We had entered a region with paths and roads frequently used by pilgrims on their way to Santiago. This meant that we were frequently wished “bon camino” or told that we were going the wrong way before being asked where were going. One driver even took it upon himself to drive slowly next to us and then pull over right in front of us, blocking our path, to tell us we weren’t on the camino trail. Good intentions, but misplaced.
Both Portugal and Spain have a large number of dogs, both stray and “kept”, and most dogs seem to have a magnetic attraction to bicycles on the move, so it is unsurprising that dogs have made a frequent appearance all the way along our trip so far. I hate to see a dog in a cage or chained up with only a circle of 2m radius to explore, but when we’ve been cycling I’ve often found myself feeling greatly relived when I hear the clink of a fully extended chain (inbetween the frenzied barking), suggesting that the canine isn’t going to be able to investigate its potential two-wheeled chase any closer. On occasions where we have been chased, following the advice of Maica, we’ve found that if we stop pedalling and just ignore them, we soon become much less interesting targets. The dogs stop running and barking wildly and just come and sniff our smelly shoes.
On one occasion however, this wasn’t the case: happily freewheeling down a hill out of a village, we realised we had a chaser. A rather svelte and speedy looking greyhound wanted to come and join us on our journey. He wasn’t barking, so we continued expecting him to get worn out or bored before we got too far from his home. Three kms later, we still had our companion. We stopped. Pedro tried to cycle down a side road that led back to his village to get him to follow him, take the lead and then head home. This worked briefly, but no sooner was he 100m ahead did he decide to turn round and find us again. With no number on his collar and a big hill between us and his home, lazily we continued onwards pondering how we could get him to turn around. Two kms further, having realised his blatant disregard for the highway code, we stopped again for fear he wouldn’t make it much further. As dim as he seemed with his love of running towards oncoming cars, he clearly wasn’t a stray. Should we cycle to the next town to find a vet and see if he has a chip? Hail down a friendly looking driver to take him back up the hill? Taking him along with us was also discussed, but if three weeks in this made our potential menagerie already be four in number (see soggy kittens of last week) we decided this wasn’t such a practical idea, unless we were to get a trailer. Thankfully just as we were going for option #1, a car with an enthusiastically waving driver appeared. It was indeed his owner, who bundled the friendly but dopey dog into his car whilst thanking us and winding up the windows, giving us the impression that this wasn’t the first or the last time his dog would try to join some cyclists for a ride!
Sooner than expected, just a few days after leaving Ourense, the new raincoat proved it’s worth. Days of long, hot afternoons turned into hot but temperamental afternoons with dark clouds, rumbles of thunder and heavy heavy rain. On most occasions we’d look at the clouds, listen to the thunder, talk about finding a hostel to stay in, but then pedal on regardless. It was only water after all, and last time I checked we weren’t witches from the Wizard of Oz and we wouldn’t melt into a puddle on contact with a bit of H20.
Our Spanish cultural education continued when our first Sunday struck. Note to selves, Sunday is a day of rest so don’t go around expecting shops to be open.
After coming across a particularly fruit-laden cherry tree, where the owner came out offering us bags to pick even more than we already had, we found ourselves in Ponferrada. Having found the first shop we had pinpointed closed, we asked a friendly-looking old man for directions to one that might be open. He dutifully jumped in his car and told us to follow him. Despite taking a bit of a round-a-bout route and somewhat over-estimating our typical cycling speed, he did indeed take us to a small, but open, mercado.
After thanking him and wandering around inside in circles a few times, we left with two bananas and some tomatoes. No quite the lunch that we had been planning. Sure that something else would be open, we foolishly pedalled onwards.
20km onwards, no further open shops had been found. Over heating and low on sugar, we stopped at a café hoping to have some lunch. Alas they only had pinchos. As munched on our patatas bravas (me) and pulpo (Pedro), and drank the beerand cider that we just had to buy to get the snacks we pondered our next move: cook some rice in the street, order more drinks until we had enough pinchos, find a restaurant that would cook us some lunch.
The rumbling clouds and our rumbling stomachs made us go for the latter. Wheeling or bikes back up the hill, we rolled across a place with a very meaty and gluteny looking menu del dia. Dietary requirements explained however, the people inside were most accomodating. Bicycles wheeled through to the garden, I have never been so happy to eat an omelette. I don’t think that they are always this delicious. Our weariness must have been apparent, despite the forecast rain not being far away, they set about getting cushions for the benches so that we could have a nap.
As the thunder grew louder and clouds greyer we decided that it was time to leave. We headed out back to the main street with many onlookers staring at us like we were crazy for heading into the oncoming storm. The previous days of afternoon rain hadn’t been so bad, so this would be ok, right? We had 25km to go, to get to a picnic site that we knew had a covered spot (thanks park4night) which we could pitch our tent under for a bit of shelter from the storm.
Pedaling like the (with?) wind, we headed out of town towards our shelter. The clouds were darker and the thunder more thundery than it had been on previous afternoons. It was raining so hard, rivers were forming down the sides of the road, but the harder it rained somehow the funnier it became. As the rain eased, I stopped to check if the little white stones I had been seeing were little white stones or hail. They were icy and cold and in perfect spheres as big as a chickpea (cooked, not dried). It was definitely hail, and we were definitely lucky to have somehow missed cycling through that icy shower. Maybe this time we should have considered staying in a hostel…
We finally made our way to our camp spot for the night. Despite having a roof, the floor was covered in puddles but we found a dry spot of concrete and pitched our tent – happy that our hours of tent deliberation to choose a free-standing one had paid off. The picnic spot even had a fireplace, but alas, given the downpour there wasn’t a piece of dry wood to be found. We enjoyed the relative civilization of cooking at a picnic bench nevertheless, and dutifully collapsed in a heap.
Doing some (soap-free) laundry in the stream the next morning, several local villagers (all older men) wandered past on their morning stroll. As each one passed we gathered enough information to know that there had been a landslide up ahead on the road we had been planning to take and would have to make a diversion – back up the steep road we had slid down the night before (exclaiming we hoped we didn’t have to back that way) and back to the main road. We slowly cycled back up, at the same speed that most of the guys were walking, and happily found a well stocked little shop to replenish our supplies.