Wizard wise

So every cloud has a silver lining and because I am back in Zaragoza yesterday Pedro took me to see a man called Carlos. Carlos is a retired car mechanic who lives in a small village close to the city and has a collection of old, wild and wacky bikes. He is the sort of person who can fix/make anything and so some are restored bikes whilst others are self built objects of insanity. It was nice to see the collection and speak as well as I could with Carlos, however it’s a shame to know that the bikes are never ridden and he is really an untapped resource in terms of his knowledge and experience.

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In you are wondering about the tube sign, they were apparently made in a factory in Zaragoza at one point. The wheel has a wooden rim!

Baby, I’m an anarchist

I have been to Spain before but an extended stay has really taught me a lot more about this country than one week as a tourist. I could wax lyrical about how friendly and welcoming the Spanish people are. I could point out that the stereotype of ¨mañana¨ is actually pretty true. However to a degree George Orwell pretty much summed up all of the relevant points in the first chapter of Homage to Catalonia, so I suggest you read that. Like that book the Spain I have seen is one of political divide. There is a definite left wing streak to this country and most of the people I have stayed with have clear associations with left wing politics. This ranges from anti-fascist stickers to libraries of anarchist literature. Yet clearly there is also a right wing side to Spain, it’s still an advanced capitalist society. Right wing and fascist grafitti can still be found. In fact when it comes to grafitti there appears to be in places an ongoing battle between Fascists and Anarchists/Communists with each side scrawling over the others symbols and slogans.

In terms of visual atmosphere Spain is more openly political and more openly anarchist in it’s views than the UK. There is far more anarchist grafitti than you see in any British city and the anarcho-syndicalist union the CNT in the industrial north at least has offices in most major towns and cities. This hasn’t necessarily translated for me into many political conversations due to the language barriers. However those I have had have been intesting with many people happy to talk general ideas but not really give much away in terms of their own views. One conversation did highlight that the government is outlining the usual capitalist formula for prosperity through a return to growth in the economy and yet there are some who are suggesting that maybe growth isn’t the answer. The anti-growth concept is not one that I have heard of being present in the British political arena. A largely fringe idea in the UK that perhaps is being practiced more than spoken about. I haven’t seen anything though that I would view as major political action. Although today students in Zaragoza are on strike to highlight the issue of rising university fees and I believe that there will be a demonstration tomorrow. People don’t seem to really inject their politics into their daily lives although I guess we perhaps don’t in the UK either.

So Spain is in effect despite it’s visible high level of left wing and anarchist thought ultimately politically not much different to the UK. In peoples day to day lives they are appear more focused on making ends meet and putting food on the table. The economic crisis has left people often in precarious situations with regard to job security. Perhaps the fact that the anarchist tradition in Spain is anarcho-synidcalist and related to trade unions (and therefore work) means that people although not happy with their lot in the capitalist system continue to ‘play the game’ in order to survive. My current thoughts are whether were more anarcho-primitive or individualistic ideas mixed into that pot people would be looking at more radical alternatives to the system that has so badly let them down. It confuses me but I don’t have the language skills to dig deeper and find out more.

Postscript: To follow on from the last post, my leg seems to be healing well so I am hopeful for getting back on the bike again early next week. Also in that post I used the name Lleida for the city I was in. Lleida is the catalan name as it is a town in Catalonia, the ‘Spanish’ name is Lérida. Regional languages, ambiguous signage, odd grammar and the same word to mean different things. It makes life interesting!

Watch it burn

Sometimes in life things go badly wrong.

Yesterday started well. My warmshowers host in Zaragoza, Pedro took me to speak to the class he teaches. It’s a vocational course based around cycle tourism and running commercial cycle tours. The students who were in their late teens and early twenties were great and all seemed fairly interested in what I am doing with lots of questions.

