It had already been a pretty good day. Much food shopping to stock up our larder, more downhill than uphill, scenery that included deserted towns and gigantic slabs of rock sticking out of a sky blue river. But as we cycled out of a tiny village called Gerbe, we met Amaia and our day got even better.
We were looking to camp and had by-passed two campsites in a uninspiring town called Boltana and found another one in Ainsa closed so had started to look for free camp spots. At about 6pm we detoured off a busy stretch of the N260 into Gerbe, a tiny village surrounded by farmland with a beautiful view of the lake we had been cycling past. Deciding it was too populated for us to find a quiet patch of land, we eventually meandered out again, wistfully looking at the concrete patch beneath an arch with a view over the water and to the mountains beyond.
Just as we were about to resume our search, a lady stopped her car at the intersection out of town and asked if we were okay. When she switched to English after our attempts at Spanish, we asked if there was a quiet place to camp anywhere nearby. She said we could stay with her. I was incredulous: “Really? Are you sure?!” and she joked: “No!” but said that she was going out but we could met her at 8pm at the arch and stay with her.
At 8pm we were waiting. We parked our bikes under the arch and this giant dog came and sniffed shoes and panniers before padding off. Not long after, Ameia’s car came into view, introductions were properly made and we were invited to stay in the spare room of the traditional farmhouse inhabited by 5 adults, two babies, a cat, an indoor dog and the dog we had met earlier, who apparently has a fondness for shoes.
The evening felt like another day. We sat in the warm kitchen and flatmates and a couple of friends came in to eat. We were spoiled with mushroom soup, chickpea and spinach stew, potato tortilla and strawberries and cream for dessert. We sat there absorbing the homeliness, chaotic-ness of meal time and doing our best to fit in as conversations spun between Spanish and English. It felt as familiar as so many New Zealand or English flats I’ve sat in. We talked a lot about our plans and they all poured over our maps and gave us advice about the immediate route ahead.
Iaione, who was studying edible plants in the mountains, explained that the deserted towns we had passed were where people were forced out in Franco’s rule so reservoirs could be built, but a dam was never built. More recently the authorities had tried to do the same in Gerbe, but paid people to leave rather than violently force them and again the dam had not been built. They said there was only one old couple from the original settlement in the village, of the few occupied houses, most people were renting.
Ameia’s friend Veronica was due to be visiting New Zealand later in the week so we showed maps and wrote down place names and asked her to be in touch if she needed any help.
We slept soundly in a pitch black room and joined the flat again for breakfast before leaving. We got back onto bikes sated with conversation, good food and sound sleep. I could have stayed in that house forever.