Operation Sun Oasis

July 06, 2019

“A dream is a succession of images, ideas, emotions, and sensations that usually occur involuntarily in the mind during certain stages of sleep.”

Wikipedia


Content
  1. Introduction
  2. Preparation
    1. Insurance
    2. Gear
    3. The route
    4. Accommodation
  3. On the road
    1. Stage 1: Munich (DE) - Bormio (IT)
    2. Stage 2: Bormio (IT) - Aosta (IT)
    3. Stage 3: Aosta (IT) - Chambéry (FR)
    4. Stage 4: Chambéry (FR) - Montpellier (FR)
    5. Stage 5: Montpellier (FR) - Encamp (AD)
    6. Stage 6: Encamp (AD) - Bagnères-de-Bigorre (FR)
    7. Stage 7: Bagnères-de-Bigorre (FR) - Jaca (ES)
    8. Stage 8: Jaca (ES) - Zestoa (ES)
    9. Stage 9: Zestoa (ES) - San Vicente de la barquera (ES)
    10. Stage 10: San Vicente de la barquera (ES) - Oviedo (ES)
    11. Stage 11: Oviedo (ES) - Santiago de Compostela (ES)
    12. Stage 12: Santiago de Compostela (ES) - Porto (PT)
    13. Stage 13: Porto (PT) - Ciudad Rodrigo (ES)
    14. Stage 14: Ciudad Rodrigo (ES) - Trujillo (ES)
    15. Stage 15: Trujillo (ES) - Puente Genil (ES)
    16. Stage 16: Puente Genil (ES) - Alhaurin de la Torre (ES)
  4. Conclusion

Introduction

The eagerness to travel and I met relatively late in comparison to what happens to other people. I remember the days saying that I actually didn’t need to visit other countries, since my home country (Spain) had a lot to offer. I assume this fact was mostly due to my ignorance and the social influence around me.

When I moved to Innsbruck (Austria) almost 10 years ago, I started learning what being surrounded by people from different cultures really means. Certainly, in the span of this time, I could say that the common factor defining the people I have been in touch with is mostly the enthusiasm for outdoor activities, traveling and adventure.

Similarly to how the water of a river erodes stones, the influence of these people have had a huge impact on shaping my way of being. Very little remains of the younger me, who denied the need for traveling and exploring. Maybe one of the most remarkable influences has been the hunger for consuming breathtaking landscapes.

In the constant need for natural scenaries, not so long ago I dreamt of crossing the Alps and the Pyrinees and driving all the Iberian Peninsula down to the sunny Andalusian coast on top of a motorbike.

I don’t consider myself an avid motorbiker nor I drive many kilometers per year. I got my motorbike license in 2012 and since then I have been driving mostly on mountain passes in the Alps. Mostly 1-day or at most weekend trips, but nothing like a few weeks tour across several countries. I also should remark that I have no idea about mechanics, so in case of a technical problem with the motorbike I would need someone else to take care of me.

My lack of experience on two wheels has always been an impediment and fuel for my fears. But let me tell you something, riding is the only way to overcome this feeling. So, if you are at that exact stage, just get on your machine and ride your route.

Last June, my motorbike dream became a reality and yours can do so as well.

Preparation

The difficulties of preparing a motorbike trip depend mostly on the kind of route that you want to ride. It is not the same driving through the Moroccan desert than doing so on perfect asphalt in the Alps. For an European tour like the one described here, most of the attention went to planning an interesting route. As a Spanish citizen on European ground, I didn’t have to deal with any visa or vaccination requirements, which I am sure require some extra time when planning serious tours in more demanding continents. This being said, I believe Europe offers one of the best scenaries for getting started and just focusing on riding, rather than dealing with unexpected situations more common for other places.

Insurance

Apart of the traditional insurance that you get when you rent a motorbike, we didn’t get any extra protection for the motorbike. However, we decided to get an additional health insurance which would cover us in case of an accident.

