October 24, 2004 GMT
10th Oct 04. Jimena de la Frontera.
Sunday morning. Outside the front door, double-size ants are manhandling chunks of vegetation up the path. Inside the front door, a large but not yet double-size man is eating anchovy pate sandwiches for breakfast. Augustus Pablo bumps away in the background thanks to the miracle of the iTrip, which turns the iPod into a miniature radio station.
This is my last week in Europe. The flat I've rented for a week - for a bargain rate - is the most chilled out place I've stayed in so far. Last night I watched "Brief Encounter" with a cat and some cheap wine.
As always, belly-laugh followed belly-laugh until we were both exhausted and the cat, still hiccuping with mirth, begged me to order it a taxi.
At last! At long, unholy LARST I've got a front door with a hatch in the top half.
This means I can lean out and shout "Hola"'s, and, later in the day, drunken threats to passers-by, but -crucially- it means I can do it with no trousers on. It's the rural equivalent of being a newsreader.
I'm so relaxed I can scarcely be arsed to breathe. My daily routine in Jimena is as follows.
1. Wake up at 4am following a Lariam induced dream, this morning's involving inappropriate defecation. Go back to sleep.
2. Wake up at 5am to the resonant sqwawking of a cockerel somewhere in the valley. If I had to get up at 7 and go to work this would become increasingly upsetting, but I don't. Go back to sleep.
3. Wake up at 8.30 to sun streaming in through the blinds. Yawn. Maybe scratch. Go back to sleep.
4. Wake up at 9.30. Actually get out of bed and make "Cowboy Coffee" - i.e. filter coffee without the filter, using two mugs and a sieve. Combine with landlady's marrow and ginger jam and a fag for the ideal breakfast.
5. Ablute at a pace a snail would find irritating.
6. Buy bread at the baker's, all of two minutes walk away.
7. Clamber aboard the hog and belt around the hairpins for an hour.
8. Eat more food. Maybe drink a bit of beer.
9. 3.30 - siesta time.
10. Repeat stage 7.
11. Repeat stage 8 until bedtime.
It's all so easy and good that the horsefly of guilt occasionally buzzes around my flanks. It's the job of seconds to flatten it with a lazy swat.
The high point of today is knee-bucklingly good tapas at a bar down the hill, washed down with freezing cold San Miguel. At first I sit outside and realise I'm sitting next to a table of UK expats. For a few minutes I think it'd be nice to have a chat, and then I hear one of them use taxi-driver code for "I am a complete tosser - stay away", i.e. "I'm not being racist, but..."
45 minutes of sour, bigoted, Daily Mail-reading crap on the subject of immigrants follows. They're talking about UK immigrants of course. Not people who move to Spain. That's entirely different. If you took the trouble to read the Mail a bit more often you'd know that.
12th Oct 04. Jimena-Gibraltar-Jimena.
Hang on - my mum's got an exam tomorrow and I'm pottering about like a retired person. Has the world finally eaten the towel, thrown up its chips and run stark shouting mad?
Gibraltar. It's only a rock we rule, but I like it. Like it. Yes I do!
Gibraltar is so wrong it must be right. British bobbies on the beat; but we're driving on the wrong side of the road. Proper traffic lights with a commanding presence in the thoroughfare; yet it's 82f in mid-October. Grimaces all round when I try to pay for my chorizo sandwich with Euros.
It's like a not-quite-right British theme park in California. Or one of those novels where someone else won WW2 and Gib's all thats left.
Blimey! I just got a smile out of the barmaid. Up until now she's had a face like a morosely-dispositioned horse that has woken on Monday morning to find itself at the nadir of a bipolar cycle. With a sore throat. Cheer up love! It might never ha... Oh... I see that it already has...
It is the hour of the warm glow, my friend. I've just met some lovely, nice, unbigoted, happy English people from the Midlands. They, like me, were a touch the worse for wear re. drinksh, but their enthusiasm for Spain shone through the booze mist like, er, a fog-light or something.
Posted by Simon Fitzpatrick at 02:56 PM
8th Oct 04. Ubrique, Andalucia.
Welcome to the Hotel Califooooornia!
Blah blah blah blah-blah,
Tumpty tum te-tum,
BUT YOU CAN NEVER LEEEEEAVE!
Not if you're a fluffy little bambi anyway. In that instance, the hotel management will have you machine-gunned. Your extremities will then be boiled and nailed to the wall, saving money on both ornaments and hat pegs.
This is riding-with-your-mouth-open country. It's stunning. The hotel is brand new and stunning. Even the supermarket in Ubrique is stunning, so I go and load up on chorizo and pears and tinned calamari and olives and stuff myself to within an inch of my life before going for a spin round the mountains.
