Tag Archives: Spain

05 to 11 August 2015 – back to France and seeing old friends

Wow. Been a little while since I’ve managed to get a blog post written; warning, this is a long one and probably best consumed in chunks. This is partly due to having been a bit poorly, but also some long days riding on the way out of Spain, and latterly meeting up with old friends from when I lived in Marseille many years ago. I’m in Salavas now, a little town next to the Ardeche, staying with Chris et Carole on their farm for a few days; it’s very tranquil, although I might have to go and collect the eggs in a bit.

Here are my routes and stats for the last week. My Garmin crashed a few times, or turned itself off randomly, so some days have multiple entries, sorry!

If all the above links are a bit too much (they are for me), the summary is I’ve pedalled around 5,700 miles since Nordkapp and the beginning of May, over 9,000km, completed phase 1 which was the northernmost point of Europe to the southernmost point, and am now en-route to Istanbul, before returning to England. Still got around 4,000 miles to go, and it’ll be different again in Eastern Europe and Turkey, so lots of adventures to come.

–> 05 Aug – a long day to Pals
I covered nearly 172km today, one of my longest days to date, and the sort of distance I should really split over two days. It wasn’t entirely intentional; my carefully planned route had to be ditched due to encountering roads which I wasn’t allowed to cycle on, despite my Garmin planner telling me that I could. This meant I had to head back down to the coast after pedalling inland, then back inland, then wriggle around and over some hills; all pretty tiring!

I was happy to leave the hostel after another broken night’s sleep; I prefer my tent, despite the lack of bed. It was a simple exercise to extricate myself from Barcelona, along the coast and seafront using a cycle path. I rode past countless beaches and coastal towns, packed with holidaymakers enjoying the sea and sun; lots of nudist beaches too, seems very popular down here.

I made it to Malgret de Mar as planned, on the N11, then turned inland intending to head to Girona. It was all going well as far as Vidreres, up a few big climbs which woke me up a bit, however then I encountered a sign that informed me I was no longer allowed to cycle on the N11. This was a bit of an issue as I couldn’t see how else to easily get to Girona, and a campsite I’d found about 20km away. I saw one road cyclist just ignore the sign and carry on, however I didn’t know how far he was going and don’t want to get arrested, so turned off and had to head back down towards the coast. Needless to say I was somewhat miffed by the whole experience, with my plans in tatters, however after shouting at the wind a bit I made it over the hills and down to Lloret de Mar via the GI680. Oh, and my Garmin Edge crashed too, which didn’t help matters.

I followed the coast to Tossa de Mar, then on to Saint Feliu de Guixols. The change of route proved a mixed blessing, doubling the distance for the day, and with some fierce climbs, however the scenery was fantastic and on reflection I wouldn’t have wanted to miss it. The coastal route is absolutely fantastic, even if I did have to climb over 1,600 metres as I pedalled from cove to cove; my legs felt pretty strong though, which was a blessing.

I passed a cycle tourer going the same way, struggling slightly with a trailer on his bike. It was well over 30 degrees and we were both exceedingly sweaty, so it was good to pause and offer mutual encouragement.  A bit later on I encountered a couple of Recumbents going the other way, then another cycle tourer with the same set up as me, so the number of tourers is definitely increasing.

After a garage break to refill water bottles I made it to Palamos, but then had to turn inland due to lack of cyclable roads…again; I’d hoped to join the C31 to Pals. There didn’t seem to be an obvious way to cycle up the coast, which left me feeling a bit hot and bothered, however swallowing my frustration I headed back inland and up into the hills, dealing with a long climb through a verdant forest, accompanied by the sound of nearby shotguns, and being passed by a couple of cycling clubs.

After climbing 600 feet it was a lovely long descent down to La Bisbal d’Emporda, however by that time I was feeling pretty tired and thought I’d better find a campsite. The nearest one looked to be next to Pals, rather than back towards Girona, and by the time I got there I wasn’t in a fit state to pedal any further, despite it costing over €45 to stay the night; most expensive campsite ever and not one I’ll go back to, ridiculous for a small patch of earth of a few hours.

My expensive small patch of earth - campsite near Pals

My expensive small patch of earth – campsite near Pals

At least they had a supermarket, and free wifi, albeit only for 5 minutes. Unfortunately I started to feel pretty queasy, and thought I had a migraine coming on, so after a yoghurt and some fruit I settled down for the evening; I hadn’t finished cycling until 19.00 anyway. On to France tomorrow, touch wood.

–> 06 August 2015 – vive la France, Argeles-sur-Mer
Despite the exorbitant price paid for a spot to pitch my tent I didn’t sleep too well, due to a migraine and upset stomach. Consequently I didn’t really feel like eating very much in the morning either, but decided to carry on and felt better once on my bike with a breeze in my face.

I was keen to get back to France after being in Spain for over a month, so set off from Pals across a large plain, before reaching the mountains once again.

