Headache again. Farting like fury all night. Went into town for breakfast where we found ‘Patisserie Magon’ and bought bread, croissant and a sticky each. The French colonial influence is still strong in Morocco. Went back to the pharmacy from the evening before to pick up the air mail paper I had left there!
Bought eggs from the market and was going up some steps out of the place when the young lad who had guided us to the pension shouted “Hello!”. He was smiling and waving. He was preparing chickens in a shop. We had breakfast in the pension. The rest of the morning was spent writing letters, journals and napping. My headache was still lingering and my stomach was bubbling still.
After lunch, we finished off our writing, slept and then went out into the town to take a few pictures of the strikingly ancient town and its surroundings we were in. We walked up the hill to the rear of the town to near where some children were playing in the rocks and lighting small bonfires.
The sun was going down over the mountains to the west of us. It was a beautiful sight. There was noise coming from the town below but not the noise of cars and mopeds, nor was there any loud music, unlike some of the towns and cities in which we had stayed in Spain; just people and animal noises. It was amazing.
Dan and I went back down in search of some vegetables to make a curry in our room. While buying them the Moroccan wearing the pork pie hat from the day we had arrived (Abdul Eli was his name) came and said hello to us, and promptly invited us back to his house for some tea.
We walked back with him, unsuspectingly, to his house to be greeted by his wife and children. Dan and I entered after having seen his garden during which he said “It’s untidy. I don’t have time to do it!”, which is funny because I say the same now twenty years later!
We sat in a small, dimly lit room. Abdul put on the TV and England happened to be playing the All Blacks. His wife made tea, under his orders, while he talked to us. She was Berber and spoke little Arabic. He was an Arab and spoke Berber, he said. Originally, he came from Fez but moved to ‘Chaouen’, as he called it, eight years before. He showed us pictures of his family. We talked about our trip (for a change) and where Abdul had been. It turned out that he had been in Luxembourg and Paris. He said the Parisians were very arrogant.
And then, at last, up came the real reason for us being there. Abdul started talking about carpets. He invited us back the next day to eat couscous with them and to be followed by going to see where his father-in-law made carpets.
We accepted with a lump in our throats. When Dan had been in Morocco previously on his motorbike, he had been virtually locked in a room in Marrakech until he had purchased carpet! As we were now finding, Morocco was a ‘sales war zone’. Everyone is trying to sell you something or change money with you, whether that was a small kid or adult.
The two of us left after seeing pictures of the King of Morocco, bless his soul, in New York on the national news programme. Abdul showed us the way back to the pension. In the pension were two Germans who seemed to be bargaining for hash. We went to our room, cooked up our vegetable curry and hit the sack.
Simon, Steve and Chris were up early because they had to return to the UK. We got up with them too. I had a screaming headache. We went down to the main square off the Kasbah for breakfast. We were offered freshly squeezed orange juice, coffee and bread filled with cheese and marmalade, so we accepted it! It was delicious but expensive by Moroccan standards.
(While writing this diary, I could hear a donkey being urged up the narrow, cobbled street outside our pension by its owner who was rolling his Rs off his tongue).
We chatted to Dan’s friends over breakfast and said goodbye. They looked pretty fed up about having to leave. Dan and I stayed on and spent the rest of the day looking around the Kasbah, trying to mend the pension’s video player (Dan is the 'handyman' and helped a number of people mend machines of sorts along the way), talking to the men in the pension and wandering around the shops.
I was feeling pretty awful. My stomach felt swollen with wind and I still had a headache. I went to bed for a kip after having bought stamps from the Post Office at about 3pm. I also went for a haircut later in the day and had a good ‘short back and sides’ of which my platoon sergeant in the army would have approved.
It’s so much easier having short hair when you are travelling. With the amount of sweating and the amount of dust in the places we were cycling having longer hair would have been a pain. Well, maybe that’s just what I had got used to after spending time in the army.
