Tuesday, 23 March 2010


I set out early today as I was going to attempt to cover 200km and a climb of 2700m in two days. The journey was on the N2 through the centre of Ketama and was more or less 100km climb followed by 100km descent. After the Moroccan breakfast of eggs, olive oil, bread and olives I left the hotel and descended out of Al Hociema and upthe steep hill towards the mountains. The climb was relentless and already the sunwas fiercely beating down on me. Even bottom gear was hard work on the thighs as the steep dusty road passed by at walking pace, the lorries roaring past. The support of the locals and their 'ah! super sportif!' chants kept me going. The gradient reduced and the road snaked its way up a vast valley, little clusters of houses were scattered about like pastel coloured hundreds and thousands, some were way up the hillsides up remote tracks. In the foreground I saw donkeys and bellshaped hay stacks and yet more men, sitting about and smiling at me. I rested at another tea stop with its french speaking curiosity and continued on. It was pretty obvious that 100 km of uphill was going to be more than today, I planned to do about 60-70km and then 140 tomorrow. But my 10kmh speed in the baking heat was proving to be hard work, and I had developed a pain in my chest. While working out what to do, a coach overtook me and stopped a few metres in front of me to let passangers off. I had no time to ponder upon a decision, my mind was made to go and ask the driver if he was going to Ketama and he would take my bike. A few moments later and 50 dhirams poorer I was in the comfort of a seat, with plenty of time to ponder on whether I was cheating. The coach hurtled along the winding hairpins and I watched the landscape change to rocky ridges and fir trees. We stopped at a few more towns. This is the land of the Rifians, berber people who have fought occupation from Portugal and Spain until last century when their land became part of the Moroccan kingdom. As we budge through a busy market, they trade their animals, friut,vegetables and spices with each other in a way that I'm sure has little changed in a millenium. It is a lush green land which gets a lot of annual rainfall. A passanger gives me an orange and points to two collapsed houses. This winter's excess of rain has been catastrophic for some. The road jams as the traffic negotiates a hastily repaired section of the road. Many parts of the road have been badly damaged by landslides. After a delicious tagine for lunch we pass Ketama, the summit, and I consider when to get off the coach. It is nearly 3pm, so the remaining downhill is too much to do today. I wait until 4 when there is still 50 or 60km to go, I should get to my destination by dark. I get on the saddle and get going. The way is one of the most amazing but hairy rides I have done. The gradient is very gentle as the road follows the contours of the enormous Rif, up a small section and then down, down down. I am constantly trying to keep myself from being pushed off the tarmac as the Mercedes race past, often waving in support despite nearly killing me. I have little chance to admire the stunning mountains in my peripheral vision as I snake down the valley. I pass Bab Bezoot and level out, pedalling harder and slowing down as the road works its way up to my furthest point away from home, Chefchaoen. As the sun begins to setand my legs begin to ache, I see the lights of this charming peaceful city approach. I go straight up to the old Medina where I find Pension Souika, a beautiful old hotel in the centre catering for backpackers. I unpack and relax, straight away I meet my first friend here Diego. This is the first time I stay at a place full of other travellers in the whole trip. It is a refreshing experience. The next two days were complete relaxation, strolling the blue washed walls, up the hill to the mosque, eating lots of food, hanging out at Oussama's sandwhich shop,meeting French German US and spanish backpackers and feeling a little bit smug.
On my last night before departing, I am woken at about 1am by the light switched on and some loud Moroccan voices. I eventually open my eyes and am surrounded by four police officers and the Spanish guy in the bed next to me in hand cuffs. Dumbfounded, I watch as they gather his posessions and take him away, leaving us in peace. Naturally the following morning I want to know what had happened, I am relieved to hear that it was a mistake and he was later released. Apparently he shared the same name as a Cuban wanted by interpol for murder, and that his check in to the hotel's computer had rang alarm bells.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

near the end the adventure begins

In case some of you are confused about the goal of this voyage, Ceuta in Morocco is still the final destination I intend to cycle to. Rather than cross the Costa del Sol to get there, I decided to see a bit more of Morocco, so I will ride the north Moroccan coast from Melilla to Ceuta which is 20km more and five times the climb of the original leg. Just in case you thought I was cheating.

