Monthly Archives: May 2015

Eyes on Africa

Cycling the last bit to Tarifa was exceedingly hard work as the wind was seriously blowing. The Spanish had noticed and had cleverly built a windfarm.

Tarifa is the most Southern tip of Mainland Europe and only 14 km away from Africa. It’s also the point where the Mediterranean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean. The actual point cannot be reached because it’s fenced off by the Ministerio del Interior.

The next day I visited Gibraltar. This time by bus and I must say, with dazzling speed.
The bus took me to La Linea and from there I crossed the border by foot. After that all traffic has to cross the landing strip of the Gibraltar Airport, a novel experience.

There was a sign reading:

AIRFIELD AHEAD
you are now crossing a live runway
pedestrians are to keep within the white lines
please cross quickly

Walking through Main Street was like walking through any English shopping street, complete with a Marks & Spencer, a post office and the typical English telephone booths. Outside restaurants were signs advertising fish and chips rather than the plato del dia.

From Main Street I climbed to the Upper Rock and followed the road all the way to O’Hara’s Battery, the highest point at 426 metres. Going down, I took the so called Mediterranean Steps, which provided spectacular scenery.

The only 'wild' monkeys in Europe.

The only ‘wild’ monkeys in Europe.

At O'Hara's gunpoint. One of the Pillars of Hercules.

At O’Hara’s Battery, in ancient times known as one of the Pillars of Hercules.

Later, when I was back in Tarifa, I packed my bicycle and rode to the port. A guard stopped me.
No ferry today, he said.
Why not, I asked.
Because of the wind, he answered.
Cycling back to hostel I dodged  a tractor that came flying through the street.
Just a breeze and they stop the ferry, I mumbled.

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Sherry

From Seville I cycled to Jerez de la Frontera and it was for the first time in quite a while I was going south again. The first bit was nice and flat but in the early afternoon I got some nasty hills to climb. It was quite hot.

In Jerez de la Frontera I found a room in the Albergue Inturjoven. It was amazing value for 20 euros. The building was gigantic and mostly empty. It reminded me of big hotels in China. The next morning I was feasting on a nice breakfast buffet (included in the price) in the almost empty dining room.

Close to the hostel I found a peluqueria de caballero, where I had a hair cut for 5 euro. Till now I had assumed that a peluqueria was a place to drink hard liquor. The one I found was open and I peeked inside and now my hair is cut, brushed, scented and I look like James Dean in Rebel without a Cause.

New hairdo in Jerez

New hairdo in Jerez

The name of Jerez de la Frontera reminds of the Reconquista, when Jerez was a bordertown and close to the as of yet unconquered Grenada.

After my port tasting experience in Porto, it seemed appropriate to expand my knowledge of fortified wines with a similar activity in Jerez, which is the epicentre of Sherry production.

“Christopher Columbus brought Sherry on his voyage to the New World and when Ferdinand Magellan prepared to sail around the world in 1519, he spent more on Sherry than on weapons”. – Wikipedia.

The wine barrels in which the sherry is stored are reused for ageing Scotch whisky, but I don’t think I’ll be going to Scotland any time soon..
Included in the price of the tour were three sherries. They ranged from dry to sweet to syrupy.

On my way south I cycled past Cape Trafalgar. It looked like this:

Cape Trafalgar

Cape Trafalgar

This was where the English admiral Horation Nelson won a famous victory, known as the Battle of Trafalgar. Unfortunately he was shot and killed as well.

Seville II

Several mishaps brought me some more delay in Seville, although not on the epic scale as my knee misfortunes had done. This time it was the weather that went berserk and the city was sweltering in the high thirties, some said even low fourties. To see how I would cope with this heat I set out for Italica, an archeological site 8 km out of the city, during the middle of the day, and it nearly killed me. Helped by some digestive problems, which alarmed me, but didn’t stop me from going, I suffered from heat exhaustion to the point of hyperventilation and tingelating hands and arms. Back at the hostel, I got to bed and stayed there till the  next day. From then on I spent more time in the Museum de Bellas Artes, which was housed in a nicely cool building.

In Triana, a Sevillean neighbourhood, I found a bike-shop that had the special Rohloff oil that I needed for my bicycle and for money they were willing to change it for me. On the way back I somersaulted with my bicycle when a downhill ramp suddenly turned into bike unfriendly stairs, a metamorphosis I noticed too late. I pulled the brakes and much to my surprise my bike pivoted over the front wheel. When I got up, my left shoulder was sore and I had a few bruises on my right leg. The bike was fine.

Because quite a few attractions were for free on mondays, I did most of my sight-seeing on that day. The Alcazar, the bullfight ring and the Torre del Oro.

Bullfight ring on a Monday afternoon

Bullfight ring on a Monday afternoon

The excursion at the bullring I found disappointing.

The Alcazar was not built by the Moors, but a king who happenend to like Moorish architecture. It was still nice, though it felt a bit like Disneyland. The Torre del Oro housed a small naval museum and had some fine maps on display. Maps to me are more exciting than bulls…

My last day in Seville, I spent the night on the roof for free because the hostel was fully booked. It was better than the night before when I had shared a four bed dorm with three Canadian teenage girls. That sounds nice, but all they did was occupying the bathroom for hours on end. The roof I shared with a hippy style Romanian and a Senegalese handyman who did odd jobs at the hostel. The Romanian was a street artist and walked around the city impersonating Jesus,  with a huge wooden cross on his shoulders. The Senegalese was a bright young man who had come to Europe and was utterly surprised that, despite record high unemployment, everywhere there was work to be found, but most of the workers were Africans and Romanians.

 

Seville

From Huelva I cycled in the direction of Seville. Somewhere halfway I found a campsite but it would cost me 19 euro, which I thought was outrageous and I steered my bicycle back to the road. It was getting very hot but I kept going till I found a recreational area which looked like a good spot for wild camping. I sat down for a while, but it would still be a few hours till nightfall and I got nervous: it didn’t look like a good site after all: rubbish and the leftovers from a campfire. Moreover, I had realised I had very little water left and so I decided once more to continue. A cyclist I met on the way told me there should be a cheap hotel in Ginis, close to Seville.

The hotel appeared to be a Love Hotel and when I told the girl at reception, I was with my bicycle, she smiled and said: No problem, you can sleep with your bicycle. Tired, I got everything in my room and paid 35 euros for the luxury of a private bathroom.

In the morning I cooked some noodles in the bathroom and made some coffee before I checked out. When I was getting my stuff outside, I could clearly hear that not all guests were sleeping with their bicycles…

From here it was a short ride into Seville.

Jacaranda trees in Seville

Jacaranda trees in Seville

Small procession in Seville

Small procession in Seville

Spanish Queen

Museum Bellas Artes Seville

Museum Bellas Artes Seville

Museum Bellas Artes Seville

Columbus and Atlantis

From Isla Cristina I cycled to Huelva, totalling 45 kilometres, and a few hills that put more load on my knees than I had experienced in the last few months. The knees are still okay…

Huelva is not the most exciting city of Spain, but it has a few minor sights and I happen to enjoy exploring minor sights. After I checked in in the Albergue Inturjoven (a bit expensive, but it comes with a nice breakfast), I walked north to the Santuario de Nuestra Señora de la Cinta. This is the place where Christopher Columbus allegedly prayed after he had discovered America. The church was on a hilltop and it was quite beautiful as you can see on this photograph:

Church in Huelva

Church in Huelva

After enjoying the tranquil atmosphere and the cool breeze, I walked back through the park and down to the city centre, where I paid a visit to the Museum. Here I perused some interesting artifacts that some believe might be from mythical Atlantis. Plato famously situated Atlantis on the other side of the Pillars of Hercules (hence the ‘Atlantic’ Ocean) and mentioned that it vanished in a short time off the face of the earth. Some scientists (??) believe it was located in what is now the Donana National Park, not far from Huelva, which itself might be identified with Tartessos, a city that could have traded with Atlantis. The low-lying swamp would then be all what was left from a civilisation being deluged by a tsunami, the newly favourite natural disaster of pseudo-scientists.
It is all a lot of conjecture and as Plato said: Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance.

The following day I got on my bicycle to see the Lugares Colombinos, a few villages on the other side of the Rio Tinto that are connected with Columbus. First I visited the La Rábida monastery where Columbus had conversed with the monks for I know not exactly what reason. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find out anything more, because it was closed for the siësta, that most annoying of Spanish institutions…. After this I pedalled on to Palos de la Frontera where most of Columbus’ sailors came from. This village also provided the famous explorer with two small caravels that were totally inadequate for crossing oceans of unknown size…

Palos appeared to be an affluent village with grand mansions and little in the way of signs to guide visitors to its famous heritage. When I asked a man in a bakery he apologised for the lack of historical buildings and offered the explanation that rich people don’t want to live in old houses, which I thought a creditable proposition.

It was astonishing to learn that most of the men that accompanied Columbus on his first voyage to America, all came from this tiny village on the banks of the Rio Tinto….

The fontanilla, or the public fountain where Columbus drew fresh water for his voyage.

The fontanilla, or the public fountain where Columbus drew fresh water for his voyage.

Today the people of Palos de la Frontera have shifted their business to the cultivation of strawberries, which is regarded as more profitable than discovering new continents.

On the move again

On the last day of April I left Faro and cycled to a campsite a few kilometres past Tavira. It was only a short ride, because I had promised  myself to go slowly as part of a rehabilitation program I had doctored out myself. That meant doing lots of stretches, short distances  and lots of resting days. The knees are still not alright, so I keep matters on the safe side.

Shortly after I  had arrived at the campsite, a lot of teenagers were dumped by their parents on a plot near me. They casually set up their  tents nearly on top of each other, clearly as a pretence and certainly not disguising their true intention to do some serious partying. The first of May was a holiday and they had a long weekend.

I already regretted having left Faro.

The next day I visited Tavira. I followed he ecovia, but as usual and I got totally lost. I had downloaded some Google maps from 1996 apparently.

In Tavira I made some pictures of the Moorish built castelo.

Moorish wall in Tavira with Bougainvillea

Moorish wall in Tavira with Bougainvillea

The next day I revisited Tavira after I had moved my tent to another plot. On the way back I visited the picturesque ruin of a fort. It was built a long time ago by some people who wanted to defend something against some other people. It was very nice with wild flowers.

Exploring the fort

Exploring the fort

The following day I crossed the border into Spain. This time not on my bicycle but on the ferry. As a result I entered a different timezone which meant some serious jetlag the following day.

Camping life

Camping life

Glad to be back in Spain!