Harry pokes and picks at his dinner on the warm Christmas Eve in Córdoba with some disappointment on a terrace next to a ancient Roman wall. He thought he had ordered a fine tenderloin for little but it turned out to be oxtail: a lump of bone, fat and meat. Soup meat instead of excellent meat. We both laugh heartily about it and the disappointment is quickly forgotten. We enjoy the following day all the more with a deliciously sumptuous breakfast in our hotel next to the impressive Mesquita, the mega-house of prayer where we walked around yesterday.
We leave Córdoba in the morning via the same old Roman bridge where we arrived the day before yesterday (route). On the bridge we give the chains a drop of oil against the grinding caused by mud, sand and moisture. The bikes and bags are also covered in mud, but we actually think that looks pretty cool. We cycle today on a Via Verde, this one called de la Campiña, a former railroad and now bike path with very acceptable steepness and a very predictable route. Navigation is unnecessary. The sun is shining and the wind is blowing us in the right direction. It doesn't get any better. This is Enjoyment, with a capital E.
Seville's solar tower stands near the village where we will spend the night and can be seen from about 30 km away. The tower lights up very brightly. Don't ask us how it works but with mirrors and molten salt and more hours of sun than in the Netherlands, energy can be generated with such a tower. And that sun decided to shine an undisturbed today: sun tower happy, we happy.
In the village of Fuentes de Andalusia, we find a nice, fancy hotel room. We are the only guests there and then feel like the only foreigners in the village as well. We don't manage to score a bite to eat anywhere in the evening. Our time for diner is also much too early for Spaniards but there also doesn't seem to be much open or about to open. We walk past a few cafes, taverns and restaurants where, if it is open at all, lots of youth, lots of smokers and lots of beer drinkers hang out. Nowhere is the kitchen open yet. In the most promising establishment, instead of a glass of wine, we get a probably home-brewed kind of sherry, unwittingly attacking our internal system. We quickly pay the requested €3 for the two overflowing glasses of the brew and see in this price confirmation that the home-brewed liquid is dregs. We quickly leave and give up. At a supermarket we buy some to consume in the hotel room.
We sleep wonderfully in the little hotel and have breakfast at a coffee shop nearby. We order tostades which is a traditional Andalusian breakfast: tomato pulp with olive oil and a little salt on toast. You can also add toppings; for Roelie, that's not necessary, Harry consistently opts for queso. The toasted sandwiches in this little place in Fuentes de Andalusia are very tasty, the best so far. The cafe con leche, on the other hand, is again one of the lesser ones.
Today will be an easy day, according to the forecast: 74 kilometers and 400 meters in elevation. About half of that we'll do again on a Via Verde (de los Alcores). First we cycle more than 20 kilometers on asphalt that is in terrible condition over large stretches. But that is not a problem because again we have a tailwind and again we have the road completely to ourselves so we can easily avoid the holes in the road surface. For several kilometers we ride on the wrong, better, side of the road.
When our navigation tells us to leave the asphalt, things go wrong. We cycle along muddy agricultural paths where tractors have provided a surface that shakes us like a paint mixer. After a few kilometers a small river awaits and from experience we can already feel it coming: the path bends towards the valley of the small river and we see that the valley is "filled" with a very large mud puddle through which a mud stream cum brook bravely makes its way. We investigate all possibilities of getting past or through this, but there are none. We check the alternatives and see only one: back to the asphalt and then with a detour on an orange colloured road towards the intended Via Verde. That orange road eventually turns out to be a highway!
Again, we investigate whether there are other options: there is one: back and bike around 35 kilometers. That option means we won't make Seville today. In the end we decide to cycle onto the highway, over the emergency lane, of course. It is only a very short stretch: we see on Google streetwise that after a few hundred meters there is an unpaved path along the highway. However, once on the highway, we find out that there is an overly high fence along the highway that could not be seen on streetview. There is nothing left for us but to keep cycling on the shoulder for 4 kilometers until the next exit. That doesn't feel good, but neither does detouring 35 kilometers.
Once we finally get to the other side of that stupid muddy river, we only have 10 extra kilometers on the counter. We are then allowed to continue on a Via Verde and this time it is wide and runs along a natural ledge at the bottom.
