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On the road . September 2006 . France, Spain and Portugal

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border house check point between france and spain Laser internet café, Bilbao 09-09-06 (Gracias Alfredo!)
One pass to another

Bordeaux to San Sebastien
(4 cycle days; 343km; 2696m)

Gradignan to Parentis-en-Born (78km; 114m)
Parentis-en-Born to Soustons (99km; 169m)
Soustons to Sare (94km; 912m)
Sare to Igeldo - San Sebastian, Spain (73km; 1501m)

Buzzed Off
Bordeaux to Parentis (78km; 114m)
is easy going; long, straight and flat and had it not been for the campsite lying well out of Parentis itself, we would have been sitting in front of the tent well before 3.30pm. The trip is nothing really out of the ordinary except a very large pine forest industry, an overwhelming number of resorts and 4-star campgrounds dotting the lake and coastal regions. Campsite prices are consequently not very good value for cyclists. In fact, if Noah rocked up with his ark, he would be charged the same price. Naturally there would be a surcharge for all the animals.

The event of the day however, is cycling in the vicinity of a hornets nest. Well I expect we were somewhere close, since we were chased for a couple of km's by a bunch of them. They didn't seem particularly interested in Ali: just buzzed annoyingly around him. I, on the the hand, bore the brunt of a number of stings that smarted and wept long into the next few days. And just after last month's beautiful words about how wonderful the nature world is. Proves that there is always two sides to every story.

From the moment I leave Parentis, my legs seem to switch over to turbo-charge. There are stints along the super-flat and well-paved cycle paths that allow us to overtake some very surprised cyclists at speeds of 29 km/hour. Again, a very easy-going trip and with quite a few scenic spots. Campsite in Soustons (99km; 169m) is nothing special except for it's enormity and the fact that it is the only one in town. In peak periods, it would definitely be one to miss. Go a few kilometres further and there are more choices in some greener areas.

Today is one big climbing adventure. It is warm and sweat is dripping in every direction, but who is complaining about that? Certainly not me. The mountainous nature and steepness of the terrain makes it pretty tiring work though. Our normal routine is to start the morning with a two hour ride before stopping for a well earned Orangina or similar sugary thirst quencher and something to eat. The next stage usually takes one and a half hours though that does depend on the weather and the amount of climbing involved. By this stage we are ready for lunch. Following our early afternoon energising, we put in whatever we can. Well, the frequency of pit-stops is generally dictated by me. Sometimes, I believe Ali is Superman in disguise.

All roads lead to nowhere
Even though we take minor roads, they are exceptionally busy on this particular Sunday. The traffic streams passed constantly making climbing the hill outside Cambo-les-Baines a total nightmare. Still we make it in one piece to Sare (94 km; 912m); Strangely enough, there are signs leading everywhere for campsites: such a delight for a tired cyclist at the end of a hard days pedaling, but each path we follow, ends up ascending us high out of town and far from any likely campground. Several unsuccessful kilometers later, we decide to return to town for the umpteenth time and try our luck by at a farm. Waking to the sound of chickens pecking up the crumbs from our previous night's dinner is definitely a pleasant change to standard humdrum.

Winding down to San Sebastian
We psych ourselves up for the two passes mentioned on the Michelin map: 441m going into Spain; and 480m getting into Donostia-San Sebastian. Unfortunately for us, the cartographers have forgotten to mark the 548m pass in between. The first climb is ok, though steep in parts. You at least have the chance to zigzag your way up the road, since there is hardly any traffic. It is also early morning and the sun is hidden by the forest trees. Makes life a lot easier than the next two climbs to come.

We cross into Spain and have a beautiful drop into Etxalar before embarking on a long, hard but the most magnificent and exhilarating climb we have done so far. When we reach the peak, we look below and instantly realise that there is another pass and another hour or so of before we can wind down into the harbor havoc of Errenteria. Due to road works, it takes us more than an hour to navigate the five kilometres from the industrial mayhem to Donastia-San Sebastian. Upon arrival, we head straight for the Tourist Bureau and are pounced on by a guy wanting us to book into the hostel where he worked. When we mention that we want to know where the campsite is, he begins with the usual spiel "You don't want to cycle there! It's way too steep." Besides, my hostel is here in town. He made it sound as if there were 3000kms of vertical climbing but being used to hotel hustlers, we decide it is all probably just a ploy to increase his bonus that wee. We head out of town after stopping for some supplies at a Spar Supermarket.