It was definitely a ‘significant’ climb over to El Port de la Selva, then on to Llanca, ascending over 1,300 feet whilst still feeling below par. The scenery was great and I made sure I kept drinking lots of water.

After a few more ups and downs I reached Portbou, with one final climb to go before France.

It felt great to cycle across the border into France, especially after a fierce last climb during which lots of passing car drivers gave me shouts of encouragement; ‘bon courage’ etc. Looking at a map of the Southern coast of Spain again I realise just how long it is, so I’m pretty chuffed to have made it up from Tarifa and back into France in under 2 weeks, and am now well on my way to Istanbul.

It was only a short ride to Ceberes then on to Banyuls-sur-mer where I’d hoped to stay the night, however unfortunately the campsite was ‘complet’ (full), the first time that’s happened to me whilst cycle touring, ever. Banyuls-sur-mer looks like  a very nice town, with a small harbour and aquarium, and had been recommended by my friend Tom who stayed there a few years ago, however with no campsite I was forced to move on.

I continued pedalling up the coast, past Port Vendres, then Couliere, all lovely looking coastal towns with old harbours, beaches and castles. Then I finally made it out of the hills and down to Argeles-sur-mer, a massive tourist spot with loads of campsites; I’d already passed several others than were ‘complet’.  It was extremely busy in Argeles however after visiting the Tourist Information Office I managed to find a campsite on the outskirts; an island of calm in an otherwise hectic town. It was very much a relief to find somewhere to stay, as I was feeling pretty wiped out due to the migraine, and not in small part due to the hills.

After re-taping my handlebars I relaxed for the evening, eating some bread, cheese and salad, and chatting to an Italian cycle tourer who turned up just after me, having also had trouble finding a campsite. I think I’m going to have to avoid the coast for a bit as it’s just too busy, however I’ll have to check route possibilities.

Good luck to Stefano in tackling the Pyrenees up to San Sebastian!

–> 07 August – to Port La Nouvelle
My journal entries get a bit sketchy for the next couple of days, due to being a bit more poorly than I realised. I still managed to make progress, however felt pretty wiped, and realise I must have picked up some kind of stomach bug, perhaps from bad water somewhere. My appetite was non-existent, and I felt pretty dehydrated despite drinking loads, so was looking forward to some downtime.

I rode around 70km today, and some of it was on Eurovelo 8, a route that goes all along the Mediterranean coast if you can find it. To be fair the route is mapped, it’s just not realised everywhere as yet, however it was good to cycle the bit of it that was signposted. The EV8 signs continued as far as Leucate, with the path avoiding a very busy road which was a relief. There were loads of other cyclists using it, but not as many waves as in Spain; probably because these were mostly tourists out for a bimble and not tourers or roadies.

At Leucate I rode over the bridge and channel between the sea and lake, then on to La Palme. Unfortunately the campsite at La Palme was already full, however after a short ride down the road to Port-la-Nouvelle I found plenty of space at the Camping Municipal, and it was only €10 a night which was a win.

I absolutely had to do some washing, and was feeling a little better, so hand-washed a load of stuff including my sleeping bag, which after a couple of months was sorely in need of a clean! Handily it was hot and everything dried quickly, however my top tip for the day is to not drop your sleeping bag in the sand just after you’ve washed it…d’oh!

Laundry completed I had a cycle around town and then did some planning, arranging to meet up with French friends over the next few days, and hopefully my second cousin and her family tomorrow.

I forced myself to eat something, but still wasn’t really hungry, and think in hindsight that was probably an error; passed a rather uncomfortable night between my tent and the toilet!

–> 08 August – to Laurens
Hopefully you’re still with me; bit of a long blog post however good to catch up, and easier to do it in one. Might have to take a break in a bit to go help on the farm!

I rode 76km today, and thankfully it was a lot cooler and there were clouds in the sky keeping the sun off. I even had a bit if refreshing rain at one point. When I woke up I was in two minds whether to have a rest day or carry on, however in the end I felt sufficiently recovered to continue, which was probably a mistake.

After stopping at a Pharmacie and acquiring 3 sets of pills to help with my various ailments (French Pharmacies really are very helpful), I rode alongside the Canal de la Robin from Port-la-Nouvelle to Narbonne. It was a windy day however at least the path was flat, if a little bumpy.

After Narbonne it was on to Beziers, on some busy but manageable roads. I had thought I might  stop for lunch but still wasn’t feeling very hungry, and frankly had endured a pretty uncomfortable ride all morning due to my stomach aching plus feeling a bit sick.

The ride up to Laurens was accompanied by a bit of rain and a few more hills, riding through vineyards to my second cousin Richard’s house, where his daughter Sarah and her family were staying. I was feeling pretty weak by the time I reached Laurens, but didn’t think much of it until during a pause in the town square the world suddenly went a bit sideways. It felt like a big head-rush, a feeling akin to a massive migraine attack, and the next thing I knew I was lying on the floor next to my bike having briefly passed on. I must have slid down the wall as I tumbled as my helmet has a good scrape down the side. Two passerby helped me to my feet and I spent a few minutes sitting in the bus shelter before doing anything else. A weird and worrying experience but probably not that surprising having been ill and not eaten very much.

