While in Burgos, laying in a dry bed and thinking of what lay beyond in Gods creation, trying to decide a route and permitting sleep too overtake my eyelids. It wasn’t until the following morning while Jeremiah sat astraddle his Surly bikes crossbar that an escape route was actually formulated. Small roads, almost impossible to see on Google maps due to the poorly chosen color scheme they use, would wind there way south towards Salamanca and beyond. My only real Prayer that previous night was, Dear Lord, if yer really there and listening, then please put all these rain clouds over California and give me a little sunshine!
I would be remiss to say that I woke to beam of sunshine poking thru the hostel window. quite to the contrary, it was foggy, dull and ominous looking. I was dressed to get wet, and mentally prepared for the worst. Burgos, lay along the banks of a slow meandering river, skeleton trees lacking the splendor of autumn leaves, brush, wild berry vines line the rivers banks. Forming a near impenatrable wall along the cold unwelcoming waters edge. My Surly bike, is pointed almost due south, taking me up and over the first major ridge. Churning thru the thick grey mire of fog, Jeremiah began to see a certain brightness under the cloud in front. Funny how a little Godly optimisim can give one extra pedaling strength. The fog soon lifted, and by 10am and just a few ridges I was stripping off Showers Pass gear to ride in a wind breaker and my cycle shorts. It was glorious to have sun washing over me rather than rain. My mood was ebulient.
Noon on days such as this, will find Jeremiah pulled over, among young olive trees,grapevines, or grazing pasture, making a cup of tea and enjoying a cheese sandwich and my favorite rich Spanish Chorizo. The vista before me is huge blue sky vault and beautiful Spanish countryside. I realize that much of what is the beauty of Spain has slipped past me, shrouded in the fog that is Spanish winter. Its a beautiful country, with splendid huge vistas, and rich ranching and farm ground in every direction. For the next 3 full days I would be given sunny clear skies underwhich to ride and enjoy Spain. Somewhere along in this row of undulating hills there is a wine growing region that encapsulates the city of Villadolid. I was enjoying the crisp clear morning aire while churning the cranks of my Surly, noticing to my left a vehichle much to nice to be field hand, obviously an owner out checking his vineyard. Well, me and my big mouth and small brain, as I ride by I see tbe vehicle owner walking up to his car……..I holler “Drink California Wine” as loud as I can. The recipient of my misplaced humour, yells right back “Alto mi Amigo”. Now surely after yelling something like that to a total stranger, he deserves a chance to defend himself eye to eye with his eristic assalant.
Would he understand if I told him that I was simply giving him the advice of close friends Walter and Jim…….both producers of fine California wines…..no, I doubt it. So, taking my lumps is in order and I turn around to face the fellow. As I roll up and even before I can tender an apology, he (Valantin Daniel Olariu), offers me 2 bottles of HIS wine from his back seat, and kindly recommends I try this before shouting California obscenities. What can I do, or say, he is so gracious in defeat. Turns out my new friend whom I know will someday drive into my yard, is a wine grape specialist from Romania. He is one of only 3 people in the world who is licensed to perform a very special type of grafting procedure. I think the most ironic twist in the whole story is when with a huge smile he tells me, “you are partially correct about one point concerning California wine, this grafting procedure was developed in California and is indeed revolutionary within the wine industry”. I leave thankful,”burdened and blessed” with 2 bottles of wine to carry to Lisbon and enjoy over the Christmas Season with my family. Burden, is wieght. Blessing, is a gift.
Spain is gradually flattening out under my Schwalbe tires as I roll south towards Salamanca. The day I actually arrive in this small Spanish city on the countries western edge, it is raining once again. Cathedrals and interesting town squares make up the center most region of the city. Salamanca, resides along one of the Pilgrim routes to Santiago de Campostella. The Gothic Cathedrals within Salamanca are quite simply huge and grand, but not a single one was open for me to view insice. This is a pnenomenon that I have found within Spain almost everywhere, the churches are closed up…..period. My camp for the evening was at the outer footings of one of the Cathedrals that lay along the rivers edge, tucked between a hedge and 800 year old rockwork, I would make a simple supper and then go for a walk up among the Cathedrals in the evening. Feeling pretty safe to leave my camp for an hour unattended since i could barely refind it myself upon my return.
From Salamanca south towards Portugal lies the the country most known for producing Spanish fighting bulls and the black pigs known for producing thier local favorite “Pata Negra Jambon”, ham made from the leg of a black pig…….not just any pig mind you. Just this one special Iberico breed of pig. It was along this trek thru the countryside that I sought to learn a little more about the pig since there seemed to be a ham producer in almost every village. These oinkers, are raised much like cattle, meaning that they run outside year around. They live in fields that look manicured with lush green grass and well groomed Oaks overhead. The Oaks are important within the whole storyline, as they play heavily into the flavor of the pigs meat. The heavily groomed or pruned Oaks produce abundant numbers of acorns due to the pruning. The only other food given the pigs, is a warm mash made of locally grown garbonzo beans. The sows, during farrowing season, are run in lots with large doghouse looking affairs. Each sow takes on one house, has her piglets and raises them till weaning time. The odd looking solid black pigs, with thier very small snouts and huge rear ends, still graze as a pack undisturbed for a full year before the “Grim Reaper” comes to call.
Here is where it all got much more interesting for me. The hams seem to range from expensive to costly, yet every family has one thru this festive season. The simple family hams (jambons hung for approx. 6 months) are about $40.00 € euro per kilo. The hams are hung, only lightly salted, in special underground rock rooms where they can slowly dry for as long as 20 years. Those hams that hang for multiple years are the premium jambons and only procured by the wealthy. They are collected and sought after very much like aged wines, with certain ham producers conditions allowing better drying and flavor, as well as color and texture. Nothing is wasted from these pigs and thier production. At one stop, I had a local favorite, which consists of pig snout and lips in a stew looking consistancy made of local red peppers. It was indeed good, once you got past the rather rubbery, squishy texture. At yet another little village cafe, I had a small plate of deep fried bacon and jambon ends, these were especially good with a local hard sheeps milk cheese and a piece of bread. Spain came to and end under an umbrella of puffy cumulus clouds enveloped in azure skies and sunshine. The open road west now leads me into the eastern frontera of Portugal.