Looking up to Superman
In all honesty, the guy's story isn't too far from the truth. At least not as far as degree of difficulty is concerned and especially seeing as we had already crossed 3 passes today. It is in fact, 4 km's or so of 10% uphill battle. Superman in disguise glides up; or at least it looks like that to me. Halfway up and something in my knees feels like it is going to snap, so I get off and push. And if you think that it is easy, it's not. And neither is looking up to Superman, way in front.

Basically, the only campsite in Donastia-San Sebastian (73km; 1501m) is at Igeldo and it is full. We get chucked in with the rest of the backpackers on puny plots which can't even accommodate our tent. Anyway we try. We still have to face the problem of where we should lock up the bikes. A concert in Vitoria-Gasteiz this weekend past has pulled a crowd alright, but disappointingly so, the place has taken on the usual cess-pool charm associated with concert camping: irresponsibly discarded rubbish; dirty washing strewn on any available rope or post; the strong smell of wee; and a general display of disarray. And for this privilege we pay 14 euros.

Needless to say, our plans for a two night stay are immediately revised. Perusing the terrain, we decide no matter how tired our legs are, we will push on towards Bilbao, which is another two days riding from here. So, besides avoiding this campground during festive occasions our other piece of advice is as follows: if you should cycle to San Sebastian and want to take in the hustle and bustle of a modern, young, attractive city with every amenity at your fingertips, then do yourself a favour and stay in the town itself. I mean, baggage or no baggage, after a climb like we had, who in their right mind would want to go down the hill for a night out, knowing what was in store at the end of the evening.

camping at Sopelana Bilbao Spain solar panel  charging  battery

Laser internet café, Bilbao 09-09-06 (Gracias Alfredo!)
First otr celebration

Igeldo - San Sebastien to Sopelana
(2 cycle days; 135km; 1694m)

Igeldo to Mendexa (Lekeitio) (71km; 950m)
Mendexa to Sopelana (63km; 744m)

The rugged Basque
The next day we set off with mist completely surrounding us, but soon enough we are miles above it and peering out over spectacular views of pillow soft clouds as far as you could see. To the left winding mountain roads could take you even higher should you dare. Our poor conditioned path has little traffic and the odd few maniacs insist on performing death-defying stunts on blind corners. On the other hand, the majority of Basque drivers are used to pedestrian traffic and in turn, slow down and respect our presence on the road as well. The day is hot and there are several steep climbs before we finally bend our way down around the breathtaking coastline. It's rough, rugged, dangerous and yet so vibrantly charming. A perfect metaphor for the people from Basque Country.

Our destination is a campground just outside of Lekeitio (71kms; 950m) and as we are low on supplies we really need to source a supermarket first. Our plans don't come to full fruition since the city has completely shut down for a 'day and long into the night' festival. Everyone is dressed in blue civvies, so our blue patagonia shirts and dark bike-shorts blend in quite nicely. The bikes on the other hand draw a bit of attention. After swerving in and out of merrily drunken crowds and ending up going round in circles, we settle on seeing what the campsite shop (if any) has on offer. According to the sign at the bottom of the hill, it is 700m further up.

Up, becomes the operative word during this ascent and also worth a mention is the inability of local roadworkers to estimate distances. The 700m turned into 2.5 kilometres which continued to go up at an average of 9 % and then we found ourselves at the foot of, what seemed like, an almost vertical climb into the campsite itself. Superman reveals his mortality and steps off to push his heavily laden bike. I watch him stop on several occasions to gain strength in the sweltering sun; his head dropping with exhaustion, before drawing a deep breath and continuing on up the hill. At one stage it reaches a maximum gradient of 26%. Still, he gallantly returns to save me, his maiden in distress, and help move my considerably lighter bike up the monster incline. We manage to find a nice spot in the shade of one of the few trees. The grass is green and fresh and our sopping wet tent takes no time at all to dry out. This evening we are to be rocked to sleep by festive fireworks and the same sort of music local DJs entertain us with all over the world.

