“We have to go up that?!”
I was beginning to lose my cheery optimism about this holiday. Having kept the steep and rugged driveway to the villa a secret from many of the other cyclists I had rounded up for our February getaway, I was now paying for it with a torrent of abuse from my tired and hungry peers as they faced the prospect of lugging their heavy suitcases and bike boxes up 400 meters of steep and uneven concrete. In reality the driveway really wasn’t that bad, but the day had not begun well, and now everything was coming to a head.
Mike had missed the transfer to the airport at 3:30 in the morning as he was too busy partying sleeping, and had only just made the flight from Glasgow after an expensive taxi journey. Then after we landed in Malaga our transfer company had failed to show up, and I had to call them a few times before our coach was despatched to ferry us along the coast and up into the mountains. And now I faced a mutiny because one final obstacle was between us and our destination. My reassurances were not appreciated and just when the rumbles of a serious revolt were reaching their loudest, I was saved. Out of the tumult in the olive trees I heard an unfamiliar voice calling my name and then suddenly Penny, Casa la Negra’s manager was amongst us offering a warm welcome and promises of helping move the heavier baggage in her car. And once the cases had been wheeled up the drive, the rooms claimed and a whirlwind introduction by Penny, I had the chance to catch my breath and admire the view from the veranda and reflect that after all, the villa was definitely worth it. Ranging into the afternoon haze the mountains around Periana met the sky with a sublime gentleness, new roads with untold promise were waiting over the horizon, and adventures beckoned.
The week began properly the next morning after an expedition to the shops. For our first day we kept it simple, just an easy loop around the nearby lake with a promised coffee stop after 50 kilometres or so. It was an eventful beginning with Dean managing to ride out with us despite his broken leg, and Tom crashed into a ditch halfway down the first descent, but the sun came out, the pace relaxed and we stopped for tapas and coffee in Alfarnatejo’s quaint plaza. Then after diving home down the twisty and dusty goat filled roads of Periana we all piled into the pool, shouting and swapping stories.
In particular we’d regaled those who had not been to the area before with stories of hideous weather and snow on top of one particular mountain, and so the next day, after following the swooping back roads down to Malaga itself, we began the Queen’s climb back. However one year later, the weather was not inclined to inclemency, it was a beautiful day of sunshine and we enjoyed sitting outside in the heat for lunch. Charles nearly starved to death waiting on his chicken and chips but nobody really minded as he needed slowing down anyway. Jokes were made, races were raced and plans for a ridiculous ride the next day began to take shape.
Grenada had already been discussed as a possible destination for a 200km epic, and that night over dinner we plotted routes and discussed timings and weather. Writing this much later I can be casual about the distance but beforehand it would be an understatement to say that I was apprehensive. I knew that there would be many challenging climbs to overcome, and that the return route would not be easy.
On the day we woke and departed early, leaving half of our group behind to do their own relaxed ride. The sun peeked over a nearby mountain and we span over the first climb in the early morning shade, our shadows long and filled with anticipation. The next few hours we rolled over hills reminiscent of Tuscany, filled with olives and peaceful little villages that slumbered in the morning heat. Mike repeatedly started to ask where the sea was as we headed further and further in land, a phrase that became a running joke for the rest of the week. After 100 kilometres Grenada was an opportunity to rest our weary legs, but the cobbled plazas and bustling streets held little charm, we only had eyes for food. To our shame, most of us refused the opportunity to do some quick sightseeing as it meant expending valuable energy. The Alhambra of Grenada? I wish I could say I saw it, but the intricate Moorish architecture will have to wait for another day (maybe next year???).
The ride home turned into a painful haze. I don’t remember specific hours or miles, only events.
Dusty windblown farmland when an hour passed without it appearing like we had travelled anywhere.
The town which radiated heat and a local café owner abandoned her siesta to serve us.
The place where Emma punctured.
A certain valley filled with spring blossoms that passed as soon as it appeared.
The sun began to set as we crested the ridge behind Casa La Negra and freewheeled home, tired but proud of the achievement.
Fittingly the Thursday had been designated as a ‘rest day’. Our favourite triathlete got up early and ran to the bakery so we all had fresh and warm loaves for breakfast. Then in small groups we drifted out with different intentions for the day. Some went for a coffee ride down by the turquoise lake whilst others only rode to spin the previous day’s kilometres out of their legs. Dean lead the charge to a café where they served large glasses of sloe gin after a meal, and Mike ordered patata’s con patata’s, not content with just the one meal. Charles and I set off to explore the gravel roads which punctuated the landscape with alluring complexity. Needless to say, we got lost and ended up climbing through muddy ditches and storm drains, waving at the friendly locals as we bounced through their fields.
The last few days followed a similar pattern. We would roll out with tired legs and expectations, following routes traced over maps the night before. Contour lines became mountains, blue splashes became tranquil lakes hidden in valleys. Each day we would fiercely debate café stops and then pile into the next town we saw with cries of ‘café con leche’ before lazing in the sun. Mike and I would do silly things on our bikes to show off (mostly Mike, I just made some questionable fashion choices on the last day). Lewis scared us all with a crash (sadly not caught on camera). The people living around Periana became accustomed to the sight of us and would smile and wave as we passed.
We rode so much that on one of the nights we ran out of food, so Mike and I span our aching legs into Periana, braving the dark roads late at night to bring dinner home for everyone. After that debacle we decided that we would try and join the local fiesta on our last night instead of cooking. So on our last evening after eating the pizzeria empty we spilled into Periana’s streets buoyed by the cheap alcohol and intent on joining the festivities.
But we’d left it too late. We wandered the empty tiled lanes feeling a mixture of despondence at missing the party and that we had to leave the next morning (it was probably the fatigue and the alcohol). But our amazing holiday had to come to an end at some point, and when we left the next morning there were some grumblings about returning to Scottish weather and neglected university work. We were lucky to have escaped reality for a week. We tell everybody that the week away is a training camp, but that’s just how we justify the holiday. I can’t wait for next year.
Stay tuned, video blog to follow.