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Then I set off east from Zaragoza. I was originally going to follow the Ebro river but the GR99 path was flooded so I doubled back and joined the main road. The main road is busy with lots of trucks but the hard shoulder which I tend to ride on in Spain was wide. Before I knew it with a very strong tailwind I had passed the 50 mile mark and was flying.

After lunch I just kept going and the first real climb of the day at 80 miles didn’t lower my spirits. Finally I ticked off my first century for the trip and the year pretty much exactly as I rolled into Lleida. A quick visit to the supermarket and it was back out of town to find somewhere to camp before the light was gone for the day.

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This is where it all goes wrong. I had the tent up but as it had been put away wet and so I was letting it dry before unpacking my sleeping bag. So I concentrated on getting some food cooked and refueling. A split second of stupidity perhaps through tiredness, perhaps just not thinking. Suddenly ‘wumph’ my leg is on fire and so is the tent! I am still wearing my knee warmers and the right one is burning. I panic and unsuccessfully try to beat out the flames with my hands. Then my brain starts to work again and I grab the damp tea towel and put out the flames on my leg and the tent.

Removing what remains of my knee warmer I survey the damage. My tent is now wrecked and there is a large hole through inner and outer. My leg also looks in a pretty bad way and my hands are shaking. I don’t know whether I feel the damage to the tent or the damage to me are the worst things about this situation or which is going to cost me the most in the long run. Not really knowing what to do I calm down and finish cooking and eating.

Having taken stock I decide that the throbbing in my leg and visually how it looks is probably best not ignored. I don’t think I can just sleep it off. So I pack everything back away and cycle back to Lleida to visit A&E at the hospital. The staff are great and even with my limited Spanish it’s actually a fairly smooth experience. As I have an E111 card it didn’t cost anything and the nurses gave me food and insisted I put some cream on my sunburnt face.

The leg though, that’s a bit more than sunburn. When the doctor pulls concerned faces you know you’ve been sensible in going to see them. Apparently I have second degree burns. The hospital cleaned, applied an antibiotic and dressed the wounds. The long term problem is they need to be cleaned and dressed everyday for possibly the next three weeks to try to avoid infection.

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Essentially I can’t continue riding unless I go to an A&E or a walk in centre everyday which just isn’t practical. The first week is supposed to be the most important so I am getting the train back to Zaragoza and will be staying with Pedro, visiting a walk in centre everyday and trying to work out what to do. The logical option is to get a train back to northern France and end my trip early but I need to see how I heal and the cost of doing that. In the mean time I now am eternally in Pedro’s debt and can’t thank him enough.

So mistake made. Lesson learnt and costs to be incurred. Welcome to life.

Postscript: First costs incurred €19 for a room in a hostel after being discharged from the hospital. Which was a total waste as I couldn’t sleep anyway. Expect me to be selling more things when I do return to the UK.

Uno mas

It’s twenty past three in the morning and someone hands you a beer…

…welcome to a ‘rest’ day in Spain. This is what happens when you travel, meet local people and are open to saying ‘yes’ to the experiences they offer to share.

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Last week Teruel was just a larger blob on my map and a name on a road sign. Somewhere to tick off on my journey north. I had arranged to stay in Molina Del Campo about 30 miles north of Teruel with a warmshowers host named Gloria.

However this weekend Teruel has celebrated “the wedding of Isabel”. It’s a star crossed lovers story set in the 13th century and brings in people from all around the city and region. On any day the city itself is beautiful in it’s own right built on three hills and with unique architecture that is a fusion of muslim and christian influences.

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However for this weekend it becomes a medieval town. There are street performances across the city that act out the story of the lovers. All performed by local people rather than professionals. There is also a reenactment of a medieval battle, a ‘tournament’ and random displays of falconry, medieval dancing and music. As this is Spain there is also an event involving a bull on a rope running around the town square!

Local people group together and have tents themed around medieval trades or families. Each tent has a fire pit, food cooking and wine and beer flowing. The tents are the focus for these local people for the weekend but also act as a spectacle for the tourists.

