On Hannibal's Trail Episode 2

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Rice Paddies, Deliverance and it Rained

September 20, 2009 02:00 by Danny

Nine days on the road and we all feel quite tired.  Dinner tonight was much less noisy than it was back at the beginning of our trip in Cartagena, but we all feel much more at ease together - silences are very comfortable. It is strange though when the the only time you get to yourself is in bed, on the loo or in the shower. I am writing from a campsite in the town of Elne on the French side of the Pyrenees.  Internet access continues to be a bit tricky because of filming, long rides and late arrivals at destinations and so there are a few blog days to catch up, starting in our campsite on the beach south of the Ebro Delta last Sunday that seems like a month ago. This was a rest day but after it we didnt really feel rested at all.  Our muscles were still are stiff from riding and we all have a strange drained and slightly dazed feeling that doesnt leave us.  It was a real physical struggle to get going at 730am but we were all looking forward to visiting the Ebro Delta, touted as home for Europe's biggest population of migratory birds and a protected natural park.

It was certainly a strange massive expanse of flat reedy swamp - but much of it appeared to be actively farmed as rice paddies and there was a lot of rubbish all over the place.  Not exactly virgin delta by any streatch of the imagination and the birds were not exactly plentiful - but the mosquitoes were! The whole delta and its scattering of small villages seemed very cut off from the mainland and the atmosphere was a bit odd at times - like you weren't really welcome round here or somethin', if you get my drift.  Sitting down to some sandwiches after filming us riding up and down the rice paddies a few times we were wondering how it was going to be possible for us to cycle from the Ebro to north of Tarragona - about 90 km - starting at 430pm in the afternoon. First we had to cross the Ebro - we did that one on of those rare and disappearing transport systems - the car ferry.

The driver, called Tomas, was very nice and let us board and re-board to get our filming done and also told us that it was possible Hannibal crossed using similar transport guided by his boating ancestor more than two thousand years ago. The days of this Ebro car ferry are numbered - a big cement bridge extends into the water alongside and is half built. From the other side we did few circles in the local village and then put the pace on to try and reach our campsite by nightfall.  Friendly locals guided us out to the highway in their car but soon afterwards Ben got a puncture, his first of two that afternoon! And both Ben and Sam had headaches.  Ben still managed to drag us all up a very long hill in nasty traffic and Sam bolted along the straights and somehow we managed to make a triumphant entry into Tarragona.  It's wide promenade down to the beach lined with attractive buildings was the most elegant thing we'd seen all trip. We arrived at a fantastic campsite full of big cypress trees alongside the beach and to a welcome pasta pre-dinner prepared by our Director Robin. As you may know, you get so hungry on long bike rides all you want when you arrive is food!

It was rainy in the morning but we went in to Tarragona to get some breakfast and film some footage of us around its Roman ruins that include an amphitheatre and also other impressive remains like its castle that dominates the centre of town.  It was slippery and wet as we set off for Barcelona along a mixture of beach promenades and difficult highways - like the good old N340 that has accompanied us all the way from Cartagena. We did a pretty grim streatch of coastal road from Bacelona to Mataro and on to our campsite in rush hour traffic and rain.

But it was lovely and sunny the next morning as we headed for a big location in terms of the telling of our Hannibal story - the ruins of the ancient Greek city of Emporias

Report from Canal 10 in Catalonia

September 21, 2009 08:32 by Ben

Recently in Ampurias local TV came to interview us - here is the report (in Catalan!): 


How sweet it is to be reclined

September 22, 2009 16:18 by authorSam

 A long day’s ride started with a stop after 3 kms at a possible ancient monument to the two Scipios, who were killed by Hasdrubal, Hannibal's brother. After a lengthy argument over its origins, which could have been caused by the fact that the stop was for something other than coffee - all of course recorded on film for posterity, normal service continued with a long ride ahead from Tarragona to Canet de Mar, north of Barcelona.

We rode through resort after resort, sticking to the beach promenades, trying as long as we could to avoid the busy roads which run into Barcelona however much too soon they ran out and there was no choice but to cycle a line, sticking to the shoulder of the road when there was one and duck as trucks thundered by....

