Day 34 – Arganda to Cuenca

One good thing about Ibis hotels is the breakfasts start at 0630. Allowing me to get up and make an early start. Only problem was I overslept and didn’t have breakfast until 0730. Still, its earlier than I’m used to.

The route today would take me to Cuenca. I have no real interest with Cuenca it’s just on the way to my dad’s house and it’s a decent distance away. Unfortunately, as I was still close to Madrid the only way of getting to Cuenca is by motorway. So I had to head into the hills and take the “back route” to join the Autopista service road about 70 kilometres from Cuenca.

The day warmed up quickly and the rush hour traffic was really heavy. The roads weren’t very wide so I was a little nervy with the lorries going past.

As soon as I’d left the traffic behind I was pretty much by myself. The landscape opened up and I could see 180 degrees of distant countryside. It was gorgeous.

I worked my way down to the IMG_1008service road. I’m guessing the service road is the road before the motorway was built. It was quiet, throughout the whole 70 km I saw maybe 2 cars. The motorway had taken its victims, a lot of bars and restaurants had lost the passing trade and closed down.

I finally got to Cuenca and checked into the Hostel I had pre-booked the night before. Tomorrow I have another long trek to Teruel. So I’m going to make sure I go to bed early and get up early this time.

Day 33 – Avila to Arganda (near Madrid)

I started the day with a hearty buffet breakfast at the hotel before leaving Avila. The owner of the hotel said the weather looked promising even after the wet start. He couldn’t have been more wrong. Only five minutes in and it started to rain. Just a few spots but it looked like there would be more.

There were two large climbs planned for today, the first one much larger than the second. I settled into a rhythm and slowly crawled my way up the first. It wasn’t until I got to the top that the heavens opened. From the earlier warming I had put my waterproofs on but hadn’t bothered with the waterproof socks. My feet were sopping even though the downpour only lasted a couple of minutes.

I stopped at a café to change into my waterproof socks before continuing on, this time for the second climb. Would have taken more pictures of the views but because of the rain and low cloud it wasn’t the best day for photos.

I finally had a lovely descent down past El Escorial. This town looked like a nice place to visit, but I’d gained so much momentum down the hill, and put so much effort in to get up it, I just couldn’t bring myself to apply the brakes, so sailed on past. Note to self: Visit El Escorial next time you have the chance!

Another 30 or so kilometres and I was touching the outskirts of Madrid. It didn’t take me too long to take a wrong turn. Madrid seems like it was built for the car and a testing ground for motorways. It’s almost impossible to navigate through the city without being directed onto a motorway. They circle it, go through it, cross it, everywhere you turn there is another motorway.

I’ve been to Madrid before, by car. I didn’t like the place then and today was no different. It’s just too big. I’ve not experienced a city this big before. I like the country and the quiet, the sooner I could get out the better.

Another hours cycling and I’d reach Arganda, my destination for the day. I had been looking forward to camping but the campsite looked more like a graveyard for caravans. There were lots of motorhomes and caravans but no people. Rusty bikes lay on the floor, gates hanging off hinges. I decided that this wasn’t the place to be, got my driving license back off the man in the grotty house and left as quick as I could. Unfortunately this has meant I’ve had to fork out for another hotel and another evening meal.

On the whole I had a really good ride today. I like the variety of the landscape, keeps things interesting. I even enjoyed the rain, it kept me cool. I rode about 94 miles and could have carried on.

Day 32 – Salamanca to Avila

Salamanca is a beautiful city. I only wish I had more time to visit. I could sit in the Plaza Mayor all day long and people watch. The restaurants that circle the Plaza don’t seem to be in any rush to serve small tables, more fool them. I had a nice sit down in the shade and drank my bottle of water.

All the cattle I had seen grazing the previous day were bulls. I read in the tourist information that Salamanca has deep routed tradition in bull fighting so I guess the bulls I had passed the day before were possibly destined for the placa de toros. Slightly tempted to see what it’s all about but not enough time.

I didn’t sleep well Saturday night. There was a bug outside my tent that kept making a loud noise every few seconds. So I woke with heavy eyes and not feeling fully refreshed. Incidentally, I hadn’t slept well Friday night either because I’d had too much to drink. It was the barmaids fault for buying me that one extra pint.

With two huge croissants and a café con leche inside me I headed off towards Avila. The ride started well. I managed to get a pace going I hadn’t achieved over the last few days, and although it was sunny it was quite pleasant and not too hot.

