I spent the day trying to find a way around Aveiro but each time I thought I'd plotted a route it would dead end in a freeway. By 3:00 I had ridden more than 40 kilometers and was no more than 6 miles from where I'd started.
Normally I like a challenge but sometimes you have to know when to quit.
I sat down in a bus shelter with my maps and my phone and looked for a campsite. The nearest one was, you guessed it, the one in which I'd spent the previous night. There was another 30 klicks to the south but it was in the wrong direction. I was headed for Porto, damn it, and that was north.
I recalled seeing a little pension a few kilometers back. It was in an industrial part of town tucked in between a warehouse and some kind of place that looked to be involved in the moving about of large quantities of dirt. I got back on Blu and retraced my steps.
It turned it to be a nice little place run by an elderly woman and her young helper, Marta. Marta spoke English and as we chatted I told her of my dilemma. "There's just no way to ride a bicycle from here to Porto," I complained.
"No," Marta said, "it's all freeways. The only way is to go inland many kilometers, or..." At this point, Marta grew pensive.
"Or what?" I said.
"We'll, I believe you can take your bicycle on the train. If you buy a ticket to Avanca, that would get you past the freeways and onto the coast road."
"The train!" I nearly shouted. "Of course, I rode right past the station."
The next morning I rode to the station, bought my ticket for Avanca and had one of the most pleasant days of riding so far. I meandered along a two lane road of fine smooth asphalt through fragrant forests of Madronas, the sound of the ocean provided the perfect leit motif.
I stopped for lunch at a bluff overlooking the Atlantic. A few thousand miles across the water was America. I'd been on the road for 4 month. In a little more than 3 months, I'd be home.
From where I sat above the beachbreak it seemed that my trip had only just begun.
The odometer clicked past eighty; not a great distance for a day's ride but I'd dawdled at camp that morning and made a leisurely ride through small villages till noon and soon now, darkness would be descending.
Late in the afternoon I'd spied a sign for a Campismo, but it turned out to be a false lead. I stopped into a small bar and had a beer. The owner's son, Pedro, who spoke English, assured me that just ten kilometers up the road in the next village of Soure, there was an inexpensive hostel. "Just ask anyone," he said, "they will direct you to it."
I made it to Soure, went to an InterMarche and bought some lasagna and rice with raisins for dinner, then, went looking for the hostel. I stopped at a coffee shop but the lady didn't understand me. There was a customer with whom I conversed in French. He didn't know where the hostel was but he knew someone at a nearby cafe who spoke English, maybe he could help.
When I reached the second cafe, no one had heard of the English-speaking fellow, nor did they know of an hostel. My inquiry about a hotel received a round of head shakes from those assembled in the room. I looked out the window. A light rain had begun to fall.
I'd met a young Canadian cycle tourer in the Madrid train station a couple of weeks earlier and he'd given me some advice about wild camping. "First, you look for the perfect spot. Then, you look for a safe spot. Then, you just look for a spot."
Back on my bike, I headed out of town. I'd need to find someplace soon, perfect, safe, or... I couldn't afford to be choosy. I came to an intersection. One branch led down a long hill and after passing some houses entered a thick forest. "That looks promising," I thought, and pushed off. I pedaled along slowly keeping an eye out for a side road when there, as if made to order, I found a dirt lane leading up into the trees. I swung around and rode a dozen meters and then to my left, I caught sight of a disused-looking set of tracks that climbed into the thick brush and disappeared.
I got off my bike and pushed it up through bushes. The tracks were rutted and muddy and the going was tough. In a few meters, the track led past a deserted house. Ragged curtains flapped in the dark, broken windows. A small shudder ran down my spine but I pushed on.
A sharp up-winding curve brought me to a flattish meadow. I leaned Blu against a tree and cleared a spot for my tent. Down below, I could hear traffic passing on the paved road, but I was out of sight. I got my tent up and crawled into my sleeping bag, made a half-hearted attempt at eating dinner, then settled in for a much-needed rest.
But sleep wouldn't come. I laid on my mattress all night occasionally dozing off but always jerking awake at the slightest sound. The vision of the nearby old deserted house kept popping up in my dreams.
But I did rest and passed the night comfortably enough even though I slept perhaps less than an hour. Six O'clock found me on the road heading for the coast. There was a campground just thirty clicks away and I was determined to treat myself to a good night's sleep.
I don't know if that tik tik driver in Deli swiped it because I gave him a crummy tip or if it just fell off on the wild ride to the hotel but when I went to ring my bell the next day it was gone.
A bell on a bicycle might seem like a small thing but believe me, once you get used to having one it's hard to go without. I had gotten in the habit of ringing it just for the cheerful company it provided. Hey, there are some long lonely stretches of road out there in the world!
I kept my eye out for a replacement all through India and Nepal but no luck. It wasn't until I arrived in Istanbul that I found a bike shop that carried bicycle bells.
The one I bought wasn't much but it was all the guy had. It was mostly plastic and the ring was hollow and tinny. But it was cheap and I guess a crappy bell is better than no bell at all. As I mounted the thing on my handlebars, I over tightened the nut and broke the plastic frame. I managed to glue it back together and made it serviceable but it lacked oh, I don't know, a certain je ne sais quoi.