Gear

The first piece of gear that comes to our mind when deciding to go on a motorbike tour is of course the motorbike itself. I own a Yamaha XJ6, but I had the chance of renting a BMW F GS 800 Adventure at a very nice rate. Riding an enduro configuration with a passenger and all the luggage has been really pleasant. Much better than riding a naked motorbike for these specific needs. In the end, this is just my own opinion, since I have seen people travelling with sport machines in long tours as well. I guess some of them enjoyed a very good massage in a nice spa afterwards. Honestly, I don’t regret renting the GS 800, since it made the trip really comfortable. In addition it allowed us to experience some off-road tracks, which for sure my Yamaha wouldn’t have agreed to.

gear

The second most important piece of gear is actually the one that allows you to organize and bring more gear on your motorbike: the luggage. The BMW F GS 800 Adventure we got came with the needed accessories to mount side luggage and even a top box. We couldn’t rent the boxes separately and we didn’t want to invest money in buying them for a motorbike that had to be returned after the trip (apparently every BMW model uses a different system for attaching the side boxes). The boxes can usually be found in aluminium or plastic, and in general they are more robust and better to avoid thieves. In addition, boxes are better prepared to repel water. As an alternative, we could use textile side bags that I already owned and actually never used before. Obviously mounting and unmounting textile side bags is more tedious than just using boxes manufactured for the specific motorbike, but they did their job without having to invest any extra cent.

In addition to the side bags, we also used an extra 50 liters bag that we mounted on the top for carrying daily stuff like water, snacks, etc.

In order to protect the luggage, we used some TSA approved locks with numerical pins, which would make it harder to just open the zips. We never had any problem, but truth be told, sometimes I was feeling nervous when parking in some specific cities. In any case, we didn’t really leave any crucial valuable item in the bags, but the simple idea of getting stuff stolen is quite annoying. My advice is that if you have the chance, invest in the aluminium boxes. They don’t work 100% against thieves, but at least they make stealing a harder process.

Finally we have the clothing and other gear that we transported inside the bags. We used one side bag for each passenger and the top bag for the common needs as mentioned earlier.

gear

Clothing and protection gear
  1. Jacket and inner layer
  2. Kevlar jeans with knee protections
  3. Sneaker style shoes (waterproof)
  4. Goretex trecking shoes
  5. Helmet
  6. 6x T-shirt (5 + 1 wearing)
  7. 6x underwear (5 + 1 wearing)
  8. 6x socks (5 + 1 wearing)
  9. 1x fleece
  10. 1x windstopper
  11. 1x hicking pants
  12. 1x swimming pants
  13. 1x shorts
  14. Flip-flops
  15. 1x Summer gloves
  16. 1x Waterproof winter gloves (I bought a new pair during the trip)
  17. 1x Towel
  18. 1x Prescription glasses + magnetic polarized sun glasses
  19. 1x Raining suit
  20. 1x Shoulder stripe for carrying the helmet
  21. 1x Buff
Toiletries
  1. Toothbrush
  2. Toothpaste
  3. Shower gel
  4. Shampoo
  5. Cotton sticks
  6. Deodorant
Electronics
  1. 11” laptop + charger (I didn’t use)
  2. Pixel 3a + charger (this is the only device we used for navigation, footage and booking accomodations)
  3. Power supply adapter
  4. Dual USB charger power DIN adapter
Others
  1. 10 liters packable backpack
  2. Adjustable phone holder (installed on the handle bar)
  3. Empty textile bag
  4. Hip bag (perfect for transporting documents and wallet)

My feeling after the trip is that I overpacked and could have reduced stuff even more. For example, next time I can bring less T-shirts, since I ended up buying new ones in some specific spots. I did not use the laptop at all, since we were able to handle everything using the phone. The inital idea was to bring it in order to blog every stage, but I realized that we were short on time and so, I decided to focus on enjoying the places and taking as much footage as possible for sharing later.

The route

Preparing a two weeks motorbike trip is not difficult. The hard part is actually designing a tour that includes nice roads tailored for motorbikers, great landscapes and places worth a visit. All this taking into account the time limitations of the trip.

