EUROPEAN TOUR 2006 PART VI - SPAIN, PORTUGAL
Almeria, SP to Lisbon, PT
September 29 to October 26, 2006
Start 51,378 miles (82,201 km):
End 52,216 miles (83,545 km) cumulative
September 29 to October 2
Once again we found that renting a car to drive from Hendaye in France to southern Spain was the easiest and a cheap way to go. We walked the 6 km from our campsite over to the airport in Irun, picked up a car, and started out on 3 day journey across the dry center of Spain skirting past Madrid along the way.
We stopped at Granada to visit the famous Alhambra. Our Lonely Planet guide stated that this is the one "must see" in all of Andalucia. At first we were worried that we had arrived at the worst possible time. It was 1 PM Sunday by the time we got downtown. In mid summer it'd be virtually impossible to get tickets that day or for any other day in the next week or more. However, since this was late in the fringe season we were able to snag a couple of tickets. Granted we'd have to wait 4 hours before we could enter the central palace. But, there was plenty to see while we waited.
The Alhambra is one of the many vestiges of the Moorish occupation of Spain that still remains fairly in tact. Although much of it has been restored over the years and it has a Christian palace built in the middle of the Moorish grounds. We began with wandering the gardens in which water is a major feature. There are fountains, waterfalls, and reflecting pools. They are very nice gardens and offer relief from the hot desert sun. However, the quality of care is not as good as the chateaux of France.
At 5PM it was our time to enter the palace. This is truly a treasure. Room after room is filled with Moorish style architecture, which is so different from anything else in Europe. Doorways and arches are shaped like a keyhole with fancy scalloped carvings. Some of the roof corners are decorated with stalactite carvings and the walls are covered with colorful tiles or Arabic and geometric figures carved in stucco. Everything seems lighter, airier, and more delicate than the much heavier contemporary European styles.
After Granada, we pushed onto Almeria where we'd begin riding again. It is located toward the eastern side of the southern Spanish Mediterranean coast in a region that is extremely dry. Surrounding hillsides are brown and covered only with dry shrub and cactus. Before giving up the car we took a drive around the Cabo del Gata. This barren rocky cape sticks quite a distance out into the sea and is supposed to be Spain's most spectacular section of coastline. However, it's an extremely small section and we found it a bit anticlimactic. During summer the surrounding beaches and parking areas would be jammed packed. In October they were virtually deserted, thank goodness.
Southwest Spain Coast
Almeria to Sevilla
October 3 to October 11
The campground at Almeria has the most unusual setting. It is situated on both sides of a usually dry riverbed deep within a gully. Above the campground are roads built in different eras. The oldest Roman road was built by piling up rocks along the sides of the cliffs creating a patio style roadbed. With the introduction of dynamite they were able to blast the next generation roadbed into the cliff. Both these early roads followed the terrain exactly. The next roadway, probably built around the 1950s, was blasted even wider and saw the addition of tunnels so it could go through the hills. The latest and greatest 4 lane super highway circumvents all the curves with huge bridges across every gully. It runs far up the hillside on top of the cliffs and is not a slave to any of the terrain contours at all. Right here you could easily see the progression of road building technology.
From the city of Almeria we headed westward along the coastal road. Almeria district has long been one of the poorest of Spain. They've been trying to overcome this through tourism and agriculture. Just west of Almeria is a large beach area crowded with new tourist hotels and restaurants. But there is also agriculture right next door. To grow crops in this region requires drastic measures to shelter plants from the sun and retain water. They have to resort to acres and acres of horrendous looking plastic greenhouses. Ugly greenhouses sit literally right next door to the fancy tourist hotels. It is really strange. About the only thing we found interesting was one old fort perched on a low rise.
Once past the town of Adra the coastline became far more rugged and the scenery prettier. The mountains dropped directly to the water and the road took us up and down a multitude of gullies. It was in one of these gullies that we spotted another old Roman ruin, a large aqueduct. We hadn't realized just how much the Romans had settled onto the Iberian Peninsula until we spotted these ruins.
We were hoping it would be possible to find free camping in this region. After all, the map showed only small towns. But everywhere we looked there was just no place particularly appealing. Either we were riding along a cliff or the trash was just too disgusting. Any side road headed toward some greenhouse and we suspected the owners wouldn't appreciate our camping there. We gave up and headed for campgrounds.
From the city of Magala through the ultra posh resort of Marbella on to the final town of Estepona it is mile upon mile of city. English folks have come to this region in droves in search of warm sunshine. In response, the Spaniards have built huge uninspired resorts along this Costa del Sol, literally over 100 miles long. The new buildings look fancy from the outside, but if you look closely you can see they are cheaply built. Buildings no more than a few years old have cracking and crumbling walls.
