Cycling Eastern Spain

Dad once told me that he felt invincible until the age of 24, so I guess I’m trying to do everything I can before that feeling kicks in. 
After getting home from the Canary Island Lanzarote last Monday, I went to a few days of uni classes and then set off to Alicante in the eastern reaches of Spain. Arriving in a hostel at midnight, I chatted to the Costa Rican owner about the route south to Cartagena, and she told me to be careful because of the severe wind warning for the next day. I didn’t take it very seriously, but when I woke up in the morning and found chairs flying away from cafes and palm trees being roughly combed sideways by the invisible hand of gale force winds, I realized it was pretty serious. It was so serious that I felt like I had grown wings, and flew the 100km south to Cartagena. Every time I passed a person cycling the opposite direction, I gave them an evil wink as they struggled with every grinding peddle.

The views on the coast are kind of ruined by these things called ‘urbanizacions’, which are rows and rows of identical housing, inserted into these areas because they were extremely poor a few decades ago, and invested in tourism and industry to bring more wealth. I rode through huge salt flats on either side of the road, while pink flamingos elegantly craned their necks to watch me speed past, and white mountains of salt were the only bumps in the land. Stopping at a café for breakfast, I expected a typical Spanish joint, but found English owners and hoards of old English customers drinking English breakfast tea and eating sausage and bacon breakfasts. Apparently lots of foreigners have moved to the Costa Blanca to retire. After 50km I made a got a puncture and sat down with legs spread and eyebrows furrowed trying to change it. Last time this happened in France, my tyre reparation abilities weren’t so successful and the tire exploded with a bang half an hour down that road that almost made me fall off the bike. That’s why I normally leave it to the professionals. Anyway, I was all alone and put in a new inner tube, and a Moroccan man rode past on his rickety bike and I pulled him over to help me put the back wheel on. After lots of fussing because I only have a tiny pump, I thanked him and continued. For about ten minutes. I had a flat again, and somehow that man came past again, and he led me to the supermarket to buy a puncture kit and we fixed my second tyre. He wouldn’t let me do anything, so he either really enjoyed helping me, or was concerned that anything I touched would just fail. We hugged goodbye after our long ordeal on a lazy Spanish public holiday, and I continued riding the coast and then started to go inland through fields of lettuce and greenhouses. The wind was so hardcore that when riding under the super sized electricity poles, I could feel the buzzing combination of the wind reverberating the lines right through my heart. When I came to a wild live wire that had fallen down in the weather, I rode as fast as I could past it, avoiding all of the puddles in case they were electrified (that’s a thing, right?). When I arrived in Cartagena, my hands were literally buzzing with energy. I sat in a café and texted my couchsurfing host Ruben about my location. Ruben didn’t reply for three and a half hours, which was just enough time for me to do a media assignment. Just as I was about to try and locate some alternate accommodation, he messaged me that he had just woken from a siesta and I wasn’t abandoned. Ruben picked me up in a van and we hung out with his Peruvian friend Rodolfo, checking out Cartagena by moonlight. It’s a very historically important port and has loads of Roman remains and stories attached. The boys and I laughed all evening long, and then I went back to Rubens house slash mediation centre, and slept on a mattress in the meditation room. If that doesn’t ensure a good day, then I don’t know what does. I woke to do a meditation session which involved magnets and nice smells, then waved goodbye to Ruben, and his Peruvian mate Rodolfo showed me around town. I convinced him to come on part of the ride with me, so he joined me for the first eventful 30 kilometers of the day with his mountain bike. We made our way up through red rocky mountains, and out of the middle of nowhere one of my spokes broke. I could still ride but the wheel was swaying like Shakira’s arse, so when we got to this huge themepark of downhill mountain riding, I had to wobble my way down with rubber squeeling against steel. Arriving in Isla Pinas, the wind tried to shove us into the way of incoming traffic, and even tried to whip my bike out from under me. I held on tight and low and just focused on getting the bike to professional care in the next town of Mazarron. The verdict at the bike shop was to give me a whole new wheel, so we went and got an Asian buffet lunch while they operated on Pos. I thanked Rodolfo for the journey, and continued alone. The wheel didn’t stay shiny and new for long, because I had two paths to go and I chose the one less travelled. It quickly turned to dirt, but some walkers promised me it would lead to a town after 10 or 15 kilometres. I rode through this desertscape all alone and laughed at life. I woke up in a meditation centre, and now I was riding my road bike on a walking track next to the raging ocean. I had to get off and drag my bike through mud a few times, and completely clogged up the working parts. The only person I met along this wild path was, no joke, an Australian mountain biker. I knew I was running way behind time to make it to Antas, but this path was so worth it. At the end, I came to a congregation of German caravaners, and we used google translate for them to help me with directions. My google maps were completely confused by now, and had me located in the ocean somewhere. I got back on the road and shed some of the sand, and realized I had not made it