Default is a straight line, a fold in a map of Europe. The fold determines the direction and defines the journey of discovery for several pioneering bikers, who are driven by sun, wind and muscles. The artistic caravan explores and accentuates a new culture of travelling with nomadic technologies. Artists, designers, technologists and collectors are invited to pursue their artistic practice whilst travelling by bike through Europe from the north of Ireland to the south of Portugal.
Default is a project by the Brussels-based artistic organisation nadine and is part of the ALOTOF and the Splinterfields programme. The journey runs from 15 August to 15 September 2013.
The last four days, three people of the Default group traveled by train and bike towards the starting point, Viviero. Here are some impressions of our journey..Our fist stop on 17 August was Bordeaux. After spending the night in a hotel 'très français' the city and its churches unveiled itself in the morning sun. The city is perfect for bikers (all streets are two way streets for the bike), but watch out for glass.. The first tire had to be repaired after 2km of biking..Our next stop was Hendaye the last train station of France, from where it's 3km to the border of Spain, Irun. Biking to San Sebastián was not the best option since there are only big roads without real space for cyclists heading towards the coast. With 300km still to go, we decide to explore the public transportation in Northern Spain. Not an easy job since there are many many options: there is the normal train (Renfe) and then there local trains as well.. Some are like metro trains (Eusko tren) and others look more like coast tramways (Feve). Our journey in a nutshell: Irun-San Sebastian by metro like train, San Sebastián-Deba by Eusko tren, Deba-Mutriku by bike (beautiful ride along the coast, campside with a view and best salad ever at Ametza Taberna), Deba-Bibao by Eusko tren, Bilbao-Santander by Feve, Santander-Oviedo by Feve, Oviedo-Foz by Feve and finally Foz-Viveiro by bike, following the coast line. It took us over four days to get to our destination, with Feve train as the winner in public transport. Since it follows the whole coastline from Bilbao to Ferrol it's easy to get in and out and continue by bicycle. One bike shop we passed needs to be mention specifically because the bike repairman helped us a whole lot, thanks again: Cerezo bikes, cerezobikes.es!Today we are gathering in Viveiro with two more artists and we will leave the sea behind and follow another fold in a train map of Europe. Default #1 has started...
The coast of northern Spain has an overwhelming diversity of plants. Simular to Meditterranean areas it is dominated by various pine trees and aromatic herbs, particularly mint. Along roadsides there are endless populations of Wild carrot and horseradish in between ferns. The biodiversity here goes beyond anything I've seen in Europe, bit I've not been to Polish forests etc yet. There is a tall slender tree here that looks very much like a Eucaliptus, so do the seedpods that it trickels around on the floor. I wonder if they are native. They have those distinct drooping narrow leaves. Looks like it belongs in Australia. Urban planners seem to like palm trees. Somehow you always associate them with plastic ones. They represent the more kitch tree variaties. We slept right next to the cliffs at Foz and we picknicked on the massive stones which are rough on top and are aquadinamically curved on all sides to which bright carpets of algae cling. Harbours are still full of seaweeds, and some Harder (don't know the English name) were spauning. The mountains grow directly out off the ocean and as you cycle you see the mint like color of the waves through the ferns. Wood seems to be a large industry. Many people have vegetable gardens, current corps include beans, tomatoes and to our great surprise almost all have Brussel sprouts! People grow small, very dark looking apples, peach, various oranges (mostly lemon) and fig trees grow everywhere, both in gardens and wild. There are definately no signs of desertification or eutrification here and rumors say that a German botanist recently descovered a new species here. I certainly am. There are many plants I've never seen before. The landscape isn't particularly aromatic in terms of plants, the ocean blows the scents away. I've however collected mint to roll up in my sleepingbag. Works very well people! Stay fresh on Default.
Route: Default#1Activity: CycleRide Link: http://runmeter.com/1e9a6299bc195a9e/Cycle-20130822-1657?r=xImport Link: http://share.abvio.com/1e9a6299bc195a9e/Runmeter-Cycle-20130822-1657.kmlStarted: Aug 22, 2013, 4:57:35 PMRide Time: 4:35:07Stopped Time: 0:00Distance: 29.23 kmAverage Speed: 6.37 km/hFastest Speed: 52.42 km/hAscent: 771 metersDescent: 530 metersCalories: 1591Bike: Tern http://www.runmeter.com
The first group meets up with Pacôme and Nicolas in Viveiro around 12:00. Their journey was a bit longer then expected due to the bus that broke down between Irun and Aviles. Luckily there was the Feve in the morning to unite the group.We decided to go to the very starting point of the fold, 10km further away, uphill. The bay where the fold starts is perfect bay. The idea for today is to bike to a town also called Viveiro. After a swim we start Default#1 around 17:00. A very nice mountain road takes us to a small village 6km away from the next Viveiro. In A Taberna de Xerdiz the sweet Martha takes care of us, making dinner, offering a place to sleep and making breakfast in the morning. An excellent first day!
