ROTR - Reporting from Rioja

by Sean Maher   November 17, 2009  

Sean Maher under the rainbow

I am in Medinaceli 160 km away from Madrid. I just cycled 80km from Soria and have cycled 410km, minimum, since last Monday. I am still a long way from Tarifa and the ferry to Morocco and I have underestimated my budget for Spain by half!

I touched down in Santander last Monday at midday and cycled to Solares. From there to Medina, then to Logrono. I spent 3 nights in Logrono and then had a tough couple of days in the mountains. I now think that this endeavour is much harder than I thought it would be but I feel much more confident overall as I have done some long days in the saddle without keeling over.

The definite highlight so far has been escaping from the man in Soria who last night accused me of looking at pornography in the main plaza, which is a wi-fi zone, and an old man who tried to invite me to perform sexual acts on him in exchange for money. Whilst not particularly enjoyable it was at least a funny story to tell. Apart from that I have done little else but cycle. Santander to Logrono was fairly leisurely apart from one stinking great mountain, since then it has been all down hill. That is figuratively, not literally. I spent two very hard days climbing between Logrono to Soria and then from Soria I have been cycling into a headwind which was so strong that I could barely move. I’ve also had issues with my budget which means money for food is scarce. Man cannot live on bread (and tuna pate) alone and it’s tough getting to grips with the Spanish way of eating.

The Spanish like to make all their food in the mornings and put it in a glass display case on the bar. This is enveloped by cigarette smoke (I miss the smoking ban) and looks much less appetising cold. You then pick your food and watch it be microwaved to a lukewarm temperature before eating. I’m not saying all Spanish food is like this, but the food I can afford most definitely is! I placed a lot of faith in their being supermarkets at regular intervals in which to top up on cereal bars and chocolate, but this is not the case. When I do find shops they are often closed for siesta. Spain, I have learnt, comes to life after 6pm until 2am. Normally this would be my perfect way of life. I hate early mornings and function best in the evening and at night when, in England, everything starts to shut. When I am on a bike and dehydrated and hungry, however, everything changes and I miss people keeping regular hours.

If my mum is reading this: can you please send emergency rations Post Restante to Madrid. Stew, pasta, potatoes, anything like that would be fantastic.

I have at least 10 days left in Spain and the further south I get the warmer and sunnier it is getting. This is good because I have been staying at Hostels and ‘Pensions’ which are the Spanish versions of cheap boarding houses. This is really eating up my funds and I look forward to - honestly - camping for a few nights to save money. I’m hopping on the train tomorrow because I have tweaked my back and had to cycle in agony for 20km to find a room for the night. It’s nothing serious but is giving me gip as I write this so I think a day out of the saddle will be good for it. After that I will just have to find some deep heat and push through the pain barrier as I feel a bit guilty about skipping one day, let alone more.

My calves have developed a new muscle in the last week. It is very exciting and has become like a pet. I have watched it grow in my leg over the last seven days and now it looks reasonably impressive. It also aches, as do the rest of my legs, especially my quads but it is not as bad as I thought. I presumed that I would walk like John Wayne every night and have to sleep for 15 hours a night to recover but I have felt fresh enough to do some sightseeing and enjoy strolling around the Spanish towns and villages in the evenings.

I am looking forward to hitting Africa, if only because my guide books assure me it will be much cheaper!

I have lots of photos but stupidly forgot to bring the correct lead to upload them so I will upload some pictures of my last seven days as soon as I get to Madrid.

Please donate to the charities I am supporting at www.ridingouttherecession.co.uk. 

And for a more blow by blow account of my progress follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanMaher88