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.

3 thoughts on “14 & 15 July – to Merida and Monesterio

  1. toekneep

    James, do you have some R and R planned when you get to Tarifa? Riding in that heat sounds really tough. Something you said in that post struck a chord with me; “I’m also a bit saturated as far as taking in Spanish towns go, so decided to give this one a miss”. I recognise that feeling and sometimes it’s a sign of fatigue which would be understandable in those conditions. Take care of yourself. Really enjoying the blog and I am in awe of your progress. All the best, Tony.

    Liked by 1 person


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