Cycling helmet a bit scraped but all good

Cycling helmet a bit scraped but all good

Thankfully I was only about 200 yards from my cousin’s house, so it was only a short walk to sanctuary for the night! I felt a lot better once I’d met up with Sarah, and Dom, and their children Indy and Briony, had a long drink of cold water, and later on some food which didn’t react badly with my stomach; good old cottage pie, peas and carrots! It was a good evening to spend indoors, with a big storm hitting and lots of rain. Great to catch up with everyone too, after several years; must stop meeting up with extended family only at funerals! A very relaxed and fun evening was had, and I slept very well.

–> 09 August – to Laroque
What a difference a day can make! After a solid night’s sleep, inside, out of the rain, and in the cool, I awoke refreshed and not feeling sick or with a stomach ache. Indy had been down to the boulangerie and returned with croissants for breakfast, which were most welcome with a bit of marmalade; excellent to have my appetite back.

After bidding goodbye to my excellent hosts, I left Laurens about 10.30, so a bit of a late start. I pedalled over the hill to Roujan, then up to Clermont L’Herault; riding was so much more comfortable today, again making me realise how under the weather I’d been, which I’d not really appreciated. The hills were biggish, but climbing them felt so much easier than yesterday, despite a slight headwind and the occasional ambush from goats or sheep.

I passed one particularly worrying sign, warning of sheep with wings; evolution gone crazy! It’s not a zombie apocalypse you need to worry about, it’ll be the flying sheep that get us for sure. Despite the sheep and their new allies, goats, it was lovely cycling through small French towns today, with the smell of baking bread drifting from boulangeries, and people nattering to neighbours from their balconies, having a lazy Sunday.

After Saint Andre de Sangonis I started up the Gorges de Herault, alongside the river Herault, taking in some great views. The gorge was packed with people relaxing by the river on rocks, canoeing or kayaking, or just swimming in the cool river. I had to deal with a long climb at one point, however it was all a pleasure now I was feeling better. I stopped for a break to watch people diving off rocks, and in one instance a high bridge, into the river.

The road continued on to Ganges, whereupon I turned left to Laroque and Camping Tivoli, to meet up with my friend Jean and his family; I hadn’t seen Jean for at least 17 years! It was great to finally catch up, and meet with his family; Noisette, Camille and Paul. Once I was set up it was down to the river, which runs next to the campsite, for a swim and a bit of Tarzan action on a rope swim; very refreshing after a hot ride.

A fun evening was had catching up, which did wonders for improving my French, even if I keep forgetting the odd word and replacing it with the English version; seems to work alright.

–> 10 August – day off in Laroque
I spent a couple of nights at Camping Tivoli in Laroque, with Jean and his family, so had a relaxing day off for some much-needed rest. We visited the Cirque de Navacelles, by car rather than  bike, and were able to look down upon it from atop a mountain.

Panorama of Cirque de Navacelles

Panorama of Cirque de Navacelles

The Cirque de Navacelles is an interesting feature, created by the river, and the surrounding area steeped in pre-historic history. People arrived in the area over 5,000 years ago, finding water up on the plateau in limestone caves, and carving out a simple agricultural existence, mostly involving sheep by the sounds of it. In contrast we were also passed by 4 Mirage jets flying down the valley, but at our level, and very close; an amazing sight but too fast to get a photo.

After a morning exploring, including some blackberry foraging, it was back to the campsite for more relaxing next to the river, and a bit more Tarzan action! We were joined by friends of Jean and Noisette in the evening, along with their children, so a bit of a party ensued. French hospitality is, as always, excellent, and I passed a very pleasant evening in great company. Sadly tomorrow it was time to leave, however only as far as Salavas for another break with friends; gonna take me a while to reach Istanbul at this rate.

–> 11 August 2015 – to Salavas
I was sad to leave Jean and his family, however I’ve promised not to leave it another 17 years before I return; Eurostar to Marseille is easy these days, so a visit is on the cards for next year! I was also looking forward to seeing Chris and Carole; haven’t seen Chris for about 17 years either, since our days in Luminy, Marseille; very happy times.

After fixing a puncture on Camille’s bike, packing up, and bidding everyone goodbye it was about 11.00 by the time I pedalled off, feeling relaxed and refreshed; thanks again all 🙂

Today’s ride took me through some lovely countryside, as well as more towns and villages; feels more hospitable than Spain, or at least easier to deal with, cooler too. From Laroque I rode up to Saint Hippolyte du Fort, with a few hills keeping things interesting, and with a few other tourers to say hello to. The road took me to Durfort, then Anduze, Bagard and the city of Ales; I pedalled straight through the latter and then up a valley passing lots of pretty villages.

