Friday, 31 December 2010
Friday, 24 December 2010
It´s not too late to get me a Christmas present - just click the link to my Oxfam Justgiving page and make an online donation. Thank you.
Tuesday, 21 December 2010
Tuesday, 14 December 2010
Monday, 6 December 2010
It was 8am and I honestly asked myself - right now, would I rather be on my bike zooming up through the trees of Holyrood Park, scooting across the Meadows to Starbucks then saying "good morning" to Greyfriars Bobby before flying down into the Grassmarket and into the office? Hmmm, it's a tough one.
Friday, 3 December 2010
Tuesday, 23 November 2010
Beyond here at least I was able to pick up some quieter roads and to begin to enjoy the cycling. Although my route passed through mile after mile of flat farmland where a bend in the road was a major cause for celebration, there was always plenty to see. All around were beautiful, colourful birds. Without a weighty field guide, I can't put names to them except the flamingoes clustered in small flocks on the shallow lakes and the noisy parrakeets that gather above my tent in the evenings, the rays of late sunshine illuminating their irridescent green plummage. I'm also regularly spotting armadillos scuttling around in the roadside verges.
I like pulling into the little rurals towns in this area. There are no tall buildings, except for the main routes the roads are compacted earth, and with a slightly scruffy but likeable appearance, the overall ambience is a bit "wild west". Because the towns are set out on grid systems with no traffic lights, what few vehicles there are must go quite slowly, so there are hundreds of locals out on their bikes in these little towns. Everybody seems to know everybody else and soon after my arrival in a town, everybody seems to know me! It's thoroughly delightful!
There is not really much tourism in this area of Argentina which makes me a bit of a novelty, even more so being on the bicycle. I get a friendly toot and a wave from almost every car or truck that passes. When I ask for directions, people generally walk or cycle with me to my destination to be sure I get there. Due to the lack of tourism, there are no proper campsites and this has made this section of my journey all the more difficult. There is an informal system in Argentina whereby you can camp in municipal parks which usually have public toilets and running water and I've used these a few times. I ask for permission from the park-keeper if there is one or an adjacent house, if not. In the lovely town of San Carlos de Bolivar, the park-keeper and his wife insisted that I pitch my tent in their garden and they even put the bike away in the toolshed overnight. I could never imagine anything like this happening back home but the difference with the Argentine people that I've met is that they don't care about some of the daft stuff we get worked up about - they are genuinely pleased if they can be helpful in any way and seem to love meeting foreign visitors, especially crazy ones on bicycles!
The other place where I've been camping is ... service stations! I know this will sound alarming to readers back home but again there is an informal system whereby you can pitch your tent or pull your car over beside rural service stations at the end of the day. There is an extensive network, they are open all night so there is always somebody around and you'll find a few truck drivers also catching some shut-eye.
The service stations have toilets, a small park area with picnic benches and grass perfect for the tent, a cafeteria and a clever machine that dispenses hot water for a few pesos. I've even been given free coffees at service stations just for arriving by bicycle! Service stations really have been my saviour, not just for camping but also for stocking up on calories, water and rest. My favourite service stations are the YPF ones - they have big, comfy, leather chairs which are great for my saddle sores. Yes, just to add to my woes I have developed saddle sores. I think it's due to long days in the saddle because of the distances between towns here and the rough living which means I can't get my sweaty cycle shorts washed out regularly. Despite liberal amounts of Germolene, at the contact points on my bum, I have peeling skin and painful red raw patches. Apologies if this is too much information for some readers!
As if all these adventures were not enough, I'm now a TV star in Argentina. It was all quite surreal. I'd pulled into the backwater town of Tres Lomas to pick up some water. I started chatting with a couple of locals about the route ahead and before I knew it a crowd of about 30 people had gathered. Then out of nowhere a TV crew pulled up in a van! I answered some questions to camera about my trip and what I thought of Argentina before I was filmed cycling out of the town to a big round of applause. I was even given a gift of a bag of oranges. I didn't make much progress that day because at the next village I was hijacked by a schoolteacher to give a talk to her pupils and colleagues.
Given my minimal Spanish, it was a very brief talk but I was able to show everybody the bicycle and my equipment and they seemed to enjoy my visit.
There is a new Argentina album added to my Flickr pages where you can see a picture of the kids.
