Mediterranean to Atlantic coast

Along the northern border of Andalusia

 23/1/17: Playa Flamenca – 35 km before Lorca
Last October, I left the Atlantic ocean behind me and cycled south towards the Mediterranean.
Now, after a maybe too long brake, even further delayed by the heave rains last week, I set off from Play Flamenca again at the Mediterranean coast, crossing the Iberian peninsula in a westward direction back to the Atlantic coast in Portugal.
Few adjustments to the bike: new chain & cassette, new rear tire and 2 extra bottle cages at the front fork to carry an extra water bottle + the fuel bottle for the stove.
Nothing too exciting the first day. This part of Murcia is very populated, with a lot of agriculture.

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First night’s camping place.  It was very windy, so good shelter under the roof of this abandoned building.  If you look closely, you can see the tent in the corner.

24/1/17: 45 km before Lorca – Jardin
I start to climb into the mountains once I pass Lorca.
It seems this is the time to harvest broccoli.
Nice camp site with a good view on ‘El Gigante’ mountain, but (again) barking and howling dogs keep me awake. Middle of the night, suddenly a dog is growling next to my tent and I have to get out in the cold to chase it away (it’s freezing at night).

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Approaching the hills, beyond Lorca.
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Little church in Lorca

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Camping near ‘El Gigante’ mountain.

25/1/17: Jardin – 3 km past Galera
Up and over the first pass, Passo Maria. Not too high with 1260 meter, but a lot of snow next to the road and on the surrounding mountains.
Once I’m leaving the forests of the Natural Park Sierra Maria, I arrive at the Granada Altiplano. A huge plain, a 1.000 meter above sea-level, a straight road for many kilometers. It goes slightly downhill but even though I peddle hard, the wind seems to blow me back to the pass.
I commenced cycling today in Murcia province, then cycled through a small corner of Almeria province and went to sleep in Granada province.
I find a nice place to pitch the tent in the valley of the Rio Galera.

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Little road towards ‘El Gigante’.
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Vélez Blanco
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View at ‘El Gigante’ from Vélez Blanco.
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Near the Passo Maria.
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On the Granada Altiplano

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26/1/17: 3 km past Galera – Pozo Alcon
I slept with a thin thermic shirt, on top of that a thick thermic shirt, a fleece vest and my down jacket, fleeced long pants, thin synthetic socks and thick merinowool socks, a fleece hat and the hat of my down jacket, inside my down sleeping bag with a liner, and I was freezing. The water in my bottle is a solid chunk ice. I’m at 800 meters, so not really high, but man, does it get cold here.
I’m really glad I bought a new stove, so I can make a warm breakfast with the one water bottle that was in my tent, and only half frozen.
The weather is turning as well, and it’s mostly cloudy today.
The sun rises around 8 am and last days, I always crawl out of my tent around 9 (hoping, in vain, it warmed up a bit already). By the time I’ve eaten and broke camp, it’s eleven am.
I spend most of the day climbing out of the valley -, slowly gaining altitude from 800 back to 1100 meters.
From Cortes de Baza, I take the small road to Campocamare. On the Michelin map it’s a dead end road, but I know that’s a mistake. I read online there’s a nice hotel in Campocamare which is also serving decent food, so that was my goal of the day. The last kilometers before reaching the small town were very tiring, climbing, with a hard head wind, and cold.
I was really looking forward to the hotel, a hot shower and a warm meal.
It was closed.

Bummer. No choice but to cycle on.
Upon planning this trip, I was really looking forward to camp again at the tip of the Embalse La bolera, a reservoir where I found a fantastic spot when I cycled the Transandalus in 2012.
It’s at 1.000 meters high, another 200 meters higher as last night, and with the weather getting worse, not an option with the equipment I’m carrying now.
I drove into the next province Jaen down to the next town, Pozo Alcon, a bit of a depressing place, looking poor, but I found a nice hostal.
I took over an hour before they could get the heating on, but then I took a bath of an hour and a half, before going out for pizza and beer.
Needed that.

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27/1/17: Pozo Alcon
Rain, cold, so a rest day.
I’m reading a book in German again, from Dorothee Fleck, about her bike trip around the world.
Weather should be better tomorrow.

