08/10/2018 Simon ‘Wardy’ Ward is nomadonanomad
I’ve had a bit of grief about lack of contact earlier in the escapade and I think I’ve explained that a big part of the issue re cycle touring is getting enough fuel, i.e. food on board, to keep the pedals turning. Before I go into detail, I have to regale you all with a couple of stories regarding my prowess in the eating stakes.
The first time I was invited to dinner with my prospective ‘In Laws’, my Father-In-Law to be, at the end of the meal, announced that I had excellent skills in relation to handling a knife and fork. That should give you a real idea regarding my eating skills.
Many years later, totally separate story, I suggested to a great friend of mine, who for the purposes of this will be referred to as ‘M’ that we should go to watch my favourite rugby team, Leicester Tigers, playing an away game at Leeds. He immediately agreed and plans were made.
This may seem strange, but it relates to the story. Now I don’t think I’m a big fella, but I don’t think I’m small either. When I started the madness/escapade/excursion, I weighed in at about 95 kg/215lbs/15 stone 5lbs. (so that no-one can be in doubt) However, size is relative and compared to ‘M’ I am not a big bloke. ‘M’ is not only big in stature but also, and most importantly, big in heart and substance. Great fella and top bloke.
The morning of the match arrives and I have to run around like a madman making sure all is ok regarding business and staff knowing what to do before I can even think about going off gallivanting around, possibly even having fun. ‘M’, on the other hand would have surfaced and been supplied with a full English breakfast by his wonderful, and devoted missus, ‘T’.
We set off, get to Leeds, find the ground and a parking space, and it just so happens a pub that serves food. Great! I order a full meal and ‘M’, because he’s a polite fella, and doesn’t want to let me eat alone orders a light snack. (Obviously beer is mandatory and is added to our order) The food arrives and ‘M’ has his light snack. I, however, have something akin to the side of a house, and eyebrows are raised.
Nothing for it but to get stuck in. It took me about 20 minutes, but I demolished the lot, even saving some bread to wipe up the last remnants of the sauce/gravy. Throughout the whole process ‘M’ said not a word, but once the plate had been ‘cleaned’ he casually made the comment I will never forget, which was, ‘you know, for a little fella, you can’t half eat!’
So, food is fuel, and if you don’t have the fuel, you cannot turn the pedals to get to the next place and refuel. Catch 22 if ever there was. Which leads to the question, France or Spain? Well, when it comes to food and drink, Spain wins hands down on price, and on quality it’s just as good even if the French think their cuisine is ‘Le Premier’.
For example, I go into a French bar, order a beer, and it’s a surprise if it costs less than 2.50 Euros. That’s for a little ‘farty’ glass that isn’t even close to a pint, a proper Englishman’s measure. And for that amount a smile isn’t usually an option either. In Spain however, the price is about half, and that’s no joke.
Then you add in the tapas which is pretty universal here and you realise that, when you get used to the system, you can eat for free while you drink. Now the ‘system’ does take some getting used to, but I think I’ve about cracked it. My enforced weekend, due to a mechanical with the bike, in Medina de Rioseco, was a revelation to an extremely hungry cycle tourist, and maybe also to the poor buggers who are trying to run businesses, profitably, in the town.
It started on the Monday morning when I made the telephone call regarding the problem with the bike and managed, with the help of the guys who really know their shit at SJS Cycles, to fix it. I was so pleased with myself, and having the whole day to relax and enjoy my new found skills as a bike mechanic that I decided to treat myself to a haircut, try and find some new shorts for my new slimline frame, and blow the froth off a few cold ones.
Lunchtime, haircut done, (just the one on the left as I’m letting the one on the right grow out ready for styling) and I waltzed into a place and had a beer. They gave me some very nice pizza. So, I had another beer and they gave me some ham with bread, more pizza and more ham, this time with a piece of melon. (Not the processed shit you get in England, proper ham!) I kept ordering beers and more food kept being deposited on my table. After a while I decided to go back to the hotel and sleep it off.
