Friday, May 30, 2014


    Judith and Andre travelled before in a trailer like so many others. But in 1996 a chance meeting would forever change their view of life. One day a man who traveled a deliciously slow and ecological way: horse carriage stopped next to their motor vehicle. That's when the couple decided they were going to abandon civilization in some way to take that same path, and in that way they began to prepare their great journey. They learned carpentry, mechanics, techniques for taming draft horses (to make it clear to a hack that you cannot move when the light is red, or when you are obliged to go through the suspension bridge in Bilbao). Time did not wait and it took four years before everything was ready. In Judith's lap both her eldest daughter of two years and the small one of just two months sit. Neither recent fatherhood nor having less than a hundred euros in their bank account would stop this Dutch couple would stop this Dutch couple from heading towards freedom. 

     For fourteen years, André, Judith and the girls have travelled around Holland, France, Spain and Portugal at an average speed of 15 km / day, two hours a day, to avoid tiring the horses. Pure art on wheels, the carriage has been decorated and redecorated as the girls have grown, until, finally they became too old and adolescent to leave the bunk they shared with their parents and claim their own carriage. This time, built with their own hands. 

     The trailer family from Papillote are resourceful people.  For a long time they lived off of what Judith earned in village festivals with her ​​make-up for children. Meanwhile, Andre´s official profession is photography, with which they often had enough to eat. For horses was it was all very easy, as they helped themselves to the grass they encountered along the way. A tough and simple life, no frills.  Life was altered only occasionally by the Civil Guard while traveling in Spain. Problems that ended when they said, two or three times each day, they were Dutch people doing St. James´Way. 

     Now, fourteen years after their departure, Andre and Judith have built a large carriage that cannot be pulled by horses. Their life is made ​​stationary by the desire not to close any future doors for the girls. Although both have received an excellent education from Judith, speak several languages ​​and are very mature, they wanted to go to school to formalize their studies. Knowing their particular situation, they sought  an education, but none responded to what they expected. Finally they agreed to enroll the girls in a normal school. On the day of the interview with the director of the center, without the mother noticing, one of the girls took a pen and  decorated her entire arm with drawings.  When you first step into the "civilized world", one realized that on this side of the door, art and nature are not free. Despite the drawing, the girls were accepted at the center. When the director told her that henceforth she could not do that sort of thing at her school, she asked him why. The question, which the director took it as a sure sign of rebellion (typical of someone who has grown up in such circumstances) was actually a sign of wonder and curiosity behind the reason for the castration of art. 

    Their life has certainly changed. They will have to return to a sedentary life, at least during the years that girls are at school. Currently, a neighbor of Marciac has given them a piece of land where they can live with their carriages surrounded by nature. But do not know how long they  will be there. Thanks to them we can enjoy a day with them and pleasant conversation. 

    Judith prepares some soup, with a smile framed by fiery hair: 

- People today are afraid of everything. But above all, they are afraid to take the responsibility for their own life. They are dependent on those that are supposed to be experts: doctors, school teachers, masons, carpenters, hairdressers. They don´t  know that they alone can learn to take  care of themselves. Men are afraid of freedom, and they have it sacrificed for comfort. 


    As we go down Col d'Ispeguy, tears run down my cheeks. It would be more romantic to say that I am crying for leaving my mother country and not knowing if I'll ever see it in several years... but in fact the origin of my tears is the speed at which we are descending the eight French kilometers down the Col, speed which I will not say so as not to worry our respective parents. 

    Already from the first meters of descent think we think that everything is different in France: the rocky landscapes, the flowers, the traffic signs, the opening hours of the tourist offices (the latter we will never get used to, and at least the first few days it will be impossible to find detailed maps of the areas in time to take advantage of them). Luckily, the terrible prices we expected, do not bother our purse; if anything, fruit and vegetables are more expensive, but the pasta and tinned beans are cheaper. As I mentioned somewhere in this blog, we try not to consume animal products, so that the budget is much cheaper. 

