29 August 2011

CYCLING SPAIN


28 July - Capbreton, France – San Sebastian - 91 km

With everything all dried I headed down the road. It was tricky to find the road to the border, but after some concentration on the map, I was 30 km down the road and in ritzy Biarritz before I knew it. I continued on towards the border and arrived in Spain without any fanfare. In fact I did not even notice that I had crossed the border as I never saw a sign for it.

There was, however, no doubt that I was now in Spain! It was not only the architecture but a whole new language and culture. Things also became a lot hillier. Soon I arrived in San Sebastian – a much larger city than expected. Once in San Sebastian, I looked for the Camino route and soon found the free accommodation that goes with it. I got my Camino, or Pilgrim’s Passport (or ‘credentials’ as they call it) and I was set. A whole new world opened up to me. The doors at the ‘Refugio’ closed at 10 and by 10.30 the lights were out. I found that to be quite early but I was not complaining as the accommodation was free. I still had to get into the Camino way and figure out when and where to eat. I had fortunately bought four bread rolls at the little shop down the road. I ate two and kept two for the following day. Not much of a meal but better than nothing.

29 July - San Sabastian – Mutriku - 58 km

I got kicked out of the ‘Refugio’ at 8h00, so went for a cup of coffee and a croissant at a local coffeehouse and waited for the bike shop to open. The gears on my bike were playing up but there seemed little they could do about it. At least I had the brake blocks replaced in anticipation of the mean downhills still to come. Then it was off to the internet shop to sort out a new sim card for my modem, and it was midday before I finally left.

What an absolutely stunning coast it is! It was a windless sunny day as I crept up the steep hills at a snails’ pace, only to fly down the other side like a kamikaze pilot. Holy crap, Spain is a hilly country! And it was only day one. I stopped more than I cycled, just to admire the view. On arrival at Mutriku I made the decision to camp as my map indicated no other campsites in close proximity. I huffed and puffed up the steep hill to reach the campsite. It was all worth it as it came with excellent lawns and a stunning view.

I sat in the sun studying my map for hours, and to be quite frank, it scared the living daylights out of me! There was just no easy way through Spain! My legs already felt weak and my back was sore. There was no way I was going down that hill back into the village for food. While warming up a rice dish I had been carrying in my bag for ages, I chatted to friends on the internet, then had some coffee and chocolate biscuits for dessert, and that was supper done.

30 July - Mutriku – Bilbao - 86km

I rose to a perfect morning and headed up the hills. I followed my map of the Camino route, which is not necessarily the easiest or shortest way, but I followed it anyhow. The people I encountered along the way were rather friendly; greetings of “Hola” and “Welcome to the Camino” were frequently heard as I passed people heading in the opposite direction. I must admit, I did not once meet anyone on a loaded bike! I did, however, see loads of cyclists on road bikes powering up the hills. Spain must have the best hill climbers in the world, when it comes to cycling ─ one was even chatting on his mobile phone while going up a steep hill. Now that’s impressive!

As I left the coast and turned inland over the mountains, I passed through small villages with ancient-looking churches high up in the hills. Thank goodness for a granny gear. I sometimes seriously doubt my choice of routes and, for that matter, my sanity. After a very long climb, I arrived in Bilbao and was, once again, pleasantly surprised; not only was it a very large city but it was jaw-dropping beautiful. I enquired about a campsite but there was none to be had, so I settled for a pension in the old town at about the same price as some of the campsites.


31 July - Bilboa

My legs felt lame, my knees were sore and the town of Bilbao looked very inviting, so I paid for another night in the pension, put my backpack on and went exploring. Not only did I find the most amazing old buildings and churches, but I also realized that I was now firmly entrenched in the land of sangria and tapas. Although everything was firmly shut, as it was a Sunday, it seemed quite all right to have a class of wine at 10h00 in the morning. Street artists were hard at work trying to earn a living. Soon the cafés opened up and people were sitting outside sipping coffee or a glass of wine.

I also had a pleasant surprise as my friend Ed, who lives in the UK, was on his motorbike heading in my direction, so I decided I may as well stay for another day and meet up with him.

1 August - Bilbao

Ed arrived around midday and we had loads to chat about. We walked the narrow lanes of the old city and chatted for hours about the good old days over a bottle of red wine or two.

2 August - Bilbao – Laredo camping - 50km
It was time for me to move on, and after a cup of coffee and some cornflakes, which Ed had in his panniers, we set off. He lent me his GPS and I followed the voice directions out of the city, but it soon became clear to me that it wanted me to go in another direction. So I switched it off!