Bananas and a quick baguette stop at a boulangerie kept me fuelled as I pedalled on to Tharaux; a slight diversion to this small village for another pause.

From Tharaux it was on to Barjac and into Ardeche territory, before arriving in the village of Salavas, prior to the town of Vallon-Pont-d’Arc. Salavas sits right next to the Ardeche, and Christophe and Carole’s farm right next to the river. I stopped for a cooling Fanta break before making my way to their farm, finding it next to a campsite (could be handy for the future); only took me one phone call to locate the right gate and avoid an electric fence.

It was amazing to meet up again, and Chris hasn’t really changed very much. It was also great to see what he’s done with the farm; Le Champ de la Riviere, which he and Carole have built from scratch. They have over 1,000 chickens now, as well as a huge pig, fruit trees and loads of vegetables growing. Everything is organic, and very tasty too I might add. I am always slightly in awe of farmers and how hard they have to work, and seeing the effort that they’ve put into building up Le Champ de la Riviere left me feeling the same. I work hard in an office, with I guess different kind of stresses, but a farmer’s life is physically demanding too; although I can’t help feeling it must be more rewarding seeing things grow and being able to put food on people’s plates. I helped collect the eggs , not a small tasks when there are 1,000 chickens, and watched the pig get fed, then it was back to the house for a hearty pork casserole, with all the ingredients coming from the farm.

I also got to taste some particularly smelly local cheese; nice, but perhaps an acquired taste, and I get the impression Chris tries it out on all his guests! Another relaxing evening ensued, with some guitar playing, just like old times, and a glass of rum to finish off the evening. I think I’m going to stay here a few days to restore energy levels, and to get some planning done for Eastern Europe; although when it comes down to it I’ll just end up heading East then down to Istanbul, and see what happens along the way – not worth over planning.

If anyone knows of a good bike shop in Marseille let me know. I’m going to have a look on the Internet anyway, as Smaug could do with a service before going on to Italy; probably not leaving here until the weekend anyway, we’ll see. Time to go and help collect the eggs again now.

As always any donations to the Big C gratefully appreciated, and will help keep me motivated, otherwise might just stay here: http://virginmoneygiving.com/james

03 & 04 August 2015 – a break in Barcelona

It was only a short ride from Camping 3 Estrellas to Barcelona, however here’s the route and stats in case anyone else needs to work out how to cycle into the city from that direction – about 24km:

I didn’t do any cycling on 04 August, opting to walk everywhere for a change.

It was a slightly convoluted route to get into Barcelona, avoiding a few autopistas and getting over a river or two. I followed a few local cyclists going in the right direction, and asked a couple of others who pointed me towards the right roads. Once I was in the outskirts I joined cycle paths which took me all the way into the centre.

I pedalled down to the waterfront, spotting a giant lobster which I’ve since learnt was created for the 1992 Olympics, and a monument that looked suspiciously akin to Nelson’s Column, complete with lions, but was in fact built to commemorate Columbus. The port area looked lovely, and I’ll visit it again if I have time, however to get to the hostel I turned away from it and up through the old gothic area.

I stayed at the St Christopher’s Inn Hostel for two nights, which is pretty much in the centre of Barcelona, not far from the Placa de Catalunya. It proved very convenient for walking to several of the city’s attractions, as well as being comfortable and laid back, with a restaurant attached which was very reasonable; 25% off food if you’re staying at the hostel. Once I’d arrived I had to wait until 14.00 to check in, time well spent enjoying a large salad and celebratory pint; reaching Barcelona felt like quite a milestone, with only a couple of day’s riding required to get to France.

After food, checking in, and a bit of a siesta, I went for a wander around the Old Town, complete with its many gothic buildings, and La Rambla street which runs from the Placa de Catalunya to Port Vell; a tree-lined pedestrian walk that runs down the centre of the street with lots of stalls, restaurants and street performers. There were lots of very talented buskers taking advantage of the great acoustics created by the high stone buildings and winding narrow streets; a horn player near the Cathedral gave a wonderful rendition of Ave Maria. I took a look around Barcelona cathedral, meeting the 13 famous geese, and taking a pause in the cool interior; a moment of reflection.

After the cathedral I meandered around more of the old streets, stopping to watch an excellent tumbling act that also gave a Capoeira demonstration (Brazilian martial art), then getting some chicken satay noodles from a street vendor for dinner.

I ate my noodles, followed by some fruit you’ll be glad to hear, in the Placa de Catalunya, watching lots of people also having an evening snack, or relaxing near one of the many fountains.

Then it was back to the hostel for some downtime and blog updates; hadn’t realised how tired I was so think they’ll be quite a lot of snoozing on this city break!

