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Hot water, helping hands.

As usual when heading towards a host, the road seemed long and strewn with minor obstacles. I’d ridden under the Milky Way the night before to leave myself a little less to do, but this was still a journey that would take me from the deserted forest of Les Landes, through the urban conglomeration of Bayonne and Biarritz, and into a village nestled beneath the towering, snow-clad peaks of the Pyrenees. It was raining, and frequent stops to check my direction slowed me. At times all roads seemed to lead to the motorway, or something that looked scarily like one, as all living, working and transport must be squeezed in here between the mountains and the sea. Eventually my climb above Saint Jean de Luz was rewarded by my final descent into Urrugne, and my first warmshowers experience¬†with Ingrid and Jon.

Ingrid and previous guest http://www.mundubicyclette.be/

Ingrid and previous guest http://www.mundubicyclette.be/

The first thing that struck me was that indeed, this was a warm shower. After a week in the woods, endless buckets of hot water poured over one’s head is quite some experience. Instantly as belongings that were dirty became clean, what was wet became dry and what was cold became warm I knew that these were people who understood the needs of a soggy cyclist. Jon and Ingrid have travelled Vietnam by bicycle, and plan to do more in Iceland. But it’s Ingrid’s love of not only travel but travellers which has led to them becoming a popular stopping point for so many voyageurs-a-velo. One even arrived by unicycle. This multilingual home in which five languages are regularly spoken and daily commutes cross borders, was a fascinating place in which to spend time, and once more I took an extra day to stop, to write, and just to be still in comfortable surroundings.

Ingrid, originally from Belgium, showed me around her adopted city of San Sebasti√°n/Donostia, and instilled in me her love of a beautiful place with a unique Basque culture. I ate with the family and felt totally accepted and included. Ingrid’s is a gentle curiosity and a generous, listening ear. She shared with me the many stories and blogs of the other travellers who’d shared her home. I felt inspired by their big journeys and world tours, if a touch intimidated that my trip, ambitious though it is, was a bit little in comparison. Her photography of people and their places at times arrested my train of thought and I found myself returning a gaze from a far-off land.

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Ingrid’s images from afar

On Ingrid and Jon’s advice I took the hilly road south to Pamplona, to benefit from another night’s hospitality with a different host, and to join the Camino de Santiago there, where hostels would be plentiful and the way would be well signposted. I was to take a disused railway line up the valley which without Jon’s local knowledge would have been impossible to find. And with the thought of a second warm shower in as many days to motivate me, I set out once more.

As it happened I wasn’t the only touring cyclist who would be accepting hospitality at that time. A gentleman I know only as @specialized_guy needed a place to take stock and book passage home after a WWOOF that didn’t work out. As we were both leaving Jon passed us both a business card, saying that we ever needed any help while in Spain we should pop into an office of his company, MAPFRE, or contact him directly. I accepted it, never thinking I would need to. However, Ingrid and Jon’s generosity, thoughtfulness and multilingual negotiation skills would soon come to my aid in an hour of need. (more hot water…) Our paths would cross again much sooner than I’d anticipated, but no sooner than I’d hoped.

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Pour mes belles filles.

I write this for my three beautiful girls back home.

Dear N, M and E,

I’m having a wonderful time, and when you read this I will have ridden my bike all the way across France and into Spain. Mostly I’ve been staying in my little tent. It’s been just big enough and just warm enough for me every night. I’ve ridden through a huge forest on long, straight paths as far as the eye can see. It took me two whole days to cross it! Tonight the stars are amazing, and I stopped my bike to look at the Milky Way.image

I think of you all every day and imagine what you are doing. I expect you are all ready for your Christmas plays and concerts. I know you are all going to be fantastic, and E will count her sheep perfectly.

Every morning when I wake up I make tea in the cup you gave me for my birthday. I love doing this because not only do I get a hot drink on a frosty morning, I also get to think of you and remember how kind you are to me.image

The one thing I miss most about being away is your hugs. If there was a World Championship of Hugging, you three would win gold medals. So make sure you practice your hugging while I am away, because I’ll need extra special ones when I get back.

I went on this trip because it is a dream I had for a long time. An ambition to do something big and exciting. And now I am doing it it is like one of my dreams has come true. I want you all to realise that if you have dreams that each of you can make them happen. You can have adventures as big as your imagination. You can achieve things that no-one has done before. You are so, so special- please remember this always. You are not ordinary. You are amazing. I love you.