And that's a Tortilla aka Spanish Wrap
As I am sipping a Kalimotxo close to the border to France (red wine with Cola; like the Francesinha in Portugal, my tastebuds may not experience it again. It was not only refreshing, apparently it also brings me a step closer to Basque residency, as Aitor says. The only thing missing is throwing a 300kg rock, because apparently that's what people do to pass their time in this part of the world...), I will wrap up my last days in Spain. For the detail lovers among you, I will also share some stats and 'facts' about my journey so far.
I continued my quest to meet all the people I know in northern Spain. A 700m mountain range was sitting between myself and my next stop for the night. I liked the long ascent, slow and steady, with some sweet views along the way. I was literally escaping the weather, and it started spitting once I reached the top. I raced down and got to Ramales quick enough.
Little did I know that my adventure of the day was only yet to begin. The campsite (nice looking) was closed for the season. Albergue - closed. The only hotel in town - EUR35, I refused. I was recommended some caves that also served as popular climbing spot. So that's where I went, climbed a fence, crossed the cow meadow and pitched the tent hugging the wall. Another try, another time it was not for me. I had spiders crawling up my legs and an eye-to-eye with a fox. When I lit the torch at his shiny eyes, he closed them - 'You cannot see me' - he said in foxish (my imagination, but it was enough to keep my mind going for a while). Of course, nothing happened, but I was packed up and gone pretty early, and pedaled through the lush basque autumn countryside to the picturesque hilltop village of Artzentales.
This is where the brother-in-law of Aitor has been renovating his grandparents' old mansion for the last 3 years; room by room, discovering snippets of family history as he goes along. In fact when I arrived, him and his sister where in the kitchen deciphering some old letter. The garden boasted rows of peppers, meter high bush beans, zucchinis and tomatoes, and made me miss my veggie garden on Robin's land, and my fingers itch to go in there and get them dirty (there is nothing more satisfying then weeding). The place reminded me of Sleeping Beauty's enchanted castle, and I was amazed. When I was younger, my parents once took us to an aunt thrice removed and as far as I can remember, she was living in a similar place. There was a pigeon tower we were not allowed to go in (and did of course), there was ivy growing everywhere and we drank our hot chocolate out of golden cups. It may be exaggerated I felt like Alice falling into the rabbit hole, but needless to say I was excited to pitch my tent in Emilio's backyard. First though, it was time for lunch, and we devoured a plate of pimientos padron (fried green peppers) and other delicacies from the garden, spiced with lively conversations. Another highlight of the day was meeting Aitor's 4 year old son. When I arrived on my bike, he quickly observed it, asked some crucial questions - where are your jackets, where is your helmet, your house is in there too? Once his main concerns were resolved, he went completely nuts, and explained to us that he always gets nervous when there are guests around - okay then. His daughter, Anne, was cooler. Aitor explained to her that my name was Anne, too, and she waved him off by saying 'you already told me this last night dad', and that was it. It was so much fun to be part of a Sunday afternoon in this lovely and funny family who shared their wine and food and conversations and had no qualms about me staying for the night. Aitor took me for a quick Sunday G&T session to his town, and after the last days' events I was happy to snug up in my cozy home under the old oak!
The ride to Bilbao was cool! Bike lanes all the way, flat and riding through sunny autumn forests (You can easily change the Doors song to 'Riding in the Fall'), along rail trails, rivers and the highway (not ON the highway, that was earlier during my time in Spain!).
My eyes nearly fell out when I reached the suspension bridge - I felt like I was going on a ride in some amusement park! I had delicious lunch at the port suburb of Getxo (thanks Aitor for the recommendation!) and was given 2 mandarins by the Bolivian fruit seller when I told him where I was going (and HIS eyes were nearly falling out too!). Back into the countryside and towards the coast I went, and you can be sure that there was another mountain range between me and my daily goal! I reached the fisher town of Mundaka, where I rested for a day. My Achilles, again, was very thankful.
My next day went down as one of my favorite rides. I stopped in Guernika - the 'City of Peace' for some Pintxos and a coffee. You may know this name from a famous Picasso painting. Given its history, I felt it decent to pay my respects. Afterwards, the ride was wonderful. The vegetation was becoming more northern European. I rode through empty and ancient hilltop villages, forests, volcanic landscapes, orchards, past cows and horses and benches under old oakes. I could smell the forest, hear the birds and chainsaws felling trees, a sound that I have always found relaxing and meditative. I loved every meter uphill, until - and that was my challenge for the day - my brakes stopped breaking. An unpleasant and very unnecessary experience coming down a pretty steep hill. I managed, and also reached my final destination, Zarautz. Another 20km to San Sebastian the next morning, where my ex colleague Fernando offered to service my bike in his shop. I was not surprised to see that the brake pads were completely naked, and was glad that I had spares with me, as Fernando did not have mine in stock.