It was nice to have some company for a change, albeit on a motorbike! I went my own way, continuing along the Camino route and stopping at small villages along the way. Soon I caught up with Ed, who had already found a camping spot. I thought it was rather early to settle down for the day, but he must have thought that the hills were steeper than they really were. I was, however, pleased about the short day and for not having to negotiate yet another hill to a campsite. Just as well, for soon it started raining and we both retreated to our individual tents.


3 August - Laredo camping – Santillana Del Mar - 88km

I left camp before Ed, but he soon caught up, armed with bread and jam which he had bought along the way. We had a bite to eat and then set off again. I could count on finding him at scenic spots along the way admiring the view. We gave the big city of Santander a miss and got onto a smaller road which leads up the coast. Ed went ahead again to look for camping, and I soon received an sms from him announcing that he had found a nice site at Santillana Del Mar. It took me a while to get there as the road was fairly hilly, as usual. I encountered a number of walkers and cyclists who were also following the Camino route and they all seemed so relaxed and friendly.

We wandered into town to the “supermarcado” to find food and just to admire the old buildings and cobblestone streets in the village.


4 August - Santillana Del Mar – Llanes - 60km

We woke to a brilliant sunny morning and I knew instantly that it was going to be a stinker. The road was no less hilly than the previous days, but we were now riding along the famous “costa verde”. The costa verde conjures up romantic images, but there is nothing romantic about it if you’re huffing and puffing up steep hills in the heat. It was, however, stunning, with one picturesque village after the next. People were very much in a holiday mood, and I even encountered two very friendly people running after me with beers, shouting something like “le fresco”!

I managed to fix the gears on my bike, something I was very chuffed about! Fortunately Sram gears makes it very easy for a person.

I kind of gave Ed the wrong town for our stop-over, so he found a campsite fairly early. I was quite pleased about the early camping as it gave me plenty of time to do my much-needed laundry. Ed loves photography so we wandered around the town, him taking endless pictures. In the end I found a tranquil little bay where I sat doing my dairy as the sun set over the bay.


5 August - Llanes – Nava - about 80km
I was rather surprised to wake to a rainy morning. There was, however, little one could do about it but pack up as quickly as possible. Breakfast consisted of cornflakes and coffee, and then we were on the road.

I did something I seldom do, and that was to take the wrong road by accident. It was drizzling on and off all day, my map was covered and I never bothered to take the cover off to look at it. It was no disaster as it was a stunning road all along a river. There was a very festive vibe as a canoe race was in progress with, what seemed like, hundreds of participants. The river was lined with people camping, music and food stalls abounded and spectators cheered me on as I was going up river.

The mistake solved my problem of whether I should continue along the coast or head inland, seeing that I was now already on the inland route.


6 August - Nava – Salas - 85km
After a croissant and a cup of coffee we left our cozy accommodation. It was a fairly easy road to follow, until we got to the town of Oviedo. Road signs were rather inadequate and after riding around for what felt like forever, I eventually found my way out. Ed waited for me just outside the city boundaries. We had a chat and then continued along the road.

I felt frustrated having wasted so much time in the city and therefore I did not appreciate the strong and gusty wind which picked up later on. The hills got steeper and dark clouds soon started to gather. Eventually we called it a day and found a nice room in Salas. The little town of Salas turned out to be quite interesting, with cobblestone streets and a quaint old church right in the centre of the village. Locals were sitting at sidewalk cafes sipping coffee or a glass of wine, which gave it a nice village atmosphere.


7 August - Salas – Pola de Allande - 55km
What a fantastic day’s riding it turned out to be. I decided on a short day as it was Ed’s last day and instead of cycling the entire day, it was nice to spend some time with him after the ride. The road snaked up gentle hills and although hilly, they were fairly easy climbs. Fortunately (at least to date) the mountainous terrain which I saw on the map turned out to be much easier than expected. The gradient is not as steep as expected and although slow going, it was fairly easy cycling.

Be it as it may, I was still fairly happy to spot the village that I was heading for, although way down in the valley.


8 August - Pola de Allande – Fonsagrada - 70km
I said goodbye to Ed, who sadly had to head back to London, and work. The road lead up the pass and the map indicated that I was in for a tough climb. After an hour and 30 minutes of riding, I reached the top and sped down the other side, just to find another steady climb waiting for me. When I reached a dam wall, I ate some lunch and then tackled the steep climb above the dam to the village of Grandas. Once there, I stood around for awhile, watching a festival in progress and then continued on my way again.

