Cacares, Salamanca, Bilbao

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June 2nd 2012
Published: June 3rd 2012
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We had three days to cover the 650 miles from Malaga to Bilbao, allowing a more touristique route to be taken. Having ridden 250 miles the day previous to Caceres we elected to just scoot up to Salamanca a mere 125 miles north of Caceres today. This left about 270 miles to cover on Saturday to make the evening ferry from Bilbao.

Salamanca has the reputation of being the Spanish’s favourite city and it is quickly apparent why. A magnificent square is perhaps the centrepiece but it is thronged all around by superb architecture. The University’s inner courtyards rivalled those of the Cambridge colleges and the Cathedral and other buildings of the old city, churches and municipal, mesmerising. Added to this the town had a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere and the ambience of a feel-good student town with the kind of buzz that only an abundance of youth can provide. Venturing out at lunch the town had a sleepy empty vibe which was totally transformed come the evening. The streets drew in crowds of people, in bars and cafes, or just milling around. The square filled with groups of students sat down on the floor in various socialised circles chatting and drinking. Somewhat wistfully you realised how much more civilised or grown up this was than student life in the UK. I had a simply fantastic time at Uni, but like most the focus was largely alcohol fuelled. Here students sat sipping mineral water discussing the day past. I could have spent days here, it was a special place and one of the coolest cities I have ever been to - I will definitely come back. If Cacares was a hidden jewel Salamanca was a veritable treasure trove.

The following day we set off around lunch to time our arrival in Bilbao with not too much time to waste, but enough to allow for any slight issues. If we’d arrived too early we would have had to have gone to the Guggenheim, as there is precious little else to do and that would have displeased Nic! There was little to report about the journeys between places now, as we were firmly tied into the Autopistes. A necessary evil to make the progress you needed when covering larger distances without tiring yourself stupid. This route west of Madrid though was a far superior route to the slightly more direct one we had taken down. There was infinitely more to see and critically (for me) the motorways were not as exposed so I didn’t get as beaten up by the wind. During an earlier more blasted route I suddenly heard Vince p*ssing himself laughing through my intercom, when he noted that I was riding at 45 degrees on the straight – leaning into the wind. It was admittedly funny and his comment of “I’ve never seen anyone scraping their pegs in a straight line before” rather apt.

20 miles out from Bilbao I had to stop as my &rse was killing me and anyway I wanted to fill up and have enough gas to be able to nail it straight home from Portsmouth so I could get home to see Ellie and Harry as quickly as possible. Up lobbed a guy in all the gear - the full KTM desert robes, Kriega water container on a Paris Dakar 990 KTM. Being friendly types we struck up a conversation with him, but on asking him where he’d been his response “… oh where haven’t I been” told me all I needed to know about the likely bore he was to be and my heart sank. Actually it turned out he’d been to Spain and Morocco (with a brief diversion into Portugal) so not entirely different from our trip. After a couple of minutes of monotonic drivel and with the listening abilities of Van Gogh after his DIY operation I couldn’t entertain listening to his self importance any longer and somewhat rudely left to go fill up my bike, leaving poor old Vince to have to suffer this imbecile on his own. It was perhaps a moment of shocking self realisation when I had to admit that even Vince Poole has more patience than I have! What amused me and Vince, was that despite leaving the gas station about three weeks before us we soon passed him – if he’d gone any slower he’d have fallen off.

We entered Bilbao with three hours till ferry departure and decided to at least fly by the Guggenheim and for Vince to take a snap to imply to Nic that he’s been inside. Then we set off on the non-trivial exercise of finding the port. There were tens of them in the GPS so we selected one and set off – no signs for the Port, or Puerto, anywhere. Then started Gary’s tour of the ports of Bilbao – policemen seemed to think the Ferry’s went from the Stutz (something or other port), another helpful person said they’d changed. Luckily we had a buffer because I fannied around for an hour trying to find the “right” port, taking in Cruise liner ports, commercial ports and the like. We came across a bizarre bridge come ferry, basically a suspended piece of road that is winched across the, not insubstantial, river and Vince thought it highly amusing we had to take a ferry to make the ferry.

But of course we found the ferry and this, the penultimate blog entry, is being written on the ship’s outer deck looking out to sea and will be uploaded on the ship’s wifi. The trip was well and truly over, we’d covered over 2500 miles and seen and experienced some amazing things – the calls of the muezzin from hundreds of mosques reverberating across the Fes el-Bali medina from our sanctuarious vantage point of the sumptuous Palais Jamais , riding through the Ziz valley and the Atlas passes, Chefchaouen in the Rif mountains and of course the goal of the trip, the Sahara itself. In addition a more relaxed return schedule through Spain had allowed us to take in some truly stunning cities. All in all a fantastic trip!


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