Later on, I went out in the evening with a plan to eat but it didn’t seem necessary as every time I ordered a beer, a small plate of tapas arrived with it. Can’t remember everything I had but it was delicious and just kept coming. I’m not sure if they get the idea about how much English cycle tourists can drink, but maybe a learning curve was started?
I finished the evening at a place called ‘Cubero’, and the staff were excellent. They seemed to sense that they had a challenge to see how much I could drink. Or maybe it was how much I could eat? Who knows but it would appear I entertained them as they shovelled beer and food at me at increasing speed. I didn’t slow down as I think it would have disappointed them.
In the end the pizza, empanadas, tortillas, olives, tuna et al got the better of me and I had to give up. They were absolutely delighted having beaten the ‘Ingles’ but someone then made the mistake of putting a custard doughnut in front of me. Well, I hadn’t had dessert had I? Four of those later and they waved the white flag and I paid the bill, only for the beer though, and left to sleep it off. Food, I just love it and I need it! (Before I left they even gave me a free beer!)
The moral of the story seems to be that if you can drink enough, you will not starve in Spain, not a problem for an English fella who gives it some stick on bicycle every day. So, if you get the system sorted you don’t need to visit a restaurant just get stuck into the beer and tapas. Works very well for me! Can I drink enough to feed myself though?
Something that has surprised me regarding Spanish cafes/bars, in rural areas, is that customers, when having coffee, just throw their sugar sachets on the floor, plus napkins and any other litter. It seems to be normal and although I can’t do it, I’m very glad I didn’t go up to the first guy I saw dropping his shit on the floor and remonstrate with him. I would have looked a right dick!
In one place the proprietor produced a load of plates full of pistachios. All the assembled customers dived in and soon the floor was awash with all the discarded shells. When they walked around the noise was deafening but I just thought, ‘hey, it’s their country, they can do what they like’.
All of a sudden, the tapas that comes with the beer is happening again. Maybe it’s because Real Madrid just lost to the last kick of the game and all the locals disappeared en masse and they need to offer it to me or throw it away? Call me the dustbin, but it seems that I’ve been identified as a receptacle for any food that’s left of an evening. No problem for me! Have to finish for the moment as I need to drain the beer from my glass and get another, along with something delicious, although I have no idea what it is!
When I was living in Laos I coined the phrase, ‘mi ben haa’ when I needed another beer. Now that doesn’t mean ‘one more please’, the literal translation is ‘I’ve got a problem’. When in a new place where the staff didn’t know me I would say ‘mi ben haa’, but quickly point to the bottom of the bottle and make the gesture as though the beer had all run out. The joke would be received and I would get a new beer.
Once I was in a bar run by an Irish fella and one busy night his Laotian wife had turned up to help out with the rush. When I was getting close to the end of my beer he and his staff disappeared so she was the only one behind the bar when I said the inevitable, ‘mi ben haa’. When I did she was quite taken aback and I quickly gestured to the bottom of the bottle.
She quickly took it off me and examined it closely, even holding it up to the light, and it was then I noticed her husband and the staff all peering around the kitchen door in fits of giggles. They knew what was coming. Apparently she told all her friends, and claimed it was the funniest thing that had ever happened to her. Obviously needs to get out more!
Here in Spain I’ve coined a new phrase which seems to get a few laughs. When I’m sure the folks in a bar realise I’m a cycle tourist, I point to the beer and say, ‘gasoilna bicicletta’. Then for the rest of a night it just seems the easiest thing in the world to keep repeating and is a great conversation starter.
As an aside, I’ve just found out that there is more than one ‘Camino de Santiago’, mentioned in the last blog post. There’s loads of them, and yet still no-one has heard of the Eurovelo routes. Doesn’t matter to me now anyway as I’m plotting my own journey and having a blast!
As always, thanks for reading this far and may your God go with you.
Simon ‘Wardy’ Ward.
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