There was an old man of Ubrique
Who urgently needed a lique
He ran down the mountain
And went in the fountain
They put him in jail for a wique.
Posted by Simon Fitzpatrick at 02:29 PM
October 08, 2004 GMT
7th October 2004. Utrera, Andalucia.
I'm not one to moan, but Gibraleon was a little bit of a dead-arse dump.
The bars shut at 9pm. What's that aboot? (copyright Kelly Monteith, 1982). Also the weather was relatively awful (i.e. warm but quite cloudy). Utrera is much nicer, but you do have to stifle a scream when you see a baby riding a moped with no helmet on. Helmet law is a bit hazy in Spain (in my mind anyway). I think the story is that you don't have to wear one in built-up areas. There are thousands of two-wheeled vehicles here and they're all 2-stroke pop-pops. No-one wears a helmet. I cannot condone such reckless behaviour. But it is very cool.
Oh Gawd - I've just seen a 2-year old buzz by on a scooter, standing up in the footwell, helmetless. *shudder*.
Don't get me wrong - I don't use the phrase "pop-pops" in a derogatory sense. Scooters are as much, if not more fun in the city as anything else. Who could not weep with admiration at Rupert, on this very website, crossing South America with half a pint of 2-stroke oil, 49cc's of raw power and a t-shirt? The man deserves a gong. Or at least some sort of medal.
If you can't speak Spanish, an Andalucian accent is in no way helpful.
Posted by Simon Fitzpatrick at 12:11 PM
October 6th 2004. Gibraleon.
*RATTLE*... Either this is a very badly surfaced motorway or something is amiss with the moto... As I overtake the first of two bumper-to-bumper juggernauts on the A22 towards Faro, the straining and wheezing at anything over 4000 rpm is telling me something's wrong. Something is going to explode or crack or burst or catch fire. At least I know my wheelīs not going to fall off, as a South African mechanic in Portimao fixed it this morning (for an eye-popping 20). The bike manages to hobble to the next service station, and there don't appear to be any logs or dead dogs trapped in the spokes, so I guess it's a fuelling problem. However, guessing what it is and fixing it are two wholly dissimilar sides of two strikingly different coins.
We limp to the next village, Tavira, doing 35mph in the hard shoulder. Luckily, Rui and Brinda live in Tavira.
Rui, I discover later, is on his 13th motorcycle (an 1150GS), and still can't stop himself from waving at every bike that goes by. So I stop and explain.
Having bought me a coffee and generally been human beings of an extremely high quality, they spend the rest of their afternoon with me in a luxuriously appointed fixing shop, making sure I'm OK. Dear Rui & Brinda - you rule.
Imagine my amusement when the problem turns out to be the spare set of keys i'd taped under the seat back in Sussex. They'd become untaped that afternoon, and the little blighters were blocking the air intake.
There's nothing to beat a newly-fixed motorcycle after a couple of hours of "oh god I've broken it" paranoia. I hum all the way into Spain for a night in Gibraleon. The room is a mere 10 euros, although it does smell a bit like faeces.
To keep themselves amused, the Portuguese like to refer to the Spanish as "monkeys". At least they don't hang monkeys believing them to be Frenchmen, as we do in the UK. Or at least those monkeys up in Hartlepool do.
Posted by Simon Fitzpatrick at 11:58 AM
4th October 2004. Monchique, the Algarve.
I've done 2 days off the drinksh after a week of debauchery in Lisbon. It's 6pm and the sun has got an extremely fetching hat on. I think it might be Super Bock o'clock.
At precisely mid-day today, the dreaded oh-please-don't-let-it-be-true event... a puncture. 90 degree heat, no shade to fix it under, and I'd run out of water. Had I, as the book of how to do this properly suggests, practised puncture-fixing before leaving home? No I had not. I couldn't be arsed.
There are worse things that can happen. Your engine can explode; the frame can snap in two. But a puncture (the first time at least) is certainly in the top 5 of motorcycling bummers.
So - to work. Unload all the luggage. Spend a while levering machine onto mini-jack. (No centrestand). Then try to work out how to get the front wheel off. If you've ever fixed a bicycle puncture, it's very much the same except everything's 5 times heavier and there are disc brakes to contend with.
Eventually it's off and I get to work with the tyre levers. 30 minutes of grunting and sweating and cavalier use of the F-, C-, S-, W- and B-words follows. My shirt is soaked and filthy and my mouth is parched and even filthier. A number of absolute bastards on fully-functioning mopeds buzz by.
Then an angel of mercy - a German angel, St. Gunther of Bavaria - pulls up in a jeep to tell me that not only is there a bike fixing shop just up the road, but that he will take me and the wheel up there. The tyre is one third off the rim and so is my sanity, so off we go.
