverted on to the N630. Many people had also stopped to watch the fire, which crammed the road up even more. To be fair I stopped too and watched for a bit, as a fire engine arrived and started to put it out, with clouds of steam rising off the burning wreck; I hope the driver got out alright, and that the lorry wasn’t full of pigs, as I’d seen several that were today, although not on fire when they passed me. I don’t think the lorry was a pig transporter, as I couldn’t smell any bacon, mostly just burning rubber and tarmac, which had no doubt melted due to the heat.

On the way down to Banos de Montemayor, which was a really enjoyable descent, I passed lots of houses with swimming pools, and 3 expensive looking cars, the drivers of which were enjoying the bendy mountain roads; there was a Ferrari and two American muscle cars – Fords but I didn’t catch the make. The all made an impressive noise as they tore up the road, and the drivers waved to me; still prefer my bike though. Maybe this area is where some of the Spanish rich live?

I also passed a few Pilgrims walking the other way, all looking a bit tired and hot. Whilst I was really enjoying the ride I wouldn’t have wanted to cycle up that mountain from the other direction, let alone walk it.

The last 30km to Plasencia were pretty taxing. I stopped at a garage to refuel on a bottle of chocolate milk and some fruit, then pressed on, completing a last climb over a particularly hot pass into the city. When the wind drops, and with the sun beating down, the temperature really rockets and I felt it as I pedalled down to the old Roman viaduct; dunking my head in the fountain really helped though.

After a pause, drenching by buff in the fountain, and downing another litre of water, I pedalled the last 3km to the campsite East of Plasencia; La Chopera, which I’d found using the ACSI app. The campsite is right next to the river which flows through Plasencia, and perhaps explained why La Chopera was much cooler; the receptionist explained it has its own microclimate, at least I think that’s what she said, and not ‘you smell’ or something similar (I probably did smell though).

The campsite was very crowded but I found a shady spot, just, and a nearby family lent me their hammer to aid with tent peg insertion into the rock hard ground. They were really nice, also supplying some ice-cold water, complete with ice cubes. With a mixture of bad Spanish, pantomiming and English I explained what I was doing, at which point they supplied more ice-cold water and I think suggested I see a psychiatrist.

After a bit of a siesta I washed the day’s dust and sweat out of my cycling gear, then visited the campsite bar for a cerveza or two whilst I used their excellent wifi to update my blog, as well as try to work out my route for the next few days; there’s a bit of a long stretch between Merida and Seville without very much, but I can always wild camp for an evening.

Post a walk along the river to stretch my weary legs, I had dinner at the campsite restaurant; a simple affair of pork, egg and chips, which just hit the spot. I hadn’t passed any open supermarkets today anyway, so was a little limited on options, it being Sunday. Whilst eating I got to listen to some classic 80’s and 90’s music, including ‘Don’t worry be happy’ and ‘It’s my Life’ by Dr Alban; awesome stuff that put a smile on my face and brought back some memories from holidays long past.

I retired to my tent relatively early, with the intention of rising early to avoid the heat again; we’ll see how that works out. Tomorrow it’s on to Caceres.

P.S. Ants are amazing creatures, watched some for ages today.

–> 13 July – to Caceres
A moderate 94km covered today, moderate in comparison to yesterday’s 137km anyway. After yesterday’s fun today was a bit on the boring side, and very hot and dry.

It was quite hard getting up for starters, especially after a restless night due to a very noisy campsite; it’s so hot during the day I think people are saving all their energy for the night-time. After a bit of confusion packing up my panniers as the sun rose, I managed to get everything in the right place, and was still on the road by 07.30. I pedalled back past Plasencia on a cycle path next to the river watching as the sun started to bathe buildings in the city in light; was going to be another hot one!

