Sorry for the lack of recent posts but our adventure has actually been extremely unexciting lately. I know many people believe that we're on a constantly eventful wild whirlwind of a trip but that couldn't be further from the truth. There are many days that could simply be documented as, “wake up, eat, pack everything onto our bikes, ride, eat, ride, eat, ride, set up camp, eat, sleep.” Though it's not quite an ordinary life, it can certainly be monotonous at times, and it's been one of those times.

Once we left Granada, we rode north through the heart of Spain. The countryside was peaceful and beautiful with pleasantly rolling hills which allowed us to put in several days of long miles and although it felt great, there was nothing extremely noteworthy to report.
Between Granada and the Pyrenees 

A house built into a rock cliff 

Cari and a Roman bridge

We arrived to the Pyrenees about a week ago only to find that these famed mountains were enveloped in low-hanging, gray rainclouds. We know they're there; we can sometimes see the dark outlines of the mountains reaching up towards the heavens behind the thin, lingering clouds. If only they'd lift during the day rather than giving us clear, starry nights we'd be happy campers. I guess it was our turn to be stuck in the cold and rain. We completely lucked out along the Carretera Austral in Chile where we had the most perfect weather anyone could wish for while most people cycling that route are cold and wet for nearly the entire time. You can't win them all.
 Cloudy day in the Pyrenees

Mike and Cari 

Ainsa, Spain

 We got a glimpse of the mountains for a couple of hours one morning.  Then it rained for the rest of the day.

Taking advantage of a little sunshine.  We had a lot of wet clothes from the day before that needed to dry.

It's been a bummer of a week in a sense that we've put in monstrous amounts of effort to lug ourselves up one steep mountain road after another only to get nothing for a view in return, but I have to say that these roads have been absolutely thrilling. Occasionally we have a section of road that is wide and sweeping and although they don't provide us with the grand vistas they're capable of, they do offer an exhilarating, though frigid, descent in which we're cruising at unquestionably dangerous speeds but don't want to grasp the brakes to ruin the happily squealing voices inside our heads. However, more often than not, we find ourselves on extremely narrow roads that switch-back their way up and down the steep sides of the mountains. We can look over the sides of the infrequently present guard rails down into the valleys below and seeing the sheer drop-off over the edge is enough to keep us from descending at anything more than a snail's pace.
Mountain road 

Snaking mountain roads 

We could easily have been through the entire mountain range by now if we were pushing ourselves, but it would be such a shame to completely traverse them without ever actually seeing them. We've been watching the weather and although mountain weather can change in a nanosecond, the forecast has been telling us that we're going to get 2 days of decent, or at least rainless, weather on Tuesday and Wednesday. So today we're waiting. We're not really in need of a rest day, but we've found a campground that is comfortable and conveniently located and don't want to waste yet another day of potentially spectacular riding. We often have to remind ourselves that we're in no rush, have nowhere that we actually have to be and should therefore put aside our antsy-ness, take our time and wait out the bad weather in order to see the things we so enthusiastically want to see.



We had wonderful hosts to stay with near Granada who not only welcomed us into their home but also took us out to give us a taste of the famous Granada culture of free tapas with every drink. Though it wasn't a filling meal like we're accustomed to eating after a hard day of cycling, and in hindsight we perhaps should have snacked a little more before heading out to drink beer with people who live in a country that LOVES beer, the mini sandwiches and side orders were delicious and a very fun tradition which, we were told, is unique to their city.
Mike, Cari, Maria and Antonio

The hazy skies that consumed the greater Granada area during our visit were a huge disappointment as they made all of our photos appear to be ugly and gray rather than the beautiful landscapes that they actually were and the towering, snow-covered Sierra Nevada mountain range that loomed over the city appeared faint at best during the brief periods we could actually see them at all. Though we couldn't enjoy the natural beauty of the area we took a day to stroll around the city to the unmistakable sound of hard soled shoes on cobblestone streets echoing throughout the narrow alleyways and let our minds be blown away, as has been the case since our arrival in Europe, by how much older this world is than the world we know in the US.

We then decided to check out a major tourist attraction which we typically avoid due to having to leave our bikes unattended, but since we had a place to store them and took the bus into the city, we figured we might as well take advantage. The Alhambra, we were told, is the most visited tourist attraction in Spain, which, after seeing it for ourselves, can understand why. This mighty fortress was built on the hill overlooking the city between the 11th and 13th centuries and housed Granada's Muslim rulers between the 13th and 15th centuries. Although it's apparent that there's been substantial renovations done over the years, it's easy to imagine how grand it was back in those days if it can still leave visitors astounded today.

