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  • Jamie Shannon

Back in Spain. Oh Seville you shouldn't have

It was always my intention to cycle onto the very south of Portugal from Evora in order to see a friend whom I had worked with whilst in Amsterdam but also because I was utterly desperate and felt compelled to get to the coast. The promise of fresh sea air and a beautifully sandy beach were most alluring.

After consulting both my own paper map and GoogleMaps and seeing that there were categorically no roads whatsoever across the border back into Spain from anywhere in southern Portugal, I decided visiting the south wasn’t going to happen. There was one road but of course it was the usual motorway. The world is indeed built for the motor vehicle.

Armed with this new knowledge, I left Evora and headed south east and onto Spain. I used the main trunk road from Evora and, apart from it being very busy, nothing much of note happened. The hills seemed to be a thing of the past as was the wind and so I was cruising along on a wide shoulder singing aloud with a feeling of anticipation and utter joy as my time with the Portuguese drivers was coming towards an end.

It is a beautiful country with lots of friendly people and historic sights but the sheer carelessness of the drivers and ferociousness of their dogs kept me from really enjoying it. A sad thought yes but there you have it.

After possibly 35 or 40 km’s from Evora, I felt that terrible vibration every cyclist hates to get; the crushing sensation that your wheel rim is touching the tarmac. I had another flat tyre. Not wanting to even attempt to fix it in the daytime heat, I simply pulled over and popped in a new inner tube and thus, I was on my way again in ten minutes.

A couple of hours later, the same thing happened again! Unbelievable. I couldn’t get my head around this one, I mean, it was a brand new inner tube. How could it happen again I asked myself?

I pulled over again and went through the same routine as before, perfecting it as an art form at the same time. Thinking I had the problem solved as the tube stayed inflated when I tested it, I loaded everything back on again but within 2km’s it was yet again flat. I really did think someone was trying to stop my attempt to leave Portugal but I wasn’t going to let them.

I walked my bicycle into a field this time in preparation for a long offensive. Whatever I did to the tube however, it wouldn’t work. I was growing tired by this point, the light was fading and I was becoming very hungry. My aim of finishing the day by camping next to a large lake I saw on my map that lay a mere 10 or 15km’s away was vanishing by the instant.

I decided to pull out my other two inner tubes that I knew had their own problems. One wouldn’t even begin to inflate thus It wasn’t even worth trying to fix it. The second inner tube had a gash so big it also seemed fruitless to try and fix it as no amount of sealant and rubber were going to be strong enough. I tried though. I must have sat there for a good hour and a half, patching up one hole on one inner tube, and whilst I sat on that one as it was drying, picked up the other inner tube and patched that one up. I then repeated the process with the other one. It was utter ridiculous.

By half nine, I felt I really did have to find somewhere to camp and so threw everything back on the bike and found myself walking in the dark along the highway looking around desperately for just the tiniest patch of land to put up my tent. When I did finally find somewhere, dogs started barking at me and so I had to move on. Things were not going well for me now and yet strangely I didn’t really have a feeling of panic or fear, but instead a feeling that, whatever happens, something will come out of this. Be it a story to tell or simply a positive feeling after the saga was over but in the end, everything would be alright.

With a fresh pair of eyes the next morning, I managed to fix both inner tubes. I think I used about twelve patches and 2 tubes of glue all told but they were fixed, for how long I didn’t know but perhaps, just perhaps there was a bicycle shop in the next town. I crossed my fingers and prayed to a higher power that there was.

To my utter amazement, the town on my map turned out to be fairly big, and within a short while I had found the one and only bicycle shop. It was closed however thus I wasn’t sure what to do. I stood there quite bewildered for a moment when lady whom lived next door saw me and indicated to me that I should continue to stand there whilst she did something. I instantly knew what that was and thanked god that he had sent this little angel. She came out of her house and knocked on another door on the opposite side of the road whereupon an elderly gentleman answered. It seemed the sleepy business was his and he didn’t seem to mind opening the door for a few minutes to deal with my small request.

I arrived at the border a half hour later and rued my fate the night before. It was simply a beautiful setting in which to camp; quiet, flat, spacious and with plenty of fresh water. It was probably the most perfect place I had seen on this trip and was the reason I decided to stay here now. I had only cycled perhaps 15 km’s today and it was still only half eleven but I thought isn’t this why I’m doing this? To be able to enjoy moments like this? My decision was thus made.