After a night in the festivity space of the community the mother of Martha makes us a real power breakfast. We decide to ask some questions about the village Xerdiz. She was born and raised there and has seen the village change tremendously. The windmills in the hills, the Eucalyptus trees that were not there before and the loss of different plants are amongst her most important changes of the landscape in her life. She explains us that the village of Xerdiz works as a cooperative, sharing food, livestock and communal buildings. She insists we visit the cemetery across the Taberna and hands us a huge key to open it's door. The cemeteries in this area are enclosed spaces where small gravestones are stacked upon each other, almost like flats in a city with a cross on top. A local sculptor handcrafted all the sculptures of the graves, which gives the cemetery of Xerdiz a very unified look. The cemetery was build in the beginning of the last century and seemed to be a joint initiative of the villagers. A metal plate lists beautifully how much gold, silver or iron people invested in the construction around 1905.Our journey of the the day begins with a huge climb to the next village Viveiro. It looks quite deserted and is not bigger then a square and a same kind of cemetery then Xerdiz. We climb even further in the mountains until we reach .... Where we take a break to avoid the midday heat. At Casa Maria we explore the local beverages (Kas and Okay) and ask the people present (Maria, who tens the bar, and an old 78 year old couple) about their experience with the changing of the landscape. They explain us how the windmills brought over a period of eight years different nationalities, French, Dutch, to their small village who worked on the windmill project. The promises made by the government that their energy bills would go down with the windmills providing clean energy were not kept, and after 8 years when the windmills were ready, the village was deserted again leaving mostly old people, since the youngsters leave the village for jobs outside of Spain as far as Brasil and China. Trying to leave with a positive note after our discussion we ask the 78 year old lady at the best recipes of the region. She immediately springs to life. It's a special vegetable soup and a dish with wild boar that is called "javalli". She's offering to make us some food, but we unfortunately have to continue the fold now the sun is less sharp.To our surprise the next 20km are quite flat surfaced, entering the valley of the sierra de ... and we reach the village Cospeito known for its lakes. We decide to get a pick nick and place to sleep around the lake, but mosquito experiences from the past drive us bit further away to the next village where the lovely Pilar and Jose offer us to put our tents, hammocks and sleeping bags in their garden. They invite us for a late evening talk at their house and curiously ask us what we are doing. The fact that we are not artists as painters or sculptors leads to a nice definition of a contemporary default artist: like painters painting the landscape, we are explorers in and of that landscape communicating our experience along the line and to the outside world with our works.
We leave Cospeito early in the morning and head for Lugo today. A drizzling rain leads us through the valley. The landscape is quite flat which gives our legs a bit of rest after the days before. The concert of dogs continues throughout the whole journey to Lugo. After 5 hours of biking we reach the ancient city that busted out its medieval city walls. The city now reaches until the small rural villages around which gives a weird view when you are at the border of countryside and urban life. For lunch we are directed towards a local pulperia 'La fuente del Rei'. When we try to find a p,a e to stay we find out that Lugo is a stopping place for the Compostela pilgrims. Luckily there are still some places in hostel KM 511 as well as a washing machine. The owner of the place explains us that 511 stands for the 511 km Lugo is away from Madrid. In Roman times there was a direct road to the capital. Lugo still has the great city walls that protected the city from attacks and the cathedral preserved from that era.After a relaxing evening and pick nick in one of our rooms we get in bed early.
Breakfast is served in the boys room, the washings are dry and after some coffee with the owner we hit the road for day 4 of the fold. We are able to stay quite close to the fold and even cross it at one point. The road is quite easy and we almost cannot believe that it takes us half the time then yesterday to reach the same distance. We have lunch and some of us a swim at Portomarin, another stop for the hordes of Camino pilgrims that are close to their destination. The village is celebrating this Sunday the 50 year celebration of the new city. Apparently 50 years ago the whole city had to move uphill for the construction of a dam that drowned the old town. Now they are draining the river in order to see the remaining a of the old town. The view is spectacular. The new bridge crosses the water that is so low that you can see the old bridge as well as some remains of the city walls. Since we only biked three hours today we decide to go a little further. With a bit of remorse we leave the town and its festivities. Following the fold takes us all the way up in the mountains. The views are beautiful, but it's a though ride. We hold a pause in a small village to write, film, photograph, draw, etc. An old couple explains us that the low walls, made with layers of 'piedra pizarra' (a stone also used for the roofs up here), that divide the landscape in different fields were already there as long as they live. They still respect the parcels of the fields, although sometimes some are fused together. Around 7 pm we decide to head a bit further until we see a graveyard and church. There should also be a monastery so we decide to look for a camping spot over there. The church, cemetery and monastery (which is in fact a ruin) date from the 12th century. That's what we learn from Jose, an artisan living with his parents, wife and daughter in a farm close to the church. They offer us a very nice place to camp, next to the watermill for grinding grain that was still used 20 years ago. We also can get water from the source and for diner they give us homemade bread and chorizo. Up in the mountains the days are warm and windy and the nights are very cold. After dinner under our self improvised tent, we get some rest in our 1000 star hotel.
After a cold night, breakfast is served today in a town 1 km uphill at a place with the most 'beautiful coffee machine' (NMW). With egg breakfast and plums from the mother of Jose in our stomach we head for our fist stopping place Monforte. The road is though again, but most beautiful. At one point we lost each other on the way since the biking rhythms get easily spread out, but Pacôme got everyone back together again. Monforte seems to be one of the bigger cities in this area after Lugo. It has a medieval castle etc, but we decide not to explore to much as tourists. Food is concern number one and then there is some time left for everybody to work on their own things. Juliane would like to mention Alfonso who works at Intersport of Monforte (street Cardenal 36) and helped her out finding a suitable compass for the trip.We meet up at the old stone bridge to get further this day until the Rio Sil. It only has a couple of crosses and it would be good to get there before tomorrow. Before getting on the bike there is quite a big discussion about how to travel as a group but being comfortable and free enough as individuals. This seems to be a question that keeps coming back, and was also addressed during our previous fold during the project Resilients. It's not easy to address this issue since the physicality and rhythm of each person not always coincide with other members of the group. We decide for the coming days to try and meet at different stopping points.Talking about a physical experience, the road to the river crosses a high mountain that needs to be climbed and descended. We get some pick nick at Sober, a more rich area outside Monforte and head for the mountain that is lying ahead of us. Once reached the top at 900m, the view is spectacular. And the descent to the river even more. Biking is not really an option since it's too steep here. The road down (that took an hour approximately) ends at a chapel, behind which we find a place to camp. Another 1000 star hotel.
In the morning the mountains around us show themselves in the sun. The trajectory for this morning lies ahead.. Climbing 400m in 7km, we stall a bit this morning.. After fixing the brakes of Nicolas (going downhill yesterday a small splinter got caught in the rubber of the brake so it's scratched the metal quite badly) and breakfast, everybody gives an update about their personal projects and process. Here is a small summary:Theun collects micro fauna and flora and researches the macro landscape.Juliane researches the landscape and how the outer landscape effects the inner one.Nicolas registers the whole journey with video and photo camera. Default is part of his bigger 'Big Brother'-like project.Pacôme collects data like newspapers, wifi names, and documents photographically our journey.nadine communicates the journey outward and observes the communication between the group and their landscape.take the small almost hidden footpath down to cross the first little bridge. At the other side the path goes up and there we take the big bridge and start climbing our way up. It takes us about an hour to get out of the canyon of Rio Sil. But is was worth it. The first village across the bridge is O Rasa where we get some energy back. We decide to go a little further to Luistra to have lunch and post the newspapers of Pacôme. The owner of the bar says it's only 20min and all downhill. In reality it's 40min. And almost only uphill. This day is the heaviest so far. Luckily there is a small, packed restaurant where we can charge our things and get the menu of the day. The road so far was though but was only 13km. 23km further is Maceda, one of the bigger towns of this area, quite a climb, but also many downhills. Juliane decides to find a sleeping place in one of the villages before Maceda. The rest goes further to the town where many people gathered outside and to our surprise, many young people. We realise that we mostly saw older people so far and they all confirmed us that the young people leave the small villages, leaving the community behind to do the agricultural work. Weird to see al of sudden packed terrases full of students. Nicolas finds us a great place to stay. La Diligencia is a restaurant and pension. They actually didn't have room anymore, but we can stay in two rooms of an apartment of an old couple. They like our project a lot and want to help us out. After beers and tapas, time to sleep!
