Crossing into France

Today is the day we leave Spain… we thought we’d go and see Europe in a year, but have spent most of our time in Portugal and Spain. Even then, we only skirted around the fringe – we still have lots more of Spain and Portugal to discover! And everywhere we make friends, they tell us that any time we want to come back, their doors are open. This way, Europe gets bigger every day, or shall I say deeper.


We find a place to stay over night in Montesquieu, a little town of around 1000 inhabitants at the foothills of the Pyrenees. The next morning, when we want to go shopping, we find that all shops have closed down, which means that everyone has to use their car to go down to the big supermarkets 5km down the hill!


When we come back to Emma, a man waves us towards him. He has had a severe head injury (one side of his skull is missing), making it difficult for him to speak. But he seems very friendly and wants us to come and see his house. We follow him past a number of cars in various states of repair, into a wild garden with many building projects at varying stages. The house seems to be in need of a lot of TLC too, but he insists on showing us around, and knocking on a chalet in the garden to wake up his brother-in-law.

After a while a man appears from underneath a number of dust sheets, squinting into the sun and looking rather worse for wear. He is the total opposite of Omar, the man who invited us – he is very closed up and distant, avoiding our eyes and turning away from us. We apologise that he was woken, and he says “it’s alright, this is my brother in law, he is handicapped”. As we leave, I mull over this. It seemed to me that Omar, despite his physical disability is the less ‘handicapped’ of the two…


There seems to be a sense of no-man’s land near the border of countries, a place that the world has forgotten. No tourists, very few shops and other infrastructure. I guess when you want to go to a place as a tourist, you want to go to Spain properly, not just across the border from France, and vice versa. And historically, it is the end of the country, so roads peter out, unless they are big roads that cross the border. Of course now all borders are open, but that is rather recent. There is, unfortunately a different kind of ‘tourism’ prevalent though: as we draw near the border, we notice a lot of brothels along the way, and as soon as we cross into France, we see a lot of prostitutes sitting by the side of the road.

We stop by a shop to buy some French books and a map of France, to switch our mind into another language – the third one on our journey. It keeps the mind flexible!

As we drive eastwards, we come across the first rice paddies.



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Towards France

We are quite eager to get away from the big city and back to nature, so after waving good-bye to Dan, we return to Emma and leave Barcelona going up north-east, ducking out under a large black cloud that threatens to come down on the city in a heavy thunderstorm.

We find a place by the sea, a beautiful little cove called Platja de Castell, down a forgotten path. On a large car park, we only have one neighbour, a vivacious Australian woman called Gemma, a seasoned traveller who is in love with China and shows us some beautiful jewellery she has brought over from there… I can’t resist a well-crafted pair of ear rings!

The sea is gloriously clean and calm, so we go for a swim in the setting sun. Walking back up from the beach, we stop to listen to the nightingales. They are projectile ventriloquists – able to choose their singing spots to make their song resonate in such a way that you cannot place where it comes from. It is notoriously difficult to actually see a nightingale.

That night, proper rain catches up with us too, drumming on the roof and washing off all the city dirt.

The next morning, we set off early so as to avoid being caught on a narrow road in the steady counterflow of day visitors to the beach.

We set on our travels with the intention of finding a quiet place, somewhere near the sea, where we are welcome and where there is a space to practice dancing. Places that have been recommended to us turn out to be far too touristic for our liking, with car parks charging by the minute and hordes of foreigners flooding large supermarkets. Just as we are about to give up and turn inland, we get ‘lost’ down a little road that takes us past Sant Pere Kites, a restaurant and surf/paddle school about 3 minutes bike ride from the beach. What catches my attention is actually a newly built skateboard half-pipe that looks like a perfect place to practice Tango on! We stop and reverse into their parking lot. We meet Dani and Anna, the proprietors, and Pau and various other workers, all busy to get the place ready for the season. Dani is happy for us to practice Tango, and not only that, but welcomes us to stay the night. This is the perfect place for us, and we end up staying a few days. We can sleep in the van with the doors open at night, we practice Tango every morning and I get time to put several hours of bandoneon practice in while Frank lends a hand with the work that needs to be done in time for the ‘grand opening’. In the mornings and evenings, we hop on our bikes to go down to the beach for a swim. There are quite a number of tourists around here too, but as the beach is huge, they are quite spread out and all seems very chilled. At night, we are usually the only ones there – a good opportunity to skinny-dip!


The crew at Sant Pere Kite is super friendly to us, and we admire their hard work to transform the place. It’s a real boy-zone, with possibilities for play everywhere: a pool table, a halfpipe to practice your skating skills (or your Tango J), a bike stand, a wooden platform for a boogie, a chillout corner with a sound system, and the restaurant has a wood-fired pizza oven.


The publicity says they are ‘Open every f*** day from 11am – 2am’  – slightly shocking advertising to our ears, but I guess aimed at the young surfing crowd.


They are also a creative lot – one day, Anna shows us photos of her art work on her mobile phone – very strong, colourful images – and as she tells us her thoughts behind the images, she really comes alive, her eyes shine bright with a passion and love for her work. She also works at an architect’s firm in Barcelona: quite a schedule…


As we are about to leave, we also meet the owner of this little piece of land, an Englishman called Mike. We share a meal and some travelling stories… he’s just driven all the way to and from Venice, a 3000 km round trip, to help someone move their furniture!


For  photos, go to Flikr

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