     Another small difference with Spain is that in France there is no civil guard. Among other things, this fact makes it easy to find shelter at night. Although in theory free camping is forbidden in France, in fact it is a common practice among travelers and fishermen, always with a little common sense, a little hidden from nosy people, which means looking for a place where little sunlight reflects off the tent so nobody notices us. However, the first days we are still victims of fear of them and so the first night camping in an abandoned road just off the Saint-Etienne de Baigorri road, which had been previously been discovered by a group of women with loose bowels. Disgusting, but we have to sleep somewhere. The next morning we concluded that the problem was not the place, but the hard asphalt on which we had to set up the tent. The next day, when the sun is low on the horizon, we are faced with the same problem for camping. Our Spanish eyes, used to the ancestral fear of the green uniform, see no appropriate place. We had been told that in France it is sometimes possible that the owner of a house and garden will let you camp on the lawn. Against the wishes of Gabi, I approach a couple who have just said good bye to a few friends, and look okay. Half an hour later, we are installed in the backyard of Lionel and Annemarie, despite their insistence that we sleep inside the house, in a small guest room. They turn out to be an exceptional couple, who care for us lovingly the time we spend with them, and prepare us dinner and breakfast that make you  recover from the effort you made when you were born.

     Since we left Logroño we are undoing St. James Way, or better said the roads, which are numerous in France: Logroño, Jaca, Pamplona, Pau, Auch, Moissac, Figeac, Conques ... We have a lot of time to travel, no concrete destination and are open to any advice  people give us. In a way,  in the same way St. James Way was patterned, by the art in the villages where it passed, the pursuit of art, culture and history are shaping our own way. 

     In a village near Oloron, Pierre, Stèphanie, their children, a dog, two cats, chickens, ducks and a  newly rescued sparrow await us. We spend four days and three nights with them to recharge our batteries. Awkward silences are unthinkable with them, they let us know a bit about local French ecology and invite us to try their tandem. When we leave, we know that we are leaving some great friends in that beautiful house, decorated by Stèphanie, who we will meet sometime again in the future. 

    At their recommendation, we travel towards Marciac, where a Dutch family  live. They have spent fourteen years travelling in a horse drawn carriage. With them we also have a great time, but not weather-wise as showers are beginning to fall over France. We find that our good luck is still with us. As if a guardian angel was watching over us, whenever we have problems, there is always someone nearby who can help us. In this case, the morning that we wake up beside the carriage, the kickstand on Gabi bike does not want to continue the journey. The two screws that were anchored to the frame and are stuck inside, so that a "Russian solution" is necessary. Sometimes we joke that there are three ways to solve mechanical problems: the African, the Russian and the German. The German is the cleanest, technical and aesthetic; the African, rudimentary; the Russian, strong and definitive. Andre opts for the latter, carving a line around the broken screws to remove them and enlarging the holes to change the small damaged German screws for another pair of big strong screws. Problem solved. Still Gabi becomes infatuated with a wooden stick that allegedly be used as kickstand (which would be the African solution), but rather uses to tie up bandanas and dry socks. 

     We baptize the road to Pau as a type 6-60: 6 km per hour uphill, 60 km per hour downhill. For three days the road is never flat, it is marked by steep hills. So much that, almost without realizing it, the odometer marks 8,848 meters of total cumulative altitude, so we climbed our first Everest in France! And we do it gladly. What most amazes us about France (apart from the vast amount of animal pate squashed on the roads) is the beauty of small towns, each one is special. We were in love with the French Basque country, but if there is a town which we have loved, it has to be Laas. On the way to the village there are numerous posters announcing the musical Transhumance festival of international importance. When we got to the square of the little town, we found strange contraptions to know the position of the sun, the stars, the moon, when Easter falls... and a pole where the distance is marked to  the major world capitals with an inscription in the center that reads: "Vous êtes ici: le center du monde". Lionel and Annemarie tell us that we have passed through the village with the most worrisome megalomania of France. Proof of this is that the mayor wants to make the county of Laas a principality and proclaim himself as prince of Laas. There has to be a little bit of everything in the world. Vive la France! 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

When will we return?