I rejoined the N630 and headed South once again, coming down out of the mountains and into what could instead be described as hilly terrain; lots of ups and downs anyway. The descent was lovely, as was the ride alongside the lakes fed by the Rio Tajo, where I watched a herd of cows walking along the edge of the lake, mooing quite a lot, and spotted several old ruins. The N630 diverted away from the motorway for quite a long stretch, and had a bit more traffic as a result, but was still nice to cycle on despite the hills, heat and dry wind.

The colours on the lake were stunning compared to the arid landscape surrounding it, and I saw several large splashes from fish as a cycled along; or perhaps it was Spain’s own version of Nessy. There were also two large railway bridges under construction, which looked a bit out-of-place in the otherwise remote and fairly inhospitable landscape; I think it’s part of a new high-speed railway link.

After passing more fields full of cows and bulls, but thankfully none on the road, I made it to Caceres by about 13.00, and had to cycle past the campsite to go into the city to get some cash. I successfully accomplished this, and a visit to Lidyl for some supplies, but nearly came flying off my bike a one point due to a hidden curb; luckily no-one saw so dignity intact this time.

I’d have liked a look around Caceres as there are lots interesting parts to it, many Roman, but it was just too hot and I was feeling a little light-headed as a result. Besides, I’ve seen a lot of old Spanish towns and cities recently and there’s only so much you can take in; will instead spend some time in Merida tomorrow. I headed back North a few kilometres to the campsite, and checked-in, happy to be out of the sun for a few hours, and to drink lots of water.

Caceres camping is expensive at €21, very expensive comparatively, but does have nice shaded pitches, and an ensuite bathroom with toilet and shower, and two sinks, one of which I used to keep my Sangria chilled. The campsite wifi is also pretty good, and each camping plot has a plug socket on the outside of the toilet block which was very handy. I had a fairly productive afternoon after a siesta, taking my pedals off and cleaning and greasing them, which seems to have stopped the annoying click on the right hand side; big relief as very irritating; thanks for the tip Phil.

I think I really needed a ‘time-out’ for the afternoon, out of the sun and not pedalling, and felt very relaxed and fully fit by the evening. I’ve also been in touch with a few of my Marseille friends and have plans to meet up with at least some of them in August; very exciting after 20 odd years!

Tomorrow it’s on to Merida, a short leg, then probably a place called Monesteria, before Seville on Thursday; getting close to Tarifa now.

Over and out.

10 & 11 July 2015 – heading South to Salamanca

It’s a bit odd cycling on my own again after around 10 days of riding with other people, but I need to make tracks down to Southern Spain, whereas Richard is continuing on to the end of the Camino de Frances. After that he’ll head down into Portugal and follow the coast around to Spain then France; who knows, maybe we’ll meet up again in Marseille, but more likely to be Cromer next year sometime!

Here are my routes and stats for the last couple of days:

–> 10 July – to Zamora
I was sad to part ways with Richard, however as I’ve already said I’m sure we’ll meet again. I’ve also heard from River who is still pedalling away somewhere behind us; not sure exactly where but he wants to try to finish the Camino de Frances, and get all the way to Santiago de Compestella before heading back to Korea then Japan – good for him.

I was up and ready to leave by 07.30, bidding Richard ‘Buen Camino’ then cycling off to find the road South. It turned out to be pretty easy getting out of Leon, riding West until I found the river then joining the main road that wasn’t the motorway.

Preparing to leave Hostal Boccalino in Leon

Preparing to leave Hostal Boccalino in Leon

Today mostly involved pedalling, a lot, in pretty hot and dry conditions. There wasn’t a lot to see apart from farmland, and at one point a glorious wide river. I wanted to get to Zamora, but could stop at Benavente if it proved to challenging. As it turned out my legs were in fine form after a rest day, and I covered around 165km; some of those weren’t entirely intentional!

Once out of Leon I took a side road to avoid the dual carriageway, and ended up riding through a field, but managed to get back on tarmac after a short scramble across a dried up-stream bed; added to the adventure. I also passed a large herd of sheep, the first I’ve seen in a while. Luckily their shepherd had them under control and they didn’t try to ambush me; lots of clanking from the bells they had on though.

