Day 15: Portugal to Las Rias Baixas, Galicia

Tuesday, July 12th Muros.

Blog-log: Kilometres from ‘Go’: 3748.3 (202.7 today)

Location: Camping San Francisco, Lauro, Galicia.

I spent a good night although it had become very cold. By this time I was getting used to my half-cocked air bed; I could get to sleep with it inflated and wasn’t bothered then when it leaked slowly – two weeks on the road and I have not problems sleeping on the hard ground! The other knack I’ve learned is to listen to music on the Mac if I have bad neighbours, addicted even to the sepulchral tones of mellow jazz as performed back at Madrid (I bought the CD at the gig and put it on iTunes). I had a relatively short ride to my next camp in the Rias Baixas, furthermore I know both the beginning and the end of the route so didn’t have much of a problem with navigation. Also I’d managed to see the weather on TV and knew it would clear during the day, so as it was early I rolled over and determined to have a bit of a lie in – then I heard the rain begin!

By the time I’d got up and had my tea – thanks to the fantastic Trangia stove I was able to face each day feeling roughly human – the first roll of thunder crashed through echoing around the mountains and it started to pour. If there’s one thing worse than setting up camp in the rain it’s striking it. But luckily I was close to the kitchen building and was able to clean, dry and pack everything there after a dash through the sheltering trees. My tent packs up under the protection of the fly sheet and that I can fold in the separate ground sheet from the ‘lobby’ and strap to whole to the duffle bag without getting wet things inside with the sleeping bag, towels and other delicates. In fact by the time I set off – still at 11.00 as usual I don’t know how! – the rain had stopped and a vile sticky heat was building up, which didn’t help my temper having to wait an age to pay my bill and check out. My last ‘act’ of Portugal was to have a bit of a row with the campsite manager. Although he spoke English at first I answered in Spanish – this becomes a habit here when I speak in Spanish or Catalan far more often than in English – which led him to speak in Portuguese, which by this time, and given the context of a simple transaction, I was able to understand. This reinforced my ‘habit’ of speaking in Spanish which he wouldn’t – I found it inconceivable that he couldn’t! – answer back in. All very  fraught and I was glad to hit the road, even though the surface was slimy, the wind buffeting the bike badly as I rode over the otherwise very enjoyable mountain pass on the N202.

Down on the Portuguese bank of the Miño the N301 is a very good road indeed and apart from being cut up a few times by overtaking fast cars as I wrestled with the wind I began to have a good ride. The frontier at Ponte Barxas is closed down of course, but the buildings are still there and the town has the look of a minor garrison, which I suppose it was for many centuries. A few miles further and I stopped for fuel at Cortegada, where I had both my first road intersection and taste of that Galician speciality – lying!

There are not garages like this around any more in Spain - salt of the earth!

In fact lying isn’t quite the right word. Galicia is a land of mystery and witchcraft that is enhanced by its dense forests and dank climate (which is putting the latter politely!). The Galician reputation is not so much for lying and for not telling the truth, or preferable not saying anything at all. The popular story is that if you ask a Gallego (that’s the word for the language and the people) a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ question the likely answer will be “Well. . .” In this case the happy lady in the patrol garage asked where I was headed and helpfully gave me directions to somewhere else entirely – which I ignored by instinct!

Mariners call this type of weather "Lumpy". Bikers call it "Bloody 'orrible" - the Summer of 2011 begins to take shape!

In fact I knew the way over a very enjoyable road and had plotted a ‘short cut’ across the country that avoided the autovia, the old Nacional road that it had replaced and the city of Vigo to which they both go – a very good idea indeed! Not only that but I found myself with yet another ‘Ace Ride’ – I’m going to have a lot of catching up to do when I get home! But for now the PO – 255 road takes you from just outside Cañiza, a nice town now that the N120 has been superceded by the Autovia A52, all the way to Pontevedra over some highly enjoyable mountain passes, lovely rolling countryside and the few villages that is passes through are lovely, especially Fornelos de Montes, an absolute find in this out of the way place – another location that I wish I could have stayed in!

Bijou residences like this are almost ten a penny in Galicia - if you can stand the climate

The Ace ride ends at Pontes de Caldes, where it joins the PO 234 and gradually becomes more urban in the penumbra of Pontevedra city. There’s no alternative but to ride through the city but that’s not a problem, rather the opposite as you get your first view of the sea here, or rather the Ria. Rias are sea lochs that run right inland for many miles. Their sheltered waters allow Galicia’s prodigious maritime economy to flourish on the otherwise hostile and tempestuous tempestuous coast. They are also very beautiful with fantastic beached and produce the best seafood on the planet! My aim was to stay here at one of the prettiest of the small sea ports, Muros, actually in Coruna province some way to the north. But the seaside route is very long and tortuous and likely to be clogged with tourist traffic. So my plan was to take the Autopista AP-9 for the short hop to Padrón, avoiding the N550 which I guessed would be horrible – as nacional roads usually are when they run parallel with a toll road. But the wind was so strong I decided to avoid being blown off the bike on the several long viaduct and equally long, howling cuttings that the new construction has. In fact all I saved was the toll, not to bad, as the N550 has equally modern works and as it turned out I had it all but to myself and I was in Padrón, where I had another short cut up my sleeve, almost before I knew it.

Muros is one of the most popular towns in the Rias Baixas. Despite its picture postcard prettiness it is down to earth and unpretentious

Padrón is famous as the birthplace of Jose Camilo Cela, Spain’s fist Nobel laureate and an extraordinary travel writer. We’d stumbled across this house by accident last year whilst traveling through the area and this lead to the following rather typical conversation:

The Spanish Biker, “Oh look, there’s Cela’s birthplace. How odd, I always thought he was from somewhere in Galicia!”

Mrs The Spanish Biker, “This is Galicia, Simon, we’ve been on holiday here for two weeks!”

The Spanish Biker, “Er, oh yeah, so we have”

The other famous thing about Padrón are the lethally spicy green peppers that are a popular tapas throughout Spain, and beyond – they’re available at Waitrose so I’m told! The rule is that one on five blows your head off although everyone now laments that this proportion is now down to one in ten, or worse. There is huge debate about how and why only some peppers, even from the same plant, are hot while other aren’t – all I can say is that if you buy them in or near Padrón they all blow your head off!

Hottest deal on the street? Pimentos de Padrón are sold hot and loose - treat with caution!

The hop over to the coast at Noia is on the AC-308 which is a lovely road through some very wild country, you really feel the proximity of the Atlantic here – fortunately the wind was both subsiding and was blowing straight at me as I went over the top, and by the time I reached the coast the tempest was all but over entirely and the day was turning into a lovely sunny evening. At Muros I had a slight disappointment. The petrol, garage girl told me there was no camp site in the town – I hadn’t checked on Google as I’d had no internet – but I should follow the signs to Camping San Francisco just along the coast. Again in Galicia she wasn’t lying but wasn’t exactly telling the truth either. In fact there are three campsites in Muros, whose municipality included several other villages so they appear as such in Michelin. I found another rather grotty campsite on the beach just outside Muros and was annoyed at the price of €18. So I carried on to Louro and found the San Francisco after asking direction from a biker by the roadside – who turned out to be in the camping too. My heart sank as I saw the ‘1ª Classe’ emblem on the sign, which usually means pricey and caravan crappy. But in fact the place was lovely, set in walled grounds that were formerly part of the monastery next door and the price was only €15. The only snag was that the Wifi only worked in tow chairs at one table in the bar – weird stuff this WiFi, so my blog was destined to get even more out of date!

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