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The Spanish love a good party and so it’s a throng of sights, smells and sounds. Just as I think I have a handle on this country though it throws something random at me. Being in a Simpsons themed bar during a medieval festival was definitely odd.

After watching a ‘folk’ rock band that have a huge tent dancing and singing we end up in the oldest bar in Teruel dancing to Spanish hits of the 60’s and 70’s. No one cares how they look and are just having a good time. The music can only be described as random and then suddenly a batch of english ska songs are played and everyone skanks around the dance floor!

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So I’ve not slept much but avoided a hangover. As I’m travelling ‘with’ a bike but have no set rules I’m going to accept the offer of a lift to Zaragoza and next week ride onwards into the countryside of north east Spain. Time to retreat back into my tent for a rest!

The same wavelength

Cycle touring is all about ‘getting away from it’, solitude and isolation isn’t it? Having space and freedom to think. To reorganise your mind and dream of new things. That is true in so much as it is a journey by a slow means of transport so there are of course long periods of time spent with only yourself for company. However if you choose to explore somewhere that isn’t remote or uninhabited then it also includes interaction with other people and this can also be incredibly rewarding.

At roughly the half way point of my tour into France and Spain I’ve hit pause and will spend five nights (in two stays) in total in one place with the same people. Yesterday my hosts took me to a carnaval’ party. I had no idea what to expect but was really glad that it turned out to be a relaxed garden bbq rather than a street procession or party. It was a great opportunity to talk to lots of different people and learn about their lives, thoughts and feelings. It also highlighted two things to me.
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Firstly conversations around what I intend to do at the end of my summer tour reminded me of how privileged I am. In reality touring for me is at a base level a hedonistic act. The Spanish people I spoke to were suprised at how easy I thought it would be to find a job when I returned from touring. The impression I get is that finding a job ‘post-crisis’ in Spain is hard. In the UK it is still in my experience easy to get a job even if it’s boring or monotonous and not a ‘career’ as such. However career to me is a dirty word and money is a means to an end. That post tour job will serve the purpose of funding my plans for 2016. Even if I can’t find a job I wouldn’t starve. Despite being unsure of my own personal position in a class system my parents are most definitely middle class. They are financially comfortable enough that I in theory always have them as a safety net for any adventurous leap I take.

So privilege allows me to travel and experience the wider world. It allows me to be ‘free’ and live my life how I wish to do so. The flip side to that coin is that I need to be aware of that and show humility. I need to make sure that when I can I give something back. I need to understand that I am privileged and so not to criticise those who are not, to think about words, thoughts and actions in a wider context.
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The other thing that yesterday’s conversations highlighted is there has been a shift in my perspective. I am a ‘distance cyclist’, I’m not fast but I can ride a really long way if I want to. Thishas caused my perspective of distance and effort to shift. To me riding 50 or 60 miles in a day is normality and over 300 miles in a week doesn’t seem a big total. However I was talking to a friend of my host. He was telling me how Jose my host had written a book about his tour from Murcia to India and how incredible an achievement it was.

I had to stop and think about it. Four years of working with touring cyclists hearing their plans or past stories. Reading a number of books about cycle touring and now having ridden the length of two countries. That journey, Murcia to India almost seemed normal to me. It’s not, it’s a great achievement a big adventure. The conversation continued and we rapidly agreed that a someone’s personal perspective is important. Not in measuring the effort of others but in taking stock of your own achievements.
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For some cycling 5 miles is hard and should be celebrated as much as travelling around the world by bike. Only you can really assess how much effort was required to meet the goal you set yourself and so using your own perspective see what you have achieved. For me to get to this point, 5 1/2 weeks and approx 1200 miles hasn’t been easy. There have been some tough times mentally and physically but it isn’t an ‘epic’ achievement. Based on my perspective on life it’s actually fairly normal, just a hedonistic way of enjoying the one life I have.