Travels through France and Spain, late October to mid-December 2021
For almost a month we stayed at home and now we are ready to leave again. Our motorhome is completely checked, not only the engine but also the living area. My bike also got a much-needed maintenance, which involved installing a new chain and shifting mechanism. According to Dick, not really special because I shift gears when I’m already on the mountain slope and therefore always too late. Fortunately, the carriage bolts for our RV wheels finally arrived and are mounted. When we level our RV now, we don’t have to worry about our tires getting stolen.
After the celebration of Dick’s birthday with Hannah and Henk and making a last dive in Zeeland, where we notice that the seawater cooled down very quickly, our new travel route is ready. This time this took a little more effort because besides looking for places where to stay overnight we also had to find out how we could make a nice route to Gibraltar (our final goal) with as many new sights as possible.
Meanwhile, Hannah and Henk’s holiday stories put us in the vacation mood.
They are on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, the famous pilgrimage site in the north west of Spain and every day we look forward to their enthusiastic stories about their cycling experiences.
After adjusting the route a few times, it is entrusted to paper and just before our intended departure, it is vaguely approved by Dick. Now I can start preparing everything that needs to be done.
On Monday morning, October 25th we get a flu shot and immediately afterwards we get our motorhome from the storage. Fortunately, our neighbor Evelyn moves her car so we can park the motorhome behind our house and start loading. Everything is packed by the evening. Only food has to be placed in the fridge, but that will happen tomorrow when we actually leave home.
Tuesday, early in the morning the sun is shining, but while driving south the clouds get the upper hand and when we arrive in Bapaume, in northern France, the sun is no longer shining. It’s clouded but there is no rain so when we have parked the Frankia at the last available spot, we walk around town. After an hour of exploring town, it starts to drizzle and so we return to the shelter of the motorhome. We look at each other for a while and then decide to drive on. The city of Beauvais is on the route, only 67 miles to the south, and can therefore be reached before dark and a little later we are on our way in the now pouring rain over narrow farm roads. Not really handy because at this time of the year those roads are smeared with loam and clay.
On arrival at the large car park in Beauvais, a watery sun shines and with 59 degrees it is not cold. When we get out of the Frankia, we see how disastrous this combination of rain and mud on the road was because our Frankia, still white and clean this morning, is now completely brown, smeared and very dirty. One of these days we really have to clean it. Unfortunately, we don’t have time to walk around the center and visit the impressive cathedral of Beauvais because we need food on our table. So, we cross the road to the large supermarket of Carrefour to buy the necessary food and not much later we enjoy a delicious salad with ham and cheese. Although we read a lot in our RV, we also can watch TV at night. Although that thing refuses to start up at first (we hadn’t used it for too long), after studying the manual, Dick finally manages to get our TV working again.
Wednesday October 27th, we wake up at 8.30 am and after a breakfast with of course a fresh baguette, we leave. The sky is gray and foggy, but as we drive further south the fog disappears and the sun breaks through again. In the town of Nonancourt I walk forward to find out where the motorhome parking is. We have to descend steeply along a narrow winding road but with some maneuvering Dick seems to fit through and we can park our Frankia.
It is 1.30 pm and there is still enough place to park. Because the sun is shining, we take the bikes to explore the area and look for some geocaches. Fortunately, I brought my water shoes because one of the geocaches is hidden on the opposite riverbank and you really have to wade through the icy cold water to get to it. Fortunately, after getting this geocache Dick leads us into the hills, now my feet warm up again due to the strenuous pedaling up the sometimes-steep mountain slopes. End of the afternoon we are back at the parking place and one after another motorhome arrives. It is getting really busy here and for the first time in months the majority of the motorhomes has the Dutch nationality. It actually makes sense because this parking is on the route to Spain and everyone is on their way there. Although the sun is shining
, it is not really warm, but at this time of the year you don’t sit outside.
After filling our water tank on Thursday and dumping our gray and black water, we leave. It is very foggy, windless and only 46 degrees Fahrenheit. We will have breakfast later because today the bakery on the corner is closed and the nearest supermarket does not open earlier than 9 am. When we arrive in a neighboring town there is an open supermarket and while Dick makes coffee and boils an egg, I buy a fresh baguette and also a survival bread. The latter because in the distant vicinity of our next overnight stay is no bakery or shop.
