Reassembling our MTBs at our AirBnB in Machico
It’s been 20 fabulous months, but now my travelling time is over. I’m back in Chambéry, trying to get my own game projects going, working from home. It can’t be without some smaller trips though and so Christian and I decided to do a mountain biking trip in November. Since the weather is not that stable in central Europe at this time of the year, we started searching elsewhere. Corsica, Mallorca, the Canaries? Could we do a trip across a whole island or even around it? In the end we discovered and settled on Madeira. We’ve had an adventurous and spectacular week and I hope that this article can bring that across.
300km off the African coast and 600km off the Portuguese coast, this archipelago has an all year long mild climate, perfect for cycling and hiking. The main island is marked by its steep coastline and high peaks of up to 1862m, so we expected a lot of up and down. Our idea was to cover the whole island, but not miss out on the good parts in the central mountains. We would take only a small backpack with us and stay at a different place every night. Every evening we would plan the next day ahead. Here’s a photo overview of all the 6 days of mountain biking fun:
The route we ended up with (counter-clockwise)
Day 1: We got a lift up to 1600m. What’s forbidden here? Motorcycles or bicycles? We continued with our plan anyway.
We started with the hardest part: The PR1.3 hiking trail “Vereda da Encumeada” along the highest and longest ridge of the island. 13km. 1650m up and 2200 m down. Was this a good idea?
The scenery was absolutely stunning!
The difficulty was stunning too. About 40% pushing the bike, 40% carrying the bike and 20% riding. That’s not quite mountain biking…
A very exhausting day
Day 2: It started with our first Levada. The whole island is covered with these irrigation channels, that offer hikers and bikers flat trails often high up in the mountains. Sometimes there are tunnels, too.
At the central plateau “Paul da Serra” the scenery changes drastically. Here started my favourite trail of the whole week, the Fanal.
Our full setup
Day 3 started with the official Ultrabike trail and a super steep ascent out of Porto Moniz
On the fantastic Avalanche downhill trail
We stayed in Jardim do Mar that night at the beautiful Maktub guesthouse.
Day 4: After a foggy downhill ride, some more levadas and a closed downhill section, we came to our next beautiful hotel. It felt a bit too luxury for us dirty mountain bikers.
Day 5: At the Cabo Girao Cliffs Skywalk
An urban levada on the way to Funchal
Day 6: Levadas and rain forest trails. My second favourite of the week!
Back in Machico. The end.
According to a report of the worldbank from 2014, Norway and Switzerland are the two most expensive economies in the world. That doesn’t make Norway the ideal travel country, does it? Food prices are high, alcohol and cigarettes heavily surtaxed, petrol prices are the highest in Europe and there’s an extensive toll system in place on the major roads of southern and central Norway. Of course the latter doesn’t apply to cyclists. Neither did we pay any money for accommodation, since we relied on the Allemansretter, the Scandinavian law that allows you to put up your tent nearly anywhere. Additionally we used a bit of couchsurfing and a similar network for cyclists (warmshowers.org) to enjoy the comfort of a bed from time to time. Since we traveled along the coast and the fjords we had to pay for a few ferries, but fortunately most of them don’t charge extra for bicycles, some are even free of charge. What remains are the expenses for food.
There are plenty of supermarkets in Norway and usually every little town offers you a choice of a few different ones. The cheapest is certainly Rema 1000 and there is no reason to avoid them based on the quality of their products. If you want to combine a visit to the supermarket with the use of free Wi-Fi, then check out Kiwi which is almost as cheap as Rema. Also most coop supermarkets offer free Wi-Fi, but they are probably the most expensive chain in Norway. In both of these you will usually also find tab water near the can return machines and often a little sitting area near the entrance. Another source of free Wi-Fi are the little magazine and snack shops called Narvesen.
Most supermarkets in Norway offer a budget product line usually called “first price”. The price difference to the normal products is immense but the variety is very limited. You can get a wholemeal bread (7 kroner / ~€0.90), a potato salad (6 kroner / ~€0.80), 1kg of strawberry jam (12 kroner / ~€1.50), cheap chocolate spread (11 kroner / ~€1.30), spaghettis, tomato sauce and other things. Rema offers a basic fruit muesli (10 kroner / ~€1.25) and a crunchy one (13 kroner / ~€1.60). Combine these two and it’s actually very tasty.
Now the headline of this article says “free travel” and you might wonder how this would be possible. I kept asking myself if it was a good idea to put this onto my blog as I feel that some people might want to judge me on this, but I have decided that it’s an interesting story and an important topic. So here it comes.
Straight from the start when Simon and I left Berlin, we decided that we would limit our expenses and try to travel cheap. For Simon the reason was that he is starting to study this September and naturally does not have a lot of money to spend. I on the other hand have the money, but I felt like I had already spent enough in the last 15 months of travel. It also felt wrong to keep spending so much while Dorit was working hard back in France.
So this meant that we would usually buy cheap food from the supermarkets and cook ourselves in the evenings. Nonetheless, coming from Germany to Denmark, to Sweden and finally to Norway we saw our expenses for food rising and rising. This probably led to the idea of collecting returnable cans and bottles which I blogged about a while ago. But it became a time-consuming task and a tough one in the bad weather we had in Norway.