We arrived late but to an excellent dinner cooked by director Robin who has kindly cooked us pasta for our arrival on many late evenings - an essential part of the diet if you want to survive 10 weeks cycling.

An early start and an essential 3km mark stop, coffee. Unfortunately Hannibal didn’t really do much around Barcelona! However once on the road proper we cut across country heading for Ampurias, a great Greek, then Roman city on the north coast of Spain. 

It got a bit hilly and as we got to the highest point in the area a very floppy eared tired looking dog ran out onto the road looking quite lost... Our cameraman John quickly befriended him - Luckily the dog had a collar with a phone number and after more than 10 calls we found out that the dog was indeed lost and had been for 3 days, the owners were definitely useless and found it difficult to commit to even coming to get the dog. We meanwhile were negotiating with the rest of the crew to delay our descent to Ampurias to save the dog...it was getting quite tense but eventually a balance was struck and a decision made. The owners committed to coming for the dog and we left him with water, tied up but quite comfortable. John kept in close contact with the owners, ringing every five minutes until he confirmed they had him safe and sound.

We descended fast and visited a great Iberian site - Ullastret, a massive walled fortress which I imagine Hannibal, as he was quite sensible would have ignored on his march north.

We arrived at the campsite which was quite reminiscent of the Shining, rows and rows of cabins, toilet blocks and tent sites with no one in them and everything being closed up for the end of the season.

Ampurias was excellent, Hannibal may or may not have visited there but the city was thriving at the time and they definitely feared his coming as they built bigger walls when they knew he was marching up the coast. Ampurias is a fantastic ruin - separate Greek and Roman cities, right on the coast with a huge ancient pier and a quality mosaic which has an inscription - 'how sweet it is to be reclined' in the dining room which would have had, in technical terms, those nice couches you always imagine Romans lying back on as they eat grapes....the local tv also turned up for an interview, and Ben said a lot of things he maybe shouldn't have - luckily in English and if you watch the tv clip you may pick them out!

Next stop the Pyrenees as we escape Spain.....

Pokemon-Panzerfaust Luscher Personality Colour Study

September 25, 2009 03:20 by Ben

 I'm writing to you from a toilet in Pezenas - a lovely medieval town in the heart of the Languedoc in southern France. We have nicknamed Pezenas Peasant's Nest which is actually a petrol station halfway between Sydney and Young. It was here that they used to have a famous "yellow" public phone which if you pressed the follow on button and hung up at the same time it would give you free phone calls anywhere in the world. During research for this blog entry I re-read my diaries from August 1996 - they are guilt ridden lamenting the loss of earnings for Telecom Australia (http://www.google.com/finance?q=ASX:TLS).

 In a scientific breakthrough reminiscent of Darwin's theory of evolution in it's profundity and similar to Stone–Čech compactification in it's complexity we have instituted a point system based on the colour of people's cars/shirts. So for example Sam earns points if a person in a red t-shirt gives us directions, Danny loses points if a green car tries to run us off the road and I lose points if a kid in a blue t-shirt plays music out loud on his mobile phone. After 24 hours the point standings are:
Sam-Red: 7

Danny-Green: 0.5 *

Ben-Blue: -0.5 *

* Half points awarded for a bloke in a turquoise shirt - we couldn't decide if that was blue or green?

After another 8 weeks of this we will have the definitive study of the effect of colour on personality. The name  Pokemon-Panzerfaust Luscher Point System came about because on our way back to Elne we had to change trains in Cerbere on the French/Spanish border. We aren't cheating we just had to backtrack to do some filming in Barcelona over the weekend. I went for a run around the town looking for somewhere to buy a little backpack to put the laptop in - you more than likely didn't read about our earlier problems with the broken laptop. We suspect it was damaged by the mechanical bounce of the panniers on the bike. We figured the biological cushion of our bodys might protect it more so we have decided to wear it on our backs. Anyway all I found when searching Cerbere was a Panzerfaust (a World War II anti-tank weapon) in someone's front garden - the place was otherwsie completely deserted. But when we visited "Leclerc" (mammoth supermarket) in Perpignan the perfect fit for the laptop was found in the back to school section - a nice bright Pokemon backpack. It has a dual effect - driver's can see it easily and little kids in French villages point and laugh at you hysterically as you ride past.

