Judy and I live in a small town north of Seattle, named Mukilteo, and ride quite a bit in the states. However we'd never taken a foreign motorcycle vacation.
When my father became unable to care for himself, I did not have it in me to put him in a nursing home, so he stayed with us the last two years of his life. Although gratifying to be able to provide him with excellent quality of life his final years, it was still quite stressful at times and we were never able to really relax on a vacation. We decided that after he died, we'd take a real vacation. After considerable negotiation regarding geographical areas, transportation, etc., etc., we decided to take a motorcycle tour of Spain for a week, see the Catalunya MotoGP, and then motorcycle on our own for a week.
Our tour operator was Iberion Moto Tours, which is a very professional, knowledgable, and hospitable company. Our guide was Marti Cebrian, an excellent rider, freelance moto writer, and all-around good guy.
Perhaps because of the Madrid train bombing, there was only one other paying customer on the tour, so the entire week their were only three of us on motorcycles. The first day Marti met us at the airport, and took us to the hotel. Afterward, we met the guide, his assistant, Juan Pablo, and the other customer, Eric, for a brief of the trip and what to expect.
Sunday June 6: The motorcycle assigned to me was a near exact copy of one of my own, an R1150GS. Leaving town the first day was quite an experience, since I had never ridden in Spain, let alone in their traffic, which was quite wild by comparison. Eric was fine with it, since he came from Los Angeles. Between the lane-splitting, riding on the shoulder, round-abouts, and other thinks alien to our culture, I was fairly intimidated the first couple of hours. However I stuck to Marti and Eric "like a flea on a hound-dog" and made it just fine.
That first riding day we rode highway C17 through Vic to Ripoll, Puigcard, and then to La Seu d'Urgell, where we stayed in a Spanish Parador, or government sponsored lodging house. The village was having some sort of fiesta, with merchants and crowds of people everywhere. It was quite exciting and interesting to see the Spanish small-town culture first-hand. Being a recovering Catholic, Judy wanted to enter almost every church or cathedral she saw, so we entered one here, and were awestruck by its beauty, simplicity, power, and size.
Monday, June 7: Leaving town, we backtracked slightly to enter the principality of Andorra, basically a sovereign shopping state? Barely room to move around, it was duty-free, so people came from all over to buy things. The here must have been pretty expensive, as it was quite fully developed. We entered a motorcycle accessory store that seemed to have every make, model, size, shape and color of accessory you could want, but realized we had everything we needed, so left without a purchase.
After Andorra, we started up into the Pyranees. As we approached a pass, known as a Col in France, Marty had us pull over at a particularly scenic spot for pictures. It was genuinely awesome, even though we are used to magnificent scenery in the Northwest where we live.
Continuing into France, we went through Bagneres-de Luchon, Arreau, Vielle Aure, through the Tunel de Bielsa, Bielsa, and to the Parador at Monte Perdido. I have no words to describe the beauty of the Pyranees and the roads through the towns, over the mountains, and through the valleys. They have to be witnessed!
The Parador was a converted convent (no pun intended), situated in a high mountain valley with gorgeous peaks and glaciers all around.
Tuesday June 8: This was to be one of the highlights of the whole trip. We backtracked through Bielsa, the tunel de Bielsa, and into Arreau, France, the turned west and rode over the Col d"Aspin into LaMonge, over Col du Tourmelet to Argeles Gazost, then over Col do Aubisque into Eaux Bonnes. From Arreaux to Eaux Bonnes, we saw bicyclists practicing for the Tour de France almost everywhere. In fact, we though we recognized some of the small towns from last year's TV footage of the race. The roads were often quite narrow, leaving barely enough room for a truck and our motorcycle to pass. They also had little or no shoulder, so that a bicycle, motorcycle, or auto going off the pavement had a real problem, if not a total wipe-out. The scenery was gorgeous, what we had time to observe. We stopped at the top of a pass and took some pictures with many more tourists and some goats.
