Issik-kul

Day 5 – Sunday 4th August – Bishkek to Tossor (338km)

We got up at 6am and the hotel was already bustling with activity – a whole party was setting of to China with Sambor, the guy from AdvFactory, others were ready to leave for Mongolia, others had just landed in Bishkek and were already dusting off their bikes, which had been sitting at the hotel for over a month, and an Italian guy was fighting with his old Africa Twin trying to convince her to stay running. We joined in the frenzy and started loading our bikes, a process which always takes much longer than expected and is never right the first time. Well, nevermind, we’d have plenty of time to perfect it over the next few days.

We were lucky it was Sunday, as the traffic was much, much calmer than on the previous days, so getting out of Bishkek was a lot easier than I feared but that did not free us from going through the rite of passage this kind of travel inevitably entails – getting stopped by the police to try and extort a fine out of you. There were police cars stopping drivers every few kilometres outside the city, I don’t know if it is a regular thing or it was because it was Sunday and possibly the first weekend of holidays for many people and we were travelling on a road to a popular tourist destination. Be as it may, we went past many of them without problems, riding at the same speed as the rest of the traffic, until one signalled us to stop. Marc was riding first, so he stopped a bit further down the road and I stopped closer to the police car. The guy came to me making gestures that seemed to mean that it was not me he wanted to stop, it was Marc, but when he got to me I got off the bike, shook his hand respectfully and introduced myself. He asked me where I was from and when I said Barcelona he inmediately started talking about football and by the time Marc had reached us he was explaining that he had a team with his police friends and they called themselves Barça. When he saw Marc he explained that he had been doing 51km/h through some roadworks and the limit there was 40. He said up to 50 was OK, but above, he mimicked writing a fine with his hands. That was total bullshit, as we were all going at the same speed, so we kept smiling and talking about football. He asked to see Mark’s license, had a quick look at it and let us go with a friendly shake and a reminder not to go more than 10km/h above the limit.

From there on, the route was rather monotonous, it was a main road in relatively good condition, the only entertainment provided by the occasional sucidal overtaking, until we turned off to visit Burana Tower.

This tower is the only thing that remains of an ancient city calle Balasagun, and it was used as a watchtower from which fire was lit to send a message to warn about danger or invaders. We had barely parked the bikes at the entrance when we were surrounded by curious people, all asking questions about the bike and wanting to have their pictures taken with us. We had a quick look at the tower, and went on towards our destination for the day: a yurt camp by lake Issyk-kul, the largest lake in the country, measuring 182 kilometers long by 60 kilometres wide.

We had been travelling at relatively low speed, so our fuel consumption was really low and we were not too worrid about finding a petrol station as the road around the lake was a main route, but after passing village after village with abandoned stations as our fuel was running low, we began to worry. We had not filled our jerrycans because we did not want to carry too much weight, and as we were starting to realise it was a mistake, we turned a corner and saw small petrol station and lots of cars queueing for it. We had to wait for a while, but we got enough fuel to have peace of mind for the following days, which was nice. What was not so nice was how 10 extra kilos felt perched high at the very far back of the bike…

We reached Tossor and stopped to buy some supplies and ask for directions to the yurt camp. We were pointed down a side street that turned into a sandy track before reaching the camp, which our heavy bikes did not like one bit. Marc made it through without problems, but I almost fell over. Luckily, I reached the camp without incident and we immediately went for a swim in the lake.

Change of plans

Day 4 – Saturday 3rd August – Bishkek (0km)

By mid morning it had become clear that there was not much that could be done about Marc’s visa situation – he had contacted the closest Spanish embassy, which was in Astana, Kazakhstan, a whopping 1640km from Bishkek. He was willing to get a flight there and back provided they could issue him a passport in time, but the guy on the other end of the line just lectured him for leaving Spain without checking the expiry date on the passport and told him that a new passport would have to be issued in Spain and sent there, which would take at the very least 12 days and that only immediate thing they did was issue a letter of safe passage in case of emergency but he made it clear that a) this was not an emergency and b) that document was only valid to allow a journey back to Spain.

With all the (legal) options studied, we decided that the only thing to do was to modify the route so that we could spend as much time as possible riding together in Kyrgyzstan and then I would go to the Pamir Highway on my own. The original plan was to see part of Kyrgyzstan first, then ride the Pamir mountains in Tajikistan, go to Uzbekistan to see Samarcand and Bukhara, go back to Tajikistan to do a different route on the Pamir Mountains and visit the rest of Kyrgyzstan.