I reached Benavente in good time, a pleasant but unremarkable town, and decided to carry on, taking another side route to avoid more dual carriageway, which probably added on 10 miles to the day’s ride; it was more interesting that the N630 though.

I pedalled past a lot of fields of sweet corn, with concrete irrigation channels keeping everything watered; there were hundreds of them, and water flowing everywhere. It  must be quite a challenge and result in quite a large water bill to keep everything growing. I also rode past acres of what I think were Mediterranean Oaks, and am wondering if they use the acorns from these to feed pigs. The area is famous for pig farming and the resulting bacon, or Spanish equivalent thereof; cured meat mostly, very tasty it is too. After a bit of a climb I rode over the River Esla, which had a pilgrim trail running alongside it. The river is pretty impressive, and reminded me of the scene from the Fellowship of the Rings where they’re all paddling, as opposed to pedalling, out Lothlorien.

After my roundabout route I rejoined the N630, which proved to be very quiet as all the traffic takes the newer motorway. It was mostly slightly downhill, with the occasional climb reminding me that riding in temperatures of over 35 degrees Celsius is tricky; lots of water consumed. I made it to Zamora, heading through the town in search of the campsite on the other side of the city.

After pedalling down a lot of tracks, and meeting a Belgium couple doing the same but in a car,  and also failing to find the campsite, I had to retreat back to Zamora; the campsite, in fact two of them, must have closed. I was pretty hot and tired by this point, however with the assistance of Google I located the pilgrim hostel in the city and headed there. It was a relief to pull up and receive a warm welcome from the hosts; lovely old building next to church, and nice and cool due to thick stone walls.

The Aubergue in Zamora is a ‘Donativo’, which means as long as you have your pilgrim credentials (phew) you pay what you can afford. It’s always good to turn up somewhere and receive a friendly welcome, and this has been pretty much consistent with all the pilgrim hostels I’ve stayed in. The host showed me around, and where to put my stuff, and pointed out the thermometer in the shade which read 35 degrees Celsius. After some pasta salad, bread, cheese and Marmite that I prepared in the hostel kitchen, I took advantage of the guitar donated by a pilgrim in 2012. It was lovely playing again after a couple of months without my guitar, and the acoustics were great in the old stone building.

The hostel has a curfew of 22.00, so after chatting to a few of the other visitors I headed out for a quick look around Zamora, accompanied by Marcus who hails from the Reunion Islands. Marcus is 49 and has been on the road, walking constantly, for 23 years. He has visited loads of places including South America, most of the countries in Europe, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and many more; I had a look at his passport and the number of stamps was amazing. He seems to mostly rely on the kindness of strangers, but tries to take the odd bit of work for a meal or accommodation, or busks with his pipes. He had some great stories and seems to be in love with his lifestyle, shunning materialism and just trying to get along with everyone he meets (my laptop and photo taking antics amused him). He’s also on his way South, having started the Camino in St-Jean-Pied-de -Port and heading to Seville.

Zamora isn’t a big city, and didn’t take long to walk around (especially at Marcus’ pace), so we made it back to the hostel before curfew. The dormitory was full (10 beds), and everyone wanted to get to sleep early to be up by 06.00 in order to start walking or pedalling, to miss the worst of the days heat. I found it a little tricky to get to sleep, despite having cycled over 100 miles, due to the chorus of snoring going on; Marcus had the right idea of sleeping in the courtyard! I read for a bit but did eventually doze off.

Tomorrow it’s on to Salamanca; really looking forward to that.

–> 11 July – to Salamanca
Much shorter ride today; just 74km taking about four and a half hours. I hadn’t slept very well  due to the chorus of snoring, but at least it was cool in the Aubergue. I was up at 06.00, which is turning into the norm, had a bit of breakfast supplied by the hostel, and was on the road/cobbled street by 07.00.