The Big Trip #3

Week 5: Police Escorts
Route: Pamplona – Zaragoza – Madrid

160 kilometers

Bob’s Spanish has come in quite handy both times we’ve dealt with the police
our first full week in Spain. One evening, we ended up cycling on a freeway
by mistake, and some nice motorcycle policemen pulled us over and pointed us
in the right direction for the smaller side road. We now know that the sign
with a bicycle inside a red circle means “forbidden”.

In Zaragoza, we spent time hanging out at the enormous Plaza del Pilar by
the cathedral, and explored the underground Roman ruins. In Madrid, we
stayed at the family-run Hostal Vestusa by the Plaza Santa Ana in the heart
of the city. After checking out the fantastic Picasso exhibit at the Reina
Sofia museum, I sat in the plaza outside our hotel and was content writing
in my journal and people watching. When the pregnant woman sitting on the
bench next to me asked for directions to the metro, I didn’t even have to
look to realize that my pack, which had been sitting next to me, was gone.

The most frustrating thing about having my pack stolen was that I had seen
the entire setup. I noticed her when she entered the plaza because she was
well-dressed and obviously pregnant, and because of that I wasn’t suspicious
when she sat next to me. I saw her seedy-looking boyfriend across the
square. I felt him walk by when I turned my head to reply to her question.
It was all so simple.

Some nice police officers gave us a ride through the center of Madrid in the
back of their car, with lights, sirens and the whole bit. The good thing was
that I didn’t loose much of value (my camera was old and unreliable), but I
was upset about loosing a roll of film from our last week of cycling. I now
had an excuse to buy the new Nikon camera I’ve always wanted, and my
sunglasses and hat were easily replaceable.

When I was traveling by myself a few years ago, I was nearly paranoid about
safety and security. Traveling with Bob, and spending a lot of time in small
towns, I had begun to let down my guard. This was a good lesson to learn
early in the trip.

Week 6: The Last Straw
Route: Madrid – Segovia – Valladolid – Algeciras – Tanger, Morocco

363 kilometers

Cycling out of Madrid in the early evening, the moon rose full and
brilliantly pink behind us over the city. We spend the night free camping in
a recreation area/rest stop in a quiet park only 50 kilometers from Madrid.
The next day, we tackled the beautiful 1860 meter pass at Puerto de
Navacerrada, and on the way down warmed our frozen fingers on our bike rims,
which were burning hot from all the braking.

That night, we stayed at a campground just outside Segovia and walked along
the marvelously preserved aquaduct running through the center of town. The
aquaduct spans 15 miles and is 30 meters high in the center, which is even
more impressive since not a bit of mortar was used in its construction.

Cycling through the open fields outside of Segovia, we got caught in a
fierce thunderstorm with no shelter in sight. Fortunately, we soon found an
abandoned building by the side of the road and were able to set up our tent
out of the wind. Bob was the real hero of the day since he stayed out in the
rain to cook a hot meal while I huddled in my wet down sleeping bag, hoping
I wouldn’t get hypothermia.

This was the last straw. We decided to ride to the next major town, study
the weather reports and satellite photos and go wherever there was sun. We
tried to cycle straight to Valladolid, but the castle in Cuellar was worth
stopping to check out, and later we were invited to share a meal of homemade
sausage and wine with a shepherd on the side of the road, and the invitation
was simply too kind to pass up.

In Valladolid, all reports showed cold temperatures and rain for Spain and
Portugal, so we decided to try our luck in Africa. That night, we boarded a
train for the port city Algeciras and the next morning we were on a boat to

Next up: learning to just say no in Morocco.