Well, Spanish school is out and we are off, our newly learnt Spanish seeping out of our brains with each mile we cycle.
When we downloaded the gpx files for the Ruta de la Plata route from http://www.rutadelaplata.com we noticed they had added an extra bit called section zero which went from Sevilla across to Carmona. As we have got a bit unfit over the last few weeks and the route looked fairly flat we thought we would start with that, and maybe extend it over to see Cordoba as well.
We got onto the rough track while we were still in Sevilla. That close to a big town it wasn’t very pleasant and was littered with rubbish. But it didn’t take long to get into the countryside and have a pleasant ride along the river. The track was fairly rough and difficult to follow but this also improved after a while. We were really missing our fat bikes as by the time we reached Carmona we felt fully rattled and shaken and had to negotiate a lot of sections of deep sand.
Carmona is definitely worth a visit. We saw most of it as we got totally lost in the maize of tiny cobbled streets! Sat Navs don’t work well when surrounded by tall buildings.
We did cycle on to see Cordoba and visited the Mezquita which was well worth the effort. But although Cordoba is full of ancient wonders we didn’t enjoy our time there so headed back to Carmona a day early. I think we are bit fed up with towns and in need of adventure.
We decided to cut across on our own devised off road route to join the first day of the Ruta Del Plata part 1 just above Sevilla.
It was raining hard as we left our hotel in Carmona and there was a strong gale blowing. All the narrow cobbled streets had already turned into streams. This was a bit of a shock after 2 weeks of heatwave.
We headed over to the post office as we had decided to lighten our load by sending home all the clothes we wouldn’t need now we were heading up the Camino. Then 2 kg lighter we hit the tracks.
We headed steeply down on the track directly from Carmona. It was really slippery and our tires were thickly coated in the local clay within minutes. As we were battling the wind and rain we missed our first turning and our second after being chased by 5 dogs. Both involved heading back uphill. After that we were more careful! It was very difficult to avoid all the potholes and loose rock as we were fighting a strong side-wind that was threatening to blow us off the edge of the track. At one point I looked up and noticed we were both cycling at a 45 degree angle leaning into the wind. It made me laugh so much I almost fell off.
But the scenery was great and we were really enjoying being away from all the cars and crowds of people.
At one point the mud in the track got so bad my wheels would no longer go round and I had to drag the bike 100 yards with my feet slipping in all directions. The clay mud also picked up bits of straw and sticks and set solid like cob.
About half way we came across a road and a small village with a bar, so we headed in for coffee and to dry out while the rain hammered down outside.
In a sunny interval we headed out again and found a track that was actually signed Coto Ruta de la Plata, which we guessed was some joining track. Then the climbing began. We had energy sapping deep wet sand under the wheels. Up top there were sunny intervals interspersed with heavy hail showers. But as we climbed the Sierra Norte there were lovely flowers and views back down to the plans.
Finally we arrived at Castilblanco de los Arroyos where we were staying the night. It looked like a ghost town with all the shops and cafes shut. We eventually found an open cafe and they looked at me as if I were mad when I asked for lunch. I hadn’t realised it was 4.30 p.m. No wonder I was hungry.
We found the hotel and luckily they had a hosepipe so we could wash off all the mud from us and the bikes.
Amazingly there is no wind the following day, the sun was shining from a baby blue sky, birds were singing, bees were buzzing and butterflies were flapping around. The start of the proper Camino trail is wide, well maintained hard packed rock and sand that just rolls gently up and down. Ahh, life was good. After all this time I should have known better than to think that!
Before long we were being turned off on to increasingly narrower and rougher tracks. We could see some high hills getting closer and what looked like a track going over the highest point. I was just thinking that the original pilgrims wouldn’t have been so stupid as to go over the highest point when the track we were on seemed to turn into a crumbling red shale wall.
We managed to haul the bikes about half way up the 300 m ascent, but after that we both had to push one bike at a time and even then it was hard to stop your feet sliding backwards. Lovely view from the top though.
We could see the small town of Almadén de la Plata down below us on the other side. The descent was almost as hard. It was equally steep and with loose shale not my favourite type of cycling. But with brakes squealing and tyres sliding we made it down and had lunch in an empty restaurant with very little food, no coffee and no change. So we had coffee in a much livelier bar we found round the corner, beneath the clattering storks nesting on the church tower.
We only had 15 km to go from here but it was incredibly hard. A lot of steep, technical single track, full of delightful rock gardens.
We were cycling through hill farms. Going through a lot of gates and across fields of goats, pigs, sheep and cows. Most of the farm dogs were behind fences. There was one group of dogs guarding a herd of goats we passed. Although they barked at us and approached they didn’t come down onto the track.
Although I had to push a fair amount I was very pleased that I managed some quite difficult cycling that would have been easier on a mountain bike without luggage.
We are staying in a proper Camino hostal tonight. They wanted to stamp our pilgrims pass, which of course we don’t have, so we are going to collect the stamps on a bit of paper instead. Got a nice big room and a shed for the bikes.
Its been fun so far. Tomorrow we will be leaving Andalucia and heading into Extremadura.