There is a steel blue sky and the sun is shining when we arrive in Cellettes. We park the Frankia on the grounds of a castle. It is not busy here but the spot is remote and when we find out that the geocaches here are probably not easy to approach because they are located on muddy bridleways in the forest, we decide to drive on to Bourges where we arrive at 3 pm. We actually find this parking lot a more pleasant place than staying in the middle of the forest. And the advantage is that now we can walk to the center of Bourges, which is very pleasant with this radiant weather. And while we are here, we order for dinner, of course, the burger at the Quick restaurant which again, tastes excellent.
Friday morning October 29th the sun is shining again and after a breakfast with fresh croissants instead of survival bread, we drive on. Unfortunately, more and more clouds appear at the horizon and when we arrive in Chauvigny it even drizzles a bit. Fortunately, the first spot in the parking lot is free, which has significantly more space than the other spots.
After having a coffee, the drizzle even stops. Before walking around, we first want to clean the Frankia. It’s so dirty you don’t even want to be near it. With a bucket and tub we scrub the dirty mud from the side and the wheels and slowly our Frankia starts to shine again.
At 3 pm we are satisfied with our cleaning result and we take a walk around in this nice medieval town, one of my favorite towns. Of course, for dinner we walk to “La Belle Epoque”. It is too cold to sit outside on the terrace, but we are given a nice spot inside. I don’t need to tell you that the meal tastes excellent. We enjoy ourselves and that also applies to the walk back home through this beautifully lit, old town. The holiday season has come to an end here and everything is now quiet.
Unfortunately, it is drizzling on Saturday morning and the sky is completely gray so I don’t make the descent to the bakery but we have breakfast with survival bread and then we leave the town of Chauvigny. It’s not really easy because our Hakuna leads us several times into a dead-end street after which Dick has to drive backwards through some narrow streets, but in the end, we are on the right road and while the sun gradually dissolves the clouds, more and more blue sky appears.
When we arrive in Solignac there is only blue sky to be seen. The parking is next to the sports field and amidst beautiful trees in autumn colors and (surprise) there are also washing machines here. Although we are only 4 days on the road now, we think it’s a good idea to use these machines and so, after a coffee, we walk with a (already filled) laundry bag to the machines. They are situated in the full sun and it is good to stay here. Unfortunately, the dryer doesn’t function very well and I have to throw in money three times, but finally all our clothes and bedding is dry and folded and we can go out for a walk in the area. It is lovely outside and geocaches show us the way through the village and the mountain slopes above it, so we get a good picture of this town. For a long time, we linger at a church from the 12th century. The sun shines full on the old facade and of course we light a candle. After all, today would be auntie Ank’s birthday and we will commemorate it. When we return to the motorhome at the end of the afternoon, the parking lot is full, so it was good to arrive here early.
In the evening we can enjoy a football match, but we no longer hear the cars from players and supporters leaving, we are already deeply asleep. Because winter time starts this night we can sleep an hour longer, but we wake up at 7.15 am. The weather is beautiful. Even though it is only 52 degrees Fahrenheit, there is no wind so with a sweater and body warmer you can walk around.
On my way to the bakery, I pass the cemetery. At almost every grave people placed chrysanthemums. When we look up why this is the case, it appears to be the custom to place these plants at the graves on All Souls Day (a Catholic holiday on November 2nd ).
After our breakfast we drive further south with great weather and at 12.30 pm we arrive in Monpazier, an old medieval town. I directly fell in love with this picturesque town when I saw the pictures.
There is still one spot available in the parking place behind the fire station and after we parked the Frankia, we walk to the center. In reality, this turns out to be an even more beautiful town than I thought.
After entering through one of the gates you walk through picturesque narrow streets that all lead to a large square and where it is nice to relax under the arcades.
Here you are definitely in the Middle Ages. What a discovery this town. When we enter a restaurant where we want have dinner tonight, we are told that it is better to make reservations because it’s busy with Halloween.
And it’s a good thing we take this advice to heart because when we walk at 7 pm in the pouring rain, to “Chez Minou” the restaurant is really full, but it is pleasantly busy.