Instead of that, we would do all of Kyrgyzstan first and then go separate ways – I would go into Tajikistan and, starting from the Karakul lake, ride the Wakhan Valley on the border with Afghanistan heading south, then go north on the Bartang Valley back to Karakul lake and then south again on the proper Pamir Highway, the M41 road. After that , I would ride to Uzbekistan and meet Marc in Samarkand, as it was possible to enter visa-free into Uzbekistan. From there, we would ride back to Kyrgyzstan via the Fergana valley in the north of the country.

I would spend 9 or 10 days without Marc, but that did not necessarily mean that I would be riding alone – we had met a British guy in the hotel who was going to do same kind of spiral route in Tajikistan I was planning to do, but he needed a few more days of rest to recover from a foot injury, which meant that we could possibly meet in Sary-Tash near the Tajik border and ride together from there, which was excellent news.

The problems begin

Day 3 – Friday 2nd August – Istambul to Bishkek (3740km – by plane)

I did not get a wink of sleep in the 5-hour plus overnight flight to the Kyrgyz capital – we were crammed together in a 737 with barely any more room than a low-cost flight and as I stepped down the flight stairs into the scorching heat everything had a dream-like quality. The airport was small, it looked more like a regional airfield than the international airport it was, consisting of only one runway we had to backtaxi on and a single terminal building without any fingers. On the tarmac, a couple 737s from Eastern airlines, a cargo 747 and an Ilyushin Il-76.

We got our passpaports stamped without hassle – the country offers visa-free entry to EU citizens, changed some money and met the guy the hotel had sent to pick us up. There was one thing we needed to do before, though – go to the Tajik embassy to sort our visas for that country. We could have done that online from home, but the e-visa is only single-entry and we wanted to try and get a double-entry one at the embassy so that we could reenter the country after going to Uzbekistan without having to worry for a second online application to be accepted while on the road. Unfortunately, the guy there told us that they only issued double-entry visas for business, so we applied for a regular tourist one. We would have to apply for a second one online while in the country. It was Friday morning and the guy told us that they were closing for holidays on that very same day, but as a special favour he would process the visas and have them ready by that same afternoon.

There are some places scattered around the globe that are little havens for the few crazy ones of us that decide to see the world from a motorbike, and the hotel was one of them. This was the point where AdvFactory sent the motorbikes to from all over Europe and there was an atmosphere of excitement about the coming trips in the air. The courtyard was packed full of motorbikes, some ready to go, others still half assembled, others proudly wearing a layer of dirt waiting to be shipped back home, and there was talk everywhere about places to see. Some people giving advice about the routes they had just completed, others talking excitedly about their destination – Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, China, India, Mongolia, with sunburnt faces, and grease under their fingernails. We found our bikes and our luggage, unpacked, had a well-deserved shower and then went out for a meal.

In the afternoon, after a nap to make up for the sleepless night in the plane, we took a cab back to the Tajik embassy to collect or visas. The ride there was an adventure in itself – the car was a crumpling old Lada with an engine that had a habit of cutting off while in the middle of crazy traffic and the driver did not speak a word of English and did not seem sure about where we wanted to go but it did not matter, it was all part of the adventure. The real problems started when we got to the embassy. The guy there told me that there was a problem with my passport, that I had less than six months before its expiry date. I felt the blood drain from my face.

‘That’s not possible’ I told him. ‘It’s November 2020!’. I handed him the passport again and pointed at the date. ‘Ah, yes, yes, sorry, it’s the other one’ he said. We looked at Mark’s passport and sure enough, it expired in less than six months. It was only by a few days, but it was enough for the visa to be denied, even though he had had no problem obtaining an online visa to Turkey or entering Kyrgyzstan, and there was nothing we could do about it there.

We went back to the hotel crestfallen and started evaluating our options. There were a lot of suggestions by the people there – contact a Spanish embassy to renew it, apply for a visa online, doctor the expiry date on the passport, a British guy even offered to photoshop his own e-visa with Marc’s details. Mark had his wife start pulling strings from Spain regarding the Spanish embassy and we tried to apply for an online visa with a different expiry date. The problem was that the system asked for a picture of the passport as well, so if someone checked the picture in person, they would see that the dates did not match. Someone suggested sending a photoshopped version of the passport with a different date, but the first picture had already gone into the system. We tried to cancel the application, but the system is very poorly designed, and it was now stuck awaiting a payment we did not make. There was not a lot more we could to about it, so we went out for dinner with the guys from AdvFactory and got drunk on unfiltered Kyrguiz beer.

