So, 2 things:
I am living in Arrasate in the Basque Country and with General Elections in South Africa this year I needed to head to the embassy in Madrid to cast my vote. Luckily for me, the government decided to have the out of country vote on the 27th of April this year which meant that it co-incided with the Easter holidays so I had the opportunity to cycle to Madrid from Arrasate, a journey of 500km´s, more or less.
Day 1 – Arrasate to Santa Domingo
Tough, tough day! Firstly woke up late and ended up rushing my departure from Arrasate a bit. As I planned to do 105km´s I felt a little bit under pressure to reach the Albergue before it closed it´s doors for the night, and, I wanted to get there on day 1 as the weather forecast wasn´t great from Thursday. Started easily enough, over the hill into Gastiez, nice, had a short break to have something to eat then pushed on…and encountered a wind so fierce and relentless it made the ride incredibly hard and with my not quite right mental state, it was not fun. I was being blown sideways and almost to a standstill continuously and stopped several times to rest, once to have a short siesta behind a wall out of the wind. I did little filming as I was focused in getting to my destination. Then finally, 10km´s out from Santa Domingo the wind turned in my favour but as the gradient into town was uphill I struggled as I was so beaten…I lay down in the grass every 2km´s feeling quite sick! Finally, I almost drunkenly made it to the Albergue…
There albergue was full of pilgrims on the Camino and it was very busy and noisy, a far cry from when I was here in December with just a handful of us in the winter apartments. I didn´t get much sleep that night – the earth rumbled with my neighbour´s continuous, rolling, echoing, crushing snores.
As with all Albergue´s you get woken at 0700 and kicked out at 0800 and the weather was miserable. I decided to wait around outside the Albergue to see if it would lift and chatted to another group of cyclists for a bit. They decided to go as they were on a schedule. As I had time I decided to go find a coffee and wait it out some more…it only got worse. So I checked back into the Albergue and got another bed and ate and rested. Luckily I got some rest that night.
Day 2 – Santa Domingo to wild camp
Up at 0700, gone by 0800, weather still cold and gloomy but not raining, so all good. Jumped onto the Camino and headed towards Burgos. The Camino was busy, lot´s a walking Pelegrino´s. Just before Burgos I left the Camino and immediately found quiet, empty roads, happy now. Cycled through fields seeing deer and hearing nothing but silence. Had a tea at a beautiful cave with a natural spring and then jumped onto agricultural trails. It was here I found an amazing wild camp site and setup my camp listening to birds and a deer barking, obviously having caught my scent (Old Spice hehe). Cooked dinner and had a good nights rest.
Day 3 – Wild camp to Pinilla Trasmonte
Took my time leaving that morning it was so peaceful there – reminded me so much of Africa, was feeling very homesick just then. Had a little nap in the morning sun then slowly ambled off when I felt it was the time…and it was only now I was getting into the touring mode, where time doesn´t really matter. It´s a good place to be.
The weather was warming up, beautiful blue skies and sun, sun! Sun to warm my bones and soul. Sun to melt worries away, and the riding was amazing – beautiful natural forests, hills, caves, open space, farm land…solitude.
I got to Pinilla Transmorte quite early and as I came over the bridge saw the picnic site with water and decided I would bed down here tonight. It was sometime until someone appeared and I asked them if it would be a problem to camp the night, no, no problem – “tranquilo”. Muy bien, gracias!
I went to the local bar by the church and asked the barman there if it would be problem and he said the same, tranquilo! Very friendly place, several locals came up to me to have a chat – donde es? Where are you from? One guy even said if I need anything, comer, food, anything, to just say…this is why solo travel is so rewarding, the generosity of people comes through.
