Narbonne- Port Vendres 98km – LLanca hilly 35km
Au revoir France, Hola Spain!!!
Just to set the scene as I love to do, I am listening to the waves crunch over the gravel from the comfort of my red and white striped towel. There are brown boobies all over the beach and not a cloud in the sky to interrupt the ever- continuing process of achieving leather skin. Palm trees wave lazily in the breeze and remnants of the Pyrenees frame my vision in the form of sparsely vegetated, rocky mountains that dive into the ocean, and I am trying to pick up bits of the new language I am hearing. Which is Spanish. Because we have made it to goddamn Espana!!!
Leaving Narbonne yesterday morning, we rode directly south on a highway which happened to be so compatible with the wind that we believed we had jet packs on the back of our bikes. We may as well have been in a car we were going so fast- blurred scenery and shaky bike wheels from the high speed velocity! We didn’t bother to peddle much, taking the time to admire wild horses and the isolation apart from the road. Sometimes the wind licked us with his tongue and almost whipped the bike from under us. We had to stop for one accident where a truck filled with crates of coke had lost all of the prized bubbly black liquid, and emergency crews were shovelling the crushed glass to remove it from the roundabout. Inland with the fields of wheat and wind farms of turbines, we didn’t really mind zooming. After stopping at that picture perfect castle for lunch and some reflection, we continued on south and tried to swap our grins with looks of sympathy when we passed cyclists going the dreaded opposite direction. By 2pm we had done 85 kilometres, and stopped to wipe the dirt off our faces and down a coffee back on the coast. The beaches are long and lonely, with the shadow of the mountains reminding you of the natural barrier between France and Italy. It would have been great to ride all the way into Spain, but we needed to have a final meal in France and say a more formal farewell. Settling on a home in Port Vendres mid afternoon, we bought a bottle of wine and a pizza each to take down to the port. Back in the hotel, I tried to enrol into my Uni subjects for Madrid, but gave up because it was all too confusing then woke Marie up to drag her, bleary eyed, back down to the street for a final French dessert. It’s always hard to know what we are ordering, but Marie scored to-die-for chocolate fondant, and I had a platter with vanilla ice cream, airy meringue, creme brûlée and an expresso. Not bad at all frenchies.
This morning we took it easy starting, doing little bike things like trying to work out a new drink bottle for Marie. We haven’t had anything stolen on the whole trip until two days ago. And it was Marie’s bright pink (and scratched and dirty) drink bottle that someone chose to free us of. It was a pretty tragic loss though, because the big plastic one litre water bottle she has been using can’t be squeezed while on the go. And it makes us look really hobo. So with a sturdier water bottle we rode out of town with advice from Bruno the hotel owner that there would only be one hill and then flat from there. Clearly Bruno hasn’t been on this road in a few million years or otherwise his perception of a mountain comes after years of living in mountainous Nepal, because the mountains we rode this morning were constant sloggers. A few kilometres up followed by a few kilometres down, twisting sharply and trying not to smack head on with anyone or anything. It was all with the promise of Spain very soon, and our excitement was expressed through pumping our little legs as fast as they could go. We stopped for a few compulsory headstands and almost-in-Spain shots and one final crusty baguette with cheese of course. When we reached the top of a particularly gut wrenching mountain, the sign for Espana stood there loud and clear with the European Union golden stars dancing around it in a circle singing our triumph. Three cyclists were there to take pictures for us, and we held Pos and the Phantom above our heads with the backdrop of the shimmering ocean and my new home-Country for the next year.
We have cycled over three thousand kilometres through Greece, Albania, Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, France and Monaco to get to this significant space, and my head buzzed with the mini lifetime that has been this wild experience.
