Long time no post: Vitoria -> Malgrat de Mar

Location: Malgrat de Mar, Spain
Status: finally feeling rested

Well, it has been a long time since I last posted. I am currently on my way out of Spain after nearly a month of traveling in this country. A lot has happened, so make yourself comfortable because this will be a long one. You may want to grab something to eat or drink. If you have to go to the bathroom, now is the time.


Ok, ready? Here we go.

From Vitoria to Palencia

I left Vitoria on 12 July, after having managed to line up my first CouchSurfing host since the site came back online in Palencia, Spain. Although Pedro was a very nice guy and the MMW concert was great, I wasn't particularly otherwise impressed with Vitoria. The city had a nice old quarter and some nice parks, but mostly it seemed like housing projects and construction. Anyway, I cycled out at about 15:00 on the 12th, which was a pretty late start. Still, I managed to go about 90 km before through some beautiful countryside stopping for the night, and I slept outside.

The next day, I headed into Burgos, which was on my way to Palencia. I had found an internet cafe in Burgos while searching on the internet at Pedro's house, and I wanted to go there to check my mail. I needed to get the phone number from my next host. However, it turned out that the internet cafe I'd found didn't open until 16:00, so I was stuck wandering the streets trying to find another one. This was actually a good thing. I found another one and it turned out to be really cheap: only 0€50 per hour! So, got the info I needed (her phone number and what time she finished work), relaxed in the air-conditioning, and then headed out to make my way to Palencia. The route I was taking was not the most direct, so I still had about 100km to go to get there. Part of my route followed the "Camino de Santiago", a famous pilgrimage route across Spain. It was a really hot day and it is mostly open country with little or no shade, so it wasn't easy riding, but it wasn't too difficult. I passed through a lot of farmland and mountains. Many of the mountains had wind farms on them, or whatever the real term is for collections of wind-mill electrical generators.

I got to Palencia at about 19:00, which was perfect timing. That was the same sime that my next host, a very nice woman named Marta, finished work. I found my way to her house and then a nearby phone to call her. She said she would be there in about 15 minutes, so I waited for her in front of her building. When she got there, we went up to her flat, which had an awesome terrace, she let me take a shower, we relaxed and talked a bit. Then she took me out for my first experience of beer and tapas in Spain, as we basically did a bar tour of Palencia. Since tapas were included with the drinks, we managed to eat enough to cover dinner while we drank. It was a cool time, and it was nice to relax and have a few drinks, Spanish style.

Unfortunately, I could only stay at Marta's place for one night because she had plans to be out of town that weekend. Still, we met for lunch the next day, and because it was really hot, she suggested that I take the train to the next place I was going, a small town called Arévalo. It was only about 8€, so I decided to do so. My train left at 17:55, so I relaxed for most of the day.

From Palencia to Madrid

Taking the train turned out to be a really good choice. It was pouring down rain most of the way between Palencia and Arévalo, where I was going to meet my next host, a cool guy named David whom I found on HospitalityClub. The train arrived in Arévalo at about 19:30, and then I rode into town to meet my host, David, and his brother, Javier. There isn't much to report on Arévalo. It was a really small town. David and his brother were really nice though, and David was an incredible keyboard player. I stayed there that night and most of the following day, but headed out a little after 17:00 because I had plans to be in Madrid the next day to meet my next CouchSurfing host and I wanted to close the distance a bit.

I managed to make it about 60km that evening, but it was a difficult ride, especially towards the end as I left the grain fields and entered the mountains north of Madrid. The grain fields gave way to rough pastureland at the foothills. It proved difficult to find a place to sleep because most of the pastures were surrounded by old stone walls near the road and there weren't many trees or other places to get out of sight without completely trespassing on someone's land. I got off the road I was following and onto some smaller country roads a bit northwest of San Rafael, and finally managed to find a place to sleep that was basically a ditch between a road and an old stone wall. Still, it was wide enough, and the embankment from the road kept me out of sight. It wasn't comfortable, but it served its purpose well enough.