So far I can say that I am so glad to have done this. It has taken me no time for my spirits to be lifted no end by the people of Morocco. The french stage was so cold I was pretty much alone every day, and although plenty more people were out and about in Spain, I passed by pretty much unnoticed. Morocco is the complete opposite.

After last writing in Almeria, I went down to the port and bought a ferry ticket. The boat departed at 11.30pm and I tried very hard to assume a comfortable sleeping position across two reclining seats. The crossing was calm and quiet, but the night's sleep wasn't particularly good. Like so many of the other Moroccan passengers I caught my best nap on the floor. As the sun rose behind a pretty drab sky we arrived into the Spanish province of Melilla. It was early and I had little inclination to explore the town, so I went and found the frontier. The transition from Europe to Africa occured in 50 meters, orderly queues descend into fighting chaos as cultures filter through the barricades and past serious looking border police. After filling in an immigration form I am issued with my stamp, past the guard and into the land of Morocco. I knew to expect a sensory overload, but it's always underestimated. The sights, the sounds and above all the smells are overwhelming. I also forgot how much attention I attracted, and being early in the morning after not much sleep I wasn't yet ready to face this, so I withdrew some Dihrams and got going towards Nidhar. The dusty dual carriageway took me south around the hilly peninsula as I passed countless smiles and greetings of Salaam alikum by the men of the roadside watching the world go by. I went straight through Nidhar still unacclimatised to the overwhelming attention, but I was getting very hungry so I rested up at a little tea stop out of town. I ate six eggs, a baguette and my first of many delicious mint teas while watching a guy dunking a lorry inner tube in an old bath tub to find the puncture. Suitably recharged, I got back on the N16 and rejoined the Mediterranean. The road had been recently rebuilt with EU funding, and the carving through the gentle foothills of the Rif mountains was immense. I wondered what kind of machine could slice through rocky hills so straight and cleanly on such an enormous scale. The earth walls revealed the geological periods of sediment of these ancient hills as I cycled past them relatively effortlessly, for the gradients were fairly easy. On I went, I realised that there were very few built up areas on this coast, just small settlements of farmers and fishermen. The traffic was incredibly light for a national road, possibly one vehicle passed me per minute. Every other vehicle here is an old Mercedes, handed down from from a European owner and cherished and repaired indefinately here. Th is is a land where things get fixed rather than discarded. I stop for another mint tea and am invited to share lunch with another customer: Yet again I am the centre of curiosity; here people want to know what it's like to be a young Engish guy, what philosphy we have if we don't worship our god. I carry on, and it dawns upn me I should think about where to stay. There is nowhere particular on the map indicating a guest house is likely, so 90km along I stop at a tea stop, meet the customers and use my judgement whether they seem sound enough to trust if I ask them if there is a place to stay nearby. I do this about three hours later after doubling my arabic vocabulary; learning about each other's lives, talking about the mad world we live in and the volatile situation with muslims and the west and how they just want to coexist just like most of us. We share the tranquility of this rural beach with the strangest looking cliffs behind us. The customers leave and bid me the warmest of farewells; saying how honoured they are to have met me, and Mohamed the owner of the tea hut lets me stay in the security of his hut behind the shutters, he will wake me at 8 and cook me breakfast. So after another load of eggs and baguette and some cake for lunch, he insist I pay only what everyone else would, about £3 for dinner, breakfast, countless cakes and teas.
I get going and the sky is even more grey than yesterday. An hour in and I take refuge in a marble lined classy cafe as the heavens open. I put my waterproofs on and continue along, playing duel with a tractor full of farm workers. They are highly amused that I'm quicker on the downhills and they overtake me on the uphills. I pass Ajdir and the gradients get fierce. My road goes inland but I decide to cycle 10km further to the big town of Al Hoceima. I realise the amount I withdrew at the start; 100 Dirhams sounded like a lot but was about £8 and I only had 30 Dh left. As the hills of the detour got steeper and steeper I hoped there would be a bank. Sure enough there was, and after a huge steak and chips for lunch I decided to find a hotel and recuperate. It had been 3 days since I stayed anywhere with washing facilities.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010


