Villafranca de los Barros to Siete Iglesias de Trabancos
(I tried to look for places with longer names, but these were the best I could come up with)
Villafranca de los Barros to Alcuescar 78 km
We were up at six and packed up for breakfast at 7, as per the instructions from the receptionist at the hotel, who assured us that we could liberate the bikes from the Discoteca next door at seven sharp.
When we arrived with our luggage downstairs, the place was deserted, and we stood around our bags looking like two clueless burglars, who had broken in but were unable to break out again.
Luckily after only an eternity, a cleaner arrived and told us that the hotel was opening late…apparently we later found out it is “All saints day”; a day where Spanish people stay in bed even longer than every other day.
Eventually we rescued the bikes from among the glitter-balls and managed to escape Villafranca de los Barros. It was like cycling through the day after the apocalypse…we were literally the only people we saw for a couple of hours. Eventually we met other cyclists who had got up only a few hours after daylight had arrived.
It was a chilly, but fast day, flattish, and with a less dramatic wind than the forecast promised, we put the hammer down and covered the ground fairly quickly (for us anyway).
The only incident of note was when Annette showed the true colour of courage…brown!
As we were spinning along through a bit of national park, she shouted that there was an Iberian lynx ahead. I spotted it and sure enough it looked like a lynx, a big one. I edged closer to try and get a photograph, and as I looked back, Annette had disappeared off the pace and appeared to be going in the other direction…just to get a head start outrunning the angry lynx. Obviously to fetch help.
As I got close, I saw it was a big dog…a very big…lynx coloured…tailless…Hound of the Baskervilles sized dog!
I turned to call Annette forward, only to see that she had become a speck on the horizon. She had gone to make sure that I received a decent burial. It seems loyalty is a quality prized by both of us, as she made sure that there was someone far away enough from the angry cat to call the emergency services. I was very proud of her quick thinking!
We arrived at our billet for the night, Los Olivos, again mid afternoon, in time for our first experience of a menu with a vegetarian option. We tucked in and retired after a successful stress free day.
Alcuescar to Canaveral 85 km
This would have been an enjoyable and straightforward day, but for a bit of bad luck with the weather. We got up at 6 and for a change the Los Olivios was busy and lots of people coming and going.
Just as we were about to get the bikes out from the storage shed, it started raining heavily. We ordered another coffee, and waited for the worst of it to subside, and set off a little late into a chilly and damp early morning gloom.
The weather never really warmed up, and by 9, a strong westerly was also blowing across us. We had been assured yesterday by a local cyclist that this weather was unseasonable, and a surprise to him. However; it was no surprise to us, we were just grateful there were no hailstones.
After a second breakfast huddled in a bus shelter, we pushed on to Caceres. Here, to compound the challenge, there was a cold and fierce squall that forced us to put away the phone. Within minutes, we were pretty unsure of where we were, in a sizeable city, and with only a key ring compass to guide us. By a stroke of luck and trending northwest by the tiny compass, we suddenly squirted out of the city on the road we wanted. Bonus!
We took advantage of a dry spell to sit in the grass at the roadside to have a spot of lunch, and then we were treated to a journey through some great scenery including a vulture convention, where about twenty (what appeared to be Griffon vultures) were wheeling above us at a height low enough to pick out their features clearly. I guess we must have been looking a little cadaverous after a few weeks on the road.
A very pleasant hour or so was spent approaching Canaveral past a drying up flooded valley, where old buildings and a beautiful stone bridge were revealed by falling water levels.
When we arrived at the Hostal Malaga, we were met by the very helpful manager who secured our bikes and helped us up with luggage. Within minutes our room looked like someone had tipped over a charity shop bin, and scattered stinking wet kit everywhere.
We brewed up in the bathroom and settled down to listen to the football on the radio. Liverpool won 2-1.
We eventually ate at the café next door, and were served by a man who was so rude it was really funny. He quite made my night and I kept smiling to myself when I thought about it.
I don't suppose he meant to be rude, people generally don't, but I enjoyed it all the same.
The room smells of cabbages. It smelt fine when we arrived.
Canaveral to Camping Bungalows Las Canadas 77 km
Today was one of those days when the universe decides to put you in your place. We set off through mountain scenery on an undulating but good quality road. It was a bit damp and chilly, but nothing too onerous. We were well wrapped up against the chill, but were soon soaked with sweat and chilling fast. This was the theme for the day…either way too hot…or way too cold.
We took shelter in a bus shelter for second breakfast at Plasencia, and then set off for what turned out to be a pretty hair-raising hour of cycling. The wind had built to gale force, and as we crossed a couple of high bridges and then over a col, we were seriously considering getting off and walking. It was only the distance we had left to go that kept us crawling along nervously. With the rigs we were riding, the buffeting was alarming. I was glad I had the toilet paper handy!
When we dropped to flatter ground, the wind continued to do its job not giving us an easy time. We took it in turns to pull into the wind and we slogged on until it dropped in the mid-afternoon.
We had both run out of gas a few hours previously, and were both struggling. We decided that cumulative tiredness, and in my case, not being able to find enough food, had finally got to us. We sat at the side of the road and ate honey. it seemed to revive us.