I started planning by focusing on the constants, i.e., the fixed details of the tour. In my case, I knew my tour would start in Munich and go through Puente Genil (my hometown). In addition, I knew I would drive an average of 300 km per day avoiding highways as much as possible. The reason behind this was to visit small towns and explore as much as possible. While not using highways makes the trip slower in general, in my opinion it also makes it more rewarding because you are able to experience the real vibe of the places you drive by.

My initial thoughts where to drive from Munich to Andalusia and back, but since we didn’t know much about the North of Spain and Portugal we decided to spend more time over there and let someone transport the motorbike back from Spain to Germany. Based on suggestions, we found a little German company focused on the transport of motorbikes from Germany to Malaga and back, which really fitted our needs. We booked the motorbike transport and our flights back from Malaga to Munich, which automatically fixed two more contants in our route, i.e., the final destination and the maximum duration in days.

With these constants defined, the process to follow was just to iterate several times until we were able to split the trip in different stages. This process was mostly based on reading blog posts by other motorbikers, other commercial motorbike tours sold online and a lot of Google maps requests.

The original plan was to complete the adventure in 17 days following the schedule below:

Stage Start Destination Distance (Km) Acc. Distance (Km)
1 Munich Bormio 312 312
2 Bormio Aosta 359 671
3 Aosta Chanas 347 1018
4 Chanas Millau 305 1323
5 Millau Andorra la Vella 354 1677
6 Andorra la Vella Bagnères-de-Bigorre 306 1983
7 Bagnères-de-Bigorre Jaca 250 2233
8 Jaca Santo Domingo de la calzada 295 2528
9 Santo Domingo de la calzada Riaño 301 2829
10 Covadonga circular      
11 Riaño Monforte de Lemos 317 3146
12 Monforte de Lemos Muros 256 3402
13 Muros Porto 264 3666
14 Porto Ciudad Rodrigo 268 3934
15 Ciudad Rodrigo Merida 333 4267
16 Merida Puente Genil 282 4549
17 Puente Genil Alhaurin de la Torre 117 4666

Luckily, we didn’t have to deal with many unexpected situations or extreme weather conditions, but during the progress of the trip we learned to take the schedule as an open suggestion with room for changes. And so, once in action while driving each specific stage, we pivoted and adapted the route according to the circumstances of the day (temperature, beauty of the place, our level of fitness, etc.). The resulting route was as shown below:

Stage Start Destination Distance (Km) Acc. Distance (Km)
1 Munich (DE) Bormio (IT) 379.9 379.9
2 Bormio (IT) Aosta (IT) 382.9 762.8
3 Aosta (IT) Chambéry (FR) 193.7 956.5
4 Chambéry (FR) Montpellier (FR) 351.2 1307.7
5 Montpellier (FR) Encamp (AD) 313.6 1621.3
6 Encamp (AD) Bagnères-de-Bigorre (FR) 296.1 1917.4
7 Bagnères-de-Bigorre (FR) Jaca (ES) 231.6 2149
8 Jaca (ES) Zestoa (ES) 268.7 2417.7
9 Zestoa (ES) San Vicente de la barquera (ES) 238.7 2656.4
10 San Vicente de la barquera (ES) Oviedo (ES) 273.1 2929.5
11 Oviedo (ES) Santiago de Compostela (ES) 310.1 3239.6
12 Santiago de Compostela (ES) Porto (PT) 256.4 3496
13 Porto (PT) Ciudad Rodrigo (ES) 301.3 3797.3
14 Ciudad Rodrigo (ES) Trujillo (ES) 287.9 4085.2
15 Trujillo (ES) Puente Genil (ES) 427 4512.2
16 Puente Genil (ES) Alhaurin de la Torre (ES) 133 4645.2


Accommodation

As you know already, motorbike trips are quite different from other conventional ways of travelling. Mostly due to the feeling of freedom you can achieve while moving from one place to the next on your motorbike. In my opinion, this flexibility should be strongly considered when planning your accomodation.

One might tend to think that booking all accommodations in advance for each stage is the easieast and safest thing to do. However, you never know what kind of circumstances you will find on the way. Imagine you have an issue with the motorbike and while it is repaired you cannot make it to the next destination. In this situation, you most probably would need to modify the remaining bookings or change the route to drive the missing kilometers from the previous stages. Of course, it could also be that you like the place where you are so much that you would definitely prefer to stay and explore a bit further.