Day 2 in Barcelona involved a lot of walking, having abstained from cycling for a day to use alternative muscle groups; very nice it was too. I had a somewhat interrupted night’s sleep, the joy of sleeping in a dorm, due to other residents arriving back at 02.00, 03.00, and then finally about 05.30. I can’t say I blame them, Barcelona is definitely a party city with a lot of very good clubs and bars; apparently there’d been some shenanigans going on in a local swimming pool which the police turned a blind eye to. The hostel does a simple but hearty breakfast, included in the price, so after carb loading I set out to explore, heading up to the Sagrada Familia, before walking on to Parc Guell.

The Sagrada Familia was designed by Gaudi, and is still under construction; I think the cathedral is due to be finished around 2026, so maybe I’ll come and look around it properly then. I had intended on going inside today, however upon arrival was told that the next available entry tickets were for 17.00, 9 hours away, so I thought I’d give it a miss; didn’t fancy walking all the way back. In hindsight I should have realised Barcelona’s tourist spots would be absolutely rammed, however I hadn’t thought the waiting times would be quite so bad, and had arrived relatively early.

Park Guell is another work by Gaudi, on Carmel Hill, and somewhere I’d also advise you buy tickets for in advance; only a 2 hour wait for the central bit, but too long for me. I’m still undecided as to whether I actually appreciate Gaudi’s style or not; it’s certainly intriguing, but a little ‘blobby’ in places; I’m probably being a Philistine. You have to pay for he inner bit of the park, with its monuments and mosaics, however I was happy to walk around the extensive outer bits, taking in the views and again listening to some fantastic busking; was a long walk up the hill though.

I observed a touching moment whilst walking around the park; a young blind girl had been attracted by the music being played by the busker in the above photo, and was introduced to the musician by her father. The musician took her hand and let her sit and feel the shape of his guitar type instrument; not actually sure what it’s called. She was all smiles and obviously somewhat enchanted by the strains of his music, lovely.

I made it to the mirador (view-point) at the top of the hill, then meandered back down again, over a few of the viaducts and listening to more of the music.

Post Park Guell I returned to the hostel for lunch, through one of the city’s food markets which smelt lovely. The size and ripeness of the peppers out here puts the ones we getting the UK to shame, and the range of fish and charcuterie is outstanding.

Mercat de la Concepció, Barcelona

Mercat de la Concepció, Barcelona

I decided to take it easy in the afternoon, wandering down La Rambla again, then back through the Old Town, the latter being my favourite bit of Barcelona so far. There were some intriguing cosplay street performers to be seen on La Rambla.

I stopped at the Picasso museum, but rather than paying €14 to go in I had a look in the shop, where I could see most of the artwork reproduced in the form of postcards; nice old building though, and cool, offering some respite from a hot day walking about.

I had a siesta when I got back to the hostel, rather than do any washing. I’ve been waiting for the washing machine to be free, however it never is, so my manky clothes are just going to have to wait for a campsite; stuff will dry and air better outside anyway. At least I’ve given Smaug the once over and everything seems to be in working order, ready for France.

It was nice just chilling out at the hostel for a bit, chatting to a few other travellers and reading a book; I’ve finished Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovitch now, an excellent read – will have to download something else, any recommendations? There are loads of Australian and Kiwi travellers in this hostel, as well as a fair few Americans, all doing a European Tour. It’s great meeting such a wide range of people and hearing some of their travelling stories; makes me realise there is still so much more of the world to explore.

To round of Barcelona I nipped out for an evening wander, finding an ace kebab shop, then returning to the hostel for a Mojito. The nighttime temperature is really comfortable, hovering at about 20 degrees Celsius, so I can see why most activity happens later on. Tomorrow it’s on to Girona; route not 100% confirmed – I’ll make it up as I go along and see where I end up.

Barcelona definitely in the top 10 cities for the tour, if not the top 5; well worth a visit.

P.S. Never seen so many selfie sticks here, and people posing for photos. It’s amusing watching some of the expressions people pull!

01 & 02 August – Salou (la Pineda), Tarragona, Castelldefels

Garmin all working again, routes and stats below:

–> 01 August – to La Pineda
Sometimes I look at the overall map of Europe, take a moment to savour how far I’ve come, what I’ve seen and experienced already, and review what I’ve got left to pedal. It’s been such a journey of contrasts already, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what Eastern Europe is like, not to mention Turkey and Istanbul. Who knows who I’ll meet and what adventures I’ll have along the way. I’d best not get ahead of myself though; still got a bit of Spain to finish, and then some downtime in France.

After more overnight thunderstorms and rain, accompanied by some very impressive forked lightning shooting across the sky, I was up and packed by 08.30, but had to wait for reception to open at 09.00 to pay up before leaving. One of the chores of cycle touring is definitely the packing up each day. I don’t mind making camp, but packing everything up again in the morning can get tedious, especially when your stuff is a bit damp from the humidity or rain.