Halfway I had stopped to put some sun cream on and eat a snack when another cycle tourer went past in the opposite direction. He pulled up next to me. His name was Han from the Netherlands. There are a number of caminos in Spain other than the one I had cycled. Han had pretIMG_0996ty much cycled all of them. He loves riding Spain and he is almost 70 years old. That’s pretty impressive.

Continuing on I had only 40 kilometres to go when the wind got up, and unfortunately it was coming from the direction I was heading. This made for really hard cycling. At times I was down to a crawl. The last 40 km seemed more like 60. I’m hoping this will die down tomorrow.

The next few days are going to be quite tough. I want to get to Madrid on Monday then Cuenca on Tuesday. These are both hefty distances around 100 miles each. I’ll see how I get on. Otherwise I’ll just have to spread the distance out over an extra day. Fingers crossed for no wind!

Tonight I’m staying in the hotel Han had recommended. My bike is safely stored downstairs and I have a large double bed. The hotel rates are 100 Euro a night so how I have this room for 40 I have no idea. I’ve had a short walk around Avila. It’s a walled city, a pretty impressive wall at that. I’d compare the city to a mini Toledo but without all the tourists.

Day 31 – Figuera De Castillo Rodrigo to Salamanca

After a pretty good nights sleep I woke to an overcast day. Finally, my wish had come true.

I left early and made my way North along the border with Spain. I didn’t want to cross into the border just yet as I wanted to join the CL-517 which would take me directly to Salamanca.

This part of the ride was pleasant and cool with a great downhill just before the border crossing. Crossing into Spain I joined the CL-517. At first I thought I was climbing more mountains but I was in fact climbing out of a deep gorge that marks the border. This went on for some time, I didn’t see a soul.

At the top of the gorge the CL-517 straightens out, it pretty much stays like this the rest of the way to Salamanca. The landscape now is grassy and flat where mainly cattle graze. It wasn’t long before I was getting bored. I’d wondered a few times what the cows were thinking, then bored again. The CL-517 is a monotonous road that just goes on for ever and doesn’t seem to change. It did rain on me a little but not enough to soak me so no need for waterproofs.

I arrived at Salamanca in the early evening and made my way to the nearest campsite.

That’s as exciting as my day got. I’ve done 176 miles in two days and I’m really feeling it. Tomorrow is a day for washing my clothes, sightseeing Salamanca and doing some shopping. Sounds like a busy rest day.

Day 30 – Baiao to Figuera De Castillo Rodrigo

It was restless night as it was so humid but I’d managed to get some sleep. The rain I’d been hoping for never came, and the sky outside was blue. Just as well I’d left early so I managed to catch the cool of the morning.

Ride started well. I hadn’t descended from yesterday’s climb and made my way across the top of the mountain passing a few small villages. I then joined a road that did descend. It was amazing, sweeping roundd the corners as fast as the cars, lovely cool breeze. It made yesterday’s ride seem all worthwhile. On reflection, maybe not.

I swept down the mountain to Mesao Frio where I took this picture. Absolutely stunning I’m sure you’ll agree. I followed this river up through the tourist town of Peso De Rugua. I then crossed the river and continued along it for some time before heading back into the mountains.

I’d settled into a rhythm at this point so climbing the mountains seemed quite easy. I climbed for a good hour and a half. A waiter at a café called me Loco, I’d have to agree with him, but round here it’s the Portuguese wine making region, grapevines as far as the eye can see, and it is beautiful. Definitely worth all the climbing.

Today was 38 degrees Celsius, much hotter than the day before. Without the humidity and a slight breeze it made the ride quite bearable. Clouds built up in the afternoon so the sun disappeared completely. About time.

The afternoon consisted of yet more climbing. I kept climbIMG_0992ing even though I couldn’t see anywhere in front of me that looked any higher.

Towards the end of the day I ended up high in the mountains. Scanning a full 360 degree of the horizon I could see no cars, no people and no buildings. Felt a little nervy so late in the day, I was thinking I’d be camping in the mountains. Sounds kinda of exciting but I’d prefer not to with so many thunderstorms about and not much shelter.

Finally reached a town of a good size but no places to stay, so I carried on to Figuera De Castillo Rodrigo. A checked myself into a 4 star hotel. I just couldn’t help it! Most of the day seemed to be going up, and as I’d covered 92 miles I think I deserved it.