28/1/17: Pozo Alcon – before Puente Del Obispo
According to all weather websites I’m consulting, the sun should be shining here.
 The sky is pitch black.
But at least it’s dry, so I’m heading off.
Cycling west from Pozo Alcon, it remains hillier as expected. Only after Huesa, it becomes a bit easier. All day I’m cycling through the typical Andalusian olive plantations. Every piece of land, every hill, as far as the eye can see, it’s rows and rows of olive trees. Not a nice sight.
My route keeps going up and down, first towards the valley of the Guadiana River, back over the next hills to the Jandulilla river. The second part of the day, I’m mostly cycling next to the Linares / Almeria railway line.
While the landscape isn’t the most spectacular, I have to say I’m pretty pleased with the route I’ve taken so far. All the way from day one on very low traffic roads, or deserted dirt roads.
 I’m camping in the mud between the olive trees at the borders of the Guadalquivir river.
I thought there were not many houses around, but the dogs are barking and howling from all directions again at night.

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29/1/17: before Puente Del Obispo – past Embalse Del Rumblar
Although I keep following the Guadalquivir, the little roads I take keep going up and down over the hilltops.
In the afternoon I ride through Linares, the biggest place since Lorca last week. Not much to see here, the weather is great, so I keep going towards Banos de la Ecina.
Just before this place I cross the highway. There’s a gas station, restaurant and shop.  I decide to eat something quickly and do my shopping here (at steep prices !).  It being a Sunday, I can continue further up the mountain, instead of camping just before Banos de la Ecina and buy food there tomorrow.
After another hill, I descend to the Embalse del Rumblar.
Here the asphalt road stops, and I’m on gravel again. Much better.
What ’s not so good is the huge fences on both side of the track. No chance to find a place to pitch the tent.
Only after many kilometers, after passing a big estancia the fences stop. There are still signs you’re not allowed to leave the track and everything is ‘prohibido’ and ‘privado’ but f*c/ that.
I find a good place to camp, and even a little fresh water pipe.
Only just before midnight I hear some dogs.

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Banos de la Ecina
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Embalse del Rumblar
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Very nice camping spot.

30/1/17: past Embalse Del Rumblar – past Virgen de la Cabeza
Today I’m really climbing into the Sierra Morena, the mountain range along the northern border of Andalusia. It a steep climb from my camping spot over the hill.
I’m following the GR48 hiking trail now.
Once I’m over the top, I’m on pavement again for a while. An information sign says the farms I saw along the tracks are famous for raising fighting bulls.
Good I didn’t know that before, or I would ‘ve released them.
They also try to re-introduce the Iberian lynx here. You see signs everywhere, but I haven’t seen a lynx of course.
I descent into a deep valley of the Rio Jandula, only to climb all over again towards the ‘Santuario Virgen de la Cabeza’. You can see the building from far away already on the hilltop.
Inside it’s not as beautiful as expected, but it’s a nice goal to ride to.
Today I see my first butterfly of the year, and instantly also the second.
I also see the first vultures of the year.
Many of them.

I take some water at the Sanctuario and continue on the GR48.
Not far after the Santuario, the route turns into a real single track.
Good, no cars.
Soon I’m in such a beautiful surrounding that I decide to stop and pitch the tent.
I enjoy the sunny late afternoon, and the quiet night with (almost) no barking dogs.

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View on the Sierra Morena, and the goal of today, Virgin de la Cabeza on the next hill top.

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You see these things everywhere in the trees. I guess insects ?
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Good. Very flashy signs to warn the drivers.
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Approaching Virgen de la Cabeza.

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The sanctuario at Virgen de la Cabeza.
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They still have the bicycle pasta here 🙂
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And again a very nice camping spot in the Sierra Morena.