A bright day meant the suncream was back on, however at least it was still cooler, and fresher after the storms. I pedalled off to Ampolla, then over the river to L’Aldea as the clouds came in. Perhaps I shouldn’t have bothered with the suncream as it started to rain, quite hard, however after the heat and dryness of the last few weeks I’m still loving the rain. After a ride along the coast there followed a long climb up into the hills, through lots of terraced Olive groves and orchards. The ascent was somewhat undulating, and pretty tiring, however I received some stalwart encouragement about halfway up form a cyclist on a sleek road machine; lots of ‘allez allez’ action. I reached the top at El Perelló, then joined the N340 to scoot back down the hill to the coast again; a lovely long descent, past a power station and through some nice hills to L’Hospitalet de l’Infant.

The rest of the ride took me past a lot of beaches, packed with holiday-makers, and several coastal towns. There are loads of French on holiday here; must be a very popular getaway spot being not far from the border, by car anyway; takes a bit longer on a bike. I stopped in Cambrills for some lunch from a bakers, consuming a great slice of vegetarian pizza, packed with onion and red peppers; was delicious hence the mention. Then it was a slow pedal along the coast to Salou, and then La Pineda and my campsite for the night. I was able use cycle paths or ride along promenades for much of the latter part of the ride, which made for a pleasant break from the busy road, however I did have to be careful not to run anyone over; people walk oblivious to anything coming there way in cycle lanes still, just like the UK.

La Pineda camping is a fairly good campsite, but very expensive at €32; that’s more than a hostel in Barcelona! I think the whole Salou area is pretty expensive, and there wasn’t, as far as I could tell, another campsite close by, so I bit the bullet and stayed. My irritation over the cost was exacerbated when the campsite restaurant closed at 19.00; a tad early I thought, however I managed to grab a take-away pizza before it shut – all they had on offer given time available.

At least the campsite wifi was decent, so I could catch up with some planning and deciding my route for the next few days. Almost certain I’m going to stop in Barcelona now; need a break before crossing over into France, and it’ll be good to see the city.

–> 02 August – Tarragona and Castelldefels
It took a bit of old school Metallica to get me going in the morning, and provide packing-up motivation. Some of my stuff is getting pretty manky, due to the heat, humidity and sweat; probably more detail than you need to know but I think it’s important to convey all challenges of life on the road. I’m considering either burning the smellier bits and buying new stuff, or when I get to friends in France giving everything a thorough wash; the latter will be more economical however not as safe as taking off and nuking the site from orbit.

Happy Birthday Anna, from me and Travelling Lobster

Happy Birthday Anna, from me and Travelling Lobster

After texting my niece, or rather my brother, to wish her happy 2nd birthday, I pedalled the short distance to Tarragona, on quiet roads; not much traffic on Sunday mornings. Tarragona proved nice, with some old Roman ruins including an amphitheatre, and good sea views. There appear to be Roman ruins all along this bit of coast.

There were lots of cyclists out today, leading to a high Hola/Allez-allez/Vamos count – approx 26 I think. The ride along to Cala Romana, then inland to La Mara and Altafulla was pleasant, but the traffic got heavier so I swapped the main road for the smaller roads next to beaches. This had its own challenges with regular speed bumps making me wince as my panniers creaked and bike shook with each jarring bump. The route was more wriggly, but had some nice sections either next to or on promenades, passing a lot of beaches.

On I pedalled, through Creixell, Calafell and Cunit, then Villanova and down to Sitges, once a fishing village and now another thriving tourist destination. I had a walk around the latter, enjoying the shaded streets, even if they were packed with people. I bumped into a rather ragged looking cyclist coming the other way; an old fella with a mountain bike that had seen better days, but that he’d thoroughly customised with bits of string, wooden handlebar extensions, and ‘custom’ panniers, with a few pans hanging off the side.  He seemed pretty excited to stop and have a chat, in fairly good English, and spent some time examining my ergonomic handlebar grips with the intention of sanding his down to match their shape. He told me the route over to Marseille is ‘a lot up, then nice down’. I’m not sure how long he’d been on the road for, however I suspect that’s how he lives, given his appearance and rather threadbare look; shouldn’t make assumptions however, he might be a millionaire for all I know, would have been interesting to hear more about his journey through Europe.

The coastal road from Sitges to Castelldefels was picturesque, but unfortunately very busy. It was still an enjoyable ride, and obviously popular with roadies; was passed by quite a few cyclists going both ways. A few expensive sports cars also roared past; at least one Ferrari, and a Masurati. The expensive cars, coupled with the expensive looking yachts and motor cruisers down on the sea, led me to believe there’s quite a lot of money in this part of Spain; guess I am close to Barcelona now. There were some lovely views out over the Mediterranean, with hills to my left and a cliff down to my right.

The campsite in Castelldefels, the 3 Estrellas, proved a good one, and cheaper than the previous night. The 3 Estrellas is right next to the beach, and the last campsite before Barcelona. It’s also pretty close to the airport, so don’t stay there if you get irritated by the aircraft noise (I don’t). I set up then took a walk along the beach; they have a windsurf hire shop on the campsite, and by the sounds of it the location benefits from a pretty consistent wind (chatted to one of the staff); would have been good to get out on the sea if I’d been staying a bit longer, although I’d probably have spent most of the time in the sea and not on the board. You can hire kayaks and stand-up paddle boards too, as well as fat bikes, so lots of fun to be had.