While I may be pleased with my progress so far in Argentina, I have now hit a major stumbling block that is the central desert of La Pampa. I knew it was coming but thought I'd get local advice about the possibility of cycling across. I'm happy to accept the local advice that this would be extremely foolhardy and dangerous! So I have to resort to motorised assistance to cross the desert. I think what's happening is that I'm getting a shared ride in a minibus-style taxi but we'll see as every day in Argentina is a world of adventure!
Friday, 12 November 2010
Monday, 8 November 2010
Tuesday, 2 November 2010
Sunday, 31 October 2010
Wednesday, 27 October 2010
Monday, 25 October 2010
Thursday, 21 October 2010
I´ve managed to put some weight on after arriving in Burgau a little scrawny. This is mostly due to my sister´s fabulous cooking though she was ably assisted by Casa Padaria, the local Italian restaurant. I can barely believe that I cycled thousands of miles to the remote spot that is my sister´s house to discover that the only freshly-baked, gluten-free pizza I have ever had was only five minutes walk away. It´s fate - me and those pizzas were meant to be together!
It was another difficult adjustment leaving Burgau, similar to that required after my friend Graham left at the end of the cycle along the Camino de Santiago. It was so cosy and comfortable being in Burgau, in the bosom of family and with no worries. But again I had to say "goodbyes" as I was whisked away on a bus into the darkness of a Spanish night to be dumped out on my own in Valencia.
However, Valencia is a pleasant, vibrant, modern city. There is old stuff here and there but it´s swamped by contemporary buildings and traffic. My cheap little hotel is ideally placed next to the Turia Gardens. Valencia was orginally bisected by the River Turia but after a catastrophic flood in the 1950s, the river was diverted to the west of the city and the original natural course was filled in. This has created a beautiful, long, sinuous city park with cyclepaths, walks, gardens, fountains, playparks, ponds and skateparks. It´s full of life at all times of day - cyclists, joggers, walkers, roller-bladers, dog-walkers, school-children doing their PE classes and people practising yoga. Just before it meets the sea are the very space-age buildings and cool, blue pools of the Arts and Science Centre. It´s all very nice.
My nerves aside, what you all really want to know at this moment ... more than who´s been eliminated from the X-Factor ... is ... who has won "the bicycle diaries" competition. Well, I can reveal the winners are Sheila and Dougie McBride from Angus. They guessed that I had eaten 450 rice cakes during my cycle to Burgau, the closest guess to Tigger´s winning figure of 445. Sheila and Dougie have chosen Prize A, to join me for the cycle through South America ... oops, sorry ... I´ve muddled entries ... that should be Prize B, a surprise gift from Portugal. It´s on its way to you now.
Thursday, 14 October 2010
Saturday, 9 October 2010
Monday, 4 October 2010
Friday, 1 October 2010
Monday, 27 September 2010
Tuesday, 21 September 2010
Photos on my Flickr site.
Sunday, 19 September 2010
Wednesday, 8 September 2010
The arrival in Santiago may not have been what we wished for with drizzly rain and heavy morning traffic but nonetheless we made our way to the end of the route at the cathedral where a statue of St James himself looks down on the pilgrims gathering in the square. Not being religious I would not have normally gone into the cathedral but a friend back home had asked me to light a candle for her at Santiago. With this little mission in mind, I joined the queue and went inside. Unfortunately the lighting of candles is not allowed in the cathedral to protect the ornate interiors. Therefore I bought a candle from a nearby shop in one of the hundreds of alleyways in the old city and left it outside the cathedral, burning brightly for all my friends and family.
This little ceremony ended an incredible journey and one of great contrasts. The first half of the route through Navarra, La Rioja and across the Meseta took us across an arid and parched landscape. The flatlands of the Meseta in particular were quite surreal. Dilapidated towns and abandonded adobe villages, more like the Third World than Western Europe, contrasted with beautifully restored churches, stunning cathedrals and the smart cities of Burgos and Leon. We beat the heat and winds of the Meseta by getting up at 5.30am and hitting the road at 7am with bike lights on. One morning we cycled out along a deserted back road with a full moon still high in the sky. As the sun rose, the combined light of sun and moon cast a beautiful, soft, peachy light over the landscape as we pedalled silently in the cool, still, dawn air.