We arrived somewhat late in the evening, so didn't have a ton of time to explore, but what we did see left us in awe. The immaculate gardens were beautifully landscaped and the countless nooks you could escape into were peaceful with fountains, reflection pools and towering trees to somewhat hide you from the masses of visitors. The Nasrid Palace, where the rulers actually lived, was by far one of the most intricately decorated and amazing buildings either of us have ever seen. The floors were made of perfectly placed stones and bricks to create beautiful patterns, the domed ceilings and door frames were decorated with amazingly ornate woodwork and the walls, both inside and out, were covered in ceramic mosaics and stunningly carved plaster tiles whose designs looked as intricate and delicate as lace. It seems as though it would take a single person a lifetime to complete a dozen of these tiles and then you look at the size of the place and the amount of manpower it must have taken to create it is unfathomable.
The Alhambra 

Intricate walls of the Alhambra 

One of the reflection pools within the Nasrid Palace 

A nice, quiet corner after all of the school kids went away.

When the time came for us to leave Granada we had a major challenge on our hands. We had dropped ourselves into a big hole and the only road leading out in the direction we wanted to go was a freeway. Our map and the route planning program on our computer showed a few smaller roads that all appeared to lead to a town via a mountain pass but then dead ended. After significantly studying Google maps for a while, Mike eventually devised a route for us, sketched a handful of maps in his notebook and we set off knowing it was likely that we'd get lost several times before we hit a road that was actually on our map. It turned out to be an adventure indeed as we spent a day bouncing along no-named gravel roads, unmaintained frontage roads, through fields, tiny villages, getting lost and ending up pushing our bikes through sandy washes. Just when we thought we were too far off course, we spotted a farmer working on the hill above us so we asked him which way it was to the next town on Mike's sketched map. The directions were simple; turn left out of the sand, lift our bikes over the fence, climb up a ginormous hill and keep going until you get to a gate. Pass through the gate, turn right until you hit a paved road, turn right again and it'll eventually take you to the town you're looking for. Oh, of course! It's so simple, how could we ever have gotten lost? Not knowing if this would only get us more lost, we took the farmer's word and when we finally made it to our destination were happy we hadn't turned back and started again.
Mike lost in a sandy wash 


Cari on our day of being lost

The weather in southern Spain has gotten rather hot so we've decided to turn north and head for the Pyrenees, figuring by the time we get there the weather should be good enough for cycling. We thought we'd give our knees a break and take a less grueling route up the coast instead of working our way through the mountains of central Spain, but when we reached the Mediterranean coast, a few hours was all we could handle. The cliffs, white sandy beaches and turquoise water had potential for beautiful riding but rather than nice quiet roads that we're constantly searching for, we found ourselves surrounded by hotels sprawling as far up and down the coastline as we could see, heavy traffic, major road construction and hordes of over-tanned senior citizens walking around and lounging on the beaches half naked. After a full afternoon of having to stop and pull out the computer every 5 minutes to navigate our way through 20 miles of sprawling urban retirement communities, we'd had enough, found a road that headed inland and re-routed our course to the Pyrenees.

It has turned out to be an excellent decision. The roads have been spectacular, the desert mountain scenery is beautiful, there's little traffic and best of all, there's no need to continuously consult our map because we get long stretches on a single highway where we can just sit back and enjoy the ride.
Just some more beautiful Spanish countryside



It's a strange existence when you have no direction. We have never had a plan on this bike tour, but there was always a specific location or people to visit that somewhat dictated our route. In the US it was a goal to ride coast to coast and our tour was designed to stop and see our friends and families scattered across the country. In South America the goal was always Ushuaia, the southern tip of the continent and there were very few roads to choose from. We never had to think about where we should go as there was really only one option. But now things are different. We don't have many friends or family to visit nor is our goal to simply reach a specific city or traverse a given country or all of Europe for that matter. I'm not sure what our goal is other than to see a huge portion of Europe, which, with no direction, is proving to be a more difficult goal than it sounds.

We open our travel guide book and all it mentions are museums, cathedrals and attractions in the cities. We're not big fans of museums or cathedrals as they lose our attention quickly, and it's especially difficult when we have to also worry about our bikes and possessions sitting out on the street. Cities are nothing more than congested, traffic-heavy nightmares to navigate on a touring bike and we try to avoid them as much as possible and therefore have found our guide book worthless in helping direct us. We've talked to plenty of people, but most people who travel, travel to the cities. That's where things are happening; most travelers wouldn't be perfectly content, as we are, spending an evening in the endless grids of olive groves covering the mountains of southern Spain. Thus, we have also learned that travelers, unless they too are on fully loaded touring bikes, are generally useless in giving us helpful suggestions. So we have been left to wander aimlessly. Every few nights we open our map and assess the billions of options we have. “Where should we go next” is always the question. “I don't care” is always our response. I generally despise that as an answer but we really don't care as we have no expectations or any idea of what we'll find down any road we take.

