We made it to Groeningen, where the beds are comfy and the Gouda is ‘heer lekker’! Pretty sure anything would feel comfortable after a week sharing a very small tent with my brother.. Its our own fault really, we did read the reviews before buying the tent, but it said (promisingly I thought), that it was most suitable for two midgets with no luggage, and we thought it sounded just perfect. At 40 pounds, we figured it was a steal…
We lasted one night in that thing, before kicking mum out of her slightly larger tent and forcing her to sleep in “The Womb” (as we lovingly named it). We stole her tent, so it was a little more spacious, and by spacious I mean able to roll over and not be nestled into my brothers armpit.
Camping is so awkward. When you need a wee in the night, you have to thrash your way out of your sleeping bag and liner, stand on your neighbours face a bit, try to squeeze your bottom out of your tent door without getting your feet wet, wriggle your feet into your shoes which may or may not have slugs nestled into them, find your way to the toilet in the dark and also try to remember to take toilet paper with you… And then repeat backwards. Our first night was actually on an overnight ferry from England to the Hook of Holland, which I think may have softened us up a bit and we weren’t mentally prepared for the possibilities of slugs in shoes.
But all in all, its been a splendid week and my thighs are positively thriving on the challenge! I personally have been thriving on the challenge of eating enough to maintain my energies for cycling 60-80km per day with a laden bicycle, with occasional headwinds and a tender tush. Its a wonderful excuse to eat peanut butter on everything. I actually mean EVERYTHING. Trust me.
So we’ve cycled over 300km through sleepy beachside towns, sand dunes, tulip fields like rainbows, dijks and windmills, lakes, tiny villages with thatched houses.. A side note: Holland has the most unattractive baby lambs i’ve ever seen (their eyes are extremely close together and they have very muscular faces, and their tails protrude erectly from their bottoms like they were going to the toilet and then forgot about it)….The Dutch have an amazing cycle network from town to town – the Nordzee Cycle Route that mum is following for the next two months goes mostly along a coastal route, which is a pretty incredible journey with different landscape everyday.
The towns are all so so quiet, we’ve begun to wonder if there has been a zombie apocalypse and all that is left are small Dutch women who tend to their gardens and three children who emerge from the schoolyard at lunchtime on their tiny bicycles. We crossed a 30km bridge one day, luckily with a tailwind. I like to wave at the passing vehicles, and say hello to fellow Dutch cyclists (they say something like “Hoy!”, which I have taken to saying in return.) I also like to wave at the men working on the side of the road, and they quite like me, until I lift my bottom off the seat and they see the enormous protrusion of my cycle pants and second-guess themselves. Its all jolly good fun, and you have to have something to take your mind off peanut butter.
I only had one minor crash, whereby I was distracted by something and my front wheel wobbled into the sand, threw me off balance and I charged the sea wall quite aggressively. My achilles tendon is a tad shaky, and it nearly got more hurty today when I basically just rode right into a fence post, completely oblivious to its existence. I came out of that collision unscathed but a little concerned for my state of mind.
Tomorrow Josh and I leave mother dearest to carry on her epic adventure. Josh is carrying on to Amsterdam and beyond; I’m going back to England for a couple of nights to sleep quite a lot and massage my buttocks. Mum is cycling 3000km over the next 8 weeks to fundraise money for a new wheelchair for her sister (my aunt). If you want to, check out her blog at overgroundadventures,com and follow her adventures over the next two months.
It’s very easy, when you know you have an entire summer in one place, to make epic plans to do things ‘this summer’, then get to your final weekend and realize you’ve done nothing but get drunk and talk shit all day.
Luckily, this past weekend I actually followed through on one of my whimsical moments, and we cycled our cycles from Jeananne’s parents house in Galway, all the way through Connemara and back to Westport.
Four days of cycling, two very sore bums and one very heavy jar of peanut butter later, we actually made it. I think Jeananne and I both felt mildly astonished that our tiny stumpy legs took us all that way… As one elderly man in a pub remarked;
‘You’ve got good, strong, MUSCULAR legs on you, girls’. I chose to take that as a compliment, because he looked like he meant it in that way.
Friday night we began our journey on the train from Westport to Ballymacward, where Jeananne’s parents live in a very rural area. We had a delightful stopover in Athlone, where we had cups of tea and I nearly trod on a maxi sanitary pad stuck to the pavement. Not the best introduction to a town that doesn’t have a great reputation in the first place..