Our first kilometres into Spain bounced with familiar words from the language classes at Uni in Sydney, and I really can’t wait to get stuck in and soak it all up. It was all a very dramatic way to exit France and enter Spain with these untamed mountains and constant scenery changes with every sharp turn. About fifteen kilometres past the border, riding up a mountain as we have done so many times, my back wheel made a jarring sound and I couldn’t peddle smoothly. We checked it out and my back wheel had buckled so badly I couldn’t even push it because with each revolution it would get stuck on the frame of the bike. Pos has been so good to me her whole life, cycling the Great Ocean road and lots of general riding combined with calmly waiting out in the abandonment periods where I took up some other fad sport or didn’t have her with me back in Australia. And now she has just toured with me across Europe, and all I kept asking my bike to do was to get to Spain. We got there, and then she decided to buckle under the pressure. I’m really not sure why it happened- maybe the weight of the panniers on the back or the extra crossoints I’ve been eating through France, but regardless,we were on a big mountain with a bike that didn’t want to budge. I stuck my thumb out and hitched a ride in a super nice motorhome. The French owners smiled warmly and put my greasy bike and self in the back of their polished and prized possession to take me to the next town while Marie peddled behind us. We have left Pos with someone who hopefully has magic hands and a heart that doesn’t want to deplete my dwindling supply of Euros, and we have been forced to stay in a super fancy hotel and tan on the Spanish coast for the rest of the day.
Beyond happy to be here.
Llanca- palemos 75km – llorat 35km The End. I am heading to Madrid on a train I was so close to not catching. I left it a bit late when we arrived in Barcelona last night, scabbing a shower at Marie’s hotel and saying goodbyes, then catching the metro to the central station with only ten minutes to spare until my train was due to go. I sped down the maze of tunnels following the Renfe signs, running into people with my panniers and shouting scuzzi!!! Another running girl somehow got caught in my panniers and fell flat on her face. I was really sorry but I had to go, getting helpful strangers to lift my laden bike up the stairs with me and then eventually coming to the platforms. I saw my platform 11 and bolted, a station worker blowing a whistle at me constantly from behind because I can just imagine how much I would have appeared like an criminal on the run. I passed my ticket over and the lady looked at my red cheeks and frizzy wet hair and said ‘oh, no no, no bicicleta’. Tears welled up in my eyes because of the effort it took to get to that exact point – people had been put in danger – and I said in my terrible Spanish that I had to start university in Madrid as soon as possible. The group of workers talked amongst themselves, took pity and dragged me to the end of the train to find a place where I could store pos. I took the front wheel off and locked her in a toilet. Obviously there had been some miscommunication when I bought my ticket in regards to bringing my bike. I talked to the workers in basic Spanish for a while as I munched on a sandwich, the first thing I had eaten since breaky because of a little paella mishap the night before. It’s been an eventful few days getting to the end of our Mediterranean odyssey! Before we were able to leave Llanca,I had to enrol in my Spanish university courses because the enrollment period opened at 10am and it’s first come, first served. This meant the system was packed with students foaming at the mouth to get their ideal timetables in order to have their Friday arvo off for sangrias or their Wednesday night free for salsa. I just felt grateful in the knowing that I have joined subjects at all, because enrolling in Uni is difficult everywhere, not to mention this site was in another language. With that weight sliding off my shoulders like a cape as we left LLanca, we rode out of the small town on a moonscape of rocks into vilajuga. It was 1pm when we stared, and we spent at least an hour at the tourist information store in this tiny town listening to three hilarious men and their views on Spain and Cataluna. Obviously the area we are riding through in Spain is one with their own culture, language and flag. They demand independence from the rest of Spain, and it feels like every single person here is in on it. Passion flows through the blood sparked by so many interesting factors. We left them at maybe 230, cycling side by side along isolated and glorious farming roads. Farmers would be behind us, patiently waiting until we noticed them and then glide past and give us a chilled wave of two fingers. That’s the feeling of Spain so far, and I am glad I have come in on these roads and experienced a web of small towns along the costa brava as the introduction for the country. The last time I was here I walked the Santiago de Compostela in Western Spain and did nothing else, so my perception of the country so far is beaming. Lazy farming establishments, long siestas to escape the hot sun, making food fun with tapas, dirt cheap great wine, pleasant people and fields and fields of farming space. So when we needed a quick lunch of smoked salmon and goats cheese salad and Marie the homemade spinach lasagne in a seeingly abandoned village under the shadow of a beautiful church, it didn’t come out quickly. We stretched ourselves out with the