The little Portuguese fella in the shop has the job done in minutes, and another, different angel of mercy drops me and the wheel back at the bike. Now all I've got to do is get it back on. Oh look - I can't. Just as I'm about to start swearing again, a young chappie on a sportsbike stops to assist. Thanks pal! Between the two of us it's on in 10 minutes, and I manage to shear off only one of the four retaining bolts. The front brake doesn't work, but that sorts itself out after a mile, and my lower back seems to have some sort of issue with the tasks I've set it today, but I'm back on the road...
My brother Rob, a committed Portuphile, and not, unhappily for alliteration's sake a convicted paedophile, has recommended Monchique as a place that is both lovely and nice in more or less equal measure. I check into the Residencia Miradouro, have a chat with bro, eat lunch (octopus and pears) on the balcony and grab a slice of siesta.
I'm 38 years old and I have to shave my ears. Where will it end?
Lariam (mefloquine) is an anti-malarial drug. Like all anti-malarials it has two downsides -
1. It doesn't necessarily stop you getting malaria.
2. It has a variety of possible side-effects.
What makes Lariam so controversial is that, in some people, it produces depression and vivid nightmares.
In a smaller sub-section of people, these can become psychotic episodes - tearing your own guts out and so forth.
1 week ago I took the first of 3 test doses, and I'm fine. GRRAAAGGHH! Only jokin'. No side effects of any kind so far.
5th October 2004.
*BURRRP*! Oh Mary what a beautiful everything. Up at dawn to see the sun rise over the mountains (not as early as you might think, given that there are some mountains in front of the sun). A great breakfast served by a fat man in pants. A strenuous walk around the Hanging Gardens of Monchique. A thrill-packed morning ride to the highest point of the Algarve, with a stop-off for lubricants (for the bike). Coffee in, er, a cafe. Then pork chops and vinho de casa for lunch, halfway up a mountain. Ain't life absolutely terrific? It's 80 degrees here and grey and wet in the UK. Je ne regrette rien, baby.
Second Lariam test pill last night, a day late. Still haven't gored anyone to death with a pencil. But I did have a dream about Sonia's (imaginary) sister who had 3 foot long nasal hair. I somehow borrowed her nose and set to work with the scissors; the end result looked like a second set of eyelashes growing from the nostrils. Could have been the Lariam - could have been last night's Tagus lager, which is very good indeed.
Stir the pot of destiny!
Tousle the hair of Dame Fortune!
Interfere with the tail-feathers of Arch-Duke Happenstance!
Er... perhaps one more Super Bock and then bed.
Posted by Simon Fitzpatrick at 11:26 AM
Swill & Swell.
3rd October 2004. Sines.
I wobble out of Lisbon at 11am and hammer south for a hundred miles. Sines has a quite-nice beach, a port and an oil refinery or something. On the way an American dude comes over to chat by the pumps.
"What is that, man? Did you build it yourself?"
He's ridden across the US on a Harley-Davidson. His "Good luck, man" words of encouragement fill me with good cheer and make me remember what this whole nutty scheme is all about. Thanks man!
Oh brother - pork and clams... The pig loves the clam. The clam loves the pig. I love them both. The three of us are very much in love. We are to be married in the spring. If you were able to inspect my handwriting at this point, you would see that at first I wrote "marred". I think I may be marred already.
Posted by Simon Fitzpatrick at 11:00 AM
26th September - 2nd October 2004. Lisbon.
Sagres or Super Bock? Your lager of choice in Lisbon marks you out as either a salt-of-the-earth son-of-the-soil or a fat cat toff. Almost everywhere sells only one or the other so you rarely have to make the choice. Other ways of getting oblivious in Lisbon's steep, shiny-cobbled streets include Ginginha and Maceira. One tastes nicer than the other and has booze-saturated cherries in it, but both will give you a hankering for a long lie-in followed by a pastry hit followed by a siesta the next day.
A week off the moto, for a holiday with Naz and Kev and Marie.
*The Beach at Estoril!
*A ride on the Tourist Bus!
*A climb up to the castle for a view over the city!
It's quite literally all good.
On the first morning I see I've had the first theft of the trip; a cargo net and bike cover. My fault for leaving them on the bike.
N & K and me go for a night at Lux, Europe's most happening nitespot. Cameron Diaz doesn't show up, but we're joined by a great Portuguese lady who we all love and is far too lovely and nice for the grubby likes of us.
Sweaty panic exercise - riding an overladen motorcycle through Lisbon's tram-tracked, near-vertical streets. Wobble! Slide!
Posted by Simon Fitzpatrick at 10:51 AM
I Did Get Where I Am Today.
24th Sept 2004. Abrantes.