We heard horror stories about the crime. One of the most chilling is how they have pay for the condo in a single cash payment. They literally go to the bank, get the money, and take it to the lawyer's office. Someone gets the tip that a big purchase is going down and the unsuspecting buyer gets robbed of everything. Of course the police do nothing. There were many other stories of crime and corruption in the local English language papers and you wonder why anyone would want to buy a condo in Spain.
After a long, awful ride through this 100 plus mile long city we finally got to the last town, Estepona where we could actually see the hills between the buildings. The environment looks a lot like southern California, red clay cliffs dotted with green bushes and a few trees here and there. Not too much further west of Estepona, we got our first glimpse of probably the most famous rock in the world, the Rock of Gibraltar.
La Linea de la Concepcion, the gateway-city to Gibraltar will not be remembered fondly. To be fair, we didn't have a good introduction. Caryl's rear tire went flat instantly due to an enormous nail. Considering all the garbage lining the roads, it was surprising this was our first in Spain. La Linea is your typical border city, dirty, ugly, and filled with people of questionable character and we felt very uncomfortable with our bags lying all over the place while we busily changed the tire. So we hurried and paid the price. The tire pinched and went flat again. We tried again and again to get a good repair and kept failing. We were running out of patches, glue, and tubes and being Sunday there was no way to get more. Just when we were really worried we wouldn't get it fixed, we got one tire to hold pressure. On to Gibraltar.
Gibraltar is sort of a British holding, but is still independent. Its culture is a blend of English, Spanish, and African. It's much neater and cleaner than Spain, but not as perfect as towns in England. After so many months dealing with the various languages across Europe it was nice to go to a place where they speak English even if just for an hour. Gibraltar was the most interesting thing we'd seen so far along this entire coast. If you are biking from Portugal eastward along the southern Iberian coast, going as far as Gibraltar would be as far as we'd recommend. The rest is nothing but high-density city all the way to Motril.
Gibraltar the town is about 2 to 3 km long stretched along the western shore of the skinny peninsula that is made up of that famous rock. The rest of the peninsula including the top of the rock is a nature preserve. You can take a cable car to the top of the rock, or a top-of-the-rock tour, which is much more expensive. The buildings in the older, central city district look quite nice and British. However, new and very ugly multistory apartments sprawl up the hillside. It seems that as Gibraltar grows the constructions gets cheaper and cheaper.
Shopping in Gibraltar is a pleasure. The store was open on Sunday and you didn't have to pass through those stupid gates to enter. You also didn't have to exit through a specific location either. You could enter and exit where you pleased. There weren't theft detectors at each and every cash register, just a single security guard. You weren't made to feel like a crook just for shopping. Nice.
Monday before we left La Linea we visited the large Carrefour hypermarket and bought tubes, patches, and glue. We weren't going anywhere without them. It was good we did because only a few km further we had flat tire. A tube valve failed. Into the trash it went and one of our newly purchased tubes went in. By this time we were so spooked we stopped again at a Decathlon sporting goods store and loaded up with even more tubes. With a total of 4 tubes, 16 patches, a big tube of glue and two new tires we felt confident we could make it all the way to Lisbon.
At the most southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula there is a string of mountains that parallel the coast and reach almost to the sea. To get from the busy port city of Algeciras over to the western coast you have to climb 340 meters over the El Cabrito pass. Here we found, at long last, a pleasant ride. Winds roar over this pass almost constantly and were in our favor. Temperatures were pleasant, but it was far more humid than we'd seen for some time. Sweat poured off our faces. It would have been nice to have a good view of the Moroccan coast, but clouds prevented that. We could just barely see the African continent as a black blur in the distance. From El Cabrito pass it was an easy glide down to the town of Tarifa where we located a small grocery store just off the main road.
Just past Tarifa is a stretch of coast that is so much nicer than the Costa del Sol. Miraculously, it has almost no development and hardly any trucks on the road. The hills are covered in green trees, pines and eucalyptus. It's so much more attractive and laid back than Costa del Sol we had to wonder why anyone would go further east at all. If you want a quiet, pure beach experience it's this western coast you want. There are just a few campgrounds, restaurants, and maybe just one or two small hotels. We took an early stop at the last campground along the beach and took a nice long walk just before a spectacular sunset.
As we worked our way along the Atlantic coast we finally found a day of fairly good riding all day long. There were no cities to pass through. We had a short climb away from the Tarifa coastal beaches over a low pass. Here where the winds absolutely roar there is a huge windmill farm. They stood in rows upon rows along the edge of the hills running way off in the distance. Europe is getting into alternate energy in a big way.