The following morning was tough. The wind had done a 180 degree turn in the night and I was facing a headwind. Also, the start of the day was all uphill. I made my way into San Rafael and ate some breakfast. Then I made my long way up the mountain, walking most of the way because it was about 6km of constant, winding uphill that stopped going up at 1511 meters above sea level. I think that is the highest I have physically been so far on this journey while still having my feet on the ground. After that, it was basically rolling hills for the final 40km into Madrid, though the last 5km or so involved riding on the motorway, which is not illegal on the ones designated as "autovia" (vs. autopista) unless there is a sign saying no bicycles. Still, riding on the motorway sucks. Give me an empty 2 lane road anyday.


When I arrived in Madrid, I called up the person who was to be my next host, a very nice, very sweet woman from Holland named Mariska. We met up near the metro station "La Latina" and she, another friend, and I had a drink. Her friend then had to go to work at a nearby Belgian beer bar, so Mariska and I went along to have another drink. Belgian beer continues to be beer heaven. I also had some dinner of fries (that's chips to you UKers) with stewed beef which was pretty good. Then Mariska and I went back to her place to drop off my stuff and let me get a shower. Then we went out to meet another friend fo some drinks and then called it a night.

Mariska was pretty busy with work while I was there, and her roommates were uncomfortable with having a stranger in the house while she wasn't home, so I was mostly left on my own to explore the city for the few days I was there. Madrid was a really nice city with lots of beautiful buildings, nice parks, cool little neighborhoods. I spent a lot of time wandering aimlessly and taking pictures. I also spent a good amount of time just relaxing in parks trying to study Spanish, which is a much more difficult language than I thought. I probably won't really pick up the language well while I am in Spain, but I will keep studying it.

Anyway, Mariska was very nice, and we had some wonderful conversations when we were able to hang out. Her roommates were also very nice, and one night I was happy to cook for them all. After staying for a few days, I decided to continue traveling on 20 July.

A HUGE Change in Plans

Going into Spain, my plan was to aim for the Mediterranean coast south of Granada. I'd found a farm there on HelpX (Help Exchange), a site where people can find places to volunteer in exchange for room and board. After favorable opening communication with a HelpX host in what seemed to be a beautiful area, I'd decided to head there, and that had played a big part in determining my route across Spain. I'd also been using CouchSurfing and HospitalityClub to try to find places to stay.

However, by Madrid, I hadn't received any replies from my recent communications the the HelpX host nor had I managed to find any places to stay in or on the way to Granada.

My first plan from Madrid was to take a train to Ciudad Real to take a break from the heat, and then continue on by bicycle. However, since I hadn't gotten any replies, I decide to ride from Madrid to Aranjuez, check my email there at an internet cafe, and then catch a train.

It wound up taking me most of the day to get out of Madrid and to Aranjuez. I had a hard time getting out of the city because on the south side, pretty much the only way out is by Motorway, and I was trying to avoid them and got lost. It was pretty much hell trying to get out, and I wound up having to go back into the city and starting from scratch before I could find a semi-decent way out that then turned into another damned motorway, which, to make things much more fun and interesting, was heavily under construction. I was trying my best to find alternatives, and wound up going probably 20km or so on a dirt road that paralleled the railroad. Actually, that turned out to be the least stressful part of the day so far, even though it was slow going.

I wound up sleeping just outside of Aranjuez that evening and went into town the next day. I was having doubts about how long I wanted to stay in Spain at this point. Overall, it isn't a very cyclist friendly country, at least not for touring cyclists. There were other things giving me doubts as well (more on this later), so I was thinking hard about what to do. I went into Aranjuez and found the station so I could check the train times. While I was there, I noticed that there was a train going to Valencia and another going towards Valencia. Going that way would significantly reduce the time spent in Spain, so I came to a decision: I would go to an internet cafe and check my email. If there were communication from either the HelpX host or CS or HC hosts in Granada, I would continue as planned. If not, I would change directions, head to Valencia, and start making my way back to France and the rest of Europe.

I wandered around town and eventually found an internet cafe. I checked my email, and there was nothing. Decision made.

I went back to the station and caught the 12:55 train to Valencia. It arrived there at about 18:00.