Istambul

Day 2 – Thursday 1st August – Istambul (0 km)

The journey to Istambul was one of the most relaxed affairs I have experienced in years of travelling – the flight was smooth, passport control was a breeze and when we got to the baggage carroussel our bags were already there. The new airport is amazing, clearly designed at a scale for the future in a context where air travel does not seem to show any signs of slowing down. The only negative is that it is much further away from the city than the old one, but fortunately, we had arranged a transfer and a really plush Mercedes van was waiting for us at the exit – so far, this was definitely not adventure travel!The following morning we got up early to make the best of our day in Istambul – we did not have a lot of time, so we decided to see the essentials. We left our hotel on foot, crossed the Galata bridge and walked up to Galata tower, overlooking the Golden Horn, the biggest of the inlets in the strait of the Bosphorus. From its top we had a perfect view of the inlet, the strait and, on the other side, Asia. There are many things I could tell you about the tower, like the fact that the old tower used to house the mechanism to raise a giant chain that, when raised, blocked access to ships to the inlet (now we know where Mr. Martin got the idea for the battle of Blackwater Bay), or that when it was built it was the higest structure in the city, but what impressed me most as I stood there was the thought that a whole other continent lay there, just across the water, and that was where we were going to be heading soon.After the visit to the tower we had an early lunch and went to visit the Blue Mosque. Dissapintingly, part of the interior was under renovation, so that the dome was not visible, and only a section was open to visits, the rest was reserved for prayers, but I did not mind that much, as I had recently visited the Alabaster Mosque in Cairo, which is an exact copy of this one, built by the same architect.Next we headed for my personal highlight, the Sofia mosque/church. I took History of Art in highschool and it has fascinated me ever since, so I was really excited to finally get to see it after more than 20 years.Do not meet your heroes, they say, but in this case I’m glad I did – it absolutely lived up to the expectations. I know I have said this before, but in this case it rings particularly true – it is hard to describe it in words that do justice to its grandeur. Sudddenly, I did not care in the slightest that Turkish Airlines had stolen a day from our trip – that was a small price to pay to have the chance walk through the doors of such a building. Go and see it for yourselves if you have the chance.Our day visit ended with a visit to the Cistern Basilica, an amazing feat of engineering built underground and capable of holding of water, and a meal consisting of a traditional Turkish kebab.Istambul is an amazing city and I felt sorry to leave when we had barely scratched its surface, but it was time to catch the flight to Bishkek and face our first challenge – we had tried to do the online check-in during lunch only to find that the app indicated that we could not choose our seats because the flight was already full. We were afraid that, since the previous flight had been moved or cancelled, this one was overbooked, and as beautiful as Istambul was, we did not want to be any further delayed from our objective. We got to the airport and ran to the counters to try and secure two early seats, as it is usually first come first served in these cases. The woman in the counter did not look happy when we handed her our passports, and spent some time speaking on the phone, which is never a good sign, but in the end we got two seats on the plane. Some other people were not so fortunate, though – while we were waiting to board Marc saw at least three people who, according to their passes, were on standby for a seat.

The Stans 2019

Day 1 – Wednesday 31st August – Barcelona to Bishkek (2240km – by plane)

So here I am, back on the road again. Or, to be accurate, in the air, as this trip did not start on the bike.

For a long time, I wanted to go back and finish my trip to Mongolia, and this time, instead of crossing Kazakhstan, which is mostly a vast expanse of desert, I wanted to go through Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan following the Silk Road across the Pamir Mountains. The problem was that a route like that was going to take longer than the first time around, and I could not afford to be away from my job (or my relationship) for such a long time again, which meant somehow planning the trip to fit in a span of five weeks.

The first idea I had was to take the bike to MotoCamp in Bulgaria in Easter, leave it there until the start of my summer holiday then set off via Turkey and Georgia to join my old route in Astrakhan, do the Pamir route, go on to Mongolia and then send the bike from there and take a plane home in time to go back to work. Doable? Yes. Enjoyable? Nope.

It would mean being constantly in a hurry and missing out on some great routes and places, so I looked at plan B.

The more information I found about the Pamir Highway, the more attracted I was to that route, and I also came to the conclussion that Mongolia deserved better than crossing it in a week, so I decided to focus on the Pamir region.

I talked about my plan to some friends and this time it didn’t take much to find a travelling partner – Marc my (now former) neighbour, who I met just before the Route des Grandes Alpes in 2017. We had been on some trips together, including going back to the Alps to do some of the legendary offroad routes (I promise to post about that soon, it’s been a busy year) and he was very excited about the idea.