31/1/17: past Virgen de la Cabeza – before crossing Rio de las Yeguas
I should ‘ve ridden a kilometer longer yesterday.
There’s a little valley, with a little, clean stream where I can fill my bottles again, wash my hair, body and socks.
Some 1,5 km ‘hike a bike’ here but then the single track is mostly rideable again.
This part through the Sierra Morna, between ‘Santuario Virgen de la Cabeza’ and the village Cardena, should be one of the highlights of my ride to southern Portugal, and it delivers !
   Really beautiful surroundings, single tracks and dirt roads, birds, deer, no people.
Good weather.
Just when I want to make a picture, I didn’t see the hole in the ground. I topple over, bend my left knee and leg in an awkward position. Damn, that hurts.
I feel it’s not broken, but definitely it feels like something must be torn or whatever in there. Cycling goes better then walking.
To make matters worse, I come through an area were they are logging some of the beautiful, old pine trees. God, knows how I hate these guys. The trees were probably already here before the loggers were born. Then one of these guys comes along with a chain saw, 20 seconds zip, and the tree is gone.
Probably the same guys that go hunting for rabbit, deer and birds on Sundays.
Bastardes !
Give me a kalashnikov and a license to kill, and I’ll make this world a better place !
After only 18 km, and a very steep downhill, I’m camping along a little stream.
The leg hurts and I want to give it a break.
Unfortunately, the weather seems to be turning as well.

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Single trackin’ through the Sierra Morena.

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Loggers working hard for economic improvement…

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1/2/17: before crossing Rio de las Yeguas – past Cardeña
All bad things come in three I guess.
After hurting my leg & the loggers blocking the road yesterday, I dreamed of my previous job last night.
A nightmare because of which I’m in a bad mood the rest of the day.
The leg didn’t improve.
If I do nothing or cycle, it’s ok, all the rest hurts.
Today the track was blocked again. I cycled further south from closed gate to closed gate in the Sierra Morena. After a long detour I managed to get out, much further south as anticipated.  Normally no problem, because it’s a beautiful region, but with the hurting leg, and slight drizzle, I wasn’t really pleased.
I stopped in Cardeña for a hot meal in the local bar and some shopping before heading further east and looking for a place to camp.
 The weather looks pretty bad for tomorrow.

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2/2/17: past Cardeña
Rain all day.
I stayed in the tent, reading and sleeping.

3/2/17: past Cardeña – past El Guijo
Breaking down the tent this morning, I had a crack again in my lower back (lumbago).
I can hardly move, terrible pain in the lower back, like they smashed a baseball bat at full force in there.
But no chance but to keep moving. No one ’s gonna drag me out here. 
Between Cardeña and Villanueva de Cordoba, I’m riding some kilometers of the Transandalus I’ve ridden already in 2012.
I recognize nothing.
I stop for lunch in Villanueva de Cordoba.
The next place, Pedroche is a nice little village.
After El Guijo, I camp near the tip of the hill.
  It seems the middle of nowhere, but like every night, there must be a house or farm just behind a hill, and also behind the hill on the other side, and the dogs are barking and howling from sunset, around 18:30, till midnight.
Non stop.

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4/2/17: past El Guijo – Hinojosa Del Duque
The back isn’t getting any better, despite the exercises I’m doing.
Terrible head wind today, but I like the scenery.
The last kilometers before Hinojosa Del Duque seem to last forever. Impossible head winds slow me down to 4 km/hr.
It starts raining as I enter the village.
I find the tourist information and the lady arranges a place for me in the local ‘albergue’.
This is normally only for ‘pelgrims’ with the right credentials (book with stamps), but they make no problem for me staying there. I have to collect the key at the police station.
There are 8 bunk beds, but I have the place all to myself.
It’s very nice, super clean, with a good shower and a micro-wave.
Only the mattresses are super soft, and bad for my back.

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5/2/17: Hinojosa Del Duque
Rest day

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6/2/17: Hinojosa Del Duque – past Fuente Obejuna
The soft mattress made my back only worse.
Push on a bit today.
Just beyond Hinojosa Del Duque are many beautiful spots for wild camping.
This is the time of year to prune the olive trees. All the orchards I’ve been passing the last days, they were cutting them.
The lambs & calfs are also born already here in southern Spain. That will be another few months before that happens further north in Europe.
A painfull (the back), but beautiful cycling day.
I camp in the fields beyond Fuente Obejuna.
Just before the town are much, much nicer places.

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7/2/17: past Fuente Obejuna – past San Nicolas Del Puerto
For much of the day, I’m following the narrow A-447 road. It was paved, many years ago it seems, but really worn, even mentioned on the Michelin map as a ‘road in bad condition’.
This is actually excellent news, because it means it is a ‘road excellent for cycling’.  No traffic at all, and I’m working my way pretty easily through the hills, out of Cordoba province and into Sevilla province. I’m entering the Natural Parc de la Sierra Norte here.