Our sanitary pass (QR code) is scanned (without this code you are not allowed to have dinner) and the staff is dressed Halloween-like. You really want to stay away from the cook because he walks around with a blood-stained sword around his waist. But the food is delicious and the kitchen does not disappoint us. When we walk back after dinner it stops raining and the weather is even pleasant, also because there is no wind.
So, a little later I walk back with some books to the bookstall on the other side of the village. It is strange to walk in this dead quiet town. Again, I feel like I walk in the Middle Ages. Only in front of our restaurant it is very busy with the local youth gathering and drinking beer.
Monday November 1st we get up at 7.30 am. The town is dead quiet when I walk to the bakery to buy a fresh baguette. All Saints Day is probably a holiday here because all shops are closed. It is also quiet on the road and even when we drive straight through the town of Toulouse there is practically no traffic on the road. West of Toulouse we look for a parking, but nowhere in the forest is a place suitable to park a motorhome, so we drive on to another suburb, the town of Roques where we find a nice parking next to a large shopping center.
When we arrive, it starts to rain and so we decide not to explore the area but to walk through the huge shopping center. It is also convenient because now we can finally replenish our food supplies. When we finish shopping, the sun shines in a steel blue sky. Unfortunately, not for a long time. The sun alternates with rain showers so we don’t go out anymore. The mashed potatoes with cauliflower and chicken taste good and after dinner we read before going to bed.
Because we wake up too early on November 2nd to buy bread
, the supermarket opens at 9 am, we have breakfast with survival bread and then drive into the mountains. We stop in the town of Foix. Fortunately, there are not many motorhomes at the parking spot, so we can park along the edge. We cannot stay in the designated parking area because we are too long. After a cup of coffee, we walk into town. In Roques were a lot of clouds but here the sky is steel blue and so it is wonderful to walk around. A chilly wind is blowing so we have to put on our hoodie.
We wander through the narrow medieval streets of the center of Foix but are not really impressed. Then we find a nice park along the river and when we climb up the mountain, we have a beautiful view of the surroundings and the Castle on the hill. When we return to the motorhome, end of the afternoon, the parking area fills up and soon the last spot is confiscated by a motorhome.
Because I don’t want to cook, we have a simple meal, salad with a baguette and deli meats. In the evening our government gives a press conference and we hear that the corona measures are being tightened due to the large numbers of infections in the Netherlands. Everywhere in the Netherlands a face mask has to be worn again and there are many, many places, you can only visit when you show your QR code (fully vaccinated, recovered from Covid or negative tested). These measures already apply in France and we are already accustomed to them.
When we wake up on Wednesday there is still some sun but clouds take the upper hand and when we start our climb to Andorra, we end up in that cloud band. Fortunately, it is very thin because at 6000 feet the sun comes out again. Now we are surrounded by snow, luckily the road is clean. As we ascend further, the thickness of the snowpack increases and the ski slopes already turn pretty white. As soon as we pass “Pas de la Casa”, a town on the Andorra border, and descend on the other side of the mountain, all the snow is gone. There are only a few spots covered with snow, but most of the landscape is green.
We park the Frankia on the large parking lot of the Grau Roig ski area. Except for two parked motorhomes from Andorra, we are alone. The sun is shining and the temperature is 26 degrees Fahrenheit. Quite cold but if you walk out of the wind, it’s not too bad. So, we climb up the ski slope because on top of the slope there is a geocache hidden somewhere between the rocks and of course we want to find it. We enjoy the climb and the trip over the mountain slopes to higher ground is great. Since I’m a kid I love the mountains. When we descend again it starts to snow a bit, but that doesn’t stop me from walking a little further (0,8 miles) to another geocache hidden here. It’s snowing more seriously now and it’s also very cold, so my down jacket and cap are not a luxury. The climb up over the steep mountain slopes is not easy but I don’t like taking the long way and so I climb straight up and after some slipping, I arrive safely at a beautiful view point over Grau Roig and the surrounding mountains. After another steep descent, I safely return to the motorhome in a light snow storm.
In the meantime, Dick found out what’s the weather forecast here and we decide not to stay here. Now we stay at almost 7500 feet altitude and tonight it will start freezing (the temperature will drop to 14 degrees Fahrenheit and 1 inch of snow will fall) so we prepare the motorhome for travel and descend to San Julia de Loria at the other side of this small country.
