Even though my goal was to get to Algeciras, to take the ferry to Morocco, the coastal route didn’t appeal in the slightest. I haven’t been there before, but in my mind it’s just a long stretch similar to the one between Cancun and Playa del Carmen. A massively developed ex-pat community full of Brits and Germans in particular looking for the sun. I’ve got no problem with that, but in my mind it would make for less than interesting riding, lots of traffic and issues finding places to camp with every square inch taken by developers. Thankfully the inland option would offer the cities of Granada, Córdoba and Sevilla to visit instead.
The first part of the route was 3 days, through the Sierra Nevada and the Alpujarra. People in Andalusia, speak about Los Pueblos Blancos (The White Villages) and mainly talk about the area around Ronda, but the Alpujarra seemed to be full of them too. All the buildings have whitewashed walls, making me think of Greece, and red or brown tiled roofs. In Trevélez, the highest village in Europe, I stopped to enjoy the local plate, something I justified to myself as I needed to charge my laptop to let me earn some cash. The plate is called Alpujarreño and is made up of chorizo, blood sausage, jamón serrano, fried egg, and potatoes. While I didn’t see a pig during my 3 days, the ham is local because it is cured in the Alpujarra with the idea that the elevation and dryness makes it taste better. Trevélez is also the base for hiking the tallest mountain in mainland Spain, Mulhacén, but there is apparently snow higher up until June or July. Otherwise I’d have gone up, because you can get most of the way to the top with a bicycle! Always appealing.
My first night I camped in the garden of a friend of Carlos, my host in Almería, but the 2nd night I wasn’t sure where I’d stop. I was riding along just before sunset into the town of Lanjaron, when someone standing outside a bar shouted at me. I of course stopped, and found that the man was a German called Herbert. His friends took an interest in my bike, and an English guy there seemed rather surprised about what I’d done to the extent that he offered me a whiskey, which was of course accepted. I ended up being in the bar for a couple of hours, chatting with the locals and being provided food and drink in exchange for stories about the wonder of the world, and another whiskey when I mentioned going to Algeria. When I was asked where I would sleep, and I had no plan, Herbert invited me up the hill to sleep in his caravan, which I of course accepted. I should have asked him about the hill, because after a couple of drinks and food climbing a super-steep road wasn’t quite what I had in mind, but with Herbert’s patience it worked and I got up there OK.
In Granada, I stayed with Zigor and Maria, an amazingly positive couple. They had done a two-year bike trip from Spain and got as far as New Zealand before coming home. Zigor is Basque, and proved a fascinating insight into the world up there, and the identity that people in the region have. Basque has its own language called Euskara and it doesn’t share roots with any other modern language. País Vasco aka Basque Country, is a heavily mountainous area and so has often been left alone unlike the rest of Spain and so maintained it’s own language and culture.
Granada is home to the most famous building remaining from the Arabic times in Spain, the Alhambra, which I looked into buying a ticket for online and found that the next available one was 5 weeks later. Thankfully, when going to see one of the processions, I stopped by the ticket shop and found that they had a ticket for a couple of days later. The alternate option involved arriving early at the Alhambra (I was told 5-6am) and waiting in line until 8:30 to hopefully get one.
The city is quite gloriously beautiful, with an intriguing mix of areas to visit, from the Alhambra itself, to the Albayzín, to the more normal central area. The maze of small streets reminded me of Lisbon in how easy it was to get lost, and had a definite charm.
I was really lucky as far as timing went. It was Holy Week (Semana Santa) the week that I was in Granada, and Andalusia is one of the most traditional parts of Spain and have done their best to maintain the culture of Holy Week. Being from the UK, where Easter is pretty much about eating chocolate eggs on Easter Sunday, it was fascinating to see. I saw processions on the Monday, Tuesday and the Wednesday and they were all interesting for their own right.
The one on Monday was great because I ended up standing next to a 10-year-old boy from the US who has lived in Spain for a couple of years and he and his friends explained their love of Holy Week. My favourite part was the little kids who bring a ball of tin foil and then get it covered in wax from the candles that everyone in the procession carries (and means that for weeks after the streets are slippery for cars and bicycles alike). They keep it from year on year and the size of the wax ball shows your devotion to visiting the processions.
On Wednesday I went to the procession of Los Gitanos (Gypsies) and it was easily my favourite. I went with Zigor, as it passed through the part of the Albayzín near where they lived, and we found a rooftop to sit on by the procession route. The difference between that procession and the others was marked by the number of regular people. While the processions on Monday and Tuesday had been full of people that definitely aren’t Klan robes (see pictures) the Gitano procession had a few officials and a mass of everyone else who wanted to be part of the procession with them. That sense of community, togetherness and equality was quite glorious and watching the procession pass through the super-narrow streets of the Albayzín on the way to Sacremonte was fantastic. It heads there, because the gypsy community mainly lives in caves above the city, a very distinct part of the city that I’d not seen elsewhere.
I was also in Granada for my birthday, which involved being lazy and eating cake. The first birthday in my trip was the US, then Cuba, third Spain, fourth the UK and now another one in Spain! Something about Spain in late March appeals to me?
Going round corners
Gitano take 3
I had only planned to stay in Granada for 2-3 days, but Zigor and Maria are amazingly hospitable people (comparing themselves to the Iranians they met on their trip) and when I managed to get my ticket to see the Alhambra they had no problem with me staying for longer. Zigor also helped me communicating with Bike-Tech (the Spanish distributor for Ortlieb) about the warranty on my bags. My handlebar bag had cracked, for no apparent reason, and my main panniers were starting to fail a little. I got in touch with Bike-Tech on the 4th of April and even 3 weeks later when I was in Granada the matter had still not been resolved. It ended up taking until the 8th of April for me to finally get my bags! Madness.
The Alhambra is amazing, and definitely worth a visit for those who go to Granada. The entrance is about €15, and as I mentioned earlier the tickets can be a pain to get, but honestly even without a ticket it is worth going. I only had to show my ticket to go into the palace of the Alhambra, the Alcazar (fortress) and Generalife (palace with pretty gardens). The rest of the grounds and some buildings were free to enter without a ticket, and you could also see part of Generalife from outside without the ticket. I’m not going to try to write anything about it, but if you’re interested then the official website is definitely worth a look!
Inside the Alhambra