Friday, November 23, 2007

Planning a trip

I have found myself in Denver for the winter without any substantial work. It isn't as if I am not working, but I as I told my friends the other day, I really miss the responsibility and feeling that I was performing a valid and good function when I was in Iraq. I was proud of the work that I did and believe that I made a difference. Let me clarify what I mean when I state that I made a difference. I haven't for even one moment thought that I made a difference directly to the people of Iraq, but I did make a difference to the US Military our company supported. I made a difference to my co-workers and the company I worked for. I made a difference to the interests of the subcontracted foreign workers when I demanded that their living conditions be elevated, their food become more than substandard and the workers be treated better. While I was doing that, there were some companies, like First Kuwaiti, that shifted their personnel camps out of my reach because the requirements that I was imposing cost more than they were willing to give up. I argued against doing business with this company on many fronts, i.e. humanitarian, health, poor quality, bad value (too high compared to others) and billing practices were not consistent causing 1000's of excess hours monthly to justify their bills. The owner has US political ties and the rotating Project Managers that have just come from the military were still beholden to the pressure from politics to directly influence some of the ex-military officers (2nd wave of "leadership", not those under PC's tenure). I am not saying that there was anything untoward done by these people, just that they cowed to what the politics said - and didn't care what was right and the right thing to do. 

Blah, blah, blah...this was supposed to be about planning for my trip. I suppose that in a lot of ways this was exactly how it went for the planning stage - I become distracted by something and forgot all about what I planned to do. Apparently, I am not going to get into what it took to plan this trip and will dive right into the departure. It really wasn't that interesting - just a lot of finding the right item (we
ight, size, dual purpose, etc...) and making certain all my paperwork was done.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot that we took a trip to Moab, UT to camp and (for me) shake down my new bike and gear. Here are a couple of pics...

Thursday, November 8, 2007

26 October, 2007

Uggh! Getting into Madrid and settled into the hotel at 10pm knowing that I have to leave at 3:30am is not a great feeling. I could’ve just slept at the airport until the gate opened and then slept on the plane, but I have to clean up from the day of traveling from Barcelona before I can get on a plane. I smelled of little girl vomit and am certain that after sitting so close to that older odiferous couple that it rubbed off on me. I just have a hard time justifying a 5 hour stay in a hotel that cost over $100. Sure, it was a nice hotel and the shower rocked. I just hate having little choice when you stay near the airport. I was also too tired to care at the time.

I am so irritated with the airline that I have most of my miles with. I was just told that even though there are plenty of seats in business that I cannot upgrade because they do not use Northwest’s system in Amsterdam. I was told that if I were to go the other way, I could use them, but not anywhere in Europe. That’s funny because when I tried to use them in the US, I was shut down. What is the benefit?

So I sit here in coach (she did offer to leave the seat next to me open in lieu of the upgrade) with a seat open and enough room to type this out. I do suppose that this is better than wasting the miles on the upgrade.

Coming home from vacation or work overseas always gives me a feeling of completion. This trip is no exception. I suppose that I have the same feeling that I did when I was coming back to Iraq from R&R. I know that I have something else planned after this trip in Spain and that there are some things that I have to sort out before I leave to Mexico, Central America and South America next summer. This is akin to knowing that I had 4 month of work before I could leave on my next holiday and get out of Iraq for a couple of weeks.

Riding through Spain was a good test. It showed me that I need to take a Spanish immersion course so I can be conversational. I understand almost everything that was said to me, but a lot of it could have been body language as much as it was the amount of Spanish that I know. I also want to take a few motorcycle maintenance courses so I can get more comfortable with my bike. I could take my Honda and Kawasaki apart and put it back together, but I think that I will need to change the road tires for knobby tires so certain legs of the trip are safer. There are a lot of places that are dirt roads instead of paved interstates/roads. I also think that I need to get stronger. Seven years ago I may not have said that, but (after having a desk job in Iraq and not aspiring to much more since I have been back in Denver) I don’t want to be exhausted after longer rides that have a lot of wind or rough roads. I also need to sort out my chiropractic issues. If I can’t sort it out by Feb with my current doc, I need to drop him for a different doc.

There are a few things on the list, but only one pressing thing right now…sleep.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

25 October 2007

I want to kick myself. Yesterday while I was out walking I wrote down a few new haikus on my Barcelona map only to leave it in my room with all the other tourist crap that just weighed my bags down. I think one had something to do with making a turn up a wrong street and finding some very scantily dressed young Russian girls. While I was flattered that they would find me so “alluring” - I wasn’t fooled that it was my money they desired.

I have found myself in a highly agitated state and it all stems from my train ride to Madrid and the lady at the counter who gave me the ticket. She even repeated in English that she was giving me a first class ticket on the train to Madrid and then proceeded to tell me that there was no train to Madrid at 1530, but that we had to take a bus to Tarragona to link up to the train.

Who ever heard of a train station using buses to take people to a stop on their own routes? That is so absurd that I just can’t seem to wrap my mind around it.