Although I love the idea of wind-farms, I’m not always so keen to spot them along the road. They inevitably mean that this is a notoriously windy area and today they seemed to be on top of every hill. The road, for some or other reason, went right up to them and then down again into the valley.

The more I climbed up into the hills, the smaller and more rural the villages became. I hardly saw anyone along the way and it was dead quiet. It felt as though I was on a hike. The only people that I spotted on the way were a lonely hiker, who was singing loudly to himself as he was walking along and an elderly farmer who was herding his cattle.

Although I had visions of continuing on for a further 20km or so, my legs were starting to feel rather tired. So I decided to stop at the village of Fonsagrada, although I wasn’t pleased to see that it was situated up a 2km climb!! Oy!! I found a room, took a walk to the supermarket and despite it still being fairly early, I decided that was me, done for the day!


9 August - Fonsagrada – Lugo - 59km
The day started much as expected and after breakfast I headed down into the valley. It was icy cold and I realized that I would not like to be here in winter. Road signs warning motorists to be careful of snow falls were to be seen all along the road. Also, judging by the snow poles next to the road, it must get fairly cold in this part of the world. The road climbed steadily up to more wind-farms, but soon I was able to see a large valley down below.

I was concerned about my bike’s front hub and hoped that it would hang in there until I reached Lugo. Despite my concern, it was a fantastic day and I was sorry to reach the end of this day. I was pleasantly surprised arriving in the town of Lugo, which revealed the old city walls of Lugo. They are the ancient Roman walls which were built between the 3rd and 4th centuries.

I found a pension right next to a bike shop where they decided to replace the cones. Hopefully that is the only problem with the bike, as I would have preferred it if they replaced the hub, but they could (or did not want) to do it. Instead, they wanted to sell me the entire wheel, complete with rim, spokes and hub. Already I felt that they had overcharged me for the cones, as I thought that 30 euros was a bit of a rip off. At least the owner of the pension was extremely friendly. He carried my bags and bike upstairs for me and also offered me the use of his kitchen and washing machine (which I did not use, but in hindsight I should have).


10 August - Lugo – Santiago de Compostela - 105km
I had a rather slow start to the day and first cycled through the walled city before getting onto the road to Santiago. I was reluctant to reach the end of the Camino route. It turned out to be one of the easier days and I must have descended and cycled through a valley of sorts. It was also much warmer and not as hilly. I sustained myself during the day by picking berries along the road and thoroughly enjoyed them. The berry season was almost over, but there were still plenty of good ones to be had.

65km from Santiago I joined the main, and popular, French route. At first I was a bit taken aback with all the people. There were loads of walkers, cyclists and even people on horseback. The villages became larger and more geared for tourists and one could find all kinds of “Camino” trinkets. However, it only took me a few more kilometres to get used to all the people. It felt quite appropriate that I was part of the large group of pilgrims all en route to Santiago whilst I was almost on my final leg of this journey. For pilgrim walkers, it was still a 2 day walk, but I pushed on and soon reached Santiago. I was even more delighted to find a campsite just outside the city centre, where I could rest my weary legs. I was thrilled though that it was not the end of my journey, but that I still had quite a way to go to Lisbon.

11 August - Santiago de Compostela
I was supposed to have a day of R & R, but sightseeing and laundry left me more exhausted than cycling. I brushed up on my knowledge of the Camino. Embarrassingly enough, I have been following the “Northern route” and part of the “Original route” and even a bit of the “French route”, but I still did not quite know what it was all about. There was, however, more than enough literature around town for me to read all that I wanted to know. Seeing that I was now firmly entrenched in the Camino Way, I guessed that I might just as well follow the “Portuguese Way” all the way to Lisbon and do the whole hog!


12 August - Santiago de Compastela – Redondela - 80km
It was quite a popular campsite and there were a number of other hikers and cyclists camping in close proximity. We first had a bit of a chat, before each one of us headed off in our own direction. It was around 11.30 before I finally left Santiago.

I could not believe that the route was getting even more interesting. The tiny villages along the way now took on a different look and feel and they all seemed to have some vineyards and wine for sale. Old churches and statues were still in abundance. The lawns next to the roadsides must have recently been mowed and the smell of the wild aniseed was hanging thick in the air. I considered myself lucky to be out on the bike on such a good day.

I cycled past Pontevedra and thought at first that I would stop there for the night, but as it was still early, I headed on. Just outside Redondela, I spotted a fairly cheap looking hotel and went to investigate. The owner was incredibly friendly and offered me a very nice room with a sea view for 25 euros, which I considered cheap.

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