On this lonely road, near the top of a climb, I’m meeting the first other touring cyclist since leaving the Mediterranean. He’s sitting at the side of the road, with a sandwich, his fwomen’s bike parked next to him. I stop, but he doesn’t react.
Strange.
I ask him if he speaks English ? French ? Spanish ?
He looks briefly at me and replies ‘Solo Espagnol’, and just waves me away in an arrogant way.
What a jurk.
I silently wish him many flat tires, and a broken chain, and carry on.
This never happened before. I had cyclists coming from the opposite direction who ignored me in the past, but never ever, another touring cyclist who had stopped just waved me away. It’s something you just don’t do. Not in an area where you don’t meet other cyclists.
Well, up to him. He wasn’t pretty happy probably.

I eat my own lunch a kilometer further down the road.
After San Nicolas Del Puerte, I hit another ‘via verde’, an old railway line turned into cycling lane.
There’s a campground about 3,5 km further, but nobody is there, so I ride back a bit to an ok wild camping spot I saw just after a tunnel.

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8/2/17: past San Nicolas Del Puerto – before Almaden de la Plata
My back still hurts a lot, but it’s improving.
Sleeping on the hard camping math seems to benefit it, along with the exercises I do.
Via really nice dirt roads, I enter Cazalla de la Sierra, another nice little town. I’m well in time before the siesta to do my shopping.

After the town, I soon have a nice downhill to the Rio Vijar. Beautiful valley, terrific views, sunshine.
I’m enjoying this !
There are a lot of camping possibilities before you are at the bottom.
After crossing the river, most of the land was fenced of, but I found a nice unfenced part, with a very little stream to camp.

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Cazalla de la Sierra
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Cazalla de la Sierra
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Embalse de Melonares

9/2/17: before Almaden de la Plata – before Corteconcepcion
The night was very cold again, around -5° C.
A lot of ice (frozen condensation) on the inside of the tent.

I always stay in the tent till 9 o’clock. Taking my time to enjoy breakfast, read a bit and break down the tent, it’s again 11 o’clock before I leave my spot.
After yesterday’s big downhill, the climb follows today of course.
Because of my late starts, it’s lunch time when I arrive in Almaden de la Plata.  It’s market day today and I treat myself to a warm lunch in the bar.

I descend to the Rio de Cala and enter Huelva province and also the Natural Parc de la Sierra de Aracena y Picos de Aroche.
After Santa Olalla Del Cala, the Transandalus follows beautiful tracks towards Minas de Cala.
At the end, about 13 km after Santa Olalla Del Cala, I arrive at a closed gate !
No way I’m going to back track, and detour over the paved road.
With a little force, I can work my way through the fence.
I’m back on a paved road now, with high fences both sides. You have these huge ‘fincas’ here. Estates of sometimes 10 or 15 km long, which seem to be ‘no go’.
I end up camping at the top of a hill that’s being stripped from all it’s trees.
Natural parc huh…. :-/
It’s not a good place, not only because it’s ugly, but I have no shelter at all for the wind, on top of that hill, and the weather forecast is bad for tonight and the coming days.

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Doing the morning dishes in the little stream.
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Now isn’t this one of the most beautiful signs ?

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Left the mountain of waste near Minas de Calas
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Not many humans around today, just some friendly cows staring at me.

10/2/17: before Corteconcepcion – Cortegana
The loggers start working at sunsrise.
They are far away, so I stay a bit in the tent. It was a cold night again.
A lot of clouds, but it’s dry.
Via old, narrow, stony tracks I reach Aracena. It’s still dry, so I push on a bit.
Just before Jabugo, it starts raining, but not for too long.  Jabugo claims to be the birth place of the Iberian ham, and is full of shops selling the product.
Last days, I ‘ve cycled a lot through fields with black-footed pigs. The animals seem to have a good life here. Lot’s of space to play around. Not like in Belgium, where they never leave the barn, never see the sky, never have fresh air.
15 minutes before I arrive in Cortegana, it starts raining again.
Pension Cervantes is my place for the night, and tomorrow. And after tomorrow.
3 days of non-stop rain, storm and cold.

