Bilbao & Sopelana, then Burgos

San Sebastian to Bilbao – about 115 miles then on to Burgos – about 150 miles

Left the campsite and headed back down the mountain into San Sebastian with a plan to find the coastal road to Bilbao. It should onlyΒ  be a short ride away, leaving us lots of time to explore the city, which we love so much. (We had been there in July 2010 for the Bilbao BBK Festival. That year it had an exceptional Rock line-up with the likes of Pearl Jam, Skunk Anansie, Rammstein, Bullet For My Valentine, Coheed and Cambria, Gogol Bordello, Faith No More… πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ .)

But of course we got lost pretty much straight away and found ourselves on a really steep, single lane mountain road consisting solely of hairpin bends. AWESOME!!! It was the most difficult riding I had done so far; absolutely exhilerating, adrenalin pumping, first gear most of the time πŸ™‚ Add to that the stunning misty seaside scenery at the bottom of the mountain…. I almost fell off the bike trying to catch a glimpse through the trees. If that is what gettin lost is like, I hope we get lost loads πŸ™‚

We finally reach a bigger road and start heading right in the direction. Suddenly things start looking familiar…. Yup, its the campsite again! Oh well, off we go again. No regrets though! The srenery remains amazing as the road keeps winding along the seaside mountain. I had sworn to myself to never let a photo opportunity go by again. But I was so busy having a good time and learning to heave the loaded bike around the bends, we were almost back down the mountain before it occurred to me, that I didn’t have a single photo…. oh well, sorry guys, you’re just gonna have to take my word for it πŸ™‚

We kept following the winding coastal road – not a straight in sight! Every time there was a sign for a direct route to Bilbao, we ignored it and headed further along the coast.

Eventually we were exhausted and our un-trained shoulders started hurting, so we stopped in a little town for a coffee. Then on we went, only to start running out of petrol, with no petrol station in sight. Hadn’t seen one all day on those little roads. Emergency meeting in a carpark: plan hatched to find a bigger road at the first chance. We top the next hill and there is a petrol station all by itself in the middle of nowhere. Phew!

Tonight we wanted to stay in an actual camp site, so we could leave the bikes safely, while exploring Bilbao late into the night. The nearest campsite is in Sopelana. But we really wanted to be within walking distance of the city. So we rode into town anyways. A visit to the tourist information centre by the Guggenheim confirmed that there was no campsite closer by. And all the hostels were fully booked because the Aste Nagusia Festival was on. Good timing! But it meant we had to go back to the Sopelana campsite.

That was almost fully booked too, but because we had bikes (not cars) that could squeeze in with the tent, we got a spot πŸ™‚ We were exhausted! Nothing that a couple of beers from the campsite bar couldn’t fix! Put up the tent and quickly did some very overdue laundry.

Then off into town. There is a direct train from Sopelana into Bilbao and because of the festival, it was going to run pretty much all night… Perfect πŸ™‚

Pop-Up Market stall on the way to the station in Sopelana

We had seen a couple of stages and bars along the river in Bilbao, but nothing too spectacular looking, so we didn’t have too much faith in the festival. So the plan was to find a little restaurant for dinner and then to bumble about, exploring the city. Got off the train and started heading towards the Guggenheim, bottle of wine in hand.

Walked past an open door where people were sat on benches and cushions watching a big screen. I thought it was a movie but Aidan said they were skyping someone…. cool!

Then walked past a side street where people were spilling out of bars and restaurants into the street. There were lights and flags above their heads across the street.

So we went to investigate and found ourselves in the middle of the festival. The crowds spread all over the quarter and down to the river. EVERYONE was out! Grannys, children, punks, hapless tourists and everyone in between. Young people were having tapas, old men watched a football game, children were holding their grand parents’ hands, weaving through the crowd. The atmosphere was one of fun and mischivious revelry πŸ™‚

We stopped at a restaurant with a bunch of sixty-something guys singing football hymns. Sounds awful, right? But no hooligans in sight and so it was really happy and amusing…. and they served rabbit! I’m sold πŸ™‚

Surrounded by grannies, tummy full of Rabbit :)

Bumbeled around some more and bought some beers in a sweet shop.

The Sweet Shop where we got beer ;)

Suddenly a big bang…. or two…. or three… and the sky was ablaze with fireworks! I’m not normally a big fan, but these were beautiful!

Aidna making new Friends :p

Heard some rock music playing and turned around. We found ourselves in a more alternative quarter and stood right outside a Metal Bar. Sweet! In we go πŸ™‚ All smoky and black, with a motorbike amongst the spirit bottles behind the bar. My kind of place! The small place was filled with twenty something metal heads and a few rock chicks. One girl looked distinctively out of place with a where-the-hell-did-you-take-me-on-our-first-date expression on her face. The guys behind the bar had long black hair and one of them was picking rock and metal tunes on his laptop.

We grabbed a beer and startedΒ  dancing (well, I did, Aidan doesn’t dance unless unconciously drunk πŸ™‚ ). Got the music guy to play Engel by Ramstein and sang along at the top of my voice. Don’t worry, no-one could hear me over the loudspeakers πŸ™‚ Then the guy behind the bar started pouring vodka from the bottle down people’s throats so I went and got my share πŸ™‚ A good night! Eventually the money ran out so we stumbeled back to the train.