Now I can't remember where we rode after Ampurias. North towards the border. Tonnes of apple trees and a great view of the Pyrenees mountains.

We filmed quite a lot in a "natural park" and then had a massive argument which meant we didn't get to Portbou - only as as far as a town called Llanca before it got dark and rainy. We did some food shopping and the checkout lady knew more about Hannibal than we did (dispelling the checkout chick myth once and for all). We would have to make up the lost kilometres the next day... 

We had breakfast the next morning in an idiosyncratic place with a resident artist who was a

Catalan version of our Australian grandmohter. Her paintings were all over the walls and after complimenting her on their quality (which not all of us agreed upon on) she was over the moon and stood in the middle of the highway to help Jason back the motor home out!

We then crossed the border on our way to Elne where Hannibal had his first tense meeting with local Gallic tribes. He gave them lots of presents and they let him through unscathed. We had lunch in a French restaurant called Cara-Sol which was the Falangist anthem during Franco's rule in Spain. Danny realised that after we had left - the lunch was very nice but we were left wondering whether they were nazi sypathisers and whether we had all unknowingly collaborated.

Elne is a nice little place and the riding around there was nice although an ominous wind started blowing strongly from the north...

Barca! Barca! Your Pig Is Ready...

September 27, 2009 11:57 by authorDanny

 I think we are all in a sensitive mental state after the last two weeks. It seems indulgent to say that, but sometimes the extent to which constant physical tiredness has nearly driven me round the twist, has been a surprise. And I thought I was laid back! These reflections are possible now because the three of us are relaxing in the pretty French village of Russan, near Nimes, with our parents who have met us here and are feeding us and treating us like Kings. We are resting for a few days after finishing filming episode two. I have returned to normal (I think), so I can see my angry, exaggerated responses for what they were.  On the road they did seem justified! At times a mere gesture from Ben or Sam, was enough to make me see red. But both brothers have helped me through, both demonstrating wisdom and tolerance. For example, Sam's knowledge from his previous long cycle trips, patiently explaining to me that this quick to anger mental state is normal and that you learn to have extra tolerance for people on a cycle trip, including yourself.  And Ben, who at times has been kindly and motherly towards me, which has helped too.  I have been lucky to have them along to support me but I know I have pushed them! But I do feel a bit wiser myself and I know I wont be as quick to anger on the next leg - I hope.

So! Here we are in the pretty French village of Russan!  But pigs on spits and Barcelona are the subject of this blog. Even though we had rode over the Pyrenees, to keep to the filming schedule we returned to our beachside campsite in Ampurias in our support vehicle to film a Carthaginian feast on the beach. Our location manager Jason had done a great job getting a colleague of his to actually manufacture an iron spit for us and our chef Adam Melonas had spent a considerable amount of time researching the topic of what the Carthaginians ate and he didnt disappoint. Like a well oiled machine he set to work preparing our three course meal with some help from his trusty assistant Mark. The result was very impressive - a whole pig sizzling on a spit on a beach, which has a very peculiar ambience to it and attracted some attention from at least one passing beach goer. But I felt very alone when I was sampling a leg of this beast. It was fantasically authentic - and with its belly full of local sausages which our chef 'debowled' in front of us, there was no need for the studio to add any special effects afterwards. Adam's effort was a tour de force: from suckling pig, to massive oysters and then the fabulous fruit of figs, peaches and plums - but Carthaginian style food is probably not for me! 

Then we piled into our vehicle for a drive back to Barcelona to attend the big football clash between Barcelona FC and Atletico Madrid. We wanted to test if  Barcelona fans knew that the chant they sing at games: 'Barca! Barca!' is also the nickname for Hannibal's family - according to most translations it means 'Thunderbolt'.  Ben charmed about a dozen fans as we all waited for the big game to start and very few of them knew about this link, but Ben managed to get them to sing and dance for the camera.

Morning saw us visiting some of the tourist sites in Barcelona - it was quite a shock to be competing with busloads of tourists after our solitary riding in countryside.  We visited the incomplete Gaudi Cathedral and also Casa Batlo and even rode our bikes down the Rambla which was a real challenge because the promenade was wall to wall with live acts, locals and visitors taking a stroll.

