Entering Catalonia from the Col d’Ares
After a gorgeous night camping under the stars at the border between France and Spain, we set off early on the descent in the baking Spanish sun.
As luck would have it, after saying some goodbyes to people we met at the summit, we discovered a puncture after biking just 50 metres down the road. Replacing a puncture in scorching sunlight is tougher than under normal circumstances, but we got it done and started the 700m descent to Comprodon, basking in the gorgeous pyreneean countryside.
In Comprodon, two travellers among thousands of tourists, we received some free food at cafés, fruit and veg stores and some bakeries. Well stocked and after lunching in a lovely park by the river, we set off again. Wide hard shoulders, picturesque Catalonian villages, the only difficulties we had were in making sure the food we were receiving was vegan!
Being vegan in Spain is HARD
The Spanish simply don’t get the whole vegan thing. Asking for things which are “vegetarian” will often result in chicken, fish and eggs turning up on your plate and despite the name, “sandwich vegetal” is usually anything but. For a European country, Spain (and Catalonia in particular) is severely lagging behind. Even in Italy, where we expected to have lots of difficulty, we had a much easier time procuring meals appropriate for vegans. The concept just seems to be foreign here; ham is ubiquitous and the poor pigs can be heard and seen all through the south of Spain suffering inside airless buildings. It’s not just pigs though, cattle and chickens suffer in equal amount in order to sustain the unsustainable European diet of excessive meat and other animal products.
Where animal factories are now mostly found behind huge fences in England, Germany and the United States, Spain’s factories are extremely common and easily spotted.
It was during the long days in the heat passing countless farms containing suffering animals that Katie decided, once and for all, to proclaim herself vegan. She had practically been vegan for most of our time on the road anyway, notwithstanding a slice of cheese here and there from a generous host, but Spain and it’s awfully blatant animal husbandry was the kick she needed to forsake animal products for good.
After a good deal of practice, it was usually possible to receive baguettes containing tomatos, salad and sweetcorn, but this is about as far as “vegan” baguettes come in most of Spain. It wasn’t until we reached the region of Murcia that we were able to get some roasted vegetables (aubergine, peppers etc) in a sandwich.
Catalonia to Valencia
It’s worth clarifying right away that we know full well we picked an undesirable route through Spain. We missed the entire Basque country (and the rest of the north of Spain) in order to make it to Murcia for a fixed date, and it is the closest thing we have to a regret since beginning our lives on bikes.
We did not do any riding in Girona or in the quiet back roads near Benidorm, and so missed out on the truly beautiful parts of southern Spain (excluding Andalusia, which we also missed because we spontaneously booked flights from Madrid to South America). All in all, we saw a pretty dismal side to Spain and suffered a hot, dry summer while doing so. That being said, there were some highlights of our time in Catalonia and the Valencian Comunidad: a few wonderful nights spent in Castellon de la Plana…
Where we bought a guitar!
Just before arriving in Castellon de la Plana, we came across a market that had a beautiful mini-guitar for sale. Unfortunately it was pretty battered and missing tuning pegs and screws. We gave that purchase a miss but decided we really missed making music. Katie has an amazing voice and loves playing guitar as well.
So when we had some time to kill in Castellon, we came across a lovely music shop and got a bargain on a small guitar which we carried with us to Murcia, before trading the guitar in for a ukulele (size really matters on a bike tour, even the tiny guitar was huge and a hassle to strap to the bike!).
Katie has been practising solidly for weeks now and we hope to be able to share some of her music with you soon!
Family Visit in Murcia and a flight to South America
We actually ended up spending a long time in Spain, mainly because we spent over two weeks resting and relaxing in a apartment near Torrevieja in the region of Alicante. Don’t worry, we didn’t suddenly decide to go luxury and spend a fortune on accommodation; the apartment belongs to my mother’s partner Kevin. First, Katie’s parents came for a week, followed by mine for another week. In the midst of the family visit, we made a huge decision:
WE’RE FLYING TO SOUTH AMERICA
For those of you have been following us for a while, you will remember our excitement at having booked these flights. Given that our original plan for the adventures was only Croatia to Morocco, deciding to fly to Bolivia was a monumental decision which meant the continuation of our lives on the road for many years to come!
And so, off we headed towards Madrid for a flight that would seal our fate as bike tourers for the foreseeable future. We didn’t pick a straight route to Madrid, as we figured we had plenty of time, so we rode some gorgeous scenic roads up to Cuenca, a lovely, if not overly touristic, medieval town east of Madrid.
Cuenca turned out to be the last sight of Spain we would recall as beautiful; after that, it was all main roads into Madrid and a great Couchsurfing stay as we got ready to take our adventure to unknown territory…