With this in mind, I firmly believe that booking on the fly is the best solution for a trip on a motorbike like the one described here. Nowadays there are solutions like Booking or AirBnB, which enable you to find hundreds of opportunities at any moment and directly from your phone. We started our trip with only a reservation for the first night and relied on these platforms to book the remaining nights on the way.

We never had any problem with our bookings. We just learned that some places cannot be requested after certain time on Booking, due to the check-in policy I guess. Also, AirBnB can get tricky if you want to book quite late in the evening, which all depends on your private host. That’s the reason why we preferred Booking to AirBnB.

All in all, my recommendation is to postpone the reservation as much as you can. This will definitely adapt to your schedule, rather than you feeling stressed because of fixed planning decisions.

If you really want to go flexible and forget about accommodations, I think camping is the way to go. This has pros and cons, of course. The main advantage is that it is way cheaper, it gives you a complete feeling of freedom and I am sure it will make the adventure more rewarding. On the other hand, it means you will need to bring more gear with you and of course you will need to deal with the hassle of (un)mounting your basecamp every day.

I originally planned to camp some days during the trip, but in the end we refused the idea. This makes camping a pending task in my todo list for my future motorbike adventure.

On the road

It is impossible to transmit the feelings we have experienced while driving this route. When we were on the road, I twitted every day a summary of the stage together with some nice shots. My goal was to share and give more visibility to this alternative way of traveling and doing turism on a motorbike.

Through the coming sections I try to recreate our experience. Ideally you can feel the vibes and push yourself to pursue your own adventure.

Stage 1: Munich - Bormio

Saturday, 8th June 2019

The day arrived and we were all wishing to materialize the expectations of the route we planned during the previous weeks. Hugh, our Australian friend came all the way to Munich from Switzerland and stayed in our place the night before.

After a couple of hours of packing and arranging things, the motorbikes are ready to go. Hopefully, we get better at packing and mounting the luggage on the BMW in the coming days.

machines

The feelings are weird. Will it work as planned?

Our first inconvenient is the amount of snow in the Stelvio pass. Due to the risk of avalanches there are opening and closing times for driving on the Southern side. The Northern side is closed to the traffic and will most probably open in 10 days. This means that one of the most exciting and wished mountain passes in our route will need to be cancelled and we will need to plan a detour.

We drove direction Kochelsee, where we made our first break. From here we drove to Mittenwald and crossed the border to Austria. In Telfs we stopped to have a quick lunch in a supermarket and decide what to do with our detour. With a full stomach it is always easier to take decisions: we will go to the Bernina pass in Switzerland!!

We drove from Telfs to Prutz direction Switzerland. In Switzerland the roads are amazing and the weather was welcoming us.

On our way up to the Bernina Pass we quickly stopped to contemplate the beauty of this glacier.

glacier

We still couldn’t imagine what to expect on the top, but we knew we wouldn’t be let down. The beauty of the Lago Bianco is simply breathtaking and we decided to make a break in front of a cup of hot chocolate.

lago-bianco

lago-bianco

The gap that the Stelvio left in our original plans made us eat up a few mountain passes direction Bormio. As you can see, there was still quite a bit of snow over here.

forcola

forcola

eira

eira

Finally, we arrived in Bormio. Our first accommodation waited for us a bit outside of the town, but the views from above here were amazing as expected. Somehow, this place made me think of Innsbruck at a first glance.

bormio

There wasn’t much time for exploring the are, just to get dinner and recover some energy. What a day! That was all for the stage #1. The fresh Italian pizza is waiting!

Stage 2: Bormio - Aosta

Sunday, 9th June 2019

We woke up to this views on the second day. We had our well deserved breakfast and finished packing our motorbikes. This time we were a bit faster!

The weather was a bit unstable and the first drops said ‘hello’ to us.

bormio

During breakfast we couldn’t convince Hugh to join us all the way to Aosta, so we decided to split and take different routes somewhere along the way. Our plan for the day is to drive all the Aosta valley from Bormio to Aosta and get enough rest for tomorrow to cross the natural border between Italy and France.

