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Old 01-22-2012, 12:14 AM   #1
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An educative journey to Spain and Portugal, partly offroad

It's been a while since I wanted to write this on AdvRider, some of you may remember having read this in the german lc8.info travel report section.

I'm an IT freelancer ... hard, intense work, often troubleshooting where others messed up. The Upside: I get to see a lot of different companies and projects, work is rarely boring. And I can decide on my own how much holidays I want.The downside: Always the first to be layed off, as it's hard to fire long term employees in germany. For taking this risk I get payed well ... so I'm alternating between good income and no income at all. Sometimes it appears to be random, upper management decisions not related to performance: Just kick out everyone that costs a ton. Also, often I'm the buffer to call in or send packing when my clients wait for contracts to come in. So, back in 2007, I was fired from a one year contract with two weeks notice ahead, but being told that there is a chance to come back within two months.

What to do? Cringe? Look for a new job? I decided to make the best of it and go on a five weeks holiday: Three weeks of studying spanish at the best place possible, at the University of Salamanca, Spain. A week before and after riding my new KTM 990 Adventure through the Pyrennees and Portugal and whatever lies in between. Then see if the customer wants me back.

Preview: Me, learning spanish:


I've had a break of 8 years riding motorbikes ... back then no bike existed like I wanted it: Nimble, powerful, no need to stop when tarmac runs out, travel worthy. I've had a BMW R80 and a Triumph Tiger back in the 80ies and 90ies ... and quit, being bored by both of them. I thought biking was over for me, I'd seen it all. Tried horse riding and other exiting activities. When 8 years later, almost against my intention, I tried the KTM, I found my Orange Crush - this bike performed as if KTM had taken my dreams as a blue print. Little did I know back then ... I considered myself an experienced rider and onroad I probably was: Nevertheless it taught me driving like I've never done it before in 18 years of motorcycle career.

I hit the car train from Germany to Narbonne in southern France. It's an easy way to cover the first 1000+km, an overnight ride with acceptable comfort and usually nice travelling comanions. You surely know such pics, so I won't bore you with those.

One of my train traveling companions took me to the first highlight of this journey: The market hall in Narbonne looks like most mediterranean market halls: Food vendors of all kinds all over the place. Little industrial food, mostly good quality. One feature though differs: There are bars in the market hall with kitchens right in front of the bar keeper. You browse through the shops, buy stuff you like to eat and hand them over to the bar keeper: Do something with this stuff.




Delicious, I say! Stuffed and happy I said farewell and started towards the Pyrennees.

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Old 01-22-2012, 03:42 AM   #2
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Let's see where this is going. Subscribed.
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Old 01-23-2012, 04:05 AM   #3
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Quickly I entered the eastern Pyrennaees, enjoyed a small pass road ...



... running along a deep canyon



laborously hewn into the rock.



An old monastery, probably often cold and wet but easily defendable, huddles in the canyon.

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Old 01-23-2012, 05:21 AM   #4
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Next day I decided it was time for the educative aspect of my journey. I rode to Figueras and entered the Dali museum. Honestly said, as much as I like expressionistic and other modern art, this appeared to me as being weird for the sake of appearing weird. Note that many spaniards don't like Dali, as they consider him a pet artist of Franco - free to create whatever he wanted so Franco could demonstrate how "liberal" and "modern" his fascist regime was.

Some of the easier to understand pieces:



Sixtine chapel, anyone?



I admit, I liked this one:



Girls in front of the museum ... posting it provoked a jealous comment from my (now Ex-) girlfriend:



Truth be told, I'd probably be curious about the one on the left, were I 20-25 years younger. I imagined her having some artists soul inside that grim look. I didn't check though, I had other plans for the evening.

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Old 01-23-2012, 06:30 AM   #5
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I headed for the coast, proudly offroading a tad. First attempts with my packed bike:



Relaxing at the sea those reminded me of being hungry:



A simple beach ...



... restaurant near the famous El Bulli ...



... catered to my needs, providing me with fresh fish, skillfully grilled.



Further following the coastline gravel path I encountered a deadend. Ride back again? The bay was beautiful:



and it sported a diving hotel with only a few guests ... April isn't holiday season.



Discovering this convinced me of staying here for the night.



Excellent choice, the full body massage was tremendous. Reason enough to return again a year later.
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Old 01-24-2012, 12:27 AM   #6
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In the evening I shared the bar with the diving instructors who, void of guests, had little other purpose than talking me into trying to dive. My Ex had tried to talk me into diving before, so we could start a new sport together but eventually accepted that (though being a good swimmer) I could drown on a cup of tea. These guys however ... well, they didn't know me, no expectations, so finally I caved in and agreed to give it a shot while I had the oportunity.



