Ourense (Just outside Portugal)

Just East of Leon to just South of Ourense – about 290 miles

Last night we were a bit jumpy at the thought of camping illegally, in a spot we weren’t entirely sure was out of the way. Those fears were put to bed once we’d worked our way through a bottle of wine though, and we slept well. I woke before Maria, either because of the cold – trees keeping the morning sun off the tent – or because of the sound of gunshot in the distance. I wasn’t too worried; the shots were from a hunting rifle, and I figured in rural Spain shooting random little creatures was probably a good way to pass a Sunday morning. Besides, the birds in the trees above the tent hadn’t stopped chirping and I figured they’d know before me if it was time to run for it.

The clock showed that I’d slept in longer than planned though, so I figured I’d get up and make coffee. Over breakfast, we started to exchange glances as the gunshots became gradually louder, and when we heard voices around the corner we decided it was time to pack up pronto and be on our way lest we be confronted with angry and well armed Spanish farmers. The washing up and packing up done in a record one hour forty, we jumped on the bikes, steered out of the clearing, and gunned it towards the main road – past a group of confused looking Spaniards in full camo gear! Back up to cruising speed and with the sun on our backs, we notched that one up as a success and looked ahead.

Since we’d spent a large part of the previous day wandering around, consulting the map, and doubling back on ourselves, I’d decided to spend some time last night making sure I knew the route and jotting down some fairly detailed notes. Armed with these we were soon in Leon and looking to stop for supplies. Leon is a fairly substantial city and nice looking, judging from a first ride down the main street (though I have to say that I knew nothing about it, other than the fact that Antoni Gaudi had stuck a building somewhere around the outskirts).

The only problem: it was Sunday. In Spain everything shuts down on Sunday. Even in a big city like Leon. Even the hypermarket that we rode around for 10 minutes. After a few trips round the centre, all to no avail, we stopped at some traffic lights to assess. Maria was suggesting we try to follow signs to a McDonalds on the outskirts of town just to avoid starving, though I thought mugging an old lady who was feeding stale bread to the ducks might be a more palatable option. A thunderous roar drowned out our discussion, and signaled the arrival of a Harley – a laid back looking guy sporting a sleeveless leather vest and a custom painted Hawaiian sunset on his tank. I had seen him earlier on in town and given him the nod, unable to hold back a bemused smirk at the sight of the huge fire extinguisher he had seen fit to attach to his front fork. Well, you know; Harleys…..

He pulled up next to us in the middle of some crazy traffic at on a junction, asked us in Spanish what we were looking for (I assume). And when Maria launched into a mime of stuffing food into her helmet whilst shouting “Supermercado” above the noise, he tore off through the streets, with us in hot pursuit.

The guy must have known the town well, because the little corner shop he led us to was hidden, to the extent that I can’t imagine many locals even know about it. He stopped the bike in the middle of the crossroads (I followed suit), jumped off his bike to introduce himself as Carlos, exchange greetings, ask about our route, and confirm our suspicions that yes, everything would be closed on any given Sunday (all without any common language).

Then, his good deed done for the day, he jumped back on his bike and roared off into the traffic, leaving two very grateful bikers behind. The shop was small and seemed to be of an organic persuasion so, for a slightly extortionate fee we got some amazing chorizo, enormous peppers, wine, peaches, chocolate and water. Then back on the bikes and on towards Astorga (another town with a Gaudi building that I didn’t get to see).

The road south to Astorga (the N120) was fairly uneventful, until it led us on to the N-536. What a great road. Sweeping through the mountains, skirting beside rivers, lakes and forests, and superseded by a new section of N120 that took most of the traffic away. Unfortunately, I couldn’t spend nearly enough time throwing the bike around hairpins and being generally stupid before we had to jump back on to the N120.

On the plus side, this allowed us to eat up a lot of miles and we were passing Ourense before 6pm. From there we were on the OU-540 which will eventually take us across the border into Portugal, and we started looking for camp. A few excursions on the bikes, and sometimes on foot, and we eventually found a really promising, if slightly mystical looking single track path that plunged into a dark forest. Our first few steps in were fairly tentative, since we had to fight through a black cloud of mozzies, but just as we were thinking about giving up and turning back the path opened out into a freshly mown field, with a nice big chestnut tree in the corner and a decent view of the local village. Yes, the field was on a 30° slope, and the conkers on the tree looked like they’d been designed by H.R. Geiger (not that they were phallic, just evil and spiky) but by now this was old hat, and we had the tent set up with a couple of hours of daylight left. That finally gave us some time to do a bit of bike maintenance and rearrange the panniers. So with the sun going down on our last night in Spain (for now), we ate our amazing-but-extortionate chorizo and I played around with my camera while Maria got busy writing postcards.

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