By the time that we arrived in Trondheim we couldn’t face the potato salad anymore, we were longing for some variety. And so it was the perfect moment when our host in Trondheim introduced us to dumpster diving. There are various names for it like garbage picking, skipping or “containern” in German, but the idea is all the same: you look for food that has been thrown away, in our case exclusively in the big garbage containers of supermarkets. Many people do it because they are poor, others are politically motivated (see freeganism), following an anti-consumerist ideology and trying to reduce their ecological footprint. In any case it’s devastating to see how much good food ends up being thrown away only because it doesn’t look as fresh as the consumers want it to be or because the supermarket can’t sell it anymore due to a (nearly) expired shelf life.
During my 6 days in Trondheim I went dumpster diving three times and compared to the previous weeks we were eating like kings. So much fresh fruit, vegetables, bread, pastries, sweets, even dairy products, juice, etc., it was a feast. Bananas from Ecuador at their best, avocados from Chile that just became soft enough to be eaten. Fresh tasty bread baked in the afternoon, thrown away in the evening.
We stocked up for the next days and decided to try the following: we would not spend any more money on food until the end of our trip, in total 7 weeks. We would take from the dumpsters and buy everything that we couldn’t find with the money from can and bottle returns. To our own surprise it worked and it wasn’t even hard to accomplish!
The result of a normal dumpster dive, a healthy one!
Usually there’s a large blue container in the backyard of the supermarkets. Sometimes it’s locked, but usually it’s not. Vegetables and fruit are from time to time in mid sized bins or even in the size of normal household bins. We usually went there after the opening hours but if the dumpster was out of sight even during the day. If you get seen, it feels a bit weird since you are effectively searching dumpsters, but you won’t be running into problems. In Germany you could get convicted for it, but in Norway it’s not possible after all.
We had some magic moments while dumpster diving like that one time in Trondheim where we pulled out 16 x 250g chocolate bars. Or the other time where we found a birthday cake plus 30 vanilla cream buns. Needles to say that the latter only lasted two days…
Did we do a good thing? I’m not entirely sure. At least it didn’t feel wrong and I don’t think we harmed anybody, neither the supermarkets, nor the country. In any case it’s important to raise awareness for the issue.
In France a law was passed two months ago that forces the supermarkets to give their food to charities instead of throwing it away. There’s hope that the same principles will eventually be applied in other European countries.
I’m finally on the train back to Germany and I’m looking back on the last days after we left the cape. There was a distinct lack of motivation and also Simon didn’t feel very well and so we advanced slowly. In the morning of the fourth day Simon and I split up again, this time for good. He was going to take the plane from Luleå and me the train from Kiruna and so we both left in a different direction.
With the lack of motivation, I decided to rebook my train to an earlier date to set myself under pressure and finish the remaining 460km as quickly as I could. And as I advanced, this felt like exactly the right decision. The scenery in northern Finland and Sweden looked rather dull compared to the Norwegian coast and so I didn’t feel like stopping a lot to take photos. Also the amount of mosquitoes made every single break very unpleasant as I was constantly fighting to keep my face and my hands free of bites. Only the tent helped.
And so I set a new personal record of 142km on the first day, another record of 163km on the second day and cycled the remaining 156km to Kiruna the third day. In Kiruna I had found a couchsurfing host and enjoyed a full day with him in this sleepy mining town, organised a bicycle cardboard box and disassembled my bicycle to be allowed to take it on the Swedish railways.
The train journey took me on a sleeper train to Stockholm, then to Copenhagen, from there to Hamburg and finally to my father’s place near Elmshorn. 34 hours to relax, enjoy some movies, write blog articles and meet lots of friendly people.
(sorry, once more in German)
Irgendwo auf der E6 trafen wir heute einen Motorradfahrer, der auf den Boden starrte und sich langsam von seiner stattlichen BMW entfernte. “Is everything alright?”, fragte ihn Simon. “Och, ick such hier sone Schraube”, kam gleich auf deutsch zurück. Seit er vom letzten Rastplatz losgefahren sei, hätte sich von seinem Pedal für das Schalten der Gänge eine wichtige Imbusschraube gelöst und nun stecke er im 5. Gang fest. Da der Rastplatz einige Kilometer entfernt war, versprachen wir ihm bis dahin die Straße abzusuchen und zurückzukehren, falls wir fündig würden. Nach vielen hundert Metern hatte Simon die Suche schon abgebrochen, da erspähten meine vom Pfandsuchen gestählten Augen am schotterübersähten Straßenrand eine silberne, acht Zentimeter lange Imbusschraube. Und somit drehten wir um und radelten dem leicht behebigen Motorradfahrer wieder entgegen. “Mensch, hab ick en Schwein!”, sagte er, “auf der Straßenseide hätt ick ja janich erst jesucht.” Nun müsse er nur noch auf jemanden mit Werkzeug warten oder die nächste Werkstatt herbeordern. Aber was richtige Tourenradler sind, hatten wir natürlich jeder den passenden Imbusschlüssel dabei und so drehte ihm Simon seine Schraube auch wieder mit ordentlich Drehmoment in das Gewinde. Überglücklich über den schnellen und positiven Ausgang seiner Misère, suchte er nach irgendetwas, womit er uns Gutes tun konnte. Schnaps hätte er nicht dabei, aber er könnte uns jedem eine ganze Schachtel Kippen anbieten. Freundlich lehnten wir ab und somit lud er uns ein, dass falls wir mal bei ihm in der Nähe seien, sollten wir uns vom ihm rundum kulinarisch verwöhnen lassen. Der gesprächige Horst aus der schönen Uckermark. Schwedt um genauer zu sein, keines meiner Traumziele, aber man weiß ja nie.