We passed by 2 more of those black silhouette signs that are scattered throughout Spain. In this case it was a bull and a man with red hat, red sash, and guitar. We also spotted one that was of Don Quixote at one location. The bull is the most famous of these signs. In fact, it is appearing as stickers on the backs of cars throughout Europe.
Rather than stay on the inland road to Vejar, we took a side route over to the coast. We stopped at Zahara for lunch. This town looked exactly like something out of Mexico. The architecture was identical. It had a small plaza just like Mexican towns. Although the heavy urine smell in the plaza was rather awful. Even the surrounding hillsides looked like something out of Mexico. For some reason we had been expecting something quite different.
The rest of the coastal ride to Barbate was not all that scenic. Barbata itself was a mess. On its outskirts it had some nice pine forests that had been turned into a trash dump. Mounds of trash were spread all over. It just seems that the more time we spent in southern Spain the more it seems this entire region is being turned into one continual trash dump, at least along the main roads and outside the towns.
The Guadaquivir River flows through the city of Sevilla and then expands into wide wetlands at its mouth. The first bridges across the river are in the center of Sevilla, which means you have to make a long detour upriver to get to the other side. The easiest route into Sevilla that also avoids the port city of Cadiz is to head directly northward along A393 toward Arcos de la Frontera. Leaving Vejer and the coastal region, we climbed a bit and soon found ourselves on higher rolling plains that are a huge agricultural and cattle raising area. In October the fields are dry, brown, and barren. There are hardly any trees.
Within 30 km we came to Medina Sedonia. Throughout this region there are these tall, steep almost conical shaped hills that stick up above the rolling plains. A common characteristic of most of the old towns in this region is to build them right at the top of these peaks. The houses are all painted sparkling white while the large church or castle at the very top is just plain stone. The hills almost look like they're topped with barnacles. Of course, the road we were following goes through each of these towns, up and over each peak. Sweat just poured off our foreheads and down our backs as we crawled up the 3 or 4 switchbacks to almost the center of town. From there we could easily look over to the next town, Paterna de Rivera, which looks nearly identical. There was also Vejar de Frontera, Arcos de Frontera and Espera, all of which are the same sparkling white buildings atop a peak. We wound up riding up to and through a total of 5 of these hilltop towns as we worked our way to Sevilla.
Espera was the last of the hilltop towns covered that we had to climb. From there we crossed the main highway and headed deep into the Guadalguiver river basin. This former swamp has been drained, diked, and turned into vast cotton fields. Huge trucks loaded beyond capacity with cotton balls lumbered past us continuously. Cotton balls spilled over the sides and onto the roadway looking almost like snow. We wound our way along these quiet roads lined with cotton balls for much of the afternoon.
One thing we did find interesting were the large haciendas. Many of the Spanish who first migrated to the New World came from this region. It appears that the padres of California missions fame were among them. The haciendas along the road all look like California missions, huge white or cream block structures surrounding a central courtyard with a single gated entrance. Usually there's a small chapel, which has the bell towers so typical of California mission style. So now we've seen where it all came from.
October 12 to October 13
We pushed on up to the outskirts of Sevilla where we located the only close campground open this time of year. While standing in the parking lot of a huge Carrefour shopping center, a couple English bikers came up to us and gave us directions to the campground. These weren't the only bikers we would encounter. It seems that Sevilla is a gathering point for bike tourists. Every day there are at least 3 or 4 bike groups at the campground. We had to wonder why we would encounter this here when most of the rest of our Spanish touring was almost deserted of bikers.
We would have loved to have more time in Sevilla. But with our deadline for getting to Lisbon looming ever closer, we really had only a day to visit. With an early bus into the city and a late bus back, we had just enough time to have a quick tour to the Alcazar and the cathedral. Yet there are a lot more sites well worth visiting someday.
In general, we liked the Sevilla Alcazar more than the Alhambra in Granada. The gardens seemed nicer and better maintained, the palace seemed to be much better decorated and in better condition. As with the Alhambra, this former Moorish palace was taken over by the European Spaniards and new buildings build right atop the old. It was most interesting going from the first floor with its light and airy Moorish décor to the second with its far heavier Renaissance. While the Moorish styles seem more appropriate for this southern Spanish environment, the Renaissance style seems more familiar. One item of interest is a painting depicting Columbus's discovery of the New World. It is the oldest known painting on this subject that exists today. The depiction is quite allegorical, the natives portrayed as being completely awed by this strange apparition while some rather angelic figure presides over the landing.