This next morning is full of activity: Juliane has a flat tire and has to walk to Maceda, Pacôme needs to post his 6kilo package of newspapers he collected, and Nicolas wants to get it on camera. But first there is an improvised breakfast (the cook is not there yet) at La Diligencia. We ask the owners a little bit about Maceda. The young people we've seen are not from around. Many people come to the little town (which used to be twice as big) for holiday. 5km outside Maceda lies Os Milagros with an ancient monastery and cemetery, a tourist attraction for many Spaniards. When the holidays are over in September, nothing is happening in the town anymore until next year. The young people of Spain mostly live in Bilbao, Barcelona, Madrid, the bigger cities of Spain or go abroad for jobs.Juliane's tire seems to be okay and we head for the post office. It's quite something for them to send such a package to Belgium, and to be filmed while working. Juliane also takes advantage of the post service and sends her first book of notes, drawings, paintings, etc to Belgium.Next stop, Laza. A trip of 40km of which the first 20km are going up (until 950m) and the next 20km down. Laza is the first village of a valley that will later lead to Verin and the border of Spain and Portugal. While having lunch in Laza we are surprised by a heavy rain hose passing by. We doubt to go further to Verin, but when the sky clears up we go anyway. The road through the valley is fantastic. During 20km we've never been riding so flat. Arriving in Verin, we notice a nice ambience of people and many bikes. The first thing we see is a bike shop called Bicicletas Chinquena. A very nice bike owner helps Nicolas out to find some extra brakes. We spot a very nice wooden bike in the shop and the owner gives us the number of the maker of it who actually lives in Verin. We decide to meet up with the guy later.First we take a look at Pension Venecia that was recommended to us as a place to stay. The rooms are cheap here (24€ for two people) and we decide to spend the night in Verin. The owner of the pension takes us outside and directs us to the building where we'll sleep.Once unpacked and installed we get in touch with the bike builder Gerardo. He picks us up with a truck and drives us to his atelier. We learn that it's a family business that already works with wood for four generations and that they are specialised in woodbending. It was the grandfather of Gerardo who builded the first wooden bike. The model looks very much like a solex designed by Piet Mondriaan. The new models that the current generation made (and patented) are more sportive and technologically advanced. The team consists of Gerardo (designer, PR and engineer), the father (woodworker and poet) and the brother (sportsman and tester of the bikes). After presenting the bikes and the family history, Nicolas makes a small interview for his documentary show, La Ruta del Trompe. And then comes the wine, sausage and bread, all his homemade. We find ourselves chatting like acquaintances, laughing and exchanging experiences, secrets about Cyclo Wood etc. We ask if the team of CycloWood would not be interested in a workshop designing and making wooden foldable bikes for our next Default. They like the idea and our project very much. Let's keep this both crazy and wonderful idea in mind! A workshop like that could in fact gather all the bike related people we me(e)t on this fold to gather in Verin.Gerardo takes us back to the town centre where we get a last drink and tapas to close this wonderful day and surprising evening.
We leave Verin after a nice breakfast in the town centre. The first thing that attracts us when we drive outside the city is a forest fire in the mountain left from us, just before the border of Portugal. It was like being on the first row of a rescue show with a helicopter going back and forth carrying water and two airplanes trying to contain the fire. After this spectacle we head for the border. We soon realise why nobody else was looking at the fire in the mountain. We pass so much burned land that it must be very common here.Crossing the border of Portugal is a small step, but a big change. Other hour, other people other language, other climate even. There is more drought in the landscape and not much shadow since there is not many trees along the road. It seems the Galician landscape was somehow cooler. We stop for a cafe con leite in the first bar after the border. We're happy to be in Portugal, but also realise the mountains is area doesn't stop all of a sudden here.. We get further to Chaves through the valley of Monterrei and enjoy the new landscape. The difference between The small village we stopped and Chaves couldn't be bigger. Rural vs urban, locals vs tourists, Portuguese vs different languages people speak. We have a short lunch break (finally some vegetables after the greasy, meaty food in Spain) and head further until Carrezode de Montenegro. Climbing it is again, 400m in 7km until we reach 900m. Once in the village, a guy from the supermarket directs us 3km further to a river where his family lives where we could camp. We go downhill and reach a very scenic 2 house big village with some meadows along the river. We set up camp next to the river and some sheep. While having our evening pick nick the water in the meadow rises quite high. Some of us decide to move to the next meadow that's higher and hopefully dryer.
It was a good decision to sleep in the higher meadow since Nicolas who slept in a hammock had a pool of water under his 'bed'. The night was cold for everyone, but soon as the morning sun climbs over the mountain it's immediately hot. We discuss in the morning with some help of a few villagers (with a young daughter that speaks English) how we'll organise our day. Theun needs to get to the only train station in the area at Guarda, still 127km away. In Guarda Various Artists arrived yesterday and is waiting to join the group. We decide to bike to Murca 30km further and see from there how to continue. The 3km we went down yesterday, we have to go up again. The road is unpaved and steep, so we have to walk all the way up until we get to a paved road. The sun is already burning at 11 in the morning and it takes us two hours for the 15km upwards to the first village on the way to Murca (called Jou). Some of us get some refreshments and sugar before continuing further.In Murca we take a good lunch and find a way to continue to Guarda with the help of Jose. It's weird to see the landscape pass that fast.. Around 21:00 we arrive in Guarda, the highest city of Portugal at 1000m. Various Artists did some exercise today and biked to the fold and back to collect ware for his project on the Fold. We find a place to stay in Pensao Allianz and then go to a local restaurant VA discovered yesterday. It's the owners birthday so the whole family trickles in. After dinner we celebrate the coming of VA in a fancy bar called Praca. We all hope the cachaca won't affect our performance tomorrow..