I realise that I have been spoilt for hospitality. My Cartagena host, a young Mexican student called Pako was quite busy, so I was happy to pass the time before he finished at school, then cook us and his two housemates some food while he continued integrating radio frequency calculations. The housemates were Polish and German, and seemed more interested and offering of their Sangria. I really can't complain though, I just know I have been extremely spoilt. I got breakfast in a cafe, and got ready for a big day, 110 km and over 1200m climbing, west down the coast to Aguillas. I think it's too hard to describe the ride today but it was definately the most beautiful, traffic free yet gruelling rides so far. About 20km were on a rocky coastal track, and the finale was a 600m climb in the beautiful Cabo Cope y Puntas de Calnegre. I'll let the following photos do the talking...
I arrived at Aguillas, had a pizza and met up with Camille and Frederick, my hosts for tonight. French and US respectively, they were delightful company, but I was probably not the best of company as I was so exhausted. Fred told me about his complicated immigration situation, how he had remained in France after his marriage with a French woman had ended, and he had been deported from France after refusing an offer from the authorities. He was a perfect candidate for working for the government as a spy, apart from his political stance which meant now he was in Spain, teaching English on a tourist visa.
I left relatively early and realised my ride to Mojacar was tiny in comparison to yesterday´s, and with a strong tail wind I was there in no time. The sun was fierce today, and I was happy to go slowly in order to recuperate. The last leg however was a very steep hill into this ancient hill fort. The warren of whitewashed buildings have seen an occupation of many different tribes over it's long history. Greeks, Moors, Spanish and most recently English it seems. My host, David was born in Merseyside, but had never considered Britain his home, having raised a family in Denmark for the most part of his life. We went to a bar and did a very British pub quiz with some other English. Our team came second and we left. David was tired of this community and wanted to go on to Thailand for his next chapter.
We walked down the steep hill and after filling my bottles with warm spring water I said goodbye and got going again. I would break up my journey to Almeria and take David's advice to go and wild camp in Las Negras, where I may find some other young travellers. I warmed to this idea, since France I have felt a lot more alien to the locals and other more 'mature' holidaymakers, and I am sure this is not just due to my language barrier. The going was tough as the road worked its way through a desert landscape. David had told me it had been used for many spaghetti westerns as a fake Nevada or other US wilderness. Although not a long distance, the climbing was fierce today, and eventually I descended into Las Negras. I cased the joint for evidence of wild campers and younger, more alternative travellers but there was nothing, just a 6 euro site with designated pitches, entrance barrier and noise curfews- not my idea of camping, but an option if I found nothing else. Eventually I found a hippy and asked him of this spot I had imagined. Victor, a Czech guy told me it was not Las Negras but San Pedro, a mere 3km along the coast, but the only way was by boat or a very rocky track which he doubted I could ride the last part. It didn't put me off, and after buying some dinner I pushed up an extremely rocky track and cycled around the headland on a terrain most mountain bikes would have never graced. Victor was right about the last bit, carrying a 35kg bike over it was hard enough, but off in the distance I knew what I could see would make the whole chore worthwhile. It was like a paradise, a shanghri la. A small abandoned beach hamlet with a beautiful sandy beach. Cut off by the modern world with no tarmac connection, the sandstone structures were rebuilt using found materials. The odd tent was pitched in amongst a terrace of beautiful wild gardens, vibrant with herbs and flowers. I knew I was in a dilemma, I was going to be sucked into this place. Getting the bike back up the path was going to be a mammoth ordeal, yet I had come with no food and needed to remember my mission. I met a few Germans, one of whom had been here every winter for 7 years. He showed me the abuse the elements gave his tent, a couple of months of sunshine and the nylon disintegrated. We had a couple of beers in a makeshift bar an entrepreneurial Austrain ran, a tarpaulin over the terragce and some small warm cans for a euro each, then I went to sleep in my beautiful little pitch.