On our way out of Bormio, we lost Hugh on a crossing. Luckily, our communication system was still within range and we could agree to meet somewhere nearby. A young local saw us turning around a couple of times and stopped to ask if we needed any kind of help. His politeness and perfect English accent just remarked the fact that Bormio is a quite well known turist destination because of alpin ski. A nice gesture to cheer up for the rest of our day!

After finding Hugh, we all started driving direction Lake Como. Unfortunately, the roads in the valley aren’t anything special, but we continued being loyal to our idea of skipping highways as much as possible and enjoying what the landscape had to offer.

como

We stopped for a long lunch nearby the lake. Unfortunately, we couldn’t convince Hugh to continue one more day with us. The poor guy was feeling homesick after a few days out of his tiny country… Anyway, we said goodbye and wished luck to each other. At this moment weird feelings popped up again, since I knew that from now on the real trip would start. Goodbye comfort zone, hello adventure!

aosta-valley

The further we got from turistic places the deeper we got in the real Italian vibes.

Around 19.00 and about 100 km away from our daily destination, thanks to the misleading instructions of Google Maps, we found a quite isolated spot in the forest. Perfect time for recharging batteries!

aosta-valley

We arrived at dusk in Aosta, so we checked in and hurried up for getting some decent dinner before it was too late. Around 22.30 Aosta seems quite empty, but this definitely made the environment more appealing to us.

aosta

We walked along the solitary streets contemplating the beauty of the town.

aosta

Not too far from here we arrived to the Praetorian Gate, which was one of the access to the original Roman town on which Aosta was founded.

aosta

aosta

12:30 am already! On the way back to our hotel, we start hearing French conversations mixed up with Italian. The perfect teaser for our coming stage next day.

Stage 3: Aosta - Chambéry

Monday, 10th June 2019

This Monday was not one of those common and uggly starts of the week. It was rainning and we could smell the humidity of the walls in the little hostel where we had breakfast.

Rain is not nice for motorbikers, but at this height my biggest concern was getting another closed road due to snow. This would have meant another huge detour in order to get to France and continue our way down to the Pyrenees.

Outside there was our BMW F 800 GS shinning in the rain. A few kilometers ahead there was the Little St. Bernard pass, the natural border between Italy and France, and also quite close to the Mont Blanc. No, today it wasn’t just another Monday, definitely not!

I tried to ask the hostel personnel in my bad Italian with Spanish accent about the status of the road going to the pass, i.e., La Thuile. Unfortunately, nobody knew anything. After a bit of research online, I decided to call the local authorities responsible for the state of the roads. A few minutes later and just a bit of Italian joggling was enough. We got good news, everything was clear up there!

la-thuile

We started driving up to the road of La Thuile, which resulted to be a quite narrow and curvy road. Perfect road for having fun in sunny conditions, but with dense fog like what we got.

la-thuile

la-thuile

In any case, luckily we made it to the top. 2188 m worth a break and celebration in front of a cup of cappuccino in one of the available restaurants.

la-thuile

la-thuile

No more rain nor fog on the French side, so time to down the road of La Rosiere.

la-thuile

Beautiful green valleys and no rain, but this was too short to leave, so we decided to continue exploring the mountain area.

seez

And we were extremely lucky to find these breathtaking landscapes with curvy roads just for us. And most importantly, the Sun started to shine again.

seez

seez

seez

seez

We arrived to the Cormet de Roseland, apparently a quite popular place for cyclists between Bourg-St-Maurice and Albertville.

seez

On the way down direction Albertville we stopped for taking the following photo. We also got ready for one of the worst storms I have suffered on a motorbike.

seez

In Alberville, we decided to look for shelter in a McDonalds cafe. We stayed here for a couple of hours until the rain was weaker. It was getting late and we had to reach our destination. We originally wanted to drive further to Chanas, but unfortunately the amount of water per square meter made us change our mind. And so, we decided to shorten the day and stay in Chambéry, about 50 km away from our current location.

