Mertola - Vuelta a Iberia - CycleBlaze

October 29, 2019

Mertola

Today’s Ride

We were pleased last night to happen upon a bicycle store, the Beja Bicycle Store, on our way to dinner.  It looks like a good place, a Specialized shop, likely time have a credible mechanic.  We’ve both been wanting this.  Rachael has a broken bottle cage that needs replacement, as well as a totally disgusting water bottle that’s no longer fit to drink from.  And I need a mechanic, for my gears that have gone badly out over the last few days - I’ve lost my lowest two sprockets, which works poorly in this hilly land.

We roll out of the store a half hour later, both happy.  The mechanic did a great job with the gears, and I think even replaced a cable.  All this, plus a fiber bar, for only 35 euros.

Our ride begins with a straight shot south on the main highway.  We originally planned to backtrack on the road we biked in on yesterday, thinking it would be quieter and safer; but we’re wiser now and opt for the highway and it’s broad, safe, shoulder.

Such deeply furrowed fields.
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About eight miles into the ride we leave the highway for the narrower, much quieter IC27, which we follow all the way to Mertola.  It is an awesomely beautiful road, especially after a few miles when we enter the vast Guadiana Valley Natural Park.  The ride presents us a succession of one delight after another, all the way to Mertola.  Our only regret is that we hurry through it too quickly, concerned about the threat of rain.  Its a good thing we did hurry though - rains arrive not long after we check in to our hotel.

It looks edenic. The name of tonight’s restaurant fits well: Terra Utópica, the utopian land.
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Idyllic, alright. Unfortunately, this photo is looking back north, toward Beja. We’re going south, toward a turbulent grey sky that resembles yesterday’s shortly before the rains arrived.
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The white horse stands apart.
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We’re back in terra rossa territory.
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Looking north again, through the cinnamon road cut on the ascent from the nearly dry Terges River.
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The view south looks rather more ominous. Are we going to get soaked again?
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Our road bends a bit to the southeast, and conditions look more promising. We’re in a large natural park for the rest of the ride and it’s unremittingly beautiful, much of it with the road lined with eucalyptus.
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Video sound track: Cinnamon Road, by Shawn Colvin

This was wonderful to watch unfold - a huge vulture cyclone, hundreds of feet tall. Easily over a hundred huge, swirling birds. Worth stopping and risking getting wet for.
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Another mandatory stop to admire this tidy formation of sheep, feeding in two long lines.
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Rachael’s walk

We arrive in Mertola just past two, leaving us several hours to explore the town before sundown.  After a quick lunch in the hotel lobby (the snacks we took for the road but didn’t take time to stop for), we went our own ways for the next two hours.  After a spin through town, Rachael headed west into the hills and up toward the windmill on the nearest ridge.

She came back exultant, exclaiming what wonderful walking country this is - the best walk of the tour for her so far.  It’s hilly country, and she describes a roller coaster walk, climbing up steep red earth roads by leveraging the furrows from tractor treads for footing.  She said each rise brought a new view that tempted her on to the next one, and felt like she could keep walking forever.

Looking down on Mertola.
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The Roman Bridge, or possibly it was originally a Muslim aquaduct. It’s been whitewashed since we first came here, when it had a bare concrete look.
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The hills around Mertola are rugged and deeply eroded. Challenging walking country.
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The view west, climbing away from the river.
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A windmill crowns the nearest ridge west of town. From other photos I’ve seen of this windmill, it looks like it was recently whitewashed also.
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Actually, it looks like it was also resurfaced. The older photos show it as having an exposed stone surface.
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Scott’s walk

I never left town.  In fact, I never left the immediate neighborhood, spending all my time around the castle and the old walled city spread below it at the south end of town.  It’s a fascinating place to walk slowly through, exploring its crooked lanes and half-hidden passageways that reveal its ancient origins and its past as a moorish stronghold.

I might have wandered further afield, but I was trapped by a vision from atop the castle walls - an odd brown lump that proved to be a griffin vulture, perched inert atop the rampart that stretches below the castle and surrounds the old city.  When I first spotted him he was awake, his head exposed, his long neck outstretched; but almost immediately he tucked himself back under his wings and apparently went to sleep.

After about ten minutes of waiting him out and trying to rouse him by a variety of whistles and soft claps, I gave it up.  Let sleeping vultures roost, I think the old saw goes.  Looking down though, I saw that there was a footpath along the base of the wall, on the outside.  I decided to take it, hoping to get a better view of the bridgebelow and perhaps another shot at the bird.

In retrospect, this was probably not my wisest decision.  The path started reasonably enough, following the wall as it angled down toward the river.  The slope gradually steepened though, the path degraded, and I found myself cautiously proceeding, carefully testing each step of the way lest I tumble down the steep slope and crash into the rocks below.  At a few spots the trail nearly disappeared, and I resorted to gingerly clinging to cactus blades for balance.  The next morning, I’m still trying to work a few thorns out of my fingertips.