I can think of very few things that I abhor more than tourist type cattle cars that jam as many people as they can in them at the expense of people’s knees. I literally have bruises on my knees from the back of the metal seats and vomit on my shoes from the little girl sitting next to me in the back of the bus. It appears to be chocolate cake, coca-cola and Mike and Ikes.

I find myself in the tourist car (still not as bad as the bus) next to an older Asian couple that has 6 pieces of luggage that won’t fit overhead and takes up the aisle and two seats. It isn’t like the small car that our little group from Denver took over three weeks ago going to Valencia. They (the Asian couple) also have this smell, I am trying not being mean spirited, that comes from eating certain kinds of food all the time. It is hard to describe, but I smelled it inside every apartment building I was in on my trip to Hong Kong.

I recall those apartment buildings very well. We met the owner in one building and then he took us through an area in the building that connected to another building, but instead of empty hallways, we were going through someone’s apartment that had blankets as walls. It seemed that there were three families living in this one little area. From there we went down an elevator to our floor and then our little apartment for the night. It wasn’t much to speak of, but it was better than living with all our belongings behind some blankets and using a free standing propane tank to power our small stove and heaters.

Anyway, what I was trying to get at is that the same smell that exudes from these people’s pores permeated all of Hong Kong’s apartments.

So, I was not given the first class seating that I had when I came up from Valencia to Barcelona, but the seating here is just fine. If I could change one thing it would be the small trash can that is at our small table. It is jamming my knee in about the same place that I have bruises from the bus…did I mention that I hate buses? I suppose that I do miss the nice meal that was brought to my table with wine and my choice of beverages. That was truly a nice experience and one that I thought I would be duplicating on this leg of the journey. There is nothing nicer than a white asparagus, radicchio and tomato salad with a touch of basalmic followed by a steak dish with a mushroom sauce when you are expecting nothing or at the very least…mushy plane fair. It was a much superior meal than what we see on our planes.

This is my last leg of the Spain trip other than the bus it has been a great trip so far. I do wish that I had kept the motorcycle for Barcelona; I started to really jonez for it after the first day. I am hoping that the weather stays good for a few more weeks in Denver so I can get a few longer rides in before the big snows come. From the pictures that Rob showed me, we have had some snow already and it took down some branches from my tree out front. Nothing like the excitement knowing I have a project to work on right when I get back. I was considering just easing back into the real world, but now I have something that needs some immediate attention.

Awful people funk
Why are they so close to me
Please open a window

Olfactory, sigh
What a funny word that is
Is there a young one

Bruises on knees suck
Rug burns would have been better
Back of the short bus

24 October 2007

It has been a few days since I put anything down. I have been too busy getting this blog started to have actually written anything. I have spent the mornings in Barcelona walking around Parc Guell, Sagrada Familia, Gaudi Palau and other Gaudi works (Casa Milo and Casa Brillo).
Gaudi Park (Parc Guell –pronounced ''park whey”) was just as spectacular as I recalled it. I went further a field than I had before and I still didn’t see all of it. This time there were thousands more people than were there when I was here in late December of ’95, which made taking photos much more challenging than I would have liked. I also went through both sets of batteries (one was almost done when I walked in the park) just as the light started to become good at sunset. How very frustrating. It is even more frustrating that that I got this compact charger specifically for traveling in Europe and it quit working after 2 charges. C’est la vie!

After almost three weeks out, I have run out of steam to stay out late so I have been reading or setting up the photos from the comfort of my hotel room. I do seem to have taken some good photos this trip, some almost worthy of framing, but I will have to look at them on a better screen than my laptop to make that final determination.
24 October 2007

It has been nice to have free internet in the hotel room for a change. It was also nice to have a Jacuzzi tub in the room. After walking from Sagrada Familia back to the hotel on La Ramblas, I really needed it. On the walk back, I stopped at the monument that I threw Champagne bottles at on New Years Eve while here last. At one time the monument was the sole monolith in this corner of the park, now they have added a little pool and statue of a mermaid-esque woman. After walking across half the city it felt good to sit. I was there for a spell (I am not certain how long a “spell” is, but that is about how long I sat there) and a woman walks up behind me and started saying something. My first thoughts were that I was being approached by gypsies like the last time I was here. It put me on edge a bit, but I put the feeling aside and allowed the conversation to happen. It was nice…she was just trying to show me the photo that she took from behind me of the statue and monolith in front of me.

Like I said, it was nice. Virginie and I sat and talked for almost two hours in front of this statue watching the sun set, the people filtering through the park on their way home or to a restaurant or bar or just wandering like I was before I sat. It was nice to sit and talk with someone in English for such a long time, I think the last conversation in English I had was about a week ago in Seville. We talked about her childhood growing up in France, her move to England when she was 19, her two children, her view that she is an underachiever, my trip, my work in Iraq and other various subjects that come up when you just meet someone.

It wasn’t like I hadn’t talked to anyone since I left everyone in Seville, but I have been in places that English hasn’t been spoken, or if it has been spoken, I haven’t engaged in conversation. I have been able to secure a meal, petrol, direction and a room in broken Spanish. Even in Benidorm I didn’t talk much to anyone…why would I want to? Oh, that’s not true I guess. I did speak with an older couple about my motorcycle at breakfast on the morning I was leaving. They saw the bike loaded up and were intrigued, but there wasn’t much of a connection. Once we finished our toast and eggs we were on our way.

