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Over the mountains to the sea

Another quick update…

I left the hostal in Puente Genil after a good breakfast of coffee and toast with olive oil and tomato sauce. Rolling south I gradually climbed a little as the mountains came into view, but for the first part of the day I had a nice, strong tailwind. This seemed to be a constant feature as there was an abundance of wind turbines along the route.

After crossing the reservoir Embalse del Guadalteba-Guadalhorce my route took a sharp right and the climbing began in earnest. This is also where the lovely tailwind swept around the hills to become a headwind. Funny how that happens. I’m also convinced more than ever that when Michelin maps indicate a scenic stretch of road they simply mean steep.

Upon reaching Cuevas del Becerro, the climb got even steeper as the road headed up the side of an escarpment — similar to my experience heading up to Urbassa, but this time I had more daylight left to work with. The top of the pass came at 880 meters or so, and then I had a nice ride — mostly down — toward Ronda. I stopped at the first campground I saw, about 3 miles outside of the town itself and spent the night in the tent.

I enjoyed an end-of-the-day cup of coffee at the campground bar while a host of children loudly enjoyed a Christmas party, complete with waiter and waitress in Santa outfits.

My appreciation for a surprisingly un-cold night was dampened by rain, but the morning was nice and I packed up my wet tent to continue. A little further on I passed another campground which seemed a bit nicer than the one I had stopped at.

Ronda itself looked like a lovely city in a stunning mountainous setting. It also is clearly a tourist town. I saw busloads of tourists taking pictures of the town’s bull fighting ring, and there are more hotels, restaurants, and bars than you can shake a stick at. Continuing out the southwest side of town I passed yet another campground and saw signs for a possible fourth in town itself. No shortage of lodging options.

Ronda sits on a sort of saddle, I had crossed one pass to get into the area and then had another to cross to get out the other side. The second one took me up to 1000 meters and a desolate windswept landscape. The climb wasn’t too bad, though, and I appreciated the ride down the other side.

The descent took me down and up through valleys and ridges until suddenly I got a wonderful view right out to the sea with the Rock of Gibraltar on the coast and the mountains of Morocco far out on the horizon. I rolled on down to Gaucin where I found a really inexpensive hostal with a staggering view and decided to make it a short day. Also in Gaucin I ran into a pair of bicycle tourists from the Netherlands headed up the hill on a tandem. Forgot to get their names or picture, but they’re the first bike tourists I’ve seen since the American in Nantes.

The next day I didn’t have far to go and my warmshowers hosts in San Roque would not be available until 8pm, so I took a side trip up to the beautiful castle at Castillo Castellar. A colony of artists seems to have settled in the castle interior and it’s a great place to wander around in.

I arrived in San Roque at last and met Zigor, one of my warmshowers hosts, at a cafe near his house. I’ve had a great couple of days here, riding into the strange territory of Gibraltar and just relaxing and planning the next stage of my trip.

Tomorrow I’ll bike to Tarifa and catch a ferry from there to Tangier. Morocco awaits.




Madrid to Andalucia

A quick update before I forget everything and while I have Internet access…

I rode out of Madrid on a Sunday morning which was nice as the traffic was light. The most memorable thing was getting lost in a shanty town on the southeast outskirts of the city and then a new development which was not well marked on my map. But thanks to another bicyclist I found my way around the freeways and train tracks.

The first night I slept at a fancy and busy campground in Aranjuez. Felt like the KOA of Spanish camping.

Then I had a lovely day of riding in La Mancha: flat, sunny, light tail wind. Followed by a dreadful day of riding in La Mancha: gradual climb, cold and foggy, headwind.

The next day I finally broke out of the fog in the late morning, went up and over the edge of the plateau and down into the hilly, endless olive groves of Andalucia. This is the part where any half-respectable town seems to be built on the top of a hill and only approachable via switchbacks. But the riding has been decent and the views spectacular. I’ve spent the last two days riding through olive groves which run out to the horizon in all directions. It’s harvest time so I’ve also run into traffic jams of tractors and Land Rovers full of olives and field workers respectively. Stealth-camped one night in an olive grove without incident. Especially as I made sure to get up early to avoid any surprise visits from the harvest crews.

