Viva Espana!

The Ginger Ninja has had to undergo major surgery.  I hasten to add this name was not given by me! After many kilometres of crunching up and down, the gears have had the equivalent of a hip replacement. The surgeon of which was a small chest height French man in the historic town of Blaye who spent many minutes sucking air through his teeth as he assessed the situation claiming that new parts would take at least a week. Perhaps him being chest height worked to my advantage as he managed to fix Ginge by the next day but still only cracked a weasly smile when I reluctantly handed over my credit card.  
As I have so often found on this trip, serendipity must have been working in my favour as he was probably the only person within cycling distance who could have fixed it, and ascending the Pyranees with only three gears was not going to be an option. With a day lost and a flat route ahead through monotonous pine forest I sped down the Atlantic coast on one of the off road Eurovelo routes, covering nearly 300 kilometres in 2 days and wild camping by a fresh water lake to avoid the huge campsite empires that line the coast for mile upon mile. The charm of tumbleweed villages, creaking farm houses, and glimpses of chateaus through oak trees very much gone. With the long lazy days of Summer drawing to a close, the campsites are closing and forlorn and the restaurants are empty. The first blush of Autumn is in the air with trees and bracken just turning golden and abundant blackberries lining the road.   
Since the inception of this trip the Pyranees have loomed large. Hours have been spent trying to work out the best and flattest (!) route so it was with trepidation that I left Bayonne. My brother comforted me by pointing out that the Spanish are the best road engineers there are, and while you can’t engineer a climb out of a mountain, I slowly crunched my way up round hairpin bends from St Jean Pied de Port to the top at Roncesvalles. I shared the winding road with a vintage car rally, a few butterflies and the weary and slouching pilgrims of the Camino de Santiago and I arrived at the top jubilant and emotional. Two landmarks – the Pyranees, and crossing the border into my final country achieved in a day. The descent down through the pine forest foothills to a dusty sun scorched landscape and into lively and bustling Pamplona is a joy I will never forget. 

Nowhere more so than between France and Spain has the culture shift been so dramatic. In other countries the change of landscape, architecture, food and national stereotype has seeped into one another like paint. But with the natural barrier of the Pyranees, arriving into Pamplona was an assault on the senses. Throngs of people taking their evening stroll, groups of young people sitting on pavements drinking beer and delicious pintxos displayed on every bar top.  

As I sit in Cafe Iruna in Pamplona, one of Hemimgways favourite haunts it seems like a fitting place not only to write my blog but also to reflect that the end (of this trip at least) is almost in sight. And with that a variety of conflicting emotions… the desire for the adventure to continue, the desire to spend time amongst the people I know and love and of course the uncertainty of what happens when the wheels stop rolling. But for the moment – que sera, sera.

A word of thanks to Stewart who I met on the road in France and cycled with for no more than half an hour but donated to Re-cycle after our brief conversation and to the anonymous donor whose large donation was a huge boost just before the Pyranees. 

Youth Adventure Trust –

 Re-cycle – bikes for Africa-

On top of the world on top of the Pyranees

It is flat but after a few hours the novelty wears thin

My own private beach – one of my top 3 wild camps

Dune de Pyla – the largest sand dune in Europe

Sunset from Blaye citadelle while getting bike fixed

Ready for the road after a wonderful break chez Godfather Pip and family