Saturday we were up early for what we thought would be a pretty easy cycle into Galway City, but ended up taking us almost four hours due to head wind, and Rosie toppling sideways into a ditch and bending her wheel spoke. What can I say, I’m not used to cycling with that much junk in my trunk. It threw me off. (See what I did there).
Every animal that we passed made me think of Sminky Shorts, which I find deeply hilarious. Your brain drifts to strange places when you’re cycling in a repetitive motion all day. We also passed a small gypsy girl, aged approximately 4 years old, standing on the side of the road with a dog on a leash, wearing no pants and one golden hoop earring. She had a Beyonce stance and a bit of a perm, and she looked at us like ‘Yeah I ain’t wearing pants, wha chu gon do about it?’ Only in Ireland.
We had a whole day in Galway which was a food fiesta. There are so many awesome places to eat in Galway and we only had 24 hours, but I felt that we really did our best to pack it all in.
Galway has a food and crafts market every weekend, so we nabbed a sushi roll and sprawled in the Church garden, feeling dazed and amazed at all the people around us. That night we went to Boojum which does probably the best burrito bowls ever. Or maybe we were just so hungry that socks would have tasted good. Actually, everything tastes SO AMAZING when you’re outside cycling all day. Like, my gluten free bread turned to crumbs in my basket one day and so I just ate crumbs and bits of peanut butter and a very smushy banana and I was the happiest wee girl.
We crawled around some pubs Friday night (kind of literally, because our legs were floppy) then went to some kind of heaven in the form of a late night French restaurant that served buckwheat crepes. One goats cheese, honey and walnut crepe later and I was basically asleep on the couch in the restaurant. Happy days.
The next morning we went to Pura Vida for a fresh juice, then to the Jungle Café off Eyre Square which reminded me a lot of home – perhaps because of their serious attitude to coffee, their flat white on the menu, and the Fat Freddies playing on the sound system. It felt just like a Sunday brunch in Wellington. Aww.
We didn’t leave Galway until about 2.30 that afternoon after some last minute shopping. We again underestimated the strength of the coastal wind and it took us many hours to go 30km to the small town of Carraroe. We stopped a lot, including in a little seaside town called Spiddle. We met a French couple who were doing the same thing as us, and it was reassuring when they told us they had left two hours earlier than us and only got there two minutes before us. So we weren’t the slowest cyclists on the road. But almost..
Carraroe was a tiny town down on the South Coast of county Galway, where everyone speaks Irish, even the young people. It’s a little unnerving walking into a pub and not understanding your fellow youth.We walked into one of two pubs in the village and asked if anyone could recommend a camping spot – we immediately got offered a “cosy, warm double bed with an ensuite” in a local man’s house. He was actually a very nice boy and had we been later in our trip, we might have said yes, but we were so determined to use all of the tent and equipment we had carried, so we stubbornly erected our tent behind the school. We apparently missed the part where we were advised to camp in the opposite corner to the priest’s house, and instead set up camp right next to his backyard, so that he had a nice view into our sleeping quarters. He also, coincidentally, had a nice view onto the children’s playing field. So many jokes.
At one point I was wandering around camp with no pants on (as you do), and Mr Priest came out of his back door talking on the phone.
“Oh… here comes the priest… Oh.. I’m not wearing any pants.”
Not a sentence you say every day.
We were so excited to utilise our tiny gas stove, but after much fumbling, realised we had probably purchased the wrong sized gas canister and that actually we couldn’t cook our brown rice. Desperate times. Lucky we are so good at foraging in the wild…We found a chip shop.
The next day we used the bathroom in the “Bia Blasta” (Tasty Food) café far too much, drank two pots of tea then packed up our thangs and got on the road again for a rather long days cycling. We had to make up for the puney mileage the previous day, but first we had to shake the priest’s pet puppy who had attached himself to our sides and insisted on stealing all of our socks. He followed us one kilometer down the road then found another dog to play with, thank the lord (or the priest…)
That day we cycled about 8 hours, with regular stops for bum relief and refueling. We stopped in Maam Cross and Recess, then took the N59 up to Leenane. Our course plan changed several times over the course of the day, because we are so fun and spontaneous and also because we were tired. I think our favourite stop was in Recess, where we ate icecream and slices of cheese and basked in the sunshine. Only an Irish person would be capable of getting sunburnt in that measly sunlight, but Jeananne certainly managed a good lycra tan line.