We also stopped into the cathedral, the second must see of Sevilla. The cathedral is huge, absolutely cavernous. Small altars line the walls, each dripping with decorations and gold gilding. The supposed tomb of Columbus is housed in the cathedral. However, evidence suggests that the man in the tomb was far younger than Columbus was when he died.
One of the most unusual aspects of the cathedral is the square shaped bell tower. Access to the top is via a huge, wide ramp. It starts as wide as a car at the bottom and narrows to the width of a sidewalk at the top. The ramp was built to let horses climb the tower. Along the way there are display cases showing artifacts found during renovation work on the tower including the old clock mechanism.
While waiting in the long lines at the visitor's center we noticed a young Korean lady who looked rather distraught. It turns out she had just finished hiking the Camino de Santiago and had stopped by Sevilla before going home. She sat down on the steps in front of the visitor's center to eat some bread. Within seconds the backpack she'd placed on the steps next to her was snatched. She lost everything including her precious hiking diaries. You know she'll never see them again. The lesson is never set your pack down without strapping it to some part of your body or to something solid.
Our best day riding in southern Spain was October 14, the day we left Sevilla. It started off about the best you could possibly expect. There was a small ferry that crossed the river at the town of Coria del Rio. By taking this ferry we did not have to ride any further into that nightmarish city. Instead we just headed toward the river on low traffic roads. It was wonderful. Even better yet, the ferry was free. We're not sure why they continue to run this ferry except that perhaps they want to keep the farm trucks off the highway bridges. It ran from 6:30 Am to 10 PM every day with about 15 to 20 minutes between each run.
Subsequently getting out of Coria took only a couple of queries for directions. The riding was great. There were very low hills and we had a light tailwind. Each town had a ring road so we didn't have to go into their centers. Once we got to Almonte the dirt around us went from bright red clay to sand and we found ourselves in a forest with the most unusual looking pine trees. They grow tall and bushy at the top with a long, long trunk down below. They're great shade trees and good for camping underneath, which we did. At long last we found a place not only suitable for wild camping but actually quite pleasant. We first stopped at a very busy picnic area, which was kept reasonably clean and had water and tables. We ate dinner, washed up, and then sauntered off into the woods to camp. It was one of the best camping nights we had in Spain.
We approached Huelva, the last of the Spanish big cities, expecting to find horrendous traffic and no side roads for escape. When coming from the east along the coast you first pass through a large industrial zone where the road is wide and has a huge shoulder. Being Sunday, there was virtually no truck traffic. Next you skirt along the southwestern edge of town until you reach the bridge crossing to Punta Umbria. Here, where we expected the worst riding, we found the old bridge had been preserved and half of it turned into a separated bike path. This bike path goes all the way to Punta Umbria. Now that's the best surprise we've had in all Spain. Huelva proved to be incredibly easy to get through.
We continued along the beach route going through the usual Spanish coastal resort towns. These appeared to be resort towns for the Spaniards rather than the English. They were not nearly as well built or maintained and they are usually ugly affairs. At least the views of the beach were good if you overlooked the abundant trash alongside the roads. We swung inland to the rather dumpy towns of Cartaya and Lepe and then back to another shoddily built resort town, La Antilla. We found one more campsite in Spain and were very much looking forward to getting to Portugal.
Southern Portugal Coast
Spanish/Portugal border to Sagres
October 16 to October 19
We got up at the crack of dawn with the intention of getting well into Portugal before nightfall. We'd been warned that rain was on the way and sure enough we woke to cloudy skies. Off and on pouring and sprinkling rain would accompany us for the next 2 weeks all the way to Lisbon. So as if we hadn't had enough rain in September, we were going to have more in October.
We got to Ayamonte fairly early and took the ferry to Portugal. The very first thing we noticed was how quiet the streets of Villa Real are. There were lots of people strolling along, but everything just seemed to operate at a slower, calmer pace. This was something we'd noticed some 25 years ago when we first visited Lisbon. The Portuguese it seems are just far more relaxed and calm than the Spanish.
We also found the sides of the roadways have far less trash. There is some litter, but no more than you'd expect to find along a busy road. Construction is also far, far better. While stopped under the overhang of a brand new building waiting out a heavy shower we had the opportunity for a close up inspection. Everything was so well done and precise. You don't find that in Spain. Finally, there are no bars on the windows. In Spain always the first floor windows have burglar bars and often the bars extend up to the second or third floors. Everywhere you look even the smallest towns there are bars on the windows. Portugal really is cleaner, neater and safer than Spain.
We rode intermittently between showers as far as Fuzeta where we stopped in the very sandy municipal camping. The campground was packed. Even though this campground was significantly cheaper than anything we found in Spain, the bathroom facilities were cleaner and nicer than most. It just seems that our first impressions of Portugal as compared to Spain from 25 years ago still apply. We like Portugal a whole lot better than Spain.