I packed up and carried the bike and the bags in two stages, I was exhausted having not even ridden anywhere yet. The 3km took close to an hour and I picked up a coffee, breakfast and lunch and got going. Yet more spaghetti western backdrop, and the route took me off tarmac and up a red earth track steeply up into the mountains. It was a route the GPS had chosen for me so I didn't know what to expect, but it was ideal. A hard climb up and then 40km of ever so slight descent through the plains of Nijar, populated by hectares upon hectares of tomato poly tunnels. This was my landscape for the day until the civilisation built up to Almeria. I am ready to change my lansdscape and culture now, and continue the last leg along the North coast of Morocco.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

the beautiful hills

Marlene and I took the poorly wheel to a motocycle cum bicycle mechanics a few streets away. They took it from me and told me to return at 6pm. After buying some provisions Marlene left me at her flat and went to play Bridge for a few hours. As well as catching up on couch surf requests, I tried learning some spanish, motivated by my need to collect the wheel. The young guy who served us was not there when I returned, Marlene had warned me that the older guy was pretty grumpy and unhelpful. Sure enough my terrible attempt at asking if the wheel had been fixed went over his head, the only think I understood was no comprende. Luckily I saw the repaired wheel, so the international sign language of pointing to it and saying quanto did the trick. 12 euros later and the bike was back on form ready to depart tomorrow. We went to a bar and had some wine, then returned to sleep.
After a hearty breakfast, I said goodbye and got going. It was overcast, and I went inland to traverse the hilly headland, climbing slowly up the N332 to 200m.
The road snaked its way through enormous gorges with a railway line precariously following a contour around the cliffs. Up we went until we reached a plateau with the occasional evidence of civilisation dotted about on the barren landscape. I pressed on through Teulada and Benissa before descending a great long hill down to the high rise landscape of tourist ville. Back on the coast the weather was fine again, but beyond the sprawl of tourist shops, Mc Donalds and small businesses there was little to see. The road undulated past Calpe, Altea and eventually skirted around the famous Benidorm, a metropolis of high rise apartments resembling a hazy salmon and cream coloured Manhatten. There was no desire to explore it, and I went inland to get away from the package holiday madness. The road climbed steeply up the mountain side, the 250m climb was relentless in the heat but it was comforting to enter the tranquil beauty of the vast arid hills. I passed through Finestrat and turned down a closed road for 6 km, weaving its way up and over the hills until I found Rosalind's little bungalow up a dusty little track. What a place! Rosalind defined a content life of solitude. She had lived here for five years, the last two alone, and she was quite happy to exist alone on the hillside. She had solar electricity, rain water to wash and cook with and spring water to drink. I marvelled at the landscape in the afternoon sun, then she lit a fire and cooked me some pasta and chorizo. I listened intently as she talked about her rich life, her travels around the world, her year in South America discovering her amazonian roots, her four sons of two marriages and the stresses and strains of love and separation and the complicated arrangements of her grandchildren. We talked about Bristol where she lived for many years, about the role of today's men and women in family, and last but not least, football which she surprisingly loved. Rosalind was a truely inspirational woman.
I said goodbye and thankyou after porridge, and descended to Villajoyosa to return to my coastal journey. The sun was intense but it wasn't too hot, the going was cooled by a gentle breeze. I cycled through the hilly arid landscape and on to Alicante. As I passed the cacti and aloe shimmering in the sun, I cast my memory back to the piles of snow I had passed on the hills of Somerset, the icy blizzards of Niort and the strong winds of the Canal du Midi and how these thighs of mine had got me here. They are still going strong, stronger now and I have to admit I am quite amused by their shape. Not quite Belleville Rendezvous legs but not far off.
The traffic in Alicante was frantic, but I followed the route through the centre despite it being barricaded off from traffic. The empty dual carriageway took me to the seafront where enormous yachts were moored up and everybody was out parading the street. There was a cycling event and a load of cyclists out, BMXs, families and children, mountain bikers, glamorous girls on folding bikes, young guys on retro fixed gear bikes and then me, a lonesome lanky grubby guy on a heavily laden vintage steed having ridden 2200km. I chuckled to myself as I cruised past, nobody noticing. The traffic re joined me as I left Alicante and descended onto a great shimmering plain with another high rise resort. I stopped for a pizza and continued on past huge salt flats before climbing gently to La Marina, my destination. I met my hostess, Viviana at the very busy, luxurious and successful campsite she owned, and we walked to her beautiful house where her Spanish husband, Tony, family and friends were. Originally from Belgium, she had lived in Spain since the sixties and spoke five languages. The sheer luxury of the house, swimming pool, many cars, caravans and pool was an indication of the campsite's success. She showed me her ceramic studio where she created a huge variety of beautiful pieces, and after a conversing with her friends with her as the interpreter we had dinner, I planned a long leg of couch surfing, wrote this and went to bed. The following morning after beakfast, she took me to the campsite shop where she insisted on filling a bag of goodies for lunch. I said goodbye, and as I cycled along I thought about the contrast of my two last hostesses. Both were so kind, yet there was something about the generous hospitality of a person who had made such a successful business out of hosting that gave me goosepimples. I felt very honoured to receive such an exclusive treatment from the Deckx family.

