The mystery man – Ivan

We knew that we were due to cross the border from Castille y Leon to the Basque Country. Crossing a regional border is typically quite unnoticeable, but we didn’t know that this particular border would be such a natural one. We had a gradual climb (slog) up from Berberena, but when we reached the top, we didn’t just reach the Basque Country – it was layed out before us on the plateau below. Despite being hazy, the views from the top were spectacular. Frustratingly, we had no lunch in our panniers and as per usual the closest shop was due to close in half an hour. And it was 10km away. Our daydreaming had to end as we tested our brakes and plummeted down the switchbacks going across the cliff edge.

Due to the gradient, the descent didn’t take us much time at all and we made it to town before seista time. Just. As I wandered round the tiny shop, hunting for anything that could become lunch (the only tortilla had chorizo in it 🙁 ), Pedro was approached by an interested passer by.

Initially asking how happy we were with our panniers bags, he then showed interest in our trip and began asking about our previous stop and our next destination. When he realised where we’d come from, he said that we needn’t have lost so much height as now we’d have to cycle back up to the same elevation we’d been at an hour before and that there was a much flatter route heading towards Vitoria-Gastiez that we could have taken. Pedro quickly dismissed this suggestion, simply replying “but then we would not have seen that amazing cliff” pointing to the landscape behind.

After a few suggestions of places to camp close to our next expected destination, the offer of staying at the farm he was in the process of setting up stayed in the air. Mystery man got back in his car and drove away before I came out of the shop. No contacts were exchanged, no names, no numbers. In the end, the only information Pedro had was that he was a “guia de montaña” and that his farm was in a village closeby called Delika.

Pedro retold this meeting and the offer of a place to stay to me whilst we were eating our lunch in the shade of some trees in a nearby park. I was skeptical. We had just made a plan for the next few days and I had it in my head that we would execute it. It was only 15h, and this guy only lived half an hours cycle away. We had no name, no address, I wasn’t sure that we’d find him. I was feeling tired and didn’t feel like making a potentially pointless diversion.

We had a nap and talked some more, still unsure of what we would do. I’d woken up feeling sleepier than before our doze, so now the idea of only having to cycle another 5km that day didn’t seem like such a bad one. We found a route out of Delika that would put us back on course if we didn’t find this guys farm, and so we gave it a shot. Someone in the village might recognize mystery man from the few pieces of information we had. The village was only small after all.

As we pedaled into Delika, we stopped by a plum tree and filled a bag, as a potential thankyou for the people that we may or may not be just about to stay with. I was glad for the slight sugar boost as this short cycle was feeling like it was taking more effort than it should.

Person #1 that we approached in the village only lived here at the weekends, and didn’t know any mountain guides. We went on our way.

On a bench in the centre of the town were two ladies sharing the time of day. They were sitting on the village bench, they were sure to be local. Pedro retold his description. They ummed and erred and talked amongst themselves. “He has greyish hair and is maybe in his 40’s”, Pedro interjected. More discussion ensued. “Oh, and he drives a white van”. Boom. They knew who it was.

We were given directions several times, verbally and with hand actions; the hand action rarely agreeing with the direction given (but I’m not one to talk). With what we thought was enough information we went on our way.

Down an unpaved road, we found a gate to a field full of fruit trees and hidden behind them a pre-fab house. It was looking promising. Pedro rung his bell a few times and eventually ventured inside. No one was home, but there was a sign for Himalayan trekking on the door of the house. This had to be the right place.

Back at the gate, just as we’re wondering what to do, two figures walked up the track. Unsure at a distance, but confirmed with a wave, it was mystery man and his partner. They welcomed us into their farm, inviting us to stay for as long as we needed, before introducing themselves (and their very friendly dog). Mystery man, who we now knew as Ivan, expressed his amazement that we were able to find his place at all.

They gave us a tour of their small but beautiful farm and pointed us in the direction of the closest swimming hole. After a refreshing dip, we rejoined them around a fire cooking dinner in their outdoor kitchen sharing tales of our respective travels.

As it began to rain, we all retreated to bed for an early night. Even as we climbed into our sleeping bags we were still unsure if we would stay another night or pedal off in the morning. Ivan had said it was due to rain, but we could cope with that.

After not much sleep during the night, I woke the next morning however feeling more than a little under the weather. With my stomach gurgling, limbs devoid of energy and joints aching, the decision was made for us – I wasn’t going anywhere today.

I soon emptied my stomach of whatever was upsetting it and retreated to the tent, where I spent much of the rest of the day whilst Pedro helped fix up one of their bikes. As I rested, despite having met us less than 24 hours before, Ivan left Pedro the keys to his house with the instruction to make ourselves at home whilst they went away for a few days. His trust and kindness were inspiring, and all through a chance encounter and a good dose of luck.

Ivan’s farm was the perfect place for rest and recuperation. Nestled at the end of the village with a view of the Salvada mountain range, the farm was full of fruit trees (perfect for hanging a hammock) and peaceful, so incredibly peaceful. Facilities were simple by most people’s standards, but luxurious for us and completely off-grid – they had dug a dry compost toilet, solar panels for power, a natural grey-water filtering system and a hose pipe hanging in a tree (fed by a well) by means of a shower. We took mental notes and ended up staying for three nights.

By our last day there I was feeling much better. We explored other swimming spots along the river and my diet advanced beyond plain white rice to brown rice and buckwheat with veggies. We sat eating our last dinner there by the fire (to ward off the mosquitoes), counting the carriages on the giant freight trains that passed through the valley.

We left the next morning with warmed hearts, sorry that we couldn’t say thank you in person to our kind kind hosts. Hopefully our paths will cross at some point in the future and we can offer the same hospitality, but fingers crossed neither of them are sick!

4 thoughts on “The mystery man – Ivan

  1. sekeeta says:

    It wasn’t the unwashed plums that made you ill was it Sarah? Fortunate that you were in such a good place to get over it.
    xxx mum

  2. Lauren Ray says:

    I love how generous people are! And so lucky that you came across this guy just at the time you were feeling unwell. However, my question is what did you end up eating from the shop (given the only tortilla had meat in it)? The suspense is killing me ? Love you! Xx

    • Sarah Crowley says:

      Aah, we were super lucky indeed. But the lunch… Hmm, well if there was no tortilla, it was probably some chickpea-tomato-avocado concoction… Most likely with an overly generous side portion of peanuts or potato chips 😉 …. All eaten from a shared tupperware box with a spork … ?

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