Into Andalucia

[I’m using the (Un)Inspired Ramblings Facebook page to post some more regular updates and photos in between main blog posts here. You can find it here.]

How long do you think it is polite to carry on chatting in the street with someone who has just made an unsolicited offer of sexual favours – mid conversation – before making your excuses and heading on your way, whilst nonchalantly trying to play the whole situation down? I’ll come back to this in a moment.

Aside from this slightly awkward encounter, Andalucia seems to be everything that I have been told it would be. I don’t know whether it’s the rolling hills covered in a patchwork of olive plantations, the smell and sight of woodsmoke drifting away from the small fires burning olive wood cuttings, the jumbles of small white houses, or just the open and friendly people, but Andalucia certainly feels special.

The lovely trails must help. I was a little nervous about how rideable the TransAndalus route would be on a slightly overloaded bike, but so far the route has been mostly on wonderful dirt roads. The route cards made available on the TransAndalus website seem accurate, as do the trail descriptions. A ‘short challenging climb’, is exactly that, but still rideable, even for me. And the distances between stages are easily covered in a day, allowing some flexibility in adding stages together.

I cruised down the road from my motel and picked up the trail just West of Beas de Segura, heading anticlockwise. Within minutes it feels like I’m in the middle of nowhere.

I follow dirt roads.
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Cross crumbling old bridges.
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And pass through small settlements.
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These two dogs aren’t that pleased to see me until the portly male owner appears from his small house and calms them down. We chat a little about my trip, and he offers me water (which I accept) and food (which I decline), using a little Spanish and some universal sign language. After a further chat, he appears to be offering me some food again – gesturing to his mouth – but then seems to gesture at…my shorts…I think, and says something about me being strong. I’m a little confused, but then he repeats the sequence… Eventually the penny very slowly drops. It appears that he’s not offering me food, he’s offering me some kind of personal oral favour… I know the people of Andalucia are renowned for being friendly but this appears to be above and beyond the call of duty! I cheerfully thank him for the offer but decline. Things are suddenly awkward and he looks slightly offended. I try to make small talk about the two turkeys that are pecking around my feet, but I think it takes me about 1 minute and 20 seconds before I feel its not too rude to say goodbye and ride off, trying not to dwell on the awkwardness of the encounter. He’s probably lonely, and I guess he thought I might be too, after a few months on the road. I chuckle to myself, inwardly hoping that not everyone in Andalucia is quite that forward…

After climbing slowly up through olive groves, I skirt the around base of the hill upon which Chiclana de Segura sits.

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The red dirt road snakes through the olive groves…

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which seem to cover every patch of land here…

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…past disused farm buildings…

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…until I eventually arrive at the Albergue de Vacquerizo The area around here is full of wild deer which I frequently disturb and catch bounding off into the forest. Its worth ringing ahead if you plan to stay at this hostel – I didn’t and was the only guest and so the host had to open up the hostel and restaurant for me – she was lovely but I imagine she would appreciate some notice. They have a room of bunks and a double room, and a nice garden for the hostel, as well as herbs and chilli growing in the garden and a little aviary. They also have some very large dogs in their (separate) garden who make sure their presence was felt when I first arrive, but they are kept separate from the grounds of the hostel.

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The following day, the GPS track I am following takes a big detour from the route card instructions, as it heads through a very large, very securely locked gate. I spend the next few hours that afternoon following the route card instructions in the TransAndalus guide for that section, using my cycle computer to track distance between each turning indicated on the route card. It works well, though is the first time I’ve had to rely on this way of navigating. As easy as it is to blindly follow the GPS track I have downloaded, this reminds me that those tracks were generally created by someone just like me… following the route but perhaps taking their own detours and making their own mistakes. I’m grateful for having made the effort to download the routecards from the website, and transferring them onto the Kindle app on my iPhone. Without them, this afternoon might have been a little more tricky…

The Viewranger app is awesome, but the GPS route is only as reliable as the person who recorded it..

