Parc Municipal in Elche
Sam was propositioned in the toilets at Los Llanos campsite just north of Denia a couple of nights ago. We spotted an elderly woman in the toilets and I turned away pretending I wasn’t looking in case she was in the middle of something but just as I did she raised her dress to show Sam her toilet area! Sam was quite shocked but still slept very well that night and we were up early to ride to El Saler just south of Valencia.
Just after talking with Matthew Lloyd
First stop was breakfast in Oliva in a very local café – a bloke turned up with a Police band on his ankle to buy beers at 8am. We then spent 5 hours looking for an internet café to send off photos we promised to the Costa Brava News. We considered getting on a train at one stage when the frustration got too much but Danny bought us back from the brink of cheating!
We met Robin, John and Jason in the very flat Parc Natural de Albufera just south of Valencia and did heaps of filming riding up and around the rice paddies. They are harvesting at the moment so we were dodging mammoth combine harvesters whilst filming out the back of the van in beautiful evening light.
Next morning was the elephants in Valencia’s Bioparc. The elephant keeper Angel was pretty amazing with them – they’d grab him with their trunks and they would obey his commands like dogs. Such friendly, sweet and sad eyes they’ve got – they reminded me of Sam and Isi’s dog Balius. He also told us that African and Indian elephants are equally easy to train – basically as long as they know you are the boss they will do anything for you – including attacking people he thought. Which was interesting as some historians automatically rule out Hannibal having African elephants as they claim they are impossible to train as war elephants. He also told us that they are very nimble animals - anywhere a human can go an elephant can too. So getting them over the more difficult Alpine passes wouldn't have been a problem.
Danny and Angel mid interview when a worker started his grinder
One of John’s friends Mark – an English Valencian resident came along too and recommended a paella restaurant down on the beach. It was actually pretty filth and our waiter kept coughing and hawking all over our food – wiping our plates with his hand etc! Eventually Mark said yeah this place isn’t so good why did you come here?! We left pretty late on a very hot ride north – Sam wasn’t feeling too well – an allergic reaction to biting into some rice husks day before? So we slowly continued up the coast – along a bad, bumpy gravel track, then some highway and then a really nice stretch along a beach promenade to our campsite. All of us completely rooted and the dueno of the campsite was a slightly mad German called Wolfgang who told us Hannibal lost a battle near there in 231BC which is completely wrong.
Danny forgot to recount Jason's best joke - he told Danny that Samoa were swapping the side they drive on in stages. Cars on the first day and trucks and buses the day after. DJ was convinced for about 30 seconds!
Jumbo eating all the carrots
Alicante, Benidorm, Denia...legendary places for the northern European tourist and we cycled in or past all of them during a day that now seems like another holiday! Some exhausting riding on hot and pretty horrid highways a lot of the time, but then we rode a quiet minor road inland from Benidorm and everything changed. We could see the skyscrapers disappearing in the distance as we climbed into forested hills - I didnt think we'd feel like we were in the Alps on day three! Our crew of Robin, Jason and John filmed us from the big home campervan with its open back window and (so they tell us!) got some lovely shots of us struggling up the inclines. At one point, as we waited for John to set up the camera to record us observing a magnificent view towards the resort town of Denia from a mountain top, we chatted about the need to be competent actors for the purposes of this documentary, which none of us are. I (Danny) was so tired I actually believed Sam when he told a long fib about how he performed the role of Julius Caesar in the Shakespeare play of the same name in a play at University. After five minutes of details from Sam, incuding "Well yes they decided to do a more serious play that year" and "Yes there were a lot of lines, but I learnt them okay", I was actually getting jealous of Sam´s acting pedigree when it finally dawned on me that Sam was telling a tall story. All I could think to say was, "That was a long joke!". Ben was so tired he laughed hysterically. What a contrast between this idyllice mountain ride and the highway between Alicante and Benidorm. After filming on the beach promenade in Alicante (that is dominated by it's adjacent multi-lane highway) we entertained the vain hope that the beach walkway might take us some of the way to Benidorm, but it stopped abrubtly and we had to back-track, ride along the main highway and pretty soon found ourselves in a scarey tunnel in pitch black with cars zooming past.
We've all had a puncture - Ben´s had two - here are Ben and Sam, after happily taking care of a puncture on a highway outside Cartagena.
Riding along the promenade in Benidorm.
We lived to reach Benidorm which didn't disappoint if you are a fan of skycrapers (which I am) - but there are just too many of them here! But what a fantasic beach - two massive semi-circular curves of sand, on one side the sea, but on the other side a continuous line of concrete. From a distance it looks quite spectacular but up close it is a little depressing - and I'm the optimist of our group. You'd think that sort of attention to architectural beauty would kill the goose that lays the golden tourism egg, but even in this economic crisis there still seem to be plenty of people around, manning the promenades and eating in the restaurants.