Sad day today since Theun is leaving us. At least that's what we thought. We go to the station to reserve him a ticket for the night train to France, but apparently all trains for the coming days are fully booked... After an exploration of all the options how to get to Ars Electronica in Linz on time he will take a train to Lissabon, and from there fly further to Barcelona and Munich and then take a train again. Woaw, public transport in Europe in summer is not easy. The freedom of travelling with an interrail ticket is not as free as it proclaims to be! Since the airplane only goes on Monday Theun joins us for another day to Fundao from where he can catch a train to Castelo Branco.Sorting out all these travel options time has passed.. We decide to lunch in Guarda and then hit the road. At 15:30 we are finally ready to continue the fold. But getting out Guarda in that heat is not the easiest thing. After many ups and downs we drive in the direction of Monforte, where VA extracts some more water from the river.After Monforte, we follow the direction of Covilhas. The road N18 is the national road that goes all the way to Castelo Branco. People on the road support and encourage us. They probably find us a bit crazy cycling trough this mountainous part of Portugal. Luckily today we bike through the valley, so the first day for VA is not too heavy. Around 20:00 we pass by a campsite just before Fundao. We did almost 60km today and that when we only biked from 15:30 onwards! A restaurant next to the campsite rewards us with local wine and food. Tomorrow we'd like to start early. Let's hope it works out this time!
Everybody gets up early for the ride to Castelo Branco. First we put Theun on the train in Alcaria. As difficult it is to come to the Fold, so difficult it is to get away from it. Today we ride in different groups to our destination. We all have different priorities on this journey and today the Fold presents itself almost like a menu. There are three different road going to Castelo Branco: the big highway, the national route (N18) and the local streets. All have their advantages and disadvantages. The N18 follows the fold the closest (is the busiest with cars and the fastest way for bikers to get to our next point) and so Pacôme would like to follow this way. He sees the fold as a line of information and is interested how the landscape, rural and urban changes continuously. Juliane is biking by herself today. She is a bit sick and wants to follow her own rhythm. For her the actual following of the line is not a priority. She follows the routes that get her in touch with the people and the landscape that otherwise she would never see. Her route is the smaller national road through the mountains (is about more up and down and a bit longer the. The N18). The last group, Nicolas, Various Artists and nadine, takes the longest route. Before following the same route as Juliane, they follow pathways through the valley. The priority or this group lies in seeing the diversity of the landscape along the fold and in avoiding bigger car roads. The more south we get, the hot and dry the landscape and climat gets. Although we started biking earlier today, at 11 it gets already over 30 degrees. The flora along the way is also changing. We pass many cork trees, olive orchards and many rivers are dry. After 2 hours of driving Pacôme is already at the lake before Castelo Branco, Juliane found beautiful resting place next to a source in the mountains where she catches up some sleep. And the last group only did 7km biking their way through agricultural unpaved pathways. They meet up with Pacôme 15km before Castelo Branco and arrive at the destination of the day around 20:00. Juliane is still not feeling so well and decides to stay in the mountains and rest.Castelo Branco is a very old town that dates from the 13th century and lies on top of a hill. We stay in a hostel with a bizarre architecture run by an old couple. We meet an old French speaking lady who comes here every year for holidays as she is a Portuguese living in France or over 50 years. She's happy to translate for us and directs us in the city. We find a cantina for dinner and are served the menu of the day with sangria. As we discuss our experiences so far it's clear that our heads need some time of. The input the fold gives us is endless, but the more full our heads become, the less real attention we pay and the less we communicate on the fold, which is the goal of this intentional travel. We go to bed tired and full of questions again not knowing what tomorrow will bring. The fold is one big surprise..
A busy morning awaits us. We'd like to get to know this ancient city a bit and decide to go out in the morning a bit. art supply shop, pharmacy, local bar and then back to the hostel to say goodbye to the French lady, pack up and head for the post office. There is a big newspaper package being send to Brussels again and with VA along the fold, the collected water from all the rivers we pass also gets send to Brussels. Nicolas documents it all carefully for this Ruta del Trompe. The next point on the original fold is Portalegre. The fold directs us through a small part of Spain, but unfortunately it is impossible to cross the border at this point. A natural border, the Crossing has no bridge In the neighbourhood of our fold. Instead of doing the impossible we head for Rodao. We first follow the tracks of the railway. We pass again cork, olive and Eucalyptus trees, and in the end we only see Eucalyptus. Arriving in Rodao explains the landscape. The whole village seems to be build around a paper factory where the Eucalyptus is transformed into paper. They extract cellulose from the young tree of which they make the paper. The smell around the factory reminds us of a mixture of cabbage, sauerkraut and rubber. Trucks go in and out and it's clear that this factory never stops working.The town is again one build uphill and at the first bar we hydrate ourself with the local cerveja. When we ask for a place to stay around the village, the whole street gets involved in finding us a place. One man speaks German and directs us to his neighbours. We end up in an apartment in the house of the Cardoso's. Juliane texts us that she was able to bike today and is happy to stay in Pedro and his daughters house.