The journey today was another very sunny one, on past more tourist landscape and over a gently undulating terrain. The road was being widened, so I had a lane all to myself as it was closed off but more or less complete. 10km on and the two carriageways became busy with traffic and I was ushered onto a cycle lane. It didn't take long for the gratitude to turn into frustration as it was about the most stupid cycle lane I had ridden on. Navigating in and out of junctions with sharp corners and street signs in the way, down and up hills to roundabouts instead of straight on the road, and negotiating big kerbs made this path more dangerous than the road. So I got back on the N334 and pressed on to San Javier.

I then left the busy road and took an F road straight past more farmland. It was populated by lettuces and irrigated with black pipes, the occasional hut and run down house. I stopped for a coffee in a very one-horse bar and got the cheapest cafe con leche so far. The big hooped earrings and dubious mullets and dark skin of the clientelle made me suspect that this was a land of immigrant farm workers. I pressed on, and the last 30km was hard going with a steady headwind. Eventually I got into Cartagena where I am now, killing another few hours before my host Pako finishes studying at 8.30.

Friday, 12 March 2010

slow progress

Valencia is great. Kyle and Ana are great. What was meant to be a day´s rest turned out to be four. The first night I arrived we went to a couch surf party where Kyle did some projections. The theme was supposed to be Indian, though one would never guess. It was the most international gathering I have been to, I met French, German, Spanish, Estonian, Canadian, Romanian, US and Hungarian people, and then gave up meeting any more when the flat filled. It was very confusing knowing which language to try and speak, though I was happy to chat away in French with Julie, a young french girl studying furniture restoration. We drank lots of rum and coke and ate a buffet of food broght along by everybody, then at midnight the crowd was ushered out and we helped clear up. Kyle poured some more drink when we got back, but my 400km in four days made me quite dizzy and incoherent.
So the next few days were spent hanging out, seeing the city and meeting up with Julie and her German friend Anna, watching really budget zombie films and talking VJ. We go and see (or should I say hear) the mascleta, a daily explosion of fireworks for five minutes in the main square. It is all part of the Falles, a Valencian celebration of St Joseph in which enormous paper and wood puppets are burnt in the streets. They represent satirical topics of the moment, people unfortunate enough to be chosen are characatured in colossal inflammable structures up to five stories high. It is a pity not to see the main party next week where everybody from children to grandparents are out throwing bangers, processions work their way around the streets and the city is alive with noise. I pity the poor startled animals who must think there is a war going on. I confess that my time here was a major distraction to my mission and made me feel a bit transient, it made me warm to the idea of learning Spanish and spending some time here, but not just yet. First things first, some more pedalling to do.
So on Thursday I get back on the road, legs feeling recuperated. The weather is cool and sunny but there is a headwind. Out of Valencia I realise I must not take the souhwesterly direct route I had made, but detour out to the headland in a southeasterly direction. The GPS chose a route shaped like a question mark, 150km in all, so I predicted if I keep going straight along the coast it´ll be 100km. It's a steady flat ride past a the Albufera lake where rice is grown, and then on along the coast past the beautiful blue haze of some impressive hills to the right. The foreground of orange crops, mile after mile has now become repetitive like the vineyards of France, it becomes apparent what a massive industry oranges are here. I stop to pick up a stray one on the road and it is perfect. I press on past Gandia, only stopping at a supermarket where I stop for lunch. I'm right about the straight line, my concern was whether or not I would have to negotiate a headland with winding hilly roads or face a massive detour. But 100km and a headwind was still a hard day and the sun was setting as I reached Denia. Built around a castle up on a big rock, Denia appeared to be a classy tourist town, inhabited by many retired English and Germans. My host, Marlene was one, having moved here after devorcing back in North Germany. The children were grown up and she had chosen a new life in a sunny climate, with plenty of likeminded friends to make. She entertains herself walking in the mountains, playing Bridge and learning Spanish. After squeezing the old bike and luggage in the lift and showering, I sit down with some wine and some spaghetti bolognaise and we chat away. It is apparent that the previous evening, Marlene hosted her first couch surfer and did not have a good experience. The guy had made her uncomfortable and when she asked him to leave he had refused to. Only when the police had been mentioned did he leave but he stole her spare sim card, lent to him out of goodwill. It is a shame how much of a dent on one's confidence of trust one individual can make to hosts, Svetlana had mentioned she thought that Couchsurfing had grown too big for its own good. Still, Marlene was very pragmatic about it, the fact that his profile had existed for 2 years but nobody had witten a good reference is enough to be suspicious for the next time. Hopefully Gerhard will find it very hard to find a host again with his new negative reference.
I woke up today ready to press on with a fairly hilly 73km to Villajoyosa. However, after fixing the puncture I got at the end of yesterday I noticed that the back axle had broken. I knew I should have bought a new wheel in Bordeaux! We went to a scooter\bike mechanic who said to return at 6pm, so alas I am stuck here for another day. Slow progress recently.

