Spain: Off-road from Hondarribia to Cartagena

dscf0858PART 2: Castilla-La Mancha and Murcia

After leaving Jaraba, I entered Castilla-La Mancha region, the Spanish hearth land.

The weather was fine, blue skies, 25 °C, autumn colors.   I was riding through fantastic scenery in the canyon carved by the Rio Mesa.

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In Villel de Mesa, I took a little gravel road that mounts into the hills.  Between Amayas and Anchulea del Campo, I found another fantastic spot to pitch the tent at 1300 meters.

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Molina de Aragon (which is not situated in Aragon) is the regional centre.  A nice little town with a castle and, most important, shops to buy food.  I was running pretty low on that.

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From Molina, I entered the ‘Parqua Natural del Alto Tajo’, the birthplace of another major Spanish river.  I followed the Rio Gallo towards Santuario de la Virgen de la Hoz which is impressively built under the rocks.

From the santuario, I rode a quiet paved rode for a few kilometers before turning off to another dirt road and finding yet another great spot for the night along the borders of the river.  I was just in time for a quick wash of the body and the clothes before the sun went down behind the hills.  Temperatures drop quickly this time of the year.

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For a few kilometer, I hit the tarmac again on the little CM2015 road.  Only a few meters after I turned left on the next dirt road, there was a majestic view of the Tajo river below in the valley.  It reminded me of views in the Rocky Mountains.  Unfortunately the sky was a bit white, so pictures don’t do it any justice.

The track followed the still narrow Tajo river upstream through the natural park.  Brilliant cycling here.

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After a late lunch in the Casas Del Salto, a steep climb follows.  Over the pass, a huge mining area is a sour for the eye after all the beauty of the last days.

It was 2 days since I left Molina De Aragon and again I was running low on fuel.  I passed a couple of small villages, Masegosa, Lagunaseca,  Santa Maria Del Val, but it was only in Vega del Codorno I finally found a small village store.  It was exactly 14:00 hrs and I shouldn’t have been a minute later, or I would have to wail it out till the end of the siesta 3 hrs later.

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Human greed.
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The first shop in days in Vega del Codorno.
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I pitched the tent in this shelter near the spring of the Rio Jucar.

I’m now crossing the Serrania De Cuenca mountain range, heading towards the spring of the Rio Jucar.

From the village of Tragacete (with a shop !), I follow a paved road down to Una and La Ciudad Encantade.  The latter is a tourist thing with a big parking spot and an entrance boot for lazy tourists.. Here you can see some rock formations and stuff you can see everywhere around here, if you’d make the effort to leave your car and walk or bike a bit into the nature.

Luckily for me, most people don’t, so the car park is busy, my trails are empty 🙂

Leaving asphalt roads and dirt roads behind, I’m back on the trails, in the Sierra de Valdecabras now.

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Just north of Cuenca, I meet the Rio Juncar again.  Following the river downstream, I’m riding on the left side over the very quiet paved road.   There is however a walking path, also on the left side.  From the top of a hill, I can see it would be a good option to follow that one into Cuenca.

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dscf1280Cuenca is a great provincial town.  Not too big, loads of historical buildings, a nice Cathedral, plenty of restaurants.  And I was double lucky, because there was a combined exhibition in the cathedral: “Informalistas”, La Poetica de la Libertad.  It’s about Ai Wei Wei’s time in a Chinese jail and about Miguel de Cervantes’ book Don Quijote, of which the part II was published 400 years ago.  All that stuff in a very beautiful cathedral and some buildings belonging to it.

I took the next morning off to visit it.

I first visited the Convento de las Esclavas in the evening.  Some people I met outside Cuenca gave me the tip.  You have to go there around 19:00 hrs, when the nuns are sitting there, all dressed up singing and chanting away.

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Plenty of lubugrious statues and carvings in the cathedral.
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The ceilings were very beautiful.

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It was raining when I left Cuenca, but I was happy, because I was on a little dirt road, away from any traffic that would spray me with water.  But soon I hit this typical mud here in Spain.  It’s red and it’s hard as concrete.  It clogs up your wheels, your gear everything and it’s almost impossible to remove it.  I had to drag the bike, but the mud clenches to your feet, centimeters thick until it’s almost impossible to lift your feed from the ground.

It took me an hour to cover a kilometer or so to the first possible exit to the main road N320.

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No way I was going to cycle that busy road so I backtracked towards Cuenca and took the small paved road towards Valeria.

After Valeria, the Rio Gritos carved a pretty canyon in the landscape.

The weather remained dodgy, which means it’s no fun to ride dirt roads, nor to ride between cars on paved roads.  But again I was lucky, because I could cycle along ‘Trasvase Tajo – Segura’, a small canal which I guess is used for the water supply and or irrigation of this environment.  There’s a car free track along the canal, which leads me all the way down towards El Cuartico, where I join the via verde de la Sierra de Alcaraz.

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The nice paved track along the ‘Trasvase Tajo – Segura’.
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And no, riding along canals doesn’t always mean it’s going to be flat.
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The flat lands of Castilla-La Mancha.

It was some really hard work over steep ascents, and descents, to cross the Sierra de Alcaraz.

Some muddy sections again.

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Next, I was heading for the ‘Parque Natural de las Sierras de Cazorla, Segura y las Villas’.  This is Andalucia region.

I cycled already through the southern part of this park back in 2012, riding a big part of the Transandalus and it was a major highlight of that trip.

So is this northern section, especially the part in the valley of the Rio Madeira, which joins the Rio Segura.  another great camping spot next to the Segura river and between impressive mountains.

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Somebody needs attention here 🙂

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More spectacular rock formations  as I cycled via La Graya and Nerpio to yet another province; Murcia.

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“La Borriqueta” viewpoint with views to the top of ‘El Cerro de las Mentiras’ (Mountain of Lies), with 1.898 meter the third highest peak in the region.
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Nice camping spot, but two hunters woke me at 01:30 am, checking what I was doing there.

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A very steep, rocky track brought me over the Sierra de La Muela down in the valley of the Rio Benamor.  I followed the river, with on my right hand side the steep cliffs it carved out of the Sierra de Los Alamos.  Climbing over this sierra, I descended towards Moratalla where I arrived again within minutes before the siesta closing time.

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Some pushing sections.
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Spectacular !
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The roof tops of Moratalla.

Between Cehegin and Bullas, I can follow the Via Verde del Noroeste, another railway line turned into cycling path before I turn right in Bullas to climb into the Sierra Cambron.

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At Alcantarilla, I meet up again with the Segura river.  All along the river there’s a bike path, through Murcia town, further downstream towards Orihuella.

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Bike path along the Segura river.

I was heading for the coast at Playa Flamenca.

You can follow a narrow track almost all along this part of the Costa Blanca.

There was some nice beach riding to be done at the salt lake of Mar Menor.

From the light house at Cabo the Palos, I took a hiking trail carved in the rocks along the coast.  Narrow and steep, but it led me down to a secluded beach where I could pitch the tent for the night and take a swim before riding into Cartagena.

Feliz Navidad ! 🙂

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Colorfull coast of the Costa Blanca.

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At the M’Mar Menor’.
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‘Mar Menor’.

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The light house at ‘Cabo de Palos’.
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My own little private beach. Spot the tent.

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Old mining site just before Cartagena.

And the route….
Total distance: 1590 km
Elevation: 23.682 meter
Average km per cycling day: 56,78 km

Nights slept inside: 5 (Hondarribia, Pamplona, Calatayud, Cuenca, Playa Flamenca)
Nights slept outside: 23 (all wild camping)
Flat tires: 2

(The route can be downloaded from wikiloc)

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