The Guadiana Loop
I've been in Ayamonte, on the Atlantic Coast of Andalusia, or Andalucia, for the past three weeks. We bought an apartment here 4 years ago and come out here for breaks. It's too hot in high summer, but for the rest of the year, the weather is, on average, much better than at home. It's the sunniest area of Europe. Ayamonte is on the mouth of the Guadiana and across the river lies Vila Real de Santo Antonio, in Portugal. You can cycle on the Spanish side and indeed, there's some good off-road stuff if you want that, but there is superb cycling in from the coast on the Portuguese side, but you have to work it out for yourself as, despite a posting by a Portuguese chap on a previous post, decent accurate maps are very hard to come by, especially if you can't speak Portuguese.
This is to describe one of my long, and indeed hard training spins.
Headed for the small river ferry which is about 5k from my house. This runs once an hour on the half-hour from the Spanish side in winter, and on the hour from VRSO. It takes 20 minutes.
Once in VRSO you have to cycle about 400m on bone-shaking cobbles to get on a smooth road. Here they have built a fabulous and totally unnecessary cycle-track to the main road.
There is no need for it as there's almost no traffic on this road, ever. This is typical of how facilities for cyclists are produced. They never ask the cyclists.
From the main road you cycle towards Castro Marim. This is an old town, where I always have coffee unless I'm doing the spin I'm describing. I kept going past Castro Marim, past the exit onto the Motorway for Spain and took a right for Junqueira.
At this point, the weather was fantastic. About 18C, sunny, a bit of a breeze against me.
After Junqueira you start a climb to Azinhal. I was fortified by the image of the fantastic cafe in this small village. It's a cake bakery with a cafe and the cakes are fantastic. It's in a little nook behind the "main" square.
There, I had two lovely cakes with a coffee. The place is spotless. The friendly Portuguese lady who's usually there talks and smiles incessantly at me, and I answer in Spanish. Neither of us understands a word the other's saying but we have this friendly relationship. Like a blueprint for a good marriage for this century, perhaps!
One of the cakes was a soft sponge with pear and syrup on top and the other a very light type of chocolate biscuit cake. In general, Spanish cakes are most disappointing to our taste. They are very dry and lack oomph in every possible way, and then some, but these Portuguese cakes are certainly more like what Northern Europeans like. Suitably fortified, and yes, I did need two cakes for what was to come, I proceed onward from Azinhal. This route is hilly with some longish climbs and I was into the wind.
Off to the left I saw the reservoir lake of the Odeleite (Ohdelight.. terminal e's like this are not pronounced in Portuguese) dam.
Odeleite is a super area for walking. In fact most of the Algarve is. All words in Spanish and Portuguese beginning with Al are of Arabic origin. The Moors ruled here for 600 years. Algarve means "The West".
The road plunges and then rises again for a mile or so. Eventually I reach the turn off for Alcoutim, which is signposted, or as a Belgian guide here, who has excellent English, insists on calling signalised!
Then I get my first view from the Portuguese side of the new wind turbines on the Spanish side. A large infection of these has erupted from the bank of the Guadiana inland. They are enormous. I've come to the conclusion that this green energy is not the answer to global warming. The release of sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere as discussed in the book Super Freakonomics would be a much simpler and infinitely cheaper stratagem.
I now cycle by the river for quite a bit, through villages called Foz de Odeleite, Alamo (no sign of Jim Bowie or Davy Crockett), Laranjeiros and so on. The odd yacht moored in mid-stream. This is a very quiet road, at its busiest. A fine place to cycle, though not ultra-spectacular.
Outside one of the villages lie the vestiges of a Roman villa.
After Laranjeiros there is a nasty climb and before Alcoutim, another.
As you approach Alcoutim, you first see Sanlucar de Guadiana, its Spanish twin, across the river.
Alcoutim is a tourist town, but I can't see why. It's famous for being famous. Tourists visit it and come up the river on booze cruises from VRSO and Ayamonte. I think the answer lies in the booze!!
There is a small river ferry which fortunately was on the Portuguese side when I arrived. Sometimes you have to wait quite a while and whistle etc. to attract it if it's on the other side.
Here you see my Spanish Agece Sevilla MTB on the boat. This is a cheap bike I bought here. It's too small for me so I sized it up with components. It's the biggest I could get here. It's not great but a bike's a bike. I carried a large flask of cold water with me in the small panniers I use on this bike. This is a clever plan, as Baldrick would say, as it can get very hot here.
At the exit from San Lucar I had a sandwich in a bar I'd never been in before. Un bocadillo con jamon y queso is the very man (a Spanish ham and cheese sandwich). I had this and diet Coke and had a hilarious and prolonged conversation with an Englishman of about my own age there. He was, as I am, a gross extrovert and we had great fun. We discussed the entire human condition, including Tiger Woods' meltdown and I said "He can't putt any more". His answer was that he could imagine what part of him was interfering with his putting stroke. He was a marvellous mimic and had me in stitches taking off the football manager Harry Redknapp.
Eventually, and reluctantly, I get back on my bike to tackle the bad hills on the next part of my route. It's hot, about 24C. I'm thirsty. I climb and drop and climb and drop and tackle the worst climb of the day, for which a granny ring is a must. It peaks at maybe 20%, for not for long.
The hard bit ahead. See the curve upper right.
It's about 16 km from San Lucar to San Silvestre de Guzman and somehow, none of it is ever easy. Wind in the face, hot, undulating. Some nice views, but not as good as Portuguese side, except when the flowers are in bloom in the Spring.
I reach San Silvestre and then follows the boring bit through Villablanca to Ayamonte.
I get the knock on reaching Ayamonte, quite badly, and eat a Magnum.
Finally get home, 56 miles, a fair bit of heat and a lot of climbing later.
Hard enough when I was doing it, but not really tired afterwards. That's because I haven't allowed myself to become unfit since my summertime trek.
I've more often done this route in reverse. It's better that way, I think.