Yaaa vacation!!! But then why does the alarm clock go off at the same early (work) time? Ah yes we are going to Andalusia to do some cycling. We are taking the steel adventure bikes because we expect to cycle mostly unpaved. Taking bikes always results in hassle, tension and some stress, also this time. When Roelie cuts herself a big gash in her index finger in the morning making breakfast, we hope that that will be all to make the rest of the trip go smoothly.
When we arrive at the check-in desk at the airport, we are relieved of that hope. Ryanair requires to check in online. We don't fly much anymore and this was unknown to us, but we should have been informed about this by e-mail. Well that could be but among all the spam messages from Ryanair (reserve a fixed seat, extra luggage, buy insurance, book a hotel, rent a car, and so on) such a message may have been lost. But not to worry: we still have 5 minutes to check in online; it is 08:45 and check-in is possible until 2 hours before departure, or 08:50. With the smartphone and needing an account to check in, however, this does not go smoothly and at 08:52 the administrative action is done. Yes indeed, 2 minutes late and no longer possible according to Ryanair.
Not to worry, physical check-in is possible a at the special desk for travelers "with a problem". After waiting half an hour and paying no less than €110, two boarding pass roll are printed and we can finally put the bike boxes on the belt for odd size luggage and walk ourselves to the next stop: security check. The shoes have to be taken off accoring tot a man, and a little later on according a woman before we walk through the detection gate. Roelie is frisked and asked to stay, because there is something in her luggage that requires further inspection. No idea what that might be, probably the bag of cheese cubes. The controller sees something that could be a pocket knife and asks Roelie to open the zipper of the bag. Roelie is able to shake her head and wants to take out the pocket knife. The now red-faced shouting inspector orders Roelie to stay out of the bag with her hand, as he says, she might attack him with the Swiss mini-wonder. Well! The knife disappears into the wastebasket of the bully and so we have yet another loss. The fact that this has happened to us twice before (in Georgia and New Zealand) and to Roelie once before (in Australia) we keep to ourselves.
Anyway, we can move on. At the boarding gates we can look outside and see that it has become quite foggy. Moments later something is called out. It is hard to understand but we do get the message that an aircraft is grounded and that Ryanair apologizes..., no? A little later the message is repeated in an Eastern European language which is of course strange for a flight to Spain. We look for an information monitor and see to our satisfaction that our flight just leaves with only a half hour delay. That half hour ends up being almost an hour as we, 10 rows apart, cab onto the runway.
A little after two in the afternoon we land in a wonderfully warm Malaga. What a difference from the wintry and foggy world we left behind. The vacation feeling immediately gets a boost. The vacation can begin!
For the first and last night we rented a mini-hut near the airport. With the extremely friendly owner, Jesus, we arranged to leave the boxes with him for safekeeping for the return trip. We check the cab stand and see no vehicle big enough to take our bike boxes. So we decide to assemble the bikes already at the airport. It's a 4 km stretch to Jesus' crib and we lift the box onto the bike and try to balance it while walking. It still turns out to be quite a tour and wet sweaty we arrive an hour later. Jesus indicates that he will reserve a larger cab bus for us, but that will only be in 4 weeks for the return to the airport.
On the first day we cycle along the coast and the boulevard through Malaga (route). We take it easy today: no more than 50 km and only one hump up. There is more than enough time to stop at one of the many coffee shops in Malaga for a café con leche. Many more will follow this vacation!
We are not the only ones spinning the pedals on this beautiful sunday morning to climb out of town up that one hump. It appears to be a popular route for cyclists and motorcyclists, which is a good sign, a harbinger of a beautiful route.
At the highest point, the Puerto de Léon just above 930 meters, there is a restaurant with a terrace. We deserved a break but unfortunately the terrace is full so we are left to rest on the guardrail.