The next part was a long, wet, blustery cycle along Lough Inagh and the Twelve Bens, which loomed over us from the right side of the road and reminded us how very small we were. It was a hard road and I personally could have smashed a flask of hot tea, but our 2 euro plastic flask failed to keep liquid hot. And to think I carried that thing all that way between my thighs! I felt deeply disappointed in the euro store, which I am sure many people have in their lifetimes.
That night, after cycling for about 8 hours (with snack stops), we camped at a hostel in Killary Harbour, with the most spectacular view, a downhill driveway and a shitload of midges. As we weren’t really planning to stay there initially, all we had left in our food bag was some brown rice, some corn, and a few slices of cheese. It was a little dry, to say the least, but a girls gotta eat. At least they had free tea at the hostel, which we made the absolute most of. It was very tempting to sleep on the couch inside, but again our pride got the better of us and we had to use our tent which we lugged all that way.
Our final day of cycling was to be a shorter one, so we took our time in the morning, cycled to the village of Leenane 5k down the road, and indulged ourselves in seafood chowder and a seaweed bath.
You basically take a steam room to open your pores, then go to your private room and lie in a bath of slimy seaweed for one hour. It sounds absolutely revolting and yeah… It kind of was. But also very good for you and your tired muscles.
I kept expecting little fish to stick their heads out of the seaweed and nibble me. I had a great time, draping pieces of seaweed over my bosom and imagining that I was the mermaid queen. Jeananne overheated and had to get out of her bath and lie naked on the tiles for ten minutes.
After all that, it was pretty hard to get back on the bikes for 3 hours, but we knew that red wine, pasta and Netflix awaited us in Westport, and it was actually a relatively easy cycle, with lots of downhill and only one downpour.
My shower that night was heavenly, and I found small pieces of seaweed in all my nooks and crannies. Such fun.
Saturday was my first day off, but like a good girl I arose early to do yoga, only to be told it was too windy to do yoga outside, and that we would do it in the evening.. Not a wonderful start to the retreat, but we can’t control the weather, and apparently the wind is the one thing they dislike about living up in these hills. They call it ‘The Big W’..
So we took the guests on a trip down to the beach in L’Ampolla, a fishing village with lots of tapas bars and holiday shops. You can automatically tell the difference between the Spanish people and the holiday-makers; the Spanish women lie sprawled topless in the sun (even when with family, which I find super awkward), and the foreigners are pasty white, and wriggle around on their towels trying to get their swimming costume on whilst revealing as little flesh as possible. Myself included… Although I do wonder what it would be like to just strip off and lie there, completely confident in my right to lie nakey in front of strangers. Makes me squirm just thinking about it!
I nipped into a cafe to use wifi with some of the guests (got to grab it when I can), explored the little town and then basked in the sun for a while, applying sunscreen whilst trying to ignore the fact that a massively overweight hairy man was lying on his stomach directly in front of me,like a beached whale, playing with his beard, surreptitiously staring at me behind his tinted shades. His umbrella blew away but he was too fat to get up and chase it in time. Ha.
That evening we did our yoga, followed by a paella cooking workshop led by Cherry who is our host Sarah’s mum. Cherry is an Ayurvedic teacher and a paella expert, and cooked us up a vegetarian and a seafood paella for dinner.
Traditional paella spices are saffron and pimiento, which is a very popular spice particularly in Catalunya, the region we are in. The reason that saffron is so expensive is because of the manual labour it requires to produce it. Stems of saffron come from tiny fragile plants that only grow in one region of Spain, by individual farmers who then have to pluck the stems one by one from the flowers, which is especially difficult in typically windy weather….
The difference between paella and risotto is that you do not stir paella. Once you stir it, it’s no longer paella! We used local seafood from the bay; mussels, clams, king prawns, and all the vegetables used were grown organically by neighbours or by Cherry herself.
Originally this dish was a sustenance dish for people working on the land during the Spanish Civil War; they would shoot rabbits (they all had guns during Franco’s time) and take whatever vegetables they could find, cook it up in the morning then let it increase in flavour over the day. They ate with their hands, scooping from the inside out. We ate with gigantic wooden spoons which was exciting. We also got to sample a vast amount of local red wine from a giant vat, which pleased us all tremendously.