One more day in Spain
To be wasted on a train
No sights left for me

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

22 October 2007

This morning after eating breakfast and getting a start, I felt like I finally hit my stride. The curves felt smooth, the wind didn’t phase me, the aches in the shoulders were a distant memory. It is a good thing to take a day off every now and then to rest and regenerate. These feelings were short lived after 100 kilometers. All the aches came back, the muscles became fatigued and cutting through the wind seemed a bit rougher than it had earlier in the day. The word that came to me when the wind just about ripped my helmet off my head was, pitaraq. Pitaraq (sp?) is an Inuit word that is the equivalent of Katabatic Winds. Katabatic Winds are winds that flow downhill off a glacier (Antarctica/Greenland) and can reach over 100 mph and have been see to hit 200mph. I think in Norway they are call Fohns. Enough about my wind knowledge...silly thing to know. If I had never worked in Greenland and Antarctica I would have just said, "Holy crap! What the hell just tried to rip my f*cking head off?"

It does appear that even after 2300 kilometers (1475 miles) on the bike, I still need more time in the saddle before the South American ride.

I am finally allowing someone else to transport me around for a while after dropping my rental motorcycle off in Paiporta (outside of Valencia). The person at the motorcycle shop that I dealt with was a woman by the name of Lurdes. She was the only person that spoke English reasonably well and could have starred in about any porn movie that is out there. It isn't that she is attractive, just the enhancements that she has had, ie implants, color contacts and the blonde hair with black roots. As I was packing up she just stuck around and talked, so I had her pose by the bike. She kinda hammed it up and made me take a few until I got the metering right.

I talked to Jacquie a few minutes ago and she mentioned that Yancy wants to buy a BMW to join me on my trip. I will start keeping him in the loop so he stays keen on it too.

The train station in Valencia is like all train stations in Europe…full of beautiful sights. The way a European woman carries herself is so alluring and mysterious. I found myself smitten by two young girls, about 26 years old, that appeared to have arrived from Ibiza a short while before. One was wearing a very sheer white tank and the other was the proud owner of the most intriguing eyes. They were almost cat-like and a green as deep as emeralds.,I am not certain how else to describe them. Between both the girls I found myself mesmerized, it is a good thing that they were the ones that came up to me to ask when the train was leaving and then stuck around waiting with me…I would have had to make an excuse to make a fool of myself. Nothing better than a couple of young free spirits making an old free spirit feel young again.

I decided on Barcelona because it was the earlier train than the one to Madrid, boy, was I wrong. The Barcelona train ended up being almost 2 hours late allowing me time to sit and talk to these cute little girls…what a drag (note the oozing sarcasm). The one thing that did not work out for me was my cell battery died while waiting for the train so finding a hotel in Barcelona might be a bit of a trick. I am not all that concerned though, it all seems to work out in the end and I can always find a place to rest my head.

I will have two full days in Barcelona and plan to just wander around Gruell Parc for at least one of those. The Cathedral might also be on the agenda, but I haven’t really thought any of this out. All I know is that I will be traveling to Madrid on the 25th at the earliest possible time so I can sort my stuff out and fly the next morning. It is kinda funny that this is about the only plan since I rejoined everyone in Seville, but I have never been comfortable with plans when I travel. Okay, perhaps that isn’t all that true. When Chris and I traveled the world together in 1995/96, I had an itinerary of what I wanted to see and when we needed to be there. I didn’t have any idea where I would sleep, but I knew what city I would be in and I drove the bus on that situation. I still think that Chris would have preferred to have a pace that wasn't so frenetic and would have liked to have slept in on New Years Day instead of waking at 7:00am to catch a train to Marceille.

12 years later and many thousands of miles later, I couldn’t be a more different traveler than I was then. Now it is about the journey more than it is about the destination, although the destination does have its intrigue. I am just not so obsessed with the destination like I used to be.

After backpacking through seven continents for 8 months, living abroad for almost 11 out of the past 14 years and traveling more than anyone else that I know during those 14 years, I would hope that I have learned a thing or two about cultures, people and traveling. I don't think that I have learned it all, but I am on the right path. Ten months from now when I take off on my motorcycle through South America I am certain to learn even more. After that...the plan (as it has been since 1994) is to ride up through the Western US to Alaska and take a boat to Japan, Russia or China and navigate toward the setting sun until I get back (Africa is on that list too, but I will have to figure out some logistical issues first) home. Still a long way from that...

21 October 2007

It was a very leisurely day. I planned to spend time at the beach, but due to the cold front moving in the whole beach took the day off. All the chairs were empty all day and the boardwalks were empty until 1pm. All the blue hairs must be a little hung over from the loss last night.

What do you do in a beach town when the weather is crap? I spent the time going through photos and surfing the channels to watch something mindless. What I noticed is that it is mindless in whatever language you speak. I also noticed is that there is a collaboration of mindlessness between countries.