far at all. I still had 80 kms to go, which wasn’t going to happen in 3 hours of light. When the rain started to pour, I schemed a plan in my head to hitch 40 ks to Aguilas and then ride 40 ks from there. I stood on the road with my thumb out, but when anything passed it hardly looked at me. I said ‘OK Jess, three more cars and then you’ve gotta go’. I kept riding and this is where the day got hectic. I was on the N332, which normally has quite a few cars, but on this Friday afternoon it was like a ghost road. The rain was replaced by fog as I got higher into the mountains. And higher and higher. My phone died so I didn’t know what time it was, but the light was disappearing fast and the last sign I saw said 27 kilmetres to Aguilas. But you can never trust a Spanish road sign, so I had no idea how far I was from services. I started to contemplate that I could have to sleep out there, because it would be more sensible than riding blind in the night or trying to pull over a stray car to find out they thrive on assisting helpless people in the night. I listened to the sound of my breath and just kept riding up and up, without any view of what was beyond the next 100m. I was really alone and scared for the first time in ages. I tried to hitch again if I saw a big car or truck, but no one stopped and I want to remember that for the rest of my life I should always help someone who looks concerned. My hair had come loose and my bike was muddy and I probably looked a bit dodgy, but still, I was just a kid stuck in fog who wanted to know the goddamn time. When the descent began, I laughed out loud and going towards the bright white light that promised the end of the fog was like pure joy. I connected to a bigger road and sped down, down, down into Aguilas. It was 7pm when I arrived and the only youth hostel in town was closed for the night. There was no way to get to Antas where my couchsurfing host awaited me, so I went to a café for a beer. Becauses that’s what you do when you don’t know what to do. I got my laptop out to charge it and asked a German man if I could plug my charger into one of the free outlets at his table and he didn’t even lift his head to look at me, he just raised his hand as if to say ‘No, shoo’. I went and sat at another table with a Bolivian guy. The German man, who turned out to be the café owner, came over and scolded me that the WIFI would be finished at eight. With red cheeks and a swift movement of his arm he indicated it would be turned off and then I should leave because that’s clearly all I was there for, and I told him in a little voice that I was using my own 3G. He felt embarrassed and walked away to turn his back on me, and the Bolivian guy raised his eyebrows like ‘what a dick move’. Tears started streaming down my face and I just couldn’t stop crying from so much pent up emotion from the day and the negative vibes and the crazy fog and money for a new wheel and not doing this trip with another thinking and feeling human. The Bolivian guy learned my situation and told me not to cry and that I could stay at his house. He was really adamant, but I got in contact with my couchsurfing host and he immediately sent his friends to pick me up in his van. As I was leaving, the Bolivian guy told me I was beautiful about five times, and I was glad I avoided that opportunity. Diego’s two friends picked me up and took me to the tiny town of Antas, and I arrived at Diego’s café just in time to have drinks and dinner and meet some of his awesome friends. We drank fruity gin and tonics and laughed the night away from an unfortunate one to an extremely happy one. The rain poured outside and flash flooded the towns to the south, but when I woke in the morning the sun was shining on my double bed in Diego’s huge house. He had gone out earlier so I gave Pos a wash, and Diego’s two friends Elena and Juan Luis messaged me to ask if I wanted to join them for a day out. I had woken up a bit late to ride all the way to the next couchsurfing destination of Roquetas de Mar, so I took them up on the offer and we put the bike in the car and had this amazing day of siteseeing. We stopped at all the places I would have ridden through, but we did it in sweat-less style, sipping coffees and strolling sun drenched beaches. They are coming to live in Australia soon, so their hospitality will be returned. The landscape in Cabo de Gatas National Park in the south of Spain is just awesome. Rolling desertous mountains meet the clear sea with only small whitewashed towns interrupting the nature. After a day of meandering through the coastline of film sets like Indiana Jones, we reached the town of Almeria and checked out the Arabic castle Alcazaba and the mighty cathedral after some tapas in the sun. They literally dropped me to the door stop of my next couchsurfing host Laura, and we made plans to catch up soon. 

Laura is a 26 year old English linguist who teaches at a primary school here, and we immediately got on like old friends. My chain had rusted up a bit from the off road riding yesterday, so we dropped by the shop next door to buy some olive oil because there were no bike shops open. Laura helped me grease the chain and then we rode the coast in the warm evening wind. Meeting some of her collogues for tapas and dancing, I ordered wine and got a list of tapas to choose from that are just included in the price of the drink. I even tried the mysterious Montana de Placer (mountain of pleasure). We met more of her friends in a club and danced like crazy until 4 in the morning. I am typing away on the eight hour bus journey through the dry but uniquely beautiful inland mountains back to Madrid. Mum and Dad just sent a message that they arrived safely in Portugal, so I will pack my bag for the Camino de Santiago Portugues and head out to Portugal tomorrow night to find them. Life is one big adventure.



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