At the Col du Tourmelet there was a statue of a naked bicyclist topping the mountain, as only the French would display, and a cafe, where we had some hot chocolate. Later on at the top of Col du Aubisque, we had some lunch and watched the clouds begin to form into a storm cell in the direction we were headed. By the time we finished dinner, rain was imminent, so we donned our rain gear and headed out.
At Eaux Bonnes, we turned south and went over Col do Pourtelet, back into Spain, stopping in Sallent de Gallegos for the next two nights. Sallent was a small ski town, with several condominium or apartment projects under construction. It was very quaint, and here is where we really first experienced the working, eating, and socializing hours of Spain. Arriving late in the afternoon, we showered and took a stroll, only to find out there there was nowhere to eat, and only one small "mercado" and a bar open. Nowhere to purchase a snack or meal though.
In the evening we had dinner at a restaurant which was officially closed, but catered to the tour guide, so we had an excellent, intimate dinner with the locals.
Wednesday, June 9: This was supposed to be a "rest" day on the tour, but the guide had planned a loop ride into another section of the Pyranees, due to our experience level and our desire to see the country. We opted for the alternate route though, just because we were interested in seeing more of the religious culture of the country. The chase driver, Juan Pablo, led us on a tour through Jaca to the Monastery Juan de la Pena. ON the was we entered a church in the town of Santa Cruz di la Seros, where we toured the sanctuary and climbed up into the bell tower. Being a structural engineer, to me, the construction of these old churches was something to behold, and my imagination went wild with thoughts of how they must have toiled to get those heavy stones up so high without cranes or machinery of any sort.
Continuing up the canyon we found ourselves on a narrow mountain road with no shoulder, steep drop-offs, and occasional wondrous views of the valley below, including the church. The monastery was in the process of being restored, and was jambed into what amounted to a large, shallow cave in the side of a cliff.
On the way out, I attempted to stop alonside the road where there was a steel barrier. I didn't realize that the barrier was not placed on ground level with the pavement, as is mostly the case in the U.S., so when I went to put my foot down to steady us, over we went! It happened so quickly I couldn't get my foot up onto the barrier in time, so here I am bracing two of us and the bike against the rail with my arm. That was not going to last long, so I implored Judy to push against the rail with her foot to help out. Eventually we got back onto the pavement, but it was worrisome, as the whole time we had been looking down the cliff contemplating where we might end up!
After getting back into the town of Jaca, we decided to go shopping, but everything was closed.... here we were out of sync with the local culture again! So we took a nap in a park until we heard a truck drive up and some people speaking to us. It was our guides, who had entirely by happenstance driven by on their way to get a snack somewhere!
Thursday, June 10: I took a walk first thing in the morning to see what kind of construction was going on, finding it very interesting compared to our own methods. Certainly effective, given the differences in labor, materials, and equipment size between the two countries.
Riding back toward Jaca, we turned east toward Sabaninigo, then north to Buescas, east again to Broto, and then south toward Ainsa. We had great roades with nice pavement, decent shoulders, great curves and minimal traffic until we entered a canyon east of Ainsa. Riding ahead of the group, we encountered two trucks taking their half out of the middle of the road and blocking traffic from passin. Naturally I went past the cars up to the trucks, then figured out they were running wide in order for their load to clear the overhanging rocks on the canyon wall. Waiting for a break in the overhang, I took an opportunity to pass, only to have the truck run wide in order to make a sharp turn. I could see him in his mirror shouting expletives and waving his arms at the dumb motorcyclist, as we looked at his front axle right in front of us, his rear axle right behind, and the side of the tanker almost over our heads! He gave us room though, and we scooted by thanking him profusely!
Our route then took us through Castejon de Sos, and Pont de Suert into Caldes de Boi. Just before we stopped at Caldes de Boi, we stopped at a chapel with a graveyard beside it where Judy and I mused over its history while Marti made cell phone arrangements for the evening.
That night we stayed in a very comfortable Parador with hot springs, took a steam bath and got massages. A welcome break in the trip.
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