AFF finished – Portugal here we come! 24 – 29th March

Thursday 24th March

Last night we cycled into the nearest village Bollulos de la Mitacion.

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It’s not far, only 7km, but most of that is rutted dirt track.  In the village we did some shopping and had dinner.  Cycling back in the dark along the dirt track was challenging.  We don’t cycle much in the dark, let alone on rutted dirt tracks.  But we got back safely to our campsite – no one else around for miles.

This morning it’s a beautiful day and should be good for Daz’s jumps.  The only disappointment is the cafe hasn’t opened and it’s already 9.15am.

Today Daz does another 3 jumps, that’s AFF levels 1-7.  Today there’s no Victor, which we weren’t expecting,but Roberto resumes the mantle of instructor and all goes well.  He’s having problems arching sufficiently, which makes him unstable.  I’ve only watched one of his exits (from a Gopro) and he tumbled twice before stabilising – I’m not watching any more.  But he’s turned 360s, done a backflip and tracking. His last level is AFF 8 – a hop and pop; jumping out at 5000ft and then pulling.  He’s going to leave this for the moment.  

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He has 10 consolidation jumps; an instructor will ensure he exits OK but then he’s on his own.  He completes his first ‘consol’ jump – all good and excellent landing.   He’s got a slightly smaller canopy but he still takes forever to come down. The experienced jumpers have high performance chutes and spiral down at, what appears to me, to be excessive speeds and then hammer towards the landing strip before flaring at the last second.

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After his last jump we try and have a nap before we head into Seville for the Good Friday, Madruga, processions.  We need to cycle into Seville because the bus service is just too sketchy.  It’s a nice run and in Castilleja de la Cuesta we run into a village procession.

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In Seville we cycle over the river and already we see that Seville is really busy.  We dump the bike at the bus station.  

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We head to the Basilica de la Macarena stopping off for tapas on the way.  The place we choose is really busy and the way the waiters and barmen work in these hostelries is incredible – they put English bar staff to shame.  Food and drink is served in minutes – no queuing for the electronic till and bills paid at the end not after every round.   I love it, the hustle and bustle is great.   The owner bears an uncanny resemblance to a British comedian, but we can’t think who.   It’s Russ Abbot.  

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We get to Macarena for about 11.30pm. The streets are busy with penitents and crowds of people.  

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Before midnight what appears to be a troop of Roman gladiators marches into the Plaza and through the church gates.  Then at midnight the church doors open and out flood the penitents.  

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Eventually this is followed by the pasos.  It’s only just left the church gates and it halts and from a balcony a lady starts to sing.  She is the saetero and she is singing the Saeta.  The saeta is a very old traditional Spanish religious song. The Spanish word saeta has different meanings -“arrow“, “bud of a vine”, “hand of a clock” or “magnetic needle”. Since the 19th century saetas includes elements of flamenco.

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We watch the procession pass and then head to another part of the route hoping for a better view.   The streets are packed with spectators and they pick a spot and wait patiently for the procession.   Children are out, shops and bars are still open and everyone claps when the pasos appears.   

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We’ve seen enough and head back to our bike but every route we pick we seem to stumble across another parade and our way is blocked.   Finally we’re back on our bike.  It’s 2.30am and having crossed the river we stay on the autopista.   We’re pretty sure this is illegal.  The hard shoulder is really narrow and some traffic is giving us no margin but of course they probably can’t see us and they’re travelling at, in excess of 120km/hr.  A truck and a coach give us a particularly nasty scare and then we’re off onto the backroads and home. In bed I’m particularly cold and sleep doesn’t come easily.


Friday 25th March

Daz gets up to do his refresher training.  It’s a compulsory element of each day and is designed to embed ‘emergency procedure’ should there be canopy issues.   Then he’s back in bed.  There’s a thick fog so no jumping at the moment.  Conveniently this gives Daz a chance to recover from his late night.

It’s 1.30pm and Daz is on the next load.  This will be his 2nd jump today and his 3rd of 10 consolidation jumps.  So far so good.  This is his first jump with a different exit from the plane, head first dive to the rear!  But he enjoys it and is stable quickly, then he does a series of back and front loops (somersaults) and finishes with a 360 turn before pulling at 4500 feet. His lowest level yet. Back down and the wind is stronger now and he lands 5 metres short of the DZ, but no problems as this is just a fallow field next to the DZ.  But owing to the winds there is now a restriction on student jumpers so no more jumps for Daz today.  In the evening we have a quiet night of camping and watching some TV on the tablet, luckily our tent is right next to the bar on the DZ and we can pick up WiFi whilst snuggled in our sleeping bags!!


Saturday 26th March

Another foggy start and also low clouds means that there’s no jumping ‘til gone 1pm.  Daz still has 8 jumps to gain his A licence so needs to get them done in the next 2 days and this weather isn’t helping.  The good weather doesn’t last and soon the winds pick up; a 50 jump limit.   Fortunately Daz has managed to squeeze in another consolidation jump and his AFF 8 – jumping at only 5000ft, gain a stable position and pull.  It’s called a ‘hop & pop’.  So only 6 jumps left to do.   If Daz doesn’t leave here with his ‘A’ licence then there’s ‘rules’ regarding what is required of him depending on the time lapse.  If he didn’t jump for the next 6 months, he’d need to repeat AFF 3,5 and 7 and have 3 hours ground training.  An expensive procedure.  He’s done incredibly well not having to repeat any AFF stage.  We’ve been chatting to Nick and Alan (2 UK jumpers) and they’ve seen many having to repeat stages.  1 to 3 are especially costly because you’re paying for 2 instructors.  Another TV night watching the Bill Bryson movie (with Robert Redford).  It’s good but I can’t stay awake.


Sunday 27th March

The clocks have gone forward.  Daz is at the hangars on time for his refresher training and it’s blue skies and barely any wind but there aren’t enough jumpers here to fill the first load.  With 6 jumps needed and an early finish for us today because we’re heading into Seville for a bullfight, we know Daz will need to jump tomorrow and perhaps even Tuesday.  We were supposed to be heading off tomorrow to Faro for our workaway but we’re going to have to delay.  We can always make up lost time by taking a train.  Daz has just completed another consolidation jump and is just about to go up for another.  This one requires exiting in an unstable position!  It’s 1pm and Daz is on the manifest for the next load.  That done there’ll only be 3 to do.   There was a huge delay before Daz took off for his 3rd jump.  I thought it might be a weather problem but actually the pilot was feeling poorly and they had to wait for a replacement.  Once back on the ground Daz quickly dumps all his gear, changes and we cycle into Bollulos.  One of the guys on the DZ has said we can leave our bike in his restaurant and then we’re on the bus to Seville.  We were a bit concerned about the Semana Santa bus timetable but there’s no problem.  In Seville we pick up our bullfighting tickets and go to find a late lunch.  


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It’s 6pm and we head to the bullring which is absolutely packed.  Everyone is dressed up; suits, pretty dresses, high heels – obviously this is an important occasion to the Spanish.  We find our seats and look down into the arena, where the sand is being watered.  In the seats in front of us are a group of ‘trendy’, young men drinking G&T as if it’s going out of fashion whilst constantly snacking on sunflower seeds.  There is the constant cracking as they break the shells, and the floor at their feet is covered in sunflower husks.  Remarkably the sound of the 6 of them snacking serenades us through the show.   The stands are packed and with that comes clouds of cigar smoke and the ever constant cigarette smoke.  

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We grab a couple of beers from a man selling them out of an ice bucket he is humping around the stands and settle down.  At around 6.30pm the first bull comes out and the show begins.  The audience are hugely demonstrative during the evening our main misfortune is we can’t understand what their reaction means.  During the first bullfight, there are loud strident voices in the stand to our right.  This is constantly shushed until the fight is over and then there’s a full scale argument between 2 men but with a huge section of the audience joining in.  I just love the Spanish – they’re loud and don’t care who hears them.  During the evening we have the slow hand clap, we think this was when the fight was ‘boring’ and the Matador unexciting.   But alternatively there was the standing ovation with the crowd waving white hankies; this denotes audience approval.  

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We went to witness a Spanish spectacle and we certainly got one.  The high points for us was when a bull ‘bested’ aPicador, managed to unseat the rider and get under the armour of the horse and the horse was subsequently pushed to the ground.  The horse regained its feet and was unhurt.  Later one of the ‘assistant’ matadors didn’t leave the arena quick enough and the bull caught up with him.   He had to be carried off!  Equally there were some low points; the fight appears ‘hugely loaded’ in the favour of the matador.  He has 3 or 4 people assisting to weaken and tire  the bull.  In one fight we saw the Picador was too effective and delivered a potentially fatal wound.  The fight ended prematurely and a herd of 6 cows was sent into the ring to coax the bull out.  The most unpleasant moment was when the matador failed to delive an estocada.  Then there followed numerous ‘stabbing’ efforts which still didn’t bring the bull down.  Finally the matador walked away .  And the cows were sent in.  We thought perhaps the bull might be saved but the bull ignored the cows.  Finally the matador’s assistant managed to gain sufficient access to the bull, to deliver the ‘fatal cut’ with the dagger which is used at the end of each fight to dispatch the bull once it collapses to the ground.  Then the bull is dragged from the arena.  The audience were clearly unimpressed with the failure of the matador to deal with the bull and he received a slow handclap and some jeering catcalls.  One matador that received audience approval (white hanky waving) also had flowers and a carton of cigarettes thrown into the arena as he walked around to take his acclaim.  Certainly an interesting event and spectacle but possibly not one that requires repetition!


Bull fighting in Spain

Bull fighting is very closely associated with Spain and can trace its origins back to 711 A.D. This is when the first bullfight took place in celebration for the crowning of King Alfonso VIII. It is very popular in Spain with several thousand Spaniards flocking to their local bull-ring each week. It is said that the total number of people watching bullfights in Spain reaches one million every year.

Bullfighting was originally a sport for the aristocracy and took place on horseback. King Felipe V took exception to the sport however and banned the aristocracy from taking part, believing it to be a bad example to the public. After the ban commoners accepted the sport as their own and, since they could not afford horses, developed the practice of dodging the bulls on foot, unarmed. This transformation occurred around 1724.

The modern corrida is highly ritualized, with three distinct stages or tercios (“thirds”); the start of each being announced by a bugle sound. The participants enter the arena in a parade, called the paseíllo, to salute the presiding dignitary, accompanied by band music. Torero costumes are inspired by 17th-century Andalusian clothing, and matadores are easily distinguished by the gold of their traje de luces (“suit of lights”), as opposed to the lesser banderilleros, who are also known as toreros de plata (“bullfighters of silver”).

The bull is released into the ring, where he is tested for ferocity by the matador and banderilleros with the magenta and gold capote (“cape”). This is the first stage, the tercio de varas (“the lancing third”). The matador confronts the bull with the capote, performing a series of passes and observing the behavior and quirks of the bull.

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Next, a picador enters the arena on horseback armed with a vara (lance). To protect the horse from the bull’s horns, the animal wears a protective, padded covering called peto. Prior to 1930, the horses did not wear any protection. Often the bull would disembowel the horse during this stage. Until the use of protection was instituted, the number of horses killed during a fiesta generally exceeded the number of bulls killed.

