Along the Road… Vila Nova to Malaga

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Vila Nova to Sagres – A long long long ride! (Feb. 21, 2018 / 105.5 km / 919 m / LINK TO ROUTE)

After our farm experience we were happy to be in the saddle once again and as we crossed the bridge we took one last glance at the quaint little coastal town of Vila Nova.  Watching the locals engage in the various water sports, we left feeling that this was a place we could easily come back to.  Little did we realize at this point that this day was going to be our biggest day of riding yet in terms of distance. Following the N120  was pretty uneventful and as we got closer to Aljezur which was the spot Ger had picked out for us to overnight, we changed our minds about stopping.  If we pushed through to Sagres, the town which is located near the most south westerly point of Europe, we could have a day of rest. This thought gave us the impetus to keep on going.

The last 20km were a bit of a push as we slowly and steadily climbed and then dropped into Sagres. it feels like there are no straight, flat long stretches of road in Portugal. We didn’t have a place booked but lucked into getting a $40 euro a night room including breakfast at a popular, Lonely Planet recommended, guest house called Mareta Boutique Hotel. The room was modern, clean, crisp and white and overlooked a square.  The breakfast room in the lower level offered a buffet breakie that was absolutely scrumptious, with fresh breads, fruit, cheeses and meat, granola and sweets. We ate enough to last us the whole day!

The best part of doing a long ride is getting to eat a lot of food; not only are we hungry for dinner but we find ourselves eating more than normal for the whole next day. Fortunately right beside our guest house was a popular pizza restaurant, where we devoured salad, pizza and beer after our ride.

 

Sagres – “Sacred Place” (Feb. 22, 2018 / 18.4km / 146 m / LINK TO ROUTE)

There is something exhilarating about reaching a point on a continent which was once known as  “the end of the world”.  After our 105 km ride, we were pretty exhausted, but we were able to muster up the energy to do the 18 km round trip meandering cycle out to the actual south westerly  point which is known as Cabo de San Vincente or Saint Vincent’s Cape. This Cape became a famous landmark as a maritime route linking Europe to Africa and America in the 13th and 14th centuries.The actual lighthouse, which was closed for renovations when we were there, was built in 1904 on the exact site of the main chapel of an ancient convent which was close to the remains of St. Vincent, a christian deacon who was martyred in 304 under the Roman siege and whom the Cape is named after. It was a sunny cool day and despite being low tourist season, we, along with a whole bunch of other folks, enjoyed a wander around the area saturating ourselves in beauty of the sun, blue skies, ocean and cliffs.

On the way back into town for lunch and just 1 kilometre past Cape Vincent we stopped by the Fortaleza do Beliche which was built in 1632 on the site of an older fortress. The interior which was once a hotel closed some years ago, but the site offered a beautiful and steep stone staircase walk down to the water.  With strong winds and crashing waves, we were too nervous to get right down to the end of the path but got close enough. I loved the railing posts  on the way down and took one of my fav pictures of Ger on this path.

 

Sagres to Carvoeiro (Feb. 23, 2018 / 64.9 km / 703 m / LINK TO ROUTE)

The reason we picked Carvoeiro as our next stop came on recommendation of our friend Brian Samson, who had been there 20 years ago, so we thought we would check it out. Having said that , when we arrived in Lagos, a couple hours later, and sat in the main square in the sunshine, and read about an up and coming music festival , I wanted to stay. The one thing about cycle touring and especially if you have to be somewhere far away at a specific date, is that you can’t DO IT ALL, which is a hard notion for me to accept at times. We finished our snack and cycled the malecon along the ocean savoring the small amount of time we had there.

Carvoeiro

We spent an extra day in Carvoeiro… check out our blog on Carvoeiro HERE

 

Carvoeiro to Tavira – An Orange Kind of Day (Feb. 25, 2018 / 84.7 km / 719 m / LINK TO ROUTE)

Although we have tried to take roads with less traffic this wasn’t the case as we made our way out of Lagos, what that then meant was that we were riding buy all kinds of orange fruit stands arranged and displayed in a variety of ways and I couldn’t help but stop and take photos. These orange stands then made way for copious groves of orange trees as we attempted to get off the main road. We actually ended up on some connecting back road alley that took us by the local garbage dump and rust old artifacts before we got back on a country road.

