Monday, 30 September 2019

Logrono, Northern Spain


A new Biking Birder Adventure from The Ebro Delta in Northern Spain, cycling through Catalonia and Aragon before crossing The Pyrenees into France, all in aid of raising money for BIRDLIFE INTERNATIONAL.

Please make a donation via the JUST GIVING link attached to the BIRDLIFE INTERNATIONAL logo to the right. Thanks to all who do and I hope you enjoy reading about this latest adventure Biking Birder Adventure V.


Saturday 28th to 30th September

Tired & Tyreless In Logrono

A Hostel has a dormitory bed available at 14 Euros for a night and I book in. Nuria, the receptionist, gives me a business card for nearby cycle shop and checking on the internet I find that it will be closed over the weekend. Time to chill.

The late afternoon and evening is spent getting food and sitting with some other travellers staying here. All are talking about the famous El Camino de Santiago and are surprised that one, I am not cycling along it and two, that I know nothing about it.


Apparently a medieval Christian pilgrimage route across this northern area of Spain, the route is visited and either cycled or huked by over 300,000 people a year. Must have go, I determine that WHEN the bike is fixed I will go to Pamplona following the route.


Four of the other five people in my six-bed dormitory are exploring the way. Peter from Cologne Germany, is walking it, east to west. The three others, two from Argentina and one from Brazil are forestry expert colleagues who are cycling the same route as Peter.

Sunday

It seems cold and I almost feel like wearing a jumper as I head out of the hostel towards the River Ebro. Looking on a map it is fascinating how this long river almost cuts Northern Spain off altogether from the rest of Spain. The river's delta might drain the waters into the Mediterranean but the source isn't many kilometres from the bay of Biscay and the Atlantic.

A medieval church is open for mass but, after photographing the eroded sculptures that surround the large wooden doors, I enter only briefly to find a spartan inside, free of any of the usual golden artifacts and paintings Catholic churches usually have so prolifically.






Walking along a rough path through a woodland of tall Poplar trees there are birds; Pied Flycatchers, Blue and Long-tailed Tits, Robins, Cetti's Warblers and Chiff Chaffs, Blackcaps, Tree Sparrows and a couple of Great-spotted Woodpeckers. A few Griffon Vultures coast by high overhead. A superb, bushy-tailed and large Red Squirrel species is impossible to photograph decently amongst the branches and tree trunks as it does what squirrels do.








There is also lots of litter and as the litter included large white carrier bags I pick up seven bags of recyclable items, drink cans, plastic bottles and the occasional glass spirit bottle.



The river is wide and slow and a few people are fishing but seemingly catching nothing. To the west of the city, just where a large cable-stay bridge crosses the river, there is a large weir system and it is here that I turn to return to the hostel.





The intention had been to get a bit of lunch at the hostel and then go into the city to explore the side streets and parks. As I sit down at a table in the dining area, a small group of South Koreans insist that I join them for a more substantial meal. The next hour is spent enjoying these wonderful people's company. From Seoul they are here to explore El Camino and every five minutes each in turn, Kim, Kim, Wu, Chen and Jon, gives a toast to say how happy they are to have met meand how life is great, on the conclusion of which filled wine glasses are clinked together with a loud exclamation. Every fifteen minutes Wuu decided it is a moment of laughter, the best medicine as he states in English and we all have to laugh, Santa-style for the given number of seconds and then spend time double high fiving each other, shouting Ho Ho Ho to each high five! Photographs and videos are taken and the friendliness is intense. Such a lovely surprise to enjoy moments like this when travelling. Travelling, can be described as the journey to places when one meets locals and fellow travellers. Tourist, a collector of names on a list, two ways to see the World.