From Valencia to Malgrat de Mar

Obviously, with the sudden change in plans, I didn't have any places to stay in Valencia. However, I stopped at an internet cafe to try to set up places further up the coast, especially in or near Barcelona, about 350km away, for when I arrived there. I sent a few messages to potential hosts, and then headed out of town to find a place to sleep. Thus began my trek up the coast.

In Spain, between about 13:30 and 17:00, a lot of people and places take a siesta. There are very few people on the street. Many shops are closed, except cafes, pharmacies, and gas stations. Towns basically become ghost-towns. There is a very good for this: It is insanely hot. Seriously, it can be ridiculous. It is pointless for me to carry more than 1 litre of water at a time, because it gets too hot to do any good rather quickly. Going up the coast was basically ride for an hour or two and then take a cold drink break, ride for an hour or two and take a cold drink break, lather, rinse, repeat.

Still, for the most part, riding up the coast was beautiful. I finally saw the Mediterranean for the first time in my life on the afternoon of 22 July. It was absolutely gorgeous, calm, the perfect shade of aquamarine. Of course, I have seen a lot more of it since then. The morning of 23 July found me yet again on a dirt road, but this time along the coast, from right next to the sea to up on cliffs overlooking it. It was rough riding and I am probably lucky I didn't bend a rim on my bike, but it was worth it.

That pretty much sums up the coast on the way to Barcelona: hot weather, beautiful scenery, and sleeping outside.

I got to Barcelona on the 25th, but I only passed through the city without staying. I'd sent messages to several people in and near Barcelona, but only received 2 replies: one from Malgrat de Mar and one from Blanes, both neighboring towns about 65km from Barcelona. I replied and made plans to meet up with my next host in Malgrat de Mar that evening if I hadn't found a place in Barcelona. So, when I got to Barcelona, I found another internet cafe to make a last minute check, and I had a message from a girl named Angela whom I'd met in Bordeaux! She is a really cool girl and a hardcore CouchSurfer. She has been traveling to various places around the world, doing some work, and continuing on, for about 3 years now. She had moved to the area about 2 weeks before, and by pure coincidence, she sent me a message asking me when I was going to be in Barcelona because I'd told her I'd make it here eventually on my travels. I sent an immediate reply saying I was in Barcelona at that moment with no place to stay. She sent me her phone number and told me where she was: a town callad Mataró about halfway to Malgrat de Mar.

I rode up there to meet her. She couldn't give me a place to stay, which was no problem, but she fed me, which was very nice of her. It was cool to spend the afternoon together hanging out and talking. It was nice to see a familiar face. She was surprised that I hadn't been able to find any hosts in Barcelona and about my lack of success with finding hosts elsewhere in Spain, but it is the vacation season and people are busy, so I guess it was just bad luck. Anyway, after hanging out a bit, I continued up the coast to Malgrat de Mar.

I was to meet my next host, a pretty cool guy named Girard at the train station there at 20:00, and that is exactly when I arrived. His train arrived about 3 minutes later. Perfect timing!

Girard is a very nice guy; very open-minded, easy to talk to, and just an all around cool guy. Like several of my hosts so far, it was more like meeting an old friend than meeting someone for the first time. We talked in front of the station for a bit and then headed back to his house. He is living with his parents and when we got back, his father was home. He is a very nice man who can't speak English, which is fine because this is Spain, but I really can't speak Spanish well, which is not fine because this is Spain. Anyway, I got to take my first shower since Madrid. Ahhhhh...

Seriously, I think you can't really appreciate how good a shower feels until you go several days cycling in the hot sun without one. The longest I have ever had to go was 7 days, and that was on my first bicycle trip in the US in 1998. That was the most amazing shower ever, and even now when I just take showers anytime I still have that feeling of how good it was. This shower was a close second to that one.

Then, we relaxed and talked while waiting for his mother to come home. She eventually did and we all had dinner, which was very nice. Girard's parents are really very sweet and have taken good care of me.

Since arriving, I have mainly been relaxing. Girard works during the daytime, so I have been kind of just hanging out, relaxing at the beach, writing, attempting to study, etc. In the evenings, he comes home, we relax with a beer, the family has dinner, and we talk. That has been the routine.

