The camino begins – Luarca to Mondoñedo

15 08 2015

D1: Luarca – Ribadeo = 52.5 km

Started the day off right – still dark, threatening rain and a nice steady climb up and out of the gorge of Luarca. Oh dear, what did we sign ourselves up for? 12 km down the trail, we stopped for breakfast. A few minutes after we arrived, the hiking peregrinos arrived. Were we cycling at a walker’s pace?

In Luarca, early morning, getting ready for take off

In Luarca, early morning, getting ready for take off

Yes, our first kilometres of the day were slow going because at times, it was a bit like trying to bike on the Bruce Trail, which our bikes weren’t exactly equipped for. This was a reoccurring challenge with cycling the camino – at times, the official route was perfect – paved, quiet road through the countryside – while other times it was rugged with large rocks which forced us to walk our bikes. So, after breakfast, we decided to take the road for a bit and cover some kms. In fact, throughout the journey we were continuously faced with this dilemma – camino or corresponding road – and tried to take the camino whenever possible, but took the road when we needed to get some kms on our belt or if word on the trail was that the upcoming section was rough.

Our first day was quite hilly, with lots of ups and downs, but nothing compared to what we would face in days to come. We stopped again in Navia and meandered through a flea market where I bought some light reading – the controversial Adventures of Tin Tin. A picnic lunch in Tapia de Casariego, another quaint harbour town with some beautiful nearby beaches where there were even some surfers.

Our seaside lunch spot in Tapia de Casariego

Our seaside lunch spot in Tapia de Casariego, the last main town in Austurias

We followed the coast a bit further, then crossed the giant bridge into and the city of Ribadeo and headed to the albergue. Unfortunately, it was full. We were ready to call it a day and didn’t want to risk the next albergue (7 km away) being full as well. So after cycling around town a few times to find the best price, we checked into a cheap hotel and collapsed.

The beautiful coast, just past Tapia de Casariego, on our last leg of the day

The beautiful coast, just past Tapia de Casariego, on our last leg of the day

The bridge that crosses the Rio de Ribadeo or del Eo into Galicia

The bridge that crosses the Rio de Ribadeo or del Eo into Galicia

We had forgotten this container of melon and cherries at the albergue in Luarca. Some mysterious anonymous peregrino carried them to the albergue in Ribadeo!

We had forgotten this container of melon and cherries at the albergue in Luarca. Some mysterious anonymous peregrino carried them to the albergue in Ribadeo!

D2: Ribadeo – Mondoñedo = 36 km

We were on our bikes by 08:00 and were once again embarked on an uphill start that continued for about 7 km. The aches and pains from the first day had now set in, so I was feeling quite slow, and Breanna pointed this out in saying, “I don’t know how you find it comfortable to go that slow.” We soon realized our different cycling styles – Breanna going faster uphill but in shorter bursts, and me going slow and steady – with both styles got us to the top in more or less the same time.

A furry fellow who wanted to join our camino

A furry fellow who wanted to join our camino

Our morning stop was in San Xusto where we met some other peregrinos, followed by a long difficult uphill on a gravel trail. But at least our efforts were rewarded by a fun downhill. Once in Lorenza, we switched to the N-634 road for a bit to avoid going down and back up a ravine. A bit more up hill, then finished the day with a nice 4 km downhill into Mondoñedo, and eventually found the albergue after asking a few locals. After some R & R at the albergue, heading for some tapas in the main plaza – patatas bravas, croquetas y tarta de Santiago, an almond cake that is a specialty in Galicia.

The lovely plaza in Mondonedo

The lovely plaza in Mondoñedo

A reoccurring thought as I cycled was how one’s mental and emotional state follows the physical terrain. When cycling uphill or on difficult terrain, I thought, “Why am I doing this again?” “I don’t like this.” “This is hard.” “I can’t do this.” And these were the moments, too, when Breanna and I were most likely to have conflicts. However, a few minutes later on the downhill, these thoughts became, “This isn’t so bad. In fact, this is amazing and so much fun.” “Look at the beautiful scenery!” Along our camino, the terrain was hilly, but would have our emotional states varied so much if we would have traveled a flatter route? More even-keeled? Just something I pondered while turning my pedals…

From Breanna's Instagram (@breannamyles)

From Breanna’s Instagram (@breannamyles)

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Off on two wheels

6 03 2015

After spending the better part of two months in beautiful and bustling Barcelona, I finally made my escape (although maybe temporary). I packed my panniers and and headed for Tarragona, where I had arranged a HelpX at another hostel. I had originally planned to cycle right from Barcelona, but following the advice of a Catalan friend who was more familiar with the roads than I was, I took the train to Sitges, a costal town 40 km south of Barcelona. Spent the afternoon and night in Sitges, staying at a nice hostel with a beachy vibe, and appropriately called Utopia Beach House. Great staff, clean, colourful and lots of outdoor areas to chill. 



As recommended, I went to Big Al´s burger joint (probably my first burger since arriving in Catalonia as it’s not the typical local cuisine), after all they had Edge beers on tap. Biked around quite a bit, then had my afternoon vermouth at a tapas place beside the sea. Since been told that the appropriate hour for vermouth (which is quite popular here, served with a orange slice and a couple olives) is actually before lunch, but I´ve come to quite enjoy this refreshing drink, so I´m likely to break this custom again in the future. 