Day 29 – Porto to Baiao

The German guy, Marvin, told me that it’s nice to have jar of chick peas for dinner, even better with cottage cheese, so I thought I’d try it. Got myself a huge 1 litre jar of chick peas, they didn’t have cottage cheese so I went for cream of brie, and to spice it up a bit I added some cherry tomatoes. This probably could have been quite tasty, but the chick peas were in some kind of jelly, not dissimilar to what you get around minced beef. It smelt like dog food. Secondly the cream of brie really didn’t add much flavour. It looked, smelt and tasted horrible, but the tomatoes were lovely!

I woke early to the sound of thunder. I’m dying for a good storm to take some of the heat away. Unfortunately it was off in the distance. I’d had a lie in because of the hour I gained the day before, but this just meant I was getting up when the sun was higher. So I was sweating before I’d even left the campsite. Then I sliced my arm on the corner of the pannier clip, this didn’t look like it was going to be a good day.

As I’d suspected it wasn’t. It was so humid I was pouring sweat more than the day before. I knew I’d be climbing some hills later so I was hoping the storms would come back.

The towns around where I’d camped were quite bizarre. They were made up labyrinths of tiny cobbled streets that didn’t seem to go anywhere in particular. It was like the place hadn’t been touched since time began. Got back on the main road and made my way to Porto.

I didn’t need to go into Porto so I cut through the outskirts and headed east. I then started to climb some really steep hills. It started to rain but it wasn’t enough to drop the temperature. I was struggling. It’s not like I was tired, I was just too hot!

I could see thunder storms building and this made it even milder and sticky. I then started to climb the biggest hill of the day (unknown to me). It went on for a lifetime and was completely open to the sun. It was becoming unbearable, there was no breeze and even the shade didn’t cool me down. I don’t think it was helped by the fact the road had been cooked most of the day. I reached the top only to find a diversion because of road works. Up I continued, even further than before. I had to keep stIMG_0990opping for a drink and catch my breath every couple of kilometres. This was by far the worst day of the entire trip. The picture I’ve added is one I took from the top of the hill.

I finally reached Baiao. A small town perched up the hill I had previously climbed. It’s really quite pretty up in the hills. The sky is thick black in the distance and you can see the rain falling, but it doesn’t seem to want to come over by me.

I know I’ve got another hill-ridden day tomorrow. I’m not looking forward to it but if it cools down overnight it should be more comfortable.

Day 28 – Atlantic coast to Porto

It was a very mild night indeed, far warmer than any other night so far. I’d warn my thermals as a precaution as I was next to the coast but didn’t sleep very well at all. Apart from this the sun was rising and the coast looked angry leaving a gorgeous mist in the air along the coastline.

Cycled the fifteen miles to A Guarda, and boarded the ferry crossing to Portugal. The ferry across cost 75 cents, I was pleased with my bargain considering I’d have to cycle an extra 60 km to use the bridge up the estuary.

It was another hot day and I was already beginning to struggle. My arms and face were constantly wet and the salt kept getting into my eyes. It also drained me and fatigue hit me fast. Luckily the roads were a lot flatter than the previous day and I was just able to keep a pretty decent pace.

I’d forgotten that Portugal was on the same time as the UK and I’d actually gained an hour. So I ate quite early. Thanks to the GPS again I went over a few more hills on tiny tracks before following the signs to Porto. The road now was lovely and flat, it was still scorching hot, but I was able to get into a good rhythm.

It all went wrong at Pavoa De Varzim. I had stopped for a coke at a restaurant. As I left, I was waiting for a gap in the traffic on the restaurant car park when I heard the car next to me start up. Before I knew it, it was reversing back at me with some speed. I shouted but it was too late. It knocked me straight off the bike, I saw the bike go under the rear of the car as I hit the ground. A few people rushed out the restaurant to make sure I was ok. My left ankle and my hip hurt but I was more concerned about the bike. As far as I could make out the man that hit me was very apologetic. I checked the bike and took his phone number just in case. Everything seemed fine to my amazement, lets just hope nothing like that happens again. If I hadn’t come off the bike my leg could have gone under with the bike.

So I’d had enough, and decided to find the nearest camp site to lick my wounds and check my bike over. I’m just north of Porto now. I’ll probably give the sightseeing a miss as I have time to make up after the last two weeks in Santiago.