Woke up with a hangover from hell, which we tried to cure with the last of our rations: Cheesy beans on dry spanish bread. Then packed up in a disoriented hurry and managed to check out just in time at 12 o’clock. Headed off south-west and got lost in Bilbao’s industrial Estate. Managed to escape down a tiny road that wound its way up the mountain. Stopped half way up with an amazing view of the city and brewed another coffee. Txt my dad so he know’s we’re still alive. He wrote back he was busy making coffee too! … great minds… πŸ™‚

Riding on, we came across a bunch of ponies grazing on a roundabout, near a pretty spot. No Idea what it was, only that it had a car park so you could stop and stare.

The road continued climbing until we reached the plateau at the top of the world! – Felt like it anyways πŸ™‚ From then on the landscape was golden: just-harvested corn fields, yellow sunflowers and orange soil. The peaks of the hills were peppered with windmills. The hangover was slowly wearing off and I started playing around with taking photos whilst riding…. Throttle mate on, keeping the throttle open. Then open the tank bag, fetch the camera, turn it on…. oops I’m slowing down….. camara into left hand, throttle back open….. camera into right hand (I am right handed), focus… and click! All the while trying to keep an eye on the road. Its almost empty, but thats not gonna stop me from landing in the ditch! And then reverse the order… adjust throttle… and put the camera away safely all before a car comes zooming around the next difficult bend straight towards me.

Eventually we outrun the last of the clouds. Swapped them for blue skies and lots of wind and decended down the other side of the mountain. The landscape was all farmed fields now. The wheat and barley had just been taken in, but the fields had not yet been ploughed and so remained a golden colour. There were very few trees and the land was pretty flat, which became a problem when we started looking for a spot to pitch the tent for the night.

We decided to hop off the main road onto a really dusty farm track that went on and on and on. Eventually it led us to a grove of very young pine trees and we decided to leave the bikes and explore on foot. There was path where we could fit the tent, hidden away to one side so we returned to fetch the bikes. Just as we were going to start up the bikes, a man walking his dog turned up. We had read somewhere that wildcamping is illegal in some parts of Spain and decided to let them go on their way.

Eventually we got tired of pretending to drink water, so we decided to just assume they had gone and make a dash for it. That minute the man poked his nose around the pine trees…. he was obviously checking on us. Hm….. oh well! We decided to move on and come back if we couldn’t find anything else. Started up the bikes and man and dog popped out of the trees and up the path, walking past us without greeting. We had only ridden about 300 metres when they turned back the way they had come. So they were definitely just making sure we didn’t camp there!

We bounced down another dirt track to the right, past some rowdy barking dogs and hopped back onto the main road. Things were getting desparate now! It would get dark soon and we were tired. We tried another little path that led straight onto a freshly harvested field. Aidan turned onto the field and stopped at the opposite edge by some trees. I waited to see what he would do, as it was super bumpy and well difficult to ride. But he stayed there so I opened the throttle wide and hopped and bounced across the field towards him. When I got half way, he decided to head towards the other corner. So I tried to turn and got stuck in one of the rills, almost dropped the bike – butI managed to get my foot on the ground and kicked it back up. (Yay!!! First time I’d managed to do that πŸ™‚ ). Meantime Aidan headed back to the road (grrrrrr!), so I gunned it in a huge semi-circle across the rills and managed to get the bike out of the field without falling off – Phew! NOW I really was exhausted. Real good fun tho πŸ™‚

Off-road training over we decided to ride on for half and hour and hope the landscape would change a little and there would be more hidden spots. Came across some big bushes by the side of the road with a path leading into them and found a spot where we couldn’t be seen from the road or the field behind. As we put up the tent, we kept listening up, but no-one was there to tell us to move on. So we cracked open the wine and setteled in.

The ground was dry and covered in parched grass, twigs and leaves so we were really worried our stove would set the place on fire. But I”m not going out with an architectΒ  for no reason! Soon the ground was soaked with water and a cooking platform constructed on top, using the pannier lids. We had another yummy fishy pasta with smoked mackrel (my hands stank of fish all night 😦 ) and of course the obligatory wine, cheese, anchovy-stuffed olives and yummie bread while we were waiting for dinner to be ready (or “dinner before dinner” as Elena described it in Paris πŸ™‚ ).

Yum!!! :)

We had bought the olives and cheese and wine in a tiny little corner shop in Osorna. It being Summer and Spain, it was was some festival or other, and the supermarkets were closed. But we spotted some teenagers with shopping bags full of sweets, cola and bread. So we pointed at the bags and they pointed us towards a shop (hidden behind a huge sun cover), proudly using as much of their (only partially relevant) english as they could.

The shop sold mainly sweets, but also had some essentials. A little old lady in the shop had managed to find some cheese, which I could not see anywhere in any of the fridges. So when she gestured that we should take her spot in the que and pay first, I pointed at the cheese in her shopping basket, then waved my hand towards the fridge with a puzzled look, saying something about “Queso”. She waddled off and proudly retrieved another piece of cheese from next to the coke tins, perfectly hidden behind a massive sticker on the glass fridge door.

Some more finger pointing and various pronounciations of “pan” got us some bread from behind the counter and we finally had everything we needed. A Calculator told us the price to pay and we laboriously counted out the still quite unfamiliar euros. Yay for the super nice little old lady with huge amounts of patience for silly foreigners with pink hair, clad in full bike gear in the Spanish summer heat πŸ™‚

After dinner, still undiscovered by anyone that could tell us to go elsewhere, we wrote out diaries and Aidan plotted tomorrows route in the Atlas. Of Course Aidan finished before me, as usual! The wine was finished too, so time to climb into the sleeping bags and pass out!

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