Not a lot of mileage to cover on this fairly easy run today. Very hot conditions and a few hills in the beginning of the day make a chore of the journey, but there are ample park benches lining the small cities we pass through. We stop and rest when we need to. The last leg is also a little difficult as the sun is directly above us, but the smell of salt and sea tempt us along the road to Sopelana (63km; 744m). This little town is situated about 15kms northwest of Bilbao and has a direct metro line into the Basque Capital. The camping is adequate. Ample and abundantly pressurized hot water make up for the lack of hygiene in the deco-tiled amenity blocks. The restaurant and shop on site result in the 'hard to refuse' convenience of an ice cold beer in the afternoon. We rest here just nicely for the next 4 nights, before taking to the road towards Santander.

Birthday Boy 07-09-06
Happy Birthday! What a wonderful way to start your "new life's beginning" by cycling round the world. He is awoken with lots of kisses from me. His pressies; a half bottle of cognac; a stainless steel flask to store it in; white sexy short-sleeved bike shirt; and of course a deliciously scrummy breakfast lay waiting in front of our tent. He is pretty damned happy!Apart from exerting a bit of energy on some bike maintenance and computer stuff we just hang out at our tent and generally act pretty lazy.

camping in Riaño Spain in the mountains

Onweb internetcafé, Porto 26-09-06
Out of Bilbao and up to a Spanish Plateau
Sopalano to Peubla de Sanabria
(8 cycle days; 3 rest days; 565km; 5349m)

Sopelana to Laredo (77km; 928m)
Laredo to Santillana del Mar (70km; 819m)
Santillana del Mar to Pechón (42km; 526m)
Pechón to La Vega (Vega de Liébana) (53km; 591m)
La Vega (Vega de Liébana) to Riaño (50km; 1268m)
Riaño to León (101km; 523m)
León to Mozar de Valverde (93km; 141m)
Mozar de Valverde to Puebla de Sanabria (81km; 553m)

Surf, sand and storms
We cycle past Bilbao, not actually through it and over the hanging bridge at Portugalete just west of the city. Our day pretty much consists of up, up, up and then just as much down into Spanish countryside. Considering it was closing down after the summer season the campsite in Laredo (77km; 928m) is pretty good.

Facing the drizzle once again, after a long and appreciated break, we clammer the hill the following afternoon into Santillana del Mar (70km; 819m). By the abundance of hikers, lightly panniered cyclists; and number of occasions we are asked if we are pilgrims, it is obvious we are on the Santiago trail. Our turn off to Pechón (42km; 526m) the next day, leaves all that behind and leads us to a secluded campsite clutching the coast line. We are able to chose a prime spot overlooking the ocean.

During the next three days, we witness the bubbling surf of emerald seas back dropped by a perfect postcard sky turn into dumping waves churning white sands underneath a thundering electrical heaven. Torrential rains accompany the light show. Almost reluctantly, we pull ourselves away from this body surfing haven and begin our ascent of the Picos de Europa.

Just as we had begun the climb into the Picos de Europa my rapid fire gears decided they didn't want to move back out of my lowest gear. In the rain, we managed to find a small bay on the side of an exceptionally busy road to stop and see what was wrong. We were both dreading having to put on the spare thumb shifts that we had brought along just incase this happened. First thought: we'd loosen the screws on, what at the time appeared to be, a closed system and wriggle everything around a bit. We lost a miniscule screw in the sand, panicked and then found it again. Miraculously, this did the job and I had my gears back again: although not clicking quite as smoothly as before. As far as equipment is concerned, we have had to send off a couple of whinge emails to a few suppliers, hoping that they will rectify the problems we have faced. Everyone should be given the chance to replace a faulty product , so we'll fill you in on the progress towards the end of the month.

