Several weeks out of date… But trying to catch up on our slack blogging attempts…
It began with a message from my dad saying that he’d read reports that Spain and Portugal were expecting a heat wave, with hot air from the Sahara making temperatures as high as 44 degrees. Initially I laughed this warning off – it was already hot, how could it get any hotter! Oh the naivety.
Indeed the afternoons proved that they were quite capable of becoming significantly warmer than we had experienced over the past six weeks. We have no idea of what temperatures were actually reached, those given on pharmacy signs varied wildly and weather forecasts only gave temperatures in the shade. Our only measure was the affect on our bodies, the amount of water we were drinking, and the state of the chocolate in Pedro’s bag and the hour at which the solid/liquid transition was made. It has to be said that we laughed when we found out the temperatures that we had been experiencing here, in comparison to those in the UK during their heatwave. If only it was just 30° here too.
We decided to keep as far north as we could, whilst still heading towards Barcelona, to avoid as much of the heat as possible. The catch with this decision being that the north east of Spain is some-what mountainous (who knew?). We would be rewarded with good views however, and typically a climb up in the morning was compensated by a freewheel down in the afternoon.
And so we found ourselves in the Pre-Pyrenees. When we left in the morning (at 9h if not before) the heat of the sun could already be felt, although once we started pedaling the cycle-generated breeze was sufficient to counteract the warmth for an hour or two. By midday you could feel the sun unpleasantly hot on your skin and the water in our bottles warm enough to make a good green tea. Any fountain was a welcome sight to replenish our water supplies and to soak our heads and t-shirts under the cool water, much to the amusement of any passers-by. The refreshment wouldn’t necessarily last long, infact it was shocking how little time it would take a drenched t-shirt to become bone dry again. But the shower was welcome whilst it lasted, until we began to empathise once again with a melting ice-cream.
Frequently one of us would stop suddenly in our tracks, as we were blinded by a bead of sun-cream infused sweat trickling down our face and into our eyes. Like the high-pitched buzz of a mosquito trapped inside the tent, we were reminded how the size of an annoyance is not proportional to the pain or irritation that it can induce.
By 1330 we didn’t want to be in the sun any more and would seek shade to hide in, to nap and eat our lunch. We learnt the hard way to check where the sun was in the sky to make sure our patch of shade would last a good number of hours rather than disappearing at 15h. Preferably our lunch spot would be by a river or a lake or at the very least a water fountain, so that we could lower our body temperatures and wash the salt off our skin before eating. Our siesta would last at least until 1630, but often until 18h before we would consider cycling again.
We would cycle for a few more hours before finding a, preferably mosquito-free, spot to pitch our tent for the night. We would swim or have a baby-wipe shower to clean ourselves of that delicious mix of sweat, dirt and sun cream as best we could before collapsing in an exhausted sleepy heap in our tent. We’d keep the doors closed to keep out the bugs despite being desperate for more air to flow through the tent. The sleeping bags remained firmly in their stuff sacks whilst we forced ourselves to climb into the liners, at least halfway, before falling asleep.
The description doesn’t sound that cheerful, and at times it was quite hard going – feeling like we were in survival mode to keep covering some distance on our bikes each day. But it definitely wasn’t all doom and gloom and sun cream. We plotted our route each day to be as close to rivers as we could and so as a result we swam in some amazingly crystal clear water. The heat also justified expanding our ice-cream budget and we found that most supermarkets sell an amazingly cheap lemon sorbet (although obviously not as good as the one from Nannarella). We learnt to appreciate every small patch of shade, the wonders of a any cool breeze and overly air-conditioned supermarkets – our cycles up the hills were punctuated by each tree that offered some brief protection from the sun and we would cheer when a truck passed leaving a cool (but smelly) draft of air in it’s wake.
The hottest of the heatwave finished with a dramatic rainy downpour on an exceptionally humid day on our way towards Barcelona. As we passed other cyclists hiding under bridges, we cycled on gleefully embracing being soaked through with rain rather than sweat and splashing through puddles as we went. We were greeted by the slightly soggy but smiling faces of Ian and Miyu, and we caught our first sights of the sea in nearly two months as they gave us a guided tour back to their house and a very welcome shower.