But now it is time to have a beer and relax with la famille in this pretty French village, with les enfants playing in the background and a kindly hostess who has just brought us a round of drinks.

Cutson, Big Brother and the end of Episode 2

October 2, 2009 16:53 by Sam

The relaxtion in Russan is coming to an end. Tomorrow we cycle on to confront the alps after 3 great days rest...

After Danny's confessional blog in which he outlined his inexplicable anger I feel it necessary to respond to aid in understanding this as well as how 3 brothers work when living in each others pockets.

We haven't lived all together for more than a week or two at a time for 15 years so to be all together again, doing absolutely everything together is challenging - riding, filming, eating, even campsite showers are often communal! We can even hear each other sleeping/snoring through our tents, for Danny you only need to be within a kilometre or so! We feel we get on extremely well but at times it can at times be surprisingly hard especially when you throw in physical exhastion from cycling and mental strain from being in front of the camera.
Danny is defintely the most emotional of the brothers, hence he was the first to show his emotions in this blog and justifiably sympathy always follows when someone admits their faults. Poor Danny hasn't done any long distance riding like this before and it is draining in all ways. Its good that Danny can admit his anger but that doesn't seem to stop it occuring so what are Ben and I to do?

Anyway...After Barcelona our plans to return to the still warm trail we left in southern France were almost thwarted... After waiting in a 20 minute queue, one of the Wood Brothers tried very hard to buy tickets to Nimes (350 km past our destination and 60 euros more expensive) if our credit cards had worked! Luckily he failed in his attempt to throw us off Hannibal's trail!
We had a week till we met the crew again in Arles, 350km away so we felt that the best thing to do was cycle fast, get there and relax. However, day 1 was terrible - a head wind known as the Mistral drove us nearly backwards and French drivers are shocking! You would think being a huge cycling nation they would be good to us on our bikes but they skimmed our panniers all day and we really missed the Spanish who were amazingly curtious to us when we were riding.  This reminds me - As we were packing up our bikes at our campsite in Ampurias, two gardeners stopped their small utility vehicle to tell us that they said they were very proud of us and impressed by us attempting such a long ride for a cultural cause rather than sitting on the sofa and doing nothing! This actually left us feeling quite guilty as we had given their fellow workers the remains of the pig.....

Back to day 1 and we were wondering whether we would get any days off after cycling against the wind and the French all day. As dusk fell and we found ourselves 60km short of our destination we were aided by David of Fuella who guided us out of the windy valley and to a town called Durban Colombiers. The place we stayed at was odd but great - in the shadow of a ruined chateau - the proprietor was an old man who seemed incapable of moving his eyes from his computer screen, he was also suspiciously protective of his internet password and made sure no one could see his monitor. We came to the conclusion that he was either halfway to finding a cure for cancer or had a mammoth collection of porn

The next few days we rode on and enjoyed some of the best cycling we have had - small lanes winding through acres of vineyards, medieval hill top towns like Pezenas, Sommieres, Uzes. Ben's heart rate sat at 160+ most of one day, we are still not sure whether it was the volumes of coffees and coke he was drinking, maybe the religious guy who tried to convert us in Narbonnes got his heart racing (we told him we were Jewish then Muslim but nothing put him off!) or maybe he was genuinely ill!

We finished up here in Russan, a tiny authentic French town where we have recouped fully with wanders to the boulangerie in the mornings and touristy visists to places like the Pont du Gard - along of course with regular sleeps and big meals provided by our parents- Its excellent to be 30+ and still be taken care of!

Statistics for Episode 2 - 879km Saguntum to Russan, Total Kms ridden 1440, Crashes 9 (Danny 7 Ben 1, Sam 1 - all minor and mostly when the bikes were not moving)

Tomorrow we ride on to Arles and Episode 3 begins as we cross the Rhone, hopefully on some sort of raft we will construct ourselves!


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About the authors

Danny, Ben and Sam Wood are three brothers who followed in the footsteps of three ancient Carthaginian brothers Hannibal, Hasdrubal and Mago. They cycled from Cartagena, Spain to Zama, Tunisia - the route that Hannibal and his army took over 2200 years ago. Along the way they filmed a documentary to be aired on the BBC in July 2010.


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