 

Tavira

We spent several days in Tavira… check out our blog on Tavira HERE.

 

Tavira to Huelva (March 1, 2018 / 78.8 km / 584 m / LINK TO ROUTE)

Al ot of our time in Tavira was spent checking out the weather status and when there might be a small window of opportunity to ride on without the threat of rain, wind or thunder. After having extended our stay by two nights, we finally had a few hours when the chance of rain was negligible. It seems always that after a day or two break, we are always ready to get back on our bikes and get moving. We easily cruised into Santo Antonio, where we needed to get on a ferry to cross the river into Spain. We timed our arrival perfectly as the ferry was just arriving at the dock. It was during the 10 minute crossing that the weather really changed… the winds picked up, skies turned grey, and there were white caps on the river. The winds were so strong we had to walk our bikes off and I prayed I wouldn’t be picked up and tossed across the city. As we tried to figure out how to get through town, we eventually came upon a tourist office and just in the nick of time as the skies opened up and it poured “cats and dogs”. The staff in the tourist office let us bring our bikes into the office and we stayed dry and warm for the duration of the downpour. During this time we were trying to figure out if we would ride through the rain, stay put in this border city or ???? After about 25 minutes though the sun came out and on we went, with the goal of making it to Huelva.

We ended up having beautiful weather for the rest of the day.  Shortly after lunch in Lepe, we came across a short road that led to a canal.  Ger had found this route while route planning but couldn’t ever find the beginning of it.  And here it was, a beautiful, quiet shortcut along a canal (the implication here is that the route would be flat), with the only problem being the No Entry sign.  We decided that we could take the risk and plead ignorance if we were stopped, and off we went.  We cycled along the canal on a paved path for about 30 minutes until we got to the road we needed to take to Helva.  The next 30 minutes were on a deserted road through a managed forest / park, and if that wasn’t enough to make a brilliant day of riding, we rode the last 30 minutes into Helva on a paved cycle path through the wetlands just west of the city.  All in all, it was one of the best days of riding.

We got into Huelva, cycled through much of the city until we found a hostel, checked in, cleaned up and went looking for some dinner.  This was our first night in Spain and we had been looking forward to being able to use the little spanish we had picked up in latin and south america.  What a surprise it was that we could understand very little of what was being said, and the locals couldn’t understand anything we were trying to say!  We found this out in a tapas restaurant, we we also had some difficulty figuring out the whole tapas scene… what do we order and how do we order it?  That was a lesson we would struggle with for many days!

 

Huelva to Almonte (March 2, 2018 / 45.7 km / 315 m / LINK TO ROUTE)

The ride between Huelva and Almonte was short, wet, and windy, and looking back we realized that we didn’t take any pictures during the ride.  We were quite wet and cold after fighting a cross wind of between 40 and 50km/hr (what was predicted) and the horizontal rain that came with it.  So we pulled into Almonte and found the only hotel in town, and when I took off my light, not-so-waterproof jacket, only the right side of my t-shirt was soaked, the left side was completely dry!  In retrospect, we probably could have just found a place to dry out for an hour or two and then move on as there wasn’t a lot in Almonte.  The most interesting part of the day was after we cleaned up and wandered through town.  It was eerily quiet, not a single person on the streets, no shops were open, and we were in the core of the city on a Friday afternoon.  We did manage to find a large, modern grocery store open and picked up some snacks, and we did come across a woman who explained that it was siesta time and all the shops close and people go home.  Of course we knew about siesta time but didn’t expect every single person in the city to adhere to that tradition!  Anyway, at 5pm, as the woman had told us, the shops started opening and people started filtering out to the streets.