Up, up and away
The plan is to cycle to Riaño in two days. The climbing is not difficult in the first stages and apart from the near-disastrous start described above when my gearing temporarily seized-up, the only real comment is that Panes and Potes are very touristy. Okay if you like that sort of thing, but we venture deeper into the valley at La Vega - Vega de Liébana (53km; 591m). Darkness descends early and it is considerably colder than we have been used to. However, we manage to sleep comfortably in our tent pitched at a homely little campsite after warming ourselves by the blazing hearth in their pub.

The second phase of the route well and truly tests the muscles. It is a long and steady, 28 kilometre climb up from 460m to the pass Puerto de San Glorio (1609m). At an average of 5 percent, it is breathtaking in more ways than one. It takes 4½ hours in total. Perfect roads give us the chance to look around and except for one young lad with a little too much testosterone in his bloodstream, traffic isn't too full on. Once at the top, it is basically 27 kilometres of downhill coasting. The jagged, pink-rocky landscape entertains us all the way into Riaño 50km; 1268m, where we once again, have to climb high to reach today's destination. The trend here is that the Spanish like to build their campsites on top of hills.

As they get wind about our world tour at Camping Riaño, they spoil us rotten. We spend a cozy evening in the pub drinking red wine and nibbling on vegetarian tapas. Being at an altitude of 1200m, the air is extremely cold, but the view from our tent is more than awe inspiring. The next day we pedal back down, shivering in 10 degree temperatures and heavy drizzle. Our spirits are dampened and we are saturated for the first three quarters of the journey, but everything returns to normal in the late afternoon sun as we cycle into León (101km; 523m).

Hoping for sunshine
The campsite is difficult to find, due to poor signposting and just so you know, you need to take the turnoff up a poorly maintained road at the roundabout before entering into León itself. If you do find yourself in León, then you have gone too far, so turn around and head back out of town. At the top of the hill, take the road past the metal companies. This campground is no recommendation, just the only one in the near vicinity. After stocking-up on supplies; repairing a few bits and bobs; maintaining the bikes; and doing the laundry which incidentally, stunk of chlorine for the next five days, we were ready to continue our path out of Spain. We should hit Portugal in a couple of days and are looking forward to experiencing another culture. Our fingers are firmly crossed for a weather pattern with much higher temperatures.

We leave León along with everyone else, or so it seems. The roads are hellishly busy and the industrial area appears to go on forever. Adding to that big-city syndrome, it is filthy and stinks of either exhaust fumes, fish rotting away in rubbish bins or urine. The state of the roads leaves a lot to be desired as well. Though, on a more positive note, as soon as we get away from the sprawl, the N630 is a dream to ride on. As smooth as the day they first laid it and with little or no traffic. The latter owing to the motorway running along side it. We push along at an amazing 27km/hour and even though there is a bit of wind towards the end of our journey, we sail into Mozar de Valverde (93km; 141m), expecting a little more from the campsite than it actually has on offer.

Our guide book boasts supermarket, wifi connection, communal room, etc. Instead we stumble upon a rundown, old-fashioned campsite with very lush green grass hosting thousands of mosquitoes. We befriend a very cautious tan tabby-cat, who we call Gerald for the length of our stay and let's just say it wasn't too hard to tempt him with some warm milk and bread ends.

Where has all the money gone?
Although a frosty start follows the next day, temperatures pick up to around 30 degrees centigrade in the early afternoon. We begin by winding along severely potholed roads through a string of miniscule villages; all just a few kilometres apart. Mud houses in various degrees of deterioration line their streets. It was quite a surprise to see how deprived the people are here: old ladies pushing wheelbarrows full of vegetables and poorly clad folk working in the hot sun. Hard to imagine that Spain is a first world country when you are staring at such a vista.

Contrasting this image are the council upgrades between a few of these towns. One particular 500m stretch of road parades modern park benches, shaded by purposefully-planted plain trees, each sporting a swanky new rubbish bin. The notion that a bus load of tourists might pass through at any moment, stop, sit down and fill the bins is ludicrous. There is little reason for anyone to visit these remote villages, which explains the immaculate state of the highway. We, a few pedalling farmers, the local women with their farm produce and an occasional car have the privilege of using this revamped path. Does make you wonder if this was money well spent or not.

