[Saturday evening: Too tired to write the blurb tonight but come back tomorrow for the full story. The stats and pictures will hopefully suffice for the moment. Some of the photos do need explaining…]
It’s now Sunday morning and I am one of the few people who have crawled from their beds here in Salamanca in order to drink coffee in the Plaza Mayor, my rather soggy destination at the end of yesterday’s ride. But what a ride it was!
I knew I was in for a long day in the saddle. I had decided quite early during the ride to Plasencia on Friday that Salamanca would be the destination for Saturday but having ‘only’ cycled 79km by the end of that day, it still left a not insignificant 130+km to cycle if I were indeed to arrive here in this jewel of Spain in order to take a full day off on Sunday. Salamanca, incidentally, represents a significant point along the road to Nordkapp. Before I decided to spend March in Cadiz learning Spanish, it was my intention to do the same in Salamanca. At that time the plan was to cycle from Santiago de Compostela along the Eurovelo 3 but after some thought I decided to change my departure point to Tarifa, the southernmost point of Europe to mirror the desire to cycle as far as the northernmost point of Europe in Nordkapp. It’s a city that I have thought much about over the past six months or so and I look forward to discovering it later today, but it also the door to northern Spain. Interestingly this is one of things that was made abundantly clear in the second part of cycling day 10.
Having the Albergue Santa Ana in Plasencia to myself on Thursday night I wouldn’t be disturbing anyone in the dormitory room if I crept out of the building very early. Why, I wonder, was I creeping around? I could have been singing and dancing my way through the door but I didn’t. The guy who had let me in and taken down my details on the previous evening was nowhere to be seen so I left the key on a table and closed the latched door behind me, terrified that I had left something inside. I don’t think I did.
I was aware that some climbing would be required to get as far as Salamanca – the route profiles from the Ruta de la Plata website made that clear – but I purposefully didn’t inspect them too closely as, when it comes to such matters, I prefer to stick my head in the sand and just see what happens. That said only a kilometre or so outside of Plasencia I could see what awaited me. In the far distance across a wide plain were some pretty big hills. For the first 30 or so kilometres I could just look and admire them. The N-630 continued to be just as quiet as it had been all week, the sky was blue, the sun was shining… but it wasn’t warm. After consulting the weather back at the albergue I was aware that the temperature was unlikely to rise much higher than the low teens so I wrapped up in preparation; I felt very snug as well as very smug to be cycling in such a wonderful place feeling cosy and warm.
It being Saturday morning, the cyclists were out in force and all were willing to exchange a cheery ‘hola’ or ‘buen camino’. Near a place called Hervas I paused for a drink and one of them pulled up beside me and launched into a babble of Spanish until I held up my hand to indicate there was an issue. It didn’t stop him taking although he did slow down and we had a cycling-themed discussion based primarily upon the (mainly) ups and downs of the terrain between that point and Salamanca. From what I could understand there were two big climbs to come; one before Bejar and another later on. The prospect of me cycling to Salamanca in light of these hills drew some admiration from my fellow cyclist. Had I taken on too much in one day? Shortly afterwards the climbing started.
I’ve crossed the Alps twice, the Pyrenees once, the Peloponnese, the Apennines, the mountains of Albania… but it never gets any easier. You’ve just got to find that lowest gear and start grinding away. A few of the other cyclists, unburdened by luggage (or in most cases any body fat whatsoever) glided past at what I would consider ‘speed’. There was no gliding being done by yours truly, just a slow but steady crawl. It gave me time to admire my surroundings which were gradually taking a few steps back into late winter or early spring. The trees were now predominantly bare of leaves and snow remained capping some of the higher peaks. Altitude was clearly the major factor in the changes that I could see but latitude was also playing a role; it was a sure sign that I was moving away from southern Spain and that actually, I may not have been as speedy as some of the other cyclists on the road, but I was cycling faster than the season was progessing north through Europe. The summit – Puerto de Vallejera – was reached at 1,202m after around 800m of ascent from Plasencia. Time to pause for breath, admire the view, line up an arty photograph… and watch as your bike is blown over by the wind into a ditch. No harm done.
The weather was clearly changing. The sky was still almost cloudless but the wind had picked up and I donned my cycling helmet for the descent towards Bejar, a town that although perched on the side of a hill in a rather dramatic location complete with rampart-topped walls, didn’t shout ‘take your lunch break here’. Even the tourist office which was situated on the N-630 rather than in the centre of the town was built from what looked like bare breezeblocks. It’s not a great look for a tourist office. I cycled on.
Around a half of the journey remained to be completed and although there were some sweat-inducing climbs (including one back to 1,000m which was presumably the one the cyclist had mentioned earlier) they were at least compenstaed for by long stretches on the flat or downhill. A vast plain dominated the area, as did the pork business; almost all of the businesses in places like Guijuelo had some kind of porcine connection. In one place I could hear some distant squeals coming from a large concrete building to the right of the road. I sensed a few more Iberian pork joints were about to start the ageing process.
For a time the N-630 seemed to disappear which was rather disconcerting having followed it for so long. The new region of Castilla y Leon had seen fit to downgrade it for a lengthy period to a mere ‘Via de Servicio’. I was almost offended on behalf of the road and certainly missed the reassuring kilometre signs that I had been so admiring of earlier this week (see ‘In Praise Of… Spanish Road Signs’). The road did return just in time for the downpour to start. I first noticed a bolt of lightening in the far distance but hoped the weather, which up until that point had been assisting me with a tail wind, would push the storms further north. It wasn’t to be. The wind turned and I cycled straight into the heavy rain. On went the raincoat, down went the head and the final 20km of the ride were completed under hostile conditions. Upon arrival in the main square of Salamanca, I was tired, wet and cold. A large beer was welcome but it did nothing to cure any three of them. Somewhere to stay might… A few minutes later I had booked into a good value hotel in the centre… A few minutes after that [brace yourself for the mental image that you are about to encounter folks] I was naked in the shower… But there was no water coming out… No other rooms were available… A few more minutes later I was back on the street looking for another good value, with clothes… A final few minutes later I had finally warmed up under a shower that actually functioned. Next up: my rest day in Salamanca!
Note: This is more for my future reference than anything else… There’s a disused railway line than runs between Plasencia and Salamanca. It’s not a Via Verde but I suspect It is used by the Camino as the profile of the route in the kilometres before Salamanca is one long straight gradual climb. It’s the route profile of a train line.