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At this point, the picador stabs just behind the morrillo, a mound of muscle on the fighting bull’s neck, weakening the neck muscles and leading to the animal’s first loss of blood. The manner in which the bull charges the horse provides important clues to the matador about which side the bull favors. If the picador is successful, the bull will hold its head and horns slightly lower during the following stages of the fight. This ultimately enables the matador to perform the killing thrust later in the performance. The encounter with the picador often fundamentally changes the behaviour of a bull; distracted and unengaging bulls will become more focused and stay on a single target instead of charging at everything that moves.

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In the next stage, the tercio de banderillas (“the third of banderillas”), each of the three banderilleros attempts to plant two banderillas, sharp barbed sticks, into the bull’s shoulders.

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These anger and agitate, but further weaken, the bull. He tires from his attacks on the horse and the damage he has taken from the lance. Sometimes a matador will place his own banderillas. If so, he usually embellishes this part of his performance and employs more varied manoeuvres than the standard al cuarteo method commonly used by banderilleros.
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In the final stage, the tercio de muerte (“the third of death”), the matador re-enters the ring alone with a small red cape, or muleta, and a sword. It is a common misconception that the color red is supposed to anger the bull; the animals are colorblind.  The cape is thought to be red to mask the bull’s blood, although the color is now a matter of tradition. The matador uses his cape to attract the bull in a series of passes, which serve the dual purpose of wearing the animal down for the kill and creating an interesting display, or faena. He may also demonstrate his domination of the bull by caping and bringing it especially close to his body. The faena refers to the entire performance with the cape (muleta).
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It is usually broken down into tandas, or “series”, of passes. The series (tanda) ends with a final series of passes in which the matador, using the cape, tries to maneuver the bull into a position to stab it between the shoulder blades and through the aorta or heart. The sword is called estoque, and the act of thrusting the sword is called an estocada. During the initial series, while the matador in part is performing for the crowd, he uses a fake sword (estoque simulado). This is made of wood or aluminum, making it lighter and much easier to handle. The estoque de verdad (real sword) is made out of steel. At the end of the tercio de muerte, when the matador has finished his faena, he will change swords to take up the steel one. He performs the estocada and kills the bull with a pierce through the heart, if all goes according to plan. Many times the bull does not get pierced through the heart during the estocada initially, and repeated efforts must be made to bring the bull down and end his life.

If the matador has performed particularly well, the crowd may petition the president by waving white handkerchiefs to award the matador an ear of the bull. If his performance was exceptional, the president will award two ears. In certain more rural rings, the practice includes award of the bull’s tail. Very rarely, if the public or the matador believe that the bull has fought extremely bravely, the event’s president may be petitioned to grant the bull a pardon (indulto). If the indulto is granted, the bull’s life is spared; it leaves the ring alive and is returned to its home ranch. There the bull becomes a stud for the rest of his life.

Another trumpet is sounded and the Matador now removes his black winged hat and dedicates the death of the bull to the president or the crowd before beginning his faena.

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Monday 28th March. Julianna aerodrome to Huelva


Distance  13.92km
Max speed  36.3kmph  
Average speed  16.9kmph
Total  3331.01km


Daz is up nice and early for his refresher training but by 10am by the time I drag my sorry arse out of bed there hasn’t been one load up.  What the delay is, I have no idea.  Hopefully he’ll get his 3 jumps in today.  I need to decide – to pack or not to pack.  

At the very least I need to dry out the tent and bags.  There’s so much condensation in the tent these last few nights that even the sleeping bags are wet.  

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Last night we came home to find we have acquired 2 camping neighbours.  I’ve been packing and hanging things out to dry and most things are ready.  Daz has just done his 3rd jump, so he’s qualified.  We just need to sort out his paperwork, finish packing and get on the road.  This week we’ve made some changes to the bike.  Added a horn for me to go with the bell, put in new back brake discs and adjusted the position of my seat so it’s more upright (hopefully this will reduce how much I slip down into the seat).

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Finally we get on the road.  We only cycle to Benacazon and then get the train to Huelva.  We’re contentedly sat on the train when the train conductor tells us that the bike/wheel chair door won’t be opening at Huelva.  Nor at the preceding station.  Of course we don’t really know why and have to make do with sign language but we’re going to have to get the bike from the large bike parking area where it’s at now, with the large doors and ramp for exiting and push it along the next carriage, down the narrow passage, to the other door… with the steps down to the platform and a very tight turn to negotiate!

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Fortunately we manage with some lifting and shunting and make it onto the platform, phew! Our plan is to grab some food in Huelva and then cycle over the river and find a wild camping site, but like all good plans it fails at first contact and as we sit eating a poor menu del dia we are overcome with tiredness.  Daz is feeling soft and after 8 nights of camping on the dismal airfield with an ineffective shower he breaks and books a hotel at 34 euros ( including breakfast!) but boy is that shower great!    


Tuesday 29th March. Huelva to Quelfes


Distance 82.9 km
Max speed 52.7  kmph
Average speed 18.1 kmph
Total 3413.91 km


After breakfast in our hostal we set off, out of Huelva via the Cathedral and the bullring.


 As we leave town we find a bike path that handrails the river and then the main road.

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 The weather is glorious and we’re cycling along a wooded area so it’s very pleasant.  Unfortunately my seat adjustments are having a dire effect on my cycling and I’m slipping so far forward my legs are all cramped up and my knees start to hurt.  We leave the cycle path and cycle on a road but there’s light traffic and it’s pleasant.  Then a map reading error (because I’d packed away the Notepad)  results in us cycling all the way out to an autovia that we didn’t need and after a couple of junctions coming back to a more direct, and more pleasant cycling on an A road.  Finally we arrive in Ayamonte.  We’ve done 70km not the 51km we were expecting.  This is the last Spanish town before Portugal.  We need to find the ferry to cross to Vila Real de Santa Antonio.  We’re trying to find our way to the ferry and some Brits stop and tell us it goes every hour.  We’ve got 6 minutes.  We don’t think we’re going to make it but with 2 minutes to go we cycle down the ferry ramp but then the ‘ferryman’ asks for our tickets because out here you ‘don’t pay the ferryman’, you have to buy tickets from the office.   Daz runs off to buy them but I don’t think anyone’s that time conscious here that they’ll go without him!  

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On the other side of the Río Guadiana, the second longest river in Europe, we’re in Portugal.  

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As we leave the ferry and climb the ramp we see two cycle tourists waiting to get on and cross to Spain.  We immediately say hi and ask each other where we are going.  The couple are from Poland and are just now leaving Portugal and heading for Spain.  They tell us Portugal is wonderful and we are very pleased to hear this.  We swap emails and Daz takes some photos of them to send later.  Good travels guys.

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We cycle into the main square, discovering that the Portuguese seem to like cobbled roads rather than tarmac.  In town we find a cafe to have a quick snack.  There are 2 British ladies in the cafe and they start telling us how beautiful Portugal is and how cheap.  This is the first visit for both of us in Portugal.  After lunch we head to the train station.  We’re catching a train to Olhao.  There’s a compartment for our bike but there’s no ramp.  It’s not as plush as the Spanish trains.

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 In Olhao we have to pass everything down from the train.  We cycle into the centre of Olhao and then to the harbour.  

Olhão is a major port and actually the largest fishing port in the Algarve. It is full of character with Moorish-style houses,an influence from the commercial links with Africa. Although Olhão only really became a town of note in the 19th century, it was first mentioned in 1378. At this time it would have been a very small fishing settlement of a handful of people, living in huts made of wood, reeds and straw on the beach. By 1679 it was important enough to need the building of the fortress of São Lorenço to defend it from pirates.

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Olhão is a town of many ‘faces’ – if you approach from the fishing port side it looks, and is, very industrial and, unless you are particularly interested in fishing boats and warehousing it doesn’t look very attractive. However, around the corner from the dock the road runs along the water front and there is a long, very pleasant, paved promenade with cool gardens (Jardim Pescador do Olhanense) to escape the heat of the sun.


We have a wander round the city and Daz wants more food and we’re finally tempted by an Indian restaurant – we haven’t had a curry in 5 months and it’s a real treat and very tasty.  Finally we head off to find our new workaway hosts in Quelfres unfortunately we didn’t make a note of their directions and initially head off in the wrong direction.  But we have marked the church in Quelfres so we think this is the place to search for the green rural guesthouse sign.  We find it and then it’s a kilometre (???) down a gravel track in the dark.  Finally we arrive.  Marc greets us and shows us our apartment and that’s us for the day, shower and bed.



Daz AFF – freefall

Monday 21st March

During the night there was some thunder and lightning and a short rain storm.   Daz is just getting up and the rain starts again.  It looks as if the water is seeping through to the sleeping compartment.   I need to get up and pack away our sleeping bags and sort our other kit so it doesn’t get wet.  I hide in the cafe; the rain continues.  I see Daz during the morning.  He’s doing his ground training with his instructor Roberto.   I join him to record his progress.  

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The rain stops around 11am and the airfield manage to get a couple of drops completed.  By mid afternoon the theory is done and Daz is practising his drills.  

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We’re hoping he’ll be able to complete his first jump today, a tandem jump but unfortunately the weather is against him and there’s another thunder storm. Eventually Roberto calls it a day.  No jumps today Daz.  I spare a thought for the 9 processions due in Seville today. The rain will definitely have stopped a number taking place and there will be some very sad people in Seville today.  However 4 of them aren’t due to start until 8pm this evening – fingers crossed the rain is finished for the day!  Roberto finishes with Daz by 5pm so we go and hang out in the cafe and then realise they want to close, after all there’s only Daz and me in there.  So we’re tucked up in our tent by 9pm.  


Tuesday 22nd March

We’re awake by 7.30am and head for the shower block before the rush. There’s no hot water – argggghhhh!!! Now we’re up there’s nowhere to go and actually it’s a bit chilly.  And there’s a fog rolling in.  

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Eventually people start to arrive and at 0845am we’re in the cafe having breakfast and seeing who else is here to jump.  Yesterday York University display team were here but they’ve gone now.  


We head to the hangar.  No Roberto today, instead there’s Victor.  Actually Victor seems more engaged and less of a damp squib!  Daz goes through all his drills and then has his briefing for his tandem jump.  

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They think the fog will clear and they’ll be jumping soon!!! Exciting huh?  Daz looks pretty calm still but I’m feeling sick on his behalf.  It’s 10am and Daz is getting dressed to jump.  1030am still waiting – Daz is starting to look worried now and he’s barely talking (another sign of nerves)!

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1045am – they’re getting on and the engine is running.  15000ft here they come.  Daz and Victor will be last out!  1105am he’s safely back on the ground – jump 1 complete.

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 (Daz – from my perspective. I was pretty chilled as Victor and I settled ourselves in the plane, took off and gained altitude.  In the plane Victor and I went through the drills. The small plane was packed with 15 jumpers and it’s a tight fit..  At 15000 ft we gradually move to the open door as people disappear before me.  Then we are in the door and I start my drills for real and then we are out… wheeeeeeee. The freefall bit was all a bit of a blur, I remember going through my practice pull drills (I have to do 3 Reach, locate, arch) then just before 6000 ft it’s pull time for real and then check canopy.  All is good and I can relax as Victor guides us to the landing zone.  Feet up at the last second and then we are on the ground.  My next jump will be solo with 2 instructors at my side… bring it on.)

