Day 118. Salamanca – Vallejera de Riofrio, 74 km.

Leaving Salamanca starts with a long uphill out of town.

Figure 1. Map day 118-123
Leaving Salamanca
Figure 2. Leaving Salamanca

The road continues to go up until I reach a pass at 1005 meters altitude.

1005 meters and still going up
Figure 3. 1005 meters and still going up

The days start out really chilly, often below 10C and then the heat builds slowly. After one in the afternoon it’s usually above 30C. Today is Sunday so most places are closed and the roads are quiet and nice. I manage to find a bar that is open where I can have some tostados. Things are really cheap here in the countryside.

The road continues to go slowly up and up and up, I will pass the highest pass on my journey today.

Slowly going uphill
Figure 4. Slowly going uphill

The road I am cycling is the N-630 and it’s a service road to the A-66 highway. The road is incredibly good, it’s really wide and the shoulder is mostly between 1-2 meters wide. There is almost no traffic at all, some tractors and some trucks.

In one of millions of roundabouts I see another cyclist parked talking on the phone, I stop and ask if she needs help. She is from Salamanca and on a 4 day tour, she doesn’t have a map or GPS and wonders how to ride back to Salamanca. Fortunately I just came that way so I can tell her how to get there, just follow N-630 and the signs with “Via de servicio”.

Via de servicio
Figure 5. Via de servicio

Next is the “Puerto de Vallejera 1202 meter” pass, there are some switchbacks to get up to the top but from there is just on big downhill towards Bejar where I was planning to stay.

The peak
Figure 6. The peak

After going downhill for a kilometer or so I meet 3 Englishmen, they are biking the via de la Plata and they don’t look so happy when I tell them about the road ahead to Salamanca. I was planning to stay in Bejar but with a few kilometers to go I see a sign for a hotel and decide to try my luck. They had a cheap room and a nice dinner.

It looks like the place is a ski resort, just like in Finland, high mountains, steep hills, ski resort, why do I keep going to these places ?

Day 119. Vallejera de Riofrio – Plasencia, 64 km.

It’s really cold in the morning, the Hotel is probably at about 1100 meters altitude. The morning start with a crazy downhill towards Bejar, really cold it was. After Bejar there are some uphills but mostly crazy long downhills. I loose about 750 meters altitude over 30-40 kilometers.

Going down
Figure 7. Going down
Still going down
Figure 8. Still going down
Still going down
Figure 9. Still going down

It was really cold going down, but once in the lowlands the sun really heats up in the afternoon. I decide to make it a short day and check in to a hostal while the restaurant still is open for lunch.

Soon I will have to make my mind up about which route to take in Portugal. My two options are to go south to Merida and then west to Badajoz and in to Portugal, or go south to Sevilla and then west along the coast. I am sure the first option would be nicer cycling but the second option is probably easier for someone that doesn’t speak Portuguese.

Today was fantastic cycling, as usual, the views and nature is really fantastic. The roads (N-630 and N-620) are the best ones I have seen. Surface is great and there is almost no traffic at all. Maybe 10-20 vehicles per hour. In towns and cities it can be a bit narrower and busier.

Figure 10. N-630

From what I can see the A-66 highway is also has very light traffic, it must have cost the EU taxpayers enormous amounts of money.

Figure 11. A-66

Day 120. Plasencia – Caceres, 86 km.

The hostal wasn’t so great as their A/C shut of when the outside temp was low during the night. The temperature in the building was still 25-30 C. The morning started with yet another cold downhill, it felt great after the night without the A/C. The first part of N-630 was also the access road to the highway A-66 so it was a bit messy and lots of traffic. Just outside the town before the highway there was one of these enormous roundabouts, there was something like 16 lanes going in to it and the roundabout itself had 3 lanes and were about 100 meters wide. I am guessing that this must be financed by the EU taxpayers and not the 41 000 people that lives in Plasencia.

Yet another mega roundabout
Figure 12. Yet another mega roundabout

Today’s biking along the N-630 will be at an altitude between 300 and 600 meters, so many up and downs but none very steep I hope.

One of the great things with N-630 is that it runs along the highway so here and there I find small access roads to the service stations on the highway. Today I found a place with 24×7 open restaurant, it was fantastic to have a plate with one fried chicken and fries for lunch at 10:30 ! Finally !

After lunch, at 11, it’s almost to hot for t-shirt and shorts, the sun is really hot. The N-630 and the highway split up to cross the Rio Tajo at different bridges so now it’s all countryside until next town. Since the bridge over Rio Tijo is the only one for a long distance the actual Camino Santiago walking trail comes out on the road for long stretches so I meet lots of walkers.

The nature is as usual fantastic and the bike ride is also fantastic but in the afternoon the temperature passes 35C and going is hard.

When I get to Caceres I try the first Hostal I see, a quick look on google confirms what I can see on the outside, it’s a dirty place with cockroaches. So I move along some kilometers until next hotel appears. This happens to be a 4 star hotel but by now I am exhausted and after trying to get the internet rate but failing I decide so suck it up and check in. Very expensive but at least the A/C lowers the temperature in the room to 15C and I slowly recover from the day in the sun.