I rolled into Guarda 3 days ago, butt-sore and dry as a bag of crisps. Rolled out this morning well-fed, well-watered, well-slept, reconnected (thanks to Guarda's free internet cafe) and with a mild hangover that was blasted away by hammering down the IP2 to Abrantes. 90 minutes of two-lane blacktop that winds through the hills all the way to Lisbon if you fancy it. There's too much scenery to bother concentrating on the road. Luckily the traffic is thinner than Gandhi's ankles.
I'm only here for one night, so I pick the first hotel I see, using Dr. Fitzpatrick's Portuguese Pleasure Principle, which states that everything in Portugal costs exactly half what you expect.
The hotel has the finest balcony bar I've ever seen, from which it feels like you can see the whole goddamn country. The universe obliges with an eye-wateringly magnificent sunset, the Super Bock is ice-cold, and breakfast - gratis - will be served in my room at 10. Ain't life grand?
Equally grand is iPod shuffle mode. Dear Richard Ashcroft - quit whining and eat some mushrooms. The tiny robot monkey inside the 'pod who chooses the next song realises that The Verve may be putting a damper on proceedings, so he follows "The Drugs Don't Work" with "Big Balls" by AC/DC ("Bollocks! Knackers! Bollocks! Knackers!"), just as the audience is reaching for the bleach bottle. I could go on but it just becomes a list of what's on my iPod, and you don't wanna know. Bloody hell though; Sonic Youth's version of The Carpenters "Superstar"! That's beyond maudlin. It sounds like Thurston Moore is lying in a bath full of bloody water with two open veins and five minutes to live. Ain't life grand!
Who remembers the name of Reggie Perrin's dentist, who painted terrible pictures of the Algarve? Not me, for starters. Unless it was Dr Snood...
Eight miles high baby. If you're going to go to the trouble and expense of taking psychedelic drugs, for Godīs sake make sure you take enough to butter you over the lawn. Pin you to the wall, chisel off your skullcap and Moulinex your cerebrum. Peel off your face and suck out your eyes and tonsils, ram a fist into your thorax and yank out your pulsating solar plexus. Otherwise, what's, like, the point?
Posted by Simon Fitzpatrick at 10:35 AM
October 07, 2004 GMT
23rd Sept 04. Guarda.
How come the Portuguese get satsumas the size of melons and we get crappy, pathetic, shrivelled little affairs? And don't give me that "Mediterranean climate" drivel either - these babies are flown in from Uruguay.
AM - Dawdled in the square.
PM - Dawdled in the internet cafe.
In the evening, had a day off the booze and watched "Casablanca" on Turner Classic Movies. What a pile of crap! Not really - what a teeth-clenching, brow-tightening, leg-crossing piledriver of a film. The best bit - ahem - is when someone asks Humpty his nationality, and he replies "Drunkard", and the French police dude chips in with "That makes Rick a citizen of the world..."
Iīm going to be in Casablanca in about 5 weeks, and I *raises right hand* solemnly do swear on the fly-blown grave of Rod Hull and the hollow, foetid corpse of Emu to get drunk there as a mark of respect, because I wouldn't have anyway.
24th Sept 2004. Guarda.
Graaaaagh! I am so angry I could bite my own teeth off. I want to kick myself upside the head and punch my own brain out. Nnnngh! Mnnnff! Whack my eyes in *splut* and mash up my legs to a thick paste. I've spent the whole day - and I mean literally 9am to 5pm, with an hour for lunch, (ok - 2 hours - this is Iberia) in an internet cafe, trying to resize JPEGs so I can put some photos on this thing. And I can't.
Brrraaaaagggh! I simply must stab my own face in. I am a horse of hate. A giant reptile of dismay. A huge, wallowing sea-cow of gasping, weeping frustration. Never mind, eh? I'm outta here in the morning. Time to saddle up the old mare and hit the dusty trail, i.e. the IP2, to - who knows where? Not me anyway.
Motos are quite the thing in Guarda, unlike other bits of Portugal I've passed through. I keep seeing the same ones from my pavement bar vantage point. There's a GSX600, at least one V-Max, two Fireblades and an XR400. If it makes a throbby noise everyone looks. There's also a geezer - who I'm almost certain is disabled - on a trike, which he appears to have built himself out of a Boer War-era wheelbarrow and a tumble-drier. Imminent collapse and severe injury seem inevitable, yet he has gone to the trouble and expense of fitting a pair of shiny chrome ape-hangers. Respect is due.
Finally, one gentleman has taken it upon himself to create the most pointless of all vehicles: a 3-wheeled car made out of a scooter. To watch it tumble around the roundabout is to experience terror, sympathy, pity, respect and mirth simultaneously. I raise my glass.
They're showing Portuguese Pop Idol in the bar. You cannot begin to imagine how bad it is.
Posted by Simon Fitzpatrick at 08:06 PM