In the evening, the two of us went for a walk in search of air mail. We soon found air mail envelopes but no paper to go into it. (Imagine worrying about that now when you can just send an email from an internet café?). We ventured on through the dim streets, going down alleys and roads no wider than a small cart which we had not been down before. Chefchaouen has such atmosphere. It’s an incredible place. We found some paper in the new town, eventually, and also found a pharmacy where we bought some drugs to relieve my guts.
Walking back up to the old town where we were staying, we returned to a shop we had been to earlier where I had bought some gloves (My cycling gloves from the UK had fallen apart because of the amount of sweat coming off me for the last six weeks had wrecked them) and asked them to sew some leather onto the palms to turn them into cycling gloves. I paid the man 50 dirhams (£3.50) and left. When I got back to our room, I realised the man had sewn leather onto the gloves in such a way that I now had two left gloves, which was quite a laugh.
We went to bed and listened to the BBC World Service on the Sony short wave radio I had brought with us. Listening to the BBC made us feel very far away from home.
I had slept well. We woke up to Dan’s alarm at 5.15am, packed up our bags, picked up our passports from the night watchman of the camp site, paid and left for the border with Morocco. It was dark and Ceuta was quiet. We passed a couple of Guardia Civil patrols who flashed at us because we had no lights but we carried on.
At the border, we passed through the Spanish side with ease and, when we arrived at the Moroccan side, we had to wake up the border official, who was asleep on top of his desk, dressed in his djellaba, a sort of robe with a hood, to get the forms we needed to complete to enter the country.
We could arguments between Moroccans and the police could be heard in the behind us. Some women with huge boxes on their backs were lugging them across the border. We crossed the border with relative ease after a short inspection of our passports and we properly in Africa.
We pulled over just inside the border and had some cereal while watching the sun rise. Already, the difference between Ceuta and Morocco was apparent. Someone was praying on his mat nearby just off the road.
After finishing up, we set off towards Tetuan. The road was smooth and kept near to the coast and its modern tourist resorts, before heading inland. There were several roadside huts selling pottery and other ceramics which were scattered all over the ground all the way along the road to Tetouan.
Soon, we were on the outskirts of the town and we had a Moroccan man on a motorbike talking to us. We had heard about the hustlers in the town and we were not keen to stop. We continued on the road past Tetuan and stopped once we were past at the point where the road heads towards Chefchaouen by some telegraph poles.
Dan and I brewed up some tea and waited for Steve, Simon and, now, Chris, to arrive. A man came up and said hello. He was waiting for a bus because his car had broken down. It turned out that he was a hashish dealer and that business was good! He looked well dressed and warned us about the ‘pushers’ on the roads around there. We also asked him the time and we realised that we were an hour ahead him. Morocco is on Greenwich Mean Time. No wonder the Moroccan border official was asleep on his desk earlier.
We waited another hour for Steve, Simon and Chris. It was good to see them. We chatted for a while and got going. It was reasonably cool but sunny. We stopped for some melon and had lunch a little further on. I ate too much and felt awful afterwards, which is never good when you are about to take a large amount of exercise.
The road soon began to rise. I was feeling tired after 70 kilometres that day so far. We soon started to see men appearing along the way from the verges. These were the pushers the dealer had told us about earlier. They started running after us, one grabbing at the ‘load net’ I had on the back of my bicycle which held my jerry cans in place, trying to slow me down. The pusher had obviously been smoking a lot of what he was selling. His eyes had that lazed looked about them when someone is stoned. I had to pedal hard to get away from him and felt exhausted after that.
The road was steadily climbing through the hills either side of us but we soon came to the top of the valley and the road, thankfully, dropped away. At the start of this drop, on the first corner, was a gathering of people. As I went past them, one kid threw a stone at me which hit my foot. We sped past and that was the last of any stone throwing that we experienced that day.
The final stage of the day was leaving the main road from Tetuan to Chefchaouen. Although this was only 6kms, it felt like a long road. It was steep and I was knackered. Half way up, I had to get off my bike and walk. At last, we came into the town, which was nestled into the mountainside, and we got a young lad to lead us to Pension Valencia for a fee of 100 dirhams (about 70p). The boy had originally suggested the ‘Hotel Atlas’ which was prominently located above the edge of Chefchaouen but it was far too expensive for us (about £30 a night these days).