It rained all night and our little campsite in Fuzeta stayed just barely above water. The morning brought weather that looked like it wouldn't get much better. So we decided to head into Faro by train rather than ride off into a very wet day. Even still we had to visit the various sites in between major downpours. At one point we were stuck under one of the gates of the old town for about an hour while rain dumped in buckets. It was only a very narrow sheltered spot where we stood, umbrellas faced into the wind. Later in the afternoon we went to a shopping mall for dinner and two more cloud bursts dumped more rain. And all the forecasts called for continuing showers for the next several days. Ugh!! Rain.
Faro is a pleasant Portuguese city that has a small old town area with a few sites worth seeing. As with most Portuguese old towns, there are several buildings that are literally coated in their famous tiles. Amazingly, the passion for tiled houses doesn't extend into Spain at all. We looked at the inside of two of Faro's major churches, Carmo and Sao Pedro, as well as checked out each of the gates to the old town walls including the one we sheltered under during the rain. The tiny regional museum had a few artifacts of interest. There were several miniature replicas of horse drawn carts that were used to sell things in the streets of the city. There was even a real water cart that in use until 1974. There was a full sized boat, a display of how tuna nets used to be set in the ocean and life size dioramas of a bakery, kitchen, and bedroom. There were some costume dressed mannequins and small ceramic examples of the different chimney styles found throughout the Algarve even today. For a small inexpensive museum it was actually rather interesting.
From Faro to Lagos we kept to the main road. This region is another section of coast that is being inundated with English expats and we wanted to avoid the high traffic. Besides there were no roads following the coastline anyway. We hoped to find a quieter coastal ride west of Lagos, but even here it's filled with new condo complexes. We were disappointed.
At the end of the Iberian Peninsula we turned southward to head to the southwestern most point of the European continent. Due to extreme southerly winds it was quite a struggle to get down to Sagres. But at least we'd have great tailwinds on our return. There were all sorts of tour buses and a lot of cars going by which was quite a surprise. After all this road goes nowhere and Sagres is just a tiny town of 2000. As we topped the small hill we saw what the excitement was about. In the distance was an absolutely enormous fort that looked like a long wall that cuts off the tip of the peninsula. It used to house several internal buildings. Yet, unfortunately much of the fort was destroyed in the 1755 earthquake, so mainly it's the walls you go to see.
We went out to see the end of the earth, or at least what they thought it was at the end back in the 13th century. Point Sao Vincente sits at the absolute southwestern corner of Portugal and all of Europe. It is a windswept spit of land, high on a cliff, with the Atlantic Ocean beating at both sides. Vegetation is mostly a low, evergreen bush that is about the only thing that can survive the fierce winds. There's a lighthouse built into an old fort and a marker for km 0 of some bike route. We never did learn where it goes as this was the first and last marker we ever saw. Daily tourist buses arrive to take a short look at the point and then head on to see the fort over by Sagres. Even more amazing are the fishermen who perch themselves out on small niches halfway down the cliff just to catch that elusive fish.
Southwest Portugal Coast
Sagres to Lisbon
October 16 to October 25
Tailwinds pushed us northward as we climbed up the hills to the more tree covered inland regions. We quickly passed by the small but pretty village of Ville Bispo and then cruised back down to sea level past the surfer town of Carrapeteria. It looked like your normal village until we passed by an abandoned house that appeared to be inhabited by a bunch of 20 something hippies. Their house was a shambles and looked extremely dirty and overcrowded. These must be the controversial "travelers" our Lonely Planet guide mentioned.
We were really enjoying riding the southwestern coast of Portugal. It's just the type of coastal riding we'd been looking for. It's a rather wild landscape with just enough small towns to make finding supplies easy. It's not too flat yet the hills aren't too difficult. Granted there's pretty much only the one road. But, since this isn't a direct route to Lisbon, it doesn't have an enormous amount of traffic. The scenery is far greener than we'd been expecting. This really was some of the better biking we'd experienced for some time.
We spent the night in the cute town of Porto Covo. It has a stunning position atop rugged coastal cliffs. Like so many Portuguese coastal towns it shuts down in the off season. House after house is shuttered tight for the winter. We found the town rather endearing when we first rode up and, after a long walk along the rugged coast, were even more impressed. This is the kind of town we could enjoy living in.
