I’ve reached the Atlantic coast! I let go a little happiness yell when I see the ocean. It’s special and impressive to see this, especially when you’re on the bicycle. I’ve reached the Atlantic, again, on my own power and am surrounded by pine trees, sand and 3000 Harley Davidson drivers.
They’re flowing out of the ferry, hundreds and hundreds of them, when I am waiting to board the ferry to go to Royan. The heavy sound of the motorbikes adds to the deep feeling of traveling and soon I am part of it, on the campground in Montalivet, where the annual Harley Davidson festival is being held. Men with large belly’s, beards and some of them only dressed in their boxer short and sleeveless leather jacket, makes them oh so bold.
The evening before I had a rather unusual diner: delicious snacks being made by English Keith en his wife Jan, my own prepared meal but too oily potatoes and vegetables which were not a very good combo. After that four large cookies and the wrong kind of soymilk for my masala chai made my belly not being fully satisfied. When my digestion and the progress afterwards are not well, then I’m not cycling very well either. Then I strongly need my masala chai to get my intestines work at once! So the first thing I do when I enter the camping, after putting up my tent, is making a chai. But there is Thomas, a twenty-something-year old boy, walking up to me. He’s working at this camping and helped me finding the camp spot and now he comes to ask me out for a beer at the camping pub. Beer? Pub? Two things I have not the slightest interest in. I prefer tea. He speaks about the project I participate on, the travel to Africa, while his eyes speaks clearly a different language. He’s just posing, right in front of me. The buttons of his shirt half open, a silver necklace laying on the fresh blanket of chest hair. A thin red cotton cord around his ankle and espadrilles on his feet. He’s ready to hit the bar and I say I am not interested other than the tea I drink. But thanks anyway.
I’m having a plain but decent dinner of fried garlic rice and drinking my precious chai, reading the book of Ram Dass a bit, listening to the roar of the many Harley Davidsons when suddenly a cyclist stops at my camp.
It’s Steve, the American I’ve met on my previous journey in Damascus, Syria. We made a plan to cycle together through the Sahara and would meet each other somewhere down the coast in Morocco. But since we were cycling so close to each other here in French we decided to meet earlier. But I had no clue he would be able to catch me up so quickly. He surprises me with a bundle of wildflowers and with the long distances he cycled last couple of days to get it to here. That isn’t a good prophecy for myself, the slow and taking it easy-type…
The first day of cycling with Steve did not suit me very well. All my energy is spend and not to cycling. Its spend in the wrong way: to a kind of mountainbike-trail in the woods and a survival through that same woods towards the eerie lone beach. While next to this mountainbike-trail is a good asphalted road, Steve choose one which shakes loose some bolts and nuts on my bike and it certainly hurts my rash. Bumping and shocking on that little wound somewhere down my inner thigh. After too many pushing and pulling on my bicycle, I’m done with it. We’re not yet in Africa, there’s a good road next to us, we’ll take that. Certainly the track is very beautiful, quiet and damp, it’s very narrow and bumpy and full with missing parts of pavement as well. It’s a constant struggle to get through the loose sand, get yourself and the cycle back on that track. Not too much fun for me, while it is for Steve. The sea and it’s lonely beach is not far from where we cycle and through the woods, pine needles and branches we push ourselves and the bicycles through it. Being almost invisible from the light rain and mist, the ocean is mysterious and lonely.
The next day we cycle more, 85 kilometre and coming along a signboard which is not immediately clear to me. It certainly doesn’t speak for itself, showing some badly drawn perspective of a highway, maybe it’s a pictogram of some sort of whale? Later, when I see through the forest of pine trees and imagine to see a huge hypermegamarket, it turns out to be a dune. The huge dunes which are pictured on those signs along the road. They’re famous and soon I will roll down from them. We’re trying to find a spot to camp wild but we can’t find one which is suitable so we head for the four star camping. The one benefit it provide us are the close proximity of the dunes, over a 100 meter high.
The advantage of traveling together is the attention you attracted is being divided by two. Me being weird is now also Steve being weird. So I can happily release the child in me, without holding back. We’re rolling down the enormous sand dunes which we’ve climbed by an aluminium ladder, and it’s big fun. Just to settle down dinner I make myself a little round ball and roll down, shove down on my belly and on my side until Steve warns me the pine trees are not that far ahead of me. Having reached the ocean, the moon being half full -so not giving much light- I want to dip into it. But wearing no bikini neither underwear it becomes rather difficult. Ah well… I drape my white tank top in such a way it is just covering. Then, if we hadn’t had enough exercise this day, we crawl back up the dunes, now without any aluminium ladder.
All of a sudden it is fun now to cycle over a busy boardwalk full of ice-cream parlours, beach towel- and body board shops while we scare off the tourists with our heavy load.