Friday, 5 March 2010

pressing on

The weather changes quite a bit here. I realised in Barcelona that I had caught the sun from the previous two days´riding, yet when I woke up it was deadful outside. I guess most people would consider sampling the delights of Barcelona's culture, Picasso or Gaudi for example. But I had been in Spain for a week and looking at the progress so far made me want to press on. I've got a mission to do. Besides, the force 7 wind was in the direction I wanted to go, and the waterproof gear I had bought at great expense had to be put to good use. So, despite not getting a response from any potential hosts I said my goodbyes and got going. Getting out of town seemed to take forever as the traffic lights on each block of the city´s huge grid layout turned red as I approached. The road eventually got wider as I travelled inland and around the airport, and to my horror the GPS had guided me towards a motorway. Reprogramming it sent me all over the suburbs, so I used good old fashioned compass to work my way south through street after street of suburbia. The whole way along the roads were crammed with traffic, but eventually 20km later I was coastal again. I stopped for an early lunch, a 3 course menu to set me going, and got back on the damp saddle feeling ready. The weather forecast had got the torrential rain bit right but not the wind direction. The coastal C31 road became hilly and contoured as it curved around the rocky hills, and the traffic was very heavy with trucks and cars avoiding the toll of the motorway. I am glad I brought a high vis waistcoat with the conditions like these, especially at the speed I was crawling up the gradients at. Every half hour would see a new bay with the repeated views of 4 or 5 story apartments and hotels, all of which were still boarded up for winter. Past cement works, golf courses, marinas and nondescript wastelands I pressed on, still with the rain pouring down. The water was cascading down the cliffs and spraying out from behind the many vast trucks passing me. I was missing the tranquility of the French roads as well as missing the ability to listen to my mp3 player. Not only was it a pretty bad idea on these roads, but it's a 30 euro fine in Spain.
As the hills moved off inland, the roads became more and more inundated. Every now and again I would be sprayed by an oncoming car, but not only was I damp I was also getting tired and the litlle daylight I had was fading. I started looking out for a place to stay by the time I had reached Torredembarra, but I realised that beggars couldn't be choosers, and what with such poor choice being a ghost town I crossed my fingers for a good modest hotel. My luck was with me when I found La Torreta, a two star place with all you can eat evening buffet and breakfast for 46 euros. Its amazing how revitalising lots of food and a hot shower can be. I strolled to the village to find the internet didn't work, so I phoned a few friends to ask if they could search for tomorrow's host online, watched some boring BBC and fell asleep.
The following day the weather was quite pleasant. After stuffing myself for breakfast I got going. The progrees was good, though my thighs were aching. I reached Tarragona quickly and got online to book tomorrow's host. My host for tonight had replied, but my destination was a long one Amposta- 105km to do. With the wind properly behind me and a fairly flat terrain I was optimistic. I climbed out of the city past a vast port and even larger industrial plants. The N340 was yet more unpleasant riding, with as many HGVs as cars, and although I had a 2m wide hard shoulder it was not very forgiving for cycling. I didn't stop until I realised I could do with some sun cream, so stopped at an expensive resort supermarket to buy some, along with some DIY lunch. The scenery was pretty repetitive, although now there were more agricultural plots with oranges and pink blossomed trees. It was beautiful. The traffic was still relentless, so I took a slightly rougher little track running parallel for quite a way. I tried my best to work out routes avoiding the main road but these just proved too slow and I still had a way to go. Eventually I saw the peninsula of the Parc Naturel del Delta de l'Ebre. I imagined it to be a good place to explore, but not now- mission to do. Since being in Spain I have had some generally much nicer weather and some fantastic hosts, but my lack of language has made it lonely in the day. Fewer people seem to have the curiosity the french had, and even if they do ask me something