I lay down to email home and fall asleep. On waking there are English speaking people in the dorm; Claire from London and Paul, originally from London but has lived in Madrid for the last twenty years. Claire soon leaves to attend Mass, leaving Paul to chat for the next hour or so about life, the Universe and everything. Both are walking the El Camino and have been friends for decades. Paul is just past five years with no cancer but has had both pancreatic and liver cancers to cope with. He baulks at being called an inspiration but truly is. Paul's passion is music and on me asking what his first gig was, I laugh as his first will be next. Once back in the UK I will see Steve Hillage and Gong in Birmingham on the 21st of November. Paul's first gig was back in the early Seventies of the same. I could have talked with this incredible man for hours about music but Claire returns and off they go for a meal. I stay and listen to a couple of early Gong albums before falling asleep.

Monday

The bicycle repair shop is closed for two weeks holiday!

I find another a bit further away in the city and await its opening. This Spanish city has the usual block system of roads and is spacious and light, making British cities seem dark, messy and claustrophobic.

The shop opens and on returning an hour later my bike has a new tyre and a couple of adjustments. Will this tyre make it back to the UK in one piece? Tomorrow will be the first day of showing me that it is capable of doing so.






Sunday, 29 September 2019

Biking Birder V - week one Festival and cycling Northern Spain


A new Biking Birder Adventure from The Ebro Delta in Northern Spain, cycling through Catalonia and Aragon before crossing The Pyrenees into France, all in aid of raising money for BIRDLIFE INTERNATIONAL.

Please make a donation via the JUST GIVING link attached to the BIRDLIFE INTERNATIONAL logo to the right. Thanks to all who do and I hope you enjoy reading about this latest adventure Biking Birder Adventure V.

Saturday 21st September

The Ebro Delta Bird Festival







A day spent mostly at or around the Festival with an evening ride around with Ponc Feliu Latorre and fifteen or so electric bike riding birders.


Yes, I have met Ponc! Just brilliant to meet such an enthusiastic, bubbly and avid Green Birder, Ponc and a few of his Green Birding friends. Photos taken of the Green Birders and at eleven in the morning both Ponc and I gave talk to the visitors keen to know more about what Green Birding is all about, the reasons behind it and the achievements of both Ponc and myself, as well as other Green birder records and personalities.

After the talk I returned to the hotel and spent the hot afternoon putting my bike together after it had been transported here by courier in a large box. Incredible that these days taking a bike on a train is next to impossible and don't get me started on the cost! One tries to take the Greener alternative transport method in order to reduce one's carbon footprint. Yet they make it so difficult for one to do so. How easy it is to take the environment destroying alternative of air travel.

As I said before Ponc and I accompanied a group of visitors keen to be Green Birders and together we circumnavigated the large lagoon from the centre and back, stopping at three excellent hides. Both the bike work and the ride meant that I missed the meals but I need to lose some weight for the coming cycle back to the UK so no problem.



Details on the Festival, the guest speakers and activities can be found on The Delta Bird Festival website :-


Sunday 22nd September

Everyone is up early to be taken to a harbour, there to board a large boat to head out into the Mediterranean, hopefully to see some seabirds. Three hours later, having seen around thirty Mediterranean Storm Petrels and a number of Balearic Shearwaters, I am dropped off on the road near to the hotel whilst everyone carries on to The Festival once more. I need to collect the bike and all my possessions ready to start the long cycle back to the UK.



Last day of the Festival and a look around all the stalls led to one of the most startlingly fabulous coincidences of any Biking birder adventure. As you may know I adore Peru and in particular a project to allow indigenous children of the Machiguenga tribe in The Manu National Park get an education. Called Chaskwasi-Manu, this project is based in the town of Salvacion in The Manu. Now I have been going there and staying with the children and lovely staff, including the main organiser Maria, at the project since 2014. This was after I had had my first experience of The Manu by staying at a centre called Chontachaka in the early January of 2014. At that time there were a few volunteers from Australia, Canada and the USA staying there with four staff members, Augusto and his wife, Mario and Maria's sister Herminia. Access to the Chontachaka Centre is via a short trail from The Manu Road and a zipwire over the fast flowing white water river. No electricity, no internet and definitely no mobile phone signal, evening time is spent talking with everyone by candlelight as Paola, a female Red Howler monkey chooses who her next lap providing victim will be.
A superb place to stay, I went back there in 2018 as I cycled down The Manu Road. I would love to spend more time there but cannot afford to. At Chaskwasi-Manu, Maria would always ask whether I was going back to Chontachaka and when I would say something about my problem over cost Maria would say, “talk to Magda.”

