Entering my final Spanish province. Catalunya and Barcelona
As is becoming the norm, I only expected to be in Valencia for a couple of days but alas, I ended up staying four. It was becoming quite common for me to pay for only one night, end up going out with some people from the hostel and wake up bleary eyed in the morning and stumble still half asleep down to the reception and ask for another night.
I would have left after the third day but I found I had some kind of spot on my lower left eye lid, my good eye actually ,and upon reading some things on the internet, began to worry, not unjustly that I had some kind of sun related cancer! I thus made my way to the local hospital to get it checked out and, after being there for just under an hour with very sweaty palms, was told it was just a sweat gland or something similar that had become infected. I was relieved like you wouldn’t believe. Anyway as it was now 5 pm and so I opted to stay another night.
I left Valencia at around twelve and although the road going north was a motorway, I had seen on the internet that there was a smaller road running right by it and so opted to take this one, travelling along the coast at least most of the way north.
It took some time to actually find the road though, having to head straight for the beach promenade at first and finding it from there with absolutely no road signs to follow at all. It turned out to be not a road at all but rather a track covered in a variety of rubble, stones and sand. I had to push the bike through the sand which was hard enough and I was becoming worried at times that my bike was going to fall apart just because of the sheer nature of the track. I actually can’t believe it was even listed on google maps as it was really just a track. With some effort thought I did make it to the end and I found myself back on a small road running alongside the motorway and onto Sagunt.
From Sagunt, I made my way north, again along the motorway but the road turned east for some reason and I ended up travelling through orange and lime groves around the small coastal towns. I would have to ride about two km’s east towards the sea before again turning north for another 2km’s. I would then have to cycle another 2km’s west back towards the motorway. This would continue for the next hour and a half until I eventually found the road alongside the highway again. I think I must have travelled about 25 km’s in all but most probably only 10km’s north. It was exhausting work and incredibly frustrating to say the least.
Of course and as you may have guessed, my little bicycle did eventually find its way out of the maze and so I continued north alongside the national highway where it was easy work all the way inland and into the small town of Nules. It was lovely scenery all along my left inland and I was enjoying the cooler weather of the late afternoon. I liked this time very much as I could actually see properly.
Outside Nules, the Highway did its disappearing act again and after a roundabout, merged inconveniently with the motorway thus forcing me to find another route. I decided to head through the town from where I opted for a smaller road back towards the coast.
It’s a strange thing really. The townsfolk, being late evening, would just find themselves sat outside their houses on the streets watching the world go by, sometimes on their own and sometimes not. Whereas in other countries, the older folk sit inside and watch tv, here they sit outside and watch real life and I kind of like that.
I found a place to camp in some scrub-land alongside a road that led to Villa Real and, apart from my tooth, mosquitoes and humidity, slept quite contentedly for the duration of the evening.
I cycled the 10km’s or so into Castello the following morning and was surprised at how agreeable I found the city. I didn’t realise it was so big either and so it took me longer than usual to find my way out, deciding to follow a bus for a short distance. I looked around for a water fountain but the more I strayed into cities, the harder it became to locate them. I opted for a gas station instead. They usually have a water pump outside next to the air pump but this tasted somewhat like petrol and so I usually asked if I could use the toilets at which they always seemed happy for me to do so.
I stopped in Benicassim where the beach was a beautiful white sand and the water was an unforgettable blue. The town itself was also quite splendid with the garish souvenir shops making only infrequent appearances. It a more refined edge when compared to most other beach towns along the coast. Quite surprising really given that it’s home to a huge music festival every summer.
Cycling out of the town, I noticed the mountains that ran alongside the coast edged closer and closer towards the beach, and even though I couldn't see a road along the coast on my map, thought there must be one as I could see a train line at least. I stuck to the beach as much as possible and found a road that curved up and around the cliffs outside of the town. It was exhausting, particularly after rounding the first set of cliff faces and heading inland. I eventually made it to the top and was afforded beautiful views over the surrounding bays.
Just outside of Torreblanca, I pulled over at a service station and a guy whom worked there immediately came out to meet me and ask if I needed some water. As usual, my reply was a resounding yes and I began to stock up before washing my entire body too as it was by now caked in sweat. Whilst doing this a lady came over and gave me a huge bottle of ice cold water which was rather nice of her. The guy told me about a small rural road that wound its way around the coast and the national park that lay alongside it. This wasn't on my map, but upon hearing this new information I knew my plans had changed.
Having thanked him, I made my way back through the town and cycled another 3 km’s to the coast where I found the road. At first it was in good shape, I mean it wasn’t smooth or anything but at least it was asphalt. After 5km’s however, the surface disintegrated completely as it made its windy way into the park. It was basically just a track, all pot holed and sand with some very short steep sections thrown in. It was absolutely horrible to cycle on with a fully loaded bicycle and I started to think that maybe, just maybe the guy hadn’t seen my bags. Maybe he just completely missed them and instead only saw a mountain bike and a keen rider. This is possibly the only explanation as to why he had sent me this way.
All in all I guess it took me three hours to cycle 20 km’s or so and my goal of reaching 100 km’s for the day was thus gone. After a huge ascent around a cliff face and into the town of Peniscola, I found myself in a thriving holiday town with a nice beach, music blaring and people everywhere.