One of our tasks today was to to replace Mary’s Portuguese sim card which stopped working when we crossed into Spain.  We found a Yoigo shop, paid 10 Euros for a sim card, 50 minutes of talk time, and 3 gb of data that would be more than enough for the rest of the month.  Boy, are we getting ripped off here in Canada when it comes to cell phone plans!

 

 

Almonte to Los Palacios (March 3, 2018 / 74.7 km / 354 m / LINK TO ROUTE)

There were no breakfast options that appealed to us in Almonte and we cycled out of town with just water.  We knew that we weren’t far from the next town, but we were hungry when we got there and stopped at the first place we found.  Here was another experience in our struggle to grasp the accent and nuances of the Andalusian spanish language.  We asked if they served breakfast as they were clearly setting up for a dinner crowd already.  We understood that they did, asked for a menu which they didn’t understand, then asked for eggs, which they did understand.  So we took a seat by the fire and enjoyed the ambiance.  But then we saw a stack of menus, took a look through one and found several egg based breakfast dishes.  So we thought we asked to replace our simple order of eggs with a dish that was in the menu, but the “replace” piece got lost in translation, and we ended up with 4 egg dishes for breakfast! Given that this was more like brunch, and we both love eggs, we had no trouble cleaning off all the plates!

We pulled into Coria del Rio just after 1pm, pondered for a minute whether this should be another short day, but we were both still wanting to ride.  So we managed a very rough crossing of the Guadalquivir river, and of course right after we crossed, the rain started.  Ger needed to change another flat so we took shelter in an abandoned house.  The rain didn’t amount to much then, so as soon as the flat was fixed, off we went.  The wind was howling though as we rode across the fields.  Check out the video that Mary took HERE and you’ll see that the terrain was completely flat and there was no shelter to be seen.  Of course, minutes after she took that video, the rain hit, and hit hard.  We rode on, the rain eventually stopped but the wind didn’t, and we found a roadside pub to have a break from the wind.  Again, we were wet and cold when we rode into Los Palacios but we took the time to find accommodation that we liked since we had decided that we would take tomorrow off.  We got cleaned up and went out in search of dinner, and again we ran up against our struggle to adjust to Spanish culture and tradition.  Restaurants don’t open until 8pm, and it was 7pm and we were hungry.  We had no other real choice but to have dessert first, and we found a pastry shop that offered so many delectable options.

 

 

Los Palacios (March 4, 2018)

We opted to take this day off to rest and work on the blog.  Of course it turned out to be a beautiful day, and we spent it in our room struggling with lousy internet and the smell of Ger’s wet socks and shoes.  For the next week, Ger’s shoes were not allowed in the same room as us, they had to be either outside or in a closet.

This is the day we decided to stay put – of course if was a bluebird day!

 

Los Palacios to Olvera (March 5, 2018 / 88.4 km / 1,326 m / LINK TO ROUTE)

We rolled out of Los Palacios late, about 11, after finding breakfast and buying a replacement tube, which I needed about 2km out of town.  Our objective was Moron, and when we got there, we paid the price for spontaneity and backroads… there were no acceptable rooms to be had. We had the choice of an expensive but crappy room in a hostel, camping, or riding on to Olvera where we knew there was a room.  We chose the latter, booked a room in a hotel there and got back on our bikes.  There were monster storms all around us but by the time we found our way out of Moron (no easy feat), we could see that they would pass by us.  We had the most beautiful ride, albeit a heck of a lot of climbing, but the scenery was amazing and we stopped a lot for pictures.  We pulled into Olvera about 7pm and found it to be a beautiful mountain town.  We cleaned up, had dinner (again, the only ones in the restaurant… in fact, they opened the restaurant for us, fed us, and then locked the doors behind us when we left) and figured out what to do next… which was to head to Ronda on Tuesday, and then on to Malaga on Wednesday.