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Its just me out here it seems…

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The trail passes through a number of fenced reserve areas. This municipal reserve has had a ‘gate’ cut in the fencing (by the local council) so that thankfully I don’t need to get my bike and gear over the top of that gate on my own…

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The large wildlife tends to bound off into the forest before I get too close, but the smaller creatures adopt a more stealthy, play dead approach…

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The Spanish love big bags of fried doughnuts and churros which make great trail snacks. Unless of course you by a bag of baked, more biscuit like snacks by mistake, which soon disintegrate into a powder which is not dislike the trail you are riding on…

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When I arrive at Aldeaquemada that night, it appears that it may have been a bit warm today and I might have sweated out a bit of salt…

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The owner of Bar La Cruz in Aldeaquemada, where I stop in for coffee, offers me an apartment that his mother-in-law owns and lets out to tourists, for €20 for the night, which seems to good to refuse. It turns out that he and his friends are mountain bikers, and the next morning there is a little kicking of tyres of my bike, and some disjointed Spanish/English discussion about the TransAndalus trail. This is Alberto (the owner of Bar La Cruz) on the left and Jose, his friend, on the right.

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The ride between Aldeaquemada and La Carolina is full of similarly lovely dirt roads snaking through rolling hills of forest or olive groves.

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I stop short of La Carolina after coming across a virtually deserted recreation area / campsite alongside a small river. The only people there appear to be the managers of the kiosk, which is now closed for the season. They keep to themselves during the evening, but I hear them singing around the campfire late into the night, as well as the odd shotgun going off in the woods (hunting is very popular around here, even at night, it seems!). The following morning I speak with the guy, who tells me about how he and his family share their time between their home further up in the hills, and this place which they run in the summer. A year ago he had a heart attack on a local trail and had to drag himself back to this campsite on his own, collect his car and drive back to his village before he could find anyone to help… Sobering stuff.

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Unfortunately the locals often seem to like keeping caged birds – but not only those that you might expect to find caged like parrots…

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…but what appear to be wild birds caught and caged. I was told about this further north but am starting to see it more often now, and its a little disturbing.

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In La Carolina I stop for lunch in Plaza Vieja, and meet Yolanda, the best waitress in…er…well, La Carolina, at least! We chat for an hour about La Carolina, Andalucia and my route.

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As I am riding out of town, a car pulls alongside and the driver asks me where I’m going… ‘TransAndalus? Ahhh…! Buen viaje!’. As I pull into Banos de la Encina at the end of the afternoon, another car driver flags me down and asks me about where I’m going. The driver’s brother (I think) is riding around the world, and he’s keen to chat and see whether I need anything… So much interaction in just one day – it seems a far cry from the lonely days in central France…

I’ve been feeling a tightness in my right ankle and knee developing the past few days, so decide to have a day resting in Banos. I wander around the arabic castle, built in the year 968 and composed entirely of tamped earth and mortar (not the usual stone)…

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…as well as the market and the rest of the town, for the day, watching the locals…

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…and a strange collection of cats all hanging around one small street…

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…before once again heading off into the olive groves again the following morning.

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Climbing past the dam that forms the Embalse del Rumblar water storage reservoir…

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…I follow snaking dirt roads again…

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The locals work in little teams picking olives…

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One guy has a petrol driven ‘agitator’ which he sticks into the bush to grab hold of a branch, whilst his colleague smacks the bush with a big stick, causing the ripe olives to drop off onto the floor. Then the ladies come along with a rucksack mounted air blower and blow them all into small piles, ready to be collected.

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My plan is to divert off the TransAndalus route as it snakes around to the north of Cordoba, and head along GR48 into Cordoba itself. I know that much of GR48 is rideable, at least to the west of Cordoba, and all is good for a while, but within a couple of hours I have run out of trail. I have a line on my GPS but it no longer seems to relate to a path on the ground. There are a number of red and white crosses indicating which way the GR isn’t, but not that many to show which way it IS.

Just as I find a path through the undergrowth, it disappears again.

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I thrash around in the undergrowth for a while, backtracking, pushing through long grass, over rough ground filled with ankle-breaking holes, trying to find a way through, only to repeatedly come up against impassable bush or deep rocky stream beds…

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…whilst getting slowly attacked by the undergrowth.

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Eventually I find trail markers pointing down a steep bank to cross a stream but which involves crawling underneath tree branches with the bike to make any progress. Looking at the map, I can see that the other side of the small stream valley is very steep, and at that point I decide to backtrack, pick up a track through the olive grove estates, and head for some roads. Once again I am thwarted by the walkers’ routes, and reminded of how much more enjoyable a known bikeable route like the TransAndalus is. My plan is to continue out the other side of Cordoba on the same trail (after a short weekend trip by train to Madrid) and I hope that the route to the west is more rideable than the section I encountered today.

I arrive in Montoro just as the sun starts to dip, frustrated at my slow progress, and wet from the damp undergrowth. Montoro turns out to be an interesting place, clinging to the side of a hill almost entirely encircled by a meander of the Rio Guadalquivir. It looks amazing as I approach across the river, but doesn’t look all that bike friendly!

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As I push up into the town and stop outside a bar where I stop to sort out a plan for the night, I am approached by Rosana, who in a mixture of Spanish, French and English, tells me she would like to put me up for the night, if I need somewhere to stay. Her daughter travelled throughout Europe and was constantly taken in by locals (mostly through the Couchsurfing website), and so she likes to repay the favour to travellers she sees arriving in her town. She buys me a beer and shows me to her house that she shares with her mother, cooks me dinner and gives me her daughter’s old room for the night.

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Rosana is a lawyer, working from an office in the basement of her home that clings to the edge of the hillside with amazing views over the landscape.

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Her mother’s dog spends most of the evening and following morning running away from me – either the site of me arriving with the bike was too much, or my beard is in dire need of a trim – but eventually settles down enough to get a couple of photos.

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The following morning, slightly untrusting of this section of GR48, and on a schedule to catch a train to Madrid for the weekend, I pedal off to Cordoba along the roads, grateful for having met so many genuinely friendly people over the past week. It really does seem to be the case that everything that people say about Andalusia is true, and I’m looking forward to exploring it further. Just as long as the locals are not too friendly…!

Posted in Bikepacking London to Seville (2014) and tagged , , .

20 Comments

  1. I thought you’d find Andalucia warmer, in more ways than one! In our neck of the woods they spread sheets on the ground before agitating the branches; it keeps the olives cleaner!
    Hope you had a good weekend in Madrid.

  2. Are you running a single speed or an internal hub. If a single, what is your gearing? I am about to head out next year on my single speed adventure bike. First trip, “The Great Divide”.

    • Hey Tom, Thankfully I’ve got gears (a Rohloff), as I dont think I’ve got the legs to drag that thing along with only one gear! Much respect to anyone who goes bike/adventure touring on a singlespeed. There’s some stuff about my bike setup in ‘The Bike’ in the menu along the top of the page. Your trip aounds ace – but why singlespeed?! 😉

    • Hi Tom, I did the Divide this summer – my first trip too! It was amazing! I met a guy who was only doing a stretch of it but was on a single speed. A fair bit of pushing up the steeper hills but we were all doing that at times!

  3. Best post yet I reckon (as sounds like you’re enjoying it, not just because it contains the phrase ‘oral favour’).

    More photos of Chunk please 🙂

  4. Sounds like you’re having a much better time. Great to see you getting photos with people you meet too.

    I’m not sure if its possible (of if you’ve got time) but popping a little image on at the beginning of each post with a map detailing the route you’ve taken would really add a lot to the post, and help us envious readers visualise where your journey is taking you. (I popped each location in to Google Maps anyway – Fantastic route!)

    I had no idea you could put the TransAndalus Route Cards on a Kindle App on the phone. I’ll have to check that out!! Do you find that better than putting the GPS on a Garmin? Does it drain the life of the iPhone quickly?

    Enjoy your weekend in Madrid.

    (PS: Its a shame Yolanda wasn’t as forthcoming as the portly male. Hahaha)

    • A map on each post would be a great idea – I did it for the Camino posts, but it was a bit of a faff on Google. I wonder if I could grab a screen shot from the TrackMyTour map to use for each post. I’ll have a play.

      The guides they have on the TransAndalus site are just pdf files. Amazon has a ‘Manage Your Kindle’ page that lets you set up an email address for your Kindle and any device with the Kindle app. You just email the pdf file to the address and it magically appears on the corresponding device. The page also lets you shift documents around between your devices.

      I use the Viewranger app on my iPhone for GPS tracks. It’s good but does drain the battery and when the riding is slow / rough, the dynamo hub struggles to keep the iPhone charged up. Using the Kindle app must use less power than than a GPS app but I still tend to use Viewranger mostly. But I’ve got the route cards on my Kindle and the Kindle App on my phone, AND on my laptop – I guess as I’m not carrying any hard maps, it’s nice to have a bit of backup!

    • Your wish is my command :-). Simple maps cut from the TrackMyTour page are now at the top of each post from this journey. Not sure how happy I am with them at the top, so I may move them to the bottom, with some route info as well, but they’ll be there somewhere. They’re not perfect as the Google map zoom is a little clunky, so there is some overlap between the maps for each post, but the relevant bits should be relatively central.

      • Great work mate. It really helps get a feel for where you’re going and the distance you’ve covered.

        Hope everything’s going well on the trails. While you’re out there doing the hard work, I’m plotting my route through Andalusia for May next year.

        Where do you think you’ll be in 6-months time?

        • I think the answer to ‘how much distance I’ve covered’ is usually ‘not all that much’! 😉 Sadly, the current plan is to head back to London for Christmas, and the to stay and work for a while. I have a flat that is let out but which cost a fair bit of money last year and so the state of my bank account is making me a little nervous. There will be smaller trips this year and then a continuation of this journey in some form in a year or so, I hope… 🙂

          • Hibernating during the colder months sounds rational to me. I was hoping you’d ride the section between Malaga to Almeria of the TransAndalus before I do in May soni could pinch some tips 😛

    • Thanks!

      This trip is the first time I’ve used tubeless tyres and so far they’ve been amazing – not one puncture since London (whisper it though – don’t want to tempt fate!) . I carry spare sealant so I can squirt half a bottle in every couple of months, and in case I get a hole that doesn’t seal immediately. In case I get a rip in the tyre too big to seal, I’ve got two inner tubes and a tyre boot (something to place over a gash in the tyre, between the tube and the tyre, to stop the inflated tube pushing out through the hole – I’ve got a section off the top of a margarine container lid but I’ve heard of people using anything plastic and flexible).

      I’ve also got super glue and a needle with thread and tooth floss (very strong), which I’ve heard of people using to stitch up big gashes. The one thing that would potentially ruin the show is not being able to reseat the tyre after having to partially remove it to put a tube in. When the tyres were installed new, and when I replaced the rear tyre in Valencia, I had a bike shop do it so they can use an air compressor to inflate the tyre and get it to pop into place. I’ve no idea whether I’d have problems doing that on the trail with my tiny pump, or whether once the tyre has been on and used for a good few miles, it would slip back into place ok. I’m crossing my fingers that I don’t have to find out…!

  5. Nice one. I like to see how others see my country on a bike, and the transandalus is definitely on my to-do list. Sometimes we forget that we’ve got amazing stuff in our door step, and that we don’t need to travel to very far and fancy destinations to have incredible times on the bikes. Maybe when we return from the Andes…!

    • Very true Alberto. Your country is extremely beautiful. Spain is so diverse and very scenic, with a wonderful culture and great people.

      I checked out your blog. You’ve done some great rides. Where in Spain do you recommend cycling (both MTB and road)?

      • Hi Chris. Madrid has some incredible mtb routes – check out wikiloc and areas in and around Cercedilla and El Escorial, both accessible by train. That´s the area I know best. Also Sierra de Hoyo de Manzanares, train it to Las Matas or Torrelodones. I believe the North (e.g. Asturias and Picos de Europa) has some excellent trails also, but probably not the best season now. Murcia and Almeria I believe have some excellent coastal trails, though I´ve not been myself. Don´t have much experience on roads, as most of my road miles I did in the UK…

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