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Waking up in cold, dense fog on the barren hill top.
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But I got to ride some beautiful tracks today.

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Aracena

13/2/17: Cortegana – near El Mustio
The sky is still dark grey when I wake up, but soon I see the sun trying to come through.
Time to leave.
Immediately upon leaving Cortegana, past the church, I’m on what seems to be a medieval cobble stone road. Very, very slippery of course with all the rain of the last days, and some mud on top of it. But I’m happy to be out again.
It starts raining just when I reach the next village, Aroche. I wait it out in the bar with a coffee.
After Aroche, the coble stones make way for deep mud. The bike is sinking into it, which makes the going hard and the shoes and the pants dirty.
Then, suddenly the landscape changes. I’m back in a forest.
The sun has also cleared the clouds by now and life is perfect. A lot of climbing though, into the ‘Sierra Pelada y Rivera del Aserrador’ Natural Park.
The term ‘natural park’ is used very loosely in Spain. It doens’t stop anybody from building, cutting trees, hunting or whatever. I think you could put a sign in the center of Madrid and call it a natural park, according to Spanish norms.
Also here, after a while, I pass an area where they ‘re stripping the mountain of all it’s trees.
Progression….

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A very slippery cobble stone track out of Cortegana.
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Aroche

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14/2/17: Near El Mustio – before Mertola
It’s very misty and chilly when I wake up.
I still have to climb a bit but then it plunges down towards Santa Barbara de Casa, a bigger village as I had expected. Small supermarket to resupply.
Then it’s on paved roads to the last Spanish village before the border, Paymogo.
Soon I’m descending to the valley of the Rio Chança, which forms the border between Spain & Portugal.
It’s an hour earlier in Portugal as in Spain.
Mina de Sao Domingos, one of the first villages I pass in Portugal, also has a smal ‘mercado’ where one can resupply.
I see quiet a few camper next to the lake. Probably Europeans from further north, spending winter time here.
I’m camping in a field a few kilometer before Mertola. The frogs try ttheir best to silence the dogs.
A much nicer sound :-).

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Waking up again to a misty sky.

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The church in Mina de Sao Domingos, Portugal.

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15/2/17: before Mertola – past São Pedro de Solis
The weather is really getting better.
I first village the castle in Mertola, and some archeologic site next to it, before heading to the local bar for a coffee.
Rest of the day is on quiet, paved country roads.
The Portugese drivers are much worse then the Spanish.
The Spanish slow down, wait behind you if they can’t see whether it’s safe to overtake you, and give lot’s of space when they do.
Many Portugese race by, giving little space, and just cut you off on roundabouts or when they want to turn right.
In general, the Swedes and Spaniards are the best drivers in Europe, closely followed by the Norwegians and Germans. The Portugese are on poor the Belgian and Dutch level.

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Mertola
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The cemetery of Mertola
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Rooftops of Mertola and the Guadiana river.

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Early spring ! 🙂

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Bus shelters are always nice to hide for the rain, but this one could be used to rest against in the sun, sheltered from the little breeze.
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Storks everywhere here in the south of the Iberian peninsula.

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16/2/17: past São Pedro de Solis – past Saolheira
Flowers start to bloom everywhere in the fields.
Highlight of the day for me is the Tibetan Buddhist stupa in Malhão. It’s nicely situated on top off a hill with terrific views. The Tour d’Algarve will pass here next Sunday on it’s final stage.

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The Buddhist Stupa at the hill top in Malhão.
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Camping in an abandoned village.
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The abandoned village was on a really nice, sunny location.

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17/2/17: past Saolheira – Lagos
Last stage through the hills of the Algarve. There’s a big castle in Silves. I leave the town on nice single tracks along the Rio Arade. Via a busy Portimão, I reach the Atlantic coast in Lagos.

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Mediterranean to Atlantic, via Andalucia:
Distance: 1.155 km
Average km per cycling day: 55 km
Altimeter: 18.103 m

Nights slept inside: 7
Nights slept outside: 18 (all wild camping)
Flat tires: 0

My Gps track can be downloaded here from Wikiloc

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