The five of us came into the medina where there were plenty of kids and touts hustling us for our business for their varying goods and services. An ‘official guide’ (he had a pretty serious looking badge!) and wearing a djellaba saw us and helped guide us to the Pension Valencia in tandem with the boy. All of this hustling was hilarious.
Pushing our bikes past one particular jewellery shop, we saw a man wearing a ‘pork pie’ hat. “Alright, mate?” he shouted in a London accent. We were in stitches of laughter. He had a girlfriend in Eastbourne.
We were soon in the pension which was £1 per night each. That was more like it. The room Dan and I were in was painted in a bright blue paint on the thick stone walls. The floor was stone and the beds were rickety but felt comfortable. It was fine and at a quid a night, we were not complaining.
We had a cup of our earl grey tea and then went straight to a smart hotel for a beer with Simon, Steve and Chris before the official guide came in as we had arranged with him. The guide took us around the town showing our small group the traditional bakeries where the local people bring their dough to be baked and pay the baker with a loaf of bread who then sells it. He showed us a weaver, who smoked hash (or ‘kif’ as they call it locally) all day to keep spirits up. He was a short man with a paunch, black hair, teeth like tombstones and a wicked laugh. He kept saying that Simon looked like Bobby Charlton (I cold no resemblance between the two at all). He did his business by getting the local Berbers to bring in their wool plus a heap of kif and he weaved their wool in return for the kif. (I can only assume that he sold some of the kif and smoked a bit to survive).
The guide then took us to an old water mill grinding wheat, which was fascinating to see something that was still in use for real and not just for show as they are in the Britain. We were taken to the inevitable carpet shop, through the winding, tiny streets which were full of shops selling anything and everything, and a restaurant.
Chefchaouen was an amazing town. It felt medieval. There were people everywhere wearing djellabas. The smells emanating from the food stalls and the livestock in the town’s centre were amazing. There was the noise of people chanting from the Koran in the mosques and there were donkeys carrying enormous loads through the narrow streets. Everyone seemed very cheerful and happy.
What struck us about Morocco and what little we had seen of it was the stark difference between two countries separated by a narrow stretch of water. Even from the UK, Morocco is only two or so hours by aeroplane and it is so different in culture and economy than home.
We had supper at the restaurant that our guide had shown us, after giving him 50 dirhams for his services. I had couscous and chicken. The couscous had sugar and nutmeg on it. We had wine too which we had to keep under the table for Islam’s sake.
I was developing a headache which was probably down to a mixture of dehydration, tiredness and wine. We returned to the pension and crashed out.
Distance 100 kms
Penny and I got up and headed back to the Brophy’s via the hypermarket and had breakfast with them and Dan. I picked up a few things up that Penny was going to take back to the UK. Penny was very sad and tearful. I was feeling sad too. I had been missing her a lot.
We, then, drove back to La Linea where I parked the car and walked over the border with Penny to the airport in Gibraltar. Dan was waiting outside the airport with a bag of things for Penny to take back too, having cycled from the Brophy’s.
Penny checked in and then went towards ‘Departures’. We said goodbye amid hugs, kisses and tears. I was full of mixed feelings. I was sad to say goodbye to Penny and I was keen to get going into Africa. Penny left through the departure gate at which point Dan and I then hurried back across the border.
Steve and Simon had tickets for the 1pm ferry and we thought we might be able to catch it with them. But, in reality, we did not have a hope in hell of catching the same ferry to Morocco. I sped down to Algeciras to drop off the car and managed to see Steve and Simon on the ferry before it left. We arranged to meet in Tetouan the next morning. I bought ferry tickets for us and cycled back to Brian and Sally’s place (I had left my bike there).
