I’d never been to Spain before – it was the first new ground of my trip. Should I expect to be based down the street like a matador, bulls charging at my tyres? Or would I be surrounded by girls in red skirts and men playing flamenco guitar? Perhaps it would be pretty much the same as France, just hotter and drier! Or possibly oh another stereotype … NOBODY EXPECTS THE SPANISH … etc.
The first task in Spain was to cross the Pyrenees, so the reality was pretty much the same as the last few days of France: roads going upwards water coursing downwards. That first day I had a couple of good sit-down-in-the-road tantrums, plus nearly infinite swearwords speed info the mist.
My first new country brought with it another first for the journey: wild camping. At the end of Spain Day 1, that of the suit-down tantrums , Pyrenees and multiple thunderstorms, the target campsite proceed to be 8 km up a hill. I’d intended to ease myself in, not going got the full hobo experience until after I’d left Europe but enough was enough: I headed my bike over a barbed wire fence and camped in Random Jose the Farmer’s field.
That brought with it a very old haunt, familiar from my Audax days in Britain several years ago: the motorway service station. Food, warmth, somewhere to dry your clothes over breakfast, charge your devices and freshen up: the needs of the long distance cyclist see pretty similar to those of the long distance trucker and I’d camped a kilometre above one of these Meccas, in a grimy industrial part of northern Spain.
My last campsite in France, Saint Jean Pied-a-port, was the main start point of the Camino de Santiago, the famous (albeit now mainly secular) pilgrimage to the cathedral that is many to house the remains of the apostle James. I’d meet my first pilgrim in the person of Lieke, halfway back across France in La Chatre, but over the next few days they multiplied, matching and striding across the country like the historic paths they trod. They were fun and diverse, coming from nearly every county on earth and the pilgrim hostels were good (okay, cheap) too, as long as you didn’t mind the curfew and the 8am kick-out. The other stipulation was that you had to have a pilgrim card which they could stamp along the way, so I too became a temporary pilgrim. I’d still see Camino find long after I’d firmed South and left the main route; in Spain, pilgrimage provides a network of crossing paths and forms a big part of the landscape.
It wasn’t just the hostels: everything was cheaper in Spain. Particularly good value was the standard snack: coffee and a slice of Spanish omelette for a little over a Euro. That stuff could keep you going for hours and it was just as well: Spain was big and it was empty. I hadn’t anticipated having to deal with boredom until the USA, but here the plains and plateaus could continue for miles, tens of miles, without seeing a thing above the same flat or gently-rolling fields. I’d started to really warm to Spain but after a day of 30 mile emptiness, I wasn’t so sure.
I’d lingered somewhat in France, what with visits and the Tourmalet, so I ended up blasting though Spain on the main roads, 100+ mile days despite the rain. It was a shame really, as i the whole on the most direct route i could find, guzzling tarmac rather than taking in the atmosphere of the place. Needs must, but I’ll have to come back sometime and do the country justice – I’ll just have to plan a route carefully so I can try to avoid those flat empty fields.