Leaving Porto Covo the next morning, the day started out just OK and then got worse. As soon as we turned off the coastal road to head around Sines toward V.N. Santo Andre the rains hit hard. This time there was no handy bus stop, restaurant, or anything else in which to find cover. Portuguese have almost no crown so the water just collects in giant puddles. By the time we got to V.N. Santo Andre, just 10 km up the road, we were soaked through. For the first time in all those rainy days even our shoes were soaked through to the point where they went "squish squish" for every step. At this point we'd had enough rain. It was definitely time to end the biking.
We found the grocery store at Santo Andre and spent several hours waiting out the rest of the bad weather and trying to dry up a bit, which was nearly an impossible task. When the weather looked like it would clear for while we pushed on to the last campsite on the spit leading to Troia.
Along the way we started seeing these unusual looking piles of what looked like empty logs. This turns out to be large sheets of harvested cork. Soon we were passing by cork trees that showed tell tail signs of multitude years of harvesting. We had to stop to take a closer look. The cork appears to be the outer bark layer of these peculiar trees. It is harvested about every 10 to 12 years. They strip the lower parts of the trunk taking an approximately 2 inch thick layer each time. This leaves the lower portion of the trunk looking either dark red of almost black depending upon how long ago the bark was harvested and how much has grown back. Once cut off, the cork bark is laid up in neat piles just cord wood.
What we found most odd about the cork trees is that they aren't grown like a normal tree type crop. They are not placed in neat rows and, in fact, aren't even spaced all that close to each other. They actually appear to be naturally growing trees that grow helter-skelter in this region. It just doesn't look like any type of farm that we know of. We wondered if cork trees are very old and don't take to being transplanted. Maybe somewhere there are true cork tree farms, but not in this area.
The campground we were headed for was, unfortunately 4 km off the highway down a dirt road. With both our rear cassettes in sore need of cleaning and behaving just rotten, this dirt road was not a welcome sight. Once we got to the very nearly empty campground it took a while to pick a site that was near the bathrooms and might not flood. As we were setting up our tent, one fellow mentioned that should it rain we could take shelter in one of the room enclosures attached to the many trailers parked full time in the park. He said, nobody is around and they wouldn't mind as long as we left everything as we found it. We did just that.
These extra rooms added to the sides of trailers can be nicely outfitted. The one we borrowed had padding on the floor to keep the sand out. It had a table and chairs, refrigerator, sink, small electric stove, TV, and some storage cupboards. With all these kitchen appliances on the outside of the trailer, we had to wonder what was inside the trailer. We waited here for about an hour while it poured outside.
The rain would stop for a very short spell giving us just barely enough time to run to the tent, grab dinner supplies, and make a mad dash to the bathroom. We got stuck in the bathroom once again for over an hour while the rain dumped in buckets. During the next short spell we managed to get situated in one sheltered spot where we could prepare dinner. It wasn't until we were well into making dinner that the rain finally stopped and the sky started to clear. All in all it rained for 4 hours straight. We'd camped next to a sandy parking lot and wound up sleeping at the edge of a lake.
The next day we made our way back out the 4.5 km dirt road. Turning left, we headed northward along the long sandy spit leading to the small town of Troia. The road is lined with pine and eucalyptus trees. The entire spit is supposed to be a nature preserve, however there are several towns, houses, a military base, and even Troia, a growing beach resort community.
Along the way we passed through the very small town of Comporta. This town seems to have a bit of a resident stork infestation. There are gigantic stork nests atop almost anything sufficiently high off the ground. We spotted one enormous nest atop a pyramid shaped roof. The nest was built to conform to the pyramid and was probably over 5 ft high. Just imagine how much it weighed.
We got to the ferry at Troia quite early and crossed over to Portugal's third largest city, Setubal. For its size it seems to have remarkably light traffic. The city is a major port town and hasn't caught on much as a tourist destination. It's little rough around the edges, but is not a bad little city to visit. The tourist office has an interesting glass floor under which you can see some old Roman ruins.
The nearest campground was located about 6 km west of the city and had an ideal spot right on the bay. Like so many of the smaller privately run campgrounds, this one was so full of those permanently placed trailers, leaving almost no room for anything else. We found a tiny triangular spot of land that had one of the best views in the entire campground. We were right atop the seawall. Upon borrowing some tables and chairs from the surrounding trailers we had one very nice little campsite. And watching the giant ships float in and out during the evening added a unique bit of entertainment.
We spent the next day seeing the few Setubal tourist sights there are. There was the church and its paintings. The paintings have been removed to a new air-conditioned museum behind doors that look a little like a bank vault. It was obvious that the number of visitors to the museum is quite small as the guard actually had to turn on the lights and unlock the door. The paintings are quite spectacular with the most amazing colors and the brochures, in English, were well worth the time it takes to read them.