When we got to the bungalows at Canadas, we decided that this was the place we could rest, do laundry, and some much-needed maintenance on the bikes. My bike in particular has been a problem since the baggage handlers had hold of them. It was time to get the big tools out.
Navigation was starting to become an issue again as we tried to plan the next week. Information seems unable to keep up with the road-building programme here, and route finding on the ground is difficult. Our maps were simply out of date. Google is not practical, so we have been spending far too much time trying to figure it out. On the day, we have been wasting serious amounts of time, also not practical – particularly in this weather.
We are starting to see the value of GPS.
Las Canadas to Cuatro Calzadas 76 km
Despite unkind weather, today was a great bike ride. We appear to be on the tail end of an unseasonable Atlantic Storm, there are a lot of weather warnings on the television, and pictures of collapsed buildings and snow at sea level etc. so of course not exactly comfortable, but not enough of an issue to spoil a great day’s biking.
We started off into a dreich and gloomy, claggy morning. The first 20km were spent climbing up beautiful hairpins amongst great mountain scenery (we think... we couldn't see too much through the mist and rain squalls). It had a Pyrenean feel, and although we climbed steadily for close to three hours, it was never too steep to enjoy. It really was great biking.
By the time we got to Bejar, we were very cold. We bought food in the Mercadona, and stayed in the trolley park in the shop to warm up while we ate second breakfast. I went to the toilet and found out that I couldn't quite limbo dance under the hand dryer to warm my ears. It was a good try though!
After a large injection of fat and sugar, we ventured out into a cold rain again. As we cycled along, we could see our breath. We realised that this is the first autumn or winter we have seen for a few years. Somehow we never expected it to be so cold.
After Bejar, we cycled for the rest of the day through typical Snowdonia scenery, in typical Snowdonia weather. We stayed high pretty much for the whole day, and after lunch we were hit full-on by another strong headwind. It slowed us down badly, but we were still having fun. Just.
We arrived at our planned hotel a little bit later than usual, and after the kitchen had shut. We tried the bar.
The Spanish seem crazy about pig meat – it’s everywhere!
In the hotel bar, through a process of arithmetic, and presuming none of the pigs were amputees at the time of slaughter, we worked out that the remains of ten pigs were hanging behind the bar. It was like Hannibal Lecter had taken up interior design!
We hoovered up nearly all of the tapas in the bar, and left hungry and a wee bit poorer than when we arrived.
Hotel Cuatro Calzadas is very swish, but also very reasonable. We were made welcome and looked after. We planned our next moves in the bar…we’ve decided to leave the Camino, and try to pick up the Eurovelo 1. Information is difficult to get hold of, but I'm sure we’ll manage just fine.
Weather forecast says colder tomorrow…why did we leave Africa again?
Cuatro Calzadas to Siete Iglesias de Trabancos 90 km
When we pushed the bikes out to load them up this morning, I had a flat tyre. We weren’t expecting it, but there we go. It was a souvenir from Malawi; one of those wee wires from worn out tyres.
It had taken its time; as they do, to work its way through the stubborn resilience of the Schwalbes, and was poking its wee sharp nose into the tube like a mosquito sneaking its way through your socks.
With freezing cold hands, and an equally freezing cold cup of coffee, I grumbled my way through a puncture repair by headtorch.
We swiftly covered the few kilometres into Salamanca, and decided on a detour to Decathlon; my winter boots had broken this morning as I’d been putting them on.
As anyone who has been to Decathlon knows, time is stretchy in there, and we emerged a little older than when we went in. I had grown a beard and developed a stoop, but Annette looked surprisingly good for her new age.
We went on a Google maps sponsored tour of Salamanca, and eventually ended up on a fast road, with a tailwind, and only mild hypothermia. The kilometres flashed by, and before we knew it we arrived at the Hotel los Tereros del Trabancos. It is in the middle of nowhere significant, and really nice.
We went down to the bar straightaway and asked for food. We were told by a barman with a clipboard, that the kitchen is open at eight and it would be more than his jobs worth etc… He was overruled by a woman who knew that the quicker she got us out of the cafe, the better the place would smell. She arrived quickly, almost before we ordered, with chips and eggs. I could have hugged her, but as that would constitute common assault, I grinned and thanked her in appalling Spanish.
While we were in there a coachload of pensioners flooded in, drunk a very quick cup of hot milk each, and flooded back out again. A young guy flashed round the tables checking each one for any pensioners left behind, and in an instant, the place was deathly quiet again. That left just us, the barman, and a massive dead bull’s head on the wall.
Big shout out for the Hotel los Tereros for meeting all of our needs so efficiently and cheerfully. Top class!
Today was a day for bendy time and weird occurrences, not least the mechanical excellence of Annette’s bike, and in contrast, the persistent unruliness of mine. After the puncture, it has started changing gear by itself. Not so bad, if the gear change coincides with the right gear…at the time you want it, but that is rarely the case. It usually slips to a higher gear, just as you are on the steepest part of a hill.
More tools out tomorrow!