Day 31: Mertola to Serpa - Grampies Go Valencia to Paris: Spring 2024 - CycleBlaze

March 9, 2024

Day 31: Mertola to Serpa

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From across the river on the way out of town, we made a photo of Mertola, with its fort on the hill. Every cyclist takes this photo, including us last year, but how many also got a rainbow in there!

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Here is a wider view, showing how Mertola has spread upriver.

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I got a tip from a Youtube last night about how to keep the automatic function of a Lumix camera from turning a bird on a wire against a bright sky into just a black lump. The paradox is that what they call intelligent automatic plus (iA+) is not more automatic, but less. In that mode, the exposure compensation button really does change the exposure. This allows one to manually deal with a dark bird and a bright sky  while preserving the other automatic functions.

Iberian Gray Shrike - with partly manual exposure.
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Scott AndersonI’ve never experimented with this. I’ll have to check it out.
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1 month ago

In past days we found that tracks derived from Google Mymaps were showing a tendency to take us along dirt roads, sand traps, and trails, rather than real roads. With our heavy bikes, we hate that. We responded with the help of Scott by downloading, for example, his 2013 track through Alcoutim and to Mertola. That worked great. So this morning Dodie dragged me awake with the request to download Scott through Serpa to Moura. I did that , and after the steep climb away from the river, at Mertola, we were soon gliding along a super smooth black road. Wow, that Scott knows how to pick them, we enthused.

Do we have Scott to thank for this route?
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The road or route aside (for now) the story of today really is  in the landscape. It was rolling and green, with meadows of flowers. In the early stages, it also featured many Stone Pines. We have learned that these are the source of pine nuts. That accounts, it would appear, for how they are seen here in large plantations, with orderly rows. They must not be some kind of general reforestation, but literally a crop.

Orderly pines
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Among the pines, though, I noticed again those strange growths, and this time strolled over for a closer look. They are like this:

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It turns out that these are the nest of those nasty "procession" caterpillars, the dangerous ones for which we often see warnings in German forests. They are very common in the pines here in Portugal. I found this site that describes them at some length.

Although the temperature was bouncing around, in the 16-24 range, with some rain sprinkles, it was very pleasant to be outdoors today, and we rolled happily through the colourful and gentle landscape.

Open, rolling country, with flowers.
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Andrea BrownIt's so cool to see Spanish lavender out in the wild. It's pretty short-lived for me.
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Steve Miller/GrampiesTo Andrea BrownIt is amazing to see hillsides carpeted in it. At home it is too wet and it is never happy. Here, in the hot and (usually) dry it just flourishes.
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A beautiful sheep in a beautiful pasture.
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An embankment with Spanish Lavender.
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Lavender and those red grasses.
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A well spaced forest.
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We passed through one farm where it seemed people had lived in now tumble down loosely stacked field stone houses, before moving to stucco.
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24158 Corn Bunting
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The road continued decent, as we see in this photo.
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An interesting bit of stone outcropping.
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Karen PoretObject on top left appears to be a giant hose nozzle..;)
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Cows were brown.
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Karen PoretHow now, brown cow..
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And a white kitten on a wall.
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In this pleasant landscape and after some kms of good road and beauty, we were not undulty alarmed when the pavement turned to gravel. 

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It was still beautiful all around us...
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But it's getting rougher
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and rougher
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But hey, look, Sound of Music grade landscape...
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Ok, now this is dumb. Scott didn't mention rough gravel and mud.
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It looks pretty dry in this shot, but there really were some kms of rough and muddy road, forcing us to get off and push frequently, and jamming up the fenders with sticky goo.
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Scott AndersonWell, that’s too bad. I tried!
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1 month ago

When we finally returned to pavement, we found puddles like the one shown below, and worked to free our bikes from all the mud that came with our "Scott" route. At least at the time we thought it was the Scott route, and could be heard to whine "I thought we were going with Scott to avoid this kind of nonsense!"  