Yesterday we did an Ayurveda workshop, which was quite enlightening. Ayurveda means ‘the knowledge of life’ and is all about the different mind-body types (Doshas) and how each person has a unique combination of the three Doshas. Vitality and health require your dosha to be in a balanced state, which can be achieved through diet, exercise, yoga, meditation, and massage. We did a little test to find out our dosha, discussed what this meant about us, and learnt a little about Ayurvedic diet and massage.
The three Doshas are Vata, Pitta and Kapha. I am quite a strong Pitta, but I have little bits of the others in there too… The unique balance that each person has determines their constitution, body type, and mental and emotional strengths and weaknesses. It tells you a lot about why you are the way you are, why certain things irritate you , why you like the foods you like and also gives some insight into your relationships….. And it also gives you the tools to keep yourself balanced. It’s useful for looking at other people as well, and for understanding that they are that way because of their dosha.
So many fun things are being learnt! Today there is a bit of a storm, so we are hiding in our tents reading books. It’s hard work getting into the routine of doing yoga every morning at 8, and the classes are fairly intense so my body is a bit achey at the moment. I couldn’t even push myself up into wheel this morning, my arms are so fatigued!
There’s not much to do here when it rains….. I will use my allocated internet time then possibly do a sleep.
I wrote this blog post the day after I arrived, but didn’t have enough internet to post it. I can’t be bothered changing it so am going to post it anyway…
By Jove! I may have found myself in a little piece of paradise!
Saturday evening I arrived in L’Ampolla, a town about 2 hours south of Barcelona along the coast. My host, Sarah, picked me up from the station and we drove out of town, up a winding dirt road into the mountains, until we reached Casa de Carrasco, home for the next 3 weeks. The retreat is set amongst olive, almond and carob trees, and they make their own olive oil.
Sarah and her partner Martin run this place as an affordable yoga retreat, where people can come and camp, or stay in the ‘stables’ accommodation. They’re in the middle of a big renovation of the house, which is over 200 years old, so this next week is going to be a lot of cleaning, finishing off renovations and getting the retreat ready for an influx of new and repeat guests over Easter weekend.
I’m staying in a safari tent, and I’m like, so excited. It’s massive and you can actually stand up in it. It gets cool at nights but really warm during the day, today it’s 24 degrees with a light breeze, and I am cleaning fridges.
They have a very deep, square swimming pool, where you just kind of plop into it, straight up and down, no gradient. To clean the pool I get to get in it and suck along the bottom with some kind of magical water vacuum.
They also have mountain bikes, a bounty of hiking trails, two dogs and three cats. Daisy is a big black Labrador, and Stella is some kind of yellow dog…. She took me for a walk last night. Daisy just lies in wait around every corner, then quickly rolls onto her back and waits for a belly rub – when you go to tickle her she grabs your hand with her paw and won’t let go.
It’s so alarmingly quiet here, after being in towns and cities for quite a while. Last night I went to bed and lay there listening to all the weird, non-car noises. Apparently there are all kinds of creatures out in the hills, I hope they don’t come knocking on my tent door in the night…..
Sarah welcomed me last night with some local red wine, a home-cooked meal and a chat about all sorts of things. We start yoga classes when the guests arrive, but in the meantime I can do my own practice on the outdoor yoga platform.
This week the pool is getting refilled, the washing machines are getting hooked up and the internet is getting turned back on, but in the meantime I have to hand wash my knickers in a bucket and climb a hill to get reception. I kind of like it that way though. Sorry in advance if I take a while to reply to messages.
Today I had a lunch of lentils with broad beans, radishes and spinach picked from the organic garden, then I continued to scrub the fridges for 2 hours. Now I think it may be hammock siesta time. Oh did I forget to mention? There are hammocks in the trees. Yep.
Maybe this all seems so much better because of my last HelpX experience. Having been through the weirdest month of my life, this is pretty much paradise in comparison! I am rather dusty and I probably smell weird but at least I’m not surrounded by people who believe in aliens and the such. It’s always a bit strange coming into someone else’s life and fitting into their routine, but it’s so much easier when they are nice people!
I did see a really large beetle thing humping another really large beetle thing. I felt like I was intruding so I just slowly closed the door again and left them to it. Who am I to come to their house and intrude on their sexy siesta?
That’s all for now, limited interwebs. Here are some pictures….