Later on, the fun of the first half of the day turns into a bit of a nightmare: dead straight roads; irritating ascents; and malicious head winds. Even going downhill requires plenty of pedal power. We reach an abandoned campsite just outside of Puebla de Sanabria (81km; 553m). After a quick peruse up and down the cobble streets in town, it is not hard to tell that we are back on the Santiago trail. A renovated train station, a kilometre away houses a funky cyber-cafe/bar, where we while away a few hours, before shopping for dinner, cooking, divulging in some chocolate and falling into a deep sleep. We are awoken by gale-force winds in the middle of the night.

inside the tent in the rain in Vila Real Portugal

Onweb internetcafé, Porto 26-09-06
Raindrops keep falling on my head

Puebla de Sanabria to Madalena - Porto
(3+ cycle days; 132km train trip; 212km; 2705m)

Puebla de Sanabria to Bragança - Portugal (37km; 421m)
Bragança to Mirandela (77km; 872m)
Mirandela to Vila Real (77km; 1248m)
Vila Real to Madalena - Porto (21km; 164m)

Should have stayed in bed
This is one of those days when you wish you had never got up. We only have to do a few kilometres to reach Bragança and under normal circumstances, it would have been a perfect cycle trip: going up isn't too steep and going down long and winding. The rolling countryside is spectacularly luscious. If only the heavens hadn't opened up.

Winds start howling while we eat breakfast and fast moving clouds move in on an offensive that is going to transform my very jolly mood into something considerably somber. Earlier on, I had decided that I wouldn't be beaten by the weather-thing today. After all, we had been blessed with two absolutely glorious days of sunshine, so at this point a few dark clouds seem marginally damaging .

Thirty minutes into the journey and the raincoats are a necessity as the light drizzle turns into battering rain. It continues non-stop for seven hours. Somehow, I hadn't ever imagined that entering Portugal would be like this. Well, at least not in the middle of September. Sporting two lightweight thermal shirts, a sports-bra covering my whole midriff, a raincoat, bike shorts and Goretex shoe covers over my steel cap boots, I am carted down the mountainside. On occasions, I can't feel my fingers at all and have to pump them vigorously to get the blood supply moving. Subsequently, shifting gears and braking is really difficult and neither of us dare go over 30km/hour. This sort of cold is unbearable: especially for a warm weather lover like myself. Ali tells me later that day that he too thought it a little on the chilly side too.

Got to be moving on
Resembling a couple of drenched water rats, we are swept into Bragança (37km; 421m) very early in the afternoon. Immediately after checking in, we down a port and coffee in the campsite bar, hoping the rain will ease off. It doesn't let up and we resort to sheltering under the washing-up area for a couple of hours. In between torrential downpours we eat lunch, have a shower, air our dripping clothing on taps on any jagged edge available, and set up the tent.

Up until this point, I have managed to stay jovial, but when the clouds decide to dump even more water on me, just as I am trying to arrange things in the tent, I lose it. Though not quite as strong as the words used at the time, I scream: "Stop bl#%*y raining!". Now in the bar, I'm nice and warm and much drier than our saturated coats, shoes and clothing lying next to the fire, being hogged by the two languid girls running this place. Service is far from their thoughts. Too much good food to eat, games to play and soapies to watch. Tomorrow we'll definitely be moving on.

Why am I here again?
We had heard from a young Belgian guy in Bragança that, while he was hiking, an old lady in a farming village told him the storms would continue at least until Sunday. We can't hang around waiting for the dreary weather to turn fine. Campsites are closing around this time of the year and so our goal is to make the coast within a week.

One frustrating stop after the next punctuates today's trip. We shelter under cork trees, bus stops: anything that will stop the rain from dousing us. It is also cold at 10º C. By lunchtime, I have almost flipped and am wondering what I have done to deserve feeling so damned miserable. We seem to be jinxed in someway: carrying a perpetually black rain cloud above our heads everywhere we go. Here I am shivering from the cold, wet and doldrums, when I have a bank account full of money and potentially the choice to go anywhere I want. Honestly, what am I doing here? You know, I can't actually answer that question.

