December 04, 2007 GMT
Broken down in Granada

25 Nov 07 to 4 Dec 07

Our digs at Calpe were comfortable, off-season cheap and equipped with a good kitchen so we could keep eating costs down. As a consequence, it was an easy decision to extend our stay by two days (to six) to catch up on some R&R. At least that was the plan!

We started to stride around the area catching up on some exercise we had missed over the last few weeks and decided to climb the limestone rock that formed a headland at the end of our beach. Rising 332m straight out of the sea, it dominated the village below.

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The headland (Peñon de Ifach) had been a national park for many years and had well established tracks up the sides. It was not, however, an easy climb.

It took us about an hour to scramble to the top where we had a panoramic view of the surrounding country side.

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Although the wild life service claimed there were numerous critters, including two types of snakes, on the mountain we only found the seabirds waiting to greet us.

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Our hotel is down there somewhere, lost among the giant apartment complexes.

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The best view was straight down onto the marina. This shot gives you an idea of how steep the assent was.

The startling view was the carpet of villas covering every bit of land with a southern aspect and sea view. These are often owned by foreigners who use them to escape the northern winters or retire in the sun. This area of the coast is frequented by Germans with a few English. As a consequence, the Spanishness of the place has been diluted by the demands of the invaders. Since we had come to Valencia to see Valencians, this didn’t seem like the best part of the province to be in.

One upside to the northern invasion was the few German bakeries that had appeared around the town. We were able to buy some excellent German bread that was a pleasant change from the sameness of the French, Spanish and English bread that had been our staple for the last few months.

Apart from the great view, the climb to the top of the mountain had another consequence. For Jo it aggravated a back strain she had brought from Australia after a disagreement with a lawnmower. For Mike it aggravated a long standing arthritic complaint in his left foot.

Jo agreed to take it easy for a while and to leave the lifting-heavy-things stuff to Mike, who is basically good at that sort of thing. You know the old saying: “I may not be smart, but I can lift heavy things.” This said veeeery slowly of course!

Mike, having always been one to go the drugs early, found a local doctor to get some medication. The doctor, an attractive woman in her mid-fifties, had been trained in Argentina. She spoke fluent German and good English and wandered past the waiting room to say hello to her new patient with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth.

She took one look at the offending foot and gave what Mike knew to be the correct diagnosis. She then announced that she had had the same complaint since she was 10 and proceeded to pull up her shirt to show where she had a kidney removed because the complaint had been misdiagnosed and mismanaged. She then dragged down an arch lever binder full of articles and pictures on her pet disease.

In short order what followed were an anti-inflammatory injection, blood test and prescriptions for a slack handful of drugs and a lot of advice that was hastily scribbled into the travel journal. By the time Mike left the surgery the injection had kicked in and he walked the 2km back to the pub at the usual brisk pace and without discomfort.

We bolted out of Calpe early on the morning of 29 Nov happy to escape in one piece (each). The run over to Granada was a little over 400km on the excellent Spanish A roads. With a short stop for lunch in a park in Lorca, we were into Granada town by mid-afternoon.

On the run over a simple fact of Spanish geography finally dawned on us. Spain, it turns out, has the second highest average altitude in Europe after Switzerland. As a consequence, as soon as we left the narrow coastal strip we started climbing eventually reaching 1360m at the highest point on the central range. This was accompanied by the obvious low temperatures. After the central range Granada itself was perched above the plain (La Vega) at a pleasant 685m, about the same as Canberra.

On the way into Granada we passed through an area called El Sacromonte where we noticed some interesting housing dug into the side of the hills. Each had a brick or mud wall façade. The one in the photo was a particularly poor example. Most of them were whitewashed and very neat and tidy.

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Cave housing in the Sacromonte.

We found out later that these houses belonged to people who are descendants of the Gypsies who came with the Catholic Monarchs’ army for which they worked as metal craftsmen. Apart from their unique housing, the Gypsies mingled their art with that of the Moorish inhabitants giving rise to the Flamenco which is the principal artistic achievement of the Alhambra (old Granada).

Without a map of the city, we relied entirely on Kylie to get us into the centre and to find a pub. This proved to be a problem. The streets in the old city are narrow, satellite contact is hard to maintain and most alleys are one way but not reflected as such in the mapping. After an hour and a half of wrestling the Elephant down narrow lanes Mike had had enough.

Unfortunately so had the Elephant! The brake failure light started flashing on the dash and the rear brake stopped working. Great!

For those who are not bike riders, the back brake doesn’t do that much work while on the open road but is very important in slow speed manoeuvring, particularly with a big, heavily ladened bike like the Elephant. The technique is to “drag” the back brake at the same time as the throttle is used to stand the bike up. This allows you to maintain engine power and drive to keep the bike stable in very slow turns. On the BMW bikes like the Elephant, the front and back brakes are controlled by the same ABS/servo system and if the back goes out there is every chance that the front will follow.