Less than one hour later we finally arrived to our hotel in Chambéry. It was still raining, but this didn’t matter to a very interesting man walking barefoot while enjoying his cigarrete at the entrance of the hotel.

A very nice receptionist helped us with our check-in. While we waited, the mentioned man came in and asked me about the power of the motorbike. Suddenly, we were all four involved in a conversation about food.

Apparently the man was French but he was living in Africa together with his Nigerian wife. He was somehow like a business man living his life in a very spartan way.

I told him about our trip to Spain by motorbike and we started talking about food. I told him that like in France, in Spain we also eat snails, but cooked in a different way.

In the meantime, the receptionist was ready with our documents, so we just had to sign and get our room’s key. The interesting man approached me with his phone and showed me something similar to what you see here. Apparently they are some kind of palm larvae.

chambery

I imagine the expression on my face was showing a sign of disgust, but I tried to remediate it as politely as I could saying something like:

– Interesting! But I don’t think I would dare to try them. I don’t really think I would like that.

Then the man put his phone away and replied:

– You don’t like that? But pussy you eat, ah?

At this point the time stopped. I saw how the receptionist and my girlfriend looked at each other with big astonished eyes. I swear at this exact moment I was able to hear the silence!

Anyway, we got our keys and headed up to our room. After we opened our luggage most of the stuff was wet, so we had to improvise like shown in the photo.

chambery

Outside was still raining, so we finished the rest of the food and stayed resting. As I said at the beginning, this wasn’t another common Monday.

Stage 4: Chambéry - Montpellier

Tuesday, 11th June 2019

montelimar

montelimarmontelimar

montelimar

montpelier

montpelier

montpelier

Stage 5: Montpellier - Encamp

Wednesday, 12th June 2019

montpellier

narbone

narbone

narbone

carcasone

carcasone

ginoles

ginoles

Stage 6: Encamp - Bagnères-de-Bigorre

Thursday, 13th June 2019

encamp

encamp

encamp

encamp

encamp

encamp

encampencamp

foix

lemasdazil

lemasdazil

bagneres

bagneres

bagneres

bagneres

Stage 7: Bagnères-de-Bigorre - Jaca

Friday, 14th June 2019

bagneres

bagneres

tourmalet

tourmalet

lourdes

lourdes

lourdes

lourdes

pourtalet

pourtalet

pourtalet

pourtalet

pourtalet

pourtalet

pourtalet

pourtalet

jaca

Stage 8: Jaca - Zestoa

Saturday, 15th June 2019

jaca

pamplona

pamplona

pamplona

pamplona

donosti

donosti

zumaia

zumaia

zumaia

Stage 9: Zestoa - San Vicente de la barquera

Sunday, 16th June 2019

zumaia

flysch

bilbao

castro

castro

barquera

barquera

barquera

barquera

Stage 10: San Vicente de la barquera - Oviedo

Monday, 17th June 2019

barquera

picos

picos

picos

picos

picos

picos

riano

caselles

caselles

cangas

oviedo

oviedo

oviedo

Stage 11: Oviedo - Santiago de Compostela

Tuesday, 18th June 2019

oviedo

cudillero

galicia

santiago

santiago

santiagosantiago

Stage 12: Santiago de Compostela - Porto

Wednesday, 19th June 2019

santiago

santatregua

portugal

portugal

portugal

portugal

portugal

Stage 13: Porto - Ciudad Rodrigo

Thursday, 20th June 2019

portugal

portugalportugal

portugal

portugal

portugal

portugal

portugal

portugal

portugal

portugal

rodrigo

rodrigo

rodrigo

Stage 14: Ciudad Rodrigo - Trujillo

Friday, 21th June 2019

rodrigo

rodrigo

guijuelo

guijuelo

guijuelo

jertejerte

monfrague

trujillo

trujillo

trujillo

trujillo

Stage 15: Trujillo - Puente Genil

Saturday, 22nd June 2019

merida

merida

merida

cordoba

cordoba

cordoba

Stage 16: Puente Genil - Alhaurin de la Torre

Conclusion