Then, as I was walking down the street, I happened past a shop that had previously escaped my attention. On a whim I went in and there on a rack was The Bell. It was solid brass with a solid brass clapper and a real metal mount. It was better than the one the tik tik driver swiped. Even at the ridiculous price of almost twenty dollars I had to have it. I rushed back to my hostel, removed the plastic one and attached my fine new bell to the handlebars.
It's got the sweetest sound to it: a nice, solid, drawn-out chime that hangs in the air and makes people smile when I pass them. As time goes by it's acquiring a classy patina that seems just right next to my shellacked wraps. I've received a number of compliments.
Okay, I know, it's just a bell. Nothing to get too excited about.
I had to backtrack about three kilometers to the town of Salvaterra do Magos, then, once I found the correct turn-off, ride another ten kilometers out of town to the campground where I'm spending the night. Somehow I'd missed the sign when I'd ridden through the rotary half an hour earlier. The woman at the fruit stand where I asked directions sketched out a map in the dirt. She was young, dark, and exotic looking.
Salvaterra is a bull fighting town. There's a ring enclosed by a high wall and the main road leading through town is bordered on either side by tall fences. They've hauled in dirt and spread it on the streets for the Pamplona-like running of the bulls that is to occur this weekend. That's something I'd like to see. I might hang around an extra day.
I bought a nice piece of fresh salmon at the market and had been thinking about dinner all afternoon. I'm the only camper here tonight and I spread out in a sandy pitch with my things strewn about helter skelter. I borrowed a table from one of the permanent camps and set up a small kitchen where I cooked the fish in a pan with olive oil. I fixed a plate with mushrooms and some corn I'd cooked earlier and had warming in a pot. I indulged and bought a small bottle of good Portuguese white wine. I've been riding past vineyards all day and it put me in the mood.
Friday, June 7, 2013
Spill The Wine Dig That Girl
Some raindrops fell by the middle of last night for a party and they brought their friends. It was quite a soirée; they danced all around while I stumbled through the dark, a flashlight in my mouth, rigging the rain fly.
But by morning they'd gone and the air had that indescribable scent that you get only when a storm drenches the dry Earth. I slept in until 8:00, had a leisurely breakfast of eggs and toast with honey, then rode the scant 55 kilometers to Golega, a town on the Camino Santeago de Campanella. When I checked into the campground the lady asked me if I was a pilgrim. A pilgrim. Me a pilgrim. Can you imagine that?
They're plum crazy about horses in this part of the world. They even have statues of them in town. I guess it has to do with the whole bullfighting thing. I don't really know.
I got a late start out of Badajoz this morning. It turned out that my "hostel" was actually a hotel and I had a room all to myself. There was a bathroom with a bathtub and I soaked last night for what seemed like hours. I slept in until nearly 7:30 and wasn't on the road until well after 8:00. I crossed the border into Portugal around 9:30 I guess; there was no sign so I am judging by the mileage shown on my odometer.
Bit it didn't matter as Elvas, the little hilltop fortress town where I'm spending the night, was only 20 klicks. It was a beautiful ride in fine weather with vey light traffic. There's a Roman Aqueduct in the center of town that seems to be the main tourist attraction. And yeah, it's pretty cool.
My main job today was to get my cell phone activated with a Portugese SIM card but no luck. I went to the tourist information center but the places they sent me to were either closed up or didn't sell SIM cards. Weird. So I'm altering my plan to head north and am instead heading west toward Lisbon. It's about 250 klicks so I should reach the city in about 2 days.
There aren't even any Internet cafes where I can get WIFI so I guess I'm out of touch for now at least.
Tuesday, June 4, 2013
It Only Hurts When I Laugh
I had to ask the bartender to help me raise my drink to my lips; my hands were shaking that badly. He gave me an odd look, shrugged, then, held the glass of Coke with ice while I sipped from the rim like a cow from a trough.
I glanced up at him. "I might have pushed it a little too far on that last hill," I croaked, " man that sun..."
The bartender looked off as I took a few more gulps of the ice-cold concoction, god, but it felt good going down and I could sense life returning to my numbed brain. At least the room had stopped spinning and I took that as a positive development.
I'd been riding for 10 hours, trying to cover as much ground as I could. I wanted to make the 234 kilometers to Lisbon in two days which meant going all out. And I 'd done pretty well until about 2:00. That's when the Portugese sun started burning down on the asphalt with a vengeance. I would ride from shady spot to shady spot, stopping to drink and pour water over my head before venturing out into The Broiler, as I had come to think of the long exposed stretches.
But then the shade ran out and I'd been out in The Broiler for more than an hour. I imagined that I could actually smell my flesh burning. Then, there was the hill. Long and steep and hot, it took me another 45 minutes to reach the top. There was a little bar/ restaurant/ truck stop and I staggered in and ordered the Coke with ice.
By the second can of Coke I had regained enough muscle control to manage drinking on my own and I dismissed the bartender. "Senior, you do not look well, perhaps you will need medical attention," he said giving me a worried look.
"Don't cry for me Argentina," I smiled, "it only hurts when I laugh."