Getting out of Bragança isn't as easy as it would seem, since they have cordoned off the town for a reason unbeknown to us. After circling the hilly town centre only once, we resolve to ask a policeman, who directs us to the N15. This becomes our highway for the next couple of days and although the first sections are in poor state they are still all right to cycle on without too much hassle. Having no cars on the road is pedalling bliss since in Portugal, the general trend is to drive very fast with some maniacal tenancies chucked in for good measures.

The countryside was even more beautiful than the day before: valleys and hillsides filled with contrasting colours of olive and cork trees, but we barely see any of this through the mist and constant rain. Hence, there is no film or photos to confirm the beauty, and even though there are short bouts of normality, when the sun does manage to shine, we are off like shots to get in as many kilometres as possible, before the next rain cloud spoils everything. Luckily, the sun stays with us while we cycle the last kilometres into Mirandela (77km; 872m), which means we are dry on arrival. We manage to do the shopping and cook dinner before darkness descends. At about 3am that morning the rain begins and doesn't even look like stopping until around 9am.

A very black day
As soon as there is a break in the weather we leave, but at 10.30am, it is really late for the mountainous journey ahead to Vila Real. The roads seem to be going up and up the whole way. Luckily, there are enough downhill patches to give the legs a rest every now and again. I take back what I said to Ali, a day or so before, about Portugal being pretty clean. The roads, especially those close to cities and towns, are lined with rubbish of every shape and form. That said, I'd still recommend any bike enthusiast to come to Portugal. The conditions, weather pending, are excellent for cycling and while some road surfaces are in disrepair, the obvious presence of roadworkers is a good sign of things to come. Furthermore, the views are simply breathtaking: hundreds of variations of green against red stony soil, distinctively bordered farm fields carved into extreme slopes leading up to villages precariously balanced on jutting hillsides. It has captivated us the whole way. At least, when we are able to appreciate it.

After a lunch stop we continue climbing. I am up front and thought I was doing fine but according to Ali, I was having an off day and of course when the very black sky that we are heading towards bucketed down upon us, he is not very happy that we were on that side of the mountain. One problem you face when cycling together is individual capabilities. Ali just simply has greater strength in his legs than me and when push comes to shoving the crankwheel around, he can pull out more revolutions.

But it becomes my turn to not be very impressed, when he sarcastically - at least I thought so - asked if I had another gear. Did he think I was enjoying the torrents of rain and cold wind? I was honestly giving it all I had. By this time, the dark clouds had obviously rubbed off on our humour and we had an argument as roaring as the thunder directly above us. We made it into Vila Real (76kms; 1248m) that afternoon, very late indeed and headed straight towards the Intermarché on the outskirts of town. As well as the usual stock, we purchased a cheap bottle of Portuguese brandy, which was actually pretty good considering it cost only 7 euros.

That evening, after setting up tent and dodging the numerous episodes of rain while still trying to cook dinner, we divulged in a swig or three. We kissed and made up and agreed that even after today's events, we both still wanted to do this and for that matter: together. All appeared quite amorous until the rain started pounding the tent again. Ali got up to visit the toilet and made some comment about us sitting in the middle of a lake. Thinking it was a joke, I laughed a bit, but I soon noticed the river that was flowing through our front tent, when he yelled back, "No serious, Son!" While Ali tapped tent poles into the rock-like clay to try and drain the newly formed lake, I was mopping the inside up and putting as many things as possible on a higher level. Next thing I knew, Ali was at the back of the tent building what he later, quite proudly, termed The New Delta Works. I came out to help armed with an empty bottle to assist in digging. Apparently, I was not too much help. We eventually got to bed at about 2am that night.

