I woke up before sunrise and had breakfast and packed all my stuff. After a while I started to wonder why there was no sunlight outside, I had a look through the window and it was dense fog. My bottle of SPF 50 felt like a really good investment.
Getting out of Merida was not so complicated, the town is not so big. I saw plenty of MTB and road cyclists heading out for a ride. In the afternoon the fog and clouds cleared and it turned out to be a great day, fantastic cycling.
There was wine harvest season, the countryside was bustling with activity and small tractors and cars that looked that they had been rejected by the scrapyard. Many of the cars had Rumanian and Bulgarian plates, maybe it’s the same people that pick berries in Sweden during the summer. The road (N-630) was really great, almost no traffic at all, about half way to Fuente de Cantos the road became narrower and the surface was a bit worn.
In Fuente de Cantos I found a Hotel Rural, it’s big building complex with cafeteria, restaurant, pub, disco, cinema and hotel. After some searching they have a room free and I check in and get to park my bike in a big garage.
The restaurant doesn’t open until 21 so I have a quick dinner in the room. I have gained some hundreds of meters of altitude now, but there is still 20 km uphill to go before the downhill to sea level.
It is a dark and cloudy morning, it seems to be hunting season, there are dogs barking and shots fired all over the countryside.
My two toasts a.k.a. breakfast is served at 8 so no early start. The first 20 or so kilometers up to Monesterio are a bit boring, I am so looking forward to being at sea level again. When I reach the summit the view is fantastic and there is a very long crazy 8% downhill. I almost expect to see the sea but on the horizon there are more mountains.
Half way down the cold descent I meet two Japanese cyclists that are going to Santiago de Compostela, they are in a hurry since their visa expires in a few weeks. The day has many up and downs, but the cycling is beautiful as usual in Spain. Fantastic views and great road. I stop for lunch and since the kitchen isn’t open I have to settle for a Bocadillo de Tortilla Francesa. Not ideal food but I am starting to like it.
After some really insane downhills I have to conquer one massive really steep and long uphill. The new and shiny highway next to my road has a 6% grade and it looks flat compared to my road.
At the top of the hill I find a cheap hotel, it really looks worn down but I can imagine that it was really great back in the 1970′s or so.
For some strange reason the restaurant is already open at 17:30, or maybe they are still serving lunch, I have a really nice dinner with some massive steaks. There is no Internet and only Spanish TV so sleeping is the only thing to do.
The night was very quiet, I am probably the only one living here. I start the day with my two toasts and marmalade. Then I am set to start the continued descent to sea level.
There are many, many kilometers of downhill from here, nothing really steep but just nice long downhills.
Just after the 800 km marker I leave the great wonderful N-630, which I will miss, and go west towards Portugal.
There are many, many cyclists outside Seville, it seems to be very popular to ride the N-630. I had my mind set on very flat roads to the west of Seville but I was mistaken, there are many up and downs. Some really nasty hills.
At about 13 I find a place for lunch, they have about 100 seats and the staff is there, but I am the only guest. Maybe they have lunch later in Andalusia than in the rest of Spain. I have a menu of the day for 5.50 Euro.
I pass by an enormous solar power plant, it’s a bunch of mirrors that concentrate the suns rays to high towers with water tanks. The towers are more than 100 meters high and the mirrors stretch out over several kilometers. Again a project visible from space partially financed by EU tax payers.
I didn’t find any open supermarkets today so I end up buying water and drinks and service stations along the road, it’s about 2-5 times more expensive. I ride in to town and find a hotel, they are closed during the day but opens between 17 and 22 for check-in.
I try their automatic check-in machine outside the hotel but it tells me that the hotel is full. Since it’s just 10 minutes to wait I decide to wait and see if the humanoids can find me a room.
As it turns out the machine outside the hotel is broken and there are rooms available. I wonder how hard it would be to put a sign on the machine indicating that it is broken. There is a restaurant next door and I am told it opens at 19, that seems to good to be true but I go there anyway.