     We feel stupid and do not know quite what to do. In Sangüesa we were told that we would find a campground in Lumbier for about 12 euros, and although it seemed somewhat expensive, we decided to stop there, do laundry, take a shower and have the luxury of getting up a little later, and letting our tent dry completely. But now the guy at the desk tells us that it is 20 euros. It hurts our souls to spend on one night the same as we have spent in one week, but we are tired and it is already very late, so laziness does the rest and we accept. At least we can stay there until after lunch, and so we can spend some time, because we are not expected by our host in Pamplona for two days, which is just 50 kilometers away. By the time we leave the campsite we are convinced that it was not worth it. 

     We foolishly climb a steep mountain believing that way it would be easier to find a place to camp for the night, only to find the horizon too steep and a dirt road littered with stones. Overwhelming logic tells us that near the river we find a better place, so that in ten minutes we undo what we have gained in an hour and we are back on the national highway. It will not be long before the headwind once again wins the battle and we give up for the day after just two hours of pedaling. The next day we arrived to Pamplona in the afternoon, thus ending the thrilling race in which the winning horse is the slowest. In Pamplona once again we have to wait, our host does not arrive until ten at night and we are already eating in the Arga park at two in the afternoon. Good thing it is an enjoyable afternoon in the company of the king of Sangüesa. 

     We're back with nostalgia to the place where we lived last year. We are here to do some paperwork that cannot be easily done (the tax return online in Navarra is an invention of the devil). Angel lets us stay at his house four days until we succeed. The last day we're in Pamplona a Japanese man arrives at Angel´s house. He wants to do St. James´ Way by bike, but without a bike. He has come with only a couple of backpacks and has to buy the rest, including saddlebags, helmet, tools. Because Angel has to work, we are lucky to remember the past when we were the ones who we gave shelter to travelers, and we guide Tetsuya through the city to our favorite store, Bigarren Eskua (mean resale in Basque). It was there where we went over a year ago asking about a handlebar throttle and where we ended up deciding to order a couple of new bikes to travel around the world. How well these two brothers have treated us! 

     After all this time sleeping in a warm bed, it´s an effort to get moving again: the danger of getting comfortable in civilization. Our next goal is Ainhoa, or so we thought. When we arrive in Zubiri, we look at the map that they gave us in the tourist office (which, incidentally, we will take only a couple of hours to lose). There I find the easiest way to cross the Pyrenees is not through Ainhoa​​, and I comment this to Gabriel, he thought I wanted to go through that French town just because it has the same name as me. But at this point we are not going to backtrack, let alone go along the crowded coast, so we eat all the fruit that we can and get enough strength to climb the Artesiaga pass. At first it is extremely comfortable, hardly any cars and the scenery is very beautiful. But the last kilometer is too hard for me. The only record of resistance that I could beat in my life has been a file from the sixteenth century, not on a bike. It occurs to us the idea of ​​using a rope and a couple of carabiners to try to tie the two bikes and have Gabi tow me. A mistake, we both almost fall to the ground. So, finally, Gabi does the last thousand meters twice, first with his bike and then with my saddlebags. 

    The descent into the valley of Baztán is a different story. We descend a gentle slope that takes us without realizing it  (literally) to Elizondo. There we stay with Joseba. We arrived to his house very early; we have never finished a stage at six o'clock. We knock at his door and he is not in, but we have no way of getting in touch with him because he does not have a mobile or a landline. We wait a little bit, walk around the village and return home. No one. We some card games and try our luck again. Two hours later with still no sign of life and we begin to worry, thinking that we must find some shelter in the village to sleep. When we had already made ​​up our minds, he appears leisurely strolling through the square with a friend and asks us if we are us. We had written a confusing message that had made him understand that we would arrive the next day. But we still had time to enjoy a nice dinner and an interesting conversation with some nice Baztán cider. Joseba helps us to plan the route that will take us across to France. We don´t know whether it will be better to climb the Otsondo pass or the less hard Izpegi. On the map there are only a few meters of difference in altitude, but Otsondo seems an almost straight line whereas Izpegi looks like a snake with arthritis. At the tourist office we had been assured that Izpegi could be hell to climb up on a bike, but it is the option Joseba recommends to us. And so we continue to add knowledge to the list of lessons: "Do not trust the description of a mountain pass made ​​by a person who has just gone up by car." Certainly Izpegi is a pass to climb motorized slowly, with too many curves and very poor visibility. But it is a delight on a bike, with a very accessible slope that is gradually done without a superhuman effort. 
Slowly we climb the 690 meters of Izpegi, which in French said  670 (sic) from d'Ispeguy. On one side is a Navarran valley and on the other, France. 20 days and 800 miles later, we say goodbye to Spain leaving a question in the air: when we will return? 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The King of Sangüesa

- And I tiled the floor of the cabin. 