There is little to see or experience that it was once a railroad. The trail is full of potholes and we bounce again but this time on a dirt muddy road used primarily as an agricultural trail. Still, we see tracks of MTB tires and indeed we encounter a number of mountain bikers. We are overtaken by one and we chat. He comes from the neighborhood and has cycled the route from Seville to Compostela in only 2 days. Then he turns right, jumps over something and pops up a slope. He looks pretty fit. Later we read that route counts 1000 km. He must have averaged 20 km per hour all those 48 hours. An average of 20 km/hr we sometimes almost achieve as looking at eventful time, that is, without photo shoots, pee stops and pit stops for coffee, apples, bananas, mud baths, etc. That's why we are shortening the Tansandalus route of 2000 km for which we have almost four weeks. It's not a race.
Somewhere below Seville we climb steadily up the ridge. A nice bike route along a small river and and canal takes us to something like 6 km from the old city center. Then the bike routes join up to the city center. Genius city!
What a wonderful hotel we scored here in Seville! Harry slept through the night for the first time without coughing. Okay that won't be entirely due to the hotel, but the wonderfully fine bed will certainly have helped. The breakfast is also exceptional. With our bellies full we get back on our bikes. The sun is shining again, but it is much colder than last week. Once out of the center, in the suburbs, the sun gives way to an increasingly dense fog. The temperature continues to drop and we get colder and wetter.
With at most 50 meters of visibility, we stomp on until we have to take a ferry across the Rio Guadalquivir River. We have to wait a while and are not moving; during the crossing we get really cold.
Across the street we find a café and sit near a patio heater with a café con leche. We don't really warm up and Harry's fingers are snow white again. Various items of clothing are removed from the bags and put on before we continue. Again the pedaling is intense before we arrive at a nature reserve a little warmer. Oh yes, we have been cycling on the off-road route Transandalus for some time and here through the woods it is beautiful again. Unfortunately, visibility is still limited.
After 50 kilometers we reach the village of Villamanrique de la Condesa where we buy a flatbread and some cheese and ham for a late lunch. The flatbread ends up not being as flat as we thought, but the hunger is great.
We are getting ready for the last part of our day's ride and, in the direction we are cycling toward, we see rays of sunshine in the distance. Truly, it is going to happen today after all! Various items of clothing disappear back into the bags and we enjoy the rapidly rising temperature. What we enjoy a little less is the loose sand we have to slog through for the last 15 kilometers. We decide to take a small detour over ultimately incredibly boring asphalt. Finally we see the first buildings of our final destination looming, the town of El Rocio. The village is white, totally white. The asphalt ends and gives way to sand; huh? Over dirt roads we cycle into the town, marveling more and more at the fact that there is no asphalt or any other kind of pavement anywhere. We stop at a cerveceria and learn more about this remarkable town.
So what is typical of the town is that all the streets, squares, etc. are not paved! The sandy streets are reminiscent of a cowboy village with indeed many people on horseback or in a covered wagon. At the cerviceria you can park a horse, but the big, beautiful church: the Ermita de la Virgen del Rocío, the church of the Virgin of El Rocío, is the pride and raison d'être of this small remarkable village in southwestern Spain.
El Rocío, according to information on the Internet, is overrun by pilgrims once a year. People from far and wide come on horseback, on foot or by covered wagon to honor the Virgin of El Rocío. That explains why there are so many hotels. We have seen a lot during our bicycle trips: this town definitely fits into our wonder top-ten!
What is also surprising is the quality of the restaurant next to the hotel. The ceasar salad swims in mayonnaise like the pizza swims in mozzarella, Harry's piccante even more serious than Roelie's cuatro quesos. Actually, it's uneatable, but we don't bother because we're hungry. Most of all, we watch in amazement at the TV in the restaurant showing a documentary of the insane procession of the Virgin of Rocío, a rather gaudy but old and rather small statue to which a frenzied one million people come every year and act completely ecstatically insane. Bizarre. Quick to get out of this otherwise beautiful village.
It is foggy again in the morning. We cycle down a flat and straight road to the coast for breakfast. Matalascañas, about 25 kilometers away, looks like a somewhat run-down resort town but it has a fine cafeteria for an Andalusian breakfast of café con leche, tostadas and fresh zumo de naranja. In the cafeteria we realize that it matters quite a bit whether we cycle the 30-kilometer stretch of beach at low or high tide. High tide undoubtedly means walking 30 kilometers; there is no alternative heading south. Harry checks the Internet and gets some information about the tides here. To our relief we see, the red line indicates the current time, that the high tide is already behind us.