It continued raining and stopped just as we rose that morning; a little later than usual and we are both not sure if that was due to the digging, the late night or the brandy. We managed to get the kit packed though it took forever because everything was soaking wet and muddy and needed cleaning or wiping over. We ate breakfast and then the drizzle began again. By the time we reached reception to pay for our damp lodgings, it was absolutely pelting down. We made an executive decision: we cycled straight to the station and waited the 2.5 hours until the next train headed to Porto (3 hour, 132km train journey; 21km; 164m). It was well worth the wait. We went chugging up and down the mountain sides and again we were both awestruck at the beauty and diversity of this country. The weather on the other hand, remained the same until just before Porto when the sun began to shine. The old lady who spoke with the Belgian guy was dead right. Since this Sunday afternoon we've been basking in sunshine.

west coastline of Portugal

Sky video club & internet service, Aljezur 08-10-06
So many different worlds
Porto to Penich
(3 cycle days; 1 rest day;277km; 1222m)

Madalena - Porto to Praia de Mira (92km; 179m)
Praia de Mira to São Pedro de Moel (101km; 460m)
São Pedro de Moel to Peniche (86km; 583m)

Equipment continued
This month we had a few breakdowns and I suppose the most concerning was the snapped and fractured tent poles, all within 6 days of each other. However, after a couple of mails to Helsport, they are sending us a complete new set. I'd also like to mention that before we left, Helsport also sent us extra materials so I could adjust the front opening of the tent to allow more air to flow-through. So, as far as customer service is concerned, they are certainly tops and after chatting with other campers experiences with tent companies, we are truly grateful for this!

As most of you who dedicatedly look at the site on the first of the month noticed: the update was not on time. Unfortunately, planning the internet cafes, or more like a facility where we can plug in our hard drive and that has a fast enough system, is more difficult than we imagined. Another fault in the system is the power supply: although the solar panel works well, it does need sun and since there has been very little of this element, we are forever low on battery power. Hanging out in the washrooms is also not a lot of fun, so we tend to skip that option. Occasionally we ask for electricity but then we are limited to the spells when it doesn't rain! Consequently, there are no films this month: making them chews up the power. However, it's not all bad news. We intend to stop a few days in Spain and then I'll manage to get a few uploaded for those that are interested :-)

With all the rain and the fact that we are travelling along the coast, our bikes are rusting fast and it has become a bit of a concern. We are on the lookout for a small tarp or something that can give them a bit of protection. Good camping stores are few and far between and we now realise we were spoilt for choice in The Netherlands.

One of the eyelets that holds Ali's back panniers broke off the main frame on the 22nd of this month. Luckily his bike has two sets. We will be searching for a welder in the next largest township.

Porto gave us the couple of days of sunshine desperately needed for the spring clean. When a tent remains wet for longer than a week, it gets that stale musty odour and it is not very pleasant to sleep in. Therefore everything - groundsheet, inner and outer tent and all the clothes that kept being placed back in a bag wet because they never got the chance to dry - got a good scrubbing. The bikes also got a good maintenance check and clean. It was a whole days work for us both, but very satisfying. There was just a little time over in the afternoon to do some grocery shopping and plan our cycle trip to the city of Porto the next day.

Porto is really is an eye-catching city with monuments and severely steep climbs everywhere you look. You won't see many local cyclists though and the reason is probably due to the annoying but fitting cobble-stoned streets. A few years of riding on them and you would develop severe RSI for sure! Nonetheless it was a fun day out, even though you have to keep you wits about you. There are some maniacs on the road! We are staying in a campsite out of town in Madalena. You just have to cross the river and follow the coast right along until you almost hit the water. It is a wonderful combination of rackety old factories on one side combined with the magnificent view of the houses moulded into the sloping side of the city. On a clear day, it's quite a spectacular ride.

There's two distinct social groups in Portugal: the young and the old. The younger generation are just like any other from a wealthy western culture: modern in every way thinkable: car, phone, fashion, music, shops, etc. The older generation on the other hand are a world away from this scene: often in traditional dress and quite shabby in appearance too. They still go about there daily tasks as if they lived 50 years ago. In fact, some areas we pass through are so poor I can hardly believe I am travelling in Europe. In one northern village earlier on in the trip, where we stopped to eat lunch, we were greeted by the toothless smiles of two old dears taking their wares down the road by mule and cart. Talk about a sense of time warping and a shame the camera was in the bag. The strange thing is, everyone seems to blend in well together here. From our perspective, it certainly makes for interesting viewing.

