The beauty of La Rioja

Trip Start Apr 18, 2009
Trip End May 19, 2009

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Where I stayed
Las Guanas

Flag of Spain and Canary Islands  , Navarra,
Tuesday, May 5, 2009

This has been a tough but very enjoyable day. After a meal of tapas (with the barman and I speaking in French as neither understood each otherīs language!) and a comfortable night in Hotel Eslava, I made the most of the buffet breakfast before heading out of this lovely, vibrant town in the direction of Logroņo, capital of the La Rioja region.

As I rode out of Pamplona I reflected on the last time that I visited the city, in 1975. On that occasion I was arrested at gunpoint as Lynn and I drove south on our way to the Costa Blanca. It was around two in the morning and our car had been hit by a drunk riding a small motorcycle. I picked him up, dusted him off, shook hands and off he wobbled with his now buckled front wheel. We continued our journey around the wide avenues of Pamlpona following the confusing one-way system when two military police officers stepped off the kerb and levelled their guns at us. I was marched off with the engine still running and the driverīs door open, leaving Lynn, a non-driver in those days, alone in the car, clutching the bail bond that would hopefully be used to rescue me at some point. These were the days of Francoīs Spain and of Basque unrest in the area, so no real surprises. The officers marched me back to the scene of the accident where we were soon joined by a senior officer. His jeep, with huge machine gun mounted on the rear complete with gunner hanging off the end of it, screeched to a halt alongside us. Them no English me no Spanish - result? me using well honed acting skills :-) to describe in graphic form how this drunken maniac had careered into my car. The senior officer considered this for a moment before turning on the civilian witness standing nearby and launching into a tirade about what I know not. What I do know is that he duismissed me with a wave and I made my way back to Lynn, still clutching the bail bond! We laugh about it now but at the time it was not quite so funny.

But none of that on this occasion; in fact I spoke to a couple of community police officers and they could not have been more helpful - and BOTH spoke English! One funny moment on this trip was asking the tourism office for directions to a laundrette: they sent me to a car wash!!!

I had heard that it could be confusing for cyclists to find a route out of the city but this just was not the case and I followed the Camino de Santiago. But as I moved into the countryside, still following the route of the pilgrims, I realised from my compass that I was not on the correct heading. I could see several pilgrims walking uphill along the path towards a hilltop church, but it just did not feel right so I stopped a local man out for his early morning walk ... and what a good decision THAT turned out to be! He spoke no English but nevertheless made clear that I was indeed on the wrong route, in fact that it was a bad route, and that I should go back to a roundabout and look for a very small road number "Una, una, una". I hoped even I couldnīt misunderstand that instruction! Sure enough there was this tiny road alongside a major Autoroute - and I followed it all the Logroņo! What a star that man was. The road did not even appear on the Michelin map so without local knowledge almost impossible to detect. The lesson in life from this is perhaps that blindly following someone elseīs path is not necessarily for the best; better then to make your own way.

The wind was a big factor today: largely folowing and helping me along, but occasionally swirling around mountains and through valleys and attacking me from all directions. I faced some massive climbs (and gained confidence from overtaking walking cyclists) and raced downhill at over 50 km/hr, with my brakes on! The countryside was awesome and with the sun shining (and soon reaching 25 degrees) the views were spectacular. The first major town I came across was Puenta la Reiņa, a beautiful, historic town, before heading up into the seemingly endless vineyards of La Rioja.

Saw a young girl mountain biking along the pilgrim`s trail and later a man RUNNING the trail - and people think I`M mad!!! At least I was riding on a tarmac road!!!

After almost exactly six hours cycling and 96 kms, I arrived at the Hotel Guanas in Logroņo (a bit of a truck stop with a transport cafe attached! Bad mistake on my part.)

(By the way, as smoke drifts across my computer screen, I am reminded that people in Spain can still smoke in public places. Yuk!)

Now itīs off to get the laundry done (but hopefully not in a car wash!) and my glasses fixed: blessed arm broke off this morning.

All in all a very satisfying day - shame about the hotel.

TOTAL SO FAR: 1382 km
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