Well I’ll be the first to admit it, partially because its written a few paragraphs down this page! I wanted to get away from the comfort and relaibility of travelling between the tourist towns of Portugal. I wanted something more adventurous, something that would test me more than politely show me the direction and then help me on my way. Leaving the intricate, hilly tangled streets and plazas of Lisbon I made my way across the river, with the help of a ferry. To begin my journey in an earsterly direction. I had better get used to the different position of the sun, riding towards it each morning and being slowly baked by it from behind during the afternoons as I shall be moving towards the East for a good while yet!
My sunglasses being used to their full advantage now that I am spending more time riding towards that big ball of bright stuff that we’re orbiting around. A note to anyone who is thinking of cycle touring, sunglasses, get the best you can get that fit well and are for your prescription if need be. It will be one of the best investments you make for your trip!
Heading inland and away from the refreshing coastal breezes and the relatively temperate climate I had enjoyed for the last couple of weeks, I soon realised that the days ahead would be very different indeed. The long straight road, following the undulations of the land as it crossed through the parched farmland shimmered in the afternoon sun. For miles and miles in every direction the landscape was made up of sun burnt brown grassland, long lines of fragrant olive trees and the occasional herd of beige brown cattle sheltering beneath the large thorny bushes that interspersed the fields.
Following the same straight path of the road I began to see the subtle differences in the landscape that at first glance looks so similar. Every so often the colour of the flowering cacti would change or in some parts, large cranes were roosting in huge nests at the top of conifer trees that follow the course of the road. With so little traffic the jangling of my kettle as I jolt over bumps in the road would occasionally frighten the birds making them fly off just as I ride underneath. My view of these great birds from beneath reminding me of watching planes take off from the end of a runway.
Finding a place in the rough grassland between two main roads may not sound that nice, but sitting watching a large green stick insect climb it’s way along my tent roof as the sun changes the sky from brilliant blue through vivid yellow and into the dark orange of dusk was really quite special.
My last civilaised stop in Portugal would be the beautiful medieval walled city of Evora. A few hours wandering the quiet cobbled streets, peering down alleyways for views of the aquaduct and the gothic cathedral. It would also be my last Pasteis-de-Nata, the gorgeous custard tarts that are a national treasure of the country! I have been trying them as I go and can confirm that there is no clear winner, they’re all bloody lovely and shall be missed greatly as I go forth into Spain where sometimes the pastries leave a lot to be desired! Trying to find somewhere cooler while wandering the intensely hot town I stumbled across a gorgeously leafy garden, the signage at the front covered in leaflets for yoga and meditations.
Hopes lifted I had just found a vegetaran community cafe run by local buddhists. I returned later on for one of the best vegetarian lasagne and salads I have ever eaten and spent a while gazing at pictures of people rock climbing in a Portuguese copy of The National Geographic.
Back in the saddle and I was drenched in sweat as soon as I hit the road again. The heat was yet still increasing as the number of people I saw decreased as I continued on my voyage east. Cresting a hill as the afternoon sun blasted me from behind I was confronted with an oasis of mirage like proportions! A huge natural looking reservoir, no distinct shape, a sprawling mass of water filling the bottom of where all the small valleys meet.
Ducking straight off the road as soon as I could I made my way to the water’s edge. Stripping to my boxers as there were a couple of other people across the bay (would have been fully starkers otherwise!) I waded into the cooling yet surprisingly warm water. Fully refreshed and now washed I was slightly annoyed at it being still quite early and a good few miles still to cover. I hoped I would find somewhere simlar to camp. As I carried on my luck was in and once more I ducked out of sight and found my bed for the night with a lovely view of the lake, the noise of only the cicadas and birds and settled in for a restful, natural night’s sleep.
The following day I continued across the modest border into Spain, and the Aracena Natural Park. The landscape of parched grassland, vineyards and olive trees remained, only now they had much more in the way of gradients. There is no question in my mind, Spain is definitely hillier than Portugal! Climbing though the searing heat, the only way of keeping anywhere near a normal temperature being to soak my t-shirt in the drinking fountains along my journey. My intake of water must be well in excess of 5 litres a day through western Andalucia. Climbing up and up to cross the hills that lead over to Seville I found my third night of beautiful free camping. Watching the light fade from the hills I had just climbed over I noticed a large orange coloured moon rising from behind. I’m still not sure what phase it was in but the size and colour were incredible and something I haven’t seen before. Even the fright of a van driving into the gates just up from where I was camped didn’t stop me enjoying my first cup of tea for a few days! It has been a bit warm for making brews and even sleeping bags for that matter! The heat, the hills, the solitude, I had found what I had asked for. The adventure has been injected back into my journey!