Turned out, it wasn't as bad as I expected but I prefer to stay above water. Sailing I love, on a boat I feel fine. Greatest respect to people like Laura Dekker, the young girl that sailed the world - living a dream is something wonderful. When I was young I was dreaming about sailing round the world like she did but I skipped that dream: On a sailing boat you see little more than water, coastlines and harbours. Traveling the world on a motorcycle is it for me, the Big Adventure. Nonetheless I am convinced, that RTW is not necessary - you can find adventure even in crowded Europe.

I like that hotel ... and it is a good starting point to any spain journey if you come from central Europe.



Should someone try to find it: From Roses follow the small coastal road north ... when you see the signs for El Bulli you know you're on the right track ... when you reach gravel, continue ... at the end of the deadend you'll find it. Or check googlemaps for Hotel Cala Joncols. (The road coming from the north is closed.) During holiday times it is probably a good idea to reserve a room.

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Old 01-24-2012, 12:42 AM   #7
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WAO LOVELY PICS
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Old 01-24-2012, 01:23 AM   #8
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After staying for two nights and a lazy day in between with just an hour of practice gravel riding and watching natures beauty ...



... I felt it was time to enter the Pyrennaes again. First though, I wanted to find a special place ... back in 1987 with my then girlfriend we had discovered a beautiful small bay private enough to bathe naked and make love. It had stuck to my memory, one of the most beautiful days and places on that journey. Would I be able to discover it again, twenty years later?

From beautiful Cadaques ...







... skipping the typical touristical harbour bar scenes (one of the most beautiful places to get a first shot of real spanish café after entering spain from the north, highly recommended but I was in no mood for crowds) and instead looking for quiet places ...



... I followed the small road through volcanic wonders ...



to Cabo de Creus and eventually found our little bay.



Not so special, huh? Well, let's have a closer look:



Deteriorating volcanic rocks in many forms reveal beauty.



However, no bathing this time, sea urchins had taken over the place and I didn't want to risk hurting my feet with their needles at the beginning of my journey. And nobody here to make love to either, awww.
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Old 01-24-2012, 03:30 AM   #9
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Slightly disappointed, nonetheless happy to have found the place of my memories again and in awe about its beauty, I turned north, back to the Pyrennaes. Further up along the road I saw a lightly dressed old man hitchhiking ... what the heck, he carried only a small bag, apparently on his way back home from the beach, and I was in a good mood so I offered him the backseat. To my surprise he gladly accepted. Maybe hitchhiking isn't that easy for old men ...

He climbed up, squeezed between me and the big bags. After just a few meters I knew he had never before sat on a motorbike. Stiff, not leaning into the curve, a little afraid obviously. So I took it slowly, allowing him to gain confidence. We cruised for a few km, traffic was increasing anyway, I was back on easily accessable touristic territory. Quickly he eased into the curves, seemed to enjoy the ride, surprising me again. A curvy coastal road, too big cars driving too slowly. When I lost my patience, kicked down into smaller gear and pulled the throttle hard to overtake a particularly annoying car in midcurve, it was his turn for surprise, and he cried out. But no complaint came from him, though I wondered if I had scared him. Poor old man, I thought, I'm sorry. In the next village, some fast, curvy km later he slapped my back, time for him to get off. The wild grin he gave me when saying thank you and good bye convinced me that he had enjoyed the adrenaline rush and was already thinking about getting a driving licence himself.

Having done my good deed of the day I looked for the next gravel road and let the KTM climb up to the next mountains. Wine yards gave a nice scenery for my picnic and a little sleep. Further up one of those many spanish and french mountain forts



allowed for a little exploration trip.

The day ended with looking for a camping site or a hotel in the Pyrennaes - not as easy as I had expected: In April higher up most of them are still closed.
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Old 01-24-2012, 12:17 PM   #10
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Eventually we'll come to the first careful solo offroad part.

After refuelling I asked some local dirtbike riders for directions ... follow these signs, they told me:



Which I did. Easy gravel to start with, at first. I had a map and no GPS yet, so I took chances and often ended up in deadends. And again, like yesterday, I found signs pointing to camping sites only to find them closed after riding ten to 15km:



Backtracking I somehow lost the easy gravel roads



Of course, as always with these kind of pics, in reality it was much steeper than you can see on the image. Note that I was still using the factory mounted Pirelli Scorpion MT90 .. ok for roads and easy gravel but not for rougher terrain. After passing some ruins I found a nice single track ...



