#03 – Between cities and mountains in Portugal and Spain
After spending two days in Santiago de Compostela, my first main destination, it was time to go more south. I quickly scanned the highlights of the pilgrim city and spend most of my time behind my laptop in the communal area of the hostel, working on my video about the trip from The Netherlands to here. The contrast of the two major things in this trip, cycling and video making, is like day and night. The one is outside in close contact with the nature, while the other one is rather passive and only existing in the data world. To keep the trip enjoyable it’s a pleassure to switch to one another whenever I feel up to it.
Cycling to Portugal
That day, when I left Santiago de Compostela, I came in touch with the sea for the first time in this trip. The wide blue blanket got my attention right from the moment I got a glimpse of it. I couldn’t resist the need of touching the water with my feet. Later, I continued my trip to meet my hosts of tonight. The couple were making a board game to spend their free time in a useful way.
The couple told me about a route along the coast. It was very pleasant to ride on the straight and light-hilly route, having the calmness of the ocean on my right side and the impressive mountains on the other side. The need of fresh water became higher and the availability became less. I passed some hikers who were doing their pilgrimage. We greeted each other and I wished them a “bon camino”. At the end of the sunny day I came closer to the border to Portugal, which was formed by a river. I could cross the river by ferry, but I didn’t come this far to cross borders by other transportation methods than my bike. I was so excited to enter Portugal, so I forced myself to cycle upstream to find a bridge.
I’ve been in Portugal once, for a wedding of my aunt and uncle who run a camping in Campo Maior, the east of Portugal. Back then, I just got a glimpse of the Portuguese people and their culture. But crossing through Portugal by bike would probably show me a totally different spectrum of the country.
And there I stood, under the sign which says “Portugal”, thrilled by the achievement. The sun started to set and I had to find a new camping spot. Therefore, I needed to cycle uphill to enter the rural area. Slightly nervous, I was hoping that I could find a small path beside the main road to enter. Then I found a steep path which seemed good, and I followed it by pushing my bike up. A true treasure was awaiting for me.
There appeared to be a small waterfall, with a flat piece of green grass around it. Absolutely wonderful. I pitched up my tent as quick as possible and took the chance to sweep off the salt on my body by having a shower under the small waterfall.
Meeting Portuguese hospitality
For the past 3 weeks I’ve had a lot of problems with by tire and inner tube. Every day, and if was lucky every few days, I got a flat tire. The day after the waterfall-shower I got a new one, just before I arrived in Braga. There was definitely something wrong with my wheel, and I desperately wanted to fix it. I tried to fix the puncture in the shade of a house near the road. The family of the house noticed I was struggling and invited me in their garden and offered me a bottle of water. The son of the family showed me a bike shop just 50 m from their house and eventually I was good to continue.
In Braga I was hosted by João and girlfriend. He brought me to another bike shop to buy inner tubes with a liquid inside them, which will seal the puncture as soon as their appears one. João then showed me the beauty of Bom Jesus, a cathedral on top of a mountain. Every must fell in love with the view I had at that moment, a thousand lights scattering in the shadow that full upon the city by the falling sun. The day got topped off by the dinner we had at his mothers place. She prepared bacalhau, a Portuguese meal with codfish, which can be prepared in a thousand different ways.
The next day I cycled to another big city, Porto. Entering the city wasn’t very nice, because of the many cars who don’t really respect cyclers. But it was definitely worth all the effort. When I entered one of the many giant bridges above the mighty river, and saw the two cities Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia on the slopes, I was deeply impressed.
Once again, I received a warm welcome from my new Warmshowers hosts Rui and Joana. It is just brilliant how people who share the same passion of cycling, can be so helpful and care taking. They offered me to stay two nights, and since I promised myself to take it more easy than my rush to Santiago de Compostela, I accepted the generous offer.
Entering the mountains
I mixed myself with the tourists into the city of port the following day. The crowd and the noise on the boulevard, the river and the bridges, the old houses towering above each other and the well performing street artists melted together into a not easy to forget experience.
After visiting four large cities in one week, I was hunkering to be more in the nature and the mountains. My wonderful hosts advised me to follow the river Douro. Slowly, houses changed into mountains, and cars into birds and trees.
For two days I was mostly alone and enjoyed the view I had and the quietness that was around. I climbed a mountain to an altitude of 1,500 m and got rewarded by a stunning look on both sided of the ridge.
I found myself lucky enough to find another host in the country side. Francisco, his wife and his three kids hosted me. Here I met one of the most warmhearted families I met so far. During dinner the grandpa and grandma are invited, who live in the house opposite of my host. The daughter made carrot soup and afterwards there was rice with chicken. They even made a little bit extra because they knew I would be tired and hungry, which was just amazing.
The hospitality of the people blasted me away. And the landscape had the same beauty as their owners. It also changed very quickly. First there were mountains with fields like staircases, and later I cycled between whale sized rock formations, scattered around the green fields. For 2 nights I camped in the wild. It was fairly easy to find good spots and I start to enjoy it more and more every time.
A good coffee in the morning is one of the few luxuries I enjoy during these days. Slowly I start to adapt more to a life without too much possessions and luxury resources such as electricity, showers, fresh water and eating whatever I like. I mostly cook very easy dinner.
And the more I appreciate the moments when I have semi-unlimited access to these resources. I reached the campsite, Os Anjos, of my uncle and aunt in Campo Maior as a last destination in Portugal. It was nice to be among people I actually know, however, I’ve seen them only once since I’m grown up. It was high season and the campsite was full with other Dutch people, which made me feel at home.
I went to visit a chapel, decorated by bones of people. They are the remains of a huge explosion of an ammunition base in the area. The door of the chapel was open, so I entered. There were four men inside, and told me it was actually closed, but I was able to come in anyway.
Departing Europe via Spain
After spending three nights at the campsite of my uncle and aunt, it was time to hit the pedals again and cross the border to Spain, which was only one hour of cycling. Just after the border crossing, four Portuguese cyclers passed me. After some chatting, I asked them if there was a nice cafe to drink a coffee somewhere. They knew a place and they invited me to join them, but therefore we had to enter Portugal again. I guess the country wanted to show me their fantastic hospitality again, since the coffee and a sandwich got paid by the men.
I cycled another four days in Spain. The rolling hills of Dehesa and Andalusia brought my mind in a meditative state quite often, in which I started to dream about my adventures in Africa. When I arrived in Arifa, the city from I would take the ferry to Morocco, I dived into the ocean water.
My trip in Europe has ended, and it has been great! There were so many people who shared a piece of their life with me, and everything turned out so well. The mood is still high and I like to cycle every day. But I’m still looking for something, and I don’t know what it is and how to obtain it. I haven’t really encountered my inner self yet. And I didn’t expect it would come this fast either. As my trip continues, I reckon that piece by piece, bit by bit, I’ll find traces of my own identity. There is no rush.