Day Fifty Seven: Leon to Gastes - Grampies Go On Their Knees - CycleBlaze

May 23, 2017

Day Fifty Seven: Leon to Gastes

As we tried to make a quiet and early departure from Hotel du Lac we did not escape the man that runs it. Presumably his wife for whom we had answered all the Usual Questions was still asleep, secure in the knowledge that the man was on duty, to ask them over again. Actually we don't really mind this, and rather appreciate the interest and kindly wishes of so many people.

It was just a short hop of 1.7 km to return to the town of Leon and get back on the veloroute. 1.7 km is kind of significant, though, because it seems when using if we see a place is more than 1 km from the town centre we usually give it a miss. In this case we were coached along by Tourist Information, and 1.7 km was not really an issue.

The story of the bikeway in this area is very consistent. The path is normally perfectly paved and away from any cars. It runs through pine forest plantations and skirts close to but often not exactly into small towns. The towns have "main" bits a few km inland from the sea and ocean or beach bits on the sea. If we do get led through a town on the trail, it will always be the beach bit. Similarly if we deliberately head for a town, it will be a beach one.

Oine forest plantations are the main feature of this region
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Our route today looks mostly like this. Very restful, and easy to go longer distances.
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Large "camping" operations are quite common. They offer some housing like this.
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...and some more standard "mobile homes". However from what we can glean from complicated price posters at the entrances, these rentals are very expensive. It would have been 70 euros for us in this place tonight.
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There are many signs like this about, claiming that the clear cut forest is regenerating
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Clear cut example
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The beach towns feature sand, of course, plus restaurants, souvenir shops, surfing shops and schools, bakeries, and little groceries.

Tourism is clearly the main industry here, but there is also the pine forest. The forest supports a pulp mill at Mimizam, and there is also pine resin extraction. The pine forest is planted and harvested on a 50 year cycle. At home, when the forest is cut and the companies say no worries we are replanting, we are very mistrustful. But here it does feel just like agriculture, and when we see the signs posted that say don't worry we are replanting, we seem to accept that.

Because the veloroute does not actually run within sight of the sea, we took care to head over to it at least once. We did that at Contis, and you kow what - the sea is totally gorgeous, the sound is soothing, the waves are hypnotic, the ambiance is ... maritime - all the things we all know the sea is. We loved it and of course it is clear why so many people come here. That said, we spun around and got back to cycling!

The way to the beach. Your blood pressure is already dropping!
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The restful colours of the beach.
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The beach with a bit of foreground thrown in.
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We are of course impressed by the superior nature of the cycleroute in this region, and of course it is what drew us to this particular route. But these things require government committment. A sign showed that the route development, just in the "Landes" area cost 320,000 euros, shared equally between four federal, regional, and local governments.

As we pass among the little villages that are strung out every 10-15km along the coast, we try as usual to appreciate the unique things they have to offer. Unlike the medieval village of the Camino, about which detailed books have been written, ther is not that much here. But there are one or two things.

One is the tradition among shepherds of going about on stilts. We read that this helped them spot the sheep, and also that they could get around more easily in the marshy areas. We suppose rubber boot had not yet occurred to them. But we also read that they could move around very fast on the stilts. shepherds on stilts figure a lot in tourist brochures, or as you can see in the photo, even on campground billboards. In thruth, though, we have not seen a sheep, a shepherd, or a stilt in person within the region.

I asked Dodie - aside from the stilts, what else do they have here. Pine forests, she replied, and collecting the resin from them, plus making pulp. "Got that", I replied. "What else?" "Ok, that's it".

Well, one more thing: In June 1929 a transatlantic flight was tried from the US by French aviators, in a plane called loiseau Canari. They made it, but crash landed on the beach at Mimizan-Plage.

We of course sailed easily past Mimizan on the smooth veloroute, and arrived at Saint Eulalie en Born. The most interesting thing here is the name. The town was named for the Spanish saint Oladie, martyred in 304. And "Born" means "land of fountains". The church has a fresco of the Pieta by a modern French painter - but we never did find the church. Hmpph.

Look at all the money spent on developing the veloroute. I wish our governments had this devotion.
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The shepherd on stilts is a common symbol - such as on this campground billboard
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The modern Pieta. Hmmm.
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Despite the tourism base of this region, it is not exactly swimming in hotels. Camping cars are more the order of the day. So we scanned ahead and found that the town of Gastes was a good distance to shoot for, and booking found one "hotel", the Lestangquet. This showed as being in the centre of town, so we were confident of finding it.

Gastes is 1/2km from the shore of a lake, the Etang de Biscarrosse. Since the veloroute runs by the lakeshore, all we had to do was to turn from the lake and go 1/2 km to the hotel. We did that, and then cruised up and down the "main street", seeing no hotel. In fact, the street had no businesses, really, so we were not 100% sure that we were truly on main street. I stopped and asked a lady getting out of her car and going to her house, on main street. She denied that the town had a hotel. Not too believable, really, since Booking had already charged my account for the hotel in Gastes. How many Gastes could there be in the world?

I pulled out Google Maps and it clearly showed the Lestangquet on the roundabout at the beginning of town. But we were standing at that roundabout! We dragged a lady out of a daybcare centre and asked. She pointed across the roundabout and we squinted in that direction. Here, squint with us:

Spot the Guesthouse!
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See the sign under the green shutter? That's it! (Actually, testing on tablet I can barely see let alone read the Guesthouse sign. These guys need sone good old North American showmanship, or at least a decent sign.)

Ok, so it was not a hotel but rather a B&B. Booking had misdescribed it as a hotel with breakfast included, I think. It's a subtle distinction. But that lady who actually lived on the street knew nothing of any of it. Anyway, the people who run the house are very nice.

We arranged for breakfast at 7, so we can cycle before it gets too hot.

Tomorrow promises more forest riding, which is ok but not so exciting. It is going to start, I hope, with a visit to a Super U in the next town. That's a big supermarket, and Super U has the best cheap/big chocolate bars for cyclists!

all we had to do was get from the "Vous etes ICI" to the corner of D652, where the guesthouse is.
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The lake at Gastes. There are several lakes in this area. Quite unlike in Canada, there are not really so many lakes in Europe.
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A Footnote on Incense

I had been wondering about the incense used at Santiago de Compostella, and was nattering about it again on the bike today. Dodie suggested that it was probably, logically, Frankincense. Some web research tells me she is likely right. In fact, people agree the "real stuff" is Three Kings Pontifical. But one need not stick with only that. How about the Three Kings Cathedral Blend #3!

Today's ride: 77 km (48 miles)
Total: 2,487 km (1,544 miles)

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