Distance: 80 miles
Total Distance: 406 miles
It was as if I’d only closed my eyes for a second. Having drifted off beneath a beautiful sunset, I woke up to an equally stunning sunrise. I packed up and headed back to the road, finding myself stuck behind a farmer and his sheep plodding slowly along down the dirt track, sending up a cloud of dust behind them. No one in this part of the country seems to be in any hurry to get anywhere. Life moves at a different pace.
I proceeded to follow my standard routine – wake up at sunrise, set off right away, head to the next town for coffee and breakfast before continuing on until nightfall. Lillo was the town I elected to stop in today. I resupplied and got some caffeine in me and as the day warmed up I headed north. Navigation was easy and didn’t leave much room for error – mostly just heading north on long stretches of open road – but seeing a road sign telling me Canada was just one kilometre away had me feeling uncertain.
Today’s scenery was a lot more interesting and more strenuous than I had become used to. Lots of hills, lots of twists and turns and lots of ups and downs. My ride was punctuated with stunning views and it was a lot more exciting than the monotony of the day before.
As per usual, the route took me through a myriad of tiny, desolate towns, dead and abandoned in the heat of the afternoon. One small village, in which the only sign of a life was an old man sleeping in the square, was bizarrely home to what I can only presume is the worst nightclub in the entire world. A tiny building that looked like a garage, shuttered and barred, just the words DISCOTECA giving any indication of what may lie within. Considering the average age of the small sample of the population I’d seen was about 85 years old, I can’t imagine it gets much business from its target clientele.
Somehow the day ended on an even more surreal note. I had entered the village of Loranca de Tajuña, looking to fill up my water bottles before finding a spot to camp. On my way into town I’d spotted a woody incline behind the church that looked promising. I was hopeful I might even manage two nights undisturbed sleep in a row. But it was just my luck that in the previous town, my intense thirst had led me to chug the entirety of a two-litre bottle of orange juice which was now beginning to disagree with me.
I hastily consulted my maps and headed uphill to the village bar in search of a toilet. It was here – in the bar, not the toilet – that I met Alberto, the most wonderful man in the world.
As I planted my bike beside the outdoor patio, Alberto looked up from his beer to shout something at me in Spanish. I had no idea what he was saying but he quickly translated it into English and I realised he was asking me about the GoPro attached to my helmet. We got into a conversation about cameras and bikes and my journey and as he invited me to pull up a seat and ordered me a beer, all thoughts of evacuating my bowels had disappeared.
It turned out Alberto had recently moved to the village. A retired drug counsellor, he moved out here with his wife to stay in his family-owned home for his health when he was diagnosed with various forms of cancer. Continually punctuating his conversations with outbursts of singing and dancing, he was one of the strangest, most eccentric men I’d ever met.
A couple of beers later, he had invited me to stay the night at his house. An offer I gladly accepted. I followed him on my bike as he drove along winding mountain roads in the dark, me two beers down and him a great deal more, blaring out Roxanne from his car radio. I couldn’t stop laughing at how strange the evening had become.
After a mile or so I arrived at his house which was absolutely beautiful. Perched on the edge of the hillside, there was a magnificent view of the whole village and the valley beyond. I brought my stuff inside and was introduced to Alberto’s wife Mercedes – a social worker – who was absolutely lovely. They showed to my room and let me have a shower before suggesting we all went out for dinner. The three of us piled in the car and headed back to the bar for tapas and more beers.
On arriving back at the house I was shattered and desperate to sleep, but they weren’t going to allow that any time soon. Alberto, completely off his face, suggested we go for a midnight swim in their pool. He then rebuffed his wife’s remark that it was too dirty by spending the next 45 minutes cleaning it in the dark before deciding that actually it was too late to go swimming.
Heading back to the house, Alberto decided to have a shit with the door open. Determined to still be involved in the conversation, he proceeded to loudly converse with us at the top of his voice as he did so. This was evidently normal behaviour for him as Mercedes didn’t bat an eyelid. My eyelids however, were drooping as I sat on the balcony looking out at the beautiful country below. Alberto came back onto the porch carrying a wooden box, which to my dismay I realised was a backgammon set. As much as I wanted to stay up with these wonderful people, I was on the verge of passing out from exhaustion. Luckily it just turned out to be a box of drugs, and as they rolled their joints I decided it was time to head to bed. I wanted to get a photo to remember this glorious evening, but this proved difficult. Alberto, the mature 50-something man that he is, decided that shouting “SAY CLITORIS” when posing for a photo was the funniest thing in the world and kept cracking up before I could get a good picture.
I left them dancing to 80’s power ballads in the dark and headed to bed for some well-deserved sleep.
A brilliant day, vastly improved by this lovely couple. 10/10 for hospitality.