It was a quick but sad goodbye from my parents. It was nice to have their company in Southern Spain and yet it felt like the three weeks they were with us flew by and we were quickly on our own again. The same day my parents said goodbye to cycle to a bus station and head back to Seville for their return flight Heidi and I cycled out of Granada and headed south. We were taking a ferry from Almeria in southern Spain to Melilla, a Spanish exclave, in North Africa. We thought this would be a good idea because we had heard from many that the ferry to Tangier can be an intense way to introduce yourself to Morocco and with bicycles we wanted to start out in a less hectic city with less traffic.
To get to Almeria we decided to go along the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains in southern Spain, the highest peaks in the country. our route would follow a road that would take us up to Trevelez, apparently the highest town in Spain. We were excited to see more of the mountains, having loved the ride into Granada. With good weather in the forecast we didn’t have anything to worry about other than steep long climbs. The first day out of Granada was just like any other when leaving a city, a bit stressful but with patience you eventually get to more and more quiet areas before you are back out of the city. We had to follow roads parrallel to the freeway since there were not too many options straight south from Granada for cycling.
Once we turned off of this main route we were onto a smaller side road heading along the south side of the Sierra Nevada range and we were hoping it would be a quieter road. It turned out it was rather busy. it was the first weekend of December and many Spaniards get that time off so we saw tons of people out for weekend drives and many camper vans as well. Luckily the tight road had a good number of places to pull off and let cars pass us as we wound our way higher and higher up into the mountains.
Our first night out from Granada we asked for permission to camp in an olive grove off of the road. After some explanation in Spanish that yes we do like to sleep in a tent and no we are not worried about animals they were kind enough to let us throw up our tent anywhere we would like! It was a nice spot and it set us up for a solid climb the next day with 30 kms to the Trevelez and a little over a thousand meter climb the entire way.
Since many farmers were cleaning up their olive groves they were cutting out allot of dead and burning it which made the air very smokey which is not too conducivee to heavily breathing while climbing up a steep hill in the mountains. As we got higher the air slowly improved and each time we took a break to let the cars go by we were treated to wonderful views of the valleys down below us and a good appreciation of the switch backs we were climbing.
At one point we came to a look out and met a man from the Netherlands driving around southern Spain in his van. He was excited to talk with us and was very kind to offer us some soda to keep us going up the hill. Many people saw us and joked that we must have electric motors and we explained that we just had well conditioned motors in our legs and lots of time to slog up the hills. None of the grades were too grueling and nothing went over 10 percent so we just kept gaining elevation. The many small towns which we passed were beautiful with their white walls and we began to see snow higher up in the mountains. From the dutch man we had heard of a campground right at the top at Trevelez which was not too expensive and since wild camping in national Parks is rather illegal we decided to not to risk it and just go for the campground.
The campground was very quiet since it seemed to be the off season and we enjoyed some wifi and warm showers. The next day we could see that we were truly at the very top of our route and it would be mostly downhill for the following day. We enjoyed the relaxed and wonderful views heading down from Trevelez heading East and the traffic was much quieter as well.
The terrain very quickly and was getting more and more desertic as we dropped in elevation. We stopped for lunch and enjoyed some of the local cured ham from Trevelez and gave ourselves upset stomachs by downing allot of the greasy ham and olive oil on very dry bread. Despite this we were able to make it to a lovely spot for wild camping at the valley bottom where we could see the Sierra Nevada and watch the sunset. This was going to be our last wild camping spot in Europe and we sat reflecting, enjoying the views and excited about what was to come, a ferry to another continent and a completely different culture!
I had been cycling for four and a half months and Heidi and I had been cycling together for three months and we had experienced so much. We had loved the people we had met, the random interactions and occurrences and luckily only dealing with cruddy weather and a few nasty colds as our biggest obstacles. Zero flat tires, no maintenance issues that were not self inflicted and we only took a bus twice due to trying to keep to schedule and from being rather sick. Now we were ready for a change!
The next day heidi woke up with a very nasty sore throat… Spain was not going to let us go with out throwing another challenge at us before leaving. The riding the next day was not overly difficult but the sore throat was so painful that Heidi had trouble talking, swallowing and breathing heavily on smokey air was a torture. We were in an area with extremely small towns and hardly any bus schedule that could be relied upon so I played bad cop and had to keep us moving since we had a ferry the next evening we couldn’t miss and a warm showers host expecting us in Almeria. It was a long and grueling day and It sucked to watch Heidi in so much pain as we tried to make good time and rush the short winter day to get to the coast and to our ferry.
It was a very pretty route but the last 25 km were on busy roads and going through rather unattractive industrial areas. Luckily we got into the city just before it got dark and were able to painfully and slowly wind our way through the busy traffic and arrived at our hosts apartment. He was a man from the Netherlands who had been living in spain for many years as a tour guide working with groups from many different countries. Although we stayed for only one night it was a great way to be sent off from Europe with a place to crash and time to recover after the hilly previous days and Heidis new ailment. He took me out for one last night of Spanish Tapas and the next day we prepared ourselves for our overnight ferry to Melilla.
Our ferry left at midnight and arrived at eight in the morning. After the difficult cycling and Heidi being sick it was a pretty miserable ride and we tried to sleep as much as we could in the seats that were provided us. Our first arrival into Africa was a foggy one. We could hardly see anything and we were both exhausted. We wandered around Melilla trying to find a place to get a coffee and recover from our ordeal, and with Heidi still being sick we were not feeling very peppy at all. We had a border crossing and a 15 km bike ride to Nador where we had set up an Air bnb to try and relax for a few days and let Heidi rest and recover from her very nasty soar throat and to also let us get accustomed to a solid culture change as well.
When we finally went through the border it was rather easy and no one hassled us on the other side. There were many people milling about and the change was quick and drastic. Melilla seemed like many other Spanish cities being clean, quiet and alive with people in a reserved kind of way but once in Morocco it was busy, the air was rough to breath with the fog holding the fumes from passing cars right at our level and we suddenly stuck out like crazy. We had stepped into a completely different world and if we had been well rested we would have really enjoyed it. We had been looking forwards to a change so much but with Heidi being sick and having not gotten any sleep we were just exhausted and wanting to find a place to sleep for a week straight.
With my Spanish and broken French I was able to buy us each a local sim card and then we followed the highway to Nador which had a decent shoulder so we could have a little buffer from the busy traffic. Once in Nador we slogged over to the Air bnb and quickly met our host and then conked out on the bed.
Our host was extremely nice and we spent the next couple days allowing Heidi to recover and to walk about getting a feel for a Moroccan town and the culture. We had a Moroccan Arrabic phrase book that we quickly put to good use and I spent those days looking at routes to leave Nador on, hopefully with the least busy roads we could find. We had finally made it to Morocco after so much cycling through Europe but of course things don’t always go as planned and with Heidi being sick again we were just thankful to have a place to get better and get ready for our first few days of cycling in North Africa!