This particular hotel has 34 channels and has about 9 that are Spanish, 3 from Nederland, 3 from Germany, 2 Italian, 4 French, about 6 English speaking and 1 Russian channels. The most amusing is that I can find the same soccer game on all the channels except the French and Russian channels. There is also a channel that has 24 hours of billiards (as in the bar game) and it is on two stations, English and one of the German stations. I kept hoping that they would break in for a few dart games, but I would remain dissapointed in that wish. Another thing that you can be sure to see is some form of racing, either auto racing (NASCAR is like baseball here – it isn’t even known here. Much the same way it is in the US unless you live in a trailer park) or motorcycle. Of the 6 English speaking channels, you have a choice of BBC news, CNN news, Sky news, Sky Sport Soccer, Euro Sport Billiards and Sky Movie Channel (which is only a screen saver).

Had lunch at some tourist/beach restaurant because I thought it would be innocuous and decent. I chose the tacos and the chips with guacamole. I figured, how could you fuck those up? Apparently some has only seen a picture of them and then “created” the “equivalent” of what they saw and had been told they tasted like. I have to describe how I believe the guacamole was made... It was mushy peas with avocado, and for the life of me I really couldn’t distinguish that avocadoes were even used. I can’t begin to describe the taste. It had the consistency of moisture free split pea soup and none of the smoothness of a real avocado. The corn chips were crap too – it really is astounding how people can pass this shit off as food.

The tacos were in a tortilla (okay, the tortillas were close) and were supposed to be beef chili filled. Most Brits have a distinct difference of opinion about chili as an ingredient. The British use a sweet chili sauce for a lot of things – almost like ketchup with sugar and a hint of cayenne. In this case the ingredient should have been chili powder. The whole meal tastes nothing at all what the picture and the intent of the dish was meant to be. It was just wrong.

Another issue is that ALL dishes come with chips (french fries) even pasta dishes.

This place is a cross between Surfer’s Paradise (all the high rises on the beach), Bangkok (all the touts trying to get you into their bars) and Vegas, but with none of the prostitution of either of them. It is strange to see all these cabaret shows, comedy act and music tribute acts and all these people trying to draw you in here in Spain. I just never considered it. There is even a nightclub called the Stardust with the same Vegas logo.

Wasted my day here
Couldn’t sort return of bike
From the next city

Standard menu here
Brits impinge on nice dining
Fake Brit fare at that

20 October 2007

It was nice to wake up this morning to rain and a chilly 14 degree day (Celsius). It really wasn’t, but since the temps were what they were my plans were a bit changed and I moved on before a walk around of Alhambra. The temps weren’t bad, but the front desk told me that there was rain predicted today and that is not much fun to ride in, especially when it is cold. Instead, I just had to ride in the cold.

Since this is about the same elevation as Evergreen, CO, and the same season, you can expect any type of weather in the direction I was going. Fortunately I wasn’t headed over the Sierra Nevada’s to the West, but I had several other passes to cross. For a couple of hours the warmest I saw was 16.5 C, but after that I could watch the gauge steadily climb until I reached Benidorm around 4pm. Then it was so warm that I had to take of my coat and sweater before I could look for a place to stay for the night.

This may have been my biggest push on the motorcycle yet. I think I did over 400 kilometers and an elevation change of 6000 ft. It felt really good for the first couple of hours and then I had to stop to walk around every hour for a bit and stretch. It also helped to listen to some of my play lists, but I have to be careful that I don’t keep the beat while driving. I took to singing to the music instead of tapping my toes (might not be a good idea to tap them on the pavement at 130 km per hour). Since I don’t sing well at all, it is excruciating for me to listen to the songs reverberating within the helmet.

At this point, I think this is the max distance I can ride in a day and still feel good. I am sure that that will change by this time next year, but will I want to ride longer? I didn’t see half as much as I have on other days. I suppose if I have to, it is good to know that I can.

So, the joke is on me. I rode through Benidorm last week and hadn’t noticed that the crowd was predominantly of my parent’s age, so my plan for a raucous time watching the rugby world cup has come to a crashing halt. I did manage to locate about 10 non-descript places that were showing the game and about 4 others that were real options for a good showing. The first choice had satellite issues and suggested that I go elsewhere, so I wandered down the street until I found bar choice number 2 and it was now flowing to over capacity, so I walked in found a pint right away and a standing spot in one corner. With hundreds of drinking and smoking Brits all in one place, you can imagine how warm it was. You can also imagine how hard it might be to get back to the bar and get as lucky as I was when I walked in…so I walked out at halftime. Instead of going to bar #3 and #4, I headed to the hotel to watch the game, since the bellman did tell me that the game was being shown in the lounge.

The main lounge can hold upwards of 200 people and there is a side lounge that holds maybe 30 AND there is the internet café that can hold another 45 people and each of them have a TV. You can imagine how crazy it was when I went back. Yes, there was SERIOUS madness going on. The main lounge had 2 people watching the local Futbol (soccer to the folks in the US), the side lounge had another 2 people watching the SAME game and about 70 people were crammed into the internet café trying to see the screen. Who the fuck planned that crap!??? That is some SERIOUS madness!!!