I decided to cycle into Mourao a couple of km’s away in order to have a walk around there and perhaps find a supermarket where I could get some beer. In the end I opted for apple juice and was rather pleased with myself. Cycling is making me healthier and I feel good about it.

Camping by the lake was just so completely perfect it felt almost unreal particularly after the up’s and down’s of the past week. It was a refreshing change to find a spot where I wouldn’t be disturbed during the day.

I spent the rest of the day relaxing by the water and reading my book. I also did my laundry and took my bike apart in order to properly fix the back wheel and adjust the brakes whilst also doing some general maintenance including cleaning the drive train.

All told, it was just nice to relax under the sun with the beautiful landscape around me making for a great backdrop. I had plenty of fresh water and managed to finally use my water filter that I have been lugging around for nearly three months.

A few km’s just past the lake lay the border and I was mightily relieved to have finally reached it. Portugal was hard work in many ways making Spain feel like an easier going and more orderly place. Something which I never thought I would have said before I cycled over here from France.

After reaching Olvera de la Frontera I had two options; the first one being to carry onto the next large town before turning south east towards Seville and the second being to take the much smaller road directly south and through the national park area. The former road was indeed much longer but, as it was main highway and didn’t traverse the national park, would certainly be much easier to cycle on. I knew the latter smaller road would almost certainly be incredibly twisty, steep and difficult work despite the fact that it was much shorter. I don’t know why I do this to myself but I chose the latter.

I have to admit that it was incredibly scenic and I guess this is what I’m looking for when I decide on a route but Christ almighty it was hard work. Luckily it was a very cloudy day and thus the temperature was reasonably agreeable and so this helped a lot. Being such mountainous terrain however, extremely dark clouds were gathering above me later on in the afternoon and then, out of nowhere, came a rain so strong it actually hurt my skin when it hit me.

Looking on my map the following morning filled me with a little hope that the rest of the road was a lot flatter than it had been as it followed a river all the way to La Nava before joining back up with the main highway a little later.

I was running a little low on food too so I wanted to reach the highway as soon as possible in order to find a shop of some sort. I was relieved to find the road descending all morning before I finally emerged, tired and hungry at the junction of the highway. I pulled over for an hour in order to dry my tent and clothes and eat a substantial breakfast of porridge and jam.

I stopped in a lovely little town called Galaroza, bought some things to eat and relaxed with a cup of coffee outside a café on the main square. I wasn’t so far from Seville now, having made good progress all morning and so wasn’t feeling any need to rush about or anything. I knew I would be in Seville the next day and this gave me a great sense of accomplishment simply having made it this far. Seville was the first city I would be visiting that I had some knowledge about and I knew when I got there, I would indeed feel like I was in Spain for real. I’m not sure why, but when I thought about Seville, It conjured up images in my mind of all the things one associates with Spain. Moorish architecture, flamenco, tapas etc.

Even though I was making good progress, the main highway wasn’t much easier to cycle on than the smaller road the day before as it was just an endless series of long ascents and descents and cycling this under the glare of the sun began taking it’s toll. By 6pm, I felt reasonably pleased with myself that I decided to stop early as I found a fairly suitable place to camp just off the road. Although I usually used the WD40 for my bike, tonight it came in handy for the many flies knocking about. It worked like a charm.

I had camped about 45 km’s away and I found myself descending all morning through amazingly lush forest. Compared to the previous two days, this was easy and with my music turned up full, I was absolutely flying. There is simply no better feeling than to be coasting down the road all morning in brilliant sunshine whilst listening to music, watching the beautiful scenery roll by and knowing that in just a couple of hour’s you’ll find yourself in one of the country’s best cities’ sipping a beer on a terrace. Life, all of a sudden feels good again.

When I finally reached Seville, I encountered my usual problem of trying to navigate my way through the endless motorways that seem to engulf every city I pass through. With this done, I actually found myself cycling on a dedicated cycle path that took me into the hearty of the city and I was overwhelmed with a real sense of achievement.

I sat outside with a coffee and overheard two Americans talking behind me and so asked if they were staying in a hostel. They told me of a hostel in El Centro that also served up a free dinner every evening and this was enough for me to make up my mind. I sit writing this now four days later, I’m still here. It’s quite an amazing little place with some very cool people.

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