|A deserted Sant Mateu Square; early morning.|
|A village in Portugal's Algarve.|
It was a welcome change to be riding with no wind, and with no burning sun hovering above; just a blanket of grey cloud and the humidity trapped within. Even more surprising, I was barely perspiring. Renowned for having to replace headstems more often than a punctured tyre, I’d been dripping like a leaking tap ever since crossing the border into Portugal’s Alentejo region.
Now gently climbing, the near-empty road followed the Ebro for another 40 kilometres. Rising near the town of Reinosa in the Cantabrian Mountains, the river was once the dividing line between Roman and Carthaginian territories at the end of the First Punic War, in 241 BC. Just two decades later, Hannibal’s capture of the coastal town of Saguntum, provided the catalyst for the Second Punic War. This marked the beginning of the great Cathaginian General’s historic trek through Spain and Gaul before marching his near-50,000 strong army and 37 war elephants across the Alps into Italy.
Spreading out at the mouth of the Mediterranean is the Delta de Ebro, regarded as one of the most valuable wetlands in Europe. Covering 320 square kilometres, it is home to more than 300 varieties of bird species as well as protected river flora and fauna. While a natural phenomenon, upstream deforestation and overgrazing in the river’s catchment areas, have, over time, been contributing factors to the delta’s size and shape.
The Ebro still moves more water than any other of the country’s rivers, but its annual flow has significantly decreased over the last century. Lower rainfall, the construction of dams and an increasing demand for irrigation have not only reduced its output by almost 30 percent but impeded the movement of sediment downstream. As a consequence, the delta has gradually diminished in size over recent years. The widely predicted rise in sea levels, as soon as this century, is also likely to gnaw away at its vulnerability. In existence since the end of the ice age, one hopes that it doesn’t turn into another Atlantis and become swallowed up by the sea.