Our next destination along the coast was Praia de Mira (92km; 179m). It is a fairly flat and easy going ride. After weaving in and out of small and rather poverty ridden fishing villages along the coast, we decided to take the inland N109 before hitting the local "hooker territory" in a nearby pine forest. The day was glorious. After crossing at Sao Jacinto by ferry, from Aveiro onwards, I was completely mesmorised by the colours and patterns of the fully tiled houses. If there is any place that has mastered the bathroom tile, then it's got to be Portugal. House after house covered in these ceramic squares. Some very quaint and pretty; others way over the top and while the design might not be to everyone's taste, you still have to admire the originality of it, the colour and not to forget the architecture itself.

The campsite at Praia da Mira is just as quaint as some of the houses I had seen along the way and hence I was quite shocked to learn that, in the height of season, almost 400 caravans and tents stand in the serene grounds where our tent is now pitched. This is definitely one advantage of travelling out of season. But then the disadvantage is that all the usual amenities are not available and quite often the attached villages look like ghost-towns. This was much the case in Praia da Mira as well. We took a short stroll along the beach towards the very small town, looking for a cafe or restaurant to sit in and enjoy a coffee and the beautiful view of the ocean. The only place open, was unfortunately completely glassed in and the owner was throwing the most animated tantrum we'd both ever witnessed. Steam was literally puffing from his ears and spit bubbling from his mouth. He stomped his feet as he stormed around and left and entered the restaurant several times, not forgetting to shake his fist at the two younger girls doing some sort of business transaction on the table in front of us. His wife tried to calm things down and tears were pouring from her eyes. We have no idea what it was about as everything was in Portuguese, but it felt like we were in the middle of the set of "Goede Tijden, Slechte Tijden - a famous soapie in The Netherlands. Needless to say, the atmosphere was not particularly cosy.

The rain seemed to be back on our path again and for the next four days, in the wee hours of the morning, it came down. Always starting with an ever so light drizzle, it gave us time to wake up and make the dash outside to save the washing from an unnecessary drenching. The only good thing was it seemed to stick to this time slot and the rest of the day was fine and sunny. Just meant the tent was often packed away wet.

Got it all
From Praia de Mira to Sao Pedro de Moel (101km; 460m) we experienced every possible sort of road imaginable. From perfectly flat gliding highways to the bumpy nightmare of patchwork globs of bitumen. We literally follow the N109 until just after Figueira da Foz and then headed straight towards the coastal road. Surprisingly enough, we even came across a few spanking new cycle paths which was instant relief from the hair-brain antics of some of the truck drivers. There are more local cyclists in the coastal regions, but still not very many women on bikes, so girls, you can expect to get stared at should you embark on a similar journey.

By this stage in the trip, the cold temperatures, the damp clothing and sitting surfaces had had its toll with me and a UTI (Urinary Track Infection) was on the cards. Coupled with a bout of diarrhea, stomach cramps and nausea, I wasn't in the best of moods. The campsite had obviously had its own bashing from the weather and there were channel grooves dug by frantic campers all over the place. After previous experiences, we chose a high and dry-ish spot hoping that the overcast skies would clear. It was obvious we were in the middle of a tourist area as the prices in the supermarkets had almost doubled and the bread at the campsite store cost more than in a Dutch bakery. In general, Portugal is considerably cheap: coffee - €0.50 / tap beer : €0.80/ 200g baguette - €0.40/ fruit & vege for the day €4.00 in total.

We left the next day for Peniche (86km; 583m) and were blessed with beautiful blue skies. The coast line was stunning and you could see why thousands of travellers flock to this area every year. there are plenty of apartments for sale or in the process of being built for any of you wanting to invest. In fact the whole of Portugal is up for grabs by the looks of it. We wanted to stay a couple of days at the campsite on a beachfront road but the non-stop barking dogs, sand flies, mosquitoes, snails that thought our tent was a direct highway to the fig tree behind us, forced us to cut it short. Our next plan was to get to Lisbon as soon as possible. One thing going for the campsite was the restaurant; not only were we impressed, but it appeared to be a favourite with the locals too.

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