We had our bikes shipped to Bishkek (the capital of Kyrgyzstan) via Warsaw with AdvFactory, and booked our flights – so that we would have four weeks to do our route.

First stop – Istambul, Turkey. We were supposed to connect flights only here, but the flight for the second leg of our journey was pushed one day later, giving us 24 hours to visit the city.

Two roads diverged in a dusty Kazakh petrol station

and I, I took the less travelled by.

Martin, a Czech guy I had been travelling with since we met in Volgograd, had taken the other road in the dusty Kazakh petrol station and headed into Uzbeksitan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan following the Silk Route across the Pamir Mountains. He asked me to join him, but I did not have the necessary visas for that route, so we went our separate ways. 

The road was so bad that couple of hours later, the vibration had shaken loose the bolts that held my chain guard, windscreen and GPS mount.

A hundred kilometres or so down the road, things got so bad that my rear wheel bent and would no longer hold the air in. I was stuck in the middle of the desert with an unrepairable flat tire.

Eventually, I made it back to the Russian city of Astrakhan, where I could find someone to fix the wheel so that I could continue my trip, but I had lost a week and used the only entry on my Kazah visa, so that was that – my plan to reach Mongolia had failed.

I vowed to go back some day and finish the route via the Pamir Highway, which looked to be a much more interesting road than traversing the endless desert plains in Kazakhstan. 6 years went by and lots of things happened in that time:

I retired my faithful V-Strom and replaced it with a Super Ténéré with which I only had time to visit Normandy before it got stolen

I put the V-Strom back into service until I could save enough money for the new Africa Twin, which I imagined as the perfect machine to conquer the Pamirs. When it finally arrived, it was inmediately put to good use with trips to the Balkas, Morocco and the Alps, and a lot of off road routes that made me realise how unprepared I had been when I set out for Mongolia.

A few other things required my attention besides travelling, like some home DIY,

and the sad demise of my beloved V-Strom.

Now the time has finally come, and in less than a week we (yes, we) will be setting off towards the Pamir mountains!

A lot more posts coming soon!

Action shots

One of the disadvantages of travelling solo is that you get zero pictures of yourself on the motorbike. You know, the cool ones, where you see yourself leaning into a corner against a nice Alpine background.

You can always put the camera on a tripod or on a rock and record a video, and then later obtain some pictures from the best frames, but it will not be as good as a shot taken with a long lens and the right shutter speed.

I had seen professional photographers take pictures and then sell them online at organised events such as the Rider1000, but this was the first time I found them on the open road.

In the Col du Galibier and then in the Strada dell’Assietta I saw photographers crouching in a corner, taking pictures of everybody who passed by. Further on up the road, they had set up a small stall where you could take one of their cards with their website and the instructions to buy and download your picture.

I thought it would be cool to have some pictures, so I took the cards and once back home checked out the results at Griffe Photos and PhotoAssietta.

Here are the photos, what do you think?

Griffe Photos

PhotoAssietta

Overlooking Monaco

Day 8 – Monday 7th August – Moulinet to Barcelona (764km)

 

I had set my alarm clock for 6:30 to make an early start and avoid the hottest hours of the day as far as possible, but I needn’t have. At 6:00 sharp a rooster woke us all up, and kept singing at the top his lungs for at least half an hour more. I enjoyed breakfast in the company of donkeys and while was taking the tent down I saw that two terraces up from where I was there were some cages with rabbits. This was indeed a farm.

The road down to Sospel was delightful, a series of hairpins built on the rocky sides of the Gorges du Piaon, empty this early in the morning, as was the road to Col de Castillon, which I reached through the old road, as the new one crosses the hills via a tunnel lower in the valley.

While riding out of one of the last hairpins before the coast I saw an old stone viaduct that stuck out away from the road and described a long curve above the valley before turning into the mountain again. It was an impressive sight, and as I rode closer I saw that it had no rails on it and a fence blocked access to it where it met the road. It was part of an old railway line that connected Menton on the coast to the town of Sospel, and the reason that the viaduct stuck out so far from the road at that point was not to allow for a wider radius of the corner, as I had thought, but to be able to easily and effectively destroy it with explosives in case of war, rendering the line useless to the enemy.