Day 4 – Pinilla Trasmonte to wild camp
Another good nights rest and after making coffee was off quite early under cool, grey conditions. Landscape was varied, flat topped, rocky hills (which looked exactly like where I would love to camp) and farmand, acres and acres of green winter wheat. You can that in the summer this place is bone dry…
Cycled past an amazing medieval castle which had a pair of storks roosting up on one of the crumbling walls. The castle overlooked the town and plains and I spied a river from up there so went down to have a look and found a potential camping spot on the river but as it was still quite early decided to continue…and I´m so glad I did…
A cold wind had picked up that afternoon and was blowing in my face, making the riding quite hard and tiring. I was cycling between these stone cliffs and I spotted a ledge running along one of them, on the other side of the wind, suggesting it may be sheltered. I leant the bike up on the railing and scrambled up to the ledge and walked from one end to the other, about 200m, perfectly sheltered from the cold wind, and with an overhang, also rain. In the middle I found an open dusty patch that could potentially be the place to sleep…the problem was, how to get the bike and bags up here – impossible to cycle, I would have to unclip and carry the bags up and then the bike up, and without being seen…I sat there pondering, thinking, watching…after some time, not a soul passed by so I decided this was it. Back down the hill, quick check for people, vehicles – nada. Unclip bags, quickly run up the first embankment, dump them in the tall grass, grab bike…and carry it, push it up the side of the cliff! Made it…rest…back down, grab 2 bags, scramble up, dump bags…rest…back down, grab the rest, push back up…dump bags…laugh out loud! Did it, everything up on the ledge…as the tent would be too big and could be seen from the road decided to use the tarp. Pegged the long end on the grass verge and used my bike and the cliff face to tie up the guys lines to, made a sweet little shelter. Had a little walk up on the hills that evening and listened to deer calling from the valley below and up on the hill…cooked dinner and watched the moon rise between the scudding clouds to the sounds of the night birds coming to life. Pretty sweet.
Day 5 – wild camp to Cantalejo
Slept well again and in the morning faced the task of getting everything down to the road…bags first, dump in the grass, then bike came down and job done! Cycled into Burgomollido (just a hotel and a bar in front of a huge dam wall) to replenish my water then went back up the hill as I wanted to see a certain canyon.
And what an amazing place it was – a vast canyon with vultures soaring above it then zooming down to roost on the cliff sides and a church built right up on one of the cliffs…Ermita de San Frutas – https://goo.gl/maps/XABtJS8SqVkDSucYA
I then cycled down the hill and dropped into another Easter surpise, a river through this amazing canyon. Followed the canyon for about 14km and eventually had to come out with another climb to the top, passing the medieval town of Sepulveda.
And on the other side of the hill, farmland, and a huge storm out to the East, me riding on the edge, down the hill, flying…
I rode into Cantalejo, saw a campsite on the edge of town, gates open, nobody there, so setup camp under the pine trees…made some tea, hung my clothes to dry out as there was some fleeting sun…suddenly it went very dark and the wind started gusting and blowing…and my tent went rolling! I went running after it and hung on while it blew…then it started hailing…just stood there and waited it out.
After it passed quickly dismantled the tent and moved everything into one of the empty wooden sheds on-site. Much better…
Ended up staying 3 nights here. The camp site owners came and went but never came to say hello or anything, so I stayed for free…I spent a lot of time in the local bar in town, had a couple of wines and something nice to eat. Very friendly staff and they looked after me a little bit, giving me chopito´s, shots of rum, and pintxo´s with a drink.
Day 6 – Cantalejo to wild camp
But I had to get to Madrid on Friday and I had to leave…the weather forecast was good for Thursday so I thought perfect! Well, the weather forecast was wrong…I set off while it was spitting rain so not too bad…then about 20km´s down the road, it changed, dark grey clouds, head wind, of course and snow swirling down. Jesus Christ I thought, what now? I decided to get to the last town before the mountain I knew was in front of me and decide what to do then…found a nice bar and had a coffee and some delicious pork crackling…my hands and feet were by now numb so I put my gloves on the radiator and changes out of my wet socks, trying to get feeling back in my feet…
Waiting, waiting…and suddenly sunshine…had a peek outside and looking west the weather looked decent, it was looking like the weather was lifting…so I decided no time like the present and set off once more…
And saw the mountain ahead of me covered in snow…so I stopped again and checked the map to see if there was another way around…there was, 45km of national road, not very appealing…very probably with a head wind…stuff it, mountain pass it is!
And it was worth it, despite the steep incline, the snow…it was beautiful up there. And I made it over.
Slow rolled down the other side into beautiful lands, with the sun coming through nicely now…and my last wild camp before Madrid the next day.
Day 7 – wild camp to Madrid
Was up early and after a coffee, packed up and set off and rode through some beautiful countryside, all within 50km of Madrid, which I still couldn´t see. Passed through some pretty towns and stopped to have a pastry en-route. Rode dirt track to within 20km of the city and finally I saw the towers of Madrid…and jumping on the now busy road, rode past the airport into Madrid, and the camp site where I spent 2 nights.
Saturday morning went to cast my vote at the South African embassy, being met by a very friendly embassy staff in a very quiet embassy. Thank you guys!
Then met up with Jason at 3ike.es and went for a ride with the tricycle crew…
Sunday, up early to the train station, bike on train, the journey to Legazpi, then the cycle home…what a journey.