We packed up after lunch, said our goodbyes, thank you’s to Brian, Sally, their children Jess and Anna, and, after nearly two weeks of rest, left at 2-45pm for Algeciras. My bike felt sluggish and heavy after so much time cycling without panniers. We made the ferry on time and left Europe and Algeciras at about 4pm.
We had decided to get the ferry from Algeciras to the Spanish enclave in North Africa of Ceuta instead of landing in Morocco in Tangier. Firstly, coming ashore in Ceuta would give us a chance to check our stuff through before going into Morocco and to buy some last minute supplies. Secondly, Tangier, from Dan’s previous experience of it is a ‘sales war zone’ with hawkers and peddlers hassling from the moment you land. Ceuta would give us time to get through the border and on the road without all of the hassle. Finally, coming ashore in Ceuta means for a shorter ride to Tetouan where we going to meet Simon and Steve, who were also cycling.
It was sunny and windy on the crossing. Feeling excited about the next stage of our journey. We got off the ferry after almost suffocating from exhaust fumes on the car deck and went to a supermarket to buy supplies.
We looked for a room in Ceuta but they were far too expensive for us, so we ended up in a camp site. I was in a bad mood. Penny was gone, the man in charge of the camp site would not give us our passports back and, for some reason, my big toe was a little septic and painful (I can’t remember how I had injured it).
We cooked supper and went to bed early but not before spending some time removing any potentially offensive material about the politics in Morocco from the guide books we had bought with us (which seems a little too cautious in retrospect!). We also split up the Moroccan dirhams we had exchanged earlier and hid them around our bags. The sunset was amazing and we finally got into our sleeping bags, anticipating the first full day in non-European occupied Africa.
Left early after a bowl of cereal, some bread and jam. We shot down the busy road towards Gibraltar, briefly stopping for some fruit from a road side stand for ‘elevenses’. We cycled over a small rise in the road whereupon we saw the ‘Rock’ of Gibraltar ahead in the distance between two spurs in the land. I felt quite moved by seeing it because it was symbolised the first major step in our journey out of Europe. It was going to be the last part of ‘home’ that we were to see for months.
There was then a long downhill stretch into the border town of La Linea which is very much a working town of no note. There were very signs directing us to the border with the Rock, which was probably not surprising. Why would the Spanish help people find the border crossing when they were in dispute with the British over sovereignty?
Nevertheless, we quickly got to the border where a flower who had lived in Stockwell for twelve years asked us where we had come from, and could not believe that we had cycled from England. We crossed the border into British territory. The first thing you experience when crossing the border is the fact that you walk almost straight onto the runway, which is wide (When you fly into Gibraltar, it’s a nerve wracking experience. You fly in over the bay of Algeciras, getting closer to the water until you think you are about to take a swim in it and then the aircraft wheels touch the tarmac, much to everyone’s relief). The town seems quite some distance away. It felt like a mad house after the bustle of the border formalities (which are easy compared to some of those we were about to experience in a few weeks’ time).
Before going into the town, we turned right on went to the ‘Safeway’ supermarket which is near the runway to get some food. Going into the supermarket felt bizarrely emotional. It was because we had been living off pretty ordinary food for some weeks now and the site of all the delicious produce felt quite exciting. Pork pies, fresh milk, cakes, amazing stacks of fruit and vegetables and home comfort foods. Food becomes a major obsession for cyclists and the trouble was that it was all very expensive and mostly out of our budget. We still managed to buy ourselves a few treats but not many. We bought pork pies, cream doughnuts and fresh orange juice. It tasted great but the juice gave us horrendous gut ache for a couple of hours afterwards.
Gibraltar was hot, humid and packed with tourists from the Canberra cruise ship, that mostly come ashore to buy booze, fags and to see the apes. This was all a bit of culture shock after our time in the mountains and countryside of France and Spain.
Standing outside a shop, a girl walked past us wearing sunglasses and a cap. She nodded at me and smiled. I was in a bit of a daze and I wondered what on earth she was smiling at me for. As she passed, I noticed she was wearing cycling shorts. Damn! An opportunity missed to speak to another cyclist.