For those not familiar with Rugby, let me go over a few things. Every four years Rugby holds a World Cup in a different city; each team is in a bracket and plays elimination rounds until the final two brackets for 1st thru 4th places. The two teams playing for the Rugby World Cup were England and South Africa and they were playing in France. Without boring you with the details, I will cut to the chase and get right to the end… South Africa won 15 – 6 and were the dominating team throughout. None of this is truly important though. What is important is the importance of this game (Rugby) to the world.. The French President, Sarkozy presented the Cup to the African President, who presented the Cup to the Captain of the team. The team then hoisted the African President on their shoulders in celebration. I can’t name any sport in the US that has the President of the country present the trophy. Can you imagine this occurring with Bush? First of all, which sport would want him to present their trophy? Second of all, would anyone actually want to touch him? Who wants to touch the devil - if he isn’t truly evil, he certainly has some traits.

Nelson Mandela was intending to go to the World Cup, but he was busy opening up his newest Mandelacatessen in Praetoria, South Africa.

19 October 2007

I hope I am the only one to notice that I had a case of redundancy yesterday?

Swami says that I have to get myself to Benidorm on the coast again. It has a large English community and will be tuned in to the World Cup Rugby game of England and South Africa. It is guaranteed to be a raucous crowd and should be more rowdy than other bar crowds I have seen. If I can get there before dark I should be in good shape. I made it to Alhambra in Granada and have found myself in the Alhambra Palace Hotel. I have yet to see Alhambra, but the view of Granada from my room is extraordinary.

I am very sore today from the ride. Perhaps it is a combination of things, but today is by far the most difficult I have noted. I tried to stop several times to take in the sights. I had breakfast at a local truck stop outside of Seville and apparently didn’t stick out like a sore thumb. I am probably stretching things, but maybe, just maybe my accent is getting better and I am fooling people. Not likely, but I would like to think so. It is nice not using any English when traveling.

I pulled over to take a look at a small castle between Seville and Cordoba, but stayed on the bike without pulling out my camera. It was cool and amazing, but I was very intent on getting to Cordoba to see the Moorish Palace again.

I wish that earlier intensity would have been conveyed into my zest for riding around the city because the two times that I asked for directions I didn’t get the directions I was looking for. One guy directed me to an Alcazar (apparently there is another Moorish walled Palace called an Alcazar) 76 kilometers down the road – I decided that we weren’t communicating very well when each time he said “non intiendo”, I followed with a nod and an “okay” and then, “non intiendo”. We had a nice laugh and I rode off while he sat there and probably said, “Well, he did give it a good try. I should have shown him that map that I have behind me, perhaps I might have helped him out”. Then next event was less stimulating, but equally as frustrating. Perhaps my accent isn't as accomplished as I had thought.

After getting lost on a bunch of one way streets while driving (not at all a new feeling on this trip so far - think Valencia and Seville), I thought if I could just get close and walk I could sort it all out. That didn’t seem to work either. I followed all the signs, didn’t veer off, didn’t miss a sign (I circled Cordoba three times and road through the centro twice) and still couldn’t find any signs after the initial five signs from the interstate that directed me to the sight. I even went to the train station to see if I could work my way there forensically from the last time I was here. Too much of the city has changed and this town has grown just as much as all the rest of the places that I have been back to. This place is not at all recognizable from the small town I recalled in 1995. It isn’t like Seville where I had landmarks in the inner city that are historical and will never go away.

All I wanted to do was get to a street or landmark I remember from 10 years ago to see where I needed to go. I am never in doubt of my memory. It never fails me and I have never recalled something incorrectly, but on occasion I might forget small details over time. Conversations, pictures, events, people (names go – faces and situations remain), places and just about everything else is remembered - painfully in some cases. Unfortunately, while I might recall something, what I recall might take a little jogging. It also has to be something that I felt was worth cataloguing. No telling what that might be…could be a smell, a song at a place, a word, a conversation about a rug holding a better dip or the equally funny Hawley Smoot Tariff. It is funny how the brain works.

What a day it was
Sun shines cloudless skies above
Flies feast on windscreen

Watched game show in bar
Funny, in Spanish still bad
Small bar was good stop

Can not recall thoughts
Wish I had tape recorder
Focused on the road

As much as I think my memory is better than most, there are things that I am frustrated by. Early in the day I had several linear thoughts that I wanted to write down when I stopped for the night. I found that I have to focus too much on the road and all haikus and thoughts that are peripheral to the trip seem to have fled.

I recall the stops, the sights, the trucks that were carrying sand and uncovered. I recall the rock that hit me squarely in the forehead (I am wearing a helmet), I recall the fly that stayed on my windscreen for almost two kilometers and I recall being frustrated at the 1950’s Toyota Land Cruiser that couldn’t get above 40 km per hour and spit out a thick black fog that almost choked me. Had I been a canary I might have died from lack of oxygen/bad air. I recall it all, but I can’t recall the one thing that I was intent to remember after I left the truck stop.

