I’m not sure whether Pablo hadn’t offered me the private mini guided tour of Ubeda I would have got any further than Jaen today or not. It was a modest cycle by the standards of this jaunt across Europe – a mere 63km, only just over half the average distance of 112km – but Jaen does make a sensible place to pause overnight as it is here where the second of the Vias Verdes cycle paths starts (linking up with the third and final path in Alcaudete). I need to spend a little time once I’ve written this making sure I’m a bit more clued up on the route than I was for the first Via Verde (see cycling days 42 & 43).
I was conscious that the two towns at either end of my journey today had cycling-banned dual carriageways linking them with the rest of Spain, especially Jaen where there is a route for each of the four points of the compass where I wouldn’t be able to cycle so I called on the help of Google Maps directions where a setting allows the exclusion of motorways and toll roads. It worked a treat leaving me cycling through minor but direct roads almost all the way from Ubeda to Jaen. The traffic was minimal, at times non-existent and I really did feel as though I was cycling through the olive groves that carpet this part of Andalusia. Before picking up my guide book this evening, I did wonder just how many olive trees there were in the area and I guessed a figure in the hundreds of thousands. According to the Rough Guide ‘there are said to be over 150 million’. Over the last couple of days I must have seen quite a few of them but it is an astonishing if at times repetitive sight. The olives are obviously farmed and the trees are set out in neat rows up and down the rolling land. This makes a marvellously ordered scene for anyone with OCD but I can understand how some might see the arrangement as too factory like. I suppose if you are one of them, stop eating olives!
Lunch was another ham and cheese sandwich (as it has been most days this week) in a bar in Mancha Real. I wonder if bars in places like Mancha Real and the other small towns and villages where I have lunched this week have some kind of rota in the same way that pharmacies do, ensuring that at least one of them stays open to feed the likes of me who happen to wander into town during the hot early afternoon periods of siesta. Today was certainly one of them; when I arrived in Jaen a couple of hours ago the electronic temperature displays in the streets were indicating 39 degrees. It must have been two or three degrees higher than that earlier in the afternoon, probably more in the direct sun. I need to be careful over the next few days; for the first time the heat is a consideration in my planning (up until now, even in Greece it has never really been so hot as to warrant hiding from the sun during certain periods of the day) and I need to cower under the parasol of a bar for a good hour or more at some point around high noon.
To Jaen. I had booked the hotel while sipping my late morning coffee back in Ubeda. The short distance gave me confidence that I would indeed make it to Jaen later in the day. The tactic of choosing a hotel not necessarily based upon price or customer satisfaction rating but how interesting it looks paid off last night and this morning (see previous two posts). Now can I hasten to point out that this is not high season in inland Andalusia. As Begoña back at the Neuve Leyendas had pointed out to me when I expressed surprise that there was only myself and another person currently staying at the hotel, ‘they’ve all gone to the beach’. The good news for me is that the hotel prices are very reasonable and it’s clearly worth paying an extra 10-20€ on top of the 40€ I could pay if I went for the cheaper options just to have an interesting experience. So today I opted for the 50€ Hotel Europa simply because of the photograph. My own version is shown below. The whole place is decked out in colours and design oddities that make it look like a project given to an interior design student (perhaps it was). Make your own mind up. Campsites in this area do seem to be few and far between but I do hope to spend at least two or three more nights under man-made fibre in the last week or so of the trip when I once again reacquaint myself with the coast.
Jaen itself was described to me earlier this week rather dismissively as ‘a dump’. Well, it may be no Ubeda (not many places are) but it has its charms especially in the older part of town where I’m currently sitting. One valid criticism would be that it’s a bit run down and shabby. It could really do with a bit of attention focused upon it… perhaps even being recognised as a UNICEF World Heritage Site. Which is presumably why the local authorities are campaigning for just such a thing to happen to the 17th century hulk of a cathedral and the area around it. Good luck to them. I’ve certainly visited towns on this trip with far less about them than neglected Jaen. Again, make your mind up for yourself in the pictures I’ve posted below (this is democratic blogging!).
And there ends cycling day 45. Only, in theory, five more to go. A part of me is glad to be approaching the end but an equal part will miss rolling up to a new town every day after having had a good workout on the bike. The plan still stands as it did a few days ago;
Saturday: the two remaining Vias Verdes (or as much of them as I possible can)
Sunday: I would be delighted to be sleeping in Seville. It will be a challenge but I think it’s still possible
Monday: to the border with Portugal
Tuesday: half way along the Algarve
Wednesday: to the Cape St. Vincent near Sagres
The key to keeping to this timetable will be the next two days. Stayed tuned!