 

Olvera to Ronda (March 6, 2018 / 33.8 km / 766 m / LINK TO ROUTE)

Storm clouds were threatening as we dropped out of Olvera.  Ger had done a route on Ride with GPS last night but because of the crappy internet, didn’t spend his usual amount of time checking the roads on google street view.  Check out the impact of that lapse HERE!  Once we found the road that we had planned to take, it turned to gravel within 20 metres and dropped us into a deep valley.  We rounded a corner at the bottom and found that the road had been washed out.  There was crew of workers on the other side trying to fix the problem and when they saw these two helpless, GPS following tourists they simply told us (non-verbal) to go back where we came from.  Given the elevation we just lost, that just wasn’t an acceptable option.  We waved back and forth for a while until they finally asked where we were going (verbal), and when we responded “Ronda”, the one fellow held up a hand and walked away.  I was hoping for a solution here but simply didn’t have the language or the nerve to ask.  But within a minute, our solution came into site… a tractor with a front end loader.  He came across and I jumped in with one bike and off-loaded it on the other side and went back for Mary and the other bike.  They were nice enough to bring us across not just that river but another wash-out around the corner that we weren’t aware of.  Shortly after that we were back on pavement and on our way.

The day was wet and cold and while we did a lot of climbing, there was also a lot of downhill and that was rather chilly.  Mid-afternoon we stopped in a bus shelter to put on dry clothes.  That felt good and we managed the rest of the way into Ronda.  We got to our hotel (pre-booked this time) and changed yet again before looking for dinner.

Dinner was an experience and one of the food highlights of the whole trip, though it didn’t start out that way.  This was the off-season, it was cold and raining, we were on the edge of the tourist district and there were very few people out and about.  Given those circumstances and after spending countless evenings having dinner in empty restaurants, we were shocked to find ourselves outside what was essentially the only open restaurant in our part of town, without reservations!  Did I mention it was raining… and cold?  We pleaded but no, they were completely full all evening.  But wait, there was one reservation that seemed to be late in arriving.  After more pleading they agreed that we could have that spot if the party didn’t show up in another 20 minutes.  So we walked next door to a local bar and had a beer, and waited.  20 minutes later we were in and seated in a restaurant with 4 tables, a small kitchen that we had to walk through to get to the tables upstairs, and host/server/owner that took absolute pleasure from serving the most amazing tapas imaginable.  It truly was a culinary experience that we won’t forget.

 

Ronda to Malga (March 7, 2018 / 96.4 km / 1,266 m / LINK TO ROUTE)

This day was going to be challenging, we knew that back in Moron when we made the decision to come this way.  When I did my planning earlier, I avoided this route because of the amount of elevation gain between Ronda and Malaga.  But here we were.  The route was straightforward to the small town of El Burgo and though the grade was relatively gentle, it went on and on.  But we did manage to get up and over the first pass of the day (check out the video HERE) and then coasted most of the way down to El Burgo.  The road splits in El Burgo providing two options to get to Malaga.  I had mapped out the one with the least amount of climbing and that took us north out of town, well off the tourist route, and over another pass (ok, maybe it was two but the first one wasn’t nearly as high as the second so it doesn’t really count as a “pass”).  We met maybe 6 vehicles in total that afternoon, which made for great riding and the scenery was just beautiful.  However, that euphoria was muted by the fact that we found ourselves at the top of the last pass of the day at 4pm having cycled only half of the kilometres to Malaga.  In other words, it took us almost 6 hours to go the first 48kms and we had another 48 kms to go.  That didn’t sit particularly well for one of us (check out our video HERE).  We persevered, and by dark we were within the city limits.  That helped but it’s a big city and we cycled another hour at least through the winding streets before we got close to the apartment we rented in the old city.  Our hostess was most helpful and not only helped us get our bikes up to the second floor, but helped us unwind by supplying us with a wonderful bottle of red wine.

However, it was a really tough day and I had to make a quick run to the corner store to pick up some fast food (freezer pizza) and another bottle of wine.  It was only after we worked our way through most of that, did either of us think about cleaning up and getting out of our cycling gear.

 

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