Homage to Catalonia

13 Mar

In 1936, George Orwell travelled to Spain and voluntarily enlisted in the country’s civil war, supporting the working class and resisting the dictator Franco and his fascist regime. Orwell was stationed in the province of Catalonia, and in 1938 published one of his first pieces of literature entitled Homage to Catalonia. Alec read this book a few summers ago, and is now reading it again. Orwell’s account of this part of the world and its people certainly inspires, and we thought we would take the time to pay our own respects to this place we have enjoyed visiting so much.

Catalonia is the province in the northeast part of Spain, with the Pyrenees Mountains in the north and the Mediterranean waters serving as its eastern border. The Catalonians proudly speak their own language (Catalan), although it was a forbidden tongue for forty years under Franco’s Spain. In terms of economics, Catalonia is one of the wealthier regions of Spain, with a long industrial history and good trade relationships with the rest of Europe. As a Spanish province, Catalonia is required to share its wealth with the rest of the country, and tax payments to Madrid continue to be a source of contempt. This economical reality, along with feelings of historical and cultural uniqueness, has led many Catalonians to want independence from Spain (and to be a unique part of the EU). Political action in the later parts of the 20th century has granted Catalonia much autonomy, but it seems that desire for completely separateness remains. Indeed, throughout our travels in Catalonia we have yet to see a Spanish flag (with the exception of in Barcelona), there are many pro-independent bumper stickers, and “independencia” graffiti. We have also been warned to not fly our Catalonian flag outside of the province, and this advice certainly highlights that tensions remain. Regardless, the population seems split as to whether true independence is a good idea, but all of Catalonia feels it very important to properly maintain their culture, and we truly support this goal.

In our perspective, the wealth of Catalonia is most obvious through its natural assets. The region is absolutely beautiful, and with great diversity: in our past week we have sat on sandy beaches, explored Catalonia’s volcanic region, cycled through a (sustainably harvested) cork forest, and spent a day beside a gorge which reminded us of the Grand Canyon. We are also pleased to report that the Catalonian people seem quite appreciative of their nature. There is a lot of infrastructure to encourage outdoor activity of both locals and tourists alike. For example, we have seen families mountain biking, couples picnicking on the beach, and people picking wild asparagus! A regional highlight for us was cycling the “Vies Verde”, which means Greenway in English. The Greenway was a cycle/hiking path leading from the coast to the volcanic region over an old railroad track. This was a great urban initiative which made for an easy and enjoyable ride through the countryside and small villages.

Part of Catalonia’s cultural wealth certainly lies in its cuisine! Throughout the region there are many local food movements throughout Catalan; similar to their attitudes on language, they seek to protect their culinary traditions. Many restaurants have a fixed menu, especially for their long lunches which last between 2 and 4, when all the other businesses are closed. We have enjoyed getting cheap sandwiches from the little cafes and restaurants: eggs, ham and potatoes are very popular. Catalonia is the location where Alec turned the big 25! For his birthday, we were able to enjoy a nice meal in a tiny mountain-top restaurant. The meal consisted of Catalonian sausage (butifarra) and beans and a paella, which is a rice dish with tomato sauce and meat that is very popular here. We also ordered a litre of wine for 3 euros… good old Spain. It was one of the best meals on the trip, although it may not be exclusively due to taste; we had spent the entire morning climbing up a mountain!

Yesterday was also spent climbing a mountain. However, we shared this ascent with a cold spring rain. Shivering and wet, we stumbled upon a tiny village (of exactly 1,020 people, according to a local) and happily took refuge in the warmth of a small cafe. We spent a few hours there, enjoying the company of a local man named Valentine who shared stories of his hometown and Catalonia. And, as a good ambassador for Catalonia, he treated us to a meal… the cooked food and calories were certainly needed after our chilly mountain climb! After lunch, we happily took refuge in the only hotel in town. Lucky we did, as the relentless rain didn’t stop until this morning (and unfortunately the skies still look grey).

As much of a downer the rain is for cycle touring, we still smile to see it as it is an indicator that we are in the spring season. After spending the first half of our trip in perpetual fall we are looking forward to spending this half of the tour in constant spring. We really appreciate the increased daylight hours and warmer temperatures, and of course the wildflowers, budding trees and excited birdsong. The renewed energy of flora and fauna mirror ours. We admit that cycling and camping through the winter months (even when we found warmer temperatures in southern Italy), felt tiring by the end of January. Now, we feel fresh and invigorated, and very ready to make the most of the next four months on the road. Our bikes are also feeling ready for the next 5000 kilometres, since dedicated an afternoon to spring cleaning (while enjoying ourselves on the sunny shores of coastal Catalonia).

In keeping with shedding winter, we are heading to a famous street festival (Las Fallas) in Valencia which, through burning massive effigies and fireworks, welcomes the spring.

With love,

Alec and Caitlin

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