Rock, mud and pigs

My previous blog ended with my encounter with the intriguing José. The retired director who chose to live simply and study Peruvian natural medicine. Before I left he drew me a map to find a hot spring near Alhama de Granada.  

I entered over the ‘camino de los angeles‘ (path of the angels) that led through a beautiful gorge and climbed up to the town. It was still quite chilly and rainy and the thought of a warm hotspring was temping and worth a detour. Despite the encounter with José I still didn’t feel my best, the cold weather and my doubts concerning my future still bothered me. I could use a warm watery embrace

As I arrived at the hot spring two loaded touringbikes caught my eye. From the pool and young men and woman waved at me. I quickly changed into my bikini and tiptoed over the cold rocks to the pool where I lowered myself down into the wonderfully warm water. 

The cyclists turned out to be a couple from Canada that had been riding for over 6 months. We talked a little about Canada, our routes and plans as we puddled in the warm water and my sore muscles slowly relaxed.

That night they were going to stay in a unmanned summerhouse of a friend at the border of a natural park and they invited me to join. They didn’t need to ask me twice!
Together we pedalled the remaining 30 kilometers in a race against the setting sun. The house turned out to be equipped with everything we could hope for; a shower, kitchen and even two bedrooms.
I felt very lucky

Because I could really use a break I decided to stay there the next day, while the Canadians continued their journey racing the ticking sabbatical clock. As I woke up the next morning the sun shone really bright and warm for the first time during my trip. That bright sun would stay with me as a true friend for the rest of my trip.

After a day of rest in which I charged both myself and my electronics I continued towards my next destination, Ronda. Via the impressive rock formations of natural park Torcal and the steep walls of the climbing area around El Chorro I cycled several days westwards. 

Because I wanted to take a full afternoon to sightsee Ronda I decided to camp not to far from the city. I did my grocery shopping in a small village before riding into a gorge. Quickly I realised I’d made the same mistake I had before. The further I cycled into the gorge, the steeper the walls on my left and the abyss on my right. I wished I’d pitched my tent just outside the village. Should I ride back?
No, I dislike riding back.. 

So I pushed on quickly as the sunlight left the gorge. It would be even harder finding a good camping spot in the dark. Finally the rock wall on my left changed into a gradual slope on which I could find a kind of flat spot. I tucked some clothes under my sleeping mat in a attempt to make it lie even. Despite the warm days, at night the temperatures still dropped to just above freezing.

The ‘fancy’ one person tent that I had with me for the first time this trip was soaked every morning from dew and condensation. The outer and inner tent sticked together and the bottom of my matras and sleeping bag were damp every morning. I’d learned, through trial and error, to put my clothes in dry bags so they would stay dry overnight. They’d still be very cold every morning of course. As I woke up in the morning the first thing I did was to put my cycling clothes around me inside my sleeping bag to warm the up a little with my body heat.

A few times I took the time to let my tent dry in the sun and wind but mostly I wiped it with the only and tiny towel I was carrying and packed it damp so in the evenings it would come out of the bag as a wet sticky chunk.

I was only another 20 kilometers to Ronda and therefor I expected to be there around noon. The path through the gorge ascended gradually and had a smooth gravel surface. But I’d only gone about ten minutes when my gps told me to turn right, towards the river. I didn’t see any path on my right and checked my navigation again. The nice gravel path seemed to take a sharp turn south east, while Ronda was westwards. Then I discovered a small hiking trail that descended steep towards the riverbed. A while ago I’d seen that the riverbed was dry. I got of my bike and scrambled, both hands squeezing the brakes, down the path. As I did so I realised that it would be near impossible to carry my bike back up there if needed. So, fingers crossed. Finally I reached the riverbed consisting of big round rock. I crossed it and found another small trail on the other bank.

This trail turned out to be just as steep as the one I followed down. Lacking an alternative option I started pushing and pulling my bike up the steep trail. Above me I saw a rock wall where I knew the trail couldn’t climb up, so the ascent had to end at the foot. With approximately a 1km/h pace I progressed towards the foot of that wall. The more even and wider trail that led along it was covered in rocks from a recent rockfall. Still I could move along a little faster then during the steep ascent and every now and then I could pedal a few meters. Despite the exertion I did notice the beautiful nature surrounding me. I looked out over trees and brush in different shades of orange en green spread over the the gorge that stretched out in front and behind me. The colours were blazing under the bright sunshine that had found it’s way back into the gorge again. 

The trail brought me to a small farm from where I could continue my way cycling over a relatively even gravel road. Only at the small pas that formed the end of the gorge I sat down to take some rest and eat a sandwich. I couldn’t have picked a better spot, cause as I sat there two shepherds and their herd of sheep came around the corner. They walked towards the farm and spread out beautifully over the fields beneath me. 

It’d taken me about two hours to cross the first three kilometers, but the remaining fifteen to Ronda were effortless and I checked into the guesthouse at 1 p.m. A little later, freshly showered I blended in with the other tourists exploring the old town.

The next day had a smooth start as I rolled along a quiet paved road. But when, a little later, I had to choose between the Altravesur an a ‘lighter’ alternative’ I decided on continuing the Altravesur through natural park ‘La Sierra de Grazalema‘. Again I was treated on a large amount of rocks, this time varied by deep slippery mud, on a trail along small lakes in a green forest. Again thorns scratched my legs, but the beautiful surrounding and the sunshine made up for most of that. When I arrived at another paved road I decided I’d whimpered enough and I stayed on the asphalt for the rest of the day. 

Whether I’m riding trails or asphalt, the surrounding is beautiful. A variety of forests, rock, fields, cattle and now and then a village. I cycled from natural park to natural park and from enchantment to surprise.

By the end of the afternoon I rode into a forest looking for a place to pitch my tent. The brush was quite dense and because I didn’t want to camp right next to the road I took a turn down a side path. On my way I passed a group of black pigs pottering about. Even the best campspot I could find was very muddy. 

I did worry a little about the pigs, but they seemed to be minding their own business. 

The next morning I woke up to the sound of snorting and growling. I stuck my head outside my soaked slack tent and saw the pigs at about 20 meters from me rooting in the mud.
I quickly packed my things and loaded up my bike. I had just started taking down the tent as the pigs unanimous decided to check me out from close by. As a small black army the headed towards me with their big black bodies, their snorting and growling. Fearlessly they stopped on less then a meter away from me and poked their heads in my tent that I quickly snatched away to safety.
Surrounded by about twenty pigs I felt a little panic arise. I fluttered my tent, which made them flinch a little. So I packed my tent that way: flutter, fold, wave, stuff, wave, pack the poles, wave. I stuffed it into my bag as the pigs thronged around me.
Then I got away as quickly as the mud let me and jumped on my bike as soon as I reached the path.

Dogs, bears, moose, badgers, spiders, mosquitos.. but feeling threatened by pigs was new to me.

The next hours I cycled through a forest that mainly consisted of cork oaks and pedalled passed two other groups of pigs.

Later I was told that the pigs roam free there so they can eat the acorns. I take it they’ll be slaughtered at some point, true free-range meat. The bark of the tree, the cork, is used for many purposes, an important one is insulation material.

Via the beautiful natural park ‘Los Alcornacalis‘ I took a shortcut to the end of the Altravesur in the harbour city of Cadiz at the Atlantic ocean. With its 3000 years of history it’s the oldest city of Spain. I spend a nice afternoon sightseeing the beautiful old buildings and enjoying the ocean breeze.  

From Cadiz I continued my ride towards Portugal over the Trans Andalus Mountainbike Trail and for the first time in 1,5 months I rode tens of consecutive flat kilometers. 

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