Cycling Day 1: Tarifa To Conil (Fuente Del Gallo)

Click here to see the detailed statistics of today’s cycle.

Finally, it’s started! I’m sure you are as relieved as me… It was a soggy morning back in Tarifa (see previous post) but after that very virtuous breakfast it was off to knock on the door of the Guardia Civil at the Isla de las Palomas. Initially I just stood at the gates looking a bit gormless. Nothing happened. There was no button to push let along a guard on duty. I noticed a security camera high on the wall above me so I waved my authorisation in its direction in the hope that someone was watching. I don’t think they were. I was saved by a group of men in a black 4×4 who weren’t the Guardia Civil but who were clearly quite important. I later noticed them speaking to the people in a helicopter which first took off and then landed as I was leaving the island. Whoever they were, they were sufficiently pleasant to tell me where to go so I pushed Reggie through the gates and towards one of the many crumbling buildings spread across the site. The Guardia Civil guard came out – he was a nice guy in his twenties, not the fearsome ex-Franco officer I had been fearing – who was somewhat amused by the idea of me cycling from one end of the continent to the other. He didn’t accompany me, he just pointed me in the direction of the lighthouse at the end of the island and I set off. Before I arrived I was stopped by some different Guardia Civil personnel who drove after me but once I showed them the authorisation they were happy to allow me to continue. See the previous post for some pictures of what I found at the starting point of my ride.

The weather wasn’t great for the first couple of hours but the wind was in my direction and it wasn’t raining so I shouldn’t really complain. The road was relatively quiet compared to the ones I had been using for the two ‘prologues’ earlier in the week. After about half the distance as the crow flies to Conil I was able to turn off the main road back in the direction of the coast. Until this point – the intersection of the N340 and the A2227 – my efforts to reach the sea would have been thwarted by dead end roads. That said, by choosing the A2227 I was volunteering to cycle an extra 8km into a side wind. The even quieter roads and the green rolling hills, spring flowers, grazing bulls and majestic fields of wind turbines were my reward. Before I came to this corner of Spain at the beginning of March I had imagined it to be a sun-bleached scrubland devoid of much colour. I have been told that in places it is like that in the searing heat of summer but at the start of spring, not at all. The green is that of England after a downpour. Nearer the coast the route was flat for much of the time allowing me to speed along at 25, even 30km/hr although a steady climb after Barbate took the smug smile off my face. The natural park – the Parque Natural Brena y Marisma – was more what you expect from a southern European landscape. To me they were upturned sticks of broccoli the size of trees and all crammed together in fields on either side of the road. To someone who knows what they are actually talking about they were probably some kind of pine tree.

I was beginning to recognise more and more of the route as the cycle moved into its final third. This is because for much of the day I had been retracing the route I was driven along by one of my fellow students at the language school back in March. If you remember, four of us hired a car and drove first down through places like Vejer de la Frontera to Tarifa and then back along the coast via Barbate and my eventual destination today, Conil. Perhaps it’s for this reason that I didn’t hang around for too long when I stopped for a pause at Barbate and then at the Cabo de Trafalgar on the northern edge of the natural park. Well, that and in the case of Trafalgar, a giant sand dune that had blown across the path leading to the lighthouse. It would have taken Hercules to push a bike through that so I turned around and rejoined the road to Conil. When i arrived i paused once again but this time just to check the map so as to find the campsite – Camping Fuente del Gallo – which has very few customers tonight to prevent me from monopolising almost all the spare sockets in the restaurant. I was given the pick of pitches and chose number 66 because I love ants. No, of course I don’t but they seem to have moved in before me. I should check what the little hard mounds are in the soil before I make my decision in future. On the positive side, the tent, sodden when I wrapped it up this morning in Tarifa is now bone dry after only a few minutes of being pitched in the sunlight. As I look through the window I see nothing but blue sky and checking the weather forecast we should have a dry night. When I refer to ‘we’ it is, of course me and the ants rather than me and the other customers. On the downside I have misplaced my sunglasses which is a pain. They weren’t cheap and they are definitely no longer part of my equipment. However…

Tomorrow. It will be a shorter ride to Jerez de la Frontera so I can afford to detour slightly to the Decathlon store that I visited a couple of weeks ago when I was in Cadiz which is to be found just outside El Puerto de Santa Maria. i’ll hopefully pick up some replacement glasses there. I haven’t totally discounted cycling through Cadiz itself and then taking the ferry across the Bay of Cadiz to El Puerto and then onwards to Jerez. There are some fearsome looking red and orange roads on my map which equate to dual carriageways (that I am allowed to cycle along) and motorways (that I am clearly not). I’m scratching my head as I look at the route. Goodness knows where the Eurovelo 8 – the route that I ‘followed’ back in 2013 along the Mediterranean coast – goes in order to finish in Cadiz. If you remember, I never had to work out this conundrum as I cut across the country from Valencia to Seville in order to save time. If anyone one out there has cycled from the coast south of Cadiz to Jerez in the recent past, do let me know which route you took, preferably before 9am tomorrow morning.

Tomorrow evening I’m booked into a youth hostel (they really need to find a different adjective to describe themselves, no? When I go to such places, most people are older than me!) in Jerez. The road distance as given by Google is 55 km. The route that they suggest along the main roads is probably the one I will have to take unless I have any brilliant ideas between now and tomorrow morning. However, for the moment I’m going to ignore that and think about where I will be cycling to on Saturday. Somewhere between Jerez and Seville? Seville itself would be a ride of over 100 km. Have I got the energy to do such a long ride at such an early stage? And then where shall I stay? I’m trying to stay two days in advance with the accommodation. Seville is going to be a tricky one…

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