Where the fuck is France??

Pamplona to Bordeaux (roughly) – about 250 miles

In the morning we had bread, cheese and squid sperm for breakfast. Actually they are Angurinas, but we didn’t know that at the time. They are made from surimi and are supposed to look like baby eels – basically the affordable version of the super expensive traditional Spanish delicacy. And they are yummie, even if they look like sperm 🙂

As we packed up the tent, a lady in a 4×4 and a guy on a tractor drove past. We smiled and waved and they smiled and waved back. Aidan needn’t have worried about being told off for wildcamping. We got going quite quickly though, as we had another long ride ahead. We would reach France and do a good few miles into the country. In Pamplona we took a wrong turn and ended up on the road to San Sebastian, instead of on the more direct way home along the N135. So we decided to turn east and cut across to our original route…. only to get lost in the Pyrenees!

Oh well! These little mountain roads through tiny villages were stunning, so we didn’t care. In some places you had to squeeze between the houses. Everyone drove at a snail’s pace as there is only ever space for one car at a time to turn around the bends. A huge flock was circling above a barn, but we couldn’t figure out what they were up to.

At lunch time, many little fields and bendy roads along tree covered mountain sides later, we still hadn’t found France. But we did find a huge supermarket and shopping centre in the middle of the forest. A guy came over to us in the car park and said something including “moto” in spanish with a huge smile on his face. We must have looked rather puzzled so he pointed straight at the shopping complex, mimed eating and said “bene”. So we grabbed a yummie spanish omelette and a cold beer from the bar and consulted the atlas.

Refreshed and with a new plan we set off again, and got lost straight away, ending up on the NA6200 instead of the N135. The road started twisting higher and higher up the mountain with ever tinier hairbend turns. Little ponies, who seemingly belonged to no one, clung on to the  edge by the roadside, grazing nonchalantly as if they definitely didn’t look like they were about to slip down the steep slope.

It was real difficult to heave the bike round the bends. I didn’t even get a chance to wave at the bikers parked in a little passing spot half way up the mountain. Sorry guys! The issue wasn’t helped by the fact that I was so busy enjoying the view, I didn’t really concentrate on the riding. The road was really narrow, so an oncoming white van suddenly drew my attention back to the road, as we edged around each other in a sharp left turn – me on the outside with a big scary drop!

The mountain just didn’t seem to peak and the road went higher and higher, growing ever steeper. Then round another hairpin bend, it suddenly flattened out to reveal a restaurant and stunning views down either side of the mountain. We stopped for a breather and to take a couple of pictures, before we tackled the descent on the other side.

As we were winding our way down the narrow road on the other side, the road signs looked different. And then it dawned on me: we found France! The border must be back at the restaurant, although there were no signs, as far as I remember. At the bottom of the mountain my suspicions were confirmed. There were signs for the Patisserie and the Boulangerie and everything had a proper, well-kept, northern European feel.

We were still lost though, and now running low on fuel on small roads in the middle of nowhere. So we stopped outside a little village supermarket. I went inside to fetch ice cream (it was around 32º and we were boiling in our bike clothes) while Aidan consulted the maps on his phone. There wasn’t much choice so I grabbed a packet of six Mars ice creams. The shop keeper sat behind the counter, reading the paper. I asked him in broken French about the nearest petrol station and he launched into a comprehensive description of where we should be going. I sort of got the jist of it and reported back to Aidan.

There was no way we could finish six ice creams. So I gave the rest a bunch of kids messing about outside the shop. They were a little surprised and a little shy. I apologetically mentioned there were only a couple of  ice creams left for eight of them, but they didn’t seem to mind sharing. We rode off with them waving and yelling “Thank you!” and some other school english after us smiles all round 🙂

Aidan had of course decided to go an entirely different way to the shop keepers elaborate suggestions, but we finally found a petrol station (where we queued up for ages only to find we’d picked the broken pump that took aaaaaaaages to fill both bikes). Our map suggested that the near-by motorway was free so we decided to make up some miles.  But times had changed and the signs warning of the looming toll booths a few miles ahead had us turn off onto D-roads again.

Suddenly Aidan’s riding style became all confident so I assume he finally figured out where we were. Nowhere near as close to Bordeaux as I had assumed though and there was no chance of us passing the city today. So we started looking for a camping spot instead. As is typical for this region, we were surrounded by pine trees, pine tree plantations and more pine trees. So we just turned down a tiny road into the trees and pitched the tent on an unused path in between the trees.

We had brought lots of extra water today so I hung the water bag from a tree, stripped and had a shower right out in the open. That felt good 🙂 Meanwhile Aidan cheffed up a yummie dinner of patatas bravas, chorizo and peppers. (My panniers now stink of peppers as they basically roasted in there all day in the sunny heat!)

Then I did the washing up and Aidan had a shower. I was going to take pictures of the shower, but it had got too dark…. sorry guys!

Then we curled up in the tent with some wine and Spanish cinnamon biscuits, writing our diaries to the soundtrack of a fox yelping in the distance (Why do they always sound like a screaming child?). I hope he doesn’t decide to tear through our tent when he smells our food! But I was too exhausted to worry and just fell asleep as soon as the wine was finished 🙂

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