Bikes and bureaucracy in Barcelona 100 years ago

On the CS Clancy Centenary Ride, we have a glorious departure from Barcelona, but when Clancy was leaving Spain in 1913, he had to sail to Palma to get his deposit back


Leaving Barcelona, how poignant it was to say farewell to young Peter Murtagh, the retiring Clancy correspondent of this very newspaper, since he was heading home via Andorra and passing on his duties to me.

Witty, erudite, kind and endlessly enthusiastic, he had been the perfect travelling companion. Apart, perhaps, from a rich 25-year-old Japanese nymphomaniac contortionist, of course.

Before we climbed on the bikes and went our separate ways, we hesitated for a second at shaking hands, then exchanged hugs using the strict principles of man-hugs: shoulder contact only, accompanied by hearty back-slapping, then lots of talk about rugby afterwards.

And then, how glorious that feeling of threading our way through rush-hour traffic and breaking free of the city to see the open road stretching before us; and what a lot of open road there was.

The original plan had been to take the ferry from Alicante to Algeria and follow the Clancy trail through there to Tunisia then back to Italy – except that the details of our bikes had arrived too late to get Algerian visas.

In a last-ditch bid to help, Sam Geddis, the director of our main sponsor Adelaide Insurance, had picked up the phone to his MP, Ian Paisley jnr, who had promised to get in touch with the Algerian ambassador. But nothing had come of it, so the plan now was to ride south to catch the weekly sailing from Palermo to Tunisia. We could pick up the Clancy trail at the border with Algeria and see if we could blag our way in.

Less glorious departure
Clancy had a slightly less glorious departure from Barcelona than we did: after being charged 90 cents a gallon for fuel, almost five times what it was back home, when he pulled up outside the Customs office in Barcelona to get back the $55 deposit he had paid when entering the country, he found it closed for a three-hour lunch break.

When they finally opened the doors again, they told him that the refunds department only worked in the morning, and in any case he couldn’t get his refund until he got signed confirmation from the captain of the ship that his bike had been loaded on the ferry to Algiers.

Exasperated beyond measure, he repaired to “the haven of refuge of all American citizens in foreign cities – Thos Cook & Sons’ office”, and was told that since the boat called into Spanish-owned Palma before sailing on to Algiers, he could get his deposit back there.

“With great rejoicing and hallelujahs in my heart, I finally got the machine and all my possessions on the boat, and for the first time in seeming ages, relaxed!” he noted in his diary as the boat finally steamed away from Barcelona.

In Palma, finding the customs office closed, he went off and had a breakfast of eggs and coffee, then returned to be told that he couldn’t get his deposit back because the office didn’t have $55.

“Insanity of insanities! I was stunned by the idiot way in which the Spanish government does business,” he railed in his diary, then went back to the steamboat office and presented his case to an imposing official there. The official, busy reading his newspaper, told him to come back at 11am, so he went off and kicked his heels in the cathedral, and, almost three hours of paperwork later, was handed back his deposit minus a $4 unexplained official fee.

His spirits restored, he boarded the boat to Algiers, and was seasick for the entire 14 hours of the journey.

Read Geoff Hill’s blogs on the CS Clancy Centenary Ride, supported by Adelaide Insurance and BMW Motorrad, at