Our morning in Rodao reveals another piece of the puzzle of the tree-life we see in this landscape. We visit a reconstructed farm in the centre of the town where we learn about old techniques to make olive oil. The museum is an initiative of local politicians and shows the procedures how to make olive oil and how the farm was constructed for the process. The whole region of Alentejo is famous for its olive oil and the curator of the museum explained us that only rich people made olive oil, not for commercial purposes, but for own use and as gifts. The whole museum is filled with donations from families of the region. Nowadays almost everyone uses mechanical processes, but there are still some farmers who use the old technique of pressing. Most of them are organised in cooperatives. We get a small bottle and then hit the road for Portalegre. First stop is the river Tejo, a big waterline that goes all the way to Lisboa. VA's cord to get the water is not long enough, the bridge is too high to reach the water. Luckily Pacôme packed extra rope for the trip. After this performance that was filmed from the inside the water jar with the GoPro of Nicolas, we decide to take a small walking route that follows the river. The route is not that easy and much has to be walked. The temperature is going up very fast and the route takes us much more time them we first thought. After a swim in the river halfway (when we discover this is the Ruta de Belgica) the road really gets though and the sun burns at almost 40 degrees. With almost no water left, we push through. Pacôme is our saviour being the first up the mountain and getting water for the rest of us. This hydration gives us enough power for the last kilometres until the first village Salavessa. There people are quite surprised seeing us. First of all because we're crazy biking at this time of the day (we arrive around 15:00) and second because no people come to this village unless you live there. It shows, since there is only one bar where we cannot get food. We get acquainted with two local guys, Vittor and Miguel, that live in the village and like our project a lot. They explain us it's quite difficult to get a decent job in the local region, so many people go work in the cities where they rent rooms and then come back to the village in the weekend. Miguel arranges some sandwiches and fruit for us, so we can continue our way. We pick nick at the side of the road and wait for the heat to be more bearable. Around five we continue our trip in the quiet road accompanied by the sunset. Portalegre seems a bit too difficult to reach after our over difficult midday trip so we head for Montalvao, a small town where all houses look alike (being painted white and yellow) and where people come out to the street between seven and two at night. At the first bar we ask for a pensao and by coincidence a woman, Isabel, comes in the bar and offers us two rooms to stay in. She even speaks Dutch having lived for over 20 years in Rotterdam. She has a nice house in the centre and half of the village is her family. Exhausted but proud of our accomplishments of the day we get in bed early.Juliane is far ahead of us, further then Portalegre. She's taking a few days by herself to do some writing and meeting people on the road.
The biggest room in Isabel's house didn't seem to be the best one. Despite the view and balcony, the church bells kept Nicolas from sleeping. We decide to go to Portalegre today and first get a breakfast at the niece of Isabel. Quite an adventure since she cannot hear us too well and the local happy people also come to get their morning coffee. On the road we see how cork is being dried in big chunks. This seems to be an important industry in this region. There is also quite a change in the landscape. Huge stones decorate the fields. Some farmers use them as a foundation for their stables. The low walls that separate those fields are made from the same kind of stone. They reminds us of the Pissarro walls we saw in Spain.At Castelo Vide we have to climb 150m up the mountain until 700m. We all thought the mountainous area would have been finished by now, but nothing is less true.. We do get the best view and can see all the castles from the region on the mountains around us. Portalegre however stays hidden. And it's only until we get there we see the city. We get a lunch in a hidden restaurant in the beginning of the hill where Portalegra is situated. We discover the regional gazpacho, sangria sem azucar, and sobremesas (meaning from Alentejo). We are quite early today and take the time to discover the city. It's quite crowded with young people here and even some tourists. An important product of this region is clearly the cork, that comes in many forms and products, even a leather like material. Our dinner we take in O Faia, a local restaurant owned by Manuel. We order his famous sardinhas (order 18 and get 23) with garlic potatoes and pimenta. His restaurant is also famous for the homemade rice pudding of his wife. After this wonderful meal from Miguel, we get one last aguardiente from grapes in a bar and then go to bed..
