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.

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