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    Spain and Portugal

DAY 129

Seville to Aracena 

Cycling out of Seville was relatively easy. I was following a group part of the time which freed me from reading the DRG so I had a chance to look around a little. There were some beautiful grand old buildings on our route, a spectacular modern bridge, the Puente del Alamillo, and a strange egg- shaped sculpture commemorating Christopher Columbus, a gift from the Russians in 1992. Then we were out of the city.

It was a hilly, remote, scenic day and of course it rained and rained. We had to bumple over cobblestones in the villages which are bone shaking on a bike. In a remote area I heard a cuckoo, calling and calling without a reply. I’ve heard cuckoos in Italy, Spain, and France. The wildflowers were gorgeous, heaps of them growing alongside the road and in any field or area not recently cultivated. We’ve been asking each other why we don’t see wildflowers like that in America. The consensus of opinion is that weed killer is sprayed alongside the roads. Whatever the reason, it’s a shame.

At one point a break in the rain coincided with the appearance of a farmer with a small herd of beautiful cows and calves. I stopped to take pictures and told him in my best Spanish, “Muy hermosa”. I hope I said, ‘very beautiful’. He wanted to talk to me then but that was just about the extent of my knowledge of Spanish. Too many good pictures have had to go untaken because of all the rain. I missed a couple of big flocks of goats being taken out to pasture. The goats and the cows wear bells and set up a pleasant clatter that can be heard a long way. Beautiful wildflowers and scenic vistas have had to go unphotographed due to rain. An underwater camera would have been more appropriate for this trip!

All the climbing had made me hungry, so I stopped under a big tree for shelter in case of rain for a picnic lunch. I made a sandwich of football bread and 2 boiled eggs saved from breakfast. I put potato chips in the sandwich for salt, but it was dry and not a pleasure to eat. I did not go into Aracena, but straight to camp. It was raining hard and while I was warm enough I was quite wet. The campground was a dismal sight. I despaired of finding a spot out of the water and mud, but luck was with me again. I got a great site, on high ground, and just outside the bathroom door. I put my tent together in the bathroom (a large facility) and left it suspended in midair there to dry if it would while I took a shower and waited for a break in the rain. I got my break! The dark clouds moved away uncovering the blue sky and letting the sun shine. It’s warmth felt wonderful. I hurried out with my tent and had the fly on it in no time before it could start to rain again. In fact the sunny break lasted long enough to completely dry the tent and fly, but not my wet riding clothes. I hung them here and there in the shower facility but they were still quite damp in the morning.

Then it was time to stand in line for dinner, in the rain. The campground could seat only 50, so we were told to eat and run to make way for other hungry riders. I was lucky to be in the first 50, but unlucky because I sat in the ‘forgotten’ room. We stood in line for paella of which I got a small portion without meat or fish, just my bad luck I guess. At our tables were salads to be shared. The people at my table ate everything in sight and although we were still hungry we decided we may just as well leave. Only later did we learn that the rice had been a starter, that pork chops and French fries were served next. I think we were too far from the action and the waiters forgot about us. I had plenty of food in my bike bag so I snacked on peanuts. Later I returned to the restaurant/bar to work on e-mail in a warm, dry place and found everyone enjoying lovely peach concoctions from the bar. I had one too. People were visiting, playing cards, Pocketmailing and having fun.

Adios, Alice 

DAY 130

Aracena, Spain to Monsaraz, Portugal 

This was a long riding day, 146 kms. but a do-able day. There were the usual uphills but they didn’t go on forever. Then there would be a downhill. The DRG described this as ‘modest hill climbing’.  About halfway through the ride, at 70 kms., we reached the border between Spain and Portugal. I stopped to exchange my pesetas for escudos and to set my watch back an hour which gave me a 25 hour day. Other than that crossing the border was a nonevent.

It had threatened to rain all morning and when it finally happened it was a deluge. I was caught, bumping through a village with cobblestone streets, water, water everywhere but no shelter to be seen. Then I heard a shout. Two other riders had taken shelter in a garage. Later when the rain was easing a Portuguese lady came and asked if we would like some coffee or something. I thought that was very kind but we thanked her and were on our way.

In Cordoba we had seen a stork circling over the rooftops and landing on its nest. It is a long legged, tall, slender bird and very dramatic looking in flight with it black and white feathers and wide wing spread. This one had young in its nest which I watched it feed. The nest was as high as it could be, atop a chimney. I wondered what the stork could find to eat in the city. In Portugal I began to see storks in the countryside gliding high in the air, or standing at the nest preening or feeding its young. They build immense nests of sticks on top of tall objects like chimneys and poles. I noticed small birds continuously darting in and out of the nests. I am wondering what they are after. Is it bits of leftover food? Or do insects make their home in the nests?