The staff tells me that it opens in about 30 minutes or so. I take a walk for 30 minutes and come back, now they tell me that it will probably open in 15 minutes or so. I have a look in the kitchen and there is no-one there, all the stoves are turned off and there is no food in sight.
Well, that is life, I take a walk to the supermarket and buy a bunch of food and have dinner in my room.
In Spain it seems very common that parents drive their kids to school and just stops or parks outside schools. In some cities I have been the streets of some neighborhoods are completely blocked of double or triple parked cars outside bars and schools in the morning.
The town La Palma del Condado has about 10 000 inhabitants and they have solved the problem by having a Policia Local standing outside school and blowing his whistle every time someone stops. It is really great that they can afford this and even better is that my hotel is next to his post during this critical mission.
Today is going to be a short day since I have decided to take a rest day in Huelva. I have this great idea that since there is a big university in town I can find a laundromat and also perhaps find a bookstore that has maps of Portugal.
The last 10 kilometers or so in to Huelva was very, very busy and not enjoyable at all. Many trucks and high speeds.
Just as I enter the city I find a McDonald’s so I combine lunch with some free wifi. None of the hotels downtown seems very tempting so I decide to try my luck at the nearest one, it’s on the outskirts of town. I manage to get a rate lower than the best one on Internet but still it was more expensive than I had hoped for. I had some solid leads for a laundromat but it seems all of them where either non-existing or laundries that charge 1-2 Euro per item.
The infrastructure of this town is enormous, there are roundabouts that will take 10 minutes to walk around. The main street in to town is big enough for a military parade with all of Sweden’s military. With a population of 150 000 people it must have been really hard for the people of Huelva to finance all of these enormous streets, good job !
Back at the hotel I do some laundry in the room instead and run the A/C on really cold and go to sleep exhausted from walking around town in the sun.
I need to rest so the day is mostly spent in the hotel. Starting with a massive breakfast buffet, followed by lunch and dinner at nearby restaurants. I think I manage to do as little as possible today.
For a while I contemplate to go to Decathlon but it’s 4-5 kilometers away and it’s very hot outside. I see on the Spanish weather program that it has been extremely warm in October, if I understand it correctly the temperature has been higher than the average for August.
As usual getting out of town is complicated, Huelva is no exception. The bike lanes they have are just a big joke. It seems like the traffic system is made to spit out all traffic on the big avenidas as soon as possible. This is great for cars to spare the population the noise and exhaust fumes. But riding a bike this means that there are no riding the small streets, there is a system with one way streets that just spits you out in traffic whatever you do.
On the western outskirts of Huelva there is sort of a slum, it looks like really rough neighborhoods. I am glad I stayed on the east side with the mega roundabouts.
The countryside is also looking very dodgy, sometimes it looks like people are living in old semi demolished buildings or shacks made of whatever could be found on the side of the road. The day is cool but as usual it heaths up in the afternoon. Along the route I follow a strange waterway, canal del Piedras, nice service roads along the canal.
When I get to Ayamonte I just miss the ferry to Portugal so I have to wait for the next one. The ferry is a really small boat with a big flat deck where people, bikes, cars and donkeys can ride.
The ferry is full of tourists, it feels really strange to hear Swedish people talk to each other. My first stop in Portugal is Vila Real de Santo Antonio, I spend a while trying to find the Vodafone shop. The town has this really interesting system with no signs with street names or numbers, so having the address didn’t really help.
Once I find the shop it’s closed for lunch between 13 and 15. Vila Real felt like a dangerous place, there was people walking around looking in to every car to see if there was something to smash & grab, also gangs of young gangsta walking around. I decided to bike out of there and find a hotel in nearby Monte Gordo and then go back after 15.
In Monte Gordo I picked one of 50 hotels that had gotten nice reviews and they had a room. I managed to get a room on the top floor with a view of the ocean, they also had a special bike room.
After checking in I biked back to Vila Real and got my SIM card, no ID or passport required, just pay the 21 Euro and I had 500 MB of mobile Internet.
Since this was a tourist only place the restaurants were open when I wanted to eat dinner, all menus in English and I could hear lots of Dutch, Swedish, German and English.