This week Jono came to visit me in Figueira da Foz Portugal.
It’s good to have a friend here after 55 solo days on the road. I’ve met some interesting characters and I’ve enjoyed the solitude but there’s nothing like draining a few cans with an old mate from Dunedin.
Jono and I caught the bus across the Figueira da Foz harbour to surf Praia do Cabedelo. The first character we ran in to was German guy who had converted his late granny’s 1982 Renault 4 into a surf wagon complete with rooftop tent.
‘I don’t get much sleep up there when it’s windy,’ he said.
And it’s always windy in Portugal.
The surf was 1.5 times overhead.
And double overhead once I retreated. After a rock jump that seemed too perilous, I paddled out by the channel beside the jetty. After a few take off attempts I eventually got in a local’s way and we both fell off a wave. I was held under and decided to go in.
‘Oh you’ve cut your head,’ said the German back on the beach. ‘It’s only a scratch though.’
The local approached me and showed me his board. Two big cracks radiated from the rocker.
‘Oh man, did I hit your board?’
‘You were in the middle, you need to paddle to the side.’
‘I’m sorry man. But did I hit your board?’
‘If you’re in the middle it’s hard to take off.’ From what I could work out, in the crash he had damaged his own board. ‘Obrigado,’ he said and walked toward the car park.
I had kooked it.
Demoralized, I walked back to the jetty and gave Jono my board. My day was over but I enjoyed watching the locals show me how it’s done.
Jono wanted to buy shaving foam on the way home. He only had a five euro note and the pharmacy wanted ten. It turns out that you can get an old-school straight-razor shave in Portugal for four euro: make it two!
This week I celebrated 50 days on the road.
Why is Anna walking around the world?
Anna walked across the states in support of her her nephew who had a debilitating musculoskeletal disorder. Upon walking from Portland, Oregon to Boston, Massachusetts Anna decided she hadn’t had enough, and would now embark on a seven year circumnavigation of the globe to raise awareness for clean drinking water.
‘Although sometimes at the end of the day I feel like throwing the cart into the sea.’
I asked Anna where she got the idea for her hand cart and she said a friend of hers had one welded in Nicaragua, but to keep costs down in the states, Anna cut a bicycle in half and used the two wheels conjoined with a plastic tub in the middle. Anna plans to make a harness to lug the cart to relieve the stress on her neck and shoulders.
‘Like a sled-dog!’ I said, over my omelette at the Torreira bar where we met.
Anna has had trouble with her cart’s wheels.
Luckily, the people of Portugal are so hospitable that Ribapedal, in Samora Correia, donated parts and labour and Miguel at Tomazzini Bikes pitched in too when issues continued down the road. Miguel later surprised Anna at her campsite with new wheels – a testament to the generosity of the Portuguese people.
Anna and I had the same problem: we had to cross the Aveiro Lagoon by ferry rather than walk or cycle around the entire harbour. Anna warned me that she had difficulty, the normal ferry was down with mechanical issues and the police had eventually found a boat for her given that she was stranded with her cart.
I weighted this up in my mind.
Do I attempt a crossing or cycle the long way? Fuck it, let’s have a go I thought.
The bartender at the Torreira bar where Anna and I met assured me the ferry was running and he gave me the times for that day. I arrived at São Jacinto and asked a wonky-tied salesman about the ferry.
‘Ferry is mechanical,’ he said.
‘Yes,’ he adjusted his tie. ‘Yes, shit.’
‘Are there other boats?’
‘Yes, but bikes not allowed.’
I went down to the ferry anyway. An old lady sat outside a bar, with the ubiquitous European espresso.
‘Ferry boat?’ I asked.
‘No bici,’ she pointed and shook her purple head of hair but indicated that one of the local fisherman may be persuaded to give me a ride.
I thanked her, ‘Obrigato,’ and went to try my luck with the pescadors. After some gesticulation to indicate my intention to cross, a Camel smoking captain gave me a lift across the lagoon.
At the other side, on the docks at Aveiro I pulled out my wallet and gestured How Much?
O capitão shook his head, smiled, lit another Camel and wished me Bon Voyage.
With A Little Help From My Friends I have managed to find the parts and fix the surfboard rack.
José my Porto Warm Showers host very kindly drove me to French home improvement giant Leroy Merlin to source the PVC pipe to replace the rack’s broken U-bend.