San Julia de Loria is located at an altitude of 3500 feet, but the parking is much more sheltered behind the Super Mercado River. I love this place more than Dick because we just need to go up the escalators to do some shopping. After leisurely strolling through the store, we walk back to the motorhome where we make connection over facetime with Susan and Mike and sing a birthday song for Susan’s birthday. They also enjoy a road trip with their motorhome in the USA.
At night the temperature here drops to 35 degrees but it does not snow. Thursday morning the sky is again steel blue and the temperature slowly rise to 59 degrees. We decide to stay another day and unload our bikes.
A geocache is hidden on the mountain slopes on both sides of this narrow high valley. Although the distance, as the crow flies, is not so far, the places where the geocaches are hidden requires us to climb up steeply. Not always easy, because sometimes we take the wrong path and we have to descend again, but finally we find the right, 10% steep slope that takes us to the top where a beautiful chapel is built and we have a great view of the mountains of Andorra.
I understand that the Vuelta, the Spanish cycling round, regularly includes this climb in its route. Because it is not really late yet, we decide to climb also the other side of the mountain slope. Another route of the Vuelta and again an endless climb up. I have never ridden my e-bike for so long in the sport mode (gives more power).
At the top of the pass, after some searching, we find the geocache. First there is some confusion because the animal that I see lying in a crevice between the boulders does not immediately remind me of a cache. But if a stick does not move the animal, I dare to put my hand in the hole and I manage to get hold of the geocache, high on the rock wall. When we descend again, we fly down, which is nice after all those steep climbs. When we are back at the Frankia, I walk to some shops a little further on the road. After all you have to shop in the tax paradise Andorra. However, there is not much to my liking, apart from a pair new fur Croc’s, I find 2 warm neck gaitors for Dick. He loves to put on such a neck-warmer when it is cold, so he will be happy with these ones. At 4.30 pm, it is already getting dark, I am back home where we have a good glass of wine. After our steep climbs we deserved it.
November 5th we wake up early in the morning. Again, the sky is steel blue and the thermometer shows 34 degrees. Our French butane tank cannot longer handle this temperature because our dashboard is flashing red and a warning signal is going off. Fortunately, the French butane tank is connected with our Dutch tank, which is filled with propane, so our refrigerator continues to run and we can also boil water and make coffee. After breakfast we leave. Soon we arrive at the Spanish border where we are stopped.
The customs officer inspects the lockers inside the motorhome and also orders that some hatches on the outside of the motorhome will be opened. Finally, he is convinced that we are not smuggling anything and we can drive into Spain. My first route took us far north through the Pyrenees mountains, but after a comment from Dick (it is winter and so there is a big chance of snow) I changed that route and now we drive a lot more south before heading west again.
We arrive in Huesca around noon. A cold wind blows and the temperature does not rise above 53 degrees. So, when the Frankia is parked, we put on our coats and walk into town. We don’t think it’s very special here but later I read that one of the oldest Romanesque churches is in Huesca so we will return here. However, we find a special city park with undulating hills that deserves attention. When dusk falls, we return to the Frankia.
We bought food at a Super mercado and after attaching our insulation blanket in front of the windscreen, we close the doors. We don’t have to go out anymore.
At 8 pm we are startled by a banging on the front door. When I open the door there are two police officers. They carry out a check and note our passport details. I’ve never experienced this before, but apparently, it’s common here.
When we wake up on Saturday, November 6th 8.30 am, the sun is shining again, but the temperature is only 35 degrees. It’s a good thing we attached the insulating blanket yesterday. Last night this large parking lot completely filled up and now here are 21 motorhomes. There is no space left to park anymore, so we don’t mind moving on. We quickly drive on a motorway to Zaragoza. There is a strong cold wind, the landscape looks desolate and tumbleweed swirls over the road. This region has a great resemblance to some areas in New Mexico, USA. In the town of Soria, we park the Frankia next to a Le Clerc Super mercado and then we walk to the old city center. Despite the steel-blue sky and shining sun, the temperature does not exceed 48 degrees.