With about 15 miles to go before reaching Barcelona I finally got around to booking a hostel for a couple of nights; Hostel St Christopher near the centre, which allegedly has bike parking. I decided on two nights to allow for some sightseeing, and to maybe get a haircut, and do a bit of bike maintenance; new rear brake pads needed. I also need a mental break from the camping routine, and it’ll be nice to enjoy some air-con and a real bed, albeit in a dorm; I bet I’ll be missing my tent after 24 hours!

I had another look at my route through France and down to Istanbul. I’ll be having at least a week off in France as I visit friends, following a bit of a convoluted route as they don’t all live in Marseille anymore; it’ll be worth it though. This leaves me slightly concerned as to whether I’ll have enough time to cycle all the way back to the UK post Istanbul, however I really shouldn’t worry, as I can always extend my tour by a week, or jump on a train for a bit. I’m not going to think about it and just enjoy the flow and experiences coming up; more mini adventures needed along the way too.

30 & 31 July 2015 – Benicasim and Sant Carles de la Rapita

I don’t have recorded route/stats for 30 July, as my Garmin crashed and needed a factory reset, however I’ve plotted the route I took and included the link below, along with a link to the 31 July ride:

–> 30 July – to Benicasim (Azahar camping)
I probably cycled about 130km today, partly due to a wrong turning which nearly took me on to an auto-pista, because I wasn’t concentrating. Lets call it 120km to be on the safe side; I don’t know for sure – as mentioned my Garmin crashed. At the moment I’m using a large-scale map which doesn’t show all the roads I pedal down, and misses out quite a lot of the smaller towns and villages. Having my Garmin break caused a slight issue on the navigation front, however I can’t go too wrong as long as I keep following the coast North East; just gets tricky where lots of roads converge or diverge.

I packed up after a relatively good night’s kip, with no storms having made an appearance quite yet. Piers supplied a cuppa before I rode off towards Valencia; much appreciated, thank you. It was a nice ride along the coast, with the landscape getting a lot greener, and the appearance trees in abundance. A bit of cloud cover helped keep things cooler; the ‘cover’ steadily built all morning. There were a lot of road cyclists out, mostly ‘senior’ clubs by the looks of it; guess a lot of retired folks as the younger generation would be working. The density of fellow cyclists led to a high wave/ola/allez-allez density as I approached Valencia, at one point having to dodge around a Mini with a bent axle; the wheels were at a very odd angle.

On route to Valencia; lots of trees!

On route to Valencia; lots of trees!

Just outside Valencia I diverted away from the coast to visit a Decathalon, continuing my search for a hammock; sadly they were out-of-stock, again. I think I’m going to give up until France, unless I pass another one directly on my route. The diversion set me up nicely to cross the city in pretty much a straight line. I opted out of a site-seeing circuit, having been advised there wasn’t an awful lot to see, at least not compared with the likes of Salamanca or Leon. Valencia was busy but easy to cycle through, however it did start raining as I pedalled along; whilst very refreshing I had to seek shelter when it turned torrential, to avoid getting completely drenched. The rain was brilliant as it dropped the temperature to about 23 degrees Celsius, which was sheer bliss after riding in the mid to high thirties for so long.

A long ride to Castellon de la Plana followed, which was mostly quite boring, passing lots of fields of orange and lime trees, as well as plenty of olive groves. As already mentioned my Garmin crashed and wouldn’t restart, and I took a wrong turning which nearly had me pedalling down a motorway (River would have been proud). Luckily there was an exit just before the auto-pista properly started and I was able to loop back around and on to the correct road.

There was one dramatic bit, I think in Port de Sagunt, where I initially thought the thunderstorms had returned. It turned out to someone setting off a load of fireworks from on top of one of the tower blocks, with plenty of artillery barrage type affects going on. I don’t think many of the locals would have been very impressed, but it entertained me for a bit; it was probably kids, due to it being broad daylight.

I made it to Azahar camping for about 16.00. Azahar is just next door to Benicasim, another coastal town with beaches and lots of hotels. I set up in a nice shaded spot, which wasn’t so vital today due to the cloud cover, then visited the local supermarket for supplies.  I spent a relaxing evening doing some planning and updating my blog. I think I’ll reach Barcelona either on Sunday or Monday; will probably stretch the ride out until Monday, then spend a couple of nights in a hostel to visit the city properly – hostels cheaper during the week. As always any plan is subject to change; could just end up cycling straight through and on to France if it becomes too much hassle.

Azahar camping

Azahar camping

A big storm hit later on in the evening, complete with thunder and lightning, which gave my tent a good wash, as well as Smaug; good to get rid of some of the accumulated dust. The water ran down the hill in torrents, and I was slightly concerned the small patch I was camped in might get washed away, however thankfully the water mostly ran around my tent. Rumblings of thunder and flashes of lightning continued into the night, along with heavy downpours, keeping things cool, although not mosquito free. I happy to report my the Hilleberg Akto remained dry throughout, despite the best efforts of Thor and his cohorts.