Today I was riding along one of Spain’s enormous infrastructure projects, the high speed train line between Madrid and Lisabon. Further north I was riding along another high speed train line for 3 or 4 days, that was the line between Madrid and Burgos. These projects involves enormous bridges and moving around earth in such a scale that the building sites must be visible from the moon without binoculars.

High speed train in the sky
Figure 13. High speed train in the sky

As I am guessing that all or most of it is financed by EU taxpayers I wonder how good idea it actually is to reward Spain’s failing economy with these projects. Spain has this great idea to place signs next to all projects financed by EU taxpayers so that the citizens of Spain can see how much money they get from EU taxpayers. That is probably why it seems like people here like EU a lot. From these signs I can see that the panhandling has been going on since they had pesetas instead of Euro.

So congratulations Spain ! If you live in a country that is a paying more than it’s getting from EU, go to Spain and enjoy the best roads in EU, you probably paid for them anyway.

Day 121. Caceres – Merida, 67 km.

So I woke up in this expensive hotel and went for a shower, there was no hot water. Yes! I thought, I’ve struck gold. I called reception and complained big time, they said there was nothing they could do.

So I went down to have breakfast and it was really nice with scrambled eggs and bacon. Back in the room I called again and complained that there was no hot water, there was nothing they could do. Soon I would teach them what they could do.

When I checked out I placed all my bags in front of the reception desk in a nice pile and started to complain that there was no hot water. They said it was nothing that they could do about it and handed me the bill. I handed it back and said no hot water no pay for expensive room. This went on for a while and 4-5 calls were made to managers somewhere and the queue of business people were building behind me. Once they understood that I had the rest of my life to stand there and wait and wait until they compensated me they canceled my bill and the stay was for free. This was better than I even had hoped for.

Since there was a small delay when checking out the super markets had opened so I stopped by one of the big ones to get some drinks for the day and also to get some cash as I was running low. None of the ATM machines would give me any money, claiming that there was some technical problem. I bike out of town on their nice bike lanes, once they stop it’s out in traffic on N-630 again. The road is a bit up and a bit down, but all uphills are very flat so no major effort is needed.

Nice bike lanes
Figure 14. Nice bike lanes

I find a small bar along the road that can serve a bocadillo tortilla francesa for lunch at 11:30, not an ideal lunch but under the circumstances it’s great.

Figure 15. Bar

In the afternoon it becomes really hot, well over 35C. The sun is so strong now that I need to re-coat myself in my SPF 30 suncream several times per day to avoid getting burnt.

In a small town along the road I stop at a service station to get something cold to drink and while I stand in the shadow and cool down I see two minibuses with trailers pulling up to fill diesel. One of the guys starts to talk to me and it turns out that they are an adventure travel company that do bike rides on the Iberian peninsula.

They have a bunch of people out biking on Trek hybrid bikes and they follow them around, bringing food and cold drinks when needed. The trailers also had bike racks with spare bikes and place to store all the bikes and luggage. Sounds like a great idea, I wonder what it would cost to do my 6000 km journey with a minibus following me around. The guy is Portuguese and he’s super friendly and offers me water or cold drinks.

Just before Merida I get overtaken by 4 people on Trek hybrid bikes and no panniers, I guess that they are the adventure cyclists. As there is a downhill in to Merida I almost manage to keep up with them. In the last roundabout before town I see the Portuguese guy with the minibus again, he’s cheering on his cyclists. When I pass by he again asks if I need water or cold drinks.

So yet another day of fantastic cycling, a bit to hot but thinking of Finland and France I have decided to not complain about that.

I reach the Hostal where I was planning to stay, once I get inside and ask if there is a room for two days the receptionist says – yes there is a room but first here is the key to the garage so you can park your bike and take the elevator up with all you bags.

Figure 16. Safe

I like this place already. The room is very small, but everything needed was there and the price was also very small. I ask if there is a restaurant open for lunch and there is one just down the street. They have a menu of the day for 6.50 Euro.

There is a big supermarket just across the street, this place will be great for a day of rest. I walk around the neighborhood and try some ATMs but no luck. Then I go to the supermarket and buy dinner.

Day 122. Merida – Merida, 0 km.

I wake up in a cold and dark room feeling very rested, I decide to have two days of rest here. I get up and go over to the supermarket and buy a big breakfast, then I take a walk around town.

Old bridge
Figure 17. Old bridge

I find a tourist information but they can’t help me with finding a self service laundromat, they only have laundry services they claim.

I find a ATM that works and have a late lunch at the same restaurant as yesterday. The mornings are really cool and nice but already at 10 it’s 25C and the afternoons are really hot.

Day 123. Merida – Merida, 0 km.

Second day of rest. I pretty much do nothing this day. I have a look at the bike and do some minor maintenance on it. I have lunch at the same place as yesterday, it’s great, starter, mains and dessert for 6.50 Euro. In the evening I walk over to the supermarket to buy drinks and food for tomorrow and also get some more sunscreen as my SPF 30 is running out.

They have SPF 50 so I decide to get that as it might require fewer re-coatings.