Soria is a nice old town. Everywhere people are walking on the streets and in the city park many people are drinking a glass at the bars. The Spaniards may have a lifestyle incomprehensible to me, their dinner is at 9 or 10 pm and all shops are closed from 2 pm till 5 pm, hours we normally use to walk around, so I can’t buy anything here. But the Spaniards enjoy their life. There is no terrace in the sun which is not fully occupied. One of the squares is extra busy because a motorcycle tour starts from here.
Hundreds of motorcycles are ready to go and the engine noise can be heard in every corner. We wander through the narrow old streets of this nice town for some time before we walk back to the motorhome. We got neighbors now and it is getting busy here. Again, we stay at an altitude of 3400 feet and it quickly gets cold when the sun disappears behind the mountains, so we attach the insulation blanket in front of the windscreen. Inside you immediately feel that this makes a difference, it’s less cold inside.
Sunday morning we wake up early and after filling up with diesel we leave. The temperature is only 39 degrees and an icy cold wind is blowing from the Pyrenees mountains. I’m glad we didn’t take a more northerly route. Because even now, we are further south, we are constantly driving over plateaus and rarely stay below 3300 feet.
The road is dead quiet and we don’t see any other cars until Dick stops by the side of the road to give me the opportunity to photograph a group of vultures that I saw diving down from the sky. The moment he stops at the roadside, loud honking cars pass us. Where did they come from so suddenly?
In the distance we see the snow-capped mountains and around noon we arrive in Segovia. Next to the arena where bullfights used to be held, we find a parking where we park lengthwise and not in a parking lot.
Again, we are too long for that. When the motorhome stays, we see that half a mile away is a laundromat. I need no more encouragement. Dick unloads our bikes and attach our bike bags and I collect everything we need to wash and not much later we cycle to the laundromat. There is no one here, so immediately we can load the available machines. While Dick is looking for a geocache in the area, I stay at the laundromat until everything is clean, dry and folded again and 2.5 hours later we are back.
After Dick has stored the bicycles again in the back, we walk to the center of Segovia. Actually, a good time because the siesta of the Spaniards has just ended and everyone is walking around the huge aqueduct. It is probably the best and most complete aqueduct from the Roman Empire with 120 pillars, a maximum height of 92 feet and a length of almost 11 miles.
This impressive building dates from the end of the 1st century. What a building and so huge, it is really special. We walk around it for some time, but then the twilight falls and so, after some more pictures, we walk back and talk long about this impressive aqueduct.
Monday, November 8th, we don’t get up until 8.30 am. Because there is a supermarket nearby and also open at this time of day, I buy a fresh baguette. Delicious and that while I had already resigned myself to the fact that we cannot buy fresh bread in this country in the morning because most shops open at 9.30 am. After dumping grey and black water and filling up with fresh water, we leave. There is still a lot to see here but we will save that for a next visit. If the sale of Sandra and Rene’s house in Portugal goes through, we will certainly visit them and then we can use the town of Segovia as a stopover.
From Segovia, which is already situated at an altitude of 3150 feet, we climb further into the mountains over very steep and narrow mountain roads with sometimes such steep hairpins that the speed of the Frankia drops to 6 miles an hour, but finally we arrive at the top of the pass at an altitude of 6200 feet. We say goodbye to the snow around us and descend to the plateau west of Madrid. For the first time we find the landscape a bit duller. Here, not far from the capital, is quite a bit of industry. Striking is the large number of Chinese companies that are located here.
In Toledo we quickly find the parking where motorhomes are allowed to park. After having a drink, we walk towards the center. First along the river where we enjoy the view of the castle, but then we walk closer to the city wall where the old city of Toledo is towering above us. Fortunately, there are steep escalators that take you up the mountain but we get off halfway (of course to look for a geocache) with the result that we still have a huge steep climb before we arrive (panting and puffing) in the old city center. Toledo has an authentic old center and it is wonderful to wander through the narrow streets. No wonder that the entire city center of Toledo is on the world heritage list. However, no part is flat and it is climbing and descending over medieval cobblestones. It is also busy here, large groups of tourists are strolling around, most of them with a guide. Unfortunately, the great Cathedrale is closed. We already noticed that the churches in Spain are often locked.