It has been about 10 days since we developed the new art form of the “Sighku” and I have yet to use it other than with Kim and Eric. I might have to dust it off right now…

Bad to dream on bike
Too much to stay focused on
Could be scary, sigh…

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

18 October 2007

I had a nice walk through the Alcazar Palace Gardens today. It gave me some time to reflect on the good times that I had with everyone on this trip. I was hoping to be able to spend more time with everyone, at least a few days. In reality it is a good thing that they went to Cadiz. It will allow me more time to get to Valencia to drop of the motorcycle. I would have had to rush and stay on the interstates if I didn’t leave tomorrow. As it is, it appears that I will be stopping for lunch in Cordoba (if I get in early tonight) and bed down in Granada tomorrow night. We shall see…

Off to find a bite to eat and shoot the cathedral at night. I am looking forward to that.

I think that the ride around Seville to find petrol and trying to find the one road that takes someone in to the cathedral tried my patience for more than a few minutes at the cathedral with the camera. I did, however, find a great little restaurant that served porcini mushroom stuffed ravioli with a very decadent gorgonzola/cream sauce. It is unfortunate that I didn’t order a whole portion instead of settling for the half order. That was followed by a tuna steak pan fried to a med rare covered in caramelized onions and pine nuts (also caramelized). For future reference that restaurant is named La Mesa Moderna and is just a block off the square of the cathedral’s entrance (on way to Pizzeria San Marco).

I would like to sleep in a bit tomorrow, but I have to start back north. I don’t want to have to do it all in one or two days…that would be painful and not so much fun. The whole purpose is to see all I can from the bike and I just can’t do that from the interstate. I think I am finally getting tired. I am frustrated that every time that I want to wake early that I procrastinate sleeping until I am miserable the next morning until I get started.

Broken sleep pattern
Delays the start of my day
I can’t change my spots

Ok, the plan is for Cordoba and Grenada tomorrow. After that I will have to consult the swami for guidance.

17 October 2007

Sounds from below speak of a city with a late night heartbeat. It is the sound made by the invisible people supporting our lives; the sound made that doesn’t exist for the people that walk the daylight. The sound is so complex that we tend to allow it to blend into the background. Perhaps it isn’t as complex as one might think…street cleaners, people receiving materials, people delivering food and beer. Why do we do this during business hours?

Did I mention that I just met up with everyone in Seville? Did I also mention that I am sore? Tired? Inspired/reviled by German TV? Not a good thing late at night. What is it about the German language that makes lame telephone commercials seem more erotic than they really are? I have 8 channels at this hotel and MTV turns into a non-stop loop for German phone sex – how droll. The other 7 are in Spanish and don’t even have the same level of sophistication that these commercials do. A pretty sad statement considering that I don’t understand any of it.

Found the restaurant that Chris and I had Christmas dinner at. It is still good and inexpensive and either has grown by adding a second floor or there is a fresh coat of paint up there OR I just didn’t recall it from eleven years ago.

Rode in hot and wet
Had a beer washed for dinner
Eat then rest is good

Night sounds will not stop
Why isn’t hotel sound proof
Heard mouse fart on street

15 October 2007

My irritation from the evening before was still in place upon waking up when I went to shower to find that there weren’t towels in the bathroom (other than to dry my feet). This does not bode well for the start of the day. Upon checking out, the owner of the El Dorado reminds me that breakfast is being served and complementary. I pack the bike up and head into the dining room to find, not surprisingly, that it is empty. Not once did I see another person staying there and everything looked unpicked over like I was the only person it was set out for. Around the room I identify photos of actors and scenes from Lawrence of Arabia, Two Mules for Sister Sarah and Fistful of Dollars. Upon closer inspection I can identify portions of the town in the older pictures or can imagine the newer buildings not there that would create the scene from the movies.

Last night I felt like this hotel had seen a better time. This morning, with this further information, I can visually identify the 1960’s Hollywood influence in the décor and can imagine this town in an earlier time, a time that stood still for this small hotel and left the rest of the town to rely on the chemical plant on the outskirts of town. There appears to be no shortage of money to build high end resorts, but what will happen to the El Dorado?

I truly don’t care what happens to the town, but I feel a bit of nostalgia when I think that had I been here 40 years ago I may have been dining with Laurence Olivier, Alec Guinness, Clint Eastwood or perhaps even Dr Doolittle. Add a fresh coat of paint, a few other touches and fill the hotel with people and the grand piano in the sun room would be in its element.

As cool as this find (hundreds of photos) was, I had to move on and away from this town that couldn't survive its elegant past. Down the coast following the map…haven’t I already determined that the maps in Spain aren’t even suitable as toilet paper? I am determined to find the small towns and follow the route that one of the guide books laid out, yet I can’t seem to locate half of the roads that are either on the map or in the guide books. They are either unmarked, are marked with a different number or some other issue that I haven’t quite sorted out (possibly user error). Whatever the issue is/was, I eventually found all the sights that I lined out several days ago. Some weren’t as impressive as the book noted (Gato de whatever was, well, whatever), others were quite spectacular, while others might have an upside during high season, but none of them could give me the satisfaction that I found by shear accident.