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The old city is a maze of narrow lanes.

We cut our losses and headed back to the outskirts of town, found a chain motel, beer and food and licked our wounds.

Saturday morning we put on our “you haven’t got the better of us y’bastards” faces and plunged back into town (still without back brakes). Granada is not a very big place, so when we report that it took 90 minutes to find the tourist office and a further 90 minutes to find the first pub on our list you will understand that wasn’t a highpoint of our day.

Halfway through this test of patience we were pulled over by the police for the first time on this trip. Two officers, mounted on gleaming white Transalps blocked our way at the end of an alley and demanded to know why we were going the wrong way down a one way street.

The excuse was that “Kylie made me do it”, but I don’t think the joke translated very well to Spanish. The real reason, that there is no rhyme or reason to the one way streets, went unsaid. We got a stern “talking to” and were allowed to go on our way.

The pub we found wasn’t great, but it was clean, available and we had managed to get the bike within 50m. Under the circumstances we moved in, found some pay parking for the Elephant and left it on its own to sulk over its broken brakes.

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The pub was clean and welcoming but it still took two days to work out how to drive up the lane the right way.

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A room in miniature, but warm and clean.

We spent Saturday and Sunday walking the old city, wandering the narrow lanes and taking the compulsory tour of the Alhambra palace. It looked a bit like this:

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The ruins of an old bridge linking the palace precinct to the old walled Moorish quarter.

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The Church of Saint Jerónimo was more interesting than the nearby cathedral.

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The Church of Saint Domingo was the place where the Court of the Inquisition celebrated its festivities. On this Sunday morning all they could organise was a christening, not an Inquisitor in sight.

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At the Alhambra Palace, Jo is still wearing a “puffer jacket” mid-afternoon.

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Mike keeping watch on the watch tower with the snow covered Sierra Nevada Mountains in the background. The Sierra Nevadas have the southern most ski fields in Europe. The season opened on 1 Dec and there was enough snow to open the lifts on day 1.

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Some parts of the palace were delightful, but we have seen so many old rock piles that we’re not easily impressed. The tour was, however, well worth the €10 ask and the two hours we spent there.

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There are many lovely surprises in Granada. We thought of our young friend and musician Simon when we found this little craft shop where a fellow makes hand made guitars.

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We were also struck by the number of stray cats in the city. Most seemed to be well behaved and were content to mooch food from the, predominately Spanish, tourists.

On Saturday night we had dinner at a restaurant that was unremarkable except for the huge stuffed bull’s head on the wall watching us eat. We have studiously avoided reading Hemingway’s “Death in the Afternoon” and don’t have any strong views on bull fighting, but there is no doubt where these Andalucíans stand on it.

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We had the pork special! Mike was sure it was looking at him all evening.

The next day we found this wonderful t-shirt that summed up our feelings about bull fighting.

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‘nuff said…

All of which got us to Monday morning and sorting out the brake problem. The BMW dealer was about 1.5km away and Mike got the bike over there at about 0800 (and 4 degrees C). They found a mechanic who spoke a little English and agreed to look at it straight away. Mike went for coffee and breakfast and returned two hours later. By this time the Elephant was missing some parts and looked a little miserable.

The ABS/servo unit was stuffed. A new one could be sent from Madrid overnight at a cost of €1600 for the part.

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The Elephant wheeled off in disgrace.

What followed was one of those short brutal conversations that service managers must hate. Documents were photocopied and sent to BMW and after a short delay it was agreed that the bike was still under warranty, there would be no charge and it would be ready the next afternoon.

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The Elephant stripped for inspection.

Mike walked home full of foreboding thinking that if this unit packed it in somewhere in North Africa with the warranty expired it would be a disaster. However, by the time he was back at the pub a plan had been formulated. If the ABS/servo unit went on the fritz again, then any brake shop could rig a by-pass for both the front and rear systems. Lever pressures would be high, but the bike would stop and Mike would build up some hand muscles.

If push comes to shove, we can always replace the BMW master cylinder with one from a non-servo bike and plumb it straight to the callipers. We won’t be beaten that easily.

So as we post on 4 Dec, we wait in Granada for parts from Madrid and reschedule our forward journey. We have a map of Morocco out across the bed studying the high mountain passes and the edges of the Sahara.

In the meantime we are starting to get a feel for the rhythm of Spanish life. It seems perfectly normal to eat chocolate covered donuts for breakfast, have a beer and tapas anytime and sit down to dinner at 10 pm. Wonderful sounding words like “Hombre”, “Naranja” or “Amigo” roll deliciously off the tongue. And we know the important things to say:

“Dos cervezas por favour”

Or, the all important:

“No dispare! Esos drogas no son mias!”

Posted by Mike Hannan at December 04, 2007 10:38 AM GMT

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