Magda is the owner of Chontachaka and I had never met her until I went up to a stall promoting trips to Peru at the Festival. On asking a young lady with incredibly beautiful eyes where she lived in Peru. She said Iquitos and Manu. I asked whether in the Manu the place she lived in would be Salvacion. She answered Chontachaka. I blurted out “Magda?” and then said I was Gary. Now we know each other! Incredible.

Late afternoon, stalls being taken down, visitors leaving, the other speakers left in a minibus bound for Barcelona airport and home. The privilege of meeting such wonderful people will stay with me, All such fantastic and diverse people; Christov, from Switzerland with his tremendous sense of fun and passion for Swifts, Miriam and Tim Birkenhead and his extensive knowledge of so many aspects of birding especially eggs. Then there was Nina with her talk about plastics and the effect of such on seabirds. I had met Nina on Fair Isle back in 2016 and at this year's UK Birdfair. Matt had chatted with me about his previous life as a Classical music composer.







Off on the bike, now replete with this year's collection of cuddly toys as shown above, I stop by a roadside ditch to watch two migrating Wrynecks. Amazing how close you can get when sitting on a bike. They seem unperturbed by my presence.


I take the route that Ponc and I and the electric biking others took last night and, after a stop to watch the masses of migrating Sand Martins sitting in their hundreds on a large expanse of dried mud by a long beach, sleep in the northern-most bird hide. Two couples come in as I sit and enjoy the setting sun and the passing masses of Greater Flamingoes and Glossy Ibis. One of the couples, had just talked to Magda about coming out to Peru in order to make a film about Chontachaka! As we chatted there is suddenly a very loud humming noise and on looking out of the hide, we could see that the marshes were covered with clouds of billions of Mosquitos. This lasts for around thirty minutes or si and just as suddenly as it started the noise stops and the Mosquitos have gone.




Monday 23rd September


Up early, everything packed into the panniers, I set off north across the agricultural areas of the Delta. Stopping every time there are birds, my progress is slow but very enjoyable. Over the large River Ebro and through a couple of towns, , I stop to watch and count a newly arrived flock of twenty nine White Storks.


L'Ampollo is extremely hot and after shopping for some food I head off along a beautifully surfaced tarmac dual carriageway reaching El Perello by late afternoon and tonight's accommodation, Hostel



Tuesday 24th September

Early start, around 8.00 am, in order to avoid most of the heat of the day, I push the bike up the initial hills and cycle towards Here the roads joins the and as the day gets increasingly hotter, a strong breeze begins into my face, reminiscent of The Mistral of the Rhone in France, only this time the wind is coming down the River Ebro. Exhausting as it is cycling into the wind with such a heavy bike, I find mid afternoon a layby which has a path and tunnel that goes beneath the busy road. In the shade with the breeze coming over me I lay down and sleep the heat away. Eventually I put my tent up here and sleep the night away.







46.2 kilometres 269 metres up 372 metres down

Wednesday 25th September

Early morning cycling gets me to a cafe for coffee and a chat with a young twenty-two year old Spaniard, Nathan, whose passion in life is making money via 'four currencies.' Nathan says that Brexit is great for his business as he makes money when Sterling goes down.


Today I feel great as at last my hands don't feel painful and the more obvious cycling related painful area is less painful than on the previous days. I always tend to totally forget the pain that starting Biking Birder adventures brings for the first few days. Focusing on the positives is a far better thing to do.

A huge area of desolation and burnt trees, I cycle through and wonder how long ago the forest fire was. On one side of the road green Pine trees grow, on the other side of the road charcoaled stumps, the road had acted as a break in the fire's progress.