After wending my way through a small section just above Andalusia, I was determined to get back on track after a bit of lunch in Armenia. Since I am on the coast, I am determined to eat right on the Med as much as possible, so I make my way to the beach and find a nice little local hangout overlooking a very sparsely populated beach. There is something about a long wide strand of sand that makes me want to walk out and stick my feet in the water. I take note of the foot was as I walk down and right into the Mediterranean Sea. I see one of the best looking women that I have sighted in ages, yet remain focused on getting a beverage and something to eat. I order a beer and a meat plate believing that I would be getting a similar to what I have had and seen all over up until this point. Instead I got two lamb kabobs, chicken breast, pork and BLOOD SAUSAGE! Of course I had to dig right in. If I were to have any rules, Rule number 1 would be: Do not eat blood sausage and get on a motorcycle and expect to travel 300kms before nightfall. Okay, let me tailor that…Do not eat blood sausage unless you are going right home for the day to hover near the toilet or you are a female astronaut not averse to wearing depends.

The interstate in Spain has issues. It goes from 2 lanes of no traffic into 1 lane of stop and go. In this part of Spain there is 100kms of construction to the interstate diverting to the coastal road that runs through small towns and has more curves than Ursula Andres. It is virtually impossible to get somewhere by planning how far it is and predicting what speeds you will run at.

14 October 2007

Slow start this morning and was it nice. I went to bed with thoughts of putting some miles behind me, but after my third cup of coffee I decided to order lunch which lingered until about 12:45 (mostly due to the poor service of a young girl that so obviously stayed out until the sun started to rise). Not an auspicious start to a day of travel, but that was nothing compared to getting on the wrong road out of town. It took me two hours to get sorted out on the right interstate, but most of that was of my own doing. Once I got lost I decided to explore some of the area and one thing led to another and I found myself way off course.

I made up some time on the motorway, but still didn’t come close to the target city to stop. I did make it a quarter of the way through the scenic route, but pushed on through Mojacar, Spain to the next town down the coast just assuming that the towns would be similar. I couldn’t be further from the truth. Mojacar was a busy tourist, beach resort that was very built up, had lots of restaurants filled with people. Since it was only 4:00 pm I pushed on hoping to settle in around 4:30 or 5:00, which should be the next town over. The next town down the coast was Carboneras Playa. It was 29 km from Mojacar, over a very narrow winding pass overlooking the ocean and the sparkling white buildings of Carboneras. What a sight! Most of the coastal towns in Almeria are “white towns” which comes from the color of the houses. This is a Moorish tradition that continues to this day.

After riding through town once in search of a hotel (there were several 1 star hostels that had a look of ½ star at best) that was open. It took two circles of the town, but I finally found one that is right on the beach and had parking right out front. The El Dorado Hotel appears to have had a hey-day, but that day has long passed for it. Chipped paint on the doors, peach paint in the rooms, astro-turf leading up to the pool from the rooms and a five pound key fob that occupies the entire cubby that holds all notes for room 118 (not to mention that when I put it in my pocket I appear to be priapic).

By this time it is 5:15 and I am getting hungry, so I go in search of food. Since I have been through town a couple of times I have noted that most restaurants are close or have only a few people in it and most of them are drinking. I stopped at five restaurants on the beachfront that seemed to be the center of that area…all closed the kitchen at 5:00 (it is Sunday after all), but they would pour me a beer. I moved on. I went to the center of new town. The Pastelleria was open and had a big crowd…they served éclairs, doughnuts, pastries and coffee. They all looked good, but it is almost 5:45 and I am not in the mood for sweets. I walked two blocks to the right – 6 more closed. I walked two blocks to the left – 8 more closed (or just serving beer). Back on the bike. Irish pub – full but doesn’t serve food. Chinese – closed. Supermarket – closed. Pizza – stopped serving food at 5:00. Everything in town is closed and it is now 6:00 pm and I am watching the old men roll the sidewalks up realizing that I should have stayed in Mojacar. How was I to know that this town closed down by 5:00 pm? I have never seen anything like it. Even in the smallest town there is usually one thing open late.

Back on the bike, over the very narrow winding pass hoping that that town didn’t just shut down while I was searching this one for somewhere to sleep and eat. No such luck! Or should I say, I was in luck. Everything was open with many things to choose from. I am back on track and am now happily fed. I get back on the bike and head back over the very narrow winding pass to Carboneras, but now the sun is setting and the pass could get tricky. It didn’t, but it did open all the right colors for the sunset as I crested the top of the pass. Mother Nature’s used all the colors in her palette tonight, and for that, I am happy that this crappy little town doesn’t serve food after 5:00 on Sunday.

Tomorrow I will find myself further down the road, perhaps as far as Gibraltar, but I think that might be a bit of a stretch. I want to continue on this scenic detour and find myself at Cabo de Gata for lunch at the beach. From there it will be back on the interstate and grinding kilometers. Looks to be about 400 to Gibraltar from here and that is a lot of time in the saddle. If I do that, I may just stay in Gib for two nights and then head up to Seville early on Wednesday. We shall see…

Not a big time town
Can’t find anything to eat
Been on all the streets

Motorway is fast
Upright in saddle gives aches
More time will ease all

Turbulent fast roads
Don’t want a dent in my head
Caution is my friend

13 October, 2007

I parted from the group today and made my way south through the flooded areas south of Maraira and had to fjord through water that was a foot deep in some places. It is a good thing that my bike sits so high, but I had to switch shoes so I wouldn't ruin my leather shoes. I road through the hills in search of the monastary on the hill that was shown in the guide books, but had to back track several times due to washed out roads or bridges being knocked down. I thought the rain was abnormal when I took Ann to the train station, but I watched people shoveling mud out of their houses, people pushing their cars or helping others get through the still flooded areas. What a tragedy for some of these people. 3 left dead and over 300 people are displaced because their homes are no longer habitable.