Portalegre > AssumarAfter breakfast VA and Pacôme go to the post office for another physical mailing of collected data (newspapers, water, cork products, postcards). After a coffee in the Hopper like bar, we go ahead to the 300m pure fold way on an industrial site. Of far from the city. Western movie style we bike 'our road', filmed by the camera of Nicolas and observed by some local workers who are amused with our little performance. After some group pictures we set to Monforte, an medieval town on a hill (of course, luckily they get lower to the south). Assumar > MonforteWe stop in Assumar for lunch. The centre of town is full of high fences and it seems something is about to happen in town. Give minutes later we learn there is a bull run tomorrow. We hesitate if we should come back for it tomorrow, but the owner of the cafe is not sure if there will be much running tomorrow since the parties are rather for super bock then the toros. After lunch we bike to Monforte. The fold is exactly in between rain and sun. The road we follow separates fields that are getting wet, and sun on the other side. We get to Monforte just before the rain, but once there the sky turns dark. We wait for two hours and see if the one hotel in town still has some rooms. Unfortunately they are full. Almost all rooms are rented to workers that come for summer work. This means we'll have to bike another 27km for the nearest city, since camping in this weather is not really an option. Monforte > EstremozIt's already 19:00 when we start biking to Estremoz. On the big road we have sun, wind, rain and spot some wild boars. We arrive in the city at 21:00, dead tired and hungry. The local dishes save us for the night and we're happy to have made it after our trip in the dark..
We treat ourselves with a tour around Estremoz in the morning. The city is divided in two part, uphill and downhill. Downhill is the most modern part and is outside of the medieval city walls. At a bakery we get the special bolinho de Reinha Santa. The patron saint of Estremoz is namely Isabel, queen of Portugal in the 13th century who died in the city of Estremoz and became holy because she performed a miracle. The story is that she left many times the cattle with bread under her dress she wanted to hand out to the poor people of the town. Her husband king Dionysus, an aggressive and violent man, once caught her and asked what she had under her dress. She said it were roses and when she opened her dress to reveal the bread many roses fell out of her lap.Despite of our long morning, we still decide to make some kilometres today. The goal is Monserraz, another medieval city on a hill 60km away. On the way to the first stop, Vila Vicosa, we see mostly three industries: olives, cork and stone. We stop at one of the stone carving places where hugest exes of marble lay in big piles. The town of Vila Vicosa is clearly a village build up for the many seasonal workers with it's small houses and few bars.The road is quite long and when we finally arrive in Monserraz in the evening we are surprised with the many people that are uphill in this small town build around a medieval fort. We didn't make any reservations for the night, which was clearly not a good idea. The fold takes us to brilliant places, but sometimes it's unforeseen how touristic the places are. There seemed to be a bull race in the medieval town this evening. We are just on time and luckily in Casa Antonia there is a room left for four people. We head out after 22:00 to go and see the bull fight. Nicolas and VA get very excited and decide to join the local heroes on the side of the fence where they release the bulls. They get the best photographs of everybody that is recording this game. Basically there are three bulls released that night and each time brave guys try to distract the bull by running in front of hit. The tension in the small town is impressive and after the run, the party goes on in the old castle. With the adrenaline still running we decide to get some food at night and then head for our sleeping place. The next bulls will be released at 9:00 in the morning, while people are still partying..
After a sleepless night in this party town full of drunken noises we get up to watch the bull running underneath our window. We make a tour around the town and in the castle and find the end of a drunken party. Not everybody in town is tired this morning though. We meet Nizette Nielsen has a small shop full of woven rugs and hand made products. She apparently owns a factory in Reguenos de Monsaraz where employes mostly woman from the local region. The factory used to be much bigger, but since the Portuguese cloth industry got competition from Eastern countries like China, India and Bangladesh, she had to re-orientate the factory. After commissions of big companies the factory now works for private clients and mainly works with ancient patterns. Next to her shop we find two Frenchmen in a shop Casa Tial with local goodies, like canned sardines, olive oil, sirups, candies, and good coffee. Thierry and Alexandre are already three years living in Portugal and started this shop five months ago. After these nice encounters we leave the Castelo for Mourao. Therefor we need to cross the Guadiana lake, created by several dams and only exists for 12 years. The view is impressive and at first we can only see its beauty. After biking along the lake we also see a big change of the local vegetation and drowning olive trees. It's clear that villages, orchards and roads had be sacrificed for this energy winning lake. In Mourao we get some lunch after which we stop at the lake for a rest and a swim. Around 17:00 when the temperature is a bit down we head for Moura, still 30km away. We bike again between sun and rain and the darker it get's the closer the rain storm comes.Once in Moura there seems to be again a party going on. An initiative of a local restaurant prompts wines from the Alentejo region we are biking now for several days. We join the table and discover local feijoada and try different wines. Even the rain cannot stop this feast. But with 60km in the legs and while the party goes on for the village one by one we be to our deserved beds.