... which I decided to follow - and soon got stuck:



This incident almost turned into serious trouble. I unmounted the panniers, found a spot with less steep walls, laboriously turned the bike around, letting the machine push it uphill, rolling down a bit, motoring uphill again, turning the handlebar with each step. So far, so fine. Unfortunately back then I still had the legally enforced light-always-on switch. Starting the engine often, possibly combined with forgetting to switch off the ignition for moments (means: lights on), the battery emptied quickly, Have you ever heard this sound when pressing the starter? "klackklackklackklackklack" in quick succesion. Usually it means you're fucked, no start anymore without external help or a mountain to run down and gain speed. Do that amidst a mountaineous wood with nothing but bad single trails around for several km. I heard it for the first time on the KTM, was thorougly impressed but not as scared as I should have been. Well, Lady Luck favours fools - after ten minutes of waiting the battery had recovered enough to start the bike. Never again did I get a second chance when hearing that sound, this moment was the one time exception from the rule. I let the engine run to recharge a bit, remounted my luggage and bailed out.
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Old 01-24-2012, 05:54 PM   #11
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Old 01-25-2012, 01:29 AM   #12
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Thanks for the nice feedback, guys. It helps keeping focus on continuing the story.

Although I had bailed out, soon my curiosity and adventurous spirit won over again. Two hours later I discovered a 4x4 roadsign and followed its lead, thinking that where 4x4 vehicles can pass I should fit through too. It began as a well maintained gravel road, beautiful, lots to see, easy to ride, fitting the offroad Newbie that I was. Soon though my path finders skills were called for:


Which way to turn to? I tried one that seemed to fit the general direction I was heading (i.e. west) and found myself amidst a stretch of broom bushes, the path narrowing in again. Was I still on the right track? Not that it really mattered to me, I sucked in the beauty of the place.



Still, I wanted to cover some distance today, after having spent a day at the divers hotel. So I turned back and found the 4x4 road again. It wound for many km through woods, along steep ascends and descends. Again, the next picture doesn't tell it all. The washouts were axle-deep, a challenge to my riding skills back in 2007. Nonetheless, due to the shere beauty (am I repeating that word overly?) of the scenery I enjoyed the ride.



Oh, and by the way, private property, you may ride but if you fail, your own fault:



Uhm, french? Somewhere I must have crossed the border again. After another deadend and realizing it had become late afternoon I decided, I'd had enough for today and headed south for spain again, looking for a small hotel.
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Old 01-25-2012, 12:26 PM   #13
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The day ended soon. After passing a beautiful ruin



that caught my attention



and could easily be the background for some weird movie



I made haste to run from bad weather, not overly successfully,



and find a place to sleep. The one hotel in the area that still had vacant rooms looked pompuous but was actually far inferior than its looks, apparently retailored from High Society resort to cater to bus loads of elderly tourists. Nonetheless better than setting up my tent under these conditions, and even though I came in later than their usual kitchen schedule, they provided me with a meal.

Not mentioned yet: Some extremely attractive Ladies sitting in cars with open doors along the road from France to Spain and waving at me. Once when I was young I had promised myself never to pay for sex ... but wow, these Ladies were tempting. Wonder why they work on a truck drivers street ...
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Old 01-26-2012, 04:11 PM   #14
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Roaring aircondition led to headache in the morning. Lousy breakfast didn't help. Still half asleep I packed up and left this place of misery.

A curvy, curvy pass back up into the Pyrennaes helped. Two R6 came up from behind: Fending them off for a while, overtaking car by car, helped too. Adrenaline started to kick in. When I finally waved them to pass they waved back with a foot, thanks. They thundered ahead, letting me know this is their home track by setting break points that only someone who knows the road by heart can use ... much too late for me, just waking up, not knowing the road ahead, with holiday luggage. When I reached the peak, I had almost forgotten them but they flashed me an appreciating - respect for the journey? For halfway keeping up with them? I don't know.

Having lost my map I asked them about directions. Being in the eastern Pyrennaes, asking for the way to Bilbao apparently was a bit too general direction ... they looked confused for a moment. The best tarmac you'll find heading north into France they told me. There's a smaller road too, bad tarmac though, not so interesting. When I specifically asked for offroads and "carreteras sin asfalto" they needed a while to grasp the concept. Finally one of them told me he'd seen something further down next to a stable but didn't know where it led to.

I tried it ... started boring but eventually the broad gravel road turned into smaller ...



and then into barely visible tracks:



Though late april, things went frosty:





... and for the first time the big twin fell asleep:



After finding back into civilization ...



... a not so modern civilization (note, we're back to nowadays France, one of the top industry nations) ...



... I made haste to Andorra, hoping to buy a tax free DSLR ... but astonishingly found only cheap consumer digicams. No luck for me and maybe I was lucky in that as the spanish customs officer almost opted for thoroughly searching my luggage.

Heading west I found a beautiful Casa Rural (a finca offering bad&breakfast): http://www.elvilar.com/ A fine bed, an even better dinner together with the family, very cozy. Before cooking they showed me the one big mushroom they were about to turn into a sauce, told me to smell - intense fragrances as if I were in a deep forest enveloped me. Wow! Strong recommendation, should you be in the area.
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Old 01-27-2012, 12:55 AM   #15
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The entry to the Casa Rural ...



... and their happy dog that insisted on playing with me.

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