Southern Spain
November 26, 2007 GMT
Some additional storage

The Big Refit

During our short trip back to Australia, I took the opportunity to prepare two storage kits to fit to the bike on our return to Spain. The kits were intended to provide some extra storage space for our cold weather gear which, while not heavy, is very bulky.

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Each kit consisted of:
…..a 150mm storage tube with a screw cap opening and a padlock for security. The tubes had been fitted with spacers to ensure an even fit to the bottom on the panniers.
…..three stainless steel straps pre-bent and drilled.
…..reinforcement plate for the inside of the panniers.
…..stainless screws to suit.
…..a foam strip cut to size and pre-punched to ensure a secure fit.
…..a tube of sealant.
… old drill (abandoned in Barc) and a drill bit to suit.

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The reinforcement plate was predrilled to suit the panniers.

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The reinforcement plate was used as a template on the outside of the panniers to drill the nine fixing holes.

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….which looked like this.

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The sealing strip was used like this to ensure a water-tight seal.

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The tube was fixed in place with three screws that were countersunk into the inside of the tubes.

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There was a fair amount of mucking about to get the straps right.

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When complete, they looked like they grew there and provide considerable additional storage that is water and dust proof and reasonably secure.

Posted by Mike Hannan at 08:23 PM GMT
Back in the Saddle

20 to 25 Nov 07

Although there was still much to be done in Australia, we flew out on 20 Nov bound for Hong Kong, London and Barcelona. We arrived in Barcelona on the night of 21 Nov, missing two days sleep, but otherwise intact. A late night dinner of local sausage and white beans and a few hours sleep reset the gyros for Spain.

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Architecture in Barcelona is varied and interesting these two apartment blocks are typical. Many apartment blocks are very elegant and interesting.

On the morning of the 22nd we walked to the BMW dealer and found the “Elephant” moping around the back of the workshop, fraternising with shiny new bikes whose owners washed them and probably treated them very well indeed. No place for our beast of burden.

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Marc Muòoz brings out the “Elephant”.

The service cost about half the asking rate in the United Kingdom and the dealer, Mutaòá BMW, was very professional. We thanked Marc Muòoz, the service manager, for looking after our bike and gear for three weeks, paid our bill and got the bike back to our hotel to start getting it ready for the next leg of our adventure.

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The mechanics unload new BMW ready for its first service. Space is at a premium in Barcelona, but this dealer had a spacious and well equipped workshop.

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This little charmer was in the BMW workshop. I could just see Burkey riding it up to the Outback Café on a Sunday.

During the time back in Australia I had made up two additional storage tubes to be fitted to the bike to increase the volume of space on the bike to accommodate our cold weather gear. One of the problems with the itinerary has been that we need to carry gear for very cold weather, but we don’t need to use it all the time. The cold weather stuff isn’t heavy, but it is bulky and we simply didn’t have the lockable storage to carry it.

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Fitting up the new storage boxes in the Barcelona hotel room.

The remainder of our day and well into the evening was spent fitting up the storage kits to our existing boxes. When the job was finally done and all of the gear loaded, we were both too tired to go out for a meal and collapsed into bed hoping to catch up on some sleep. Unfortunately, the hotel was old and thin walled. The noise from the street was annoying but the noise when the gentleman in the next room took a folk dancing lesson from a professional instructor was enough to wake the dead and was certainly enough to wake us!

We headed out of Barcelona at 1030 on the morning of the 21st after giving Kylie (the GPS) Valencia as our first destination. It was about then that the day started to go wrong.

Jo reckons it was my fault. She claims that after not speaking to “her” for three weeks I shouldn’t have re-started our relationship by saying: “come on you old tart, get your sorry arse into gear and let’s get this rock show moving!” Whatever the cause, Kylie gave us clear and unambiguous directions that took us west and inland onto the central plateau rather than straight south down the coast to Valencia. I only noticed there was something wrong when the road kept climbing and when I checked the altitude we were at 760m and my hands were numb with the cold.

We stopped for coffee, warm clothes and a long hard look at the map. I punched Kylie’s buttons firmly and set a course straight back to the coast. It was 1400 by the time we were back on the coastal road only 100km from our start.

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There are interesting pieces of public art everywhere in Spain. This piece in the middle of a round bout is typical.

For the next day we headed south rolling along on the minor road through towns and villages across endless plains of orange orchards and around huge sprawling industrial towns with every kind of factory. Every now and then our minor road crossed under the auto-pista with its traffic flashing by, but we were happy weaving our way through Spaniards going about their daily business.

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Orange trees are everywhere in this part of the country. They don’t call it the Orange Blossom Coast for nothing. We liked the use of the orange trees in the main streets very much. Not only do they look great, you get to eat the fruit!

Every few kilometres in the rural areas a young lady dressed in the traditional costume of Spanish folk dancing instructors sat by the road on a plastic chair waiting for students from among the long distance truck drivers and tourists who mill around along the coastal strip.

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Bugger! I know it is under here somewhere.

Our destination town of Calpe is a large tourist centre catering to German and English seeking a place in the sun. Off season, with the cold wind whipping white caps onto the normally calm Mediterranean, it has a seedy and unhurried charm. We will be pleased to have a few days here in a comfortable (heated) apartment to get our selves settled again.

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The Mediterranean on a bad day looking like the South Coast on a good day.

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Calpe has a lot of German expats, but also some English. This place was full of them for Sunday lunch. It is a strange cat indeed who would choose English food over Spanish regardless of where they grew up.

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Something lost in the translation.

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Plenty of WiFi in Calpe,but the down jacket is a bit much!

Posted by Mike Hannan at 08:38 PM GMT
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 10:38 AM GMT
December 09, 2007 GMT
Jerez de la Frontera

4 Dec 07 to 10 Dec 07

After spending too long wandering in new parts of Granada, Mike had to rush to be sure he was back at the BMW dealer at the appointed time to collect the Elephant. That is, if the servo unit had arrived from Madrid and the mechanics had managed to fit it and if the collection time hadn’t been confused in translation.

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Our friends on the Transalps recognised us at the lights when we waved and snapped their photo.

Arriving at 1550, the place was deserted. In Australia, we would take this to mean that the surf is up and everyone has knocked off early. In Spain it simply means that no one was back from lunch yet. At 1557 they poured in with a roar of bikes and cars and flooded the workshops and offices with noise and movement. The dealership is open until 2000 each day.

The Elephant was waiting, still needing a wash, but looking good for a blue. The Service manager, Emilio Garcia, is surprised when Mike is so happy the job has been done on time. Dealers in Oz have left us easily pleased.

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Emilio: “What part of manana don’t you understand gringo?”

Granada was just too cold for us, and we had already extended our stay because of the breakdown, so we packed and skedaddled. There had to be somewhere warm in Spain and our mission had become to find it. We headed west towards Cadiz and the coast.

On the excellent Spanish A roads we made great time flying up through the mountain passes and across endless plains of olive trees. The size