 The next day I got a later than expected start after waiting for the bike shop to open, having my morning cafe con leche and croissant, and packing up, but I got off eventually. My first cycling adventure! I was excited but also a bit nervous because I didn’t know what to expect (i.e. how good of shape I was in or what the road ahead was like – what if it was one big, long uphill!?!)

My first break was Cubelles, 15 km down the road. The croissant had long disappeared, so I replenished the tank with a bocadillo con jamon and queso, and of course, a caña to rehydrate and olives. Normally, I haven´t been a huge olive fan, but here, I have developed quite a taste for them, especially when they automatically come with your drink. When I got back on my bike I realised that I might have overindulged all at once, and in the future I would eat more moderately to make it easier to start cycling again.

I had identified a route of regional roads, staying off the main highways (which I’m quite sure don´t allow bikes anyway). But even this road sometimes had a speed limit of up to 100 kph and plenty of trucks. Not exactly the idyllic cycling trip I had envisioned. I made a few different attempts to get off this busy road, which resulted in longer than anticipated “detours”, some of them quite scenic and lovely, others on little more than a dirt path, and others that had me thinking, “What the heck am I doing?”

At one point, I stopped for a much-needed rest at the unfortunate location of Burger King in Sant Vincenç de Calders. I had just done a particularly sweaty 15 km on a busy road, so here, I contemplated, researched and finally decided to head towards the sea and try to find some better way. I did…eventually, and the trail I found (after carrying my bike up a dirt path and a set of stairs) was very rewarding. A walking path right along the sea, where bikes were usually prohibited, but as an older man assured me, I could ride on since it was supposedly winter (even through it was over 20C and I had been cycling in shorts and a tank top).


Needless to say, some kilometres were better than others.

All and all, my jaunt was just a mere 62 km (according to Google Maps, but more likely a few more including the detours). By most cyclists´ standards a short day, but for me and my 12 o’clock start, it was enough. 

Here in Tarragona for a few more days. I’m enjoying the small town vibe of the old city. However, I’m planning to head back to Barcelona for a beer festival this weekend. Then, vamos a ver, but hopefully it won’t be too long before I can put my two wheels back in the open road. 







Welkom in Amsterdam

26 08 2012

I have now been in Amsterdam for one week and the dust beneath my feet is beginning to settle. Yet, this week has gone by very quickly because I was busy with orientation activities organized by ISN (International Student Network). The highlights include a neon party, a crash course in Dutch, a boat cruise through Amsterdam’s canals, picnicking with friends in Oosterpark, a improv comedy night at Boom Chicago, a rooftop BBQ, sport climbing and karate at the university’s beautiful sports center and the final party with over 800 people! And last night, a couple friends and I went to “Pluk de nacht” or “Seize the night”, an open air film festival where we watched a coming-of-age comedy called “Terri“. However, even more exciting than all these activities was meeting so many new friends who are also studying in Amsterdam on exchange this term!

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This past week I have also become more familiar with Dutch culture and tradition – including “de fiets” or “the bike”. It seems like a funny coincidence that it is called “fiets”, pronounced “feet” because a bike is like your second pair of feet! I was fortunate to acquire a bike very quickly because my roommate was going on a holiday in Portugal for the last two weeks of summer and let me borrow her bike. This is by far the best way to explore and orient yourself around the city! At times, it is a bit unsettling as there are so many bikes and traffic and people, but it is getting easier as I learn the proper etiquette. There are two things (at least!) that I like best about my “fiets”:

  1. Physical activity! I have always struggled to find time to “work out” nor have I particularly enjoyed exercising for the sake of exercising. Yes, I know it is necessary for maintaining a healthy lifestyle, which is adequate justification, but it’s a challenge nonetheless. Further, I find it a bit nonsensical to see people going to the gym and jumping on the treadmill which is plugged into the wall and watching the television, also plugged in. Think about the energy use! In reality, gyms could be creating electricity if we converted all that kinetic energy, like they do for the Toronto Bicycle Music Festival. (I met the organizer of this at Hillside this year and went to his workshop about bike power. Pretty neat stuff!) Power plants, not gyms! While I wait for this utopian technology, I’ll just ride my bike, reduce fossil fuel use, exercise (without it feeling like exercise!) and get from point A to point B.
  2. It is basic technology that still requires use of our wonderfully complex human brains. In the age of mechanization, our actions are becoming more and more automated. Green light, go. Red light, stop. GPS says turn left, turn left and we forget to use our God-given mind. I just finished reading E.F. Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful and in his chapter titled “Buddhist Economics“, he talks about how traditional Western economics focuses more on the product and less on the worker, and in a quest for greater efficiency, we turn to mechanization. However, this process of mechanization often deprives us of getting true fulfillment from our work because we are merely machines. Perhaps this is gone a bit off topic, but I’ll bring it back. A car is a relatively complex machine and if it breaks, we usually can’t fix it ourselves and need a mechanic. Also, we are bound by other traffic and traffic lights. A bike, on the other hand, is fairly simple technology, thus easier to fix. And although, we have to follow traffic lights too, there are bike paths and I feel a greater sense of freedom. I have to weave around obstructions and keep my eye out for other traffic, but my ability to do this makes me human, and I like that.

Anyway, the rain clouds have finally parted (for now) and the sun is out, so I better take advantage of this window of opportunity and hop on my fiets and do some errands.

But before I go, here are some photos of my apartment (otherwise known as “the penthouse”)

My apartment

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…and of my beautiful, brand new academic building at Amsterdam University College.

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