The things that are stored on our Spanish dictionary and phrase book on our Kindle , continue to confound and puzzle us deeply. “Can I have a knife please?” is not there. Where as, “Can you direct me to the lingerie department?” is.
Because we have cycled quite often on Spanish soil, we know to expect certain quirks and even use them to our advantage. One of these is to look for a perfectly good road running next to a major road that is the new upgrade. This occurs as a result of a quirk in European funding. Big pot of money for new roads, and possibly not even a pot for improving roads.
This little bit of knowledge, we hoped to put to good use as we followed the A316 away from Jaen. We had enjoyed our time in the city, and as our last stroll around it came to an end, we made up the full patronage of a very nice bar. What we lacked in communication, we made up for in enthusiasm. We were being treated to ‘a little bit’ of every local delicacy and alcohol that was behind the bar. A good way to end our day.
The white lines at the side of the A316 had been painted just minutes before we rode next to them and were still not dry. Not a problem usually, but for the love of God alone, what paint did they use! It gives off such a toxic vapour that it is like riding in a nail parlour late on a Saturday afternoon. We are giddy, intoxicated and more than happy to say farewell to the upgraded A316 as we part company.
We catch sight of the glitzy new A316, occasionally off to our left. For stretches our paths come close together as we squeeze through a gap between hills. We climb a steep incline for the best part of 10k, and then the two roads merge unshown on our map. There is the abandoned construction work of the new road off to our left and now we have more traffic but still a shoulder to ride on. Then the bastards throw away the rule book and call our old road the ‘NEW MOTORWAY’.
Quite clear are signs saying amongst other things ‘NO CYCLING’. This is the old road, you can not randomly do this. To quote from somewhere and someone, “you could not even organize a decent armada”. We turn around and begin two sides of triangle to get where we want to go.
The sea of olives that we entered in our last blog shows no sign of ending, and we are now on a very minor road towards the walled city of Ubeda. As if meter thick walls are not enough to guarente safety, the approach for the final kilometer or so is 11% upwards. You may curse at the time, but the best bits of the old town are worth the effort. Ubeda is a gem.
The newer bits of the town that are on the flat bit of land at the back are a less so and a navigational nightmare made tolerable by the GPS. We find the A301 even though it is signed A304 for a while, and head North. We pitch a wild camp under olive trees and as the sun goes down hear a Cuckoo call and a dozen Black Birds do the same. Strange how I think of these as so English when I know for certain the future of the Cuckoo will be determined much further South than here.
This is a perfect camp and would beat any hotel for comfort and a guarantee of a quiet night. Things become breathlessly still and we can hear the sound of two village bands. It will soon be Easter and they are practicing marching tunes in their valleys to the West and North.
We have lost 1 hour of morning warmth in the change to summer ‘time’. It is just 2’C and a struggle to get out of the downy warmth. We camped at 700 m and the descent is cold at best, and freezing in the shadows. The landscape becomes greener as we go down and there are the first sheep in hundreds of kilometers.
I have set my meter’s navigation function at a road sign. 14k to first coffee of the day and a bit of warmth. So, how can it be 18k and a full 4k out when that coffee passes my lips.
The olive trees come, go, and then return. They are no longer our constant companion that day. We can see the colours of the soil change and the types of rock. These are the small changes that are obvious at bike speed. We welcome them and they help if things get a little uniform and monotonous.
The last little village we pass before we camp has just one street. It is perhaps 200m long and has two dozen houses in various stages of disrepair stretched out along its sides. It also has about 40 top of the range metal street lamps positioned at about an arms width apart on both sides. There is a civic building with half a dozen flags flying and a very strong smell of European money being spent. It also has a set of traffic lights at each end, which can only be for entertainment.
Again, we camp under olive trees, a little beyond the village. They offer the perfect site for wild camps. You are hidden enough and they take such little looking after that you know you are unlikely to be disturbed. Perfect indeed.
It feels colder than ever the next morning. Like lizards, we move around trying to sit in the patches of early sunlight as we eat our porridge. We are warmed even more by a climb from the first pedal stroke. We descend into the next small village for first coffee. Here too, there are a set of traffic lights, and we go through on red, uncertain what else to do.
We leave the bounds of Andalucia as we cross the river Banador and then start a climb to 839m – our highest of the trip yet. In the village of Villamanrique we cross the paths with Don Quixote for the first of what will be many times. We have an alfresco lunch of chocolate spread. “I have to have chocolate spread no matter how much it weights”. Esther gets her wish.
Bloated, the climb to the next village is a struggle and it sets a new altitude record at 945m before opening out to a plateau, and a devil of a headwind. This is not fun at all and we pull into the small village of Terrinches. We pass through the square 4 times looking for a hostel that should be here. The old boys that are sitting and watching stuff welcome us every time we pass through.
The hostel has been closed and all that remains are the signs. I check the GPS for hotels and yes indeed, quite unexpectedly, there is one and we ride along to it. €50 for a 1 star and we ride on, out through the square for the fifth time and it is still entertaining.
We move slowly against what is now a gale. In all directions the world is coloured Sanguine. We camp at 850m, and you guessed it, amongst olive trees. The wind drops, as it does every night and our world becomes quiet and still and we wriggle into down bags. The air is torn twice as a military jet passes through the sound barrier in the sky above us. It is a noise that comes at you simultaneously from everywhere. The twin boom is an assault. The low sunset catches their contrails as they disappear.
Next morning and a climb to a new high. The village of Villanueva de la Fuenta at 1018m and our first cherry trees. These are in blossom but only just. We wondered when we would see them as they are supposed to be a highlight of traveling here in the Spring.
Again, in a few minutes the wind goes from playful to annoying and we are in for another hard day in Spain. We have been here for a little while now and are starting to get to grips with it, but it has been hard. We have learned that anything to do with tourism will not be open. And, if there are photos of the owner of the restaurant hugging members of Real Madrid, then expect a big bill for your meal. We have also learned that we rather like the place despite its maddeningly curious daily timetable.
We ride the first 30k of the day at over 1,000m elevation through a plateau of grassland and forest. There is for the first time in hundreds of kilometers, running water. Lapwings are struggling into the wind in the field to our right. We pass through villages that would not look out of place in California with Clint as Sherif. This has been hard day after hard day into the wind. What should have been an easy route avoiding the worst of the mountains has been a bugger.
The last 30k of the day are a little easier and we know there is a hotel up ahead. We are already doing the mental arithmetic of how tired are we, how nice are the rooms, how much noise is there and of course how much are we prepared to pay. It is €50 but we give in and pay.
We sleep for 10 hours straight and are ready to ride early. It has been below freezing over night and thankfully the wind is not up yet. We ride the 35k into Albacete at 30kph. It is flat in every direction and would have been unimaginable torture yesterday. The last 5k are a curious mixture of strip clubs and car breakers, both guarded by big dogs that bark enthusiastically as we pass.
We ride into what is a for us, a big town. The GPS guiding us to the nearest hotel, which as luck would have it, is clean enough, quiet enough possibly and only €40. We’re worth it and pay upfront for one night.