Finally I arrived at the top of a very steep hill, at the old walled town of Monsaraz. Camp was only a couple of kilometers away and it was tempting to give the old city a miss and go straight to camp. But curiosity prevailed. I went through the gates and found a charming old place with cobblestone streets. Only about 100 people live there now and all that I saw appear to be involved in producing goods to sell to tourists. One older man made and sold cow and goat bells both new and used. We had fun ringing all the bells to find the one with the perfect sound. Women were weaving on big looms. They produced shawls, afghans, blankets and capes. Beautiful hand painted Portuguese pottery was on display. I resisted all of it buying only a postcard but several riders bought cow or goat bells which should bring back beautiful memories of riding through the countryside. I tried to have a conversation with 3 young boys of the village who were admiring my bike but succeeded in learning only their ages. They had been playing soccer. The view of the countryside from the village was stunning and warmed by the sun which had managed to shine if a bit feebly by then.

Our campsite at Monsaraz was to be a football field but the heavy rain had turned it to mud. Luckily our hosts for dinner and breakfast, the folks at the Sem-Finn Restaurant, extended their hospitality to include a sleepover. I arrived late however, having pedaled at my usual snail’s pace and having tarried in the old town, so there was no more space for a tent outside and no more space for an air mattress and sleeping bag indoors. The restaurant was unique because it was in an old olive oil factory. The dining room was in the main room where the olive presses and other machinery still stood making a very unique setting. Other rooms were used as art galleries and it was in these rooms that people had staked claim to a bit of space for the night. I wandered through these rooms but couldn’t find an appropriately cozy spot and wondered anyway how I would walk through the maze of bodies in the night to reach the bathroom. I decided to take a room in a private home which was another option. It was easy to get a room with the help of our hostess, Arlinda, and the home was only a block away. A young boy was sent to show me the way and soon I was trying to talk to the lady of the house. She did not have a single word of English and I knew no Portuguese. Sign language wasn’t working either so finally we went together back to the restaurant to have Arlinda translate for us. I was all set then and moved in the few things I would need for the night.

After a shower and clean clothes I found a place in the candlelit dining room and settled to wait for what was to be a memorable dinner. First course was a wonderful characterful bread, somewhat tough with a heavy crust and great flavor. It was awesome spread with slabs of butter and rounds of a soft white cheese. There was a delicious apple juice and other juices too. At least an hour passed with the bread, butter and cheese before us. It was hard to resist eating slice after slice. The remainder of the meal when it came was worth the wait; lettuce and tomato salad, spicy braised roast beef, rice pilaf with nuts and raisins, and chocolate mousse. What had been described on the DRG as a ‘primitive camping experience’ had turned into an extraordinary evening.

Ciao! Alice 

DAY 131

Monsaraz to Evora 

This was to be our shortest day ever I think, 55 kms.! I had to wonder why the day before had been so long, almost three times longer, why the distance hadn’t been split more evenly. Checkpoint was at 26 km. We had hardly started! I had been waiting for an opportunity to have a mechanic fix my gears and this was it. There was no one in line! My bike had not shifted properly since the new chain. I had taken my bike to the mechanics repeatedly for adjustment but the changes made were never very successful. This time Merlin replaced the cable and a related part, charged me $10, and I rode off wondering if that would do it. It did! At last all of my gears worked as they should.

On the way to Evora I cycled past hundreds of cork trees. They lined the highway and there were acres of cork tree farms. I learned from a Portuguese later that the cork is harvested every nine years, and the year of the harvest is written on the trunk in white paint. If the cork was harvested in 1998, an 8 will be painted on the trunk. It will be harvested from that tree again in 2007. The cork is cut from the tree to a certain depth, I think he said 12 cm., any deeper would kill the trees. Cork is an important export product for Portugal. It’s the only place I’ve ever seen where postcards are made of cork. Little figures carved of cork are in the souvenir shops. Of course cork is made into corks and there are other uses too like cork tiles. 

The Orbitur Campground was soaking wet too, just like all the others. I found a spot, pitched my tent, showered, and went with three others by taxi to Evora. Evora is a UNESCO Heritage Site so it must be special and we wanted to see it. We walked about having a look. We didn’t find Evora to be charming or quaint or picturesque. But it is a good sized city for a walled city, and has been occupied forever. There is a Roman temple there, the Temple of Diana, and evidence of much earlier civilizations. That we decided must be why it was selected as a Heritage Site. The cathedral has conical towers in blue tiles which makes it look like a castle.

The favorite tourist attraction though was the Chapel of the Bones in the Church of San Francisco. This was very strange, surely a one of a kind. It seems that it came to be because the city’s cemeteries were on valuable land that was wanted for more productive purposes. The graves were dug up and emptied, the bones sorted by body part, femurs in one pile, skulls in another for example, and when all the bones were collected they were used to decorate the chapel. They were arranged creatively on the walls to make designs, skulls only were used to outline the arches of the ceiling. Even the pillars were covered with bones. For some reason two skeletons, one adult and one child, were kept intact and hung on one wall. The date above the doorway was 1810 so I would suppose that that was when this chapel was built. I wonder how this sat with the families who had loved ones in those cemeteries in 1810.

Ciao! Alice



Spanish Gothic Cathedral in Portugal          Portugal's Monument to the Discoverers



Favorite Scenes in Italy

    Odyssey Riders


Today's Music  

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