For the first cycling day of the new year, January 2, rain is predicted; especially the inlands will get a big splash of water. We are near the coast and secretly have the idea that we can stay ahead of the rain, but we leave just a little too late for that: a few drops are already falling in Vejer de la Frontera anyway. We quickly descend to the coast and see dark rain clouds to the northwest and sunshine to the southeast. We are heading southeast toward Tarifa (route), so that's all right and on the rain radar we see that Tarifa, until the evening, will be "out of harm's way". On that same rain radar, we see that Ronda will get the full brunt. We cycle there later this week over unpaved paths and we already fear mud slides. Well, we'll see, for now we just have to deal with this rainy day. Unfortunately the rain does catch up with us and when we check the Weather Channel's rain radar again we see that we don't stand a chance: we are going to get wet and it will probably even continue to pour all day.
So far so good, at least in the beginning....
A Murphy's law moment: there is a coffee shop where we can stop but then the rain stops too and if we cycle on it will probably rain very hard. The latter becomes true: we cycle on and it is raining harder!
We do stop at the next coffee shop. By now we are completely soaked and might as well keep going, but a hot cup of coffee will do. The people on the covered terrace smile at us or laugh at us when we tip our shoes and wring out our socks. We smile back at them. Would it ever stop raining? As we warm ourselves inside the café over a café con leche, the rain does indeed seem to ease a bit. We leave after consuming the second café con leche. It is raining less, but it is still far from dry. However, "rivers" have formed everywhere on the streets; no rain runoff on these roads yet.
We can be long or short about the second half of today's stage but either way it's about (wet) sand and (wet) sand. Oh yes, and about a lot of walking next to the bike. The rain, on the other hand - contrary to the rain radar predictions - has pretty much stopped.
Where is my front wheel?
We even set a new slowness record: we cover 5 kilometers in just under an hour. We plod on because at the end of this day and just as well at the end of Europe, Tarifa is waiting for us.
Harry's camouflage wheel has been bubbling latex for several days implying a hole and some latex needs to be added although it seems to be well sealed now. Tarifa has a bike store (with bike handlebars on the wall as if they were hunting trophies) and that turns out not to be the only gem in this town: the old center is very nice, the beach beautiful and we find a fine hotel with no staff and a splendid restaurant with small prices. The town is a nice mix of locals, surf dudes, hikers, RV folk and two long distance cyclists. It is bustling without being a tourist hotspot. Tarifa, town at the end of Europe, is highly recommended!
The next day, like almost every day, we find a breakfast place where mostly/only locals come. After a nice tostada we jump on our bikes and cycle on asphalt on the very quiet CA 9210 first back north before we turn off and enter the Park National Los Alcornocales which means cork oak forests and that is also the only thing we get to see. The bikes get a break against the cork trees after an initial climb. While nibbling on our bananas we come to the conclusion that we like cork groves better than olive groves: the trees are much closer together, don't need irrigation and you have the idea of cycling through a real forest.
The road is well paved with gravel and fine for cycling; it stays more or less parallel to the contour lines and requires less climbing than the earlier stretch on asphalt.
Slowly we climb from 200 to something like 450 meters in altitude until finally we have a beautiful view of the Mediterranean Sea with Morocco/Africa on the other side. Awesome! We deflect to the north and the view turns with us so we have a great view of the Bay of Gibraltar/Algeciras and the Rock of Gibraltar. During today's final climb we string the miradors together.
View of Moroccan Mount Jebel Musa.
View of the British enclave of Gibraltar.
At the highest point of the day, the Puerto de la Higuera at an altitude of something like 570 meters, there is also a sign with the name Monte Comares which we translate in Dutch as "kom maar es" (come on here), that sounds the same, and immediately cheerfully answer with "we gaan maar es" (let's go) but not before enjoying the beautiful view.
While descending, we cannot always enjoy the view and our attention is claimed by the rocky surface
The 15-kilometer descent continues to enjoy the views of Morocco, Gibraltar and natural surroundings without human interference or disturbance, or it must be the everywhere cork trees.
The day's stage ends in Los Barrios, a town slightly inland near the big (ugly) port city of Algeciras. Harry has been there once and doesn't need to go there again, so we leave that town unvisited. In Los Barrios is a hotel somewhat on the periphery with somewhat disappointing reviews, with a pizzeria next door with excellent reviews. We are allowed to take the bikes in the room and after eight o'clock, full of hope and hunger, we set out for an unfortunately closed pizzaria. The restaurant is in a bullfighting stadium and fortunately there is another restaurant in the ring next door, but with significantly lower reviews. We walk in anyway, since we are, after all, on the outskirts of town. We do our best to speak Spanish and the waiter does his best to speak English. We barely understand each other but manage to order. Again, the salad swims in the sauce and none of it is very tasty but we are hungry and that makes raw beans sweet (is this an English saying too?), shall we say.
