I want you to imagine a scene. I will describe it for you…actually I wont. Just imagine the set of Zorro but with a motorway running through the middle.
I was cycling along an agricultural road through acres and acres of ploughed farmland, I was feeling lied to. These were definitely plains, in Spain, and Eliza Dolittle had misinformed me about the rain. It was blistering sunshine, their was cracked, sun-baked earth in every direction. My panniers, however, kept hopping off on the stony, uneven surface of the road. I hadn’t seen a car all day.
In the space of 300 or so metres my pannier fell off, again. I parked the bike against a chain-link fence and walked back to retrieve it. The only car for miles around pulled out of a farm, stopped and drove off. My right pannier had gone and with it money, a laptop and all my clothes. I went to the farm and found out that no one spoke English. They were Romany gypsies and lived in a flat roofed hovel above their milking parlour where they had a small dairy heard. They new nothing of the car or the bag and shooed me out.
I went up and down the track, I cycled it, I walked it, I jogged up and down and nada. Feeling distraught, I cycled to Manzanares and went to the police station in shorts, a Bam bamboo vest and a fleece. Look out for that look on the catwalks this winter. For three hours I chatted in broken Spanish and via Google translator and even rang my dad, who lived in Panama for a year, and asked him to talk to the officer for me. Eventually I was squeezed in the back of a police car and driven to the office of the Civil Guard. I was told to come back manana, and that is what I did.
After another three hours and more miming and broken English I got my pannier back. I don’t know if it was handed in or if the police went to the farm, but it’s a small miracle that everything is back in my possession.
In two weeks I have cycled over 800km, caught a train for 100km and am going to have to catch a bus today to make up the 250km I have lost out on over the last 3 days. Spain is not cheap. Although I have been treated to a free tortilla and coffee by a kindly hotel owner, sandwiches from a bus full of tourists and a meal from a family in Madrid which has really made my week. I also had a police escort off the autovia and was forced to buy a hi-viz jacket and to put my ipod away: “va-ry dan-ger-ooooos.”
I am uncertain as to my route through Africa as the FCO website does not make great reading for someone looking to cycle through the Dark Continent. I think I may have to fly over a large chunk of Africa to avoid several countries which my insurance will not cover travel to. This is frustrating as it will mean missing out on seeing some countries which really intrigue me. But I am not Bear Grylls and safety, and valid insurance, comes first. The thing which is becoming very apparent is that my journey is now my destination. I am still aiming for Africa but two days off the bike in police stations, detours on dirt tracks and the kindness of the people I have met is infinitely more eye opening and rewarding than just trying to make it to one place as quickly as possible. Hopefully it makes for more interesting reading as well.