It’s 1215pm and Victor is busy with another tandem jump. Clouds are drifting in and apparently it’s a licensed skydivers with 50 jumps only. Students aren’t allowed because they won’t have a clear  view of the DZ because of the cloud. We’re not sure whether this means no more jumps for Daz until the clouds clear.  

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Unfortunately the clouds don’t clear and whilst Daz waits in vain for another jump, I squeeze in an afternoon nap.  1830 finds us in the cafe, with Danny looking after us, drinking red wine and planning a visit to Bollollus for dinner and then……..the heavens open and there’s the most tremendous hail storm. We ain’t going anywhere – in fact we’re not sure how the tent will cope with this onslaught.

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Wednesday 23rd March

Fortunately the tent survived the hailstorm although there was some water coming through into the bottom of our sleeping compartment.  Luis, the owner, collars us at breakfast.  

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He wants his money –  15€ a night.  We’ve paid less for properly maintained camping sites with extensive toilet and shower blocks. Nothing like this dump with no facilities.  Daz gives him 70€ but he wants another 30€.  Today looks like a good day for jumping.  

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Daz does his revision and finally he’s on load 3 at 11am and he’s down by 1120am.  Another load at 1220pm and he’s done by 1240pm.  All told he gets 4 jumps done today.

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 Meanwhile I have a spring clean of our tent to make sure everything is nice and dry.

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(Daz… whooo I got to jump out of a plane 4 times today, and totally missed the tent cleaning duties.  Admittedly a risky strategy but I got out of the cleaning and that’s what matters!  On a serious note, I was a little nervous for jump one,  but once in the plane it was all just a drill.  The first 3 jumps were with 2 instructors and the 4th with just one, with a variety of tasks for me to perform, including turns and holding headings whilst freefalling.  But I really love when the canopy is opened and I can swoop around whilst gently descending to earth.  All in all a fab day of jumping in the sun.)


Seville – Semana Santa and flamenco (19/20 March)

Saturday 19th March

Daz posted a question about condensation in tents, apparently a common and well known problem.  Some travellers pack up first thing and then get everything out at lunchtime to dry – what a pain that is.  ‘Chavs r us’ – we’ve got our tent hanging out of our Hostel window.  We know how to lower the tone in a good area.  

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Today our last workaway hosts, Chris and Des, are visiting us in Seville.  We’re expecting them for 1pm so Daz is busy planning a sightseeing itinerary!  It’s 1245pm and we’re already waiting for them in the Plaza Nuevo – Daz insisted we be early.  There’s no sign of them but there’s a cool bunch of young lads giving a ‘street dance’ performance.  They’re very impressive.  

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We get a call from Chris, they’re in Seville but haven’t found anywhere to park. I was worried this would be a problem; it’s Semana Santa and Seville will be ‘chocka’.  It’s not long, they’re parked and we meet.  It’s so lovely to see them.  We find somewhere to eat and catch up on their news.  

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They’ve had their friends visit, they’ve had the last bedroom tiled, the old blue doors removed and even found the box of bulbs that Des had misplaced.  Then under the guise of finding coffee and cake Daz manages to march them by some of Seville’s highlights including the Cathedral.  They’ve visited Seville before but for Ikea and Costco shopping expeditions not for sightseeing.  Too soon they have to leave, they’re going to Costco before heading home.  It’s been lovely to see them; they’re so entertaining.  Des plays the part of ‘grumpy old man’ to perfection whilst Chris is the constant optimist, laughing at the ‘schedules’ Des tries to implement to bring order to their lives!! I hope we might be able to meet them again before leaving Spain/Portugal.

After their visit we head to the Plaza España – Plaza de España is a semi-circular brick building, Renaissance/neo-Moorish in style, with a tower at either end (tall enough to be visible around the city, these towers – north and south – are major landmarks). In front of the building, following the curve of its façade, is a 500-metre canal crossed by four bridges, and in the centre of it all is the Plaza itself. You can rent small boats to row in the canal – the Plaza is known as “the Venice of Seville”.   Daz wants to hire a rowing boat but it’s only because he’s been watching other tourists unable to row their boats (many of them face the wrong way and can’t manage both oars) and he wants to reassure himself that his technique is flawless.  And of course it is!  We’re rowing along and a young lad drops a 20€ note.  Daz rows back and rescues the note from the floor of the canal.  The parents are very appreciative.  

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Measuring 50,000 square metres, the Plaza is the size of five football pitches. The building has a ground level portico and first-floor balustrade with balconies stretching along its length. For taking photos, the balconies are a prime spot, reached by staircases, as you can get the whole sweep of the building. The magnificent central balcony is especially impressive.

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All along the wall by the canal are 48 alcoves with benches, one for each province of Spain, each with a relevant tableau and map, all designed on colourful azulejos (painted ceramic tiles). Spanish tourists have photographs taken of themselves with family and friends on their home province’s bench. In a further regional reference, the four bridges represent the four ancient kingdoms of Spain: Castille, Aragon, Navarre and Leon.   

According to legend, Sevilla was founded by Hercules and its origins are linked with the Tartessian civilisation. It was called Hispalis under the Romans and Isbiliya with the Moors. The high point in its history was following the discovery of America in 1492. For all its important monuments and fascinating history, Sevilla is universally famous for being a joyous town. While the Sevillians are known for their wit and sparkle, the city itself is striking for its vitality. It is the largest town in Southern Spain, the city of Carmen, Don Juan and Figaro.

Sevilla lies on the banks of the Guadalquivir and is one of the largest historical centres in Europe, it has the minaret of La Giralda, the cathedral (one of the largest in Christendom), and the Alcázar Palace. Part of its treasure include Casa de Pilatos, Torre del Oro, the Town Hall, Archive of the Indies (where the historical records of the American continent are kept), the Fine Arts Museum (the second largest picture gallery in Spain) , plus convents, parish churches and palaces.

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In Sevilla, you will want to visit the old city, with the Cathedral and the Giralda tower at its heart. (You can climb the steps inside the tower for a magnificent view of the City). Very close by are the royal Mudéjar palace known as the Alcazar with marvellous gardens and the Santa Cruz quarter, with cramped streets, flowered balconies, richly decorated facades, hidden patios… Other sights not to be missed are, in the old city, the Casa de Pilatos, a large sixteenth-century mansion where Mudejar, Gothic and Renaissance styles blend harmoniously amidst exuberant patios and gardens and, crossing the Triana bridge over the large Guadalquívir River, the lively popular quarter of Triana with charming narrow streets around the church of Santa Ana and traditional ceramic factories.


In the evening we visit a Flamenco show.  


El Museo del Baile Flamenco – the Museum of Flamenco Dance is an impressive venue for some of Seville’s best flamenco. Located in the Santa Cruz quarter and just a few steps from the Plaza Alfalfa.  The stars tonight were Zaira Santos and Oscar ole Los Reyes (the dancers) and Merceoles Cortes and Joroh Flores (the singer and guitarist).  It was breathtaking, exhilarating and mesmerising – we’ve never seen anything like it before and were entranced by the performance.  An unmissable experience.  

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Sunday 20th March

It’s palm Sunday today.  Everyone we see is suited and booted.  There are large family groups and everyone is dressed in their Sunday finest.  If I felt like a chav hanging our tent out of the window, I feel really chavy now and seriously underdressed but there’s nothing to be done about it.  

Holy Week (Semana Santa) is the biggest religious celebration of the year in Spain, which means public holidays, a good deal of eating and drinking and lots of processions. Easter is a time for Spaniards to take to the streets and watch elaborate reenactments of the Passion, as well as enjoy some time off work in the company of their families and friends.

Elaborate processions take place throughout Holy Week. Associations known as cofradías or ‘brotherhoods’ (whose members take part in the processions) are a strong tradition in Spain, with many dating back to the Middle Ages.  Semana Santa processions are also known as ‘penance processions’ and involve members of the brotherhood (nazarenos) parading from their church to the city’s cathedral.  Each cofradia has up to 3,000 nazarenos (the robed, hooded figures; penitents carry crosses), taking as long as 90 minutes to file past.

People taking part in Semana Santa processions dress in traditional capirote; the tall conical hat which also covers their faces, as well as in belted robes.   Capirotes used to be reserved for people doing penance – as a sign of atoning their sins, they would walk through the town wearing the hat, their faces covered so they could not be recognized as sinners.

Although strikingly similar, they have nothing to do with the hoods worn by the Ku Klux Klan.

Women often wear the mantilla, a black lace veil worn high on the back of the head. Alicante recently issued fashion guidelines for women taking part in the city’s Easter processions and made it clear red lipsitck and skirts above the knee were definitely not allowed.

In most Easter processions, participants carry large floats, or pasos, that are adorned with religious sculptures depicting Jesus or Mary, some by renowned Spanish artists. The floats are festooned with flowers and candles and are the focal point of the procession. Many brotherhoods have owned and preserved their pasos for hundreds of years.  These pasos are carried by costaleros, who bear the pasos on their shoulders for hours on end. A titanic effort that is rewarded by the spontaneous applause of the public.  

If you are after the most glamorous, ornate and lively Semana Santa parades, look no further than Andalusia, especially the cities of Seville and Málaga. The region’s flamenco heritage seeps into its Easter celebrations, making for a fest like no other in Spain and one that attracts the most tourists.

Seville holds some of the biggest Holy Week processions including La Madruga (dawn), a series of processions that take place during the night of Maundy Thursday and into the morning of Good Friday, a highlight of Semana Santa for many spectators. Listen out for the saetas, or bursts of flamenco from people on balconies along the procession route who are so moved by the spectacle they have to express their lament.

In addition to the processions another typical activity during Holy Week is a visit to the churches in the morning before the processions leave to view the floats/pasos in their glory.


We think there’s a procession starting at 1pm and we try and work out the start point and route. Finally we work it out and head to the start point.  It’s already gone 1pm but there’s no sign of the procession but the streets are increasingly crowded with people as we near the start.

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 Finally we can see the church with the doors firmly closed.  It’s really crowded here and we stand and wait.  Finally we ask a young lad what time the procession might start.  He says if they decide to go, it should be 1.30ish.  This comes and goes.  Nothing is hsinening and then the crowd start ‘shushing’ each other  until the crowd is silent and then suddenly the crowd erupts in cheers and everyone is hugging each other. Daz and I are looking around for something that might explain this strange behaviour.  The Church doors are still firmly closed.  We’re completely bemused so we ask another young lad.  Many of the crowd are listening to a radio broadcast and La Paz (the procession we’re waiting for) has just confirmed they will march.  Apparently if there’s inclement weather the procession is cancelled and after months of preparation this results in tears of disappointment.  There was heavy rain last night and there’s been some sporadic raindrops this morning but the heavy rainfall hasn’t materialised.

It’s nearly 2 pm and the crowd starts shifting.  Our focus has been trained on the church doors so we’re surprised when we turn the other way and there’s a troop of horsemen.  There’s about 18 of them.  They then decide to about face, not an easy task in this narrow street jammed with spectators – a little too close for comfort especially since my nearest horseman is quite a large unit.  