One thing about this tragedy is that the civil workers in Spain were immediately on site and assisting with clearing roads, getting people into shelters and helping get life back on track for these small town people. This is quite the contrast to what we have seen in our country under this government. Sure, as humans we tend to want to help, but there is just too much beaurocracy in the US to move quick enough to give help when it is needed most - immediately after a tragedy.

After several hours of small roads, small cities and many detours due to the rains in this coastal part of Spain and I finally arrive in Cartagena. One thing that stikes me as odd...or perhaps it doesn't, is that the rains in Spain don't mainly stay on the plain. I may be able to joke about it now, but a couple of days ago I almost became a casualty as well. I didn't think of it at the time, but I should never have tried to fjord the flooded roads like I did. I saw too many cars that had floated away because someone tried to do the same thing.

After hours of walking the city of Cartagena in search of an internet café, I stumbled across an Irish Pub. How does one walk past a pub with a sign stating Murphy’s Red? Good thing I didn’t, otherwise I would never have met the owner and crew of a boat enroute to New Zealand via Africa’s west coast/South America’s eastern coast, around Antarctica and thru the straights that run between Tierra del Fuego and Palmer Peninsula. The cost of this endeavor must rest in the millions of dollars. The owner and “instigator” of this trip is an English bloke (can you use “bloke” when the person is in their late 60’s or early 70’s?) who has engineered many lighting shows for various long running productions. Who knew that the lighting engineers (apparently if you got in early enough you can command larger check than the youths that weren’t born when Churchill was a key player of a global power) garnered the same sort of residual checks that a musician might. Apparently there is nothing like getting a salary for figuring out how to turn on a bunch of lights in a synchronized manner.

Okay, I think that I digressed from my original mission which was the internet. After much dialogue (read: two beers) with the Aussie bartender and the sailor that turns on lights for a living, I sorted out from the sailor (aren’t they good at navigating?) that the internet café was to the right and then left, “You can’t miss it”. After venturing off with these directions, I found that if I am not given proper directions that I can “miss it”. I continued onward and went made a large circle without finding the internet café. All I have to say, if these guys are relying on this dude to get them there, they are very fucked! He can’t seem to navigate within a very small city and that brings doubts to my mind that he might have issues within this small world that we live in. Granted…he only just started in Antibes, France (just up the coast) and hasn’t had to make any turns yet. I wouldn't trust him to guide the submarine that was mothballed and placed as a monument at the entrance to the port.

Okay, I really need to get back on track… I have had to stop in three more bars than that first one just to triangulate on the one internet café in this town (4 to be exact). At long last (and no thanks to my navigator buddy that thinks that he can get around the world…good thing that he pays someone to navigate for him) I made it and sat for a very long time. I don’t know if I did any good, I wrote a few things that people may or may not read, I read a few things that I may or may not have understood and ultimately I had to stand up to forage for some food. That however entailed a walk back across the town stopping in every pub hoping they were still serving food. If my bladder would have been cooperative, I might have been able to make it to this grungy little tapas bar quite a bit faster than I did. I just can’t seem to pee in someone’s restaurant without ordering a beer, so my trip sort of went like this…beer, beer, beer - internet/pee, walk 20 ft - beer/pee, walk 300 meters –beer/pee, walk 250 meters – beer/pee, walk 1000 meters – pee/beer/tapas/beer/tapas, walk 400 meters to hotel, pee/pass out.

Hmmm…did I really need to get into all that peeing stuff? I really just wanted to describe the tapas bar I found that was once (perhaps) the central focus of the town’s social circle. There is a long counter with an opening at one end and has a tiled wall with four shelves full of empty bottles on the top three. The one thing you notice is that there are, literally, layers of dust on the empty bottles. For most people of this decade (century perhaps) that may seem like a very strong deterrent, but instead it brought out some nostalgia in me. Scanning the shelves I noticed that the top three levels of bottles probably have sat untouched/dusted for perhaps 10 years for the lowest of the three and perhaps 50 for the top on. The telephone on the wall behind the counter was right out of a Fellini film (Yes, I am aware that Fellini is Italian) and can probably still be dialed. Yes, it predated the rotary phones I grew up with, but isn’t as old as my wooden wall hanging phone. My guess is that it was the first telephone the town had and everyone that needed to make a call gathered here for a pint and tapas.

Flooding in small towns
Sadness on the rural routes
Too much rain in Spain

Dust on top of dust
Bottles from a time long past
Greasy good tapas

Language not my own
Aged man no respect from young
Sad generation