We went back to the Safeway to buy some drinks. On coming out, I saw the girl again so I went up to chat with her. Jan was Australian and was cycling home. She was waiting for some American bloke with whom she was going to be cycling. Jan was camping in Algeciras for a couple of days. We said we’d drop in and see her the next day and then set off to Brian and Sally Brophy’s place near San Roque, which was a bit further around the pay towards Algeciras.
Brian and Sally lived with their small children in a small house on a new development in San Roque. Dan knew them through a connection from back home and he had stayed with them on his previous motorbike journey to Morocco.
They were incredibly welcoming and friendly, letting us stay with them for twelve days in all while we waited for Dan’s friends to get down to this part of the world. Brian was a carpenter and worked in Gibraltar for much of the time. Sally worked there too in a school. We used the time to check our gear over, bought anti-malaria drugs, other medicines that we thought might be useful and made sure we were well rested.
The next day, we cycled over to the camp site in Algeciras that Jan had told us about to find her. We eventually found her sun bathing on the beach and sat down next to her to chat. She was fun and we talked about our forthcoming journeys and our planned routes. She was planning to head across North Africa and head down from there towards Asia to get home to Australia. After some time, we said our goodbyes and headed back to the Brophy’s
The weekend was approaching and the Brophy’s decided they were going to go to the beach at Tarifa for the day and would we like to join them. Would we? Of course! We all crammed into their car and went off for a day on the famous windsurfing beach around the coast on the Atlantic side of Spain.
Driving along the main road, we could see Morocco on the other side of the Straits of Gibraltar, waiting for us. My excitement and trepidation was growing as the time came closer when Dan and I would be leaving Europe for Africa.
We had a lovely day on the beach with the Brophy family and drove back in the afternoon sunshine to San Roque.
Since leaving England, the plan had been to meet up with Penny when we got to Gibraltar. Towards the end of our time in San Roque, Penny flew out for a long weekend away from her publishing course in Watford. It was great to see her after all this time. I had hired a car (I had budgeted for all of this but it still felt like an enormous slice of money!) and the two of us headed off into the mountains to spend some time together, leaving Dan with the Brophy’s.
Penny and I drove up to Grazalema in the Sierra del Endrinal, which is a pretty white village at 800 metres above sea level. We stayed in a hostal and ate in a little restaurant. I ordered ‘albondigas’ off the entirely Spanish menu not knowing what they were. Fortunately, they turned out to be meatballs and they are still a favourite of mine whenever we go to Spain.
Being high in the mountains, Grazalema was cool and cloudy after the heat and humidity of San Roque. The next day, we went for a walk in the nearby National Park, before heading off to Ronda where we saw the famous bull ring and stayed in a hostal for the night.
We headed back towards Algeciras and stayed in a hotel in Los Barrios the night before Penny’s flight back to London. The hotel was expensive (£20! Where can you get a hotel room for that amount these days?) I remember watching TV in the room where there was a Spanish version of ‘Grease’ showing. The last time I had watched that musical was when I was about twelve at a cinema near Wigan with my cousins. At the time, I had been impressed with the cars and the leather jackets, thinking it was terribly cool. Now, some twelve years later, I realised just how tongue in cheek it all was, especially when it was in Spanish.
Left at about 10am and went straight to a shop to buy breakfast and cycled along a short way on the coast road. Dan’s gears were out of sync on the derailleurs so we stopped to allow him to adjust them. I made tea while Dan tinkered with a screwdriver. Meanwhile, I ate some breakfast while Dan continued to adjust his gears. He soon had it sorted out.
We saw another lone cyclist coming the opposite way but he only waved and a carried on. We were a bit disappointed. On we went, steaming along at a good pace until we reached Malaga after passing through several holiday resorts. They were real eye-openers, such as Torre del Mar.
We went straight through Malaga city centre, which was like cycling in London, and found a hypermarket which Dan had been to before when he came through here a few years before on his motorbike heading for Morocco. The hypermarket was the largest I had ever seen. It was so big that the assistants were travelling around on roller-skates. It wasn’t long before we were back on the road but it took ages to get out of Malaga.