A few kilometres down, the road reached Menton, marking the end of my trip along the French Alps. There was only one more col on the map, Col d’Eze, on the coast road between Monaco and Nice – with most traffic on the motorway, the road was quiet and offered me great views of the Mediterranean with Monaco at my feet.

After conquering the last col I filled up, selected a good playlist on the iPod and got ready for the 700-kilometre slog back home on the motorway. The offroad tires do not like high speeds and I wanted to save fuel, so I took things easy and two fuel stops later I was in the outskirts of Barcelona.

The heat had been bearable, never going above 31ºC, and I was looking forward to a shower and a beer when suddenly all traffic came to a complete halt. Even though it was the end of the day rush hour I was not expecting problems, as most people had already gone on holiday, but it was total gridlock at the entrance of the city, and then I remembered that some genius in city planning had decided to green light roadworks on two major ways into the city at the same time, leaving no alternative for the traffic going into Barcelona, one of them a new bus lane that no one had asked for and no one needed. Some lanes were cut, others made narrower, so there was no space for me, carrying the aluminium boxes to filter through the traffic, so I sat in the sweltering heat for almost an hour while all the traffic entered the city through a single lane. When I got home, another surprise was waiting for me – the building owners had decided to replace the lift, and the work was scheduled from just after the day I left until the 23rd of August, leaving me to carry all the luggage up the stairs dressed like Robocop, swearing and sweating.

When I managed to peel myself off the suit I had a shower, opened a cold IPA and went to kiss my much-missed bed.

Col counter:

37. Col de Castillon 706m

38. Col d’Éze 507m

The highest road in Europe

Day 7 – Sunday 6th August – Briançon to Moulinet (241km)

 

Having done the four famous offroad Alpine routes, it was time to go on with the Route des Grandes Alpes. I only had about 260km to go, so it looked very doable in one day, even taking it easy.

The element I had not factored in was the weather, though. So far I had been very lucky, but as I was finishing packing up and loading the bike under a lead sky, I heard the rumble of thunder coming up the valley. I was going to join Harald for breakfast before setting off, and by the time I parked the bike next to the bar it started raining hard, so we sat patiently sipping our coffees, waiting for the storm to pass. Harald said that, on account of the weather, he was going to stay for an extra day, but I had to ride in the direction the sky was darkest. The weather radar on the France Méteo app (very handy!) showed that the storm was indeed moving in the same direction I had to go, but it was advancing fast, so we guessed that in an hour or so it would have passed completely.

At 10:30 the rain had stopped, the ground was drying and the sky seemed to be clearing, so all the cyclists, hikers and riders who were killing time in the shelter the bar’s covered terrace started to leave. I said goodbye to Harald and thanked him for his company the last two days, and left the campsite.

On these few days, I came to the conclusion that traffic across Briançon is always horrible, and even a Sunday morning like today was no exception. To make things worse, I was riding behind a Dutch campervan that completely blocked my view of the street, so I missed the exit I was supposed to take at a roundabout in the centre and had to double back through an alleyway that was closed to all traffic but residents.

Once out of the city the road started climbing immediately towards Col d’Izoard. It was a very nice road through a forest and the landscape looked much, much more lush and green after the rain. I had to ride carefully, because the road was very wet, and by the time I was halfway up I had to stop to unpack my fleece jumper and put it on, the temperature having gone down to 15 degrees. What a difference from the previous days!

When I reached the top of the col the sky was clearing and it offered beautiful views to both sides, with clouds of various shapes rolling off the high peaks. When I was getting ready to leave I met a Catalan couple who were heading north, and they recommended taking the road through Col de la Bonnette and Col du Raspillon. I was following the map of the Route des Grandes Alpes that I had, and those passes were indicated as an alternative route to the main one, which went across Col de la Cayolle, Col de Valberg, Col de Ste-Anne and Col de la Couillole before joining the diversion. I had thought that four cols versus two looked more interesting, but I decided to change the route on their advice.

The road went from Col d’Isoard down to Guillestre, and from there on I repeated a section I had done the day before to get to the tunnel du Parpillon, from Guillestre to Col de Vars, down to the Ubaye valley and towards La Condamine-Châtelard, where the road up to the tunnel begins. I did not mind at all doing this part again, as it was a very nice road – a fast ascent to Col de Vars where you could have great fun connecting corners on perfectly smoth tarmac and a slower but very scenic descent on the other side. What more can you ask?