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Soon the waiting is finished.  The mounted band herald the start of the procession; the church doors open and out flood the penitents.  They walk passed us, there are literally hundreds of them.  

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And then comes the pasos followed by an Army section and then a marching band and then more penitents.  As the pasos comes out of the church there’s cheering and clapping and as it passes just in front of us many try to touch it.

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 It’s an incredible sight to behold.  There are so many people involved, the huge crowds, 100s of penitents and the bearers.  And this is just one procession of 9 today.  We look at the route and its incredibly long.  It looks as if they don’t finish until 1am.  

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After the main procession has passed we move off and intercept it at other points along the route.  We also watch as a team of costaleros prepare to relieve the current bearers.  Finally we decide to head off to our bike but every route we take is barred.

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 There’s another procession route between us and our hotel and it’s part of the ‘official route’ – from Calle Campana, along Calle Sierpes, in Plaza San Francisco, down Avenida de la Constitucion, to Plaza Virgen de los Reyes by the cathedral, streets common to all the processions where all the spectator stands have been set up.  It’s possible to buy a seat here to watch all the processions.  For us it would cost 75€ (2 seats) for a day or about 500€ for the week!

Finally we manage to get back to our hotel where we left our bike and bags.  We head out of Seville.  Everyone is in holiday spirits and are happy to see us on our bike.  We’ve got about 20km to cycle to La Juliana, an aerodrome on the outskirts of Seville.  It’s gone 7pm and the place looks deserted.  Chris phoned and made our camping reservation ( we tried and failed because our Spanish is almost non existent) and there was the implication that the place would be packed because of Semana Santa.  This place is in the middle of nowhere, the ‘camping’ ground is just a patch of scrub land – no one’s bothered to cut the grass (well weeds actually).  

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There’s a porta cabin with 2 showers and toilets. And the swimming pool is an empty concrete hole – Nice!  I wouldn’t object but the owner is charging more than we’ve paid for proper deluxe camping grounds.  Why are we here?  Well I thought Daz would enjoy an accelerated freefall course so I booked one for him for his birthday with Skydive Spain. Tomorrow his ground training starts at 0845hrs.  Then he can start jumping from the plane.  I did a similar course many years ago in La Rochelle but even then my bottle deserted me after several jumps, the last seeing me landing way-off the DZ, in a maize field which was head height.  Yes readers you think even then I couldn’t navigate to a huge, open piece of land with runways on it!  Actually we had intercom and I was being talked down, ‘right hand down’ etc to control my toggles.  Unfortunately there was some confusion and they were directing the wrong person!!!  Plus jumping out of planes is pretty terrifying for me!  I occasionally think I’m braver than I am and then have to see how much fear I can endure before I puke!


Ronda to Seville – 9th to 20th March.

Wednesday 9th March


Ronda to Fuengirola (via train to Malaga)


Distance 45 km
Max speed NA kmph (battery failure)
Average speed NA kmph
Total 2852.73 km


This morning we are up for 7am, pack and head for the train station. We’re getting the train to Malaga.  

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First leg is on the Granada train changing at Bobadillo and we’ve managed to board, only the change to worry about now.  

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We’re always worried about train journeys but so far they have all been seamless. After some sightseeing in Malaga we are going to cycle to Fuengirola to meet an old friend, Dawn.  She’s also ex military and left about a year before us, but she and her partner Shaun bought a motorhome for their travelling adventure. We’re really looking forward to hearing how her travels are panning out.  

We arrive in Malaga at 1030hrs and walk up to the Alcazaba (sitting on top of a great big hill!!) and later around the Cathedral.   

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La Alcazaba is Malaga’s most important landmark, and overlooks the city from a hilltop inland. It is one of two Moorish fortresses in the city, the other being the Castillo de Gibralfaro, situated above. The Alcazaba is the best-preserved Moorish fortress palace in Spain.  The views from the top are very pretty.  We also cycle along the beach front.  It’s a beautiful day and the sea looks so inviting but it’s time to head off because we want to visit the butterfly park in Benalmádena.  

Unfortunately we didn’t check the terrain and once we turn inland we start to climb but eventually we make it, hot and sweaty.

There are more than 1,500 butterflies from tropical areas all over the world flying free inside the Mariposario. Their lifespan is only 2-3 weeks so the exhibits are constantly changing but are from 150 different species.  Many of the butterfly species reproduce in the park itself, so besides butterflies you can observe all the stages of their fascinating biological cycle as eggs and caterpillars, and other behavior such as their courtship flights and mating. Every day new butterflies are born in the nursery and we saw them hatch from the chrysalis and spread their wings. In addition to the moths and butterflies there is also Wally the Wallaby.  

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A friend, Kate, told us if we ever had the opportunity to visit a butterfly park, we should do so and we wouldn’t be disappointed.  She was absolutely right.  

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It was a delight to see the butterflies flying free and feeding on the nectar of beautiful flowers such as orchids.  Next door to the Butterfly farm is a Buddhist temple.

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We have a quick look and then we’re off.  Our GPS points us down a big hill but the road sign says it’s a dead-end.  It’s not a dead-end on Mapsme so off we go.  It’s really steep (21%!) but finally we’re at the bottom cycling along the coast again and then there’s Roadworks!  The road IS closed!  But we decide to push on around it but it means we’re pushing over sand heaps, over large kerbs, through the protective fencing, cycling around diggers and other machinery but finally we get back to real road.  

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We cycle through Fuengirola and head for Dawn’s campsite.  It’s so lovely to see Dawn. She’s been on her travels for 2 years now.  She’s travelling with her hubby Shaun and Jaeger, their Springer Spaniel and Tia, their latest acquisition, a Spanish water dog so called because they have webbed feet and are used to herd fish.

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 It’s lovely to hear where they’ve been, where they’re going and how they spend their time.  And their motorhome – fabulous!  Daz and I have got 5 bags for our entire worldly goods; Dawn and Shaun have mountain bikes, road bikes, skiing gear, paragliding gear, a moped and more.  What a great way to travel.  Dawn cooks dinner and later her neighbours Jane and Kevin join us.  It’s a shame that Shaun had to head back to Sweden for some work commitments.  Tonight I spend my first night in a motorhome and very comfortable it is too.


Thursday 10th March


Fuengirola to La Linea de la Conception


Distance 105.1 km
Max speed 63.9 kmph
Average speed 18 kmph
Total 2957.83 km


After breakfast we pack up and head off.  

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We head to Marbella.  The cycling is easy but the road, the N340, is really busy.  Usually we’re given plenty of space but not today.  We have loads of cars and trucks trying to squeeze past us and many sounding their horns.

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 We don’t know whether the horns are meant as a friendly gesture or not, but often they’re so sudden they scare us out of our wits.  We reach Marbella and we’ve made really good time.  We have something to eat and look at the Marina and the old quarter and the Dali statues.  It’s a beautiful city.  

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Then we pootle off.  We decide to see how long we can cling to the esplanade; anything is better than the N340.  And it’s beautiful cycling beside the sea, although often quite crowded and we’re constantly weaving around people but I think Daz secretly loves the challenge. P1080189 P1080190 P1080192 P1080193 P1080194 P1080196 P1080198 P1080199  

 Finally we can go no further so we have to head back to the mainroad but it’s not quite as bad as this morning.  By 3pm we’re in Estepona.  

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This was going to be today’s destination but we both feel fine and we’re having such a glorious day that we continue on our way.   We grab a quick drink and replenish our water on a beachfront cafe then hit the N340 again after cycling out of Estepona.  As mentioned before it’s not much to look at, but it always bumps up our average speed as we seem to fly along at times.  Twice today we see people videoing us.  The first guy we see twice, he has pulled into a slip road so he can film us.  Then he drives past us and we see him at the next slip road.  Wd wave enthusiastically at him.  The next guy is filming us as he drives passes whilst leaning over his wife in the passenger seat to get a view of us.  This is less entertaining!!!

A quick 19 km later we are nearing Torreguadjaro and come off the main road to look for some food and accommodation.   But in the backs of our mind we also know that Gibraltar is only another 25km ish and we still have time to get there in a oner today!! Well soon our minds are made up for us, as it turns out that we have stumbled into Sotogrande,  a high priced gated community with a Marina filled with yachts and power boats, a polo pitch and several golf courses and all manner of flash cars and pringle wearing rich peeps!!

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Apparently even Tony Blair has a ‘pad’ here.  We even get stopped by security and asked if we are residents, and where we are going!  They seem pleased that we are just passing through, we can only assume their demeanour would change if we pulled a John Rambo move and cycled back into the centre!! The Marina is particularly spectacular!! With no food and no accommodation in sight we decide to push on.  Unfortunately there are a few steep climbs as we near La Linea de la Conception, the border town before Gibraltar.   We are tiring as we near the 100km mark, but suddenly up one last hill we reach a look out point and ‘the rock’ is there before us in all it’s glory.  And what’s even better we have a lovely 8% drop for the last 6 km into town!!  What an absolute corker of a day!  Even with the shitty traffic on the N340 it’s been amazing!

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Friday 11th March

La Linea de la Concepcion to Gibraltar

We spent last name night in La Linea de la Concepcion.  I slept really well; the long day must’ve wiped me out.  This morning disaster strikes.  Daz is passing me the notepad and knocks his phone onto the floor and now it won’t work.  We bought this phone in October and we use it constantly for navigating.  It was especially expensive because we wanted it unlocked and without a phone contract.  We spend the next 90 minutes in a painful, frustrating and expensive process of trying to get Carphone Warehouse to give us a way forward.  The chat line is useless and our first  phone call to customer services requires a lengthy explanation followed by them putting us through to a store but it’s closed.  That terminates that call.  We try again and this time we think the assistant puts the phone down on us.  We’re getting really annoyed now and have a third attempt.  I lead and explain how Carphone Warehouse customer service helpline is appalling and how 2 phonecalls have resulted in zero progress.  We think progress might be achieved.  But no, we’re sadly mistaken and totally misguided crediting Carphone Warehouse with some sense.  Basically they insist that the purchaser must bring the phone into a store (Carphone Warehouse is only UK based) to log the problem even though we’ve explained we’re in Gibraltar.  We ask to post it, they say No.  We ask if we can send it to a friend and they’ll take it into a store, they say No.  We once again explain where we are, how reliant we are on the phone, how we have no plans to return to the UK and how expensive it would be to fly back just to deliver the phone to a store.  Their response, you need to bring it to a store yourselves!  Thanks very much Carphone Warehouse – you are tossers!!! So having wasted loads of time and money we head off to find some breakfast still chuntering about Carphone Warehouse.   Then we pack up and cycle into Gibraltar.  We go through their border control and customs.  There’s a huge queue, which we cycle past.  Apparently Spain is so annoyed that Gibraltar isn’t Spanish that they make the crossing unnecessarily difficult by insisting on full passport checks etc.

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 Then we’re in Gibraltar.  I’ve never been before but Daz has once. I can’t believe it’s so busy and once we’re through border control we have to wait until the runway is clear before we can drive into town.  Daz wants to cycle round the rock so I can see the sights but I think we should go into town and visit a phone shop just incase there’s a simple solution to our phone problem.  