On the dirt roads, we regularly see mountain bikers. But today we see many road cyclists and especially on the flat bike path along the Rio Guadarranque. Much more unusual is the large number of storks, they must be hundreds! There is a nest built on every mast and pole (and there are many here in the rather industrial area), but some trees also house many nests like a multi-story apartment building.
The Eurovelo 8 route briefly merges with the Transandalus until Castellar de la Frontera. That has an old section (Castellar Viejo) near the castle and inside the fortress high on the hill and a new section (Castellar Nuevo) a little over 10 kilometers away. Viejo is situated on a hilltop over 200 meters high, a lot higher than the surrounding lowlands. We take the Transandalus to Viejo (the fortress) and think we will have a cup of coffee up there in the small village inside the impressive walls, in the cute white streets, as a reward for the strenuous climb. From the valley at something like 40 meters high, we prepare for a tough short climb to something like 230 meters high. Arriving at the top, we cycle into the castle/fortress and search the streets for a coffee shop or something. But there is nothing and we cycle back and forth again and tak another picture of the typical Andalusian street. Without coffee, but a lot of free extra altitude meters richer, we descend the other side of the hill where the asphalt quickly gives way to a rather technical unpaved path.
Castellar Viejo de la Frontera
Donde es a bar?
After the descent, the route runs along a railroad and small river. For the most part it is easy to ride but there are a few places we have trouble getting through: deep mud. After several slips we call it a day and continue on the adjacent road.
Neither traversable nor passable mud puddles cause a lot of delay, clog feet and secretly (with difficulty) a smile too
Jimena de la Frontera turns out to be another one of those Andalusian villages that hangs at the bottom of a castle. And the castle is always at a strategically high point and the village is (therefore) on a steep slope. The hostal we have our eye on has no room for us and that leaves as the only acceptable option a whole house for basically too much money. However, the house turns out to be great and worth every penny. The view from the couch in the living room is unforgettably beautiful, but around 6:30 the sun goes down and we light the fireplace. We have a wonderful evening on the couch with food from our own kitchen. Only blemish is the probably deaf British (from Gibraltar, we saw on his car) neighbor who has a news channel on late into the night and after turning it off for only two hours has found the button again in the early morning to disturb the peace.
From our casa, the road out of Jimena de Frontera is too steep for cycling and we start the day with a bit of bike pushing through the village. When the gradient drops below 14% again we jump back on the bike thankfully for this free calf workout. Then follows a beautiful asphalt road, without any cars, followed by a dirt path through the cork tree forest, which is (still) part of the Parque Natural de los Alcornocales. This natural park is home to the world's largest cork tree forest. It goes up quite a bit to 870 meters which, in addition to a very slow pace and a high heart rate, provides great views of the mountains in front of us.
Beginning of the climb
Some trees are a true spectacle in themselves
At the summit (just about then: this mountain had several summits)
Bringing heart rate down on a flat stretch
The last kilometers of the amazing descent are even asphalt (or what passes for it) and with cramps in our hands from the constant braking we stop in El Colmenar where, as it turns out, we have a room at the lower end of the village with its own little front yard and windows with a screen. Hanging in there at night is a tomcat, who is very eager to get inside with us. The next morning we have to chase out of the room several times the same cat who keeps slipping in when we saddle the bikes.
Three wise men and their entourage try to eliminate annoyingly pursuing children by throwing targeted candy
Reyes is celebrated on Jan. 5 and resembles the Dutch Saint Nicholas party mixed with carnival. Children receive presents and are pelted with candy from a float.
View of the very quaint village of Gaucin, situated at 610 meters altitude and of course stuck against a slope
After Gaucín we climb on to the Puerto del Espino at 840 meters altitude
Today is Harry's birthday. We want to make it a nice day with no running alongside the bike so we decided to avoid the dirt roads but score more free altimeters. The unpaved route runs along a river and there are warnings on Komoot that it is difficult by bike and we expect a lot of mud because the path is next to a river. We are going to look for something higher and that means a lot of altimeters: something like 1900 today. Directly from El Colmenar we can tap 500 altimeters to the white (yes of course; what else) village of Gaucín, where we drink coffee. We talk a long time with a Norwegian couple who have lived in this beautiful village for more than 20 years. They look super happy and relaxed and plant a seed in our minds. Then we climb on, descend and climb again.
