- Jamie Shannon
Seville to Granada. A long hard slog through the mountains
Having said goodbye to the staff and guests, I made my way south east through the city before finding a cycle path that took me through the suburbs and eventually out to the outer extremes of the city. Once again however, it was here where I became stuck as there seemed to be no roads going in the direction where I wanted to go. I remembered that there was actually some kind of path that ran alongside a canal and eventually a river towards the next town and so I made it my aim to locate this.
After some difficulty, I finally found the canal and with this done it was a very leisurely 17 km gravel ride all the way to the next town, Alcala de Guadaira.
I must admit I was happy to get off the gravel when I finally reached some tarmac as it was rough going and not particularly forgiving on my bike. I also nearly had a bad accident at one point too whilst eating an apple. I eat whilst I cycle quite often too be fair and have never have any problems but the loose stones underneath didn’t afford my tyres too much grip and so I nearly slid into a ditch. Fortunately, everything was okay and I finished my succulent treat whilst stationary.
As I was hauling my bicycle up the inevitable hill into the town, a voice called out my name from the pavement and I was a little taken aback to see the cleaning lady from my hostel back in Seville staring at me in disbelief. She couldn’t fathom why anyone would cycle in this heat and indeed cycle to Granada for that matter. This was the case with most people I spoke to though but you ‘just do it’.
By 5pm, the temperature had reached a mind boggling 43 degrees and I had to stop for an hour near a gas station as the sweat was simply dripping from every pore on my body. I felt like I was leaving a trail of juice akin to a slug in my wake.
I reached Carmona after a few more km’s, and having walking around the town a little, pressed on and found somewhere to camp next to a farmers field. You could defiantly see me from the roadside but by this point, I really didn’t care. After so much time camping, any fear of being found had simply vanished and my need to sleep outweighed any thought of asking someone if it was okay to camp in a certain place.
The one thing when travelling by bicycle that really starts to gnaw at you is simply the fact that the route you may have to take in order to get to a city might require you go in a sort of zig zag pattern. A car on the other hand can simply cruise along a motorway in a fairly straight line. If a car has to to travel 250 km’s thought the mountains to get to its destination, you can bet your life that a bicycle will have to travel a good 350 km’s towards the same place using a route that always travels in a diagonal fashion.
So it was that I begun my day, not by cycling due east where Granada lay but by cycling south east towards Marchena.
A little later when I entered Marchena, I found a supermarket which I thought was pretty strange considering it was a Sunday and most things in Spain are closed. It basically sold apple’s, milk and drain cleaner and so I opted for an apple. Now apple’s aren’t expensive anywhere you go but in Spain one might expect to pay 30 cents for one. Imagine my astonishment when the guy gave me 8.50 euros back from a ten euro note. I was taken aback by this and indicated that it wasn’t right. When faced with my reaction, he did some strange manoeuvrings with the coins and I ended up with a further euro on the counter. I said this was more acceptable and thanked him profusely for his ‘generosity'.
For some reason in Spain, certainly in the smaller towns and villages, the older men tend to sit around by the side of the road in the early evening talking amongst themselves. Thus when I cycle by, and particularly if it's up a hill, I instantly feel about 15 pairs of eyes following me as I slowly make my way past them. Sometimes they utter a pleasantry of some sort but most of the time they just stare.
From Marchena, I began to climb quite steeply into the hills. When you throw the intense heat in the mix, it almost becomes unbearable to the point where you find yourself stopping every 2km’s just to save yourself the uncomfortable tickling and itching that come when you sweat so much. At the same time as climbing up steep hills you are also being dive bombed by foolhardy flies always looking for new ways to enter your mouth. It was indeed exhausting work. My paradise became a beach and that was the only thought crossing my mind at that moment.
I stopped in a small town that I think was called Sierra de Yeguas. At the main plaza, I asked at a café if I could fill up my bottles. Upon my exit from the bathroom, the kind lady gave me another 2 litres of ice cold spring water in a bottle. Quite possibly the best present a person such as me could receive. The plaza, like all town squares in the evening in Spain was awash with activity and colour with children running about amongst the various water fountains. The men and women sat in their respective groups chatting about, well who knows what. It’s very European and quaint and I like it very much.
It was after this town, already the early evening, that I saw for the first time the mountains as they began to rise up in the distance looking ever more forbidding as the hours passed. As the evening went on, they became clearer and clearer and I began to feel a sense of unease and trepidation knowing that at some point, I would have to cross them. They were indeed beautiful though.
When I arrived at the town of Mollina, and with no suitable places to camp for the night, I asked at a travelling fairground that was set up on the edge of town if I could camp next to them and they said “by all means sir, you're most welcome”. Actually they said something in Spanish but this is what I translated it too in English. I was safe for the evening and all my stuff was accounted for in the morning and so I think I was right in my line of thought.
Even though I was in such a tiny town I still found it incredibly difficult to locate a route further east. The road that I had been travelling on up until now ended abruptly outside the town before continuing on in the form of a motorway which was obviously not very useful to me.