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So that’s what we do and we find a helpful store and they plug the phone into the computer.  Everything is functioning and they think it’s just the backlight that’s broken.  If we wanted it fixed we’d have to leave it for 2 weeks, so that’s not going to happen.  We’re in the midst of these proceedings and Daz starts to feel really poorly.  So we scratch sightseeing plans and have a bite to eat.  Probably not the best idea because he starts to feel worse.  We phone our host Mac McManus and arrange to meet.  At Mac’s house we meet his wife Jac (she’s flying to the UK this evening) and make ourselves at home.  But Daz is really suffering now.  He’s feeling hot and cold and headachey.  No Friday night beers for us then.  Instead it’s a quiet night in with a Frankenstein movie and then an early night.  Hopefully he’ll feel better tomorrow.


Saturday 12th March – Gibraltar

Poor Daz.  Last night he was alternately dripping in sweat (literally, the sheets were soaked), freezing cold then burning up like a furnace.  His breathing was really tortured, almost panting like a dog.  He’s still breathing this morning so he’s still alive at least, but still asleep and it’s gone half 9. Poor Daz!

Well it’s officially a duvet day.  Daz thinks he should go out but he really is too poorly and after only an hour he’s back in bed.  Still at least we have the England V Wales match to look forward to.  And what an abject disappointment that is!


Sunday 13th March – Gibraltar

After an early night last night and more sleep than I’ve had in months, Daz does feel better.  Unfortunately he thinks he’s well enough to take me sightseeing but of course he’s just not well enough, not to mention that he’s barely eaten for the last 2 days.  We did make it into town but after a mooch around we came home.  We’ve looked at our schedule and fortunately there’s scope to delay leaving Gibraltar.  We did intend to leave tomorrow but I don’t think Daz is well enough and fortunately Mac has said we can stay as long as we need – thank you Mac.  


Monday 14th March

Today Daz feels better and we go off to see the sights of Gibraltar. First we cycle round the island in a clockwise direction to Europa point.  We stop on the way to look at one of the few beaches on Gibraltar and a police car hits our parked bike.  Daz isn’t impressed.  Then it’s through a long tunnel and we’re there.

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Europa Point
Ancient history
When the ancient mariners from the east arrived in this region in the eighth century BC, they once again homed in on the beacon which was the Rock and were attracted to large marine caverns close to these southern platforms. We know that Phoenicians and ancient Greeks came here. It has also been suggested by some, on the basis of cave paintings of sailing ships in caves near Gibraltar that perhaps even earlier civilisations, the Mycaeneans for example, might have sailed to the Strait as far back as the sixteenth century BC.
Whichever way, the Strait and the Rock were known in the classical eastern Mediterranean world. According to legend, Hercules passed through here to take the cattle of Geryon – his tenth labour – and opened up the Strait, creating the pillars which received his name (Hercules to the Romans). These pillars are still clearly identifiable today: the Rock of Gibraltar on one side and the Jbel Musa on the other. The legend matches the scientific reality although the timescales are somewhat different. The last time the Strait opened up was around five million years ago and there were no humans around to watch it happen. It must have been a spectacular event indeed. The Mediterranean had been land-locked for a very long time and had evaporated. Then as a fissure developed where the Strait is today, the Atlantic gushed in filling the basin in just one hundred years, with a huge ten thousand foot waterfall at the entrance to the Strait.

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Europa Point Lighthouse stands at the southernmost point of Gibraltar. Situated at the gateway between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean it serves as landfall and waypoint for vessels passing through the Strait. Responsibility for the lighthouse was vested in Trinity House by an Act of Parliament of 1838 and under the Merchant Shipping Act 1894 the Corporation became the General Lighthouse Authority for Gibraltar.

Sikorski Memorial
A new memorial dedicated to General Wladyslaw Sikorski, the Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Army and Prime Minister of Poland  who was killed in exile  in 1943, was dedicated by Vice Admiral Sir Adrian Johns, Governor of Gibraltar on the 70th anniversary of the crash.


The Mosque of The Custodian of the The Holy Mosques

The new mosque has already become a landmark at Europa Point, together with the newly refurbished Shrine of Our Lady of Europe and the Lighthouse, all lying within a few yards of each other an excellent beacon for peace and harmony between religions.


From Europa Point we cycle to the cable car and get to The Top of the Rock.   The views are amazing and the monkeys are entertaining – they keep jumping on unsuspecting tourists.

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The Barbary Macaques are a species of tailless monkeys. These Macaques can be found in Morocco and Algeria, with those in Gibraltar being the only free-living monkeys in Europe today.
There are about 160 monkeys living in Gibraltar in two main areas. Male and female youngsters can often be seen playing together.


From here we walk to Michael’s Cave.  


St Michael’s Cave has interested visitors to Gibraltar ever since the days of the Romans. The Cave was long believed to be bottomless. This probably gave birth to the story that the Rock of Gibraltar was linked to the Continent of Africa by a subterranean passage over 15 miles (24km) long under the Strait of Gibraltar. The famous Rock Apes were said to have come to Gibraltar through this under-sea passage. The story also said that the passage emerges at Leonora’s Cave, which begins inside St. Michael’s Cave itself.
The cave consists of an Upper Hall, connected with five passages, with drops of between 40 feet (12.2m) and 150 feet (45.7m) to a smaller hall.  Beyond this point a series of narrow holes leads to a further succession of chambers, reaching a depth of some 250 feet (62.5m) below the entrance.
During the Second World War the cave was prepared as an emergency hospital, but was never used. In blasting an alternative entrance to the cave – now used as a tourist exit – a further series of deeply descending chambers, was discovered now called Lower St. Michael’s Cave. These chambers end in a mini lake.

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At some period during the history of this cave, part of a stalagmite became to heavy on one side and fell, possibly thousands of years ago. It now lies on its side at the far end of the main chamber, cemented through the years by nature to the floor of the cave. In 1792 a slice 18” thick (45cm) was cut off from the top end. What remained was a cross-section which revealed the interior structure of the stalagmite in a most dramatic way.  Within a diameter of approximately 4’6” (1.35m) can be seen the history of its growth. During periods of excessive rain its growth is clearly indicated by light-brown rings and patches. The darker areas were formed during periods of less rain. But perhaps the two thin lines of crumbly white substance are the most interesting part of its structure. It is believed that these represent glacial periods. Besides the cross-section the stalagmite is also translucent in certain parts. This stalagmite, which is centuries old, enables visitors to see the unique beauty of crystallised nature.


After the cave we were planning to walk back to the siege tunnels but instead head for the Mediterranean steps.


Mediterranean Steps is a path and nature trail in the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar. One of the footpaths of Gibraltar, the path is located entirely within the Upper Rock Nature Reserve and was built by the British military but is now used by civilians as a pedestrian route linking Martin’s Path to Lord Airey’s Battery near the summit of Rock of Gibraltar. The path offers views over the Strait of Gibraltar, Windmill Hill, Europa Point, the Great Sand Dune, Gibraltar’s east side beaches, the Mediterranean Sea and the Spanish Costa del Sol.  

These steps are narrow, of uneven height and there’s a lot of loose rock. In spite of this there is a Mediterranean Step Challenge; a circular route requiring 5 laps, that’s 5 ascents of the steps.  Coming down once was hard enough for me!     

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At the bottom Daz and I sit in the Jewish cemetery and try and decide whether to head to Mac, who’s in a pub with CIive Cooper in Casement Square or head back up to the siege tunnels.  

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We head off downhill and get as far as the Botanical Gardens and Daz asks me for the Notepad. I don’t have it neither has Daz.  The last time we used it was in the Jewish Cemetery.  OMG disaster.  We’re already without Daz’s phone, we’ll be stuffed without the Notepad too.  I take the bag and coats and whilst Daz runs back to the cemetery, I follow at a quick walk.  I’m still a distance away when I see Daz.  But no notepad.  He hasn’t been able to find it but he also didn’t speak to the toll booth chaps that were manning the Jewish Gate.  I think it’s worth another look and continue walking back to the cemetery.  And then a guy on a moped stops and asks if we’ve lost something. They’ve got our notepad!!! Daz says he reckons this guy worked for a skip company (motif on his jacket) and he says our notepad has been taken back to the site office. What a relief! We can’t believe how lucky we’ve been.  We head off again and head for the pub – we need a drink after that scare. In the pub we meet Clive Cooper, who’s an avid geocacher; we’re disappointed we didn’t bother to do any in Gibraltar.  After dinner and a few drinks we head home.  It’s our last night with Mac.  It’s been great staying with Mac although we’ve been dull house guests with Daz so poorly!!


Tuesday 15th March


Gibraltar to Bolonia


Distance 69.38 km
Max speed 53.5 kmph
Average speed 13. 1 kmph
Total 3048. 34 km


Today we head off out of Gibraltar.  We cycle passed a fuel refinery/depot where the perimeter wall is covered in street art – fantastic.

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 First stop turns out to be Algerciras even though it wasn’t actually on our route – that’s my map reading for you.  We stop in the main square for coffee and then inspired by Clive Cooper we head off to find a geocache.  P1080282 P1080284 P1080283 P1080285 P1080286 P1080287 P1080289 P1080290  

Then we head off to Tarifa.  There’s a pass to climb,  we think it’s only going to be 2km long because that’s when the crawler lane runs out but it’s more like 11km.  A killer but the views…….

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Tarifa – ten kilometres of white sandy beaches, unspoilt countryside and some of the best kite & windsurfing conditions in Europe have established Tarifa as a true surfers paradise. Just 11 km across the Straits of Gibraltar at its narrowest point, this southern-most tip of Europe where the Med meets the Atlantic Ocean, enjoys spectacular views of the Rif mountains of Africa across the water.

We have a late lunch and then a spot of geocaching and then we head to the most southerly point in Europe – Isla de las Palomas.  

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From here we cycle West along the beach, unfortunately all the kitesurfers are packing up, but we enjoy the challenge of cycling along the rickety boardwalk.  

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I’ve picked what I hope is a scenic route from Tarifa and it’s certainly scenic, we even cycle between 2 sand dunes near Paloma Baja.  

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When I chose this route I said to Daz ‘ no way can the A2325 just run out, famous last words……..It degenerates from tarmac to a hard packed sand with huge ruts, potholes and rocks to navigate around.  Then the road stops and we’re left with a single track, deep sanded path through pine forest.  We both try pushing the bike fully loaded but the sand is so deep it’s just too hard.  Then we unload the bike and I carry the bags and Daz manhandles the bike.  

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We manage about 2.5km of pushing and dragging the bike, we’re knackered and dripping with sweat.  Finally the path drops down to the beach and the last stretch is on hard packed wet sand, dodging waves as they creep up the shore.

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We decide we’ve found the perfect location for our first night of wild camping.   Having picked our spot about 50 metres in from the shore on a small grassy flattened knoll we set up camp.  We listen to the surf and admire the clear, starry night.  We go for a wander along the beach in the moonlight and enjoy the solitude.  We’re watching the sea and realise a sailing yacht under power is just beyond the surf.  He’s heading West but we check the map there’s no harbour for him.  Seems an odd place to be at 9pm at night!