We've started to use the “Natural Parks” as well any green colored areas on our map as our points of interest and it's been working well for us. We're still unsure what exactly a “Natural Park” is as there's still houses, towns and farming and there's no notable difference with the surrounding areas other than everything is fenced, which can make finding camp a little difficult at times. It has, however, generally put us on quiet mountain roads where we are alone to enjoy the oak tree scattered hills, ancient moss-covered stone walls, giant granite boulders, rivers and wildflowers which neither of us will ever complain about. The terrain has been challenging as all of southern Spain appears to be mountainous, but belting out the songs playing on our iPods at the top of our lungs without a care in the world helps us forget about the burning muscles and instead shifts our focus to the beautiful landscapes surrounding us. Music has a wonderful way of making great things even better.

Spanish countryside

We have learned a couple of lessons from our first week in Spain. Number one is that they are the ultimate lovers of siestas and number two is do NOT eat Spanish mushrooms. We thought it inconvenient in South America where towns shut down for an hour or two every afternoon, but here it's more like 4-5 hours and literally the streets of every small town are deserted from 2pm until as late as 7pm. We have learned to do all of our days' shopping before noon if we want anything other than chips, soda, coffee or beer during siesta which can be purchased from the bars that remain open at all hours and have saved us from collapsing of afternoon thirst or hunger on more than one occasion.

And then there are the mushrooms that we love in our dinners. It was virtually impossible to find good mushrooms in South America so we were ecstatic when we arrived in Europe to find them abundant. Although they are plentiful, we found out the hard way that they're also full of sand and rocks, even the packaged, pre-cut, clean-looking ones. We typically make a veggie stir fry with noodles for dinner and there's nothing more disappointing than digging into a delicious smelling meal after a long day but immediately losing your appetite when you end up with a mouthful of gritty veggies and then have to spit out a big rock that nearly busted a tooth. Where all of the sand was hiding when we inspected the mushrooms is beyond us but we both have too much dental work to risk breaking by chewing on rocks. We've donated a few of our recent dinners to the trash cans, had to resort to good old egg sandwiches for dinner and sadly give up eating mushrooms in Spain.

Yesterday marked our 10th month on the road and the daily wear and tear on our gear has really started to show, especially in our clothes. I guess when you wear the same two outfits everyday for that long you have to expect they'll eventually wear out. Our t-shirts are literally threadbare and when we hold them up to our faces we can see through both layers of the shirt better than we can see through the horribly scratched up lenses of our sunglasses. We found a thrift shop yesterday in Granada and bought Mike a new shirt as the formerly white one he had been riding in since we left Minnesota in September had turned a nasty shade of brown, even after being laundered in a machine (with soap) and it was beginning to be embarrassing to wear in public. Then there are our poor cycling shorts of which we each have two pair. They have been worn all day, everyday, washed in rivers or gas station sinks, wrung out and hung to dry nearly 150 times each on top of all of the wear they got before we left on this trip. The material around our legs have slowly been deteriorating over the past month losing their elasticity and becoming thin enough to see through. The transparency in the legs doesn't concern us at all but last week when Mike doubled over laughing about the thinness of my shorts in the rear, we realized it might be time for some new shorts. I wouldn't say I'm fully mooning all of the people we pass, yet, but it's definitely a rapidly waxing crescent moon that needs to be addressed soon before we really have a problem.   



Our week of cycling through The Algarve in southern Portugal was fantastic. It is clearly spring here as the countryside and peoples' gardens are exploding with colorful flowers and the powerful scents of lilac and orange blossoms make me want to inhale continuously and never let them out.