The next day, I headed over the border from Valencia and into Catalunya, my final province! I couldn’t quite believe I had made it this far. I know I had taken a bus for a short section but on the whole, I had cycled around Spain and Portugal under the power of my own two legs and felt suitably impressed with myself. In fact, looking at a map and laid my route out in a straight-ish line and follow some of the better known routes through Europe, I would probably be in Turkey around about now. Quite cool when you think about it. I was indeed doing it the longer way round!
Stopping at a service station later and having already filed up my bottles with the water from the outside tap, I thought that I might ask the lady inside if the water was indeed ‘potable’. She instantly replied that it was not which got me thinking that I shouldn’t be drinking it, at least when it’s not been boiled. For food it was surely okay but just not for drinking. This was even so when faced with the fact that I had been consuming this water devilishly for the better part of a month already.
I cycled the rest of the day through stunning scenery on both sides of the road. Lush forested valleys and hills swept out in every direction, towards the coast to my right and towards the mountains to my left. It was beautiful.
As was becoming common now, I had camped early and had not pushed particularly hard the previous day as I wanted to arrive in Tarragona early instead of in the evening thus today I only needed to cycle 25km’s or so. It’s always a great feeling to know that you’ll be heading to a nice city full of wonderful things to see.
By this time, I have to say I wasn’t waking up every morning filled with a wonder for the world. Travelling like this does fatigue you and you have to take the really tough times with the very best of times. Having said this though, this was one of those mornings where I was felling just fantastic.
After setting off, the national highway I had been travelling on the previous day became connected to a new motorway with the highway branching off towards the coast. Thus most of the traffic opted instead to use the motorway leaving me on a beautifully traffic free, wide and smooth road. I crested over a small hill and saw the coast whilst the sun was beaming from above. I had the Into the Wild soundtrack playing and it just seemed like everything had slotted into place at that exact moment. It was truly a great feeling.
I stopped in a small town along the coast a little later. A small town that was called something like hospital which I still don’t understand. A hospital dominated the town but why on earth would you call it hospital? Seemed strange to me.
I arrived into the last town before Tarragona, and just as I had always thought, became rather stuck as the smaller roads disappeared somewhat and I was faced with only motorways. My map indicated a road along the coast but which stopped abruptly about 10km’s from the city. With my map being completely correct up until now, I trusted this implicitly and opted to cycle alongside the motorway heading towards the city along a small track. I wasn’t sure where it headed or if it would be a dead end but it seemed my only option. It did indeed end quite abruptly and there began some fields in its stead. I decided that where there were farmer’s fields, there was a way to get to a small rural road. I had to push my bike over two fields and eventually came to a small road in which I had to heave my bicycle over a large ditch in the process. I received some directions through the maze of tracks that eventually led into the city from a nice hotel owner.
The hostel I stayed at was called On the Road and a lady was waiting outside whom I thought was a guest but who later turned out to be the owner. It was very small, homely and laid back, indeed it was everything that my hostel in Valencia wasn’t. It actually seemed like I was the only guest there at times and the staff outnumbered the guests each day. They never asked for my passport and said pay when you can. It had a resident nine week old kitten and a guitar and some very cool people working their too. I felt very happy and in the end stayed another day.
There really isn’t much to say about the following day to Barcelona. I travelled along listening to music and felt quite content that I was heading to Barcelona and onto the border with France after which Italy awaited. This gave me immense satisfaction.
Perhaps 45km’s outside of Barcelona, the highway headed inland through the mountains that surround this area of the coast. I became a little stuck here as the road I had been travelling on indicated at its end that bicycles were no longer permitted. I thus had cycle back 5 km’s and find another road to the coast in which to use for the duration of the day.
From here, I had a few maps saved to my kindle. After reviewing them, I knew I needed to find somewhere to camp soon as everything from this point would become a lot busier with buildings and people of a large city.
Out of Garraf, I took a street that led into the surrounding hills and passed a police traffic car parked up. I think he must have been wondering why a guy who is obviously a tourist was heading into the hills and a suburban neighbourhood at 9pm. Maybe he did know but I cycled on anyway in the hope of finding somewhere.
Checking if anyone could see me, I pushed my bicycle in and found a suitable place to camp for the evening leaving perhaps 15 – 20km’s for the next day. If only I had known what was to come I might have gone as far as to pay for somewhere to sleep. Well, maybe not that far but I would have reconsidered my decision.
I heard the first sound shortly after setting up my tent and after an hour or so I kept hearing these strange screams that I thought could only emanate from a pig of some sort. A little while later they began to become louder and louder until eventually I heard the animal sniffing around the vicinity of my tent. It did a 360 degree walk around my tent sniffing at the fabric all the while I lay as still as a statue inside.
It then knocked one of my bags over which startled me even more and induced random scenes of the film Hannibal where the guy gets mauled by aggressive pigs. Needless to say, I was a little worried by this point. After a while though it left, but then an hour later and a couple of other times during the night it came back to sniff me out. This alongside the fact that I couldn’t get cool and was thus sweating the whole night meant I got perhaps 3 or 4 hour’s sleep. A large price to pay for free accommodation maybe.
I left bright and early the next morning and didn’t encounter the sniffing pigs. I knew Barcelona to be a huge city of over 4 million people and so I needed as much time as possible in order to negotiate its vast suburbs and to find my hostel in a reasonable amount of time.
In the end I did a very reasonable job of finding my way through the melee that is Barcelona. I didn’t become lost once and simply followed the main streets. I couldn’t quite believe I had managed it particularly after the fiasco that was Paris. Not a bad thing considering it’s size and I was on a bicycle. I think I may be getting rather good at this.