In Astorga we stayed in an albergue, the simple hostel-style accommodation provided for pilgrims. This albergue had a little courtyard within its walls and an old fig tree provided fruit and shade. Along the back wall of the courtyard was a pool of salt water and a row of little wooden stools to enable pilgrims to soak aching feet. I thought that if pilgrims walking the camino soaked sore feet in the pool then pilgrims like us cycling the camino, should soak sore buttocks - but I didn´t put this to the test.
As we descended from the high peaks the camino continued through pretty rolling countryside that reminded me of Perthshire and collected more and more pilgrims as we neared Santiago.
Looking back, riding the camino has been a wonderful and unique experience and I have so many great memories - crossing the Pyrennees; the beautiful cathedral in Burgos; shopping at the fruit and veg market in Leon´s central square; camping high in the mountains; the pretty churches that popped up in even the most rundown towns; being allowed to camp for free on the village green in the lovely town of Samos; and the hundreds of pilgrims on foot, bicycle and horseback following a trail of shells to Santiago. But when I´m as old as the camino itself and think back to this trip, there is one place that will stand out in my memories above all others and that is the abandonned village of Manjarin. Manjarin sits on a hill top in the Montes de Leon and is empty except for one ramshackle, crumbly old building that is run as a basic refuge and a teahouse for passing pilgrims. It´s adorned with colourful flags that flap in the mountain breeze and with brightly-painted wooden signs that state the distance from Manjarin to famous cities around the world. There are statues and trinkets and all sorts of colourful junk dotted around the place as well as a collection of mangy animals that doze in the dust. Graham and I spent an afternoon here with cold cans of Coke on a rickety wooden terrace with a fabulous view over the mountains and the pilgrims shuffling by. It was a great spot and one of life´s perfect moments.
Photos from the camino are on my Flickr site.
So now I have to say goodbye to Graham who returns to Scotland, re-adjust to being a solo traveller and turn directly south for Portugal and my sister´s house in the Algarve. I´m really excited about that. I don´t know what internet access will be like through Portugal but I´ll keep you updated as often as possible. Also look out for details coming soon of a prize-winning, free-to-enter competition for followers of "the bicycle diairies".
Saturday, 28 August 2010
Monday, 23 August 2010
It´s amazing how quickly things changed between France and Spain - like the flick of a switch. The countryside is scorched to shades of ocre and gold; folds of hazy mountains stretch to the horizon; the little hill-top towns are now closely stacked with flat terracotta roofs and look quite precarious like the constructions you made as a child with a pack of cards. One of the most notable differences is that Spanish campsites provide toilet paper, although it tends to be one large communal roll outside the toilet block. This is a bit strange - how do you know how much you´re going to need before you go in? It´s sure to happen on occasion that you get settled in your little cubicle and realise too late that you´ve not taken in enough paper!
I´m now well along the camino and meeting lots of pilgrims. It´s a lovely feeling to have a shared sense of purpose and goal with all these strangers. I experienced quite a strange coincidence with one fellow cyclist, Hans. Like me he had cycled from Holland following an almost identical route through France along the Loire and down the west coast; he was now cycling along the camino like me; and amazingly also turning south through Portugal to a small town only 10 miles from the small town in Portugal that I´m heading to, where my sister lives! Isn´t that funny?
However the biggest excitement of the last week is meeting up with my friend and base camp manager, Graham. I met him off his bus in Logrono - him and his bubble-wrapped bicycle. It was great to see a familiar face, especially as he´d brought lots of my favourite gluten-free goodies! So now I have a companion for the rest of the camino to Santiago. We each have our shells tied to our bikes so people can see we are pilgrims - this gives us some discounts at campsites and encourages complete strangers to shout, peep and yell directions at us as we pedal along. Everywhere we go we look for shells - tied to other bicycles or walkers´backpacks, hanging above doors, brass shells embedded in the pavement, shell sculptures - all leading the way to Santiago. In the last couple of days we´ve passed through the swanky town of Burgos. We strolled along in the shade its wide tree-lined avenues and gazed in awe at its glorious cathedral. Now we face the big challenge of crossing the Meseta - a vast plateau at 800m scorched by the sun and scoured by the wind, where even water is not guaranteed. It will take us four days. Our ploy to beat the heat is to rise in the dark and be on the road at 7am as the sun is just coming up.
So stay tuned. Will we ever see the sunrise? Will we die crossing the Meseta? Will we make it to Santiago? If we do, will we still be speaking to each other?
New photos on my Flickr page.