But for us it’s bedtime. Apart from the hard slog through the sand it’s been a glorious day.


Wednesday 16th March

Bolonia to Conil de la Frontera

Distance 60.58 km

Max speed 63. 7 kmph
Average speed 13. 2 kmph
Total 3108. 92 km


Surprisingly we’ve had a good night but we’re woken early by a heavy rain shower – yes rain, that wasn’t programmed.  We snooze on and we’re awake at 8.30.  It’s time to pack up, which we start to do and then the rain starts again in earnest.  We wait for it to stop and then quickly pack, expecting another downpour that never materialises.

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 We still need to push the bike but whilst walking the beach last night we found a reasonable track so no more of the deep sand.  The first hamlet we arrive at is deserted except for at anchor just in the surf, is a yacht.  We assume it’s the yacht we saw last night but why is it practically beached.  Doesn’t seem right to me!

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We head off and in the next village we find breakfast and some Roman ruins.  Baelo Claudia is an ancient Roman town situated on the Costa de la Luz, some 15km north of Tarifa, next to the town of Bolonia and the beautiful beach.

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Its history lies in the trade routes serving Europe and North Africa – the town’s strategic position on the coast near the Straits of Gibraltar made it a crucial stopping-off point between the two continents. The ruins of Baelo Claudia, with its impressive temple, forum and basilica, and especially the large fish-salting factory, show how important the town was.

From the Roman ruins we can see back along to the coast and the wallowing yacht.  The coast guard is out to sea but appears to be monitoring the situation but on the beach there’s a crowd of onlookers – curiouser and curiouser! What is going on – guess we’ll never know!!

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We cycle on but we’re soon dealing with potholed tarmac, grit and really steep hills so we resort to pushing and then our route takes us across country – literally.  It’s marked as a path but it’s no more than a muddy, rocky farm track.

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 It’s tough going but eventually we’re out on a decent road again.  How can Spain have so many roads that lead nowhere.  By 1230pm we’ve done a poxy 10km and the pushing of the bike (or being nominated bag carrier) over this rough terrain has brought on premature exhaustion.  The upside, we’ve had beautiful views.  

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We decide to settle for granny ring and see what unfolds.  We gradually settle into a gentle pace and our strength returns.  We stop for a cheap menu of the day and then head off to Conil de la Frontera.  We’re surrounded by rolling green hills, we could almost imagine we’re in England except it’s really warm and sunny.  We’re enjoying the beauty and solitude when suddenly the peace is decimated by horns blaring right behind us.  A van has come up behind us and moved to overtake, not realising a car was already overtaking him.  We end up 3 abreast with very little room – very scary!  After Conil de la Frontera we find a spot to camp – our second of wild camping.  We’re on a grassy area between some houses; who knows if our neighbours will accept our presence.

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Thursday 17th March


Conil de la Frontera to Sanlúcar de Barrameda


Distance 84.79 km
Max speed 39.7 kmph
Average speed 16. 2 kmph
Total 3193.73 km


We really thought that someone would complain about us last night. A couple of cars slowed to have a look but we slept all night undisturbed.

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 We’re on the road by 8. 30 and see loads of better camping spots, typical!  We pass a lighthouse near Cala del Faro – it’s a resting place for the Hornbills on their migration from Africa.  

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We handrail the coast into Roche, it looks particularly posh with its well manicured golf course.  Very desirable I think.  We stop for brekkie and then head to Sancti Petri- it looks like fisherman/ sailor heaven with a huge Marina.

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There’s a castle, Santi Petri, out on an island which looks very inviting.  From here it’s a quick ride to Chicana de la Frontera ( we see a couple of Flamingoes en route)

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and then into Cadiz.  The ride into Cadiz is rather monotonous but we have a large group of road cyclists that go passed, whooping and cheering, if only we could keep up with them.

Cadiz stands on a peninsula jutting out into a bay, and is almost entirely surrounded by water. Named Gadir by the Phoencians, who founded their trading post in 1100 BC, it was later controlled by the Carthaginians, until it became a thriving Roman port. Some of the city’s 18th century walls still stand, such as the Landward Gate. The old, central quarter of Cadiz is famous for its picturesque charm, and many of the buildings reflect the city’s overseas links. Worth a visit are the city’s Cathedral and churches of Santa Cruz and San Felipe Neri, which is famous throughout Spain as the place where, in defiance of Napoleon’s siege, the provisional government was set up with its own liberal Constitution. Other points of interest are La Santa Cueva, home to several paintings by Goya, and stately mansions such as the Casa del Almirante and Casa de las Cadenas.

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In Cadiz we visit the Cathedral Plaza, Flores Plaza and the main market. In the market Square we meet a man on a wooden bike.  It’s beautifully made and the owner is clearly very proud and insists Daz has a test ride.  P1080469 P1080470 P1080472 P1080471 P1080473 P1080474  

Everywhere we visit now is preparing for Semana Santa.  The procession route is lined with spectator stands.   From Cadiz we cheat and catch a ferry to Rota.  

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We stop for food in Rota and then cycle to Chipiona.  Once passed the town we look for another camping site.  We find a field with a secluded corner and we quietly sneak in.

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 The tent is pitched in minutes but the sleeping compartment is really wet.  The walls and the floor are so wet we need to get them dry before bringing in our sleeping mats and sleeping bags.  Where did all the water come from? Daz says there must have been lots of condensation on the inside of the tent this morning and when we packed it away we rolled the sleeping compartment up next to the condensation – result – one very wet tent.  We dry it enough that we’re content to bring in our sleeping gear. I suggest we leave the sleeping compartment unzipped to reduce the condensation but whilst this does allow more ventilation and is a much fresher temperature, in the morning the main shell is wet inside and out. Why does no one mention this on blogs?  Despite this we have another comfortable night.


Friday 18th March

Sanlúcar de Barrameda to Lebrija


Distance  43.81km
Max speed  43.6kmph
Average speed 16.3 kmph
Total  3237.52km


This morning when we pack up we separate the sleeping compartment hoping that we can keep it away from the wet shell.  We’re semi successful except when I’m inside I brush against the shell and soon water is dripping onto the inner sleeping compartment (more care required).   Then we’re off to find breakfast after stopping to watch a stork and mate on their nest (they look as if they belong in Jurassic Park).  

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After breakfast we pick our route round town to the main road to Lebrija. Unfortunately the ring road I’ve selected isn’t tarmac it’s gravel, sand and deep ruts in sufficient quantity for the ride to be particularly hellish.  

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Daz has become increasingly fearless about his riding and thinks he can ride any terrain; unfortunately his stoker (me) begs to differ!!!  Once we’re on the main road the ride to Lebrija is uneventful.  At Lebrija we catch a train to Seville.

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In Seville we cycle through town to our Hostel which is in the old town.  Then shower – our first since  Tuesday morning – bliss.  Then we’re out the door, dirty washing in hand, to find a launderette.  Admin done and we go off to explore; the Cathedral, Alcazaba, the town hall and the old Bridge.  The preparation for Semana Santa is in full swing.  It starts on Sunday (palm Sunday) and lasts all week. Each day there will be processions!

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After some sightseeing Daz gets a haircut and me some waxing.


Daz’s birthday – canyoning and via ferrata

Sunday 6th March

Happy Birthday Darren!  And today we’re off canyoning to celebrate – my kind of hell – I hate heights so general feelings of trepidation tinged with fear!
We have a quick breakfast then we are picked up by Jose and Victor from Sport mountain in their Vw van.  

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They are both Spanish but have good English.  We are off to Zahara de la Sierra to the Green Throat Canyon – La Garganta Verde.  We see Griffin vultures circling as we arrive at the village then find out we are meeting more people and need to wait for them, so much for the early start.  But the views from the village looking down on to the Zahara El Gustar Reservoir are spectacular.

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 The other group, all Spanish men, turn up and we are off in the van again, climbing up to the head of the gorge.  In a small carpark we are kitted out with wetsuits, harnesses and helmets, don’t we look splendid!  

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Then there’s a short training session.

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Then with the sun beating down we start walking along the rocky hillside towards the Canyon before descending by rock steps and a zig zagging path to the very bottom.  We stop a couple of times to rest and rehydrate.  With the wetsuits on it’s very hot and very uncomfortable.  

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Normally at this time of year the water level would be higher, but with the lack of rain it is quite dry once we start walking along the Canyon.  The going is tough at times climbing over large boulders and slithering down some on our backsides.  

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Then we come to the first of 3 descents that we need to rappel down.  This takes some time to get the whole group down and waiting around in the cool of the canyon is a nice respite.  

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As we go further we start to encounter water, and need to take the plunge a few times, either jumping or sliding into it.  Another time we have to wade, swim and navigate a series of narrow fissures before we get to the final pool where we need to jump down.  

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It’s about 12 foot and unfortunately this time my bottle goes.  I get lowered down by rope and we all get going again.  

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It’s a fairly long walk / swim down the river now.

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Daz has really enjoyed it, and I am glad he has had a nice birthday.  At the end of the Canyon the vehicles are waiting with a little picnic and a couple of beers – I’m starving and knackered so I get stuck in.

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 And then it’s back to Ronda – the views back are stunning.

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Back in Ronda we’re too tired to bother going out and have a quiet night – publishing the blog arghhhhhhhh!  


Monday 7th March

Today we were supposed to be on a via ferrata.  We booked 3 days with Sport Mountain, one day canyoning Garganta Verde, one on Vía Ferrata Benalauría and Benadalid and the third Vía Ferrata Gaucín.  Unfortunately the weather forecast was predicting rain for most of the day and our guides didn’t think via ferrata was a good idea, they did suggest more canyoning but we decided against that.  So we have a day off.  Possibly this is a good thing because we can barely walk we ache so much.  We spend the morning looking round the old town; the Almocabar, Town Hall and Saint Mary’s church and then follow a path to some viewpoints of the bridge. We even follow a track under the bridge where there’s a hydroelectric pumping station.  

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Early afternoon finds us lying on the sofas having a little nap – very nice.  Then we head out to an organised tour of the bull farm – the one the American ladies mentioned.


SWIRLING the cape like a whirling dervish, you could tell we were having fun.
Jumping at the chance to attempt a classic bullfighting move at Ronda’s exciting new bull breeding estate Reservatauro, it didn’t matter that we looked more like a Teletubby attempting a new dance.

Whether a fan of bullfighting or not, visitors will enjoy seeing how well the fighting bulls live before being dispatched at four years of age.  Luxuriating in the grounds of this 200 hectare estate, they live off a mix of acorns and meal and have no shortage of space to roam.
Set up by Ronda bullfighter Rafael Tejeda and his wife Nuria, this ancient estate, known as a dehesa, is a fascinating place to visit.
Set in stunning oak woodland on the edge of the Sierra de las Nieves natural park, visitors have the chance to see first hand how the ancient art functions.  As well as breeding bulls, the estate also trains horses, in particular the giant Spanish shirehorses, who can stand the weight of any bull charge.  There is a trainee bullring and visitors are taken on a tour of the estate and given an explanation of how it all functions.
Most interesting of all is how the grandmother cows, known as Mala Fes, some as old as 22, are kept to socialise the young calves in early life.
And then there is the chance to pick up and handle the cape, as well as the sharp sword (actually we had the capes which are surprisingly heavy, up to 6kg, but no sword) used to dispatch the bulls in the ring.