Day 27 – Santiago de Compostela to Atlantic coast

Thank you to my gorgeous girlie for coming over and keeping me company for a week. We had a lovely relaxing time but unfortunately I came down with a bad cold on the Friday.

I woke up early with all the intention of starting early but got chatting to an English guy, who was raising money for Help The Heroes and was making his way back to the UK today. He had rode the camino from Chartres, France. He offered me some of his omelette but I had already eaten some porridge and wanted to get going asap.

I cycled through the centre of Santiago to say a fond farewell to my home for the last two weeks. The weather was stunning, the sky was lovely and clear. Unfortunately the traffic on the N550 towards Pontevedra had other ideas.

I didn’t seem to be going too badly considering I was suffering a cold and hadn’t ridden for two weeks. Although following the signs for the N550 through the centre of Pontevedra was trying to send me on an Autopista, so I had to back-track a good five miles.

I stopped for lunch in Redondela before continuing. There, I hIMG_0982ad asked the waitress for a coca-cola and a beer. I got both, just in the same glass. Not wanting to make a fuss, I drank the poo brown liquid.

After dinner it got hot. My GPS was reading 32 degrees Celsius, my head was pounding and I was sweating profusely. I struggled all afternoon, not helped by the fact my GPS sent me a more direct route over the mountains and stupidly small tracks.

I spotted my first prostitute of the trip today. She popped her chewing gum at me as I rode past. That was me sorted and it hadn’t cost me a cent!

Eventually I hit the Atlantic coast and headed south. I pitched up about fifteen miles north of the border to Portugal, where tomorrow I’d be heading.

Day 26 – Santiago de Compostela

Just thought Id update the blog even though I haven’t travelled anywhere over the past week.

Ive been cleaning the bike, washing clothes, putting on some lost weight and generally just taking it easy. Oh and of course having a look around the beautiful city that is Santiago De Compostela.

There is plenty to see as it has such a lot of historical sites, not only the cathedral. There are many museums, galleries, parks and bars to hang out in.

During the day the city is mainly buzzing with tourists and in the evening it’s alive with the large student community. When I say evening, I’m talking more early hours of the morning, these Spanish sure know how to party!

I really like it at Camping Las Cancelas. The facilities are excellent even if the pool isn’t open yet. It has a bar with free internet and it’s about a 20 minute walk from the centre. Many tourers and caravIMG_0967ans come and go daily and I’ve met quite a few people here.

One German guy called Marvin had cycled from Germany. He has mainly wild camped due to his limited budget. We went for a few drinks in Santiago and chilled out one evening with some wine. Thank you to the nice Australians that leant me a stool to sit on and gave me a bowl of strawberries. Oh and Harry from Switzerland, I told you it wasn’t going to rain!

Next week I’m sharing an apartment with my fiance just down the road. I’m really looking forward to the company and some to share this lovely city with.

I have uploaded some of my photos on to facebook.

Day 25 – Portomarin to Santiago de Compostella

Firstly, Happy birthday Andrea!

It was a misty start in Portomarin with quite a strong headwind. Leading out of the town was quite a steep hill, I passed a pilgrim pushing her bike up the hill.

The terrain now has many hills and the countryside is like that of England in summer (just better roads). It’s very beautiful but I do really not like the hills. Steep hills are followed by steep descents but immediately another steep ascent. Accompanied by the strong headwind this was one of the hardest days rides, and of all days! Maybe I was struggling because I was pushing hard to get to Santiago, I don’t know, I just found it incredibly difficult.

This didn’t really let up, and continued throughout the rest of the day. Apart from getting slightly lost around Santiago airport (thank you GPS for sorting that out) I managed to get to Santiago fine and got my bearings from when I was here before.

I handed in my credencial at the pilgrims office and got my certificate. It’s all in Latin, including my name. So I’ve now officially completed the Camino De Santiago. Now to buy a t-shirt!

I love Santiago, I think it’s a beautiful city. Well worth a visit if ever you get the opportunity!

My girlfriend is coming to spend a week with me on the 16IMG_0952th so I’ve got a week to wash clothes, maintain the bike, and chill out. Was going to celebrate my arrival tonight but I’m just so tired. I’ll leave it until tomorrow night. There will probably be more going on on a Friday night.

I’ve been spoilt over the last few days with some very nice hotels. I’m back in the campsite now, I’m happy here, and it’s a lot cheaper.