Wednesday, 25 November 2009

It's the end of the world as we know it... (and I feel fine...)

34 days, 1895km, 1 puncture, 1 broken bottom bracket, 1 snapped gear cable, far too many hills and some really horrible weather after leaving Puy, we finally arrived at the coast previously believed to be the edge of the world: Finesterre. It looked a bit like Cornwall. We decided against joining the tradition that has built up amongst walkers to burn ones boots upon arrival; historically this was probably a very sensible health precaution, but with the advent of vibram soles means that there are rather unsightly piles of burnt plastic everywhere. Anyway, cleats are expensive and we'll probably be needing them in South America.

We don't have too many photo's to put up this time, as the weather turned again as we left the flats of the meseta. Mostly this led to miserable driving rain, which turned to miserable driving snow with altitude and meant risking hypothermia to get the camera out.

The cycling wasn't made any easier by the gradual reduction in functioning of gears on my bike. Initially I lost all high gears, meaning I looked liked a mouse in a wheel on anything that wasn't a steep incline (bizarrely meaning that we spent 2 days hoping for plenty of hills!). Functioning ceased completely about 70km outside Santiago, and we made it into the city with my bike having effectively become a singlespeed, stuck in a mid gear that managed to make both the ups and the downs challenging! Following this I can confirm that singlespeed touring bikes probably aren't a good idea, and whoever it was that said bikes don't need more than 3 gears, was wrong. Luckily, alongside his many other talents, Ja is secretly a mechanical genius (and he didn't even make me write that!), and managed to recable the whole bike using little more than an allen key and an old pair of stockings. Or something like that. It looked quite technical and meant I got gears again, so I was pretty impressed.

For some reason I had imagined it would be all downhill from Santiago to the coast, but I couldn't have been more wrong, and as a result we had a couple of overnights enroute, staying in the tiny village of Olveiroa, on a working farm in renovated 17th century outhouses (sadly the weather was too hideous for photos). It was here we decided to try the Galician regional specialty of Caldon Gallego which is, I understand, usually a cabbage and bean stew (obviously supplemented with the obligatory serving of chorizo) however in this instance involved the largest plate of cooked meats we have ever seen, served with something that might have been cabbage when it started stewing 2 weeks earlier. Good job we're still on that vegetarian holiday!

Back in Santiago we had a final evening of tapas and Ribeira, wrapped the bikes in clingfilm (an unusual stipulation of the bus company before travel), and got the night bus to Bilbao to enjoy the 30 hour 'mini-cruise' crossing to Portsmouth. The less said about this the better, and I am still left undecided as to whether I was more disturbed by the on board 'entertainment', or the fact that Ja appeared to thoroughly enjoy it.

Having added a couple of weeks to this part of the trip, and with the bikes in need of some serious servicing, we have now decided to leave for Argentina on the 5th December, and will be spending the week or so until then gloating about not having to be in work and trying to come up with ways of becoming independently wealthy so as to be able to continue this lifestyle indefinitely.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Llegamos a España ...

It feels like forever since our last rest day (which turned into 2½ rest days after Ja had an unfortunate encounter with some crusty bread, necessitating an even more unfortunate encounter with a French dentist). Luckily we were staying on a campsite in Lauzerte, in a very lovely yurt, with an even lovelier patron, who helped us get it sorted (thanks Theo!!). Actually it's only been 14 days since then, but in that time we've covered a further 975.5km (a total of 1397.5km) crossed the Pyrenees into Spain and grown a beard (well, one of us has).

We had about 4 days of rain as we came through southern France and into Spain, making crossing the Pyrenees pretty hard work; initially it was cold and wet, which wasn't so bad; putting the mp3 player on random and becoming reacquainted with loads of tunes not listened to in ages was actually quite fun (and I kept myself entertained by trying to list all the bands I've seen, in order, since Radiohead in 1995. This is probably the mental equivalent of alphabetising ones CD collection; ultimately pointless, but extremely cathartic and strangely enjoyable). As we got into Spain it became warm and wet, which was much less fun, especially as the Russian roulette of the Mp3 random function started playing songs I don't even own (I still don't understand how I ended up listening to a Peter Gabrielle track).

The differences between cycling through Southern France and Northern Spain have been striking, highlighted by our absolute ignorance of the Spanish language meaning we have had to resort back to the good old British method of international communication – speaking English, slighter louder and more slowly, and in Ja's case with an odd spaghetti western style accent. We have, however, been diligently listening to our Spanish lesson CD's and I'm fairly sure we will soon be fluent, courtesy of Michel Thomas. That said, I am not entirely convinced by the utility of this as a functional language course, as having reached the end of the introductory course we are now able to confidently ask for an opinion on the current socio-political situation in Spain (which given the global economic situation, and whilst cycling through Basque Nationalist territory where the population are openly supportive of ETA, is conversational ground upon which even the most fluent would be hesitant to tread), however have yet to be endowed with the capacity to ask if there is somewhere to buy bread nearby, or whether we might be able to get a bed for the night. I'm hoping this might come up in the next CD.

At some point since we came away Ja seems to have made the decision to give up shaving. Consequently he is currently sporting what he believes to be a manly facial growth (think somewhere between Russell Crowe; Gladiator and Gary Oldman; Dracula). I am not making comment on this (although if pushed would probably suggest it is closer to Shaggy; Scooby Doo). Unfortunately (or not), don't think many people will have the opportunity to see it in the flesh, as after seeing a photo of it Sarah has announced that she is more allergic to facial hair than she is to cats (and she is very allergic to cats), and that it has to be fully removed before we are to be allowed back in the flat.

I had hoped that in Spain, as in France, we would be able to maintain our vegetarian values (all be it with the taxonimical flexibility that allowed the rather fine pan fried margret de canard we rustled up in one of the gites we stayed in (well it is practically a fish isn't it...?). Unfortunately however I have had to concede to a vegetarian holiday, as I can't find anyway of considering the large quantities of chorizo we keep being presented with as a fish, let alone a veg.

Although never really discussing it, we seem to have decided to finish the whole of the Camino, and are currently around 400km, 7 days (and an awful lot of hills/mountains) away from Santiago. With hindsight, this decision may have been made shortly after discovering and making full use of the 'Fuente del vino' - a free fountain of red wine in place to fortify tired pilgrims and travellers. As you can imagine we ensured we were fully fortified before moving on, and even took a little for later fortification.

We are not planning another rest day until after we reach the end of the world (also known as Finisterre on the coast about 90km after Santiago, where the Pilgrims of old believed the world literally ended), and so we may not update again until we're back in the UK. It's looking likely that we might go for a weeks skiing or possibly mountain biking after we get back, as a problem with Ja's bike means we can't go straight out to South America, so hopefully we'll have time to catch up with everyone as well. I'll finish with another series of cycling photo's - particular effort made to ensure they aren't all of Ja's back....