The possible mother and stud are assessed in a ring with a matador and his cape; looking for their response to the cape, intelligence, bravery, and general behaviour.  But a possible fighting bull is never assessed.  He will go into the ring only once. To allow a bull a repeat experience is far too dangerous.  He will have learnt too much from his first experience and be a danger to the matador.  Most bulls who enter the ring will die there.


If the matador has performed particularly well, the crowd may petition the president by waving white handkerchiefs to award the matador an ear of the bull. If his performance was exceptional, the president will award two ears. In certain more rural rings, the practice includes award of the bull’s tail. Very rarely, if the public or the matador believe that the bull has fought extremely bravely, the event’s president may be petitioned to grant the bull a pardon (indulto). If the indulto is granted, the bull’s life is spared; it leaves the ring alive and is returned to its home ranch. Then the bull becomes a stud for the rest of his life.

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After the visit to the bull farm we do some shopping and cook dinner in our apartment; yes bizarrely our traditional B&B with Moroccan influences turned into an apartment.  Not that nice but we have the entire place to ourselves (there are 3 bedrooms) and there’s a kitchen and sitting room.  So a quiet night in again.

Tuesday 8th March
9am and Jose picks us up.  I assumed because we’d missed a day we would just be doing Vía Ferrata Benalauría and Benadalid but no, we’re going to also do Gaucin.  For those of you who don’t know, I’m not fearless like Daz and have a fear of heights.  It’s obviously not an uncontrollable fear but enough that even in the vehicle I’m worrying about the day ahead.  So why do I put myself through shit like this? Who knows…… because I’m stupid! Because it’s a challenge and I don’t want to be ruled by my fears!!!

It’s about a 30 minute drive and then about a 20 minute walk to the base of Benalauría.   There’s only Jose and me and Daz.  And off we go!  I get through this via ferrata without too much hesitation although I did start to question my sanity when I had to cross the monkey bridge.

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1 done only 2 to go.  The views from the top are incredible; we can see Gibraltar and beyond that Morocco.

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 From the top we take a gentle walk and eventually arrive at Benadalid.  OK this turns out to be a slightly tougher gig; it’s entirely vertical.  Sounds easy at the bottom but the gaps between the metal steps are huge and then there’s areas of overhang.  Jose and Daz are keen that I learn to hook on and lean out to rest my arms.  ‘Relax, relax’ is their constant refrain.  I’d happily shove ‘relax’ up their respective…….,  they clearly don’t understand that I can’t relax whilst terrified because I’m hanging off the side of a cliff.  But I push on but have just a minor meltdown. Jose is back with me in a shot and for the next 20ft I’m on a rope controlled by Jose for added security.  And then it’s done.  We have a quick bite to eat and then it’s on to Gaucín.  This is, according to Jose, 2 levels up from what I’ve just done.  I’m contemplating bowing out gracefully but Jose says I’ll be fine ( lying bastard!!).

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This route is characterised by significant parts going down the iron ladders and also considerable traverses.  I thought this sounded easy but failed to factor in what’s in my eye range.  When going up all I’m prepared to look at is the immediate steps up.  I usually refuse to look round at the scenery.  Now I have to look down or across and I can see what’s there, or more importantly what’s not there – level, safe ground to put my feet on.  So I become increasingly nervous and then on the traverse I become very anxious.  Fortunately, again Jose comes to my rescue, and he helps me across.  Then there’s another monkey bridge that I cross but the next one is much longer and I have a complete refusal.  I’m put on a pulley and dragged across whilst I keep my eyes firmly shut.  But then I manage the 30metre zip line and the Tibetan bridge.  And then it’s done.  Hurrah!  

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Yes I know there’s been no mention of Daz.  He has quietly and confidentally brought up the rear, happily removing his hands and leaning out on his harness for all the photo requests as required.  He is fearless, my hero, and thank God for that because Jose had his hands full with me – bless him.  

(Daz) I’ve really enjoyed my birthday activities and Hels has stored muchos (Spanish for ‘many’) brownie points for use later.  I just hope I can rise to the challenge of Hels 50th birthday later in the year.  The canyoning was good, but the Via ferrata was amazing and even made me wonder at the mentality of hanging off the side of a mountain!  Thank you Hels for a fab birthday xxx


Workaway Venta Valero – 23rd Feb to 5th March

Tuesday 23rd February –  Workaway – Venta Valero

Des, our new boss, suggested that we start our stay with a visit to Alcala la Real. The town has an impressive fortress and was a strategic stronghold during medieval times and subsequently occupied by the Moors in 713. Thereafter, Alcalá was the scene of frequent battles between the Moors and the Christians. This tumultuous period lasted until 1341 when Alfonso XI gained control of the town. The crown established an abbey here which was deemed the headquarters from where to launch a major offensive on Granada.  

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So after a leisurely breakfast and a tour of the grounds, off we go.  Venta Valero is at 1000m so this might explain the tough cycling yesterday but also results in incredible views across the surrounding valleys.  After the scenic drive we wander around the market and see the library and the park area where there’s a music festival each year.


After a stop for coffee and cake we do some shopping and head home.  Des needs to head off to Malaga this afternoon to pick up his wife who’s flying back from the UK so we’re left in charge of the animals and set about our first mission.  We need to sort and tidy the shed so it’s more organised and has room for all the tiles left from all the recent tiling work; these tiles are currently strategically placed in various locations including the front yard, 2 opposite corners of the backyard and one of the downstairs bedrooms.  We also need to move all the tools out of the house, into the shed and organise and tidy the 2 downstairs bedrooms so that one ends up empty, ready to be tiled.  Finally we need to get rid of all the rubbish and we even have a cardboard bonfire.

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Shed: before and after.

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 It’s a great job, like a mini makeover.  Very satisfying indeed.  Then it’s dinner and blog time arghhhhhhhh 3 hours later and another blog is published.

Des comes home with Chris.  We think this should prove to be an entertaining stay since there’s constant banter between them.  They are great fun, interesting and constantly poking fun at one another.  Apparently Des spent most of the outward journey worrying about the oil warning light which turned out to be an open door warning – it seems Des might be visually challenged!  


Wednesday 24th February

Des and Chris have a Spanish lesson this morning so Daz and I get on with our chores – we’ve got a list now.  After we finish tidying the front yard, Daz starts sanding the metal framework that covers the front yard and supports a number of vines, this is in preparation to paint it.

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 Meanwhile I dig over the flower bed and remove the weeds.

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In the evening we cooked our favourite easy go to meal, spicy Zanzibar fish soup.  

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Chris, the raw vegan, has a soup made of red pepper,tomato, olive oil and dates which she whizzes up in a blender for 10 mins, this adds enough heat so that it is edible without losing the nutritional value of the ingredients!  Apparently raw vegans can heat food up to a maximum of 48 degrees Celsius.  We had a taste, and it was very tasty.  We sit around the dinner table sharing a glass of wine and chatting.  They’ve had a wealth of different experiences in their lives and it’s interesting and poignant what brought them to this ‘Home in the sun’.


Thursday 25th February

Today we attack what is to be the ‘yoga room’.   Currently it is full of Des and Chris’s worldly goods but we need to organise and clear it.  This entails making a space to move in, then sorting out all the boxes and stuff so it is packed/stacked properly.  

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By the time we are finished there is room to do yoga and swing one or two of their cats!!

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In the afternoon we go back to gardening and painting the vine trellis. During the evening we catch up with the first 2 episodes of Happy Valley and then watch the 3rd with Des and Chris. A chilled evening!!  

Chris and Des plan to run yoga holidays here. They have 3 ensuite bedrooms downstairs (we’re in one and it’s very comfortable), the other 2 still need work; the one we cleared on day 1 needs to be tiled and the other one is full of furniture.   Upstairs there’s the huge yoga room which will need a new floor and off that there’s another bathroom and 2 storage rooms.   Then over the other side of the house Chris and Des have their own annex with bedroom,bathroom and a sitting room with kitchenette.  

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Friday 26th February

Today is another day of digging and painting.   I finish digging the front plot and Des asks what’s next and then shows me the 3 low-walled gardens at the back.  So I start another plot.  

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Fortunately the soil is fantastic and so the fork slides in and turning it over isn’t too tough.  And the dug over parts look fabulous – very satisfying.  

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Meanwhile Daz finishes priming his vine trellis and then does a little woodwork.  

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 He uses some pallet wood to cat proof a well head.  Today the 3 piece suite is returned – a week ago they left it with a company to be reupholstered – and what a fabulous job they’ve done.  Chris and Des bought the material from a family business, the Fabric Factory, Finchley.  I love it!  

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In the evening after cooking chicken schwarma we watch the rugby – France V Wales.  Des was brought up in Pembroke, Pembrokeshire so he’s a Wales supporter too!  A pretty dull game though.


Saturday 27th February

Yesterday morning we started the day in T-shirts but it got progressively colder and by late afternoon it was raining hard.  This morning there’s a light dusting of snow on the ground.  Thank goodness it’s a day off and we’re visiting Cordoba. In Cordoba we visit the Mezquita and the old Bridge.  

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Cordoba was founded by the Romans and due to its strategic importance as the highest navigable point of the Guadalquivir River, it became a port city of great importance, used for shipping Spanish olive oil, wine and wheat back to Ancient Rome. The Romans built the mighty bridge crossing the river, now called “El Puente Romano”. But Cordoba’s hour of greatest glory was when it became the capital of the Moorish kingdom of El-Andalus, and this was when work began on the Great Mosque, or “Mezquita”, which – after several centuries of additions and enlargements – became one of the largest in all of Islam.

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We walk around the town and visit a Moroccan style tea house and we also see the Moorish style houses and courtyards, many have a central courtyard with a fountain.  

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Then we go to a large food market for a late lunch – very tasty.

We head home and watch the rugby, England V Ireland then we watch a film, The Way, most enjoyable.


Sunday 28th February

When we wake up this morning there’s an inch of snow on the ground.  Today it’s a dedicated lazy day.  Excellent!


Monday 29th February

Today I asked Darren to marry me!! Lol only kidding.  Today I do more digging and Daz does so many chores I can’t keep up.  I think he cat-proofed the second well with pallet wood; deconstructed the sort of ‘scaffolding tower’ and reconstructed in the yoga room, sanded the window bars and started to paint them.  

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Tuesday 1st March

Today more digging for me whilst Daz finishes painting the window bars, paints the shed door and then does some bike maintenance on our bike and the 2 belonging to Des and Chris.  Once work is done we decide we should explore the village.  Actually the only things in Venta valero are 2 bars so there’s probably only one way this will end!!! The first bar, Meson El Galope,  only has one customer, a slightly eccentric old man in hunting clothes.  

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We have a couple here with tapas then head to the other bar, Bar Miguel.  Here we have many more and attempt complicated conversations about our bike and travelling with the locals.  I stagger home via a couple of ditches and collapse in bed.