–> 31 July 2015 – to Sant Carles de la Rapita
A factory reset on my Garmin Edge 810 seemed to do the job, meaning that was up and running  ready for the day ahead, even if it did wipe all data on the device; thankfully I’d recently backed everything up to my laptop and online at Garmin Connect.

I discovered a bit of water had leaked in through the ‘varmint’ holes in the bottom of my tent; see previous blog post from Sweden (Vittangi), where my tent was attacked by a vole. Thankfully it was only a small amount and dried pretty quickly. Waiting for the tent to dry out and a slow pack up led to a late start, not leaving Benicasim until 09.30; positively decadent!

A Via Verde took me down the coast from to Orpesa, meaning I avoided a big climb and spent several kilometres off-road, enjoying a decent track alongside the sea. The Via Verdes run on old train tracks and are used by walkers, runners and cyclists. It was really nice riding along without any traffic, enjoying the scenery and cooler weather, and saying hello to all and sundry. There was even a longish tunnel to cycle through, although someone doing circuit training was blowing a whistle in it which was a little shrill. It would be great if there were more Via Verdes on my route, however sadly they seem few and far between; nice to take advantage when they do appear though.

Unfortunately the Via Verde ended and it was back to the N340, which was full of heavy traffic; I’m not sure why more of it doesn’t use the motorway which runs roughly parallel, perhaps it’s a toll road. Thankfully I left the busy road at Alcocebre, opting for a bit of an adventure along the coast which confused my Garmin due to riding on ‘unpaved roads’.

The coastal route ran for about 16km to Peniscola, through the Parque Naturel Sierra de Irta. The bumpy track, from which you can access lots of mountain bike trails, is mostly used by 4×4,’s or other cyclists. I was fine on my Oxford Bike Works Expedition Bike, but it was slow going, taking care to avoid the bigger rocks and pot holes to minimise the chance of spoke breaks or worse. I decided I didn’t care about speed today, especially after positively ambling along the Via Verde earlier, so just took it easy, enjoying the trail. It felt very peaceful and remote, being away from the main road with just the sound of the sea for company, and the occasional light rain shower keeping it cool. I said hello to the odd cyclist, and only saw about 4 cars, moving very cautiously, on the whole trail. Some great views, and it smelt wonderful; sea, seaweed, pines and just generally fresh. On one bit I turned a corner to see a father and young son dash naked into the sea, splashing around laughing, and being watched bemusedly from the shore by their mother; I pedalled past unnoticed.

I stopped for a break in Peniscola, sniggering slightly at the name (I know, infantile, but even the smallest thing can be amusing after a long time solo cycling…). It’s a picturesque town, with the older bit built on a peninsula that juts out into the sea; a walled town with castle sitting at the top. As usual there were tourists in abundance, eating ice-creams, enjoying the beach, or just generally bimbling about. I got into a slight fracas with a few kids with water-pistols, and had to use my water bottle as ammunition; luckily I was rescued by parents as was severely outnumbered with no chance of reinforcements or evac – they had me cornered on the sea front, and Lobster was hiding, damn that cowardly crustacean.

After cycling along the promenade for a bit and splashing through several flooded areas (good fun), I had to rejoin the main roads for a while. The N340 proved to be busy still, however I turned off it to the Alfacs campsite down by the sea, just west of St Carles de la Rapita; I kept wanting to say de la Raptor, sounds much more impressive.

I was in for a bit of a shock at the campsite; it had grass, something I haven’t been able to pitch my tent on for a long time! I could push my tent pegs in without the aid of a rock, and the ground had a vague spring to it, especially after the rain, bliss. I should mention that the weather today had been excellent, with the occasional rain shower again keeping things fresh, and clouds keeping the sun at bay. A drop in temperature and a bit of fresh air does wonders for one’s energy levels and alertness.

The campsite is right next to the sea, and has its own small beach area. Despite the pebbles I wasn’t deterred from a quick dip in the Mediterranean, my first of the tour amazingly. It was really refreshing, and the salt water helped stop irritating mosquito bites from itching. Then I decided it would be a good idea to wash my cycling gear again, which may have been an error given a massive thunderstorm hit shortly afterwards, complete with heavy rain. I watched for a short while then retreated to my tent whilst my washing got re-washed; it wasn’t very dry by the morning.

Evening spent doing some reading and surfing, from the comfort of the on site bar, over a couple of cevezas. On towards Tarragona tomorrow, Barcelona not far away, and more adventures to come.

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

Torrevieja

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: https://www.wattpad.com/story/35978309?

–> 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: http://trackleaders.com/transconrace15

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:

http://awanderingphoto.com/2015/07/21/commencing-the-great-peruvian-divide/

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!