After a short break at the summit, we cycle through the town of Colmenar. It does not have the appearance we expected and we decide, after some lingering and googling, to descend to the next village. We do suspect that something may have to do with it being siesta time on also a Sunday. If we were to stop in Colmenar today we start a 7 km descent the next morning and it is quite cold in the morning. In the next village of Riogordo, however, there is (even) less life on the streets and really everything is closed. Including the hostal that we booked on the Internet just before. There are three phone numbers to call if we have a reservation but there is no answer on all three. Three rounds through the village and the factual check that nothing is open on Sundays during siesta time, we are standing in front of the hostal until a lady in pajamas and slippers opens the door for us. She was sleeping. We feel somewhat guilty but at the same time very happy to have shelter instead of wandering around aimlessly.
Today the final of the World Cup Soccer is being played. Argentina is already ahead 2-0 when we showered and changed and go looking for the pizzeria, the only thing open on this Sunday according to the hostess. On the way we see that there now is also a bar open where the soccer is on a big screen. By Spanish standards it is far from dinner time although we are terribly hungry. But it is nice to watch soccer with the local (mainly teenage) population. It becomes a crazy game that ends in 2-2 and 3-3 after extension and after penalties Messi cheers and Mbappe cries and we walk on to the pizzeria.
Day two is the day of extremes, from enjoyment and ultimate happiness to cursing and wondering why on earth we are doing something like this to ourselves. We have arrived at the route we want to cycle: the Transandalus. Yesterday we immediately concluded that the short winter days, the many altimeters, the terrain and the cold at altitude are going to keep us from cycling the entire 2000 km route. But we are very curious about the gravel route and how tough it is.
The first few meters of the Transandalus are steep. Further on we come across a chain stretched across the road and a little further on boulders dumped over the road to indicate that these are private roads and people like us are not welcome. We have to get off regularly because it is too steep and sometimes because the rain of the previous weeks is still in the many mud puddles across the width of the path. We try to overcome these hurdles on foot by walking ourselves through the bushes along the side, not letting go of the bike. The tires and rims as well as our shoes are coated in thick mud: impassable when wet. Harry's tough action of cycling through a puddle results in cleaner wheels but also a wet (brown) foot and lots of swearing. We set a new record and take about an hour over 5 kilometers. Walking is faster.
But after that, the route is beautiful. It brings us after 50 kilometers and more than 1200 meters altitude in the gorge at Alhama de Granada and then so much of the suffering is already forgotten and forgiven.
From Alhama de Granada we dive back into the same gorge. The otherwise beautiful and very bikeable, newly flattened road after the gorge is blocked by a crane truck. It is going to attempt to hoist a roller from the chasm, which has apparently plunged down there. We both fear that this did not end well for the driver of the colossus, who hopefully managed to save his life by jumping out of the cabin in time. We cyclists are fortunately able to pass under the hoist and after that the road is indeed a bit less well rolled, but no complaint is made about this.
The trail leads us off the road and again we may attempt to break yesterday's slowness record. The trail is washed away in many places and has an impossible gradient of over 20% in more places. Yesterday's record is not broken, but we do take about 45 minutes over the next 5 kilometers.
Having arrived at the top, we see that the Transandalus is heading back into the mud valley, which we don't really feel like doing. Via a small shortcut we snatch something like 2 kilometers, but almost certainly a lot of nonsense, from the route. In Játar we buy water and bananas for the road.
We cycle through a somewhat messy arable area to a reservoir. Harry takes the road through the water and scores wet feet again and Roelie takes the shortcut via a narrow bridge. The bananas are then still under the string on the butt rocket, as we call the hefty saddlebag.
While Harry is busy photographing his bike, Roelie rides back in vain to look for the bananas. Those have jumped off the butt rocket somewhere between the little bridge and the reservoir.
What follows is a climb to over 1200 meters altitude with stunning views of the snow-capped peaks of Sierra Nevada from the top. We cycle to Granada and thus a) shorten the Transandalus route tremendously and b) skip the higher cold mountain passes.
When you say Granada, you say Alhambra, the tourist attraction that even the biggest culture barbarians, because that's where we include ourselves, can't really avoid. A regular ticket is no longer available and we are left with a guided tour. In three hours we stroll with guide Nieves through the garden, the fortress and the palace.
Out of Granada means the Sierra Nevada at our backs. We head to Jaén and do so in two stages that we let the route app Komoot plan.
