Valencia de Alcántara - Vuelta a Iberia - CycleBlaze

October 20, 2019

Valencia de Alcántara

Neither of us is really looking forward to today’s ride, or to the night’s destination really.  We spent a lot of time considering the alternatives for this part of the trip when planning it, trying to decide the best way to get from Caceres to Portugal.  There are three options - south through Merida and Badajoz, northwest to Alcántara, or straight west toward Marvão.  there are pros and cons to all of them, but we finally settled on the route west, the same choice we made coming the other direction six years ago.

The problem is that it’s a long haul between Caceres and Pontalegre, our first stay in this part of Portugal - eighty miles, and longer than we feel ready to sign up for at this stage in our lives.  In between is the Big Empty, with a few small towns in between.  We found a bookable hotel in Valencia de Alcántara, just six miles from the border, but at 58 miles it’s still a pretty long day.  It doesn’t seem likely to be the most interesting stop, but just a place to find shelter and hopefully something better than a bar meal at the end of the day.  And it doesn’t look like the most interesting ride, following the national highway the whole way.  As the most direct route to Portugal, it seems like it could be a bit busy and a bit of a long slog.  Just another long day at the office.

We’ve been thinking about this day for a couple of weeks, hoping that the weather would break our way so we wouldn’t find ourselves biking in the rain all day.  We’re thus hugely relieved and grateful this morning to wake up and see that the famed Team Anderson Luck has come through again.  It’s forecasted to be dry all day, with only a persistent but modest headwind to hold us back.

It’s cold when we wake up, but by 10 it’s warmed up enough that we’re comfortable getting started.  We check out of our hotel, weave our way through town, and turn west toward the frontier.

Leaving Caceres.
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The first ten miles are about as we expected - a fairly nondescript ride through a string of suburbs.  Traffic is persistent but reasonably light, and the shoulder is abundant.  With light headwinds we make good time on our day west.  Our only issue is the morning chill - it’s still overcast and it’s right on the edge, almost cold enough for us to stop and put on warm gloves, but not quite.  

Ten miles into the ride we finally break into the sun; we lose most of the traffic at the turnoff north to Alcántara; and suddenly the ride turns delightful.

West to the frontier. The mountains ahead are still inside of Spain though - they’re the western end of Sierra de San Piedmont’s, the same range we biked south to yesterday.
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So we were completely wrong about the day’s ride.  The final 35 miles to Valencia de Alcántara are really beautiful, full of character and surprises.  This is really wide open territory - you can see for miles in all directions, biking past rangelands filled with large flocks of sheep and widely dispersed herds of cattle.  A black vulture soars overhead.

There is very little traffic now, with lone cars passing only once every several minutes.  Mostly, it’s silent - just the sound of your bike and the wind.  I don’t know if there was some sort of event, or if we’re still so near Caceres to see day riders out for a Sunday ride, but we see probably twenty bikers racing downwind back toward the city for the next hour. 

Sheep trails
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A European lapwing, trying to find his missing beak.
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Jen GrumbyHopefully he figured out that it's just 2 inches to his left.

Pretty little bird!
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Jen GrumbyI tried to tell him, but apparently I don’t speak Lap correctly.
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1 month ago
Extremadura has many faces. They’re nearly all beautiful.
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The Sierra de San Pedro grows larger as we approach it. Somewhere in there our road will bend through a gap and come out the other side.
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Arroyo de la Luz, a small village five miles off route.
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The landscape grows more textured and interesting as we move west.
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This was wonderful - the largest goat parade I’ve seen since Albania. It must have been a third of a mile long, a thousand goats rapidly moving west, almost single file. They’re aiming for a culvert up ahead, where they will pass under the highway to the pastures on the other side.
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Ron SuchanekI've never used the phrase, "the largest goat parade I’ve seen since Albania". Yet.
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Ron SuchanekWe don’t hold a copyright on it, so feel free to use it yourself if the occasion warrants it. Best though would be if you go to Albania first.
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1 month ago
I’ve biked ahead to get a head on view of the train, and catch them at the culvert directly below. We stand here for a long time, watching them walk/run beneath our feet and spit out on the other side of the road.
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Some crabapples
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We make good, steady progress, reaching Aliseda about noon.  It’s the only town of any size we’ll see all day, but with only 20 miles under our tires it’s too soon to stop.  We keep riding for another ten, finally stopping for lunch at a tiny park outside also tiny Herreruela.  Over our snacks we congratulate ourselves on our progress but note the worrisome fact that the headwind is stiffening.  We’re a bit anxious that we have a painful several hours ahead.

We needn’t have worried though.  We had stopped at the windiest spot of the ride, but it almost immediately eases off again after we start biking again; and in another ten miles, as our route starts bending to the southwest to cross the range, the wind becomes our friend and pushes us the remaining miles to our destination for the night.  

For the final miles of the day the cloud cover intensifies, turns dramatic; and we can see rain falling in the distance across the border.  We start wondering whether we’ll get soaked ourselves, but fortunately reach our hotel dry, with the sky above us filled with towering, menacing formations.

After 20 miles we come to Aliseda, the only town of any size we’ll pass through before day’s end. We stayed here the last time we came through, but weren’t so impressed.
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In Extremadura
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In Extremadura
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Bending southwest into the Sierra de San Pedro, we begin picking up a tailwind for the first time.
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Video sound track: Abre la Ventana, by Cordero

Another chocolate landscape, in the Sierra de San Pedro
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Near Valencia
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Near Valencia, and the Portuguese border. The white town on the hill is Marvao, the famously scenic Portuguese frontier village.
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Valencia de Alcántara. The wind is now our friend, but we’re suddenly worried about the weather. Rachael impatiently urges me to pocket the camera and hurry up so we don’t get drenched before we arrive. She makes a good point.
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The look when we bike into town. I think this looks like a menacing cloud; don’t you?
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Jen GrumbyYes! That cloud is obviously searching for some traveling cyclists.
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1 month ago

The fact that the ride was so much better than we expected was the big news of the day of course.  This town was much better than we expected also though - interesting to walk through, with pleasant small parks and even the ruins of a castle - not surprising really, since we ate only about four miles from the border.

And, on final surprise for the day was finding an appealing restaurant with a surprising menu - special of the day was curry.  As we walked out after dinner, the owner rushed after Rachael to offer her a small wrapped gift.  She was excited about it, thinking it was chocolate.  She stopped herself back in the room just in time before taking a bite into a bar of soap.

In Valencia de Alcántara
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In Valencia de Alcántara
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In Valencia de Alcántara
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In Valencia de Alcántara
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In Valencia de Alcántara
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Ride stats today: 58 miles, 3,000’; for the tour: 922 miles, 46,100‘

Today's ride: 58 miles (93 km)
Total: 924 miles (1,487 km)

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Jen GrumbyLove the goat video!
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1 month ago