We also visited a museum housed in an old sardine canning factory. The pride of the museum is an entire old time general store that was pretty much moved lock, stock and barrel into the top floor. Its shelves are covered with boxes and containers that were in the original store when it was moved. At the back is the original office complete with desk, file cabinets, old telephone, and other office paraphernalia. As you work your way down the ramp toward the ground floor you pass by farm equipment, weaving tools, decorations, even a small ice cream cart all of which were once used in and around Setubal.
On the bottom floor you find yourself in an unrealistically clean, neat, and perfect sardine packing plant. There's an old machine that used to stamp labels on the cans. Another machine was used to make the cans and a third to put on the lids. There was a stand where the sardine heads were lopped off, another where the cans were packed, and another where the sardines were cleaned in salt water, all of which were now attended by female mannequins dressed in smocks. The only male mannequin was one used to demonstrate how they carried the sardines from ship to the factory. The men carried the fish in large baskets on their heads. The baskets were so full that fish often sloshed over the sides. Any sloshed fish the men caught they were allowed to keep. Hence they all took to wearing these odd bowl shaped hats with the express purpose of catching every one of these dropped fish.
The final item and the last step of the canning process were the huge ovens in which the cans were cooked. Today all that remains of these are the rails upon which the tall carts loaded with trays full of cans were rolled inside and the great big doors. Originally there were three such ovens. Now they're all gone.
It would have been a very good museum to spend a lot of time browsing. However, you are required to be in the company of a guide who never lets you out of her sight. Also, unfortunately our guide's English wasn't all that good. So while she never says a word while you're poking around and while she's always available to try to answer questions and while she probably regards this little task as a good break from other more mundane tasks, you just can't help feeling a bit pressured into finishing. We just prefer wandering about museums on our own.
Our last day of riding almost wasn't and our campsite with the fabulous view very nearly turned out to be a huge mistake. That night, almost our last in Europe, it once again poured and the wind roared at such a pitch that we thought everything would collapse around us. It was virtually impossible to get any sleep as various things around the campground rattled, creaked, ripped, and sometimes cracked. Winds were so strong some poor fellow's patio covering wound up in complete tatters the next morning. It just was not a pleasant night.
The morning started out in rain, of course. So we started making alternative plans for getting up to Lisbon. We had a rental car reserved for the next day so we had to get up there. If the rain didn't quit, we'd hang around Setubal for another day and then take the bus to Lisbon the next, something we really did not want to do.
Following one last enormous blast of wind and rain, it finally quit. It was very nearly 11 AM, but our destination for our final day of riding was a mere 26 km away. We should, if all went well, arrive there fairly early in the afternoon. We quickly packed up and headed off.
The road we took wandered along the coast through the Parque Arrabida for quite a way. It was a beautiful coastal ride through lush green forests with views of the ocean over our left shoulders. It rained for a bit and we were able to take cover under some dense trees. Soon the road made a steep steep climb over the coastal mountain range. It was so steep that if you stopped for any reason it was nearly impossible to get started again. Since Brian's pedal strap had broken the previous riding day, it meant he had to push his way to the top. There were great views from the top and one rip-roaring ride back down. This was a great section of ride that, unfortunately, just did not last. There was one last downpour that happened to occur while we were sitting in a covered bus stop eating lunch and that was finally it.
According to our map, this peninsula was populated with only a smattering of small towns. Oh, did that map lie. Once we got on the main road headed toward the bridge to Lisbon we found ourselves in nearly constant, extremely busy city traffic. Unfortunately to get to our destination, a campground on the coast, we had to ride all the way to the bridge through 26 km of miserable traffic, then up over another steep hill, and finally back down the coast to Costa Caprica. It was a long day with a lot of steep climbs.
For the first time in all our years bike touring we were actually very glad to see that final Orbitur campground come into sight. The weather had been simply awful. For about 6 weeks it was broiling hot and then for another 8 weeks it rained nearly every day. The scenery was nice, the places we visited interesting, but the horrible weather ruled the day. This would go down as the worst summer riding weather wise we'd ever experienced. We can only hope this would be the worst ever to come.