Wednesday 2nd March

Today I sand and stain the patio table and chairs whilst Daz applies the final topcoat of white paint to the vine framework.  

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Then Chris and Des return from their Spanish class and take us out to Priego de Cordoba.  This prosperous olive-farming town stands on a plateau overlooking the rolling hills of the Subbética Mountain Range, and is famous for its baroque churches, in which the convoluted patterns are elegantly incised into the stone façades, such as the Iglesia de la Asunción and the Iglesia de la Aurora, from which a cloaked brotherhood sets out on a procession every Saturday night, singing songs and collecting alms.

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All this magnificence was made possible by the town´s 18th century silk-production boom, the main monument to which is the Fuente del Rey, an extraordinary fountain in a leafy park with numerous large pools and no less than 139 spouts surrounding a statue of Neptune.
The old town is built around the Arabic castle at the edge of the escarpment. The castle is XIII century with reconstruction in the XVI century. There is a large prayer tower and six other smaller towers. The Church of the Asuncion is a XVI century Gothic Mudejar temple remodelled in the Baroque style in the XVIII century. The main altarpiece is Renaissance. the sacristy chapel is known as a masterpiece of the Spanish baroque. The tower dates back to 1541.

After looking round we stop in a square to enjoy the sunshine whilst having a drink and some tapas.  This area of Spain is very beautiful and one advantage – no mosquitos.  Apparently they don’t like the olives!


Thursday 3rd March

Our last working day.  Chris and Des go off to their Spanish lesson and we do a few chores.  I finish staining the patio table and bench.

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 Daz levels the garden plot that I dug over the other day and then we move some boxes and furniture from the downstairs bedrooms to the yoga room.  So once the last downstairs bedroom is tiled Des will be able to distribute the bedroom furniture which is next door.  Then all that remains will be all the boxes and furniture in the yoga room which need to be unpacked and sorted.  Chores done – hardly took any time so we have time to watch the last 2 Homeland episodes and then do some Michel Thomas Spanish.

In the afternoon once Des and Chris return from the dentist we all get in the car and pop over the hills towards Montefio, to a BBQ at friends of Chris and Des, Robert and Sabina.  They have a house in the hills which they have been renovating.

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 It has 2 self contained apartments which they rent out.   The apartments are lovely and Robert has done much of the work himself.  We sit on the terrace and nibble on bread and olives as Robert fires up the ‘brai’, so called because Robert spent a lot of years in South Africa growing up and then also time in the police force over there. Sabina is Polish and they both have PHDs in linguistics which they got in Sweden!!

The food is soon ready and we enjoy a lovely meal looking out over the hills and sipping on chilled red wine.  A lovely afternoon and a beautiful secluded setting, with the sun blazing.  It gives us another look at life in Southern Spain, and we are very impressed.


Friday 4th March

Venta Valero to Antequera.


Distance 97.77 km
Max speed 55.0 kmph
Average speed 16.9 kmph
Total 2282.25 km


Today we say farewell to Des and Chris.  It’s been a fabulous 10 days.  A break from cycling with  home comforts, a beautiful setting and good company.  I think we needed the break.  And we feel as if we’ve re-invigorated Chris and Des.  They’ve been faced with this ‘seemingly’ never ending list of jobs which becomes a drag.  But for us, just dipping in for a week or so is a novelty and very satisfying.  We are up and breakfasted, packed, including provisions of bananas and chocolates from Des and Chris and ready to hit the road by 0930.  It’s a fond farewell as they wave us on our way, only to pass us on the road ten minutes later on the way to their Spanish class.   We hope to see them again hopefully in Seville later in the month if they can find pet cover!!

The plan today is to get as close to Antequera as we can – perhaps all the way.  Then get a train from Antequera to Ronda where we are spending 3 days canyoning and via ferrata!


We’ve ummed and arrghed about the route we should take to Antequera; we need to get to Montefrio.  Yesterday Des and Chris kindly drove us an alternative route and because the road surface is good and there’s only a couple of hills, it’s the one we pick.  And it’s fabulous. There’s a gentle climb out of Venta Valero before a swooping downhill to our first proper climb of the day towards Montefrio.

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  It’s only about 3km but it’s early and soon has us blowing.  But then it’s down to Montefrio and around to pick up a river valley that takes us to our lunchstop in Loja. The scenery is spectacular, miles of olive groves, hills and in the distance some snow capped mountains.  

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The sun is shining and there’s barely any traffic.  Montefrio looks beautiful today and it’s been mentioned in National Geographic; one of the World’s top 10 scenic villages.  

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Around 1130 we cycle into Loja.Loja is another fortified town; so it’s on a hill with cobbled streets.  So we abandon (park) the bike outside a church.  We then climb up into the town and find lunch in a quiet square.  

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On the way back to the bike we walk up to the Alcazabra of Loja.  The Alcazaba de Loja is a defensive construction from the Nazari period, which is visually connected with the network of watchtowers that are distributed along the border of the kingdom of Granada.  many of its walls and towers, after a recent restoration are still standing today.  Built in the Muslim city of Medina Lawsa, the fortress was a preeminent center of political and military life, and was a key part of the Granada conquest. It is the most significant historical space of Loja.  The views from the top are outstanding.

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We set off again and soon we are climbing as we follow the roads that run alongside the motorway towards Antequera.  Daz finds it particularly tough on one hill and we pull over and sit on a bench in the shade for a while to get our breath back.  Then I start to lose my moja.  There’s still 21km to Antequera and we’ve already done over 70km.  The routemaister gave us total mileage of 88km – WRONG!!! Finally we make Antequera – it’s been tough but incredibly pretty.  A really good day and this is certainly an area we need to return to when our travels are done and we’re ready to settle down.  It’s got great weather, a relatively low cost of living, hills for walking, cycling and motorcycling – definitely potential!!! We stop at McDonald’s for the free WiFi ( and two McMeals!) and find some cheap accommodation in the centre of town.  A final couple of hills sees us wearily at our hotel.  After a little lie down we do have a little wander around the town centre.

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Saturday 5th March

Antequera to Ronda

Distance 25.48 km
Max speed 40.8 kmph
Average speed 14.1 kmph
Total 280.43 km


We start the day with a little sightseeing in Antequera.  

The first sighting of Antequera in the distance is that of a typical medieval town, with the spires of her many churches and the walls and towers of the great Moorish fortress silhouetted against the sky. Spread out in the valley below lie rich farmlands irrigated by the Guadalhorce River. For centuries this has been one of Andalucía’s most fertile areas, and is currently a leading producer of asparagus, cereals and olives. In summer, its fields turn brilliant yellow with sunflowers.

Just outside Antequera town, we visit one of Antequera’s most impressive sights, the dolmens, located in a park to the west of the town. The most spectacular of these is the Cueva de la Menga.

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These megalithic mass tombs, made of huge slabs of rock, were created by the original Iberian people and date back 5,000 years. There are many such dolmens in Andalucí­a, but none as large as the Cueva de la Menga. When it was excavated in the nineteenth century, many hundreds of skeletons were found in its inner chamber.

We also visit the recently excavated Roman baths, the magnificent Renaissance church of Santa Marí­a la Mayor Church, the Church of Nuestra Señora del Carmen, the 19th century bullring, and the Arch of the Giants, built in 1585, which leads up to the 13th century Moorish castle.  The views from the castle are spectacular.

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After sightseeing we head back to our hotel to book out.  The train to Ronda is at 2pm so we have a cup of coffee or 2 enjoying the hotel’s WiFi before heading to the train station.  We’ve got plenty of time and take a leisurely cycle to the train station and we tell the ticket man that we’ve had our bike on Spanish trains in the past so all is looking good.  But disaster – there’s no train.  There’s engineering works and instead of a train there’s a bus for the first leg of our train journey.  Daz is convinced (well 50% convinced – yes his words not mine – does 50% convinced = clueless?) that we’ll get the bike (in its fully constructed glory) in the large baggage compartment of a coach, because Daz has decided it’s a coach not some shitty bus.  I’m against such a plan and since there’s a train at 6pm suggest we cycle to the first stop, then get on the train.  So off we go, it’s only a 20km bike ride and I laugh in the face of such a short distance.  And actually it’s flat and dull and easy and short.  Our train station is Antequera Santa Ana and it’s a one horse town.  There is nothing here but a huge, state of the art train station, it’s actually like an airport terminal. Most bizarre.  It’s only half 2 so hours until our train but Daz says this is on the mainline to Madrid so there might be an earlier train.  So we go in, have to put on bags through the X- ray machine, and go to the ticket desk.  OMG there’s a train to Ronda in 9 minutes.  I leave Daz to complete the transaction and go to fetch the bike.  The lady manning the x-ray machine makes some comment – does she expect me to put the tandem through the scanner?  No just the bags – so off they all come and through they go including the bag with the knives in!!! After the scanner it’s over to the escalator – yes Daz takes the bike down the escalator, then up an escalator and surprisingly we’re actually on a train to Ronda!  The rough hilly terrain we pass through is very lovely.

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After we check in to our hotel we go in search of food and realise what a gem Ronda actually is. We visit the bull ring, the viewpoint at the edge of town and the new bridge.  

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Despite being Andalucía’s fastest-growing town Ronda retains much of its historic charm, particularly its old town. It is famous worldwide for its dramatic escarpments and views, and for the deep El Tajo gorge that carries the rio Guadalevín through its centre. Visitors make a beeline for the 18th century Puente Nuevo ‘new’ bridge, which straddles the 100m chasm below, for its unparalleled views out over the Serranía de Ronda mountains.


Ronda is also famous as the birthplace of modern bullfighting, today glimpsed once a year at the spectacular Feria Goyesca. Held at the beginning of September, here fighters and some of the audience dress in the manner of Goya’s sketches of life in the region. Legendary Rondeño bullfighter Pedro Romero broke away from the prevailing Jerez ‘school’ of horseback bullfighting in the 18th century to found a style of bullfighting in which matadores stood their ground against the bull on foot. In 2006 royalty and movie stars were helicoptered in for the Goyesca’s 50th anniversary celebrations in its small bullring, while thousands jammed the streets and parks outside. Otherwise the bullring, Plaza de Toros, is now a museum, and visitors can stroll out into the arena.

After a stroll around some of the sights, we concentrate on finding food.  We’re in a restaurant and 3 American ladies sit at the table next to us.  Outside in the square there’s a practice run for Semana Santa, (The Easter parade), men carrying a heavy float.  We explain what’s happening to the Americans and then we chat about our travels.  These ladies are on a tour of southern Spain and Portugal. They are from Texas, Florida and Michigan.  It’s pleasant to chat and they tell us about a bull farm they visited locally, it sounds very interesting.  

We head to a bar we saw earlier, it was packed with a band at the far end.  It’s still packed.  We’re not sure what’s going on but everyone seems to know everyone else, so we’re wondering if it’s some sort of family celebration.

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 Anyway we’re enjoying the atmosphere when someone offers us some tickets.  She offers them at half price so off we rush (the show has just started) to find the venue.  The place is packed and has a ‘sit anywhere’ policy – so we end up standing, watching from a balcony – The Pasión – a musical creation of our folk traditions, a fusion of Easter and flamenco. Incredible – it was very moving!  

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