Let me tell you what it’s like. Maybe you’ll understand:
You’re cycling along, pedaling slowly uphill in the sweltering Spanish heat. A group of five cool dude Spanish cyclists come up from behind and easily pass you. Each and every one of them gives you a wave, a smile, and a buenos dias. You forget the heat and the hill you’re ascending for just a little bit and you feel all warm and fuzzy inside (not because of the sweltering heat).
A bit later a single cyclist, in his 60s, quickly passes you, looks back at you and says, “Bon camino.” You don’t realize what he said at first and reply, “Buenos dias.” Then it clicks. “What did he say? He didn’t say buenos dias. It sounded like bon camino. I wonder what that means.” Shortly after which you start seeing signs that tell you that you are cycling right next to the famous pilgrimage route called Camino de Santiago and you get all excited, especially when you see an old bridge on the trail and a resting place for pilgrims. It is then that you realize the cyclist was saying something like have a good journey or have a good road and you feel all warm and fuzzy inside again.
Then you’re cycling along in the sweltering Spanish heat wondering when you’ll ever get there and a teenager cycling on a mountain bike on a trail some 50 meters away gives you several huge waves of his arm and yells, “Bon caminoooooo.” And you don’t want it to ever end.
About half way through the ride today I stopped at a cafe full of car travellers. I wanted
a quick bite to eat and I needed to go to the toilet. I couldn’t understand a thing on the menu besides the fact that most of it contained one form or another of jamon, which I cannot eat. So I asked for a coke. The man standing next to me asked in English, “From where did you come?” I stared at him, trying to figure out if he meant which country I’m from or where I started to cycle from.” He repeated the question, this time in a louder voice while clearly articulating each word: “FROOM WHEEERE DID YOU COOOME?” “I I I’m from Egypt,” I stuttered, hoping that was the right answer. “Egypt!” he said with surprise. Then shook his head and began to say something at which I understood the right answer was, “I started cycling from Lisbon.” “It’s a beautiful time of the year to see the countryside,” he told me. I agreed but added it was really hot. He almost looked through me when I said that. I could see the thoughts forming in his head, “Hot? What is hot?” Instead of saying that though he said, “It is hot,” and with a huge wave of his arm out towards the cafe window, “but the countryside is so beautiful!” It was like a smack in the face that I much needed. I started thinking, “What the heck is wrong with me? Heat? This isn’t heat! Spending the winter in the UK has turned me into a sissy! I’m Egyptian, dammit!” And I set off again focusing more this time on the countryside than on the sweltering heat. I passed a vast expanse of a national park that was absolutely beautiful. And I eventually reached the top of a hill to see a castle! And I was reminded that every now and then I pass through the beautiful white-washed Spanish villages.
I spent much of today’s ride trying to figure out whether to give other cyclists “the nod” or “the wave.” In the UK, cyclists give each other an almost imperceptible nod of acknowledgement when they see each other. This is what I had become accustomed to using. But the Spanish cyclists who passed me, especially those cycling on the opposite side of the road, all gave me a smile and huge wave. I started waving back. Then I initiated the wave a couple of times but it didn’t get the same response. That got me thinking that maybe “the wave” was something they did specially for me.
For my end point today, I gave my GPS the coordinates of a camp in Caceres that I found online. The GPS had me going in circles in the center of town and there was no campsite in sight. I asked two police officers where the camp was, giving them the address, and was either told it had closed down, or that it was 5 or 500 km away. No idea which. Either way, there was no camp in the general area I was in. That was clear. So I started following the signs to where the hotels were, and stumbled upon an area where throngs of people were gathered to see and take part in a procession. It was the Semana Santa celebrating Easter! I quickly found a small two star hotel, took a quick shower, and headed out to watch. It was tremendously exciting and enchanting.
Organizing trips to see the sights is fun. But the best travel experiences ever, in my opinion, are the ones you stumble upon when and where you least expect them.
Tonight at 7:30pm I’m told there is another special procession. My camping neighbor last night also told me that all the guide books say that Caceres is best seen at night. My plan was to camp tonight so I wasn’t expecting to be so close to the center of town. I’d just chill and relax for tomorrow’s cycle. But chance has it that my GPS and I messed up the plan. I can’t wait for tonight!
It’s not all roses, though. There’s always the peeing on the side of the road and the rapists. To pee, you need to find a spot that is rapist-free. That means you can’t pee on a quiet road where absolutely no cars pass by. That is exactly where the rapists lurk. You have to find a quiet road with only some cars and a spot below the road that is relatively discreet. You know that nice cyclist that stopped to ask if everything was all right with your bike when you had actually stopped to jump over the siderail to pee? Rapist. That car that is standing on the shoulder of the road? Rapist. That motorcyclist that seemed to be driving past you slower than you would have expected him to? Rapist. They are everywhere. And every time I recognize them I instantly jump into hyper-alert mode. I speed past the car on the shoulder of the road. I size “nice” cyclist up and figure I could beat him into a pulp. And I slow down just a tad to let slow motorcyclist pass me while I scan the area for other cars to race towards for help. I have the situation under control. So far.