It required a short climb out of Mérida this morning to rejoin my almost constant companion on this leg of the cycle, the N-630, but it wasn’t too many minutes into cycling along the road that I stopped to realign my clothes to the weather conditions. It was decidedly cold (although not to such an extreme that turned my extremities numb; just relative to the days on the cycle up to that point) and the sky a threatening grey. On went the waterproof socks (that I bought last summer to use in conjunction with my Keen SPD cycling sandals while cycling in Scotland), the merino wool arm warmers given to me by Alpe Deux (highly recommended!) and the Buff. My waterproof jacket was poised… I kept them on for the next couple of hours but fortunately it didn’t rain and actually, one by one, all of the additional items of weatherproofing were removed. They did, however, make me feel snug and warm; good to know for when I begin to head north through the Arctic Circle later in the summer.
If you think me discussing items of clothing is a little on the boring side, just wait until I start discussing the roads! I’ll get it out of the way now. Straight, quiet and long… Hundreds of millions of Euros must have been poured into paying for the motorway that has never been further than a kilometre to my side over these past few days and in terms of keeping the traffic away from me; brilliant! But what has been left is a bizarrely good quality, albeit thin, main road stretching from Seville in the south to the north coast. At times I feel almost embarrassed to be using it.
The absence of traffic allowed me to complete a gentle u-turn to the other side of the road at the point where I met John, his recumbent bicycle and his dog. It wasn’t so much a conversation that took place, more of an interview with me asking him the kinds of things you would ask if you met someone from your own country cycling in the opposite direction to you on a quiet road in a foreign country. From Birmingham he had sold his house and given up his job (that he had combined with being a full-time carer for his father, now sadly deceased) to go off cycling for a year. He’d caught the ferry from Portsmouth to Santander and was heading to Gibraltar for a ‘rendez-vous’. Then he would pedal off in the direction of Greece. It wasn’t the first time he’d done this kind of thing; various European trips had come before. Having cycled through the night because he couldn’t find a place to string up his hammock – he had no tent so ‘wild hammocked’ instead – he was looking forward to stopping soon. Having not been on the look out for conveniently spaced trees in the previous 24 hours I wasn’t able to recommend anywhere. He did ask me one question: what did I think were the advantages of… using a recumbent bike? “Comfort?” I was spot on! Having exhausted my list of questions we went our separate ways. Perhaps I missed my vocation as an investigative reporter.
As the day continued I took to admiring the quality of Spanish signage – see previous post – as well as doing a bit of bird spotting; birds of prey circling above me, then hovering in the wind, ready to pounce, swallows darting in front of me across the road and storks peering down from their nests built upon telegraph poles and electricity pylons. Combined with the fresh feel to the day, the views reminded me a little of the Yorkshire Dales in the early summer; vibrant green, colourful spring flowers, dry stone walls, cattle and sheep… The final third of today’s cycle was probably the prettiest yet since leaving Seville.
As I approach Cáceres I was passed, slowly, by a Lycra-clad Spanish cyclist who had a remarkable resemblance to Lord Sugar. His name was, rather appropriately for the route, Santiago (not Alan). Over the next few kilometres we had a ‘conversation’. It was in comical contrast to the discussion that I had had with John earlier in the day and all the stranger as it took place in Spanish. Santiago guided me to the centre of Cáceres and before we split up he pointed me in the direction of Camping Cáceres… I wish he had been able to tell me that they would charge me €21 to stay the night as it would have saved me doubling back, just as I had done yesterday upon finding the grim campsite in Mérida. “It has an individual toilet and it is a category 1 site” explained the young woman on the reception desk. I explained that for only a few euros more I would be able to stay in a hotel in the town centre. I sensed that negotiation on price hadn’t been devolved down to her level so didn’t even try.
Back in the centre of Cáceres I found a nice square just outside the walled town and tucked into a bit of lunch. The German cyclist who I had first met in Zafra passed me; I called after him and we chatted for a few minutes about our respective trips. He too had met Birmingham John but I didn’t pass judgement.
Checking in at the Hotel Iberia (where the price was indeed only a few euros more than Camping Cáceres, including individual toilet) was a delight; nothing to do with the hotel itself or the place to store Reggie or the mirrors on most walls. What made it such a delight was the guy on the front desk. He could make serious money from running courses for some of his fellow customer service employees in Spain. I could personally recommend a few names. In addition to being simply happily pleasant, he pointed me in the direction of a laundrette which is where I spent a relaxing hour or so brushing up on cleaning-related instructions in Spanish. My clothes are now clean and I do not smell. Joy!
A late afternoon stroll around the old town of Cáceres had to be sacrificed for the washing but I do feel it needs more investigation and I will deviate back here in the morning before continuing my journey north. To where? Not sure. I’m tempted to just keep cycling tomorrow until I get tired. I should reach Salamanca by the end of the weekend and at that point a day off beckons.