as one guy on a motobike did, the conversation doesn't last long. I find Daniel's street and get a burger in a cafe beforehand. Daniel is the first host who I've not had a glimpse of on the internet, so I have an unusual anticipation when he opens the door. He is in his late fifties though he looks much younger, and despite his English being good he has an initially cold manner. This soon disappears after I have had a shower and he finishes on the laptop, we talk as he cooks boiled vegetables and omelete. He lives with a younger Pakistani guy (away), having separated from his wife five years earlier. He tells me of the injustice of the Catalan law, where he no longer has the right to his house. Whoever has custody of the child, usually the mother as in his case, keeps the house in order for the child not to be traumatised by the break up. In some ways there is sense in this (certainly for the child), but it can be very unjust for whoever does not have custody. Still, he doesn't have long before his son is old enough to leave home and study when he can have the right back to his house. We talk about travel, Morocco and living abroad, ties and freedom. He gives me a lot to think about on my way, and he writes down a sequence of villages to pass if I want to go inland and avoid the big trucks. It is very tempting, but is a massive amount of hill climbing and has little couch surfing opportunities.
I get up early and leave the same time as Daniel. The good bye is dashed as he is late for school. Yet another inspiring, kind human. So valuable for me in this alien land! I think of Ellen MacArthur sailing around the world alone, how mentally strong she would be to endure months of total solitude, not even a landscape to look at. Hats off to her. At least I have people like Daniel to help me along the way.
I get more of a breakfast at a proper trucker's stop, well doughnuts at least. It's back on the saddle for another 100km to Benicasim, but the wind is really on my tail and quite strong. I keep a steady 20mph and watch the road ease along on the GPS screen. The N340 leads me inland, past forgotten hotels and cafes, dirty apartments and massive swathes of orange crops. I am now not far from Valencia. I make brilliant progress, half way by noon and I celebrate by pigging out at a huge Carrefour supermarket. This store really sells everything, though I really only need protein, carbohydrate, a bit of fat, salt and fruit. I am quite disturbed to see a very vexed looking puppy for sale in the pet corner, it really does sell everything. I took Daniel's advice and took a bit of a detour to see Pentiscola, but I didn't really find it that interesting. The urge to ride was so strong I was in danger of being an anti tourist and not up for seeing what Spain was selling. So back on to the busy vein of the N340 and a I had a bit of a mountain to climb. The gradient was fairly forgiving but the climb seemed to last forever. I think the sheer weight of the bike is a blessing and a curse on these hills, the turbulence of the lorries hurtling past being less dangerous with the heavy load, but the obvious extra effort needed to lift it wasn't fun. The road became flat at about 200 meters altitude and took us through a barren valley with rocky peaks either side. Then after 15 km I was happy to see the bay view ahead and a steady long descent. Now I had no hard shoulder, so I just prayed no eager trucker would try his luck overtaking as the road swept downhill. It was another hour along the flat, whistling along with the strong wind before another unpleasant climb and a big steep descent into Benicasim. I cycled block after block in search of an internet place in this ghost town before realising the locals lived inland a bit. I found the library and whiled away a couple of hours writing this and then went and found my hostess, Svetlana when she finished work. From Volgograd, Russia, Svetlana has been living in Spain for 5 years. Another divorcee, she lives alone with her cat in a very pleasant house and works in the neighboring Castellon as an advocate. She had explained that she was going to be busy packing for snowboarding, so I offered to cook. It wasn't really until eating together that we could talk and unwind, and I was happy to experience yet another amicable interesting and interested host. She made a flan for dessert, a kind of thick set custard and lime caramel, and then after a bit more chatting we said good night. I woke and made us some coffee, then after a massive plate of scrambled eggs we went our separate ways.