The repair required:
- One meter of PVC pipe (the minimum length you can buy)
- One hacksaw
- One can of PVC pipe cement
- Two 90-degree bends
- One connector to join the two 90-degree bends
- Two amateur plumbers who referred to each other as Mario and Luigi throughout the build.
The standard PVC pipe size in England is 36mm. Leroy Merlin only stocked the Portuguese standard (32mm). Not to worry, we closed the four millimeter difference with a fetid combination of beer can pull-tabs, yellowy used earbuds and cat hair.
That should do it!
Today a piece of my surf rack fell onto the road and was crushed by a car.
The driver heard the crush, saw me signal to stop, and promptly reversed over the surf rack U-bend to seal its fate. And to really put the boot in, once the driver had slapped me on the back and handed me the pancaked piece, I placed it on the curb only to have a school boy walk past and kick the U-bend to the gutter while I dragged the bike to safety.
A school boy!
A citizen so diminished of size and stature that any kind of vengeance was totally beyond the pale.
You couldn’t make this stuff up. But I was laughing the whole time. The trip has been so good thus far I was due for an incident. That morning I had thought how I hadn’t even adjusted or modified the rack since I left London six weeks ago and as me Ma says, pride cometh before a fall — I had given in to hubris and the rack was struck down as a consequence.
Why did the U-bend fall to the road?
Why did the chicken cross the road? How long is a piece of string? Why is the sky blue?
The Portuguese roads are often cobbled and these vibrato gyrations must have wiggled the U-bend loose from its feathered, gluey nest. Alas! She had been doing so well.
To stem the flow of shame and certain embarrassment, I pulled out the toolkit and got to work.
What did I have to work with?
Why, cable-ties and duct tape of course. The yellow bits in the photo above are me two tyre irons – I’m fucked if I have a flat, I’ll have to tear it all apart to release the bounty within. Still, I managed to patch her up and we limped on – and I shit you not – I was singing, nay, crooning Chumbawamba’s seminal 1997 hit Tubthumping the whole way, ‘I get knocked down, But I get up again, You’re never gonna keep me down…’
I did get knocked down.
Well, not actually.
I mean the rack fell apart after my shoddy repair. But I put more good duct tape over bad and we limped on to Porto, triumphant and buoyed up by my new story.
Will I be able to find the requisite parts in Porto to rebuild the rack and continue the mad adventure down the coast?
En route to Esposende, Portugal, I came across Clássicos Populares, situated at Antas. The shop had a wonderful array of Vespas, classic road bikes and motorcycles — some of my favourite things. And while I couldn’t speak with the owner, I managed to get some photographs for you, dear reader.
To be fair, I had been warned.
I found Hogar Del Puerto Hotel on booking.com while I soaked up a truck stop beer outside of Pontevedra. At €15, it was the cheapest on the site and the reviews were suitably terrible: mold on the walls, old sheets, surly service with cramped bathrooms.
So I took it.
I was broken when I arrived.
I had cycled 70 kilometers from a campground near Noia. Now, 70 kilometers for me is the equivalent of well over 100 kilometers for a non-surfboard-lugging-cyclist.
I was ravaged.
The Hogar is the quintessential family operation: grandma behind the bar, grandad asleep in front of the TV and grandsons playing dominoes – old men in training – when they weren’t serving lotto ticket punters. A baby in a walker wheeled along the floor and bumped chair legs, my legs, any legs (I admit, I may have scowled at the baby when she ran over my foot the sixth time).
I was still at the bar.
Grandma took the cash, unpinned the safety pin that secured the crumpled notes in the pocket of her pinny, and dumped the wad on the bar, before she peeled off my five euros in change.
Grandma had taken my passport, the cash, but had not produced a key.
Dig granny dig.
You know, she tried. She dug through sheaves of spent lotto tickets, soiled espresso cups, and dead Galicia Estrella bottles before she found the set and sent the older of the grandsons upstairs with me.
I pushed the heavier of my pannier bags into his arms.
We trudged up the stairs together, between framed matadors and Madonnas. Or were these suited old men family portraits? Tough to say, tough to say.
Grandson-senior fumbled with the lock. No dice. I ground my teeth and shuffled from left foot to right foot, and passed my pannier bags between exhausted hands.
I hoped the lock would pop, but no, I had to lay down — surrender — my bags.
Two backpacks were already in the room. My room. I pointed at the luggage.