The next landmark was Torremelinos at which we did not even bother to stop, making our way towards Marbella. We tried to find a hostal in the centre of Marbella when we got there but there was nothing suitable. Dan was in a bad mood and kept snapping that we would not find one here. We decided to go out of town to find one and saw Hostal Los Pacos, got a room, showered before going to the next door supermarket to get our supper.
We cooked up in the room before trying to watch some TV with a beer each, but the television was useful so we went to bed.
Distance 126.8 kms Average speed 14.1 kmh Time 8 hours 54 mins
Slept like a log. Packed up and noticed, as we were leaving, two English hippies drinking coffees outside the hostal. We got talking. They’d been here for four years and lived up in a house in the mountains. One of them was a wood carver and was living off that – just. They were friendly and asked where we were heading to and gave us advice about local matters. (e.g. don’t eat the eggs around here. Don’t swim in the Med at the moment). They told us where we could find a supermarket as we parted and gave us ‘Victory V’ signs.
After buying breakfast and lunch, we ate breakfast in a small park next to a school which was bustling with small children and parents. We made tea and had cereal, bread and jam. A few stares came our way and we soon left in the direction of Lanjarron where they bottle mineral water, which turned out to be full of tourists.
A long downhill followed on the main road through an impressive gorge after which we stopped at a garage for lunch. And then, onto the coast road. We have noticed that we are beginning to become weary so we decided to get onto the busier but faster coast road to speed our way to Algeciras where we can rest.
The coast road was hot and hilly at first with the odd tunnel, lots of German bikers and a few Guardia Civil carrying out car searches. Stopping for a drink at a café, we commented on how we had not seen any British bikers. Just as we were leaving, a couple on a British bike pulled in. We went up to them for a chat. They were off to just beyond Malaga (Torremolinos, perhaps!). It had taken them four or five days to get this far. It has taken us a month. They caught us up a few kilometres down the road, waving as they passed.
After a few more kilometres, we entered Nerja (to which I returned in 2010 with my family for a holiday), a well organised holiday town with an old centre. We went into Hostal Florida and got a room for the night. We bought supper at a supermarket, after a shower, which was packed with English foods. We decided on curry that night with tinned Ambrosia rice pudding for a treat, which we cooked in our room. It was delicious, the rice pudding was wonderful and I felt full for the first time in a month and I was sweating from the heat of the curry.
Soon, we walked further into the town to find a telephone. A few coins and telephones later, we found a modern telephone that worked and called Dad. While walking down the streets, some girls laughed at us for some reason, which we soon realised was down to the fact that we were wearing our Teva sandals on bare feet. After several weeks with no sun on our feet but plenty of sun on our legs we had what looked like white socks on! No wonder they were laughing at us.
The town was stuffed with holiday makers and tourist shops (and it has not changed today). We found it to be an eye opening experience after having been in the mountains for a few weeks. We reckoned that 90% of the tourists never set foot out of the town to see what Spain was really like.
Back at the hostal, we crashed out, feeling very hot. I was asleep quite quickly, but I kept being woken up by the noise of the mopeds and drunken tourists outside in the street.
I was keen to get along to Algeciras now where we planned to see the parents of a friend (Jo) or Dan’s pal, Brian Brophy. I wanted to get hold of some post from home too from the ‘poste restante’. (Looking back at how we picked up our post seems antiquated now. It was 1991 and the internet was not widely used like it is now. These days most of the adventure travellers I follow update their blogs on most days with news and photographs, even those who are rowing across the Indian Ocean (e.g. Roz Savage). We used to get air mail letters from our friends and family and send them letters back. We had to give people enough warning to send letters to the ‘poste restante’ in a town on our route so that we did not overtake the letters. None of that has to happen with letters these days. You just send an email).