I’ve now made it to Puente Genil and face another range of mountains before I get to the coast at Algeciras.




To Madrid

I had intended to head southwest from Logroño straight over the next set of mountain ranges, but my cold night up at Urbassa made me think twice about that. Instead I headed west around the range toward Burgos.

The route took me through what is apparently prime grape-growing terrain as I found enormous vineyards and the occasional imposing structure of a large bodega. These often had large parking lots and I presume that when the weather is right winery tours must be a significant activity in the region. But although the sun was out, the weather was again cold and I saw relatively few wine tourists.

The land at first reminded me a great deal of California, with fairly dry vegetation between mountain ranges. But gradually the terrain sloped up to a high exposed plateau cut through every few miles by river valleys. The cycling was not particularly fast since in the plateau sections I faced a brisk headwind and each river valley involved a steady climb to get back out the other side.

I spent a night at an inexpensive hotel (seems they’re often called hostals) in Briviesca then rode on to Burgos the next day where I enjoyed a dorm room to myself at the local campground. I had planned to sleep in my tent, but it looked like another cold night. I took a quick look around Burgos in the morning and then rode over more beautiful high plateau to Aranda de Duero where I found a room in another hostal above a restaurant.

At Aranda I had to decide whether to go back east around the Sierra de Guadarrama or head southwest to go over the pass from Segovia. I decided to take the more direct route via Segovia. However I wasn’t keen to spend a night in the cold mountains again, nor was the traffic getting into Madrid appealing. So I chose to adulterate the “bike tour” part of my trip by catching the commuter train from Segovia into Madrid.

If I were a purist about biking, catching the train would not be an option, but this trip is not about setting records or proving anything. Not that I can quite put into words what it is about, but catching the train over the pass and into the city seemed consonant with the overall feeling of exploring the world by bike.

Segovia is another beautiful, fairy-tale city with a great cathedral, winding narrow streets, ancient walls, and an enormous aqueduct reaching into the old town. I was very tempted to spend a few nights there, but decided to keep moving since I was planning to take a few days off in Madrid.

For others considering mixing bike and train travel in Spain, getting a bike on the Cercanias commuter train is a simple question of finding a space for it and pushing it on — no extra charge. There were very few passengers out of Segovia, so this was simple. However, arriving in downtown Madrid was a very different question. Upon entering the city, the train goes underground and starts to feel more like a subway: crowds of people getting on and off during short station stops. If I were to do the trip again I would have gotten off the train in the outskirts of the city. Instead I took it all the way to the central station of Atocha. I then had to wrestle my fully loaded bike out of the train as a crowd of people tried to push their way on before the doors closed. Once off the train the only way I could find to get out was via an escalator. There must have been elevators somewhere, but I didn’t find them. Another passenger offered to help me hold my bike on the escalator and up we went. Then I found that my ticket from Segovia, while valid, would not open the turnstile doors to get out. Again, my fellow passenger came to my assistance, using his ticket to open the turnstile, then holding it open as we squeezed both of ourselves and the bike through.

Once out of the train station, finding my way was straightforward although Madrid seems to have none of the bike-friendly amenities of the northern Spanish towns.

My stay in Madrid has been wonderful. I’ve stayed with Bradley, a cellist with the Madrid orchestra, his wife Pilar, a nurse, and their son Sebastian, who’s studying nuclear engineering. Bradley took me to the Prado museum where we saw an astounding number of great paintings and an acquaintance of his snuck us into the Hermitage special exhibit. I also happened to arrive in town with excellent timing since Bradley was able to get me a ticket to the dress rehearsal of the Madrid Opera‘s production of Lady Macbeth of the Mtensk District by Shostokovich.

Now that I’ve spent a wonderful few days here enjoying the city and friends and overdosing on art, it’s about time to continue. I’ve sketched out a route to Algeciras and will start biking again tomorrow morning (Sunday).



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