Grant and Susan in Spain
Hola, como estan ustedes? I'm finally getting to practice my Spanish again this week, for the first time in years. Unlike the French, though, the Spanish are very helpful when you struggle with their language. Our first stop in Spain was Barcelona, where we discovered that the official language is Catalan, which is quite different from Spanish. Many of the words appear to be French and in some cases Portuguese or Italian, it's a bit of a polyglot Latin language. All through Catalunya the signs are in Catalan and then Spanish. I was grateful when we got further south and the natives actually spoke Spanish!
The Casa Batillo, a building designed by Gaudi
We got to Barcelona on Tuesday, after a nice run through southern France into Spain. The weather warmed up as we came south, which was good because we were back to wearing multi-layers and feeling like the Michelin men.
Detail of windows in Sagrada Familia church designed by Gaudi, Barcelona, Spain
Sagrada Familia church designed by Gaudi, still under construction 100 years later
This is the facade, which is all that is really finished. The interior is empty. Gaudi's work is the origin of the word "gaudy," and it deserves it. Truly an amazing sight though. The size is amazing - you can actually walk up to the top of the towers shown here, on the inside, and it's a looong walk!
Barcelona was useful in that we found the manufacturer of the wheel rim (Akront) for the bike, and confirmed that the cracks in the rear rim were only surface peeling, not to be worried about. We were afraid the weight of stuff was likely to cause the rim to crack, but the technical expert at the factory said "no problema". We later found that this wasn't true, despite his assurances.
Benidorm is a very touristy town on the coast near Alicante. We were hoping to find someplace where we could do a bit of diving while we sorted slides and entered them in the computer, but so far diving seems scarce. Our other major task before Africa is for Grant to build a couple of aluminum boxes for the front of the bike to replace pockets (which snap off). For security purposes, the boxes are much better and he can design them to give us more capacity and put more weight up front, which is better for the handling. However, this requires a shop which has welding equipment and will rent him space to work, and of course, I have to explain this in Spanish to the mechanics. Once we find a shop with suitable space and equipment, then we will rent an apartment nearby for up to a month rather than stay in hotels.
Spain reminds us a lot of Central America, and these coastal cities are really a First World/Third World combination. There are incredible numbers of condos along the beaches, obviously catering to foreign purchasers based on the languages on the signs, and many more under construction. Then there are inland towns (which presumably provide the services to the condo owners), which are not appreciably more prosperous or clean than those in Guatemala or rural Mexico. Interesting countryside, though, quite hilly and with unusual rock formations. And of course, the weather is perfect, sunny with highs in the high 20s and lows comfortable for sleeping. After suffering through Britain and northern Europe's weather a couple of weeks ago, I can understand why so many of them buy condos here!
Rooftops of Alcaraz, central Spain
We cut inland at Valencia on a wild goose chase to find a motorcycle leather clothing manufacturer. We found them but they had gone out of business, so we stayed next door at Hostal Millan, Segorbe. The next night we stopped in Alcaraz at a lovely hotel - had a rooftop room with a terrace and nice views. Alcaraz is quite architecturally interesting and we took pictures in the morning before we left.
The roads have been interesting - good 4 lane freeway - correction highway - the tolls are very expensive - about CDN$0.10 per KILOMETRE, and "red" roads, which are pretty reasonable two lane roads, but go through every little town and village along the way, and "yellow" roads (colours are Spanish designations and are also marked on the map as such) which are very poor, in some areas down to one lane on the side of a mountain, under repair, twisting and winding incredibly - we clocked an hour to go 30 kilometres.
The countryside is very interesting and the weather is gorgeous - not a drop of rain in the time we've been here, and cool to pleasantly hot depending on altitude and time of day. The climate and countryside is very reminiscent of northern Mexico, semi arid and hilly, with some mountains, and where there is irrigation, very green, with terraced hillsides full of olive trees or fruit trees.
