Head east, don’t die (part 2)

The Spanish Cycle: Suffer hills, heat, retreat, repeat

click to enlarge Looking Down onto the switchbacks after 13km straight of uphill riding into Granada.
  • Looking Down onto the switchbacks after 13km straight of uphill riding into Granada.

By Jens Ourom

Just as our Portuguese was becoming passable, and perhaps before we were quite prepared for it, we loaded our bicycles onto a nondescript ferry for a 10-minute crossing of the Rio Guadiana that separates southern Portugal and Spain. As far as border crossings go, it was a typical no-hassle European Union affair, but also an anticlimactic end to the sentimental first leg of our journey: myself, my cohort Sean Wilkinson, and our bikes accounted for over half the ferry’s cargo.

The three other passengers, clearly undertaking a routine daily commute between twin riverside cities, made no attempts to mask their disdain at the two scruffy, sunburnt travelers and their Grinch- like loads.

However, this reception was not to be duplicated. As soon as we embarked eastward through Spain’s Andalucian province the laid-back, fiesta-driven stereotype we attach to Hispanic peoples shone true. Our first days of biking en route to Seville saw us serendipitously riding in elaborate horse-centric parades alongside sequined caballeros and their stunning señoras. Instead of being ushered off the road, as we would have been in North America, paraders waved us over, quizzed us and welcomed our comparatively unsightly addition to their festival.

This hospitable reception was to be our saving grace as our route to Seville turned inland, and gruelling.

We had tried to make the distinction early on that we were travelers, not tourists. It was during times like our ascent into Sanlucar la Mayor, that we felt this was justified.

By traveling as close to the ground as Sean and I had been, universal truths about the land we slept on, dined on, and traveled over became evident. These observations are deemed far too obvious to teach in school, and one of them became painfully apparent as we approached Sanlucar la Mayor.

Aged European cities were founded in their respective locations for different reasons than were their infantile North American counterparts. Sanlucar la Mayor was founded around the 8 th century BC, about 2,200 years before Cristobal Colombo came ashore in the Americas. In 15 th century Americas, the key to life was water. Water was key to European survival in the 8 th century BC also, but it was on par with avoiding slaughter by potential invaders. This is why Europe contains so many towns picturesquely balancing in unlikely positions atop formidable hills.

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