Appendix A - Route
October 4 - Highway to Aguadulce, coastal roads through Roquetas de Mar, Almerimar, Guardias Viejas, Balema, Adra, N340 past La Rabita, La Mamola, to Castillo de Banos, 102 km
October 5 - Old highway to Caste deFerro, N340 through Calahonda, Carchuna, Torrenueva, past Motril,Almunecar, La Herradura, coastal N340
October 6 - Mostly N340 through Torre del Mar, Rincon de la Victoria, Malaga, Torremoninos, Benalmadena, to Fuengirola, 87.06 km
October 7 - N340 through Mijas Costa, Marbella, San Pedro de Alcantara, Estepona to Manilva, 71.12 km
October 8 - N340 to turn off to La Linea de la Concepcion. Road to Gilbraltar, 41.12 km
October 9 - N340 to A7 to Algeciras, N340 to Tarifa, 54.17 km<BR>
October 10 - N340 to turn off to Zahara, A 2227 to A2231 to Barbate and Vejer de Frontera, 75.14 km
October 11 - A393 through Medina Sidonia, Paterna de Rivera, to Arcos de la Frontera, 76.84 km
October 12 - A393 to Espera, CAP4412 and SE 447 and SE 695 to Las Cabezas de San Juan, SE 631 to SE9010 to Los Palacios y Villafranca, NIV to Dos Hermanas, 78.26 km
October 14 - SE 687 to SE685 to SE686 to ferryto Coria del Rio, A3116 to Almensilla, Bollullos de la Mitacion, A474 to Aznalcazar,Pilas,Hinojos, A482 to Almonte, HF6248 through Parque Natural Donana to A494, 102.17 km
October 15 - A494 to N 442 to Huelva, bike path to Puma del Sebo, A4104 to El Rompido, A4106 to Cartaya, N431 to Lepe, beach road to El Terren, La Antilla, 77.39 km
October 16 - Back roads through La Redondala, pozo del Camino, A4210 to N431 to Ayamonte, Ferry to Portugal, N125 through Villa Real de Santo Antonio, Aldeia Nova, Altura, Santa Luzia, Livramento, to Fuseta, 62.13 km
October 18 - N125 through Olhao to Faro, backroads around Faro, N125 through Almancil, Guia to Amacao de pera, 64.68 km
October 19 -N125 past Lagoa, Portimao, Lagos, to Villa Bisbo, N268 to Sagres, 77.02 km
October 20 - Road out to San Vincente point and back, N368 to ville Bispo, Carrapateria, Alfambra, N120 through Aljazur, Riogi, to Obceixe, 73.51 km
October 21 - N125 to Sao Teotinio, back roads around Odemira back to N393, N393 to Vila Nova, back roads to Malpensado and Porto Covo, 59.14 km
October 22 - Coastal road from Porto Covo to main highway, highway around Sines to Vila Nova Santo Andre, N261 through Melides to turn off to Praia Gale, 52.06 km
October 23 - N261 to Torre, Comporta, Troia, Ferry to Setubal, Coast road to camping, 52.14 km
October 25 - N10 to N379 to Aldeia de Irmaos, N379 to villa Fresca de Azeitao, N10 to Almada, IC 20 and N371 thru Trafaria, SaoJoaoto Costa da Caparica, 55.70 km
Appendix B - Campsites or hotels
September 29 - Along the Camino Don Quixto between Zaragosa and Guadalajara
September 30 - Camping Despenaperros, Santa Elena (14.65e/vight)
October 1 - Camping Sierra nevada, Granada (22.50 E/night)
October 2 - Camping La Garrofa, Almeria (18.51 E/night)
October 3 - Camping La Garrofa, Almeria (12.95 E/night)
October 4 - Camping Castillo de Banos (15.30 E/night)
October 5 - Camping El Pino, Torrox-Costa (14.80 E/night)
October 6 - Camping Fuengirola, (19.25 E/night)
October 7 - Camping Chullera, Manilva (17.00 E/night)
October 8 - Camping Sureuropa, LaLinea de la Concepcion,(9.00E/night)
October 9 - Camping Tarifa, Tarifa (14.93 E/night)
October 10- Camping Vejer, Vejer de Frontera (free, no water)
October 11 - Camping Lagos del Arcos, Arcos de la Frontera (11.56 E/night)
October 12, 13 - Camping Villson, Dos Hermanas (12.57 E/night)
October 14 - Parque Natural Donana
October 15 - Camping Playa Taray, La Antilla (11.81 E/night)
October 16, 17 - Campismo Municipal Fuzeta (8.30 E/night)
October 18 - Camping Canelas, Amacao de Pera (6.50 E/night)
October 19 - Orbitur Sagres, Sagres (8.00 E/night)
October 20 - Camping St. Miguel, Obeceixe (10.50 E/night)
October 21 - Camping Porto Covo, Porto Covo (10.90 E/night)
October 22 - Camping Praia Gale, near Melides (9.90 E/night)
October 23, 24 - Camping Outao, Setubal (11.10 E/night)
October 25, 26 - Orbitur Costa da Caprica camping (8.80 E/night)
Copyright © 1995-2011 by Caryl L. Bergeron - Distribution for personal use permitted. Distribution for other uses with written permission.