After completing the 90 km to our campsite, about twenty km south of Valencia, we joined the crew for dinner in a modest little restaurant. We were very thirsty! The signs were not good when, as the waitress poured some of us beers, she declared that there was no water! (this should only happen in Australia I thought) Cameraman John - always charmingly angry about anything that might impact on us or him in negative way was about to get very upset - but when it turned out there was water, just no sparkling mineral water we sighed relief and sat down. But the warning signs were were back when it was clear the waitress was our chef as well, but she did a fantastic job and we dined, in record time, on tasty salads, steaks, chicken breasts and plates of grilled vegetables - and a few more beers and a bottle of wine. Her efforts now seem remarkable compared to where we had lunch today in Sagunto, or didn't have lunch. The first place in a small plaza near the town hall was also a one man show, but after twenty minutes of waiting to get a menu we gave up and left. Another option was another solo waitress/chef operation and was too busy to feed us and then we arrived at another place to find the the elderly waiter (and probably chef as well) closing the shutters declaring "We stop serving lunch at 4pm" (lunch in Spain often starts after 3pm). The supermarket was a much better bet.
Which reminds me, for some reason, that we are travelling with two great comedians. John our camerman, apart from being fantastic with the camera, is very funny, even when he is not trying to be. At a recent campsite when we were rolling in on the bikes some time after the crew had turned up in the campervan, he gave us a stark warning as we came in the gate. As he walked towards us with the campsite owner at his side, he mouthed the words "everyone is mad here" as the owner warmly welcomed us. That was funnier at the time. Jason, our location manager, apart from being a handyman whiz and brainstrust of practical suggestions is great for impersonations and witticisms. I mentioned that this sort of documentary life that was are lucky enough to lead at the moment, however fun, could be tough on relationships, to which he responded, "What's the problem! girlfriends and wives these days really have a cheek don't they? I mean, you're away for three months at a time, you're in Spain, it's practically a holiday, what are they compaining about?".
One place that might make a lot of people at home jealous is the town of Elche. This is possibly where Hannibal's father Hamilcar died saving his sons Hannibal and Hasdrubal from a surprise attack by Spanish tribes. The place is more like one big palm grove than a town and you really feel like you are in the Middle East rather than Europe. We have some great photos on our other, better camera which will go up on the blog very soon. For the first time on our trip, we spoke to two amateur cyclists who were passing through, one of whom seemed to regard himself as the most experienced and professional cyclist in the world and couldn't stop telling us about it. What a contrast with Mat Lloyd, one of Australia's best cyclists, taking part in La Vuelta, Spain's version of the Tour de France, that was passing through Alicante. We spoke to Mat in the morning on Tuesday before he got back in the saddle. His team - Silence-Lotto - was coming second at the time and had been first. Mat was as relaxed as you like and chatted to us like we were all surfing buddies.
That all seems like so long ago! We've already passed through Valencia and met some lovely sweet eyed elephants and today visited the fantastic castle ruin of Sagunto (Hannibal`s siege of this town in 219 BC started the Second Punic War). More on those in our next installment..
Filming in rice paddy fields south of Valencia.
The masters behind the lense, left of the camera in the hat is cameraman John and to the right is Director Robin, in the old town of Sagunto before we head up the hill to film in the castle ruins.
Sorry it has taken ages to update our blog. Our computer broke - too many bumpy roads - and we have been filming and riding all day every day recently so we haven´t had a chance. But Danny wrote this for the BBC History Magazine blog:
And Hasdrubal (Javier Roca) from the Cartagena Carthaginian and Roman Society sent this very good photo.
Our final night of comfort before getting on the bike for the next 10 weeks was spent with the Carthaginian society of Cartegena. We arrived at San Remo restaurant to a raucous greeting from around 40 Carthaginian warriors in full armour.
They shouted and screamed for us as we entered the building (of course prompted by the camera!) They really didn’t have a clue who we were and were a bit surprised to have three randoms in odd coloured shirts turn up to their dress up party. However they were brilliant company and it was quite an honour for the 3 of us to interview Hannibal, Hasdrubal and Mago themselves!
The next morning we flew out of Cartagena at 11am after being sent off in style again by the Carthaginian society and things were going to plan…… Thanks again to all those who turned up in the morning and for the great dinner the night before especially to Antonio president of the society.