One new toy we're having a lot of fun with is the hand-held GPS, which we bought in London for about $200, and should be quite useful in Africa. It gets up to 7 satellites, can give you altitude as well as longitude and latitude, and if I'm holding it while we're riding, will not only serve as a compass, but also an odometer and a speedometer. Riding south to Granada on the National highway, I could tell Grant how fast we're going, since it's updating every second off the satellites! The next innovation in these things, is being able to function as a Satellite Phone. So, if we're stranded in Africa, we dig out the GPS, it tells us where we are, and we can call AAA to come and get us. Don't laugh, in another couple of years it will be cheap enough to do that.
We've now done all the tourist things - visited the Alhambra yesterday, the Cathedral and Capilla Real (Royal Chapel) today. The Alhambra is very spectacular, as millions of tourists can attest to and we used many rolls of film on it.
Torremolinos is a resort town a few km's from Malaga, on the Costa del Sol, (Coast of the sun), the southern coast of Spain. The only accommodation around here is resorts that cater to package tours, mostly from the UK it seems, but some from northern European countries. I can really relate to this line: "load the tourists up, run them through for their 2 weeks in the sun, feed them anything they'll hold still for, and send them off." 99% of the folks in this hotel seem to be on all-inclusive meal packages, and the evening buffets are very unimpressive. The down side of all-inclusive is being held hostage to the hotel restaurant, since you've already paid for it.
We feel detached from the tourists here, with a completely different schedule and attitude towards time, leisure, and travel. They're all frantically cramming in sun and sand (no surf) and fun and relaxation just as fast as they can, so they can hurry and be ready to go home, while we are more concerned about the next destination, replenishing supplies, and worrying about getting to Africa in time to miss the rains in January. Well, at least it's low season. And I got my bathing suit wet yesterday for the first time since we got to Europe. In the pool, though, not the ocean. The water is pretty cold already, and the ocean here isn't exactly pristine.
We still need to do some work on the bike, and we need a few more miscellaneous bits that are proving hard to get here in Spain. Spain is considerably more backwards than we expected, stuck somewhere between the UK and Mexico for services and products. Trying to find anything is very difficult - the yellow pages are at least a year out-of-date, and not everything is in the book, and they have a million books - there isn't one large one for a town like Barcelona - it's a dozen or more and nobody has more than one. Spanish Telecom is amazingly bad - if you call directory assistance from a phone booth - which is free in most countries - it swallows a 100 peseta coin (about $1.00 CDN) just for them to say hello - then you need more to ask for a number! The phone line quality is shockingly bad and long distance calls just to England start at $2.00 CDN per minute. Susan called Singapore from our hotel in Benidorm (as Sprint calls to Singapore are blocked from many European countries), and the rate was $4.00 per minute!
The people are much friendlier away from the beach resorts, which is not surprising. We noted the contrast between our stay at a hotel in Alcaraz, in the interior, where they just take you in and you pay when you leave for everything. Versus the beach hotel here in Torremolinos which charges your credit card for the room charges immediately you get here, and wants a deposit to use the phone plus you pay for all your meals cash as you go. I guess having a lot of tourists means you get a few which are trying to rip you off and it spoils it for everyone.
We actually only came to the coast again because we couldn't get our final vaccine in Granada, the second of two shots for rabies prevention. Or at least, getting it was in the too hard file in Granada. You can't just look up Travel Clinics in the yellow pages like we did in London, as there aren't any, and the information we got is that clinics don't give vaccinations anyway, that's the Ministerio de Sanidad. So, I tracked them down in Malaga, explained it all several times, and we're going for that tomorrow morning. Then, off to Gibraltar for English books, cheap film, and who knows what else before we head north again.
We're suffering some regrets for not having spent time in Scotland and Ireland this summer, as well as other parts of Europe besides Scandinavia. The problem is that if we stayed as long everywhere as we'd like to we'd still be in Europe next year and never have got to Africa or anywhere else. Unfortunately, Europe is the most expensive place to travel in, so we'll probably have to wait until we're working here to see more of it. The good news is that the castles which have been around for centuries will probably still be there in a couple of years, (which unfortunately can't be said for the wildlife in Africa or the rain forests in Asia and South America). Anyway, every choice you make involves trade-offs, and we certainly enjoyed our time in Scandinavia.