After having cycled the first 30km this morning I felt as though I must have cycled over 250km the day before last. Which is strange because I had. I hadn’t felt the effects of Saturday’s long-distance effort on my day off yesterday wandering around Valencia but once I wanted my legs to do what they have been so happily doing for the last seven weeks on the bike, they weren’t really in the mood. Both were stiff and the right one was aching somewhat. I suppose it was inevitable that there would be some repercussion to pushing myself to the limits of endurance cycling and this was it. A little ironic that I should end the day in a health spa surrounded by the elderly, but more of that later.
The 30km point of today’s cycle was in a town called Monserrat. If I looked behind me I could just about see the sprawl of Valencia in the distance. If I looked ahead of me I could clearly see the mountains that I was about to climb. I treated my legs to a massage as I coated them in sun protection cream, I filled up on salty crisps and refreshed myself with a proper cold drink (rather than a drink of warm water from my bottles). These three actions, and a lengthy pause made my legs a little more amenable to putting in the effort required for cycling and we headed for the hills.
I always knew that when I moved away from the coast in Spain it would involve a sharp climb and I certainly got one. From more or less sea level in Valencia I eventually reached over 700 metres as I progressed further and further into the mountains. That said, the hard work was worth every gramme of perspiration as I was once again free of the clutter and chaos of the coast. The roads were almost deserted save for the very occasional car and just one lorry. I wondered to myself where the driver was going with his cargo, whatever it was, and contented myself with the thought that somewhere along the roads I was following there was somewhere meriting the delivery of something; I wasn’t just on a cycle to nowhere. The hills were bare. I initially thought this was just natural but as I climbed higher it became apparent that this was an area that had recently been the victim of forest fires. The frames of burnt trees were spread across the hills and then, a sign from the local authorities indicating that there had indeed been fires in 2012. I think the sign was explaining that the area should be left untouched until at least 2014 but I wasn’t quite sure. The barren land made the area feel like a hostile environment and the heat simply confirmed that. It must have been one of the hottest days I had experienced since leaving southern Greece, probably as a result of the lack of cooling air being blown from the sea. Onwards and upwards I cycled…
Until I started hearing music, loud music being played through a tannoy. How strange I thought. Then I rounded a mountain and before me was a village, a large one which, after a few moments consulting my map, I worked out must be called Dos Aguas. Indeed it was. But why was it playing loud music from a tannoy system around the village? As I approached I could see signs for a festival taking place on the 20th August – tomorrow – so I reasoned that the tannoy was being tested. Yet again I arrive in a place before an interesting thing happens! Or had I? I needed a break so sat down in a bar on one end of the town. It was a rough outfit with a miserable woman serving and three blokes playing some card game while drinking beer. On the TV was the Spanish version of Wheel Of Fortune but no one was watching. I asked for a coffee and bought an ice cream, sat outside on the dirty plastic chairs and listened to the continuing music. Then I noticed the lorry that I had seen pass me earlier in the morning. It was parked on the end of the main street of the village next to some vertical metal frames that were blocking off the road. The frames were also placed at strategic points along the main street next to doors and windows but there was room for anyone to stand between the frame and the door or window. Some were doing just that. Others were nearer to me on my side of the barrier cutting off access to the street itself. I finished my coffee and ice cream and wandered over to see if I could work out what was happening. Suddenly there was a flurry of action as people came running down the street being chased by… a bull. I had stumbled upon a ‘running of the bull’ event and the lorry that had passed me earlier had been delivering the victim of the event. I still wasn’t convinced that it simply wasn’t a rehearsal for the real thing on the 20th. The number of people wasn’t great – no more than 30 along the street – and some people in the village – the three guys playing cards in the bar for example – were ignoring what was happening. As the bull was teased and tormented by (mainly) young men, it charged the barriers with considerable force. At one point it came quite close to me, its horns crashing against the metal posts protecting me and the others from its anger but the forces of inertia projecting a considerable amount of bull snot and saliva onto the floor in front of me. It was exciting stuff but I can’t say that I was enjoying it. The men were playing up how macho they could be by laying exhausted on the floor after a near encounter with the bull. With the metal frames to protect them they were at little risk. That said, an ambulance was on stand-by just around the corner. I took some photographs and left, feeling somewhat uneasy about being a bystander at a distasteful yet exhilarating event. I have posted a short video of the event to YouTube. It’s not the moment I describe above but a later, calmer encounter (link: http://youtu.be/XeiyLwxAIng )
I continued to climb as I cycled away from Dos Aguas and by the time I reached the high point at the end of the valley I could still just about hear the music from the village. As I moved over into the next valley it disappeared and a new, very different view open up in front of me. This one was green. Clearly the fires of 2012 had not reached this area although the shading on my map would also suggest that the two areas were already distinctly different even prior to the fires. My vague plan was to head to Casas de Ves where I knew there was a campsite but I noticed an alternative one at Jarafuel which was a little nearer. The problem was that I knew that the site in Casas existed as I had checked earlier at the hotel. I couldn’t say the same thing about the site in Jarafuel and lack of Internet access in the mountains was preventing me from doing so now. I cycled as far as Cofrentes, the town at which I would have to make a decision as one site was on the road heading west from the town, the other along the road to the south.
Cofrentes had two great edifices to attract the eye; a large (but obviously rebuilt) castle at the top of the town on the hill and a nuclear power station in the valley. The town itself was an abundance of high quality sporting amenities and I wondered just how many of them had been paid for to help persuade the local population of the benefits of the power station being built. I assumed that the town had been persuaded prior to the nearby forest fires. I sat by the water fountain and weighed my options. Campsite in the west? Or the south? I now had Internet access (probably courtesy of the power company) so I checked and the did appear to be a campsite in Jarafuel. That was now the most likely option as it was nearer. I checked on booking.com however just to see if there were any deals… and there was. For 50€ I could spend the night at a nearby spa resort, the Hotel Balneario Confrentes. As soon as my legs heard about this option there was no way they were going anywhere else.
So here we are; me, Reggie and my legs in a spa resort. It dates from 1905 and some of the fixtures and fittings haven’t been changed since which is quite nice. The clientele is mainly post 50 with a smattering of younger people who probably found it like me on booking.com. And there is a nun. I’ve seen her a few times and I suspect she may be following me. I have to say it has quite a lot of charm set in woodland some five kilometres away from the town of Cofrentes itself. Think Butlins for the Spanish superannuated. My legs are rejoicing!