But, it all worked out.  And I got the bird.

Looking downriver along the Guadiana.
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Climbing through the narrow, twisting lanes that lie beneath the castle, presumably the oldest part of town.
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In the walled city, Mertola
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In various spots, crooked alleyways provide ties between the broader lanes and give a shorter route up to the castle.
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In Mertola
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Tethered tabbies eye the approaching stranger with suspicion.
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Jen Grumby"A hornless human!!", they declare.
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Jen GrumbyThey’re wise to be cautious. I’m notoriously mean to kitties.
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1 month ago
This looks taken from an Andalucian white town - which come to think of it isn’t that far east from here.
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Finally, the castle.
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Looking down the castle ramparts across the south end of town and the Guadiana.
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From the same spot as the above photo, but looking a bit more to the west and the road south to Alcoutim and the coast. In both photos, notice the brown lump just before the crook in the ramparts.
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Here’s the lump - a griffon vulture, its head and neck buried under its wings, apparently asleep. I watched for about ten minutes, making a series of enticing sounds in hopes of rousing the bird, but without success.
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Ron SuchanekDid you try to tickle his belly? They like that.
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Ron SuchanekVultures? Are you sure? I haven’t heard that.
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1 month ago
Ron SuchanekTo Scott AndersonWell, give it a shot. What's the worst that could happen?
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1 month ago
The windmill we saw above on Rachael’s walk, zoomed in here from the castle. I think the nearer building Is the hermitage of Our Lady of the Snows.
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The clock tower, and the Guadiana.
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In one of my less wise moments, I decided to walk down the path on the west side of the walls, hoping to get a better shot at the Roman bridge and possibly see the vulture from below. It proved to be a more precarious descent than I’d bargained for.
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The bridge, and a fallen agave.
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Either he just finally woke up again, or he senses I’m nearer and looks up. Either way, I’m quite pleased. It’s worth scrambling down here, especially since I didn’t break my neck.
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Marilyn MudgeWow! Every feather! I think he/she is asking how you got there.
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1 month ago
Jen GrumbyGreat shot!!
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1 month ago
Jacquie GaudetWhat a great shot!
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Marilyn MudgeThanks, Marilyn. I couldn’t believe my luck when he looked around at me. He was gone from his spot a minute later, lifting off while my back was turned.

And thanks for following along! Nice to have the company - it gets lonely on these empty roads out here.
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Jen GrumbyLucky this time, and we’ll worth risking my neck for.
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Jacquie GaudetThanks, Jacquie. I was pretty excited about it myself when I unloaded it. It wasn’t the easiest shot to take either, standing there on the scree. I didn’t want to be in the news like those folks who fall off a cliff taking a selfie.
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1 month ago
Suzanne GibsonWell done - but a bit risky for my taste. How about getting a drone to go out there for you?
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Suzanne GibsonI half agree. I had misgivings and almost turned back several times. On the other hand, I hate drones.
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1 month ago
Another look at the Roman bridge, spanning the small tributary that flows into the Guadiana just south of town.
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Down safely, I take a last look back up through the old city to the castle. A few twists and turns later I round the south end of town, head back along the river to our hotel, and as so often happens stumble across Rachael returning also.
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Dinner at Terra Utópica

For dinner, we walked back up into the walled city to Terra Utópica, a restaurant we so enjoyed last time that we mentioned it in the blog then.  On the way up we admired the castle and its walls, illuminated with a beautiful golden glow; and I cursed myself for stupidly forgetting my camera again.  I vowed to come back after dinner, but didn’t.  You should come here and see for yourself.

Dinner was a delight, again.  Terra Utópica - the Utopian Land.  What an apt name for such an idyllic place, one we hope to return to yet again some day, and stay here for a few days next time for local rides and hiking.

As we rose up at the end of the meal, the couple from the neighboring table inquired if we were bicyclists, tipped off by Rachael’s telltale tan everywhere but where her bicycle gloves cover her hands.  For the next half hour we enjoyed a rich, rewarding, far reaching conversation with Julie and Gilles, an adventurous young couple from near Grenoble who love to travel and have a curiousity about doing so by bike some day.  At the end, we exchange addresses.  Who knows?  We like France well enough - perhaps we’ll meet again some day.

The dining hall, Terra Utópica. When we ate here the first time we dined on the roof under the stars, looking down on the city and river. Not tonight though - it would rain again a bit later.
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Laura, our server this evening and I think the first time as well. She was kind enough to say she thought she remembered us from last time.
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Not the best photo - who knows what Rachael’s doing here - but it captures the important portraits OK - our new friends Gilles and Julie, from the French Alps.
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Ride stats today: 34 miles, 1,100’; for the tour, 1,196 miles, 63,800’

Today's ride: 34 miles (55 km)
Total: 1,198 miles (1,928 km)

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