- Jamie Shannon
Granada, Murcia and Valencia. Along the Costa Blanca
I had studied my map with some interest for several days now looking for possible routes east, but it was all to no avail. Because of the mountainous topography of Murcia, there seemed only to be one road heading that way. Of course it was a motorway and thus a road which I couldn’t use. Every other road at my disposal would end abruptly in a small village in the middle of nowhere and so my only other options were to take a 100 km detour south or north and continue east from there.
With this thought, I walked to the station in Granada and promptly purchased a ticket to the next large city that lay between here and the coast. I bought one for Murcia and when that was done, actually felt kind of relieved.
The last few days between here and Seville were murderous; the temperature had been around 38 – 43 degrees every day and when you include the mountainous terrain I had to cycle, it was pure pain for large extents. Attempting this on a fully loaded bicycle in summer in Europes only desert would indeed be suicide. Thus I accepted my choice, and looked forward to the beach, something I had not seen in over a month now and so I was very excited to be heading their finally.
I arrived in Murcia at around half six, and as soon as I had prepared my bike, I was on my way through the city and heading north. I was heading north! Back to the rest of Europe!. Great!
I bought some bread from a supermarket and
before I knew it I was following the main highway through the suburbs and out into the flat strip of land a mere 40 km’s from the ocean. Usually, along even the main highways in Spain, there isn’t much in the way of development outside of the cities but this was something completely different. It was an unbroken line of warehouses and large businesses along the road. I was a little shocked but ironically, this fact afforded plenty of places to camp and I found a very suitable place about 15 km’s after Murcia on a large plot of land that was for sale and thus completely out of the way.
It was my intention today, when I arrived in Alicante 60 km’s beyond, to get in touch with a friends girlfriends brother whom lives there. I had met him once before a few years back and it seemed like a good idea. I could hang out with someone I vaguely knew and maybe I’d even have a place to stay as a bonus. For this reason, I left earlier than usual as I planned to get to Alicante by mid afternoon in order to give him time to get back to me.
I stopped off in a small town to buy my usual litre of apple juice, a baguette and a tomato, knowing the shops would be closed tomorrow, even on this side of Spain which I knew catered for wave after wave of northern European tourists.
I had a go at a handover in a relay race a little later when I was cycling along.Just outside of Alicante, I heard a couple of beeps behind me. Looking in my mirror, I could see a van pulling over to the side of me whereupon the guy in the passenger seat was holding out a bottle of water. I held out my left hand hoping to grab on to it which indeed I did and slotted it into my bottle holder. I shouted a loud gracias and waved to the guys who sped off down the road. I thought that was very unusual and I cycled on with a broad smile across my face.
I arrived in Alicante by half twelve and couldn’t quite believe it. I had cycled over 60 km’s already, albeit mostly on flat land but I still had made very good progress today and it was enjoyable cycling too. Because of this and as I wanted to get to Valencia, a city I had been told very good things about, I decided against getting in touch with my friends friend. I instead elected to cover as much ground as possible before having to tackle the hills and highland that I knew lay further ahead.
I felt an overwhelming sense of anger at myself having taken a bus now, and so as if to punish myself, I thought I might take a more inland route and thus pass through the mountains instead of taking a far easier coastal route around them. It was a kind of self inflicting punishment of sorts but also because the route would obviously be much more scenic than the resort packed coast.
Heading out of Alicante though, I began to realise with a little distress that the mountains actually straddled the sea for much of the next 100 km’s or so. There would be no easy terrain for me just yet.
The road around the coast was actually more beautiful than I could ever have imagined. If you look at a map, it actually looks fairly uninspiring what with the main highway and motorway both straddling each other for large stretches. Maps and thus their distances can be deceiving though and I was quite relieved to enjoy huge tracts of high sun baked mountains to my left whilst overlooking the blue sea to my right.
At times I headed off the main highway and cycled through much smaller roads that wound their way through pretty little villages almost untouched by tourism. These roads and the villages always straddled the coast and thus wound their way around insanely steep cliffs making the road almost unbearably steep. Due to this, I would head back to the highway for a very small respite.
As I cycled past Benidorm, which I really didn’t want to see, the motorway somehow blended into the main highway thus I wasn’t able to continue; cars started honking and one guy shouted for me to get off the motorway. I thus had to realise my dream of visiting Blackpool by the sea and so headed on down to the town.
It was a little surreal and a bit unbelievable really. It was like nothing I had passed through in the previous month. Out of nowhere, huge high-rise building's jut out from the bay looking like a mini Manhattan whist the town itself was covered in a whole manner of restaurants and cafés catering for the tourist more at home with a kebab than tapas.
This wasn’t Spain and I wanted to get the hell out of there immediately. I have to say though that it was an awesome beach but this fact was negotiable if you had asked me to come and holiday here.
Conversely, about 15 km’s to the north stood a little town called Altea that was completely the opposite to flashy Benidorm. It was Quaint, unmistakably Spanish in its architecture and had an abundance of tapas bars and small cafes that were more my thing. Most of the people were Spanish too. The beach was non existent however and was instead a rocky bay which I guess has saved it from the developers..
I drank a coke here, sitting quite happily just watching people pass by. I sat by the beach watching a cat wait in eager anticipation behind a rock having sensed a small turtle was floating just beyond. It waited and waited in a stance that made you assume it would jump out at any moment to capture its prey but it never did. Knowing I couldn’t watch a cat all afternoon, no matter how exciting it was, I pushed my bike back to the road from the beach and headed on.
I had been cycling most of the day by this point and had seen numerous spots in which to camp, but now, just when I began to really scrutinise the road, I couldn't see anything. I was by now extremely tired, having climbed high above the bay surrounding Calp, scanning the right side of the road in the process.
The light was now fading fast as the sun had completely disappeared and I began to wonder if I would ever find somewhere. I always found a place before it grew pitch black but tonight may be different. The traffic was still flying by and my lights were exhausted so I knew I had to get off the road as quickly as possible. I climbed still further stopping infrequently when I thought I saw a patch of land that obviously wasn’t being farmed. Waiting until there was a lull in the traffic, I would try to haul my bike over the verge separating the road from the land but it was often too steep and would thus have to cycle on still further. It was exhausting.
Literally by this time it was nearly complete darkness I saw a large area of untamed land over the other side of the road. With a wave of relief, I walked across and began to wheel my bike into the undergrowth but the noise I created in doing so seemed to disturb two fecking dogs from across the road and I had to cycle on yet again.
I cycled on and on and eventually had to ‘erect’ my tent right next to the side of the road in a small space in front of a metal gate leading to one of those enclosures for an electrical box of some sort. It was by no means ideal but it was half ten by this point and so long as I got going early enough the following morning, nobody needed to know.
I lasted the night quite well in my makeshift shelter. With the sound of cars racing past my head a few metre’s away, I was awake by 6 am.
After a few more km’s rising steadily above the sea, I came into the small town of Benissa and sat down in a grassy area by the side of the road where I made some breakfast. It was such a lovely morning what with a slight breeze blowing in from the coast that I must have sat there for an hour or so and read a little, wrote a little of this and just relaxed.
After curving continuously around the deep gorges that mark this area out as particularly beautiful, the road began to run parallel to the sea. My surroundings now stood in stark contrast to what I had been travelling through the previous two days. No longer were the hills and landscape barren and sun baked; they were now lush with plants, thick foliage and the smell of flowers. In such a short distance along the coast everything had changed quite dramatically.
I was enjoying the cycling; I had the wind on my back and it didn’t seem to be too hot either. The only thing to note around here were these strange women, sometimes chatting on their phones, sometimes listening to music but almost always wearing next to nothing. They were more often than not sat on these plastic chairs by the side of the road and could only have been offering one thing. Use your imagination if you please.
Just as I was readying to cycle into a town not too far south of Valencia, the highway magically disappeared from under my feet and I found myself cycling on a motorway. The signs suddenly read 120 km\h, there were now four lanes and everything was separated by crash barriers thus forcing me to carry on. I tried to get off at the earliest opportunity but this was not forthcoming and so strapped on my helmet and cycled on cautiously. Within 4 km’s though, the motorway disappeared and I was back on the highway as if by magic. Isn’t life strange?
Knowing I was already getting close to Valencia, I decided to head to the beach. All the way along the coast from Alicante had been one long meandering line of development. It seemed every available spot had already been snatched up and so my attempt at finding a secluded beach was obviously not going to come to fruition. With a little frustration, I made the 2 km journey anyway and parked my ass down on the sand. It wasn’t actually too busy which was a relief and upon sitting down I turned to my left and saw I was sat next to six Spanish women sun bathing topless, chatting quite happily and blissfully unaware that there was a short English man foaming at the mouth to their right. I thought “I could stay here a little longer”.
As I came to the final stretch of coast between Cullera and Valencia, I began to look for places to make my dinner but again, it seemed there was an endless line of holiday homes lining the coast. As it was approaching early evening too, a time when most Spanish head outside, I couldn’t see anywhere quiet enough to sit down and start cutting up vegetables and boiling pasta; the stares would have been grossly uncomfortable if I had. I eventually found a place down by a farm track to pitch. Luxurious wasn't the word for it.
I cycled the last 10km’s the following morning and found myself in Valencia by half ten! I couldn’t quite believe it. This was the earliest I had ever arrived and so I thought that perhaps I would only have to pay for one night. I had some directions to a hostel recommended to me by someone back in Granada and so made my way to the city centre where it was located.