Global Friendship

We don’t have one language in common, instead we speak three languages in between the three of us, Japanese, English and Spanish, as we take shelter in a local Spanish restaurant in Gracia. I had wanted to show my international friends the area in Barcelona where I used to live, before moving to Calafell. My plan for this evening included our normally pleasant weather – not a steady downpour. But the food is excellent and the company better still, despite some occasional confusion when we speak the wrong language to the wrong recipient. The bartender is amused by our group and absolutely thrilled when he learns that Selma is originally from Argentina and they even have a common home town. He brings us strawberry gazpacho to celebrate this. Selma orders Argentinian meat, Sono is excited by the idea of Spanish tapas and we share three little plates followed by three rather large cakes for desert. It’s been a busy week for them, when you come from Japan to spend a week in Catalunya then you must make the most of it. They have been riding in the Pyrenees together with Sue from WIMA GB and, in addition, managed to see some of what Barcelona has to offer in the culture department: Gaudi’s architecture and Picasso’s art. To complete the list, we managed some shopping for Spanish goods before dinner.

Dinner in three languages. photo Courtesy Selma Rosa Perez
Dinner in three languages. Photo Courtesy Selma Roza Peres

On my behalf, it’s been a couple of eventful weeks, moving houses, starting a new teaching position and in the midst of it all my WIMA friends from England and Japan basically arrived on my doorstep. Sue had rented a house up in the Pyrenees and I joined her for some amazing riding. We were lucky to be recommended a brilliant route by fellow bikers. It was 200 kilometres filled with twists and turns, it kept us busy until evening in fact, with various coffee and photo stops along the route. We started off in Col de Nargo and headed to Berga along route L-401, in the morning the road was quiet, but we soon met lots and lots of bikers, it was evident that the road was popular and we could see groups of bikers on different viewpoints along the route, as well as bikes passing us when we stopped for photos. Our return route took us up north approx. 20k and then back through the villages Saldes, Gosol, Tuixent and Sorribes. This road was not accepted by my GPS, possibly because some of the roads were tiny – my TomTom app does that sometimes, it overrules my choice of road. A small part of the route was on gravel, which reminded me that my bike isn’t suitable for gravel and I had better stay off it. Well, there are smooth gravel roads like the one to my parents’ house in Sweden (which is a piece of cake to ride), and this looked like that to begin with, but soon got loose and my road tyres were sliding. Arriving on tarmac made me both praise civilisation and wish I had a smaller, lighter bike with offroad tyres so I could do it all again. I can definitely see myself on a smaller bike in the future.

Sue and I in the Pyrinees. Photo Courtesy Sue Barnes
Sue and I in the Pyrinees. Photo Courtesy Sue Barnes

After the weekend, while I had to return to work, Sue was expecting our Japanese friends for a few days riding. However, our planned ride out to meet them as part of my return had to be drastically changed due to some very expected events. While lifting my very sleepy head to check the time early Monday morning (public holiday here so I wasn’t going to go to work anyway) I found out that it was 4:30am. I also found out that Sono had ended up on Mallorca instead of Barcelona and that Selma, who had arrived in Barcelona on a different flight, had been pickpocketed and lost all her money. They were on a tight schedule, since Japanese people hardly ever get more than a week off work consecutively, and their hire bikes were waiting for them. The decision was easy, I would await sunrise and head down from the mountains and try to help. I’m spoiled, being used to a completely different work culture. I would personally never even consider flying to another continent during a week’s holiday, but they must make do. I absolutely admire their ability to make the most of it and I would do whatever I could to make things easier for them.
So, I met with Selma and we tried to locate the rental place. Firstly, I feared that the place didn’t exist and that their booking offer was fraudulent. Luckily, it turned out that the company had not announced that they had moved place and changed phone number and we did track them down in the end. When we finally arrived, and explained Sono’s predicament, the owner kindly offered to keep the place open until 4pm. I had already offered Sono to take my bike up to the Pyrenees if she wouldn’t make it, but since her booking couldn’t be cancelled we were still hoping she would be able to make it – and she did – literally in the last minute her taxi arrived. I was very happy to contribute to making their arrival in Barcelona a little less stressful and be able to escort them out of Barcelona and on their way up to the Pyrenees, no doubt they were tired after their long flight to Europe and their respective mishaps, and I wanted them to have a smooth start to their riding at least.

