A Dog’s Life: Stray in Spain

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I fumbled for the tent zipper and Jack, our 40 kilogram Husky/Retriever/Grizzly Bear cross, charged through the delicate nylon and mesh openings like a bull in a china store, excited as ever to start a new day.

Off the beaten track in Spain

It was December in the south of Spain and our ‘house on top of the hill’ was surrounded by a panorama of frigid mountains awaiting the first glow of sunrise. A scattering of empty bullet cartridges lay haphazardly on the bare earth around us, the remnants of a trigger happy hunting season.

Our course was set for the bright lights of Sevilla and it started with a 23 kilometre stretch of isolated road re-shaped forever by the mining company Rio Tinto.

[Side rant: Rio Tinto, which translates to ‘Red River’, is named because of highly acidic pollution from acid mine drainage… way to go public relations department! In recent years Rio Tinto has won the Worldaware Award for Sustainable development. We are unsure if the award was due to its involvement in Papua New Guinea which triggered the Bougainville separatist crisis, it’s work with the Ranger Uranium Mine near Kakadu National Park in Australia, the ‘severe environmental damage’ from mining in Indonesia, or just being the third-largest coal mining company in the world (2008), one of the fastest triggers of global warming and all of the natural and political catastrophes that entails. I’m sure the ‘Red River’ public relations department will be more than happy to answer.]

The Land of Rio Tinto

We pedaled deeper into the desolate nowhere, gaping at entire mountainsides upturned and left in tiers like a giant rocky wedding cake. Besides some stunted re-growth and some opportunistic herbs the place was silent and empty. Or so we thought.

As we coasted down the other side of the pass a purple patch of Spanish lavender had me pulling off the roadside on a whim for a snack break. When Zoa pulled in behind me, we noticed a blur of movement from our peripheral vision. We were used to seeing animals darting for safety, but this animal was sprinting straight towards us! What was it? An angry rabbit?

Nope,  it was a dog. A tiny dog, completely emaciated, with its ribs bulging out of its shivering body. She looked startled and desperate, like something out of a war zone, not far from death’s door, and after a quick snarl at Jack and Paco she jumped straight into the back of our dog trailer, as if to say wherever you are going, I’m coming with you.

Daza gets a feed

A closer inspection revealed swollen teats, a bloody behind, and big sores on her body which had not healed properly and had started to become infected. A permanently attached hunting collar showed her name to be Daza, with a phone number written on the back. We had ridden through town after town of stray dogs in Spain, but what was she doing out here in the middle of nowhere, so far from any homes? She must have become lost during a hunting trip.

Daza greedily lapped at our dwindling water supply and wagged her tail furiously when we laid out the last of our dog kibbles. We wrapped her up in a blanket and fastened her into the basket on the back of my longtail cargo bike, leaving Paco and Jack to take it in turns riding in the trailer and trotting down the hill beside the bike.

Hunting season in Spain

With the nearest town over 15 kilometres away, it was slow going and frustrating to have to constantly use the brakes after working so hard to enjoy the benefits of gravity. But one look at poor shivering little Daza put our frustrations back into perspective. Paco was less forgiving at having to give up his basket to the new dog on the block, and we spent the next three hours listening to him whimpering with unprecedented emotion at the indignity of it all.

After finally rolling into town we used some basic Spanish and sharply honed miming skills to locate the only ‘farm animal’ vet in town where I was greeted by a sharply dressed young man in glasses, who called the number on Daza’s collar. Phew, problem solved.

Wrong again. Apparently the collar must have miraculously clamped itself shut around her neck because infuriatingly the owner claimed to know nothing about a missing dog. Like a piece of trash thrown out of a passing car window, it seems poor Daza was abandoned to fend for herself in a landscape devoid of life.

After seriously considering the logistics of adding a third dog to our bicycle journey, we reluctantly decided to hand Daza over to the Civil Guard and hoped they would find her a loving home. We have often wondered about Daza, where she ended up, and whether we should have taken her along on our bicycle trip. Whoever said ‘it’s a dog’s life’ didn’t come from Spain.

The cue at the butcher

Adventure Cyclist Photo Contest: Runner Up

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Adventure Cyclist is a magazine published nine times a year by the Adventure Cycling Association, a nonprofit service organization for cyclists in the U.S. Recently they ran their first annual ‘Adventure Cycling Photo Contest’ with a brief to highligh the beauty, adventure, and inspiration of bicycle travel.

We found out about the contest with just enough time before the deadline to send in some of our favourite photos.  Included in the batch was the photo chosen as a runner up (see below). The photo was taken in Autumn after camping in a field of fairytale mushrooms. Our big dog Jack is relaxing in the trailer before the long haul up to the border of Galicia and Portugal.