The fog is still there as we enter the beach over which we will cycle those 30 kilometers. The first few meters are tough. It has been ebbing for a while, but not long enough and we sink into the wet sand. Harry slightly more than Roelie because he is a bit heavier and because his tires are narrower. That promises something.
After 10 of the 30 kilometers we take a break: the average is still around 8 km/h, so this beach trip will take some time. When we leave again the fog is gone, the beach is completely empty except for a few seagulls and -yes! - easier to cycle. The average creeps up to something like 15 km/h. Cycling along the beach is magical but ultimately also a bit boring.
Where is the ferry?
At the end, a ferry awaits us to take us to Sanlúcar de Barrameda. The legs may already be protesting vigorously but do not do so sufficiently to make us stop there.
We cycle on to Jerez de la Frontera. When you have been cycling for many years, traditions and customs develop, some are purely practical but some are born of less useful motives. One of the latter category is the "Fact of the Day". Today's factoid is that Jerez is the sherry capital of the world and that sherry is an English corruption of this city's name.
The road into and out of it plans route app Komoot and it is wank. What is also jerk is the skyline of Jerez which is dominated on the north side (also when leaving the city on the south side) by ugly concrete gloom flats for the less fortunate of this rather large city of the size of Eindhoven. The Old Town, on the other hand, is a gem. The hotel Astuto Boutique Jerez is great and the debacle of El Rocío's restaurant is quickly forgotten at restaurant Albores with Michelin encouragement but cafeteria prices.
When we leave it is not foggy this time, but it is deathly cold! We are early, because again today (like yesterday) we decide to have breakfast along the route. Practically convenient and time-efficient, but the main reason is the fact that here in Spain you eat much later in the evening and you are just not that hungry early in the morning. New this time is that we split our breakfast: at 8 first breakfast and 35 kilometers for second breakfast, a rather unknown phenomenon in the Netherlands but not unusual in the rest of the world and certainly among cyclists.
Opposite the first breakfast spot is a ruin that is filled with dozens of storks' nests on top of the facades. We don't have a view of all the storks but at first sight we count nearly forty! Magnificent!
We cycle for a while over asphalt where we encounter many cyclists on this Saturday and New Year's Day, also in groups, which is quite unique outside the Netherlands and Belgium. Pretty soon we pick up the unpaved route of the Transandalus again. That route is quite special here: you cycle along forest paths and (by now mostly dried up) mud trails, but you keep riding in urbanized countryside. Occasionally we see the outline of Cadíz.
Breakfast spot numero dos turns out to be a popular mega tent with at least 100 tables. We find two empty bar stools there. The staff is professional and so well matched that faster than at the first place, the tostada with café con leche and a zumo de naranja is in front of our noses.
Once back on the coast we cycle through a wide range of coastal towns. First an upper class gated community with golf resorts with high end villas, then mainstream Conil de la Frontera and finally in surf and hippie heaven Playa del Palmer.
It is a very varied route today and there is another difficult section through dunes and over beach at the end of the program. Harry doesn't feel like getting sand between his chain again and complains endlessly when the beach turns out not to be bikeable either. Roelie is not in the mood for a steep final climb that will take us from sea level to our village at more than 200 meters. In the end, none of it matters. We have booked an apartment for 2 nights in Vejer de la Frontera and we can whine and complain but there is no other way than to go through. It is New Year's Eve and tomorrow a lot of things will probably be closed again and we need to stock up on groceries.
Vejer de la Frontera is a typical yet uniquely-authentic Andalusian white village. The fact of the day is that this village was voted the second nicest village in Spain (winner?... Ronda!). Our apartment has a roof terrace with a wide view of the village and its surroundings, which is nice to see the fireworks at noon. With a little luck we can see it far into the surrounding area. It is 200 meters high close to the coast. We count down to the New Year and then from a great distance count no more than about 7 fire arrows and 3 bangs ushering in the New Year. What a joke are those two Dutchmen on the roof at midnight in a Spanish village. After Buenos Aires and Gran Canaria they should know better....
On New Year's Day we stroll through the streets and see that many cafes and restaurants have already opened. Most stores are closed but the restaurants certainly are not. We have a full refrigerator and return to our casa. The rest of the rest day is filled with making this blog, washing, cleaning and re-greasing pedals and planning the rest of the route back to Malaga. It's going to be nice and spicy and rain is coming that will be followed by sunshine, we hope. More on that in the third and final part of our blog about wonderful Andalusia.