We alternated between riding along the famous, bustling coastline and turning inland to explore the quiet rolling hills. Our first stop was the town of Sagres with its spectacular beach, presence of surfers from dawn until dusk and abundance of camper vans clustered together in parking lots in the dunes. After being told by the tourist information lady that we couldn't camp on the beach, only in the campground, we decided we'd check out the nearby camper community. It turned out they park (a.k.a. camp) there for free for as long as they please so we made ourselves at home for a couple of days amongst the dozens of campers from all over Europe, most of whom spend the winter months basing in the Algarve sun to escape the cold up north. We were immediately befriended by a British couple, Bob and Patricia and a Swedish woman named Gisela. Bob and Patricia ventured over just as we got our tent set up, laughed at the cheap beer Mike was drinking and offered me a glass of delicious wine. Several times a day they would holler over to us with a friendly wave to make sure we were doing well and didn't need anything.
Cari on the beach in Sagres

Gisela turned out to be one of the kindest people we have met so far. Probably a dozen times she came trampling through the tall grass to get to our tent to bring us a jug of hot water ad a huge basin so we could take a “bath” rather than our baby wipe wash that we usually take, show us her map of Sweden and point out interesting and beautiful places we should visit if we ride that far north, show us pictures or to just sit down in the grass and chat. When we left Sagres she gave us her CD of AutoRoute, a mapping programs showing nearly every street in Europe. Our computer doesn't have a CD drive and our attempt at copying it onto a jump drive failed so she sent us on our way to a town on the other side of Portugal with directions to go to a specific computer guys she had met, see if he could install it and leave it there for her to pick up later. It was a successful mission and with our bad luck at finding wifi anywhere, therefore being unable to look at detailed online maps, this program has saved us on many occasions already. I love meeting people who understand the desire to wander, have once been in our shoes and are anxious to approach and help out travelers as a way of returning the good karma they once experienced. I look forward to day we will both be “Giselas” who don't turn away from a couple of young punks who look funny, smell funny, are not living a typical lifestyle, help them out and make their day just as Gisela and so many others have done for us.
Cari, Gisela and Mike

From Sagres we found a Couch Surfing host to stay with and though we originally planned on sticking mostly to the coast, we were not disappointed to find Jorg's house quite a distance from any town along hilly, winding, beautiful country roads with very little traffic which was a nice change from the coast highway. We had a lovely stay with Jorg's family, were clued in to which beaches we should not miss, told about an alternative eastward route that would take us through the hills instead of the coast and were sent away with an armload of the sweetest, juiciest oranges from their tree. We tried to ration them and make them last a while but we couldn't resist and they were gone within a few days.
A pannier full of oranges

From Jorg's farm we rode back out to the coast to see Marinha Beach which, just as we had been told, was breathtaking. From the cliffs above we could look down at a white sandy beach with many little coves carved into the red rocks and rocky islands scattered along the shoreline that glowed vibrant yellow against the clear blue water when the sun hit them just right. We then headed back inland and cycled through the rolling hills with tucked away little quintessential Portuguese farming villages that very much contrasted the modern tourist spots along the coastal towns. We ended the day back at the coast just as the sun was setting, set up our tent on a cliff where we clearly weren't supposed to camp (but that's never stopped us before and we didn't have much of a choice) and drifted to sleep to the sound of waves crashing below.
Marinha Beach

Marinha Beach

Camping on the cliffs 

 Fisherman at sunrise

Our final stop in The Algarve was the city of Faro where we once again had a Couch Surfer to stay with. Joao was a wonderful host, made us feel totally at home, cooked us a delicious mushroom risotto and taught Mike how to make a typical Portuguese cup of coffee which involves instant coffee, sugar, the slow addition of hot water and a LOT of vigorous stirring. It was a question that had remained unanswered ever since we met a few Portuguese guys on our Galapagos trip who made coffee in such a way but there was a major language barrier so we had no way to inquire. So finally the answer and technique on how to make instant coffee “good” has been disclosed to Mike.
Cari and Joao enjoying mushroom risotto. 

Joao teaching Mike how to make a Portuguese coffee.

We spent an afternoon running errands, visiting camera shops searching to no avail for someone who would be able to fix my camera which somehow got a piece of debris on an internal lens that now leaves a black dot on every photo I take (maddening) and wandering through the “Old Town” section of the city. There we found remnants of life from several hundred years ago, cobblestone streets, parts of a wall still standing that encompassed the city, a chapel make of human bones and an ancient cathedral whose stone stairs were grooved and worn smooth from centuries of use. We also used the opportunity of being in a decent-sized city with a bike shop to do some maintenance on our bikes, neither of which had been working well recently. We diagnosed the problem as being worn out cassettes, which we learned typically last for about 5,000 miles. We've ridden ours for over 8,000 and were both pleased to have completely expired a major metal component of a bicycle due to extreme use for the first time in our lives.
 Door to the cathedral.

 Bell on top of the Cathedral.

View of Old Town, Faro from the bell tower. 

A chapel made of human bones.  We counted 42 skulls.