     Some call him the King of Sangüesa   He has cycled to thousands of places and talked to all the locals that  would listen to him. It is well known that he has prevented numerous fights in the village festivals where he has been, as he himself recognizes, all too often. The bike helps him to curb his alcoholism, he is aware that cycling drunk is danger to himself and others, and those others are what matter most to him  in this life. 

- With these hands I've saved lives. I have done heart massages and I have saved people in accidents. I saved my brother when our car rolled over, he jumped out the window and went into a ravine. 

     The King of Sangüesa also knows how to lay tiles. He proudly shows his parents´ house in the village which his brothers disparagingly call “the cabin”  and whose floor he tiled. Between photos he remembers his years of military service, which he did as a volunteer for the Red Cross, a course in plumbing and his adventures in the largest plantation of medicinal herbs of Navarra. Suddenly, pulls out two bottles from the backpack, which he always carries while bicycling. 

- Look, this is a plantain ointment. It is for wounds. And this right here is rosemary, which serves for muscle aches. I make them. The plantain one has to be macerate for a year. They tell me it is not correct to speak of ointment as ointments are creams and these are liquids. I use the nettle one on my hair and I'm the only one of my brothers who is not bald. 

     The King of Sangüesa proudly wears his curly hair loose, giving it its characteristic appearance. A huge pendant that emulates the head of a ram and belonged to a deceased friend makes him unmistakable for walkers along the Arga. Caritas  manages his money and he lives in a supervised home. 

- From what I pay for rent, 5 euros are for things around the house, but I have to buy the toilet paper. Sometimes, when someone says that something hurts him, that he has had an accident, that he is going to the physio and that the pills do nothing for him, I give him a massage and heal him. But ... do not think badly, huh? That  when I give a massage I just do what I have to do. Once I did a test and it turns out that all men are not equal, they told me that sex did not come out in the test. The Witchdoctor taught me how to give massages and now I sell my ointments (because my parents tell me that this is also work because before I gave them away) but I don´t charge for the massages. I teach people to give massages like those that The Witchdoctor taught me. 

     The King of Sangüesa recalls his youth, when he won several competitions with his cycling team. He was a born athlete, who  took a liking to cycling and judo. The Witchdoctor was the team physio, a renowned doctor who wanted to sign up with the first team in which Indurain participated. But people who heal with herbs are also called wizards, and they recognize each other even before talking. He knows many teachers, of whom he is a disciple and  friend. 

- I have seven books of medicinal plants. Four in Sanguesa and three I have brought to Pamplona. My parents have a cabin in Sangüesa,  well, my brothers call it a cabin. But it's very big, I tiled the floor. There I have a garden of medicinal herbs. With that, with what I collect and what I can buy, such as camphor, I make my ointments. Everything is  tested, my parents and I have been my guinea pigs. 

     The King of Sangüesa can also be considered a witchdoctor, he loves the Aragon River, with a talent for helping others and a vast knowledge of natural medicine. With one of his ointments and a massage he heals the battered knee of a travelling cyclist while regretting that in order to legally sell his magic he would have to patent his products For the Health Dept. to give its approval he would have to pay high fees (read bribe). Meanwhile, these ointments can be purchased  in supermarkets for twice the price of what they cost. Products like shark cartilage pills, which have already been established to be useless. He relies on word of mouth, and in this sense he seems to be doing well. 

     Four hours after introducing himself, he accompanies us to the old part of Pamplona. He still has ten minutes before they let him enter the social dining hall and dinner for 50 cents. Grateful, we say goodbye to a beautiful person, a healer of those that cure, a sane person in a crazy world. Until yesterday, I never knew Sangüesa had a king.