While they enjoyed the mountains, I returned to work. We had scheduled to meet up again on Friday, Sono’s last day in Europe and in the restaurant in Gracia we closed the circle. Selma’s flight was a couple of days later so we made plans for the weekend – we learned that we both have a passion for books so we spent Saturday morning in bookshops. I was amazed to learn that she was named after a Swedish author, Selma Lagerlöf and I secretly sought out a Spanish edition of one of her books as a present. Selma, the author, is native to my region in Sweden and her house Mårbacka is now an impressive museum and celebration of the author’s life. She was also the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. Not a bad character to be named after, I must say!

Dream dinner by the sea, Barcelona harbour. Photo Courtesy Selma Rosa Perez
Dream dinner by the sea, Barcelona harbour. Photo Courtesy Selma Rosa Perez

Since Selma had dreamed about having dinner next to the sea, we had to make this happen for Saturday night, and then we did the same for Sunday lunch but here in Calafell. I was happy to welcome her as my fist visitor to my village and we were both quite surprised as we stumbled upon a local charity ride in support of children with Dravet Syndrome here in Calafell harbour, “Rolling for Kids”, it was called. We had an interesting chat with the organisers and showed our support before continuing our Sunday stroll along the beach, our feet in the water and the sun in our faces. We shared a typical Spanish three course Sunday lunch before Selma had to return to Barcelona.
Supporting local charity ride "Rodando por los niños"" in Calafell by buying their cool T-shirt. Photo Courtesy Selma Rosa
Supporting local charity ride “Rodando por los niños”” in Calafell by buying their cool T-shirt. Photo Courtesy Selma Rosa

Later the same day, while reflecting on the recent events during my evening tea on my balcony, I felt a sincere happiness to be part of WIMA. There are a lot of barriers and discord in the world, that is for sure, but I’ve had the time of my life together with people I wouldn’t have met without WIMA – considering the four of us come from four different countries and three different continents – to me this is amazing networking and great WIMA spirit.

Emigrating, again

I’m off to Spain, finally, sailing to Bilbao on Wednesday. It’s been a long autumn. I’ve been without a home since June, living out of my panniers, travelling all over Europe during summer and then studying and trying to maintain a daily schedule since September. Now I’m off to Spain, not Japan as we had prepared for; a sad event more commonly known as the UK referendum has changed the way we see our future possibilities, safer to return now while Christopher still is part of the European free movement.

Summer’s been long and filled with exciting travels, I’ve ridden my bike more than ever and from one corner of Europe to another. Firstly, we rode together in Wales, Christopher’s first adventure on his own motorbike. Although I feared that he would remain pillion forever he quite happily took up riding and enjoyed the small mountains roads in Wales immensely. He soon became a specialist on hill starts and single track country lanes. We had some terrible weather at times and he surely experienced what it is like to be completely soaked – while touring you make the best of what you get, the greatest difference between travelling and making daytrips I believe.

Perfect sunsets in Wales
Perfect sunsets in Wales
Rain in Elan Valley, breathtakingly beautiful nevertheless!
Rain in Elan Valley, breathtakingly beautiful nevertheless!
We're pretty much on our own up here, and we love it!
We’re pretty much on our own up here, and we love it!

After a few but thoroughly enjoyable weeks in Wales it was time for me to head towards Hungary and the WIMA rally. I picked up pace a bit, instead of riding tiny mountains roads and having continuous coffee breaks and photo opportunities I had to cover distance every day. The fact that I had some problems with the bike didn’t help, because of the struggle I swore that this would be my last solo trip, but yeah, I know – it isn’t very likely. After an action-packed WIMA rally I aimed for Sweden, with a slight detour to see a good friend in Slovakia. Now I could take it easy, enjoy the mountain roads and chill again. I spent a few weeks in Sweden before returning to the UK. We were to spend a few weeks up in Scotland because people continuously tell me that if I like Wales I will love Scotland. I actually love Wales. So, the expectations were high but as often is the case, I was disappointed – only by the sheer fact that Scotland is so huge, and with the little CG 125 in tow we just never covered any distance and we didn’t get to see the islands or very much at all. Having said that we had some fantastic days riding, up through the north of England and we did ride some very scenic roads at times. We also had some very foul weather with rain and gales which strongly challenged Christopher on his featherlight bike. A couple of nights we struggled to pin the tent down and had to use the panniers to weigh it down. Admittedly, I loved it – but Christopher less so. The riding was just a bit too hard for him and I suspect that he will never be anything else than a fair-weather camper. Although he did put up with muddy fields, cold showers, midges and mosquitos without complaining I did realise that it wasn’t something he enjoyed and it will probably be filed away as “things you do for love”.

