May 4, 2015, 10:00 pm
Ten days. I have not updated this in ten days. A despicable creature I am.
The ride from Ayamonte–the Spanish town across the river Guadiana, which marks the border between Portugal and Spain–to Seville was flat and generally pretty unremarkable. I had at the wind at my back and I followed a service road that passed through endless large farms and paralleled the highway.
Seville, however, was a different matter. A beautiful city. I stayed two nights there in a hostel close to the center. A labyrinth of narrow cobbled streets that spill suddenly into large squares flanking some grand building, a cathedral or a theater or a…well, whatever this is:
It is the Parasol Metropol, a gargantuan wooden…building? Canopy? “Big Dumb Object”? Whatever it is, it dominates one of Seville’s central squares and was constructed, apparently, to revitalize the once shabby downtown area with its sheer weirdness: A strange, irresistibly modern bloom to attract all the fancy-pants bougie bees. And given the number of new restaurants and shops in the square, with only the faintest traces of a few remaining rundown tenements, it appears to have worked.
Cynicism aside, I actually like it a lot. It’s deeply strange, for sure, and quite jarring at first sight, but after a few beers, cast in the glow of the sunset, there’s something peaceful and comforting about it and its gentle, organic curves, like sitting beneath the branches of great wizened oak tree.
Later that day I met a young German man and his two Austrian compatriots. They told me that they were going to Ayamonte–where I had just been the day before–to attend a week long “psy-trance” festival. I couldn’t decide if the phrase “psy-trance” was more amusing spoken in the girls’ dainty Austrian accent or in their friend’s thick German accent. They urged me to turn around and accompany them. I said no, I was going the other way, towards Granada.
“Ah! The Alhambra!” one of the Austrians exclaimed. “You must smoke some hash before you visit it.”
I promised them I would.
I got a late start leaving Seville. Like before, the road started off flat and boring, passing for many miles through the ragged edge that separates the suburban sprawl from the true farmland. Gradually, though, it turned beautiful: Rolling (it’s always rolling) hills of wheat, small towns off the road clustered around the ruins of old castles and towers, the peaks of the Sierra Grazalema growing larger on the southern horizon.
I rode until dusk, which at this time of year, this far west in the timezone, is just before 10:00 pm. I camped in some kind of deserted picnic area nestled between two farms.
The Road to Gibraltar
I woke early the next morning to the dreadful cacophony of what seemed could only be a competition among a dozen roosters to see who could be the noisiest asshole.
I packed my gear and rode into the mountains.
The first half of the day was all uphill. But it was gorgeous, and I don’t mind suffering so much as long as I am suffering in a beautiful place.
From the top of the range, for almost forty miles the road gently switch-backed south to the sea. I had it virtually to myself, aside from the odd cow or two. The road was narrow and in places the outer lane had collapsed–in a flood or in a rock slide, I suppose–into the valley below. They were certainly the most beautiful miles of the trip and perhaps among the most beautiful I have ever ridden.
But all beautiful roads end, and as I approached the coast traffic gradually increased and before long I was shunted onto a highway. Not too much later the fabled Rock of Gibraltar loomed into view.
I checked into a hotel in La Linea, the Spanish town right on the border.
I took the day to explore Gibraltar and it turned out to be one of the more remarkable places I have ever been. The oddness starts immediately. You walk up to the border control station and there standing in front of you are two British customs agent, stiff upper lip and checkered hats and all. They glance at your passport and wave you through and walk out the door into the United Kingdom.
Or, more precisely, you walk out onto a gigantic runway in the United Kingdom. Winston Churchill Avenue, the only road across the isthmus into Gibraltar, bisects Gibraltar’s airport (also a RAF base). When a plane is due to land or take off, they close a gate very similar to what happens at a railroad crossing.
The town itself in Gibraltar is pretty dreadful. Gibraltar is a duty-free tax zone and so the main street is crammed with luxury shops selling watches, perfumes, liquor, and cigarettes. Everywhere there are pubs advertising their fish and chips and full English breakfasts. After exchanging some euros into pounds and buying some postcards and English stamps, I retreated up the hill to the tram that travels to the top of the rock.
My reaction upon reaching the top went something like this:
“Holy shit! That’s Africa! Just right there across the straight! They weren’t fucking kidding!”
Soon followed by:
“HOLY SHIT WHERE DID ALL THESE MONKEYS COME FROM?!”
Yes, they weren’t kidding about the monkeys either. Rock Apes, Barbary Apes, Macaques–whatever you call them, they’re no fucking joke. It is their rock and you are there at their pleasure. They pick their own assholes and then they pick each other’s assholes, they fondle themselves and then they fondle each other–and then the leap on your head and stick their fingers in your hair. They try to snatch your camera. When you try to pass one that’s sprawled across the path, he stares at you with a dull gaze and then returns to whatever disgusting picking, flicking, fingering, or fondling he was engaged in before you interrupted him.
Leaving the monkey-infested visitor’s center at the top of the tram, I walked south along the top of the rock. Everywhere there were the ruins of centuries of fortifications–Moorish, Spanish, English–seemingly all jumbled together, remnants of the many empires that have fought over this strategic location in countless wars. There’s a Moorish fortress at the base of the rock. There are the remnants of bastions built by the Spanish. And, most prominently, there are crumbling bunkers and pillboxes and tunnels and ramparts constructed by the British over the course of the three centuries they have controlled the rock. While most of the fortifications have been left to fall into ruin, there is still a British military presence on the rock. Several areas are off limits and at the highest point there is a cluster of radio dishes and antennas, no doubt employed in some form of shady post-9/11 espionage.
Also, on the farthest corner of the rock, there is, oddly enough, an old Jewish cemetery. After the English seized Gibraltar from the Spanish in 1704 during the War of Succession, Gibraltar become a refuge for many of Spain’s persecuted minorities and especially its Jews, all of whom had suffered under the Inquisition. Gibraltar is still home to a small Jewish population descended from these refugees.
I am going to end this here because I have little to report from the days since leaving Gibraltar. From Gibraltar, I continued along “La Costa Del Sol” to Málaga, where I am now. The coast is blighted with tacky resorts, many left derelict in the wake of real estate bubble. There is no continues local road along the shore, so I had to ride most of the way on the highway, which was horrible. Tomorrow I turn back inland and ride to Granada and I am looking forward to that.