The wind was stronger still and in my direction, so I was flying along with little effort. I took the coastal cycle path past Castillon and into Burriana where I stopped for coffee. I was invited to sit with two lycra clad mountain bikers drinking beer at noon. This was truely my first Spanish conversation, well a mixture of Spanish and English as we all had about the same rubbish level! Davide and Juan were so animated and awe inspired that I'd ridden all this way and paid my bill. I got a great send off from the bar staff and these two guys which lifted my spirits no end. From Burriana I followed the coast past waves crashing on the boulders, occasionally splashing over the road. I cycled past rusty industry and endless holiday developments. Daniel had told me about the recession halting some of the new developments along this stretch, and it seemed apparent. I could not imagine how many EasyJet planes would be needed to fill the amount of accommodation I passed. On and on I flew, going inland to Sagunto to avoid a port, with yet more industry sprawling across the flat landscape. I followed a stretch of coastal road on the gps but it was so close to the pounding waves that it had been eaten away by nature and blocked off. It was fun to go down it anyway. By the afternoon, the built up areas became more and more joined as I came into Valencia. I found the way to Kyle and Anna's flat through a maze of narrow streets in the old centre. Straight away I got a good impression of this city, stylish but not too trendy, varied but not too vast and with lots going on but with a laid back atmosphere. Although a couch surfer, I knew Kyle from the video jockey community and he had invited me to stay a while ago after generously donating to my cause. He was so happy to see me finally arrive all this way and I felt so priveliged to have such a hero's welcome. He showed me around his studio and flat, then gave me a chance to catch up on writing this. Tonight we will go to a couch surf party and I will tell you all about it in the next entry.