When we leave Granada the sky is the most incredibly intense blue we’ve ever seen.
We slowly escape the city and head west. It’s hard to imagine that this will be a tough day on the bike, but it will be. Before long, we’re getting a dose of reality. The hills start early in the day and never seem to let up. When there is a respite, it’s only to glide downhill to a valley and start climbing all over again.
It’s only mid-morning but the sun is already hot. We stop often for breaks, incredible grateful for the juicy, sweet oranges that are sold for literally pennies in every shop.
And after a break, we keep on climbing.
This continues all day. The landscape is gorgeous, but after a while we stop taking pictures. We’re tired. We’re hot. All we really want is to find a place to rest but there’s not much around. This part of Spain is arid and sparsely populated. There aren’t many cafés to take refuge in or trees to nap under.
As we climb, we notice all the ‘No Trespassing’ signs. They are everywhere. Sometimes we go miles without seeing a single unfenced bit of land. This will come back to haunt us later.
We assume this also means ‘No Trespassing’. We see these signs everywhere. Where we don’t see the signs, tracks are often barred with gates.
And then, around 4pm, something strange happens. The weather totally changes. One minute it looks like this.
The next minute a thick, cold mist is rolling in. We have to get out our gloves. We can barely see a foot in front of us. The wind starts blowing. It is the oddest weather we’ve ever cycled in. Erie. Strange. Unexpected. Our desire to take a photo is overridden by our desire to ride down safely from the mountain peak we are on.
This is when the day starts to go wrong. We are not just tired from the hills. Now we are cold, wet and confused. It is 5pm. We are hungry. We’ve had enough.
To make matters worse, we come into the first town so far in Spain where there is no possibility to camp and no hotel. Ahead of us is a steep climb up yet another mountain. We debate the options. They aren’t great. There is no bed for the night in this town so we have to carry on, but where? Andrew suggests up the mountain.
“Are you crazy?” is Friedel’s first reaction. Going up a mountain late in the day, near dark and in the mist, doesn’t sound smart but Andrew has a hunch. “I think we’ll find a spot to camp,” he says. We haven’t seen anywhere for miles. We ask more locals about a hotel (hoping there is one that the other people we asked didn’t know about) but we come up empty.
“Have faith,” says Andrew as we get on the bikes and continue into the mountains. Our legs are like lead. We are looking nervously to each side. At first we see nothing. We pass houses behind gates and barking dogs but nowhere to camp until – after about 20 minutes – a rocky field opens up to one side.
It’s not much, but it’s enough. The bikes are hauled over boulders and up the hill until we find a place big enough to put our tent.
Through the bushes, we have a slim glimpse of the road. All night we watch the cars go high up the mountain and count our blessings that we didn’t have to make that climb in the dark. When we look back on this, we’ll wonder how it is that we always seem to find a place to sleep. We don’t know how this “road magic” works but somehow it does. We’ve yet to be left homeless for a night.
7th January 2011 at 4:37 pm #
How are the Santos’ working out???
8th January 2011 at 5:54 am #
No complaints so far. They’re pretty solid bikes. I’ll be doing a review of them later, once I finish getting our trip journals up 🙂
8th January 2011 at 8:27 pm #
Hi – I’ve really enjoyed following your trip in Andalucia. We live in the area between Granada and Antequera (we get plenty of hill training!) and just wanted to let you know that the signs you saw are not actually ‘No trespassing’ but are warning that the rights to hunt on the land belong to the owner of the land. You would have been OK to go on it so long as you didn’t take a shot-gun!
8th January 2011 at 8:42 pm #
Julie, that’s really good information. Thanks! We also saw signs in different colours – not just black and white but also green and white or full red and a green dog on a white background. Do you know what those mean? Might be good to know next time we go back to Spain!
8th January 2011 at 9:50 pm #
No – you’ve got me on those! Green and white, which are the colours of the Andalucian flag, are used to to way-mark walking routes, but other than that I’ve not noticed any other signs and certainly not the one with the dog. I’ll ask my Spanish neighbour and let you know if I find out.
18th January 2016 at 9:05 pm #
Im thinking of visiting and biking Grenada to Sevilla. How are the drivers, cars and traffic? Are the backroads busy?
8th January 2011 at 9:39 pm #
I think many long distance cyclists would echo your words about ‘road magic’ – no matter how bad it seems out there a free camping spot (or sometimes even a campsite) will find you eventually. Its just difficult to remember that while dusk is falling and you’re still hunting for a spot!
19th February 2013 at 10:55 pm #
Hi, guys. This is an amazing article that gives me faith. My girlfriend and I are planning to cycle Spain this summer 2013. We think to start in Pamplona and go El Camino. After that we will se but now after reading your story we are smarter. Even we sleep everywhere usualy, sleep problems are always in my head and this article gives me faith 🙂
Do you have any tips for us? P.S. we plan to fly from Milano to Barcelona and than maybe take train to Pamplona and start with Camino. Don’t know is that smart… Taking bike to train and stuff…
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