However, now it is the weekend, so tonight Girard and I will go out for a few drinks and perhaps to hang out with some of his friends. My plan is to stay here tomorrow and then move on on Sunday.

I have found another HelpX host, this time near Limoux, France and have made all of the arrangements. I will arrive there on 1 August, and hopefully will spend 2 or 3 weeks there, assuming we get along well, doing work in exchange for room and board. It seems like a nice area, and the host seems like a really cool person, so I am looking forward to it. It will be nice to take a break from constantly being on the road.

Anyway, I think that is just about enough for now. I'll write about my impressions of Spain and my final days in Spain after I get settled near Limoux.


Oh hell YES! MMW @ Vitoria Jazz Festival

Location: Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain
Status: Farking AWESOME, but with some tinnitus

This week in Vitoria is the Festival de Jazz de Vitoria-Gasteiz[en], and last night Pedro and I went to an amazing show. Yesterday was the first day of the festival. It was "Noche Electrónica" and who should be playing but none other than Medeski, Martin, and Wood! Talk about being in this town at the right time! It cost 20€ and a group called Incognito opened. Incognito was quite good, a nice mix of jazz and funk. However, MMW were simply amazing! I had heard that their concerts were quite good, and now I know from my own experience.

I love the way they experiment with sound, using various percussion instruments, lots of effects on the keyboards, and some funky bass. They were brilliant, like master chefs playing with herbs and spices to come up with new and interesting flavors of sound. Seriously, they were simply amazing, fantastic, wonderful, superb... there aren't enough adjectives.

So, basically what I am trying to say is that it was a great show. Peace.

From Bordeaux, France to Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain

Location: Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain
Status: Alive and well.

I haven't really had much Internet access or time to write, so I have some catching up to do. Since Bordeaux, I have been through Ychoux, the area from Bayonne to Irun, Pamplona, and now Vitoria-Gasteiz. I hope you are comfortable, because this will be a long one. A lot has happened.


I had a great time in Bordeaux and ended up staying there for about a week. All of the people I met were extremely cool and fun to hang out with. When I left off in my previous post, we were going out to party with some friends. Of course it was a good time, and all of the people I met were very cool and I became pretty good friends in a short time with several of them. A lot of them are on CouchSurfing, and during my time in Bordeaux, I ended up staying at three of their places: Philippe's place, his neighbor Julien's place, and their friend Baléze's place (which was where the party took place). The following day (Sunday), Baléze's girlfriend, Emilie, took me on a tour of the city and I took a few pictures. Bordeaux is actually very nice. However, it is even nicer at night. Baléze is also into photography, so that night he and I grabbed our cameras and went out to take some night pictures. Julien came along and we took a pretty nice walk around the city with a pause for some beers in the middle. That night, I crashed at Baléze's place.

Baléze is mainly into industrial landscapes and urban exploration, and the following day, he gave me a bit of an initiation in urban exploration photography. There was an abandoned train depot just across the river with run down warehouses, a burnt out train, and other structures. Overall, for urban exploration, it was a pretty safe place as long as you pay attention to where you are and what you are doing. Still, there were a lot of interesting photos to be taken, and I took about 125 shots. Eventually, I will weed through them and post some of the best ones. I can understand why Baléze is into industrial landscapes...it was a very interesting place. Anyway, Philippe was in the final cramming stages for his exam, so again I crashed at Baléze's place, and that evening he succeeded in getting me into Ali G, who treads a very thin line between obnoxious and funny, and treads it very well.

Anyway, I continued to hang out in Bordeaux with all of these cool people. On Wednesday, another CouchSurfer, Nicholas, joined us, and then on Thursday 4 American girls came with the intent to CouchSurf, but changed their minds and decided to get a hotel. I guess they thought we were all staying in one little room rather than being spread out over 3 apartments. Oh well, it turned out to be there loss, because that night there was a really good party at Baléze's place with even more cool people. The following day, Nicholas headed out on his way to La Rochelle. That was also the day that CouchSurfing died.