The road runs through a river and when we get there there is no bridge. This time both of us take off our shoes and socks first and we wade through a stone-cold river to the other side. Going back is not an option because the path on the shady side consists of very slippery mud. Going down was still possible. Harry even took a closer look when he slipped. Like Bambi on ice, he managed to get back up and stumble to the safe shoulder of the path.
After spending the night in a beautiful boutique hotel in Alcalá la Real, we continue on the road to Jaén. Through quiet wide asphalt roads, we hit a narrower road that has us climbing terribly steeply. Beforehand we thought of 500m in 10 km which would be roughly then 5% average, but that is not correct. Many stretches of >10% between the sea of olive trees.
At the back of the pass the road gradually descends until we get a turnoff and start a gigantic spectacular and rugged downhill to a reservoir. Along the reservoir we may alternate between climbing and descending until we are back on asphalt with a prohibition sign. There is an alternative but it again means a steep climb and we decide to take the gamble and descend further on the forbidden-to-travel road. Through a tunnel we get to a beautiful road through a gorge. For miles we encounter no one. The fear persists that the road has been swept away somewhere and that we have to go back, but we are incredibly lucky and enter Jaén.
A first awaits us in Jaén. The hotel allows the bikes to be parked in a parking garage but we have to rent a spot for that. We don't feel like looking for another hotel and wearily put our bikes in the garage against a fence to which we can fasten the locks. Later, as we sit down to dinner at a restaurant in town, we are notified that we have put the bikes in a private spot and that we need to move them to a hotel spot. We do so grumbling. In the middle of the night they send us another message telling us not to worry and that the private spot will not be used...
From Jaén we cycle to Cordoba. We are stuck in a kind of inner ring of the Transandalus and, like in the relay of the shorttrack and in the relay in track cycling, we look to see where we can insert again. In the middle section of the wide track are a few so-called Via Verdes, mostly old railroad tracks that are now bike paths. Nice and easy, making good meters and enjoying olive trees, olive trees and olive trees, as far as the eye can see. We understand that this Via Verde is called "the Aceite," the oil. Many olives are still hanging from the tree and being harvested. Olive fan Roelie tasted one and it was not palatable.
In the town of Baena, we celebrate Christmas Eve in a brand new apartment owned by a private owner. Since we expect that everything will be closed, or should have been reserved, we do some shopping at the supermarket in the village and shove a pizza in the oven. The owner confirms that tomorrow on Christmas Day everything will be closed and we also buy things for breakfast. The apartment is not quite finished but it has a sofa and a large TV with the ability to log in Netflix. On Christmas Eve we watch one of our favorite movies Forrest Gump.
Until the early hours we hear partying in the streets. The cerveceria next door is working overtime and, to our surprise, is also open for coffee and breakfast the next morning when we leave.
On the way up to Cordoba we plunge into a valley. In many places the road has recently been covered with mud and stones. Erosion must be a problem here, but that seems logical with those olive groves without any other vegetation.
Both on this road and on the 35 kilometer road to Cordoba, we encounter at most 6 cars. So it's nice riding side by side today, and chat while the landschape is a bit boring. The olive groves give way to barren fields and the views are a lot less impressive than last week. But we know that at the end of the day an Andalusian pearl awaits us: Cordoba.
We bike into Cordoba across the Roman bridge to the Mezquita. Right next door is a large, neat and cheap hotel. We stay an extra night to visit this city full of history. On this Christmas Day, plenty of eateries are open and we settle down on the terrace of a tapas restaurant. We are too late for the afternoon tapas round and too early for the evening tapas round, so we order some a la carte. Here in Andalusia you can just order dishes to share; you always get 2 plates and double cutlery without asking. Very nice.
The next day is dedicated to this blog and a visit to the Mezquita. Around it, there is eating, drinking and lazing around. We write the blog of the first (long) week wonderfully in the morning sun on a bench near the Roman bridge. Then it is time to look for our guide. The Mezquita Cathedral is indeed worth a visit: it is unique how many cultures, styles, expressions of faith and zeitgeist come together, interact and reinforce in a colossal building. We loved it!
We are exited about the rest of the trip through Andalusia!