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The prettiness of Granada was capped with the look back on it with the snowcapped Sierra Nevadas looking rather majestic behind it which accompanied me the whole way to Loja. I was heading there next as there was another Warmshowers host, John, and I was eager to meet more. He’s an English teacher, with a lot of international experience, the most random being Sudan. A pleasure to hang out with and chat while he fixed his scooter and we sipped down cups of milky tea in pint glasses.

From John, it was north towards Córdoba. One of my two main standouts was the Guardia Civil talking to me about my lack of a helmet (Carlos in Almería gave me one but it sits on the back of my bike) but thankfully nothing more than that as in Spain it’s possible to be fined up to €150. The laws are only outside of cities and not enforced that strictly, or even that well defined. The law says that you don’t have to wear a helmet if you are going uphill (but no specific gradient defined) if it’s too hot (with no specific temperature) or if you’re a professional (but then all professionals wear them anyway). It’s not as bad as New Zealand or Australia where helmets are obligatory and there’s been a dramatic drop in bicycle usage in both countries since, and the studies in New Zealand suggest that cyclist safety hasn’t improved.

The other standout was my first stay with the bomberos. I was on my way to Córdoba and considering wild camping when I stumbled across a fire station. I knocked on the door and was told to come in as the chief had to be asked. He immediately said sure and showed me to the gym where I could sleep on the floor. Perfect. They apologised about not having anything to offer me, but that I was definitely able to take a shower if I wanted. Who would want more? By the time I was done, they had vanished from the room they’d been sitting in, but while I was looking at the map one turned up to let me know they’d all gone upstairs to the kitchen and would I like to join them. Before I’d sat down I was offered a plate of pasta, and then some salad, which was followed by chatting away for more than an hour. Bomberos are still the best.

My host in Córdoba, Luis from Paraguay, was only able to host me for a night but it was enough to do a walking tour of Córdoba and to see La Mezquita – a fascinating cathedral which had been the main mosque before the reconquista of Spain. The central area around the cathedral quite probably deserved more time than I had, as there was a definite charm to it… although not quite as much as Granada. The walking tour spoke of the diverse history of Córdoba, and the mix of Jews, Muslims and Christians which had been peaceful for so long. Most of the people who have spoken to me about it seem to suggest that the Muslim influence in Spain, starting in 711, was very peaceful and things went quite wonderfully until the Catholic church in Rome decided that it wasn’t right for Muslims to be in such a large a part of Spain and set the reconquista going.

After the walking tour, it was west to Sevilla. It was a bit too far to go in just an afternoon, especially with the combination of headwinds and following Luis’ idea of going along the Via Verde. Pretty enough but unpaved, and things went slower when my sandal decided to do its tradition of coming apart after not so much use.

I arrived into the town of Fuentes de Andalusia at about 10pm. The streets were pretty much empty, people probably busy preparing their dinner because 10-11pm is completely standard here. I made my way to the middle of the town, and found the Casa de Cultura which was still open. Inside there was a bar, ran by a man called Hilario, and 3 patrons (Paco and 2 others). I sat down and explained my situation to Hilario, which lead to some brainstorming between the four. They grabbed a map of the town, and annotated it to show me where the bomberos, Guardia Civil and Cruz Roja were. I thanked them and left to get on my bike. Paco followed, as he wanted to smoke, and we spoke while he had his cigarette. By the end he asked me if I wanted a beer, and so within a couple of minutes I was back inside.

Two beers and lots of chatting later, the mayor (Francisco) turned up for a relaxing drink. Francisco was immediately told by Paco that the town needed to make a place for travellers like me to stay for the night and that he needed to find me a place to stay. A few phone calls later and a room had been arranged for free at the town’s inn. Before I left, Hilario invited me back to keep talking when he opened the next day at 7:30. Further proof of how wonderfully just talking to people works.

By 8:30 I was back with Hiario, and we spent another 30+ minutes talking. He told me stories of his own travels, and also about how listening to my stories made him want to get back to travelling. Unfortunately things at the bar were so hectic, and he had to work from 7:30 to midnight most days with only a couple of hours around lunch for a siesta. His wife helped, but he was hectic most of the time I was there that morning with people turning up wanting their Spanish breakfast (bread with a tomato and garlic mix rubbed on and some olive oil put on top). He told me about the marathon he had just done, and I can understand if he didn’t need to do much training considering how much he must walk a day.

The ride to Seville was uneventful, other than a small stretch riding on the motorway. Usually it’s forbidden, but the entrance I got on didn’t have the normal signs. Maybe because it was the only way over the river as the local road I’d been on terminated when it met the motorway. I was a little concerned, but thankfully within a few km I got off and was free to dawdle the rest of the way to Seville.

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