Two in the afternoon and I arrive at a village called Maials. The only lady walking around is an English teacher and she takes me to a restaurant that has rooms. The restaurant is very busy and so I head off to explore the village. Finding a cool stone bench under an ancient archway, I sleep my siesta for an hour or two.




30.3 kilometres 475 metres up 176 metres down

Thursday 26th September

A dirt road away from the village is quiet and dusty. Lots of Larks, lots of finches and the occasional Wheatear, I stop to record a short video about my progress just as three foxes cross the road emerging from bushes to my left. Another fox crosses the track some way downhill from where I am standing.





Landscape changes from Pine forest to open sierra stripped of this year's crops and eventually down to the riverside where huge peach orchards stand. I stop and snack whilst watching the waters of the River Ebro from a bridge. Great White Egrets pass, as does a lone Kingfisher. A few very large Carp push through weeds muddying the waters.



Into Lleida, a large cosmopolitan city to find my hostel for the night. An extra payment of 50p as tourist tax is a surprise.

Friday 27th September

Routine now established, up early whilst still dark, pack bike and get on the road by 8. Cycle and bird the morning away and then find accommodation to get out of the afternoon heat.




The road west towards Huesca, the N-240, is very busy and I soon grateful to find an almost empty country road that goes through various villages and farmland. The first village is more like a New Town with 'little boxes built of ticky tacky', as the house and apartments all look the same. I am perturbed to see a large sculpture outside a Primary school that seems to suggest that boys have greater thoughts than girls.



Up a steep hill onto a plain with massed blocks of maize, a tractor is being followed by Cattle Egrets as a few White Storks stand Together some way off.





Back onto the now quieter N-240 I am stopped in my tracks by the disgusting site of a large industrial scale cow suffering farmyard. This obscenity has hundreds of cows straining their heads through grills to access what constitutes here as food, a dry-looking pale green dust like material. The only place for the cows to go other than these grills are small square, dark soiled squares with nothing like grass, just dirt. As if this wasn't horrible enough, a little further along this monstrocity there were dozens of plastic shelters with small two metre square paddocks for calves to individually live in. Any advert that shows cows feeding in grassy meadows should be made to show this sort of reality if the product being sold is created here. I cry at the sight. No animal should be treated thus!



My mood had been carefree and happy. Now I am distraught and full of the negative thoughts that can overwhelm one with Climate Destruction imminent and the politics of the day being more right-wing with every passing moment. I try to sing to dispel these thoughts and deflect towards a more positive attitude.

Twenty kilometres or so later, whilst cycling fast downhill, an exploding back tyre is a major problem. In two years of cyclinga round the UK I only had two punctures. In Peru last year I didn;t have any! On examining the trye wall, I find that it is ripped. No repair possible, I start to push towards Monzon, a city about ten kilometres away.

The preferred hostel is reached and the owner tells me that there is a cycle shop called Dr Bike in the city. At 5 o'clock I take the whole bike down there and Oscar, the owner gives me a wheel with a new tyre for free!

Saturday 28th September

Goodbye to this superb hostel, I cycle down towards the city of Monzon and BANG! The new tyre has blow out and the shop is closed for the weekend. What to do? With no record at stake this time on this Biking Birder adventure, I make my way to the city's railway station, intending to get to Huesca in the hope that a cycle shop there will be open and have the necessary wheel and tyre. No train to Huesca, I get a train to Zaragoza instead.

No accommodation available in Zaragoza, I get a train to Logrono. Two hours of dry Spanish countryside, I listen to Pink Floyd's Learning to Fly song and change the words in my head to suit today's problems.

Into this distance on this ribbon of black
No back tyre and no turning back
This ride of fancy
on this desert plain
Standing alone with problems again
Fatal inaction is stopping my Green
How can I escape from what should be foreseen
Can't keep my mind from this moment's desire
A problem solved by a new tyre

[soaring guitar solo]