When in San Sebastian, I followed fellow travel industry professional Ben's recommendations and satisfied my month-long desire for burger, chilled at Gros beach, and commenced my last kilometres on Spanish soil. As if I had not climbed enough, the dear Komoot lead me straight onto a hiking trail, where I once again activated the whole system to push my Rove and myself up and up. The icing on the cake after the ascent along the coast with views over the border towns of Irun and Hendaye, the Pyrenees and the wide Atlantic, was the single-track mountain bike trail. Thanks Komoot, I still cannot manage this with my bags on the back.
Long story short - I still love every day of my journey to Germany, with all the ups and downs, all the people and animals I meet, all the mountains I climb and all the sweat and ache that comes with it! Tomorrow, mais bien sur, I will cross into France, from there you will see me with a Baguette tied to my saddlebags, a bottle of red wine and chunk of blue cheese. (please don't see this as judgment, it's simply a daydream - hopefully come true!) Next stop, Vince's house in Hostiens near Bordeaux. Until then, I go roving, and thank you again for following me from near and far!
Some stats and 'facts':
32 days travelled
27 days cycled
5 rest days
46169 kcal burnt on rides
54km daily average
11km/h average speed
23360m uphill in Spain
19160m downhill in Spain
most hills: Oia to Sanxenxo: 113km with 3170m uphill and 3220m downhill
26550m uphill total
22990m downhill total
2 flat tires
28 nights in tent
2 nights in bed
1 night in car
4 river crossings on boat
1 river crossing on swinging bridge
32 Euro average daily spent
About my days:
Get up around 8am: coffee, breakfast, dry tent, air out sleeping bag, clean bike
Leave camp around 10am (earliest): usually stop every 20km for a break, sometimes a siesta under a nice looking tree or at a beach. I stop for horses, donkeys or dogs
I usually reach my destination between 6-8pm: Have a cold beer and some nuts, set up camp (takes around 20 minutes)
When I was still working, I usually got up, straight to the office where I showered, had breakfast at my desk, and sometimes also dinner if I had no plans. Now I can celebrate taking my time and I love it
As I am always by myself, I have to rely on myself for not forgetting anything, not missing a turn, not causing an accident, so a lot of the times, I am very present
In case you have not noticed, I LOVE Northern Spain: the countryside is so varied, you could be anywhere in the world (including Spain, obviously!); the beaches anything from sandy and empty to rugged and rough; mountains offer playgrounds for all sorts of outdoor activities.
(I also love speaking Spanish. If anyone is on the fence, learn as many languages as you can. It will open up so many opportunities)
There are lots of bike lanes about. In San Sebastian, they have a tunnel solely for the bike lane (on the way to Bilbao as well. They actually also have escalators in Santander and Bilbao, so people don't have to walk the hills - smart move!)
Spanish people refrigerate their red wine, which means, you can drink it on hot summer days
Tapas and Pintxos are super snacks, and tortilla all a cyclist can hope for
I love drinking doble cafe solo
Face masks are obligatory in Spain, and I wear mine whenever I get off the Rove. My hands are dry from sanitizing before and after I touch things, especially money.
The smells I love most about cycling through Spain are the Eucalyptus trees, pine forests, everything after a recent rainfall, smelling different animals before seeing them, and cow dung when cycling through the countryside.
The fellow cyclist I met at Oyambre beach said the truth - 'Cycling is God'
It means you ...
Stop when you want and ride fast or slow enough to experience what you want or need to experience
Ride on almost every road (except highways, but who wants that)
Don't carry your weight on your back
Sleep in any type of accommodation, whichever your taste and budget allows
See, hear and smell everything as you travel along
Are outside, mostly surrounded by nature, breathing fresh air
Have to eat a lot, and you often don't ever feel like eating unhealthily (I have definitely overcome my addiction to ice cream)
All other cyclists you meet make you feel welcome, as you are all part of some invisible bond that connects you
Usually, everyone is nice to cyclists, as most people assume that cyclists are nice people as well
To anyone who is considering going on a biking trip ever, do it, or speak to me and I will find more reasons to convince you!