View of Algatocín at an altitude of over 700 meters, naturally stuck against a slope
Eventually we cycle well above 800 meters and just before the village of Atajate we turn west and experience one of the most beautiful descents through a narrow gorge to the village of Jimena de Libar in the valley of the Rio Guadiaro. We cross the same river and railroad that we bid farewell to this morning at El Colmenar. From this valley, this gorge, it is quite a climb again. Well, those 1900 vertical meters have to be scored somewhere and we are far from there.
High against the wall of the Rio Gualdiaro gorge, on Avenida de Ronda
Descending through the village of Benaoján, naturally stuck against a slope, to the valley of the Rio Guadiaro
The finale of the climbing party is the climb out of the gorge near Ronda, much of which is so steep that it is not bikeable. For a good kilometer we push the bikes up, but we manage to complete the last kilometer by bike. At the top is a busy terrace and we seem to detect some appreciative glances as we try to get our heart rates back under control.
Walking at >20%. Ronda is exceptionally not stuck against a slope, but on top of a plateau split by a deep gorge, with the famous Ronda Bridge, a tourist attraction, above it
Cycling if at all possible....
In the centre of Ronda we find a huge and modern apartment where the bikes can be parked and we can freshen up before finally celebrating Harry's birthday. Cheers!
In the next particularly cold morning, we got to warm up by cycling into NP Sierra de las Nieves.
The climb from Ronda was regularly very steep
Along the way we make time for a satirical "Instagram snapshot." In the distance Ronda which is at an altitude of something like 700 meters
The climb is particularly tough, but we manage to stay in the saddle. At the summit, the Puerto de Life at something like 1150 elevation, and wet sweaty, we put on warm clothes for the long and deep descent; not yet knowing that that descent will be even more strenuous than the climb.
The descent looks "doable." The view is great. Let's go!
However, we have hardly started the descent when the road stops and we have to continue through a meadow with sheep. After that meadow there is no road but a steep footpath or better goat path with coarse large stones and for the sake of ourselves and the bike we decide to walk and that eventually turns out to be about 4 kilometers long. Not for the first time and certainly not for the last time we descend slower than we climbed the mountain.
No more cycling...
Don't let the bike slip out of your hands
Only at the bottom is a very short stretch to cycle and right there follows a steep slope uphill that is terribly hard even on foot. Fortunately, we soon find ourselves on a road that is not only finally cyclable again but also winds through a gorge in this Parque Natural for 8 kilometers to the village of El Burgo. After this village we once again follow a lovely path, over a substantial summit, to the village of Ardales. The descent to Ardales is great: doable, not too rocky and not too steep, so brakes off and this time no cramp in the hands. We also get lots of opportunities to enjoy the views and vistas.
In the (again cute and of course white) village of Ardales we booked an apartment for 2 nights to give the tired legs some rest, do some laundry, watch Netflix on a mega-large TV and above all not to cycle in the rain predicted for tomorrow. Of course, Ardales is also glued to a slope and we descend a little too far to the Rio Turón river and then overcome 80 meters of altitude over a distance of a few hundred meters. But thanks to these free altimeters, the beer in the cozy central plaza tastes all the more!
When we get up on the Monday morning, the steep streets of the village are wet, which means we have to be careful. We take advantage of a breakfast of café con leche, zumo de naranja and a pitufo (toasted sandwich with tomato, cheese and ham) for only €3 pp. When we are outside again the sky has opened up, but it will remain changeable today.
From Ardales to El Chorro is only something like 17 kilometers. We previously considered biking from Ronda to El Chorro and thus skipping Ardales as an overnight stop. Glad we didn't, because it takes us something like 3 hours to cover those 17 kilometers. Both on the ascent and (much more often) on the descent to the valley/gorge of El Chorro we have to walk, but wooow how beautiful it is!!!
No problems here, only enjoyment
View across the famous gorge of the Rio Guadalhorce, better known from the world-famous hiking trail "Caminito del Rey"
Still doable in the saddle
Nice piece (of the descent)
Sometimes you miss the suspension fork
Getting more technical
Finally dismounting, the trail is no longer bikeable, but it is still enjoyable
Even though you have to walk, it is advisable to keep your helmet on
El Chorro is in a deep valley at an altitude of something like 200 meters. The climb out of the village is tremendously tough; we zigzag across the full width of the road to slightly reduce the gradient. Our goal today is Antequerra and we stick to that until the ever-darkening clouds begin to leak into the mountains and the headwind becomes more and more intense. From Antequerra, we want to descend to Málaga tomorrow, but at a shelter during a shower just north of Valle de Abdalajís, we reconsider that option. We can climb another 21 kilometers to Antequerra north through the rain, cold and headwinds, or descend (mostly) with the wind in the direction of sunnier Álora, 19 kilometers south. We look north and see only jet-black clouds; we look south and see sun....