To check out the winning photo and the rest of the runners up click here…

The Streets of East Berlin Photo Gallery

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Thanks to the wonderful Jammin Angels, Ben and Maria, we were lucky enough to enjoy a slice of winter on the east side of Berlin.

Berlin is full of colour and life, always changing, never boring – a photographer’s dream. I can’t remember how many times we left our camera at home, only to see dozens of great photo opportunities flash before our eyes. Nevertheless, here are our favourite photos from the times we actually remembered to bring the camera along…

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Squat houses tend to be the most colorful buildings of all, each one trying to make their patch of concrete stand out from the rest.

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Forever united in grammatical error

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Rain/hail/snow the posties of Berlin are out there on their bright yellow bikes overloaded with packages and envelopes. Side note: Dogs are welcome into the Deutsche Post offices (one day there were 5 in line) and during Christmas the clerks were giving out dog treats over the counter.

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Although it is officially illegal, every surface of Berlin is up for grabs for artistic expression, even windows. The following day this couple separated, and the girl sticker was peeled off.

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Despite being a city that is covered in graffiti and broken beer bottles, Berlin feels very safe. No matter what time of night we were out, there were always people walking/staggering/cycling around and police on patrol. In this photo the police (the wannabe commandos in their army green outfits and black berets) are trying to get help with their crossword puzzle.

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Street art is so much a part of the Berlin culture that many shops join in. This is the exterior wall of a boutique t-shirt shop in Friedrichshain.

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Many playgrounds over-flowing with creativity are nestled into the low rise apartments.

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The famous little traffic light man (Ampelmännchen) of East Berlin. This hat wearing stroller was unique to the east of Berlin during the time of the wall and is now an iconic souvenir.

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Anarchy, love and masturbation...

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The graffiti garden rising up from the soil…

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Orange on white. Bin on snow.

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For the full gallery click here…

Heading to Canada, ehy?

Yep, it is finally time to leave Europe and cross the Atlantic for Canada. So long and thanks for all the baguettes…

You will find our new home beyond Heart’s Desire, beyond Crooked Lake, beyond Malignant Cove and beyond Upper Dyke Village. Once you get to Bear River take the quiet road to Grosses Coques and look for our place at the far edge of town where the grickle grass grows. Note: if you end up at Burnt Head you have probably taken a wrong turn at Sissiboo.

As you can probably tell I have spent unhealthy amounts of time on Google Maps, exploring the surrounding regions of our new destination, an area rich in lobster and wacky town names. Where in the world are we talking about? The west coast of Nova Scotia on the east coast of Canada. Fear not, if I have lost you already, a Google Map is provided below ;)

Grosses Coques, literally translating from French to ‘big shell’ (thank you Google Translate), overlooks the Bay of Fundy, a stretch of water known for whales and having the most extreme tides in the world. Because of the unique shape of the bay a funnel effect is created, meaning the difference in water level between high and low tide can be as much as 14 metres. The tides are so extreme in some upper bay rivers the river flow is completely reversed by the rising tide (thank you Wikipedia).

Our winter home will be provided by our friends Colleen and Andre in exchange for some renovations. In between renovations we hope to save some money for more cycling adventures, with a 6,000 km loop around the east of Canada one possibility. You can see the basic route idea below, starting in Nova Scotia and heading anti-clockwise through Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland, Labrador, Quebec, and New Brunswick. Click on the lines on the map to see the information we have researched, and let us know if you have any comments on the area or route ideas.

P.S. In between now and the Canada ride we will continue to post stories from our European journey, and our top 5 rides in Europe, plus stories on settling into the east coast of Canada. Check back now and again for fresh content or subscribe to the blog for email notification of a new post.

BirchBarkBobAnanda – a Dumpsterdiving Superhero

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Note: the photos and most of the information for this post has been shamelessly pillaged from BirchBarkBobAnanda’s (BBB) websites, including this quote:

“When you’re one step ahead of the crowd you’re a genius. When you’re two steps ahead, you’re a crackpot.”

BirchBarkBob's DIY Xtracycle washing machine. Photo by BBB

It didn’t take long to realise that BBB is not your average can of soup. With his homemade panniers made from advertising banners, birch bark covered bike frame, hand made windproof jacket and tires from the dumpster of a bicycle store, he is the living embodiement of the phrase ‘Reduce/Reuse/Recycle’: an everyday superhero, sent to fight waste and the insanities of the modern world.

