I’m in a hotel on at Madrid airport. Those of you who know Spain will realise that Madrid is a long way east of my intended route. This is what’s happened since yesterday morning.
I left the Hotel Leo in Monesterio at just gone eight o’clock after a breakfast of toast, jam and coffee. The weather forecast was for showers so it was no surprise that a heavy downpour started about 15 minutes after I set out. I donned the waterproofs and carried on pedalling to the sound of skylarks, which were to be seen in the fields either side of me. The sky looked totally black and I thought I was in for hours of getting drenched again but things brightened up after 20 minutes and there were occasional glimpses of sun. The road was a little busier than yesterday but not unduly so. There were none of the huge climbs of the day before, just a gently undulating terrain which masked what was in fact a gradual descent of nearly 2000 feet over the first 60 miles of the day’s riding.
I was a little concerned about the strengthening sun so stopped to buy sun cream and a coffe in a pretty town called Villafranca de los Barros. It was full of smart little shops for tourists and was immaculately clean, unlike many of the smaller, more industrial places I had passed along the way. Preparing to leave the town, I applied plenty of sun protection then took off my waterproofs and stashed them neatly on top of my rear bag. The heavens opened five minutes later and I scrambled to put everything back on before I got wet on the inside. Once again, there appeared to be no likely end to the rain but 20 minutes later it was gone and the day became brighter once more.
The road from Villafranca de los Barros to Mérida was busy traffic was still not problematic, with the possible exception of the odd truck getting a bit close. The wind seemed to be coming from a more westerly direction and it was testing at times when the road veered towards the west, or when I was in the middle of a squall, two more of which were still to come.
I stopped just south of Mérida for a light lunch and a beer at a roadside bar. I had already covered 60 miles, more than my total for the day before, and I began to wonder if I might make it to the next significant city, Cáceres, over 40 miles further north. Looking at my map – the printed one – I could see lots of green areas ahead, which I took to be hills, although there were no contours to give me a clear indication of the steepness or otherwise of the route. However, at no point did the road seem to be meandering in those tight little squiggles that suggest a straight line was not an option for its builder due to the steep nature of the terrain.
Mérida has some fine Roman architecture in the old part of the city and I was tempted to book in somewhere and take a look around. In the end, I decided to try to add some extra miles while the weather was being relatively kind. I pressed on and started climbing steadily. The traffic disappeared almost totally. I once again saw a stork nest on a pylon (just the one this time) and my path was frequently crossed but the pilgrims’ walking route, the Camino De Santiago. You can cycle along this too but much of it would demand a mountain bike, which mine isn’t.
When you ride long distances, tiredness isn’t a linear thing. You don’t just get more and more tired, it comes on in waves, and some of the dips make you wonder if you can even turn the pedals just one more time. As I reached the 83-mile mark, one of these deep dips hit me. I’ll pulled over to a garage and, in the absence of sandwiches, bought and ate a full packet of chocolate doughnut shaped things, all 496 kcals of them. They were rather disgusting but did the job. I topped up with water and got back on the bike. Cáceres was the goal but I didn’t yet have the confidence to book into the really nice-looking hotel I had seen on booking.com because I didn’t know if the weather or hills would yet get the better of me.
A few kilometres further on, standing in the sunshine, I took the plunge, booking a room in the four-star Gran Hotel Don Manuel for a mere 75 Euros. I was confident of getting there. Within five minutes the sky went completely black and I found myself riding into a massive headwind and near-horizontal rain. This was the third “shower” of the day and I told myself if it didn’t stop soon I’d be checking into the first available shelter! Shortly after, the weather cleared again, I couldn’t see any mountains ahead and I ploughed on. With nearly 100 miles under my belt I was feeling good to the point of standing on the pedals on some of the climbs and pushing ahead enthusiastically. The final shower came just as I entered the outskirts of Cáceres, too late to cause any concern. I checked into the hotel, which was as good as it looked in the photographs, my only complaint being that the heated towel rail didn’t work, so I couldn’t dry my wet clothes. Apparently that was the case throughout the hotel, which seemed odd. A maid appeared promptly, took the wet stuff away and brought it back dry and neatly folded about an hour later. There was no charge.
I had covered 107.5 miles and was ready for dinner. I wandered into a nearby classical town square and had the set meal at a local restaurant after waiting 40 minutes for it to open at 8:30pm. Even that’s early for some restaurants in Spain. It rained again, so much so that I moved from under a leaking umbrella to a nice, dry inside table.
Back at the hotel, I started researching the next couple of days’ travel. The result of that research brought me Madrid today. More about that in tomorrow’s post.