The Spain of Laurie Lee’s day has very much disappeared but as I cycle South his vivid descriptions of travelling through this county still resonate and at times it feels like nothing has changed. Both of us on a journey of discovery with a time lapse of just over 80 years.
So it was as I left Pamplona that I encountered a country unaccustomed to road cyclists and within an hour I was on a dust track next to a motorway with a couple of donkeys looking as bemused as I was. The roads are unforgiving and the drivers uncompromising. There are two choices – playing chicken with trucks on one of the national routes or roads where all signs of life have disappeared. Villages lie abandoned, shuttered and silent, with the crumbling decay of a world that has taken the young to the glittering cities of work and promise. Other than the sound of the wind there is a silence I’ve rarely encountered before as valleys and ridges unfurl like geological petals of layered time in every shade of brown to rich iron red.
With the Pyrannes behind me I was under no illusion that the road South would be flat, and I was ready and happy (within reason) to churn up the hills of the Navarra. I was not prepared however for the intense headwind. A wind that stole the exhilaration of a downhill after a climb of nearly 1000 metres up to San Felices and had me shouting and screaming only for my words to be carried away and dissolved into the atmosphere behind me. After sobbing with frustration for several kilometres the sight of a truckers motel was like reaching the doors of paradise and 20 euros has never been better spent despite the lumpy bed, paper thin walls and an early morning wake up call of the guy next door vomiting loudly.
The Spanish haven’t displayed the same curiosity about what I am doing as the French and the words cyclist + touring + female + solo in one sentence is almost incomprehensible. On occasion I will stop in one of the villages I am passing through and hunt down the only signs of life in the bar. These bars are seemingly reserved largely for older men, one arm on the bar with a glass of wine or beer in the other no matter what hour of the day. The discarded white tissues of tapas and sunflower seeds scatter the floor. The barmen march up and down their domain with a territorial efficiency whilst conversations like rapid fire bullets shuttle across from person to barmen and back. There is a momentary fraction of silence when I enter and a quizzical glance before they turn back to their conversations and the barman will give me a perfunctory “di me” as I falteringly ask for some tapas and a beer to keep me going on the road ahead.
And once the day is done and my tent is pitched, I devour Laurie Lees descriptions of the world I have the privilege of travelling through before falling once again into the dreamless sleep of 100 or so kilometres covered.
I have increased my target from miles to kilometres (i.e £5,000 to £8,000) to hopefully raise £4000 for each charity. A huge thank you to everyone that has sponsored me – it really does help keep those wheels rolling. Xx
Youth Adventure Trust – https://www.justgiving.com/cycleodysseyYAT
Re-cycle – bikes for Africa- https://www.justgiving.com/cycleodyssey