Late in the afternoon we return to the Frankia. We are not so lucky when we arrive at the escalators leading down steeply. Two of them are broken so we have to walk them down. Since there is no restaurant open anywhere near the parking space, we buy a baguette in a Chinese shop so we have an evening meal. We only visited a small part of Toledo, but we continue our journey on Tuesday November 9th. After an hour we arrive at our destination, the town of Consuegra, where on the hillside above town are the mills that Don Quijotte fought against.
Don Quijotte de la Mancha is a novel written by Miguel de Servantes in the year 1605 and became the most notable work of the Spanish literature. It tells about the Spanish noble Alonso Quijano who lost his mind by reading too many chivalric novels. He takes on the image of a knight-errant and as Don Quijotte de la Mancha he wanders around through the Spanish countryside.
He wears an old rusty armor, has a paper helmet and ride a gaunt peasant horse, he calls it his warhorse Rocinant and he goes to war against all kinds of injustice. In this way he hopes to win the favor of a desirable princess, his great love, who is the idealization of a simple farmer’s daughter from a neighboring village. On his journey, Don Quijotte is accompanied by his neighbor and faithful servant Sancho Panza, a farmer who is illiterate but not stupid and who knows that his master is out of his mind. Sancho, however, follows him because he believes in the reward Don Quijotte offers him.
Don Quiijotte is really confused and he mistakes inns for castles, clerics for villains, windmills for giants and a flock of sheep for an army. Fortunately, his delusional ideas invariably encounter the sobriety and caution of Sancho and the book written about this hero shows the clash between the ideal and fictional world of Don Quijotte and the real world of Sancho. Of course, we want to wander between these mills and after parking the motorhome down in the village we start to climb up the hill and soon we find ourselves at the first of the 12 mills, on the top, and with a beautiful view over the surrounding plateau. It’s nice to walk around here and because of a geocache with the appropriate name: “No son Molinos, sino gigantes (they are not mills but giants) we need to know all the names of the 12 mills, so we walk past all 12 mills.
Since not all the mills are located on a footpath, this requires quite a bit of climbing every now and then. Of course, we take a lot of pictures and we also visit the inside of one of the mills to see how its mechanism works. It’s a very fun and educational trip.
Since it is early afternoon, only 2 pm, when we are back and there is little else to do here, we decide to leave and an hour later we arrive in the town of Daimiel. There is a parking opposite a super mercado so we can do some shopping again. But first we will also explore this town. When we are finally back at the Frankia and also have fresh food, we are a bit tired. But that’s not strange after all the climbing and walking today. It’s already dark now and the parking is dead silent, we stay here all alone.
Wednesday November 10th we do not wake up until 8.30. Woow, again we overslept half a day. Although the shop across the street is open after our shower, it is not used to a demand for fresh bread so early in the morning because that is not available yet. So again, no fresh bread for breakfast. Once again, our trip takes us straight through a mountain range. This entire western part of Spain seems to consist only of mountains. It is beautiful because we regularly drive past white villages that are glued to the mountain slopes.
At 2.30 pm we arrive in Cordoba. Right next to the center is a paid parking lot where we park the Frankia. It has the advantage that we stay close to the city center and quickly we walk through the city gate into the town of Cordoba. Another historic town with narrow streets and Moorish influences. In the year 756, the city even became the capital of the Emirate of Cordoba and the most powerful city of the Moorish empire Al Andalus, which covered almost the entire Iberian Peninsula. The great Mosque of Cordoba, the Mesquita, dates from this period. At the time, it was the largest mosque in Europe with 1.200 columns and could accommodate 20.000 mosque-goers. After the reconquests by the Catholic kings in the year 1236, this Mezquite was converted into a Cathedral. In the heart of the Mezquite, 400 pillars were removed to make way for a Cathedral.
Of course, we want to take a look inside. It is now an hour before closing time, so the throngs of tourists have already left, but it is still quite busy inside. We enter a confusing building with red and white pillars, shrouded in darkness and in the middle is a Cathedral, full of light. We are short of eyes to see everything and leave just before closing time. After a look at the river with its Roman bridge, we walk past a medieval palace, the Alcazar. It’s also nice to see the hotel where Auntie Ank, Hannah and I stayed during one of Ank’s last vacations. Regularly, when we walk over the cobbled streets again, I hear her voice: can’t it be a little quieter? These streets were simply not really suitable for a wheelchair. When we finally return to the motorhome it is completely dark. Despite the heavy traffic noise outside, we are parked at a busy intersection of roads around the center, we sleep like roses.
