Cycling Spain- Day 2 – Olvera to Prado del Ray including the Via Verde Rail Trail (45 km)

The first of 30 tunnels we cycle through on the Via Verde.
The first of 30 tunnels we cycle through on the Via Verde.

We woke to a downpour. Raindrops were bouncing off the sidewalk, rivers were racing down the street, construction workers were taking long coffee breaks under the hotel awning. Riding a gravel or dirt rail trail in a downpour did not seem like a good idea.

I checked the weather on my iPhone. It was saying “cloudy until noon and then rain for the rest of the day”. Obviously, the phone hadn’t looked outside. I checked another weather app. It said, “the rain would be subsiding in 37 minutes”… Seriously! … I preferred the optimism of this app and suggested to Eric that we read until about 10:30 am when the service would come to pick up our luggage. If the deluge was still in process we would catch a ride. If the rain stopped we would ride.

Now, here’s the part where I kid you not. Exactly 37 minutes later, at precisely 9:57 am, the rain stopped. Ominous clouds still circled the city of Olvera but the castle was bathed in a tiny circle of sunlight. Eric chose this exact moment of sunshine to order an espresso. I joined him thinking that by the time we had finished our coffees the clouds would break or another deluge would begin.

It was our lucky day. The clouds lifted and we headed out. After a quick stop at the local patisserie for picnic food we started cycling. And glorious the beginning was….The Via Verde Bike Trail is an old rail trail. Spain built a railroad in the early 1900s and then never used it…. a “make-work” project so-to-speak. Luckily someone (or people) saw a tourism opportunity and preserved the trail. The first 7 or so kilometers from Olvera are even paved. The rest of the trail is gravel or hard-packed sand. Sure, there were a few puddles remaining after the recent rain, but all in all the trail was in great shape.

The trail surface dried well after the rain.
The trail surface dried well after the rain.

This trail is fun because it has over 30 tunnels – most with motion-sensitive lighting – and a handful of viaducts. There are many places to picnic along the way and some nice snack places that might be open in the summer although they weren’t today.

The vegetation changed as we gradually went downhill.
The vegetation changed as we gradually went downhill.

We were feeling pretty good about completing the 35 kilometers of the trail and so happy that the rain had not dampened our plans. However, once we got back on paved roads (#s 8100, 8101, and A373 to be exact) our lucked took a turn for the worse. Strong headwinds slowed our paced. Rain started falling gently and then the heavens opened up and sheets of rain poured into our collars, down our bodies and out the toes of our shoes. It didn’t seem things could get much worse especially since our odometers indicated a mere 8 kilometers to the finish.

But, the truth about cycling is this: When you don’t think things can get worse, they really can. Add a long, steep hill climb into a head wind with pelting rain. I think the last five kilometers were harder than the previous 43 combined.

Feeling pretty smug...little did we know rain and hills were coming.
Feeling pretty smug…little did we know rain and hills were coming.

The sight of our night’s lodging, Hotel del Carmen, was better than gold at the end of a rainbow.

This rural hotel has a beautiful view from the rooms on the back side.
This rural hotel has a beautiful view from the rooms on the back side.

After peeling off our wet clothes, taking an extra long shower, and discovering the beautiful balcony from our room, the rain stopped, the sun came out and the cold Cruzcampo cervaze (beer) did its trick.

Evening in Prado del Ray

Our evening in Prado del Ray couldn’t have been nicer. The sun came out just as we shredded our wet clothes. To make things even brighter, we had a room with a large balcony overlooking the hotel swimming pool and gardens, the valley below and the green hills in the distance.

A balcony and sunshine meant two things: laundry and beer. I quickly did my usual shower-laundry dance which basically amounts to pouring some shampoo on my clothes, stomping on them while I shower, giving them several squeezes and rinses and then hanging them out to dry. The brisk breeze was another “pot-of-gold” after today’s rain and hill. Sipping a Cruzcampo beer with a beautiful view was the icing on the cake.

By now our stomachs were growling so we walked the 15 minutes uphill to the town of Prado del Ray. Aside from its location at the top of the hill, what makes this special is it lemon and orange tree-lined streets. On any given day, the streets would be lovely but on a spring day with the trees in full blossom, the gentle perfume of the lemon blossoms was exquisite. We couldn’t wipe the smiles from our faces.

On this Day 2 our of our cycle journey we were still adapting to the Spanish schedule of long afternoon siestas (everything is closed) and late dining options (restaurants in small villages don’t open until at least 8:00 pm.) We hadn’t planned for this and we quite hungry, but after extending our walk to the four corners of town, we finally settled at a bar with a glass of red wine. People watching was at it’s finest: a young girl learning to roller-blade gripping her mother’s hand on one side and her grandmother’s on the other, two boys playing soccer with a soft rubber ball, teenage boys popping wheelies on their mountain bikes, old men shuffling along the rough cobblestones.

We found a lovely outdoor tapas bar. Our waitress did not speak any English but her girlfriend who was sitting with a friend at the table next to us did. She came over and told us the specialities of the house including a seared ahi tuna tapas that has won an award for this restaurant. Tuna and grilled cuttlefish made our long 4 hour wait for food totally worth it.

Contented with full stomachs and the scent of lemon blossoms, the walk to our hotel at sunset was beautiful.

Another great day!