What’s with all the staring?
A few days ago we met some British cyclists, on a steep hill on the Basque coast. The woman was practically cycling unloaded, while her other half looked like a donkey; bag after bag stuffed onto his racks.
“I don’t do heat very well,” she apologised, “so he carries all my stuff.”
Her partner wiped his brow.
“It’s a bit bumpy round here isn’t it?” he said in rich Brummie.
A bit bumpy? I couldn’t think of a less appropriate description. My cellulite is a bit bumpy. This is something else altogether. We all said our goodbyes and puffed off up the hill, aware that it was still several unreasonable kilometres of climb to the nearest campsite.
Cycle tourists are rare around here
I think it was the only time in nine days that anyone has spoken to us in English. The English are a rare species round here. Touring cyclists are even rarer it seems, so we look just a little out of place. And this prompts a massive amount of attention. Wherever we park our bikes a crowd gathers. A large crowd. And they’re not content to have a discreet look. They examine the instruments on the handlebars, they check out the brakes, their children climb into the buggy, beep the horn and grab at the flags.
As odd as pilgrims
And on the hills the endless lycra clad racing cyclists (perhaps inspired by the Tour De France) breeze past us with shouts of “allez, allez.” Cars constantly beep and their occupants give us the thumbs up. People wave and shout and metaphorically push us on with their arms. It all began to make me feel a bit self conscious. Until the pilgrims started to filter in. Down at the coast they looked weird, entering the gaudy seaside resorts with their trusted sticks, their hanging rosary beads, their scallop shell necklaces, and their dull black clothes and backpacks. In comparison, our bright flags, coloured outfits and yellow trailers seemed at one with the beach crowd. “What do you look like?” I muttered as I passed the lone peregrinos, aware that in just a day or two we will be one of them. I doubt we’ll fit in there either.