We were very excited when we finally reached the border to Scotland.
We were very excited when we finally reached the border to Scotland.
Sometimes there just aren’t enough photo opportunities
Mystical mist in fairy land
Mystical mist in fairy land

The summer ended too soon and it got cold. In September, we were happy to be able to house sit for WIMA friends, little did Pat and Sheonagh expect that we would end up staying for the rest of the year… Well, partly I blame the unavailability of test dates for motorcycles. Christopher managed to bag it all just before Christmas, I was admittedly proud of him doing his riding training on some rather frosty days in December. Hopefully, and quite possibly, the weather in Spain will treat us better.

El Atazar north of Madrid - Christophers first ride as a pillion. Now he'll return to Spain as a biker
El Atazar north of Madrid – Christophers first ride as a pillion. Now he’ll return to Spain as a biker

We’ve had a great couple of years in England, and despite being disappointed of the current state of politics and the way it affects our freedom of movement I’m looking forward to returning to Spain and starting all over again, new city, new job, new house, well – pretty much new everything. We are all responsible for our own lives and for making our own happiness. Fuck Brexit – I’m European!

Has my Horizon become limited?

Now when I’m looking back at our first holiday on four wheels I can conclude that it was, overall, a success, although with its ups and downs. First of all, leaving London was emotional. We both have had a great time there and didn’t really want to leave although we could see an exciting future ahead of us, riding motorbikes all summer and then heading off for Japan. So having left our keys and loaded up the bikes we headed towards Hay-on-Wye in Wales for the Horizons Unlimited event where we were to spend the first weekend.

We're up for a great weekend at Horizons Unlimited travellers meet
We’re up for a great weekend at Horizons Unlimited travellers meet

The weekend proved to be just as inspiring as I had imagined and I fully enjoyed being among people who do amazing things which makes my travels seem boring. To me, it proves that all the people who tell me that travelling alone is dangerous, and that I do crazy things, are wrong and I love seeing the limit for what is possible being moved further ahead – the true meaning of Horizons Unlimited is that only one’s imagination is the limit for what one can achieve. To name a few people that inspired me during this weekend, Sjaak Lukassen who travelled around the world on his Yamaha R1, Dylan Samarawickrama who rebuilt his BMW GS to create a raft enabling him to cross the Darien Gap and enter Columbia during his around the world journey and Tiffany Coates who travelled for three months in Madagascar riding the muddy trail and crossing rivers by means of dugout canoes. Although these people and their stories inspire me, I do not desire to do what they have done and their adventures will never be mine – simply because my dreams are different. I do not want to ride to the north pole, sail a raft or ride in the outback of Madagascar. I want to go to Japan together with my partner, teach English, buy motorbikes and travel around the islands.

Me and Mt Fuji - may we meet again?
Me and Mt Fuji – may we meet again?

This is where this post becomes a tad political and utterly sad. While we, of course, were aware of the referendum and Christopher had posted his vote before we left London, we did not expect the Vote Leave to come out on top. With our situation, as a British-Swedish mixed couple, using the free movement to live and work in different EU countries, we are personally affected by the referendum result but we do not yet know to what extent it will impact our future. So how does this affect our plans to go to Japan, one might wonder. Well, the idea was to return to Europe after a couple of years, work in Italy or perhaps Germany for a couple of years and then return to Spain and settle there. Now, when Christopher is running the risk of losing his status as a European citizen we feel that heading to Japan may risk our possibilities of returning to Spain. In this sense, time is against us, and it would possibly be better to give up the dream of the land of the rising sun in favour of an early return to Spain to get established there and apply for permanent residency. One major drawback with this is that I no longer have a job there, since my application of an extended leave was turned down and I had to resign. I honestly couldn’t believe some British people would be so stupid that they would think that Britain would be better off leaving the EU. Especially not after studying Vote Leave’s propaganda for an essay in sociolinguistics where I studied power and language. I was specifically looking at loaded words and how a specific use of words can imply a meaning that is not actually backed up by facts. Sadly, the Vote Leave supporters didn’t bother to read up on the references for the claims made by Vote Leave.

Avila - may be in my neighbourhood again.
Avila – may be in my neighbourhood again.

At this point, I have got over the feeling that it is a nightmare and I will wake up soon and we are trying to come to terms with the fact that our future will take a different turn. We are trying to evaluate our possibilities and be positive about the alternatives. As long as we can be together we will create a good future. By now you are probably wondering what this has to do with motorbiking… well – I would say: everything! To quote Haruki Murakami and “Dance, Dance, Dance”: “It’s all connected, the sheep man says”. Stay tuned for my next post – which will be about our touring in ace Wales, and an upcoming guest post by Christopher – novice motorbike rider and proud owner of a Honda CG 125 called Koneko.

Christopher and Koneko en route
Christopher and Koneko en route