Birch Bark Bike. Photo by BBB

We had been contacting each other through the online hospitality organisation CouchSurfing for a while, and finally managed to catch up in Berlin, where our two bike trips crossed paths.

First up was a trip to the local organic grocery store to pick up some food for dinner. But of course we weren’t heading into the entrance. BBB was scoping out the back and the sides of the building looking for access to the dumpsters. After some big hauls in Scandinavia he was disappointed to find the gates locked.

Smoothie time... A Collection of Dumpster Fruit. Photo from BBB

BBB’s current battleground is the dumpsters of Western society, overflowing with perfectly edible food. As he explains, “Often the only reason for ending up in the trash/compost bin is that for example bananas are starting to have a few brown spots, and so the greener or yellower ones are

preferred. The shop keepers, disturbingly, play along in the game and throw out the ones people leave by the side, and simply order more. Instead they could just refuse and let people pick from a shrinking pile, but no!, people are so spoiled by the abundance, and take the nicest looking stuff for their money. The shop keepers could end this, by ordering new stuff less often, but then they probably feel they would loose against other shops who simply do not feel troubled by throwing out perfectly good stuff. It’s a feedback loop that needs to be enlightened, and dissolved.”

His dumpsterdiving recently made front page news on the island of Åland (between mainland Sweden and Finland), where he showed how wasteful large supermarkets can be. When he met with reporters they found bins overflowing with food. “I even found a bouquet of tulips to give to the female journalist. It made her day… and I heard that the flowers lasted for another week.”

Dumpster-diving makes the news in Finland. Photo by BBB

A dumpster in Finland - butter anyone? Photo by BBB

“In the interview I explained how the poison food most people seem to love, is cheaper than organics in the store, because the damage done by these destructive agricultural practices are only later paid for by the whole human society, their and our children’s future and health, not to speak of all the other earthlings, we share the planet with. If all the costs caused were actually accounted for, that cheap poison and genetically modified garbage, would be probably triple the cost of organic food, if that’s even enough!”

The BirchBarkCanoe: not a shred of metal or glue. Photo by BBB

BBB’s superhero hideaway is on an off-the-grid island on the west coast of Canada where he lives a solar-powered life in a biodiesel schoolbus parked in a meadow five minutes from the beach. When he is not dumpsterdiving or travelling around by bike you might find him sewing and manufacturing his own outdoor gear, green woodworking, paddling the rivers of Alaska and northern Yukon, basketmaking, baking sourdough bread, and just generally finding stuff and reusing things. Some of his completed projects include ‘Canibal Tubs’ (DIY fire powered spas), hand crafted birchbark canoes, and a beautiful compost toilet he dubs ‘The Crapcedral’ or ‘La Shiteau’. As he says, “Choosing to live simply, really frees ones life from the yoke of slavery.”

BBB is an amazing individual with positive energy and a fascinating mind, buzzing with creativity. I look forward to seeing what he produces in the future and maybe sharing a smoothie or two.

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The crapcedral: A deluxe compost toilet. Photo by BBB

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The Infamous Cannibal Tub: Northern Lights Please... Photo from BBB

For more inspiration check out his websites:

Free Spirit – about his ongoing bicycle trip from Switzerland to the High Tatras of Slovakia, to the Baltic Countries, to Scandinavia, and beyond…

Pippi’s Dumpsterdiving Club – uncovering the hidden waste of western consumerism

Vaccinations – The Swine Flu swindle and more…

Warmshowers Photo Contest: Bronze Medal

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We are thrilled to have 3 of our photos in the top 10 of the recent Warmshowers Photo Contest. Click here to check out the highest ranked photos, a great collection of photos that capture the spirit of cycle touring.

For those of you who are wondering what on earth ‘Warmshowers’ is, it is not as erotic as it sounds. Warmshowers is an online hospitality organisation, similar to Couchsurfing or Hospitality Club, but instead aimed primarily at touring cyclists. While on tour members can scan lists of hosts in the countries they are cycling through and read a description of a host, comments about previous hostings, and contact information. To repay the favour, whenever you are not touring you can become a host and share the warm showers around. Simple really – definitely worth checking out.

Our experience, like with all online hospitality organisations, has been overwhelmingly positive. In Bergen, Norway we enjoyed a delicious meal, a warm shower, a warm bed, and great company from articulate, generous bicycle loving couple who gave us some insight into the history of their country. The only thing that stopped us from using it more often was our technological inadequacies. Without a mobile phone and with unpredictable internet access it can be difficult to organise a visit.

We look forward to becoming hosts when we settle in one place for more than a few weeks to repay the amazing hospitality we have received while on the road.