map and the manicure utensils, sussing out the route toward Barcelona. I had pretty much made up my mind that I wanted to be in Madrid on Friday to help Hannie find a flat for us before Uni on Monday. We squinted at the green part on our cartoon map, pretty sure there might be a few mountain ranges in there, also due to the squiggly roads and lack of towns. Detective work done, we rode on into the afternoon glow, watching tiny birds dart in and out of fields that looked like huge asparagus. Tractors carve up the land like a quiltwork blanket while dust billows over them. We came to this vegetated green space, where the high canopy dappled the road with tricks of light, creating magic for our eyes. The mountain range ahead opened up before us and we rode up feeling very aware this would be our last evening on the road. It was a perfect gradient to continue the blood flow to the brain, and riding down the other side we came to the ocean within half an hour. I saw a camping ground and pulled in, noticing pretty fast that they had no bungalows and we would have to sleep on the ground. The problem was that we didn’t have a tent so I told Marie, who was just getting off her bike after our surreal ride, that I was going to make up a story that we normally camp but we have just lost our tent on a highway today. I explained to this Catalonian speaking man that we wanted to stay, but we lost our tent. He wasn’t really getting the gyst, so to keep up the great act I looked over at Marie and said, yeah, show him how it happened. She stood there like a stunned mullett and then suddenly did the whole action like cheraids. The tent was on the bike and next minute, a whoosh with her hands, it was off. The bemused guy told us there was no way we could sleep on the ground, but we could buy a tent from him. This wasn’t part of the plan, and the guy really threw our grade A acting out of the window. We looked at each other and discussed the pros and cons, started talking about which one of us would buy it. Literally. On the last day of the trip we were contemplating buying a tent. In front of a man we had just tried to convince we had lost one, and were so sad about it. We got back to our senses and rode off with this man chuckling behind us, and found ourselves a hotel. Marie wined and dined me for the last night, minus the wine because we had too much the precious night after crossing the border. What we did have was an entree of squid followed by a main of thick and hearty seafood paella, followed by creme brûlée. Crashing too late, I was woken by an awful bug running football fields in my stomach. I was in the foetal position all night, saying ouch ouch ouch and semi concious, where your painful reality morphs itself into some really trippy dreams. The stomach and tiredness thing doesn’t mix well with riding mountains on a pannier laden bike, so I rested for the morning while Marie explored options for her next adventure. We rode off at midday because I really wanted to catch this overnight train, but I only made it ten ks along the flat before feeling shaky and weak and needing to rest. I curled up on a concrete bench and wrapped myself in a beach towel to sleep for another few hours, but when a dog licked my foot and woke me up I was back to the reality of the 30 km mountain range ahead of us. I got back on the bike, unable to decide if starving the bug of food was really that good of an idea when I was also starving for food and needing some energy juice to cycle. I ate two plain muffins and we set off up a ridiculously steep mountain to begin, finding out from a woman on a quad bike up the top on a dirt road that we had taken the wrong road. Back down the mountain, we began again. It was such a beautiful way to end our riding on these mountains. I just took it easy, stopping along the way for breaks and sometimes just laying down flat on the dirt for a while. Neon green trees interspersed with the native bush on steep mountain faces, and long rocks did a frozen slide into the ocean. Protected bays with emerald green water and pristine ocean views have convinced me to revisit the costa brava region while living in Spain. After maybe three hours we had completed this character building little experience, and coming out down some of the final drawn out and exhilarating slopes into the suburban sprawl which stretches all the way to Barcelona, tears rolled down my cheeks with sadness that I have to finish this adventure, and the fullness that every day on the road has brought. We decided to finish in Llorat, conveniently walking into the bus station and onto a big bus that had only Marie and I. We sat up the front and reminisced on some of the crazy times and great stories. The little cat I put in my pannier and tried to rescue in Albania. The exhaustion we sometimes experienced causing our brains to make up new words (wealms etc) which we then embraced for the rest of the trip. A family of riders which I almost wiped out and will probably go down in their kinds as the devil cyclist for. The mind boggling road signs that kept changing the distance to the next town on a whim. The amount of oil drenched bread we ate. Following tourist information signs that drizzle out and lead you nowhere. We have wealms of memories in our heads, and I am so glad to have been able to express the experiences of this adventure with all of you through words and pictures. Saying goodbye to Marie was exciting more than sad. After nine countries and over three thousand kilometres of riding, we are all ready and bubbling for our next chapters in life.