The Gorges du Guil and the Col de la Bonette, that’s what. The road through the gorges is one of many balcony roads in the country, narrow, winding, cut into the side of the mountain with very low protection walls and space for only one car. Traffic had to stop each time two cars going in opposite directions met and manoeuvre past each other very carefully. Then I left my originally planned route when I reached Jausiers and turned into the road that leads up to Col de la Bonnette. Immediately, something called my attention – just before the intersection and several more times up the road there were signs announcing the col ‘the highest road in Europe’. Wait a second. Just three days ago I was writing here that Col de l’Iseran was the highest road in Europe, was I wrong? Maybe there was an unpaved section, making the Col de l’Isèran the highest paved road in Europe and this one the highest road in Europe, period? But where did that leave Pointe Sommeiller? That was supposed to be the highest unpaved road in Europe! I was confused.

My questions were soon forgotten as I enjoyed an epic and seemingly never-ending climb up the pass. Jausiers is at 1195m, and the pass at almost 3000m, so you can imagine what a road it was. All kinds of corners, grassy plateaus dotted with cattle, great views, several abandoned forts and bunkers… it had everything.  When I reached the pass, shorn of any vegetation and windswept, I finally understood what the ‘highest road in Europe’ claim was all about. The ‘highest paved mountain pass’ title belongs indeed to Col de l’Isèran, which is 49m higher. There is, however, a loop road that starts at the Col de la Bonnete and goes around the Bonette peak, reaching 2802m, and thus making it the highest paved road in Europe.

I parked next to many other motorbikes on a tiny space at the side of the road, at the spot where it reaches its maximum altitude, and walked the short hike up the Bonette peak.

Dressed in full motorbike gear with heavy jacket, trousers and boots I could feel that the air was thinner up there, but the effort was well worth it – from the top of the peak you get unobstructed 360 views over the Alps as far as the eye can see.

I rode down the other side of the road back to the col and continued the route towards the next pass, Col du Raspillon. Unfortunately, this turned out to be another of those passes that connect the end of a valley with the beginning of a higher one, not a pass high in the mountain between valleys, so I missed it once again.

As the road went down to St-Étienne-de-Tinée the temperature went up mercilessly. It was not even a progressive change, I was riding at a very nice temperature, enjoying the views over the river Tinée when suddenly, out of a corner not far from the village, I felt a wave of hot air hit me in the face as if I had just opened the oven to check on my pizza. By the time I was in St-Étienne I could not take it any longer and I had to stop and open all the vents in the suit.

Things did not get any better further on, and when I turned off the main road to start the climb towards Col de St-Martin I could not even see the road properly, as the heat and the sweat had made my contact lenses greasy. I stopped to clean them and rest for a while, and with much better vision I was able to enjoy the ascent up the pass.

The fun did not last long, however. Back down in the valley towards La Bollène-Vesubie the heat was becoming unbearable, and I was already quite tired. The ride up the last pass of the day, Col de Turini, was interesting, with a more Mediterranean landscape that was a nice contrast to what I had seen in the last few days, but I was not really enjoying it. I felt as if it took me forever to reach the top, and I was worried that I might have to ride for a long time before finding a campsite on the way down the other side, as the area looked very sparsely populated.

When I got to the col I found not one, but three hotels. It seems that it is quite an important crossroads. As I was sitting under an umbrella in one of the hotels terrace drinking a cold coke I was sorely tempted to blow the budget for the day and take a room right there, but then the waiter told me that there were two campsites in Moulinet, the first village down the road, only 12km away.

I was feeling much better after the rest and the coke and the way down was through a thick forest, which helped a lot with the temperature, so I enjoyed these last few kilometres.

I almost missed the entrance to the campsite, as it was a narrow and very steep driveway up to the right of the road and there were no big signs. The place was called La Ferme, at that was exactly what it was – an old farmhouse with four or five terraces where you could put up a tent. I doubt that a campervan, let alone a car towing a caravan, could make it up the driveway to the campsite and even less turn around to leave again, so the only other people there were a German biker a German couple with a car and a tent and a French couple with a small Citroën van. I put up my tent near the German biker, who turned out to be one of the very few people in Germany who did not speak any English.

There was only one more col to go before reaching the coast and, with a few days of holidays still left, I toyed with the idea of taking two days to go back to Barcelona and avoiding the motorway, but today I learnt the hard way that it is much too hot to enjoy a route anywhere but high in the mountains, so I decided to get up very and take the autoroute.

Col counter:

31. Col d’Izoard 2360m

32. Col de Vars 2108m

33. Col de la Bonnette 2715m

34. Col du Raspillon 2513m

35. Col de St-Martin 1500m

36. Col de Turini 1604m