Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Road to Bolonia - Andalusia, Spain

Taking on the third leg of my bike tour started with a fresh morning in Vejer de la Frontera.  Giving my bike a thorough examination before leaving the hostel's small garage, I gave the merry couple that own Hostel Buenavista my fondest of farewells and set out southward.  Weaving my way through the ancient, white-walled paths of the hilltop town, I made a stop at a local corner store and made my first "road sandwich" of fresh "integral" bread with local ham and cheese.  After grabbing my sandwich supplies along with some fruits and other snacks, I settled down to enjoy my breakfast in Plaza de la Constitución.  With my stomach contently filled for the trip, I mounted my seat and made my way down, or so I thought!  I come upon more of the famous stucco walled wind mills that are icons of Vejer de la Frontera though so there was a small victory in my unintended detour!  Getting back on track and winding my way downhill on a more switchbacks than my trip uphill the day before.  Onward, I charged to the sea as a sailor would proclaim to the small hamlet of Barbate.  Whilst pedaling my way and seeing road signs of upcoming towns, I saw 'Barbate' and some number for the distance in kilometers.  As a good, imperial-measurement abiding American that I was at this point still, I knew roughly about how far that was or that is what I told myself.  Going about the ride, I past small villages and kept on my way on A-314 when I started to question my estimation earlier, but on cue I came to the "BARBATE" welcome traffic circle, which is a thing in Andalusia!  Knocking around the sleepy streets of Barbate, I found the central square with welcoming shade trees and hibiscus blossoms in bountiful numbers, so what a better place to grab a quick siesta?!  I was ahead of my planned schedule, so why not kick back and relax on of the many benches and listened to the subtle shuffle of activity of Barbate and dozed off for a few minutes.  Feeling refreshed and ready, I got back on my AWOL and continued on along the coast of the Atlantic bound for Bolonia.  Sounds easy enough, right?  Mapping out the route prior to even arriving in Spain, today's ride was intended to be enjoyable and carefree.  Insert my luck.  When I arrived to Zahara de los Atunes I met a challenge.  A "NO ENTRAR" with a bridge or where a bridge ought to be stood in my way.  One of the construction workers came walking up to me as I was assessing how I should get across and told me in broken English from afar "Go around way other!" I tried my best to convince him I just need to get to Bolonia which was quite literally over a small hill from this viewpoint, however, he did not budge on his stance.  Around I went, adding on about 25 additional kilometers that I did not plan for and to add to the fun, why not some inland heat?!  Despite all that, I saw parts of Spain and learned how strong my will can truly be.  Until I saw the main route into Bolonia as the sun edged westward.  Looking up to see more switchbacks, I decided I needed a proper meal and somewhere with WiFi to assess my life at this point and fortunately there was Hotel San Jose de Valle with a restaurant at the intersection of where I was coming from and where I needed to go.  After getting some additional calories back in the system, I started my uphill battle with CA-8202.  Now that I look at a aerial map of the road, I see that from above it is not all that intimidating, but, when you have a cart pulling back on you and a tired set of legs, this was the rock and I was Sisyphus.  Struggling upward, I would say it was the last 1,000 meters, a group of Spanish bicyclists came blasting down and all shouted me a few words of encouragement and all I could do in response at this point was nod my head.  Then I reached the top and from there, it was all downhill to the beach of Bolonia!  Despite the internal and physical tribulation this leg put on me, looking back on the prolonged ride, I now know how strong my body and mind can be and plus, I got to see the stock for the famous Spanish toros and more sunflowers bowing down to the summer sun.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Hidden Gem of Costa de la Luz - Vejer de la Frontera, Spain

 Vejer de la Frontera was my destination for my second bike leg of #WorldTour2015 from the provincial capital of Cadiz.  I had discovered this place while reading about her sister city Chefchaouen, Morocco, and then quickly adjusted my route to make a stop here.  Now, after reading more about the hilltop town, I knew this would be a challenge for me on my bicycle and I was right.  After branching from the smooth and near-level comforts of N-340, I looked up at the final stretch of my ride for the day.  Up to a steep hillside that this road clung to as it zigzagged into the trees that is!  Before I began my ascent, I gave my legs a small pity break for I knew this was going to be a long haul in the afternoon sun with temperatures still holding on to the 90°F/33°C heat and my water was going to need some rationing to make the trek to the top.  After a few mental words of encouragement, I began pedaling my way up slow and steady... for the first half.  Starting strong in some of the higher gears, I found myself in the lowest of the lowest and was still struggling with my cart's weight pulling back and the sun's heating beating down.  Accepting a minor defeat, I stepped off my bicycle for the first time and push my way up for a few minutes.  Stretching out my leg muscles gave me a new found octane boost to power my way up the last few bends and another form of "boost" came from cars passing by and shouting words of encouragement too!  On the last switch-back, I was blessed with this phenomenal view of the old city of Vejer de la Frontera.  At that moment, I forgot all those curses I was thinking as I was struggling up the dreaded northwestern face of this "hill" to reach stark white houses, the ancient fortress, and more importantly - fresh spring water!  Then began the wonder of Vejer de la Frontera.  

Once I recharged my water bottles from one of the public drinking fountains, I eagerly began my explorations - up more hills!  If there is one thing that Vejer de la Frontera has in bountiful amounts, hills should be placed at the top of that list!  Second to the number of hills would be delicious restaurants although I could settle for a tie between those two for I ate my little heart's desires to the fullest potential during my short stay!  The local area is known for fruit production and raising the famous Spanish fighting bulls, in turn, the local dishes were delicious to indescribable proportions and wonderfully fresh.  Making my night's stay at a small, cozy hostel aptly named "Buenavista", the happy owner took me to what I would consider to be the 'best view in town' - the rooftop!  After having him explain the history of the area VERY SLOWLY in Spanish, I gathered the agriculture importance of this city and saw all the fields sprawling below endlessly as the sun set behind us.  At his recommendation, he sent me to a friend's restaurant nearby and called ahead to make sure I was well taken care of for my dinner after a long day's ride.  When I arrived, I was welcomed by this tiny woman with a smile one could see from space, throwing every greeting in the Spanish language at me at Mach 3!  After ushering me to my window seat with a bottle of local red wine waiting for me already, I knew I was in for a treat!  I did not have to do anything except sit there and eat every tasty plate that was placed in front of me.  This is an example of how speaking the local's language and wanting to understand and experience the culture when abroad can make all the difference in being a tourist and living as a traveler!