The first day was supposed to be a 90km ride through pretty southern Spain to warm us into the long journey ahead. However 10 hours later we were still on the road, had ridden through some of the worst tourist traps and were wondering whether we would ever get to the campsite…..our technology which we were relying so heavily on, the GPS systems had led us far astray, something we only realised later that night when we found we had gone in loops and in fact rode closer to 150kms regularly in completely the wrong direction. We straggled into camp after the sun was well down and all of us felt the pain as well as great apprehension at the ride ahead…
Jason our very nice fixer picked us up at Murcia airport yesterday in a mammoth luxury camper van. Its only defect was the roof reaching a harmonic at 120km/h that deafens everyone inside. Danny then proceeded to eat the biggest Buey (Ox) steak any of us had ever seen in preparation for our first day of filming down on the harbour at Cartagena.
Its a very Spanish town, unpretentious and friendly and down on the water its pleasant although boiling hot this morning when Robin, John and Jason with particular dedication helped us through the first few shots of the documentary.
They then went off to get some other footage around the town and we visited the few Punic landmarks that remain of Hannibal's Spanish capital. The Punic rampart that protected the only land access to the ancient city was the most impressive - it was right next to a medieval Christian necropolis with skeleton men painted all over the walls. There is also a modern statue of Hasdrubal, Hannibal´s brother-in-law and the founder of Quart Hadast/Cartagena.
Thanks to Ben and Sam the packing was relatively easy, but lasted until about 3am in the morning. Packing up a touring bike to take onto a plane, as you may know or can guess, is quite an ordeal with mudguards, pannier racks, wheels, handlebars, peddles etc all to be taken off and boxed. This has been the sobre reality of most of the last two days - a constant state of packing and preparation, punctuated by film schedule checks, script modifications and website updates and mail outs - fantastic! And we have been so lucky, thanks to our Granny, to have her more than comfortable house as our Wood Brothers London HQ - it would be hard to find a nicer place to pack a bag. That lovely relief set it when the prep was all done and now, thanks to production managerial whiz Alex, we have arrived in Cartagena, to a wall of 35 degree heat, where Hannibal's trail starts...
It's never too late to test the equipment. Outside their temporary headquarters (Granny's home in London), for the first time all three Wood Brothers have their bikes laden with panniers for a test run in London traffic.
For old times sake, they return to Sam's former workplace, the British Museum and snap a photo in the forecourt before collecting a few miscelaneous items like bike stands and plain T-shirts, from different locations in London. A pannier did fall off along Kensington High Street, and Danny quickly followed it, to the amusement of a group of people queuing at a bus stop.
The day before, Ben and Sam tested their tents in Richmond Park. For some reason, Danny didn't attend this exercise.
The Wood Brothers have a soft spot for the occasional zombie movie. With their friend Justin, Ben and Danny went along to FrightFest 2009 - an annual film festival showcasing the latest horror movies - in London's Leicester Square. They had the opportunity to see the Norwegian film, Dead Snow, which combined the compelling genres of war movies and zombies into one. In this particular film, Nazi zombies were the focus: 'Eins, Zwei, Die!' goes the tagline for this gory horror flic. The director was there to answer questions from the audience after the movie. Perhaps the most memorable was delivered in a rather philosphical tone and went something like this: "I notice that your movie seems to draw on the older genre of zombie movies like Evil Dead for a lot of its stylistic influences, but rather than the slow moving zombies from these classic 1980s movies, your zombies move particularly quickly, rather like the zombies in 28 Days Later. So how exactly did you decide between fast moving zombies and slow moving zombies?" Unfortunately Sam couldn't come along for this treat because he was at a wedding.
Wood Brothers are lucky enough to have their touring bikes custom built by Paul Hewitt Cycles in the town of Leyland, north of Manchester. That's Paul in the blue t-shirt. With Paul's expert advice, they ended up going a for a Cheviot SE Special Edition touring bike which has been voted touring bike of the year. This is a very elegant, sturdy machine. Wood Brothers drove up from London to collect the bikes, but before handing over the cycles, Paul measured each Wood Brother astride this purpose built measuring rig and then made the final adjustments. It turns out that Ben is in proportion, but Sam has longish arms and Danny has both long legs and shortish arms. After handing over three magnificent bikes, being shy and retiring gents, it took a bit of convincing to coerce Paul and his team to pose for photos. In the end we convinced them, but one mechanic escaped. The stars in the group photo are, from left to right, Matthew Waters, Paul Hewitt, Sam, Ben, Danny and Gathin Butler.
While Paul and his team were working on the bikes, Wood Brothers did a bit of exploring - after a snack. Nothing like a friendly greasy spoon! This feast took place in a cafe in the main street of the town of Leyland. Not everyone went for the 'big breakfast' option, but the smile says it all.
After our light meal we visited Astley Hall, in the neighbouring village of Chorley. This Elizabethan manor house has fabulous plaster ceilings complete with fully rounded cherubs and impressive furniture dating to the 16th century and, oddly enough, a pair of boots thought to belong to Oliver Cromwell. Definitely worth a visit and set in beautiful grounds and free to get in.