Crossing the border from Portugal into Spain, the weather seemed to instantly get hotter. Perhaps it was our imagination. Perhaps it was that we had moved away from the Atlantic. A quick scan of several weather sites confirmed what we felt: it’s bloody hot.
The day we tried to get to Huelva – and did but not the way we thought we would – was a cooker. We started early and arrived in Bellavista mid-morning. Stopped in the shade of some trees to sort out how we would cross the river, a man came up to us and asked where we were going. When we told him, he said we couldn’t get there by bicycle except by a long detour because the bridge was closed and riding on the freeway was forbidden. A long detour in the heat was not appealing so our options were to take the bus or to ride south to Punta Umbria and take a ferry into Huelva. We opted for the latter.
It was a decent ride on a bike path along a busy freeway heading to the beaches around Punta Umbria. By the time we got to the beach, the road was jammed with sun worshippers looking for a place to park. Total chaos and gridlock but we were able to ride past all the slow moving and stopped traffic fairly easily.
In Punta Umbria we went in search for the ferry dock but it was not an obvious place so we ended up asking at the Harbour Master’s office whereabouts we can take the ferry to Huelva.
“Oh, the ferry doesn’t run yet. It doesn’t start until the end of the month,” said a very nice lady. My face must have betrayed my incredible disappointment, or perhaps she confused the sweat streaming off my face for crying, when she told me not to worry because we could just take the bus to Huelva.
I explained to her in Spanglish that we were travelling on bicycles and asked if it was indeed possible to get the bikes on the bus, and she said she wasn’t sure as she gave me the location of the bus station.
By now it was early afternoon and in the mid-thirties. Way too hot to cycle anywhere and we didn’t have it in us to ride a long way around to get across the river to Huelva, so, we went to the bus station to see about the next bus. When we arrived, there was a bus just about to depart for Huelva and the driver said it was no problem to put the bikes on but to hurry because he needed to go. We shoved one bike into the luggage compartment taking off only one bag but the other bike didn’t fit, no matter how we tried. Then, the luggage compartment door on the other side of the bus opened and we ran around to shoved the bike into the bigger compartment and got on the bus, drenched from the heat. Forty-five minutes later, we arrived in Huelva. The bus ride cost us less than eight euros.
We liked how that went and immediately walked over to the bus departing for Sevilla but the driver was not willing to let us on his bus with the two bikes. No space, he claimed. Too bad. Now what? Find a place to stay or find another way to get to Sevilla, 100 km away, not an appealing option in the 40-plus degrees forecast. We rode to the train station and managed to book tickets for a train an hour later. Hot and hungry, we parked our bikes inside the air conditioned terminal and had something to eat while looking online for accommodation in Sevilla where the temperatures were forecast to be 43 for the next few days. In other words: too hot to ride or camp or do anything outside.
A couple of hours later, we arrived in Sevilla, got in touch with our Airbnb host and found our very swank two-bedroom apartment where we encamped for the next three days. The apartment was beautiful, air conditioned and had all the conveniences we needed, like laundry and a kitchen to make some meals. So in the end, the day that looked like it was turning into a bit of a disaster turned out very well. It’s an experience we often have on the road. Just be open to the possibilities. Did I mention it was scorching hot?
Our strategy for Sevilla, also known as the frying pan of Spain, was to go out early in the morning for a couple of hours to see the sights, spend the afternoon in the apartment resting and keeping cool before heading out again into the cooler evening for dinner, entertainment and sightseeing. Okay, cooler evenings is a bit of a misnomer. At 10 p.m. it was still 37 degrees with all the stone streets and buildings radiating the stored heat from the day. But at least the sun was down and all the patios had systems rigged up to spray a fine mist of water every 30 seconds, making it bearable to sit and have a cold drink, or several. There just didn’t seem to be enough liquid around to quench our constant thirst.
We could have stayed in that lovely apartment many more days. We did actually extend our stay by a day because it was too hot to even contemplate riding anywhere. But after three days, we had come up with a route to the coast where we would hopefully have slightly cooler temperatures. It was too hot to camp so we booked air conditioned accommodation ahead every day in a place that seemed reasonably reachable in this heat. Have I mentioned that it’s really hot? But at least we have a bit of wind. Hot wind.
Our first stop after a 50-kilometre ride was a rather nondescript town: Las Cabezas de San Juan. We had a hard time finding the hotel and when we did, there was no front desk or anywhere to enter. Eventually, we went into the gas station next door to get a cold drink and ask about the hotel. And they said, “Oh, that’s us,” and gave us the keys. We had no idea because when we booked it did not mention anything about checking in at a gas station.
The next day we had a little longer ride through the countryside studded with lovely Pueblas Blancas: white washed towns, typical of this region in Andalusia. We steadily gained elevation all day but when we approached Zahara, we were quite dismayed about the hill upon which the town is perched. At least we would have a downhill ride the next morning.
The grade was too steep and the temperature too high to ride up, so, we pushed. I think we both had been out in the sun too long that day and started showing signs of heat stroke. We were very happy to get into the apartment and sit in front of the air conditioner waiting for the market to open so we could buy some things to make dinner. We explored the town later in the evening, watching the sun set from one of its many ‘miradors’ or look-outs.
We planned a short ride into Ronda the following day so we had time to see this town that’s perched on a mountain top above a deep gorge, El Tajo, which separates the city’s 15th century “new town” from its old town, dating back to the Moorish occupation of the Iberian Peninsula. Three bridges span the gorge but the show piece is the beautiful stone bridge crossing the gorge 120 metres above the canyon bottom. The other landmark Ronda is known for is the Plaza de Toros, a legendary 18th century bullfighting ring, the oldest in Spain, that seats 5,000 people.
We wandered the old town, exploring paths into the gorge and capped off the day with a nice sun set dinner at one of the restaurants with a great view of the impressive Puente Nuevo, thinking about what we’re going to do as the high temperatures were forecast to continue for the foreseeable future. It was making it challenging to ride and staying in rented accommodation instead of camping wass also eating into our budget.
From Ronda we turned south through the mountains to make our way back to the coast. Jimena de la Frontera is another Puebla Blanca draped on a mountainside below a castle built by the Moors in the 8th century. But there is evidence of more ancient history. The castle is likely built on top of Roman ruins and within the castle there is evidence of the ancient Phoenician city of Oba, known for the minting of coins. The caves in the area contained many remains and cave paintings dating as far back as the Bronze age and the Palaeolithic.
We found a camp site with a pool in Jimena and decided to stay an extra day to rest and make use of the pool to keep cool. We went for a nice morning hike from the camp site along the river that eventually runs into the town, which is in an important Mediterranean forest preserve of southern Europe: Parque Natural los Alcornocales, a cork oak forest.
We hatched a plan to escape the heat of southern Spain and at the same time comply with Schengen area visa rules that prohibit us from staying more than 90 days in a six-month period, and our planned trip here is two weeks longer than that. We saw that temperatures in Morocco were somewhat cooler and it’s an easy country to get to by ferry from southern Spain.
From Jimena we rode to Algeciras, across the bay from Gibraltar, and hopped on a ferry across the strait to the Spanish exclave of Ceuta. There, we crossed a land border into Morocco.