On Thursday November 11th we have already breakfast at 8.30 am. Of course, we dump our grey and black water and fill with fresh water before heading into the mountains. As far as we can see every part of the mountain slopes is covered with olive trees, some trees are very old, others just planted.
Finally, we arrive in Antequera where the motorhome climbs up to the nature reserve El Torcal via very steep slopes, he just manages. Just after the last steep part to the top we find a parking where we can stay overnight. From here we want to walk to the top of the nature reserve. According to Dick, this should be possible because yesterday in Cordoba we walked more than 6.5 miles. Despite the fact that the sky is gray, the sun regularly appears. Unfortunately, not during our entire climb up. Clouds increasingly gain the upper hand as we climb our way to the top, straight through the mountains and over sometimes steep paths.
During our climb up we regularly encounter mountain sheep that look at us in astonishment and some chamois remain surprised when they observe our company. Fortunately, at some special rock formations, there are also geocaches to be found, so regularly we are distracted from the fatigues of the climb. The whole climb up we are alone on the mountain, only just under the top, when we are already walking between strange rock formations, we also see other hikers.
Although the climb continues endlessly and the end is not in sight, we finally reach the top of El Torcal where, because of an icy cold wind, we quickly rush into the restaurant. After looking at the menu, we order drinks and a burger. Even though this burger isn’t really special, after two hours of climbing it tastes fine. Hannah and I also visited this nature reserve with Auntie Ank, of course by car. Because she was in a wheelchair, we were allowed to drive to the top by car. That was in the spring 2018, when it was significantly warmer because we could sit outside on the terrace and enjoy the rugged rock formations that can be found on this plateau. I am happy to return now so that Dick can admire this environment as well. However, I never thought that he would be able to make such a climb after his knee surgery. I am very happy that we managed to climb up together. After lunch we look around a bit at the top and then we start our descent. Considering the steepness of the paths, we don’t think it is such a strict plan to descend the same way as we climbed up so we walk back down on the also steep road.
This road also has its charms. Regularly we have beautiful views, some Chamois standing on the rocks and the question is who is watching who and along the road are also some geocaches hidden. When we return to the motorhome it is almost dusk. We are now at an altitude of almost 3300 feet, so as soon as night falls, we attach the insulation blanket in front of the window.
We stay in the mountains for the first time during our trip, all alone and far from civilization, so I have to wake up in the middle of the night to take a look outside. Except for some far away lights in the depths, it is really dark here.
Outside the USA I have never seen such a beautiful starry sky. And it’s not even really cold, the wind has died down a bit and despite the fact that it’s only 46 degrees Fahrenheit, it feels warmer. Satisfied I crawl back into bed while Dick murmurs I am crazy.
Friday November 12th we leave the mountains, the sky is steel blue again and the sun is shining. It’s significantly warmer than we expected and our butane tank doesn’t even beep that it’s too cold to accelerate. After a short stop above the town of Antequerra where we have a magnificent view of the castle, we descend further and again we see large fields with olive trees all around us.
Finally, we arrive in the city of Ronda where we find a beautiful spot on a paid motorhome parking. There are also washing machines (well, one washing machine and one dryer) so we decide to do our laundry again. This takes a lot of patience because the washing machine has just been occupied but after an hour and a half it’s finally my turn to wash. And again, it turns out that the dryer is not really doing its job well, so we have to dry all our laundry twice and only at the end of the afternoon we are done washing. The advantage is that I spent the whole afternoon sitting in the sun in front of our Frankia. For the first time the outside temperature is good to sit outside and only at the end of the afternoon I had to go inside because of the rising cold wind. At 5.30 pm we walk to a supermarket. This is further away than we thought, but we can do our shopping. When we are back at the Frankia with all our purchases, we attach our insulation blanket in front of the windscreen, again, because we still stay in the mountains at an altitude of 2500 feet. The rest of the evening we watch TV and read.
