"I'm leaving you", Sofia said.
It might have not been those exact words, but that is what I heard. She couldn't cope with the constant heat, it had been around or beyond 40 degrees basically since we left Olhão over a month ago. She decided to take a bus to the Spanish Mediterranean coast where it currently was a nice and cool 32 degrees Celsius. I couldn't blame her.
Sofia and I had left our apartment in Portugal in mid June 2020. The pandemic was subsiding and the border between Portugal and Spain was scheduled to reopen July 1st. We were thrilled to restart our around the world cycling adventure and had made some vague plans how to proceed eastwards without repeating the routes we had already cycled. As we had two weeks before we could enter Spain, we decided to cycle north along the Portugal and Spanish border. As soon as we leave the ocean it gets hot. Very hot. We need to carry a lot of water making the bike slower and heavier than usual and we take every opportunity to stop and buy something cold to drink. Our consumtion of ice cold Fanta and popsicles skyrocketed.
|Hot and burnt as soon as we leave the coast.|
|The river Guadiana separates Portugal from Spain.|
|Every lake and tributary river is an opportunity to cool off.|
|Carrying a gigantic container of water on my front rack.|
|Camp by lake Alqueva.|
|Monsaraz Castle in the background of a dry landscape.|
|Camping Rosário had a much appreciated pool.|
|The beer is so cold, so cold.|
|Elvas, last stop in Portugal.|
|The border is open!|
|Merida, one of the most luxurious Roman colonies 2000 years ago or so.|
|Usually we jump into lakes to clean up and smell a bit better, but now it's to chill.|
|Sightseeing in Cáceres.|
The rules for free camping in Spain are complicated and differ from region to region, but camping in national parks is definitely not allowed. We sat at a rest area with benches and water and thought at this place we could probably stretch the laws a bit. There are very few people around and we don't damage anything as this is already a rest area. We wait until darkness before setting up the tent. I feel like I've just fallen asleep but it's 5:00 in the morning when Sofia wakes me up. "Someone's coming" she says and sure enough, I can hear voices approaching.
A young woman talks loudly, almost demonstratively so, outside the tent. We have to make ourselves known and I quickly get dressed, so quickly that my shorts end up back to front. I open the fly sheet and stand up with an abashed "¡Hola!". The woman is looking at me still speaking loudly while a guy sits quietly on one of the benches, browsing his phone.
"¿Habla inglés?", I try, but the woman keeps talking in Spanish. I understand some of what she is saying and I figure that she is not happy that we are there. She is making it clear that we are breaking the law and the Guardia Civil will arrest us if they come. I smile and try to explain that we are but humble cyclists and will not stay longer than the night but she is not interested. Again I ask if she speaks English to which she replies "En España se habla español". In Spain, Spanish is spoken. Oh really? That might be the dumbest thing I have heard all year. Now she starts to annoy me. Her male friend kept focusing on his phone and I guess he was embarrassed. I crawl back into my tent and while Sofia and I quietly discuss what to do the woman is walking around talking very loud about her problems in life. Or something. After what seems like hours they walked back up to their car but instead of leaving they played music at full volume. Maybe they did in their car what they had planned to do on the bench, I don't know. However, I do know that playing loud music in the middle of the night is not allowed in national parks. I'm pretty sure. By the time they drove away it was morning and we packed up and left, tired and annoyed.
|Parque Nacional de Monfragüe. Definitely not allowed to camp here. And speak the language!|
It is hot all the time and it is not cooler in the tent. We talked to a cyclist who said he always slept under the stars. "It's not like it's going to rain," he said and he was probably right. We decided to give it a try. The biggest problem is the mosquitoes, but if there aren't too many, we should be fine. We used our sheet as a blanket mostly for protection from being bitten and we tried to go to sleep. After a while I got annoyed and told Sofia to brush away the mosquito that kept attacking my head. There aren't any, she said and I tried to go back to sleep. Something moved in my hair again and I waved a bit to get rid of the bugs but there were just more. Thousands. Millions. An endless flow of long-legged spiders crawled from the shore of the lake towards land right over my body. I jumped out of our makeshift bed screaming. We moved our sleeping arrangements away from the water.
|Looks great without the spiders!|
|Guadalupe with the impressive monastery of Santa María.|
|Ice cold soda!|
|Mezquita de Córdoba.|
"20 kilometres" I replied sheepishly when a group of mountain bikers with an interested expression asked how far we had travelled that day. They didn't look impressed, but in my defense the temperature was at 43 degrees Celsius. The 20 kilometres had taken ages to complete, and the cold sweet beer we were currently drinking was a great relief. It was here in Baena, outside of Córdoba, Sofia and I parted ways and she hopped on a bus.
Cycling alone there was nothing to do but to push to reach Sofia and the coast as quickly as I could. The problem with the heat remained, making the task harder. The kidney can process about a litre of water every hour and drinking a lot more puts you at risk of water poisoning. I tried to keep my consumption at about that level but it was not quite enough to keep me hydrated, I was sweating more than a litre every hour. Rehydration salt to add needed minerals to the water and vitamin C to make it somewhat tasty, like oranges. Very warm oranges. The bottled water became hot enough to make tea.
The problem with the heat was amplified by the effects of the pandemic. Most restaurants and hotels were closed and it was difficult to find cold drinks and places to stay. Normally I would just camp but I was now doing consecutive days of 100 kilometres in over 40 degrees. At the end of the second day, I had only a few kilometres left to my hotel, I started to feel ill and dizzy. I sat next to the road for a while to rest. I was going to slowly sip my water but I was unable to control myself. My arm and my mouth conspired against my brain and took large gulps of water against my will. After a while I felt strong enough to walk with the bike, but still dizzy. I promised myself to take more frequent stops the coming days.
|A beer with tapas all alone in Alcaraz.|
|Canned meatballs all alone in Alcaraz.|
|Pasaje de Lodares in Albacete.|
"Mascarilla!" the waitress exclaimed and made a gesture making it clear she wanted me to put my mask on. It was far from the first time someone reminded me of wearing the mandatory mask, but it was new to me that I was asked to wear it while I was drinking a beer.
Confused, I showed her my pint sized glass making it clear I had plenty of ice cold beer left to drink, but she was adamant and firmly explained that between my sips, the mask needed to stay on.
Oh really? That might be the dumbest thing I have heard all year.
|Happy to have reached the coast.|