Distance 84.1 kms Average speed 12. Kmh Time 6hrs 38 mins
I slept reasonably apart from one hot moment during the night. We got up and cooked breakfast of six boiled eggs, tea and bread. There had been a lovely dawn, the sun rising over the mountains. We left at 9.45, dropping initially and then climbing for most of the morning in some amazing valleys with hair raising roads.
In Lanjar, we stopped for some sweet tasting fried snack in the town centre. A few children came up and asked us questions. A lot more donkeys and mules were about. The road flattened outside the town and we zoomed along for a stage before climbing up to a junction which turned off for Ugijar.
Stopping for lunch a few kilometres later, we noticed how people stare in amazement as they pass us. Is it our bikes or is it the fact that we are not wearing t-shirts? We did not understand! After catching up on our journals, we pressed on, climbing through some high villages, stopping at a water fountain in one of them to cool off.
Several villages were still celebrating fiestas where we could see cakes stalls, busy bars plus bangers were still being let off. We picked up water in Yucals for supper and hit a downhill stretches for the next 10 kms, which was a relief after such climbs that day. We came into a valley which would eventually led to Orgiva, walking the last 2 kms uphill. It is very tiring to cycle at night because we have to stop every time that a car comes past due to the lack of lights on our bikes.
At last, we found a hostal, went in, got a room and took our bags up. I showered first, got into bed and dozed off almost immediately. I was very tired.
Distance 110.4 kms Average speed 8.1 kmh Time 13 hrs 29 mins
Coolish night. Reasonable kip. I went out at 9am to buy breakfast. Dan stayed in to write some letters. The shop did not open until 9.30 so I posted a letter to Penny I had bought with me and then sat opposite the post office in a plaza watching people walking up and down the street.
After breakfast, Dan finished off his letters and we left at about 11am. We bought a pair of hair cutting scissors, posted Dan’s letters, looked at watches in kiosks (Dan’s watch is knackered) and headed off for Granada.
I bought lunch in a covered market. It was a mad house with fruit & vegetable stalls, fish and meat counters, with vendors shouting. All the vendors were very friendly and smiley towards me. I loved it.
Off we went again. The road to Granada was busy and hot. After stopping for a drink, we turned off onto a road to Gaudix and passed some interesting houses built into the small hills around. The locals who passed us seemed either embarrassed or suspicious at seeing us. We continued. The road ran parallel to a railway line for a while before bearing away to the south and climbing into the mountains.
Dan and I sweated uphill into Alhama, a few passers-by waving and cheering. On arrival in the town centre, we searched for a fresh water fountain but in vain. Luckily, a lorry driver was walking past and aid to follow him. We did. He took us to a bar and shouted greetings (I think) to the occupants who all laughed. We handed over our bottles to the barman who filled them with cool water.
The lorry driver (wearing shorts, a bit fat with a beard) then offered us a coffee (con leche). We accepted gratefully and quaffed the hot liquid quickly. We thanked the barman as we left following the lorry driver. He led us to a lorry park where we half filed our jerry cans from a shower without a head. He also took us to a fridge from which he took a porous jug of water with a drinking spout on it and offered a drink from it. The water was wonderfully cool. We packed up our bikes with the water and got ready to leave. We thanked him for his help, shook hands and left.
The difference between the Spaniards on the coast and those in the mountains is very apparent. The mountain people have been very kind and helpful.
Off we went, down a long hill, wonderful views to our right of valleys, mountains, vineyards, irrigation channels brimming with fast flowing water. It was sunny but not too hot. We passed a couple of men leading mules packed with either large sacks or maize.
Approaching Canjáyar was a long climb. It was about 5pm as we sweated into the town. No shops seemed to be open as we cycled along the high street. A group of girls wolf-whistled at us and giggled as we waved. We went into the main square and it was obvious that a fiesta was happening that night. A young man came out of a house and we asked him if any shops were open. He gestured that we follow him.
He went around a corner to a shop that was shut and shouted to an open window. A woman answered the young man and said she was going to open the shop for us. He smiled and said ‘goodbye’ in English as he left.