It becomes Álora which is indeed a bit lower, but for which we still have to climb two substantial hills between descents. Finally we have descended to an altitude of one hundred meters when we see the town on top of.... yes of course, a hill. We cross the Rio Guadalhorce and finally gain another 150 free altitude meters when we sit down on a nice terrace with a nice beer. After this reward we check into a nice hostel with private bathroom and super roof terrace. We cannot enjoy that terrace for long, because the showers from the mountains also reach Álora. In the rain, we walk to a nice little place that has opened its kitchen even during the hours between 6 and 8 p.m., which are strange here. We enjoy various snacks while the rain beats down on the terrace roof.
We are about to complete the tour of Andalusia and, via a tip from a cyclist on Komoot, are able to do a good tough last stage: a gravel ride with some steep inclines. Only we don't know from which side the tipster did the route. Of course, we first descend to 100 meters again and look forward to the climb to nearly 600 meters again. But once we get started, the slope regularly turns out to be far too steep to stay in the saddle, especially for Harry who has "fewer teeth" in the rear. When we finally arrive at the top at the little church with the three crosses, we assume that the tipster did the climb from the other side. From that side the road is full of encouragement on the asphalt (yes indeed, hardly any gravel here).
Still, sections of unpaved road on the ascent; usually a good sign, because less steep
Applied texture in the coarse concrete for grip because of the slope.
At the top of the little church (Ermita de las Tres Cruces) where we catch our breath and dress warmly for the descent
Málaga is still nearly 40 kilometers by bike from us, but can be easily seen from the summit
This section is also delightful: lots of curves (but watch out for oncoming traffic!) and vistas
It is Jan. 10 and Christmas weeks are over, but the Christmas decorations are still prominent in Malaga's main shopping street
We are in Málaga, the starting point of our vacation and route. Something of melancholy enters us: we don't want to stop, we don't want to go home; but also realize that we have done a wonderful bike ride, with almost always nice weather, through a unique region we have come to love. For that, we are grateful. We have two more nights before we knock on Jesús' door again for our last night near the airport where we also stayed the first night. Jesús stored our bike boxes. The choice of places to stay is vast in Málaga, with many apartments and studios on offer. We picked a nice apartment right in the historic center. The bikes are welcome, just inside the apartment; we have experienced otherwise.
Málaga is bustling, at least here in the old center. It is a big city, the second largest in Andalusia after Seville and the fifth largest in Spain. Furthermore, just about all the tourists for Andalusia and the Costa del Sol fly in here. So the nightlife is quite lively and the earplugs (Harry's) came in handy once again. The weather is lovely and we decide to cycle the remaining two days along the coast: first northeast to Torre del Mar and on day two southwest to Fuengirola. Returning from Fuengirola, we grab a beer at a nice little joint on the outskirts of Torremolinos. We have come to love Andalusia and would probably like to find a house, but definitely not on this Costa and certainly not in Torremolinos with all those Dutch, German and English retirees who (okay as far as we estimate) make no effort to adopt something of the culture and language.
Ah yes, another reenacted "Instagram-photo"
After the beer we knock on Jesús' door, he welcomes us warmly: it almost seems like yesterday that we called hasta luego, how intense and wonderful this trip has been and therefore(?) passed quickly. For the next morning the bike boxes are ready and Jesús has arranged a spacious cab bus that arrives at the stroke of 11 am.
The return flight, despite this Friday the 13th and unlike the outward journey (and completely unlike the return trip last year from the Canary Islands), goes completely smoothly. Bikes easily in the boxes, bikes easily checked in, no delays on takeoff and landing, bikes quickly assembled at Eindhoven and finally without rain with a thick tailwind back home in no time. It's time to say "the end" here...
Finally, some details of the stage and the route taken, which we (Harry in particular) always like to read back.
|19 dec.||Alhama de Granada||48||1215|
|22 dec.||Alcalá la Real||61||1030|
|27 dec.||Fuentes de Andalucia||88||685|
|29 dec.||El Rocío||77||300|
|30 dec.||Jerez de la Frontera||78||320|
|31 dec.||Vejer de la Frontera||81||600|
|1 jan.||Vejer de la Frontera||0||0|
|3 jan.||Los Barrios||65||1060|
|4 jan.||Jimena de la Frontera||52||795|
|5 jan.||El Colmenar||45||1100|
|11 jan.||Torro del Mar en terug||66||200|
|12 jan.||Fuengirola en terug||56||200|