To cycle along the coastline is great. It’s quite flat and the sun is shining constantly. Weather has changed.
Until late in the night, on this kind of camping, they sing karaoke or better, they give it a try. Young couples get to know each other, camp for the first time together. Fresh families stroll their buggy’s in the loose sand with large difficulty, dressed at their best. Empty bottles of beer line the way to the dirty toilets. We being looked upon with big eyes. Cyclers? Sometimes I think: ‘Why do I enjoy this lifestyle? Sand flies, mosquitos, a tent to set up and break down each day, dirt, no luxury, eating on the floor, quite an enormous effort, not many moments of rest.
Well, I do know the answer.
On one of these days the number of my odometer suddenly goes up to 40 degrees! We take lunch at the coast of Biscarosse, ciabatta with dripping cheese, makes my Leatherman knife useless. Passers-by look at our bicycle as if they were Harley’s. Our laundry hangs on the handlebars to dry and our food collection grows. Being with two people makes cooking much more easy and being both vegetarian we eat with much greater variety, than I would be able to do alone. In good agreement we buy avocado’s, salad with pickles, lentils, spinach omelette with Emmentaler. Great that Steve carries it all!
This is a very positive change, a negative one is that my irritations won’t go away. Worse yet, it has become a little wound full of dirt and blood and I need to tape it with plaster and cream. This, and the saddle being lowered, seems to help. Seems…
Then, on a lucky day, we’re able to find a great spot to camp in the woods around Mimizam Plage. Without anyone near us, no one who can see us, we spend two lovely, quiet nights here. The sun shines and Steve goes out to the village to get us food. We do the dishes in the ocean, that is, Steve has taken this job. And I watch him being splashed by the salty ocean. The ocean, the clouds, the sun behind it, the moon slowly appearing. It speaks for itself that this is a beautiful scenery, silent and lonesome. Seeing this all from the dunes you only notice forests, unspoiled France where butterflies land on my diary. It’s splendid to sit here and just watch it.
The next day we splash slowly into the Atlantic ocean, as far as we can see there’s nobody in sight. A total empty beach. Except for the fresh but dead fish which slides right into my hands. It’s a pity Steve doesn’t eat fish. The water fresh, clear and of a beautiful colour. My body less so: half brown, half white, full of bruises and mosquito bites. The typical cyclers tan.
Steve does talk a lot and this is something I have to get used to. But surely he’s very charming: he picks me flowers and stick them between my steering wheel and odometer. He even might pluck them along the highway when we’re pushing ourselves up over the hills and he will hand them to me on a quick, sweaty passing by. Flowers so big I can’t see the numbers on my odometer anymore. When my cycle end up in the loose beach sand, because of his boyish manoeuvres, he’d also be so sweet to drag it out of there. He drapes my towel on his wash line, close the door of my tent in the middle of a night when it has start raining and he carries all our staple food. He does the dishes and cleans my tent when a dog pissed on it..
Coming closer to Biarritz I notice strange kind of cyclers. Thinking that Steve pass me by, it’s an overly bronzed man in a very white bikini tight. Scary! Sheep with big bells around their neck appear, as well as signs being close to Basque country. We drive past small, lovely bays and very near the ocean again. Signs of watchdogs at the houses are being more friendly here. We pass bakeries with huge merengue pastries and Steve who calls out to me ‘shall we go back and get one?’
The last day in French is one filled with pain in my stomach. Very often we start the day around midday, way too late, mostly due to me making chai and having extended breakfasts. After that I prefer my bowels to unload which is not always happening and so my stomach pain reached its peak around Hendaye town. I need to shove down both my lycra legging and cycle short as far down as possible to undo the pressure. To focus on cycling instead of the pain I speed down the coast with 50 kilometre per hour, almost into Spain.
Often I peddle down the hills in highest speed, in a Dutch manner where I leave Steve, for once, far behind me. Of course he’s way stronger than me, but haven’t got the Dutch city-cycle-skills. Red lights and roundabouts and side roads and more of these distractions I check before I get there and handle accordingly, speeding through the traffic. Even with my hand hurting, blue and swollen from a fall at the hypersupermarche. Steve and I are out for some essential shopping, a camping chair. We both found it very uncomfortable without having a backrest after a day of cycling. We have to find outdoor shops which are specialized and this takes us some time, some patience, and some balance and there the cycle goes down: 18 kilo bicycle and 38 luggage on my left hand. And so this beautiful day ends with a swollen belly, a bruised hand and arm and a little wound on my inner thigh.
And yet, this are details which keeps the balance in harmony and where much worse, without a doubt, will follow. If I sit in silence than I feel nothing is really needed anymore…
8 days of cycling, total 470 km
More photo’s to see at the Dutch post