Well I have made it to Spain, and I'm now in an internet cafe in what appears to be the arabic part of Roses, a coastal town at the foot of the mountainous border. After I left you last I went to meet my host outside the hospital of Narbonne. I had assumed he was called David, so when greeted by a Sarah I was slightly confused. In case some of you may be wondering about the trend of hostesses and not hosts, so am I. I ask a few people in each place but seem to have only had responses from young ladies. Mustn't grumble!
So we went to her flat around the corner and I had a cup of delicious tisane or herbal tea, seemingly more popular in France than UK. Much of it is home made and hand picked, and Sarah´s lemon, rosemary and honey blend was so refreshing. Sarah is yet another great hostess and quite funny as well. We talked for a few hours and then I went to sleep. In the morning I was delighted to have a fruity porridge and two of yesterday´s croissants, and we both left for work. My job was to get to Perpignan, though I had not had a definate reply from any hosts tonight, only a suggestion from a Guilguid that I come to a cafe at 7pm where the Perpignan couch surfers are having a meeting. Somebody there may well host me.So to my delight I was back on the Canal de Robine again, guiding me south and over the beautiful Etang de Bages. The canal and railway come together and follow a narrow embankement separating freshwater and saltwater lakes. The view is incredible with the misty foothills of the Pyrenees in the distance and the wetlands in the foreground. Eventually the canal leads me into a forgotten industrial complex which reminds me of Newport in Wales, so when I realise it´s called Port la Nouvelle I chuckle to myself. I get onto the D709 but it is not a particularly pleasant road, and when the Peage (toll) avoiding trucks merge onto it I go back onto the coastal road to Leucate. This is my first taste of Mediterranean holiday town, and I imagine how much like Lego the architecture would look if it were all painted in primary colours. The road leads straight along wide palm lined boulevards, but being far from tourist season the place is deserted. I am passed by a big group of lycra clad cyclists, and then pass a slightly older group who up their pace to keep up with me; I'm sure it's probably quite disheartening to be overtaken by somebody heavily laden and ringing a bell on a vintage bike.
The route guides me inland, and holiday architecture gets replaced with industrial and more humble residential architecture, eventually becoming more and more built up as I enter Perpignan. I have a little while to pass before 7pm so I get a big baguette and chips, and amble along to the Porto Cafe where I'll sit outside with a coffee. I'm amused to witness a fiery row with the barman and one of the drunks, the dog barking and other locals joining in to the friction. Guilguid gets there at 7, and one by one the Perpignan couch surf hosts come together to have a social. Like all of my previous hosts they are all different, but share the same humanity and happily meet up regularly to socialise. It inspired me to do the same when I get back to Bristol. After a few amarettos, I gladly accept the offer of Nico's couch, where American Anna is staying too. We go home and eat some food and chat away. He tells me a bit about Perpignan, how it is the capital of northern Catalunya, and how the French authorities banned people from talking Catalan in his grandmother's day. Some Perpignan inhabitants want to unite with the Spanish Catalans and reform Catalunya. We chat away until 1.30. It's going to be a struggle to get to Roses tomorrow!
I rise tardily and bid farewell to Nico, then I get on the bike and set coordinates to Cebere, the coastal village on the border. It's 65km away which I think will be easy progress as I fly out of Perpignan with the wind behind me. It is easy progress for a while as I shoot past more holiday resorts, but as the misty blue foothills loom ever closer I realise the flat road won't last. I stop on the beach to admire the view, have lunch and oil the bike, then push on. It feels like a long while since the front gear has gone down to the smallest cog for a while but it's going to be pretty necessary for a while now. Uphills are a laid back 10 km/h and then the downhills glide along as the road twists and turns through hairpins, but the Route de Banyuls is slow progress. It is 4pm when I get to Cebere, so when the GPS shows it's another 46km of twists and turns, ups and downs to Roses, I think better of it and decide to give my knees a break and camp. I take coffee at a cafe on the Place with Annie et Bob, two curious Parisiens who instantly ask questions about the bike and then the ride, couch surfing and all manner of topics. I get a pizza along with some groceries and as the light fades I climb up the enormous hill towards the border. 100 metres from the border is a little track which splits to another blocked track, the flat stony ground is the best I will find, so I erect the tent and get an early night.I wake up at dawn, but I am in no hurry to leave, I have until 6pm before my host Joaquim finishes work. By 9am I am in Spain, and I cruise down the hill to Portbou where I wake up properly in a bar with two expressos. This is the first time I am unable to converse, which is especially a pity when passing time. Still I happily pass more than an hour before I get back to climbing, up and round three headlands and four towns before going up into the natural park of Cap de Creuss. This is not the direct route, but for once I think I'll hapilly go the longer and challenging uphill route. I've got time to kill. The gradient isn't too bad as the road weaves through some rocky jagged hillsides. It's quiet on this road, but towards the top there is a gusty wind that almost knocks me off as I come round the hillside. I'm passed by several road cyclists and eventually I get to the summit, 280 metres up. The downhill sweeps into Roses, I'm at my destination by lunch time. About time for a breather.