That was a bit of a shock for us all. I had already joined a site called HospitalityClub, so I had a backup, though I haven't been as successful at finding hosts on there. Still, CouchSurfing was special. It wasn't just about free accomodations, but was more about meeting and interacting with different people from different cultures all over the world (with the bonus of free accomodation). For me, like many others, it has become a way of life. It couldn't just up and die.

It didn't. With lots of community support, it is up and running again, though not yet at full functionality.

However, at the time, I only had one more CouchSurfing host lined up, and that was in Ychoux, France. After that, I didn't know anyone. I tried to find people on HospitalityClub in the areas around Bayonne, San Sebastián, Pamplona, and Vitoria-Gasteiz. The only reply I got at the time was from Vitoria.

Anyway, that evening (Friday), Philippe, Baléze, Julien, a girl whose name I cannot recall, and I went out for Indian food and relaxed. The following morning, Philippe left to fly to Austria on his way to the Ukraine, and I said my goodbyes to everyone and cycled out on my way to...


My next, and to date last, CouchSurfing host was a guy named Pierre who lives in Ychoux, a small town partway between Bordeaux and Bayonne. When I cycled out of Bordeaux, I took a slightly longer route and headed for the coast. I had not seen the Atlantic Ocean in many years, and I had never seen it from this side. While along the coast, I got to see an amazing sight: La Dune du Pyla (the huge white thing in the Satellite image), which is an enormous sand dune that runs along the cost for a couple of kilometers. It is about 100m high, and is simply incredible. I didn't take any decent pictures of my own, but you can get some ideas from this Google Image Search.

Anyway, I continued along the coast and arrived in Ychoux that evening. Pierre was yet another really nice guy and I stayed at his place for 3 nights. He works in farming and does both maintainence work and IT work for a farm in the area. He's also into surfing and techno music. That first night, a friend came over and we watched France beat Brazil, 1-0.

The next day (Sunday), Pierre and I went to the beach. On the way, we stopped at a sporting goods store and I picked up some new tires for my bike, as well as a new helmet and a spoke-wrench to align my rims. When we got to the beach, Pierre surfed for a bit, and I took a swim in the Atlantic, again for the first time in many years. It was pretty cold, though, since summer had only just started. I witnessed, for the first time, topless sunbathers on a French beach, including some incredibly attractive ones. Hey, I am a human male. It is required by law to notice these things. Also, I did a very good job of not staring. ;)

After the beach, we went back and had some lunch, and then headed out to the farm where Pierre works. He needed to check the irrigation equipment, and I went to give my bicycle a tune-up. The back rim was severely warped (which was causing my back tire to wear through in some spots), and some other parts needed tightening. Also, the tires were wearing out, so I replaced them. It took a little while to do everything, but now my bike is in much better running condition.

There really isn't much to do in Ychoux, so the next day I relaxed and watched a few movies while Pierre worked. We relaxed the evening away and then crashed. I still hadn't found any CouchSurfing (which was dead at the time) or HospitalityClub hosts between there and Vitoria, but I'd decided to head out the following morning. We got up pretty early, Pierre for work and me to cycle out, heading towards...

Bayonne to Irun

That was actually a very pleasant day of cycling for the most part. The terrain was quite easy and the roads I was following were mostly empty. When I got back towards the coast, there was a series of cycle paths to follow. The emptiness was very relaxing, almost intoxicating. It was a good day of riding. I made it too and through Bayonne and Biarritz, and found a decent place to camp just outside Bidart. The was the second time I had to camp so far on this trip, but it was the beginning of a stretch of 5 days of sleeping outside.

The next day, I headed into St. Jean de Luz, where I found a Tourism Office that told me where to find an internet cafe. I went to the cafe and checked my email. I hadn't gotten any replies about my requests to stay, except for another message from my host in Vitoria. He said he was out of town until Sunday, so I wouldn't be able to stay until then. However, I found out from one of the forums set up for CouchSurfing refugees that a bunch of people were planning on meeting in Pamplona for San Fermines (famous for the Running of the Bulls), so I decided to head down there and try to meet up with them and enjoy the fiesta. It was still early in the day, so I cycled out, crossing into Spain at Irun, and then headed south to cross the Pyrenees. However, at first, I took the wrong road, and stupidly had to turn back after trecking halfway up a mountain. That wasted a couple of hours, so after I got to the right road, I was not ablet o make it to Pamplona that day.