We stocked up and bought a few things to eat straight away because we were getting the ‘bonk’ (a cyclists term for when you run out of energy before your body starts burning body fat). We thanked the shop owner very much for opening the shop for us and we then sat outside drinking and eating for a while.
A group of boys came up to us and were asking lots of questions which we could not understand. One boy with gingery hair started to pull at our tent poles. “No tocar!” I said. He continued so I pinched him and he let go. Soon after, we left. A few clouds were forming but we were still sweating as we climbed out of the town.
A few kilometres out, we heard a loud bang. The fiesta had started. We stopped in an olive grove for the night. Lovely spot. Dan took a few photographs. I enjoy it so much more in the countryside.
Distance 55.8 kms Average speed 6.8 kmh Time 8hrs 1 min
Radio woke me up. Batteries were low so it switched off after a couple of minutes. I got up, changed them and started to pack away. Dan adjusted the headset on his bike. We had problems with balancing our bikes this morning. They kept toppling over (we leant them up against each other overnight).
We cycled off past ‘Recepcion’. No one noticed us as we quietly slipped away; on we went towards Garrucha, stopping for a sticky and a halt on the beach for a cup of tea and to catch up on our journals. We pushed on along a very smooth and very fast coastal road, passing through some modern holiday resorts. We got away from this as soon as we could. Bars, hotels, bars, flats for sale, bars, building sites, bars, bikinis, bars and bloody awful drivers hooting at us getting impatient at having to slow down for us.
We soon cycled out of there, up to a small settlement in a saddle of a hill and stopped for water. The waterhole was teeming with bees and wasps also gasping for a drink. Some had been over-courageous and had landed in the water and were now fighting for their lives. The water tasted slightly salty but we took it anyway.
We stopped again at the top of the next hill which had a commanding view of the Med to our rear and a good view of the steep, winding road taking us back to the shore again. We sped down, leaning out likes bikers to keep our balance. It was good fun until the road rose again.
We bought lunch at Carboneras from a grumpy checkout girl and, again, stopped, in the shade of some small trees just outside the shop. It was lovely and cool in the shade (about 28 degrees C, in fact). The bread we had purchased was thrown to the birds because it dried us out so much. We sat about chatting for a while about what people were up to back in England.
Setting off, the heat hit us. We went into a patch of road where the wind was following us which made it seem a lot hotter. Dan and I pedalled along slowly on the edge of the Andalucían National Park before the road gave way to a long, gradual downhill stretch into a wide valley packed with plastic greenhouses (poly tunnels).
The road was straight and flat in the valley making the pedalling easy. We cruised along at speeds of 25kmh to 30 kmh for an hour or so. Almeria was not far off and we arrived on the outskirts at about 5pm. The susburbs were pretty grim but soon we were in the city centre, cycling around and feeling a little washed out.
A few laps of the centre later and we spotted a Hostal on a side road called Hostal Alcazaba. The room was right next to the entrance with the window on the road. It was noisy but reasonable (2000 ptas). The room was old and well used but had character. We washed ourselves and our sweaty clothes before going to the nearest supermarket where we bought some decent water (the tap water tasted de-salinated) and I had some fresh milk, before dumping it all off at the hostal and going out for supper. We found a tapas bar, ordered seafood tapas and beers. After that we stopped at a kiosk on the way back to the hostal for a coffee and a bun.
We are finding that we are spending more money than we expected. I have drawn out £350 from my bank account so far. It is three times as much to camp in Spain as it was in France. In Spain, we have done far more wild camping with the odd night in a hostal. Money is going to be a problem if we hang around too much.
Mosquitoes seem to prefer me to Dan. I have been bitten all over. They itch like mad. Every night we stop, we track down the swines in our tent and kill them, but I still get bitten. I have five on one knee alone.
I can’t wait to get into Africa. Europe has become too much like one big blob of sameness. I’m missing Penny like fury.
Distance 104.4 kms Average speed 11.1 kmh Time 9hrs 17
Will Hawkins lives in Lincolnshire with his family, works in a technology company in London and does as many micro-adventures as he can.
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