2006-07-11

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.

Bordeaux

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...

Ychoux

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.

Pamplona

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...

Vitoria-Gasteiz

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.

Ciao!

1 件のコメント:

Baleze さんのコメント...

What a nice feedback, sir. Travel safe and take care of that bike, goddammit!