‘No amigos,’ I said, ready to haunch it down, Indian style, in the hallway. ‘No, err, nueva habitacion?’
I waited under the steady stare of the matadors while grandson-senior went downstairs to consult with grandma.
Sure, there were shouts. Steadfast deliberation, even. I had tried to keep myself and my baggage off the walls but I slumped forward, and then backward, while helmet-hair grease swathed the white walls.
Who were these two phantoms who had swooped upon my bedchambers when I needed them most? And why would they deny me my slumbers?
By the grace of God a new room was found and I threw my bags at the bed.
No hot water.
I couldn’t face the downstairs trudge again.
I cold shower.
As I work up a Dove Beauty Bar lather I think, How do I explain this to the old battle axe? I’m haunted by the comments from booking.com, ‘You will have trouble communicating with the staff if you don’t speak Spanish.’
‘This is a shit hotel.’
To stem the shock of the cold water, I think, How I Will complain to the kid.
‘Ducha fria’ or ‘Duchas solo fria, no caliente,’ a basic variation on Warm Showers, one of the few words I know in Spanish.
But of course, I never complain.
It was a roof over my head for €15.
And in the morning, a warm shower and a free breakfast.
Today was a good day.
I have lugged my surfboard for 40 days and today I crossed the Rio Minho into Portugal. I have now cycled over 1000 kilometers since I started my journey in Santander, Spain.
And what have I learned?
Distance bows to math.
Cycling an average of 25 kilometers a day over 40 days will get you to 1000 kilometers.
A few days ago at Laxe I got rained out and had to stay in a hotel and the night before that I was at Playa de Razo surf camp. It’s good to be back wild camping — so quiet. And no annoying hotel owner knocking at my door to offer extra soap.
I was in a bit of a shit mood that morning: more rain, no surf, blowing money on hotels, no sun… What was going on? But I did what I always do: I kept cycling.
I initially flagged checking the surf at Soeseto, on Galicia’s Costa da Morte, of course they’d be none. But something was nagging at me – so I went. And lucky I did, there was a nice A-frame breaking close to shore. I debated with myself again: it was cold, raining, there was no shower… I had lots of excuses, bags of ’em.
Philip, an Austrian, joined me at the lookout, ‘Yesterday, it was really big.’ He gestured out to sea, ‘but it was super crowdy,’ he wrinkled his nose and cracked his knuckles.
I asked him if he was going in today.
‘I want to, but the weather.’
He also said it was the only place in Galicia with surf — that was it — I had to go in.
Philip went back to the warmth of his Kombi; I locked up the bike and dragged all five pannier bags and board down to the beach. With impatience, I tugged on my wetsuit but the zip’s string got caught around my waist – fuck – I had to pull it off again, hop naked on the sand, yanking, trying to slip my legs and feet through all the while freezing in the rain.
Finally, the wettie was on.
I put my most valuable panniers containing laptop etc into the board bag and left the other three beside it on the sand.
Now, I was in.
And within seconds, I made my first wave (a nice left, on the backhand, all I seem to pick-up at the moment).
After 35 minutes I was pretty cold (should’ve brought a 5mm wetsuit). I got out and took Philip’s advice: rinse off in the stream, mountain man style. I took care to swizz out me nether region, the chaffing and saddle sores were bad enough without salt and sand to moisten the already painful brew.
I was pretty much packed when Philip came back to check the swell. He told me his brother was studying at Oviedo and he was here on a visit, with a surf trip on the side using his father’s Kombi.
‘That’s a cool van man, especially with the pop-top roof, how old is it – from the nineteen eighties?’ I said, my eye on the warm interior.
‘Yeah, my father bought it 30-years-ago,’ Philip said. ‘But I don’t like this kind of life, I miss my own bed.’
‘Lucky you’re not in that,’ I pointed to the tent strapped to my bike. Philip seemed wistful — the spoilt school boy who woke up to a turd in his stocking. ‘You can cook with us if you like and camp here.’ I was chuffed with Philip’s offer, and felt bad for privately disparaging him, but given what appeared to be an already toxic level of cabin fever, I didn’t want to add another stinking body to the heady mix.
‘I’m gonna go man.’
‘Good luck,’ Philip said, and with his hands in his pockets, he turned back to the sea.
Mission: cross the Asturias border to Galicia.
. . .
Result: a chance encounter with a man, his dog, and their Land Rover Defender.