I slept outside near a small town called Almandoz. I couldn't set up my tent, but it wasn't too bad. It did rain a little, but I managed. The next day began with about 6km of uphill which I rather unashamedly walked. After that, it was basically an easy ride and I arrived in Pamplona around noon.


The original plan was for the CouchSurfers to gather in Parque de la Media Luna and they had said that they would have a banner saying "CouchSurfing.com" so they would be easy to find, so that is where I headed first when I arrived. However, I couldn't find a banner or anything, so I set off to find a phone to try to call the contact number I had. However, I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to call a British mobile phone on a Spanish payphone and wound up losing several euros to the infernal machines before giving up. I went for another look around, and then walked around the festivities a bit.

San Fermines is crazy. It is basically a big drunk madhouse, especially in Casco Antiguo, the old quarter of the city. In that area it is mainly a bunch of drunks dressed in white with read bandanas and red sashes (the traditional garb for San Fermines) trashing the city: breaking bottles and glasses everywhere, pissing in the streets, etc. I guess it is a lot of fun if you are one of the drunks, but not so much when you are completely sober wearing a backpack and trying to maneuver a bicycle through the crowd. Anyway, I made my way to the Tourist Office and got directions and address to internet cafes in the area. I went to a nearby one to see if there were any updates about the meeting location or anything and to post that I was having difficulty finding everyone. I also bought a phone card to make using a Spanish payphone much easier.

I went out and tried to call my contact again and finally connected. He told me they were in Parque de la Media Luna, so I went back there and tried to find them. Try as I might, I couldn't. At all. Oh well. I ended up sleeping in that park with a good number of other people passed out. Some people nearby had set up a tent, so I thought that it was OK and set up mine as well, only to be awoken by the police at 03:00 and told (I think...I can't understand Spanish that well), "Take down the tent. This is not a campground!" However, I was not being arrested or anything like that, so I took down the tent, rolled out my sleeping bag, and went back to sleep.

I spent a good part of the next day in quieter parts of the city, relaxing and doing some writing in my journal. I really wish I'd had some place to put my bike and backpack securely so I could have joined in the fiesta, but oh well. Later on, I went to another internet cafe to see if there were any updates from the CouchSurfers. There weren't, but CouchSurfing.com had come back online! That was kind of a relief, and like I mentioned before, though it isn't 100% functional yet, it is back. I'd decided that I would leave Pamplona the following day (Saturday) and start heading towards Vitoria so I could arrive here on Sunday by taking it really slow and easy. So, I wandered around Pamplona a bit, took some pictures (without venturing too deep into the drunken masses with my bike, pack, and camera), and then went down to a park by the river to crash for the night. I watched the fireworks, which were beautiful, but not even close to Japanese fireworks. Then I crashed and slept basically without incident.

The next day, I took my time getting up and then headed out towards...


The countryside between Pamplona and Vitoria is really beautiful in a rugged kind of way. The roads I followed stuck mainly to the valleys, but there were mountains all around. They weren't really high, but they were really steep with treelines giving way to cliffs. At their bases was mostly rolling farmland and pastureland.

It was only about 100km from Pamplona to Vitoria, and the road was fairly easy, so I actually had to try to not arrive on Saturday since my host would not be there. I wound up camping about 25km from town in a small bit of forest between two wheat fields. The next morning I woke up and headed into town.

My host in Vitoria-Gasteiz is a really nice guy named Pedro. He is my first host from HospitalityClub. When I arrived, he wasn't going to be back to town until about 19:00, so I spent the day relaxing and walking around. We met up at 19:00 and headed back to his place to relax, talk, and then watch the World Cup Final. I was actually rooting for France, and they lost, unfortunately. It is a shame that Zidane couldn't keep his cool and ended up getting red-carded, but that was a hell of a headbutt.

Anyway, Pedro has been working all day and I have been relaxing. He just got home, so it is time to see what the plan is for the evening.