It wasn't until we got "back in the lab" at our Beatriz Hotel in Serpa that the truth could come out. The evil intelligence behind the mud route was not Scott but of course Google. What had happened was that the downloaded Scott track had somehow become corrupted in its journey from RWGPS  through a download to one phone and then an emailing over to our GPS phone, and then an import into Osmand+. Osmand+ looked at the corrupted .gpx file, found nothing of use within it, and just silently decided to display ...nothing. That left Google with an open field to masquerade as the true track, and bingo, wheels clogged with mud!

At the roadside bike wash.
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Prying out mud with a stick.
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We had returned to the paved road, and though it did have a bit of traffic - going way too fast for the narrow lanes, it did continue through beautiful countryside.

A slope of yellow lupins
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So cheery.
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Sheep in that red grass.
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At this stage on the ride there was a change in the vegetation. We spotted the first cork oak trees, for example, while the pines mostly disappeared.

A cork tree, harvested. The cork bark grows back in 9 years.
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Mainly, we had now not pine or oranges or cork so much as olives. They were planted in orderly rows, up the hillsides.

Olives
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Small, closely spaced, carefully pruned olives.
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We knew for sure we were on the right road when we came to a contraption that the Classens had recorded, and that we too photographed last year. It's not exactly a stunning artifact, but it is still mildly interesting. Obviously the idea is to dump olives onto the conveyor belt, where they later can be released into a truck. Part of the interest is that it shows that a large volume of product is being transported in season.

The famous olive hopper
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Let it not be said that there is nothing new in these blogs! Here is an all different hopper, never previously recorded!

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It took us longer to get to Serpa than we had predicted, maybe thanks to the rough road, but we still arrived early in the afternoon. That gave us time to cruise through town a little, mainly looking for the Tourist Information (TI). We think TI is our best bet for collecting Camino stampings, vs. in the churches. Churches are normally destaffed, and in the modern age are not really caring for pilgrims along the route. That leaves the Tourism rather than the Religion industry to pick up the slack. This may change, though, as we get closer to Santiago, where the density of pilgrims will increase dramatically, making them worth it for churches to attend to.

Into Serpa. See the orange trees? Some kms out of town we passed a gas station that happened to have several trees in its landscaping. They were dripping with oranges, literally, with many falling in the street. We picked out a couple. They were so good! Portuguese oranges seem milder, less acidic than others.
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Narrow streets of all white buildings.
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In the main square.
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Passing through the city wall, looking for the TI. It was just behind us.
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The church is directly in front of our hotel.
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Once again we have a room with lots of space and plugs, even a bathtub, and the prospect of some kind of included breakfast tomorrow. Each night now we are having to run the heater. It will be 9 degrees by morning, with predicted rain until noon. A little warmer would be nice, but we prefer this to the 30 degrees plus we would get if we would try cycling in a tropical location this month.

Today's ride: 52 km (32 miles)
Total: 1,412 km (877 miles)

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Kelly IniguezI am totally allergic to dirt roads. You can be sure any dirt we do is of great quality.

We also stayed at the Beatriz in Serpa, although you didn’t have our trouble locating the hotel vs the apartments.
https://www.cycleblaze.com/journals/gotagorda/to-serpa-portugal/

Perhaps our map will help you? IDK how many days we are on the same track, but I always publish a map.
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1 month ago
Kelly IniguezThis day was a tour highlight for me. We had four castles! I’m looking forward to your view of the day.
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1 month ago
Steve Miller/GrampiesTo Kelly IniguezWe actually ended up at the Beatriz Apartments first also, and had to phone the Hotel to get directions from the Apartments to the Church/Square with the Hotel opposite. Thanks for the offer of tracks, but our routes seem to be diverging from here on. Dodie has been reading, and rereading, Scott, and the Classens, and your blogs trying to find the routing that will yield least gravel/most pavement and feels she now knows which way we should go. Time will tell, so stay tuned.
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1 month ago
Steve Miller/GrampiesTo Kelly Iniguez7 a.m. now - looking forward to that 8 a m. breakfast and we'll see if the adjacent grocery opens!
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1 month ago