Today we are leaving Portugal and crossing border to Spain again. We go to Paymogo, the first village after the border. We leave the cork trees behind and even the olive orchards loose territory here. As the landscape was already getting dryer, now it seems like we are in a desert without shade or green. The shape of the landscape is getting quite interesting though, small little hills like a rabbit hole landscape. Our last lunch in Portugal in we have with the lovely Francisca in Aldeia Nova de Sao Bento.Just after the village we encounter the first biking road of this trip. A one km long red lane only for bikes towards the cross of Sao Bento.Halfway to the border we split up in two groups two explore the two options to get to the border. Pacôme and Nicole's take a short cut through the hilly landscape. VA and nadine take the longer main road that is a bit less up and down. The border of Portugal and Spain is a river with an enormous bridge over it. Pacôme and Nicolas react the border first and instal themselves next to river where there is some place to pick nick, there is an old broken watermill, very much in contrast with the modern bridge that goes uphill to Spain.Once in Spain some aspects of the beginning of the trip we got used to are coming back immediately. Landscape wise the windmills show up at the horizon again. And there is of course the language, pan tostada with tomatoes, tapas, but it seems that this part of Spain, Andalusia is quite different from Galicia. The desert like landscape, the almost exact 15km distance between the villages gives a very American Western like flavour to this region. We drink the first Spanish cerveja in Bar La Cruz. The owner of the bar point us to a place we can camp next to the star shaped castelo with an old church and school we can sleep outside. The renovation of the site was stopped because of finances, so it's a quite abandoned place. VA decides to get a local pension to stay the night. Feels good to camp again (although it's quite urban) since the balance camp-hostel was quite out of balance in Portugal. Accompanied by a dog concert we go to sleep..
We go back to Bar La Cruz for breakfast and then hit the road to El Almendro. We decided to split up the last 70 kilometres in two days. There is only one straight road to follow and it's quite monotonous. That doesn't stop VA from collecting many things on the road though: skulls, cans, CD's etc. The Brompton is really tested on the weight it can carry these days. We stop in Puebla de San Guzman for lunch where there is a lot of fun about the bikes we use. The owner of the tavern knows Isla Cristina very well. He is the first person who actually can picture where we are going (even we don't know). He tells us how he works 360 days per year and for 5 days he goes on holiday to the Barcelo hotel in Isla Cristina. Sounds promising!When we continue our trip to Almendro VA and Nicolas stop at one of the windmills. It's the first time we bike so close to them, so it's wor wild having a closer look to the enormous giants that were so present in our Spanish fold landscape. Pacôme continues the road a bit faster and discovers a Hockney lie swimming pool at the beginning of the end point. A Sam is quite welcome with this temperature of 35 degrees. Almendro is a village next to Villanueva De Los Castillejos. It's quite absurd to have here to villages so close since all Andalucia places on the fold were approximately 20km apart from each other. The two villages almost form one big one, but there are two churches, two municipalities, two post offices, etc. While the others are swimming VA explores the environment. Apart from the view on the many windmills there are also two old mills on the hill. The surrounding landscape is very industrial and in no way to be compared with Portugal. Our last evening on the road we treat ourselves with a good dinner (consisting of over 10 different tapas in Restaurent El Jarra (if only Theun and Juliane were here for this inside joke). After VA treats the group for a night in this fake windmill complex with view in the real ones.
Our journey is coming to an end today. Final destination Isla Cristina! After fixing some fiest and last bike problems with the tire of Pacôme, the GPS is set for San Silvestre de Guzman, our first meeting point. We only need to bike 30km today and after three weeks, this goes quite smoothly. We don't exactly know where we left behind the mountains and then the hills, but here it's definitely flat surface going to sea level,finally! The road is afain very straight forward and not very inspiring. What is different is that we now see major water pump systems to spray the orange trees, quite eye opening that the oranges from Spain are not necessarily an original product from the South Europe. More research will be done! We stop for a quick lunch in Villablanca, the last small town before the touristic coast. Going for the final road to Isla Cristina we take two routes. VA prefers to stay on the highway to be sure to make it around 16:00 to the final destination. The three others take a less busy, but more rocky road to the Isla. They pass more orange tree orchards and the rich suburbia of the coast. The town of Isla Cristina is surrounded by salinas, where they gain salt from the ocean. Then follows the harbour and then e hotels, apartments, old style coast tourism. The first to arrive is VA and the other join him soon for cerveja in Casa Pepin on the Central playa of Isla Cristina. We've made it after 1170km! Time for some group pictures on the beach and in the evening we immediately confront ourselves wi the question if there is already something we would do differently. There is a consensus that the group should be bigger, at least eight people, so there we can creat more freedom, more stories, more routes on the fold. The foldable bikes was also for everyone a very good choice. Time wise it might become a bit different. We biked an average of 50km a day, but with this landscape it prohibited us sometimes from working. So it's maybe an idea to bike an average of 35km per day, although the timing of one month is a good one..The fact that these four participants already discuss the next fold means that nadine will try to get funds for a next one! Thank you all very much for reading and following this blog, it's been a pleasure writing about our trip and experience! And hopefully see you next year for Default #2!