Saturday, November 13th, we don’t get up until 8.30 am and after breakfast we walk into town. Ronda is known for its deep canyon and we have to see it. It is quite a walk from the motorhome parking, but as soon as we approach the old town it is not a punishment because we wander through narrow streets, walk past shops and then arrive in a park that leads us along the gorge. Everywhere here it’s busy, busloads of tourists are unloaded and they all walk on the same path. In some places we crowd each other to take a look into the depths. From the bridge there is not such a nice view of the gorge, and that also applies to the other side from where we (auntie Ank, Hannah and me) had a beautiful view of the gorge. But then we had another season with a better sun. Now the view is a bit disappointing. Mainly caused by the fact that the sun is much too low at this time of year and therefore large shadows fall on the gorge. But we make some pictures and walk further through the oldest part of the city. Our route is based on a few geocaches. We discovered that those geocaches take us to the most special places. And yes, the GPS soon shows us that we have to take a steep footpath down which takes us deeper and deeper into the gorge under the old city walls.
Now it’s just a short walk to the Banos Arabes, a nicely preserved Moorish bath from the 13th century. So, a little later we stand in line to buy a ticket and then we walk through the former bathhouse. This is a really special place and comes to life when we see the video animation that shows us, in Spanish, the history of this bathhouse. Even the plateau where the donkeys circled around to pump up the water out of the river is still intact. From here the water was transported further over an aqueduct to the bathhouse, where it could be heated. Also, that is still intact. The old times relive here. Fortunately, we can also watch an English version of the animation film. That fills gaps caused by our Spanish language deficiency. We walk at our leisure back. Because we stay at the bottom of the gorge, it’s fairly strenuous and we have to climb a lot over narrow paths to get back to the town, high above the cliff.
As we now climb up from another side along the gorge, we have a much better view of the bridge that spans this gorge. Finally, we are back in the shopping street where we try to find a terrace. We are really ready for some food and drink. It’s 64 degrees and we haven’t had anything for many hours. I even forgot to bring water on this long dusty walk. After many occupied terraces we finally find one with a free table and we eat a delicious sandwich. The freshly squeezed orange juice tastes delicious. After an hour we leisurely walk back to the parking from where I walk to a super mercado to get food. We still have not learned to buy food for some days. In the evening the parking is completely full.
When we wake up on Sunday November 14th , the sun is shining and early morning it’s already 50 degrees Fahrenheit, but the temperature warms up quickly. With such weather we want to stay another day in Ronda and soon after breakfast Dick unload the bicycles. Not much later we cycle through the town over the famous bridge, over the gorge and we climb further up the mountain slope that offers a magnificent view of the town of Ronda.
On unpaved roads we ride on a ridge and every time we have beautiful vistas of Ronda. We look out over the places where we walked around yesterday. Unfortunately, the Ermita, a small church at the end of this mountain ridge, is closed. There is, however, a geocache hidden just outside the fence, so I descend to this fence that is located in the depth around the church. Dick does not venture this steep descent and stays on top with our bikes. I understand that hermits withdrew here. What a beautiful place this is, you feel completely alone in the world.
Outside of me there is no living creature except a few Red Bishops (black birds with bright red beaks) who scream at me from the eaves of the church. For a moment I stand in prayer on the edge of the cliff. How grateful I am that we have the opportunity to discover such beautiful places. Then I start the climb up again where Dick enjoys the view of the surrounding mountains. Slowly we cycle back, in silence. This silence is greatly broken when we are back in Ronda at the Puente Nova where hundreds of tourists are marching around. And it’s not even peak season yet. Because I would like to send a card, we stop at a shop on the square where I buy cards and stamps. When I write the cards at home, I see that the stamps cannot be placed in a normal letterbox but must be deposited in a separate tourist letterbox and those letterboxes are only placed in tourist centers. So, Dick, who just stored our bikes unload my bike again, I ride to town and just before dusk I manage to deposit the cards in the special letterbox of the tourist shop. Will these cards ever arrive? I have a hard head about it, but Dick is more optimistic. Because the parking also has a washing place to clean the motorhomes, we still have one task for today and after that cleaning, we see that most of the dirt is gone. Unfortunately, this day turns out not to be a good one to write something, because in the evening I hit a wrong key and everything I wrote today is gone. I can start over with my story.