The road I found wasn’t marked or signposted in anyway and was only used by farm vehicles and tractors that worked the endless olive fields that marked this part of Andalucia. Knowing that at some point I would have some huge climbs to deal with, I stopped after 10km’s and made the biggest bowl of porridge (Alpen) you’ve ever seen. Again, there were no signs, and this being around midday, I couldn’t use the sun to reassure myself. My compass finally came in handy.
I met a Swedish guy a little later whom had flown to Valencia before continuing on his bike. He had a smartphone in which he accessed GoogleMaps, but knowing that the battery would inevitably fail, had brought along two spares, swapping them when needed. I thought that was a fantastic idea but I still really love my paper maps and so for now I would continue to be a little retro.
As I neared the town of Osuna, I could see it was perched high above the valley on a cliff and realised this would probably be the way for the duration of the day. Having pulled over at some kind of warehouse dealing in nothing but olives in order to grab some water, I began riding up to the town. I think it must have taken me a good 40 minutes to reach it.
When I arrived at the top, the main street was so steep I just decided to push my bicycle. Although I was really trying to be prudent with my budget, I decided a cold beer was in order. I think I deserved it you know.
I stopped in a small town at the bottom and made my dinner in the main square as this was the only place where there wasn’t an abundance of flies knocking about. I had a long drawn out staring contest with a man sat opposite me outside a café. When I left, I cycled over in his direction and said a quick hello and goodbye before continuing on. I was quite surprised to hear a reply as usually this simply isn’t the case.
It was by now the hottest part of the day, and I should have stopped but I just wanted to push on as Granada wasn’t so far away by now which also meant my time in this oven that they call Andalucia was coming to an end. It’s such a beautiful region but just stupendously hot; far too hot to cycle in.
I climbed higher and higher up into the surrounding mountains from this point. Every time I turned a corner I would be presented with another view up into the surrounding land and It never seemed to end. I was cycling on a very minor road and it’s poor condition made my progress all the more snail like.
I did finally reach the top and I was afforded incredible views across the surrounding landscape. I stopped several times for long periods just to enjoy the splendid view and to take it all in.
A little later, I saw a quite perfect place to camp for the evening. Luckily I was carrying three huge bottles of water by this point and so I had enough left to decide there and then that this was the right thing to do. There were no signs stating that it was private land as the land was too rugged to be farmed in any way which is always good news for me.
After setting up my tent and cooking dinner I began to hear the faint whispers of dogs on a nearby farm. These grew louder and louder until they in turn set off the dogs from another nearby house. Before I knew it I had about seven or eight of them going wild.
After closing my kindle, I heard a short heavy gallop fly right past my tent. At fist, I thought it was just a wild pig that had run past but a few seconds later, I realised it was indeed two dogs. They stood outside my tent for about one hour barking at me, moving around the tent and thus making me feel quite queasy. I’m not the happiest and the most at ease with dogs at the best of times but when it’s the middle of the night and I’m sat alone in my tent in the middle of nowhere, I’m quite literally crawling into my sleeping bag for comfort.
I decided the only way to get rid of them was to make some noise thus I reluctantly decided to kick my tent and shout at them in the vain hope that they would recede. To my delight, it actually worked and they backed off a good 50 metres enabling me to fall into a deep slumber.
The next morning, I set off again and realised, having looked at my map, that the rest of the way to Granada was coloured a much lighter shade filling me with hope that it was mostly flat. This wasn’t to be the case. After a steep descent down into the next valley, I made my way through 10km’s of farmland hemmed in on all sides by the surrounding mountains, quite a beautiful setting really.
I descended into the town of Alhamas de Granada where I stopped to ask for directions. The road that I wanted to follow now to Granada didn’t have a single town along it, at least not on my map and so local knowledge was my best bet. I couldn’t quite believe it when the young guy I had asked started speaking in a distinct Mancunian accent. I found out he had moved there nine years ago with his parents. The world really is a strange place I thought.
I was on the last stretch of road to Granada that lay perhaps 40 km’s away and so I just pushed and pushed myself on, willing myself to the top. It was scorching and I began to plead with someone, anyone that the top would pleasingly come into view but alas it never seemed to. After one hour of this, I inched myself around a bend and the road flattened out. I was confronted by a heartbreakingly (if that is a word...) beautiful sight. In the distance I could see the bluest lake I’ve ever seen or ever likely to see. It simply stopped me in my tracks and I just had to admire it for a few moments before I made my way down to the bottom.
I was inside a national nark and thus hardly any development around the lake to be seen. No caravans or campsites, no houses or villages to be seen in any direction. It felt like paradise. I sat here for a good couple of hours whilst my clothes dried.
After another hour spent climbing out of the valley where the lake was situated, I again made my way down the other side and found a spot to camp just off the road surrounded by the small of wild rosemary. There were no visits by any dogs this evening and so I was quite the happy man.
After getting back on the road early the next day, I found myself with one final steep climb over the hills and into the area around Granada. When I finally reached the top, I could see the city in the distance and it felt so very good to have made it on my bicycle. I sat there for a half an hour simply savouring the moment, a moment that I thought wouldn’t come. Everything inevitably draws to a conclusion though and I made my way down into the valley beyond and eventually into the city itself. I had arrived!