West of Cordoba

[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.]

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Once again, I’m in danger of letting the final few weeks of a trip fade to a vague memory before I’ve managed to write down some words. Already two months have passed since I returned to London for Christmas, and day to day life, challenges and emotions have been vastly different from those on the trails in France and Spain.

Sure, I can look at the map and the photos and work out where I was, when, but memories of the little details and the emotion slip away all too quickly. I guess that’s why I originally started this blog – to try to capture these things for myself, to put some detail around the photographs, to remember the little insignificant snippets that seem so significant at the time on a long journey. It takes regular discipline though, which I sometimes have in shorter supply than is necessary.

But for now, back to Spain. To Andalucia. To the olive groves, whitewashed villages, rolling hills and friendly people. After a few days exploring Cordoba and a short weekend excursion by train to Madrid, its time to move on. The bike has been looked after by Antonio at Duribaik, who gives it a little tune, and sends me off with a tiny tube of the longest lasting lube I’ve come across.  Riding North out of Cordoba to connect with GR 48 in the Sierra Moreno Mountains, there’s a slow grind up a small winding road, from the top of which, I can pause for few minutes and look back down at the expanse of the city. Then, turning West I pedal once again along well defined trails, through large estates like La Porrada, where the land is covered in large swathes of earthy colours, until the large Embalse de la Brena reservoir appears in the distance.

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That night I have only made it as far as Almodóvar del Río, which would have taken just an hour or two by road. But I’m glad I made the effort to get back up onto the trail, and I have to accept that as the days continue to get shorter and shorter, so does the riding time. The sun is rising around 8:30 am now and darkness comes around 6:30 pm which with some faffing in the morning and some food and coffee stops during the day, can whiz by surprisingly quickly. The grander side of this town, with its castle sitting above the surrounding landscape visible from miles around, contrasts a little with what looks like a little shanty town on the edge of the main road, as well as areas of dumped rubbish by the roadside.

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The lush, earthy coloured landscape continues as I head west along GR48, with contrasting lines of green shoots adding panels of texture.

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There are sheep (of sorts)…

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…and abandoned buildings.

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The trail disappears down into a valley, and then up the other side – both of which require pushing. After losing the trail to the east of Cordoba, I got in touch with Logan of Pedalling Nowhere who had ridden the route recently and talked of only one hike-a-bike section of GR48 west of Cordoba, which I think this is.

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Things never look as steep in the photos as they really are…

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The trail hits a road and I pass a lovely recreational area which would make a great camp spot, were it not only early afternoon. Instead, a smooth deserted road takes me along a valley and then up into a ‘Natural Park’. You might think that this would mean lots of wide open spaces but strangely the road snakes through a series of fenced estates. Behind the fences are goats, horses, and herds of dark grey Iberica pigs. On my side of the fence is just a small verge on each side of the road, and as I continue up into the hills and the sun drops in the sky, I struggle to find space for my tent. But, after considering a couple of all-too exposed spots, I come across a little area set slightly back from the road, against the fence.

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As darkness falls, a trail of vehicles passes by – workers from a small construction site further along the road heading home for the night – but no-one notices me tucked away behind the tree. In the morning, as daylight exposes my tent to the same workers returning to their site, one car stops alongside me for a while, another beeps on his way past… I’m still wrapped up underneath my quilt trying to postpone venturing out from beneath the downy cosiness until the sun has warmed things up a little, and never find out whether they are just curious or are telling me I shouldn’t be there (always a concern at the back of my mind). But half an hour later as I’m packing things up, a tractor chugs along a path on the other side of the fence and pulls through a gate onto the road. As it passes me, I smile and wave, and the farmer does the same. No problems. I hope than one day my instinctive reaction will be one of ‘no problems’ rather than one of slight guilt about being somewhere that perhaps I shouldn’t.

That morning, I ride through misty, dew covered fields…

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…until the sun slowly burns the mist away, and the road snakes its way along a valley.

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The small Embalse del Pintado appears in the distance, and I descend down a sweeping gravel road, to cross firstly the small Rio Arroyo, pausing for lunch in the sunshine, and then the embalse itself.

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As I sit here and relax in the sun, I’m hit by a wave of appreciation for where I am, and that I’m feeling fit, the sun is shining and I’m really appreciating the route. I’ve definitely found some kind of groove…

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Climbing gently away from the reservoir through farmland, before descending once again, I come across a couple of guys ‘fixing’ the road, which seems to involve covering it with a thick, loose, slightly sketchy layer of dirt…

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…although as I see the state of the bridge at the bottom, perhaps it is better than what was there before…

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Over the last few days I’ve occasionally had some dark, hairy, companions. Sometimes I hear their grunts them before I see them, and often as soon as they hear me they trundle off into the undergrowth, snorting heavily as they run. The black Iberian pig is extensively farmed in central and southern Spain and Portugal, and although they are always on the other side of a fence, its a pleasure to see that they are free to wander in herds over large expanses of land. Eventually I find some who are a little less nervous and happy to stay around for some photos.

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The first pigs are thought to have been brought to the Iberian Peninsula by the Phoenicians from the Eastern Mediterranean coast (current day Lebanon), where they interbred with wild boars. This cross gave rise to the ancestors of what are today the Iberian pig, which is a apparently a rare example of a farmed breed that actually contributes decisively to the preservation of the ecosystem in which it is bred – feeding largely on vegetation naturally present locally – in this case acorns from the holm oak, gall oak and cork oak.

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The trail continues to snake westwards through more rural estates…

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…before passing through a few small villages – Puerto Moral, Puerto Gil, and Corteconception, where I learn how to resurface roads the Andalusian way.

Firstly, remove the previous surface, and divide the area lengthwise using stones laid vertically.

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Then fill the divided sections with further neatly laid stones…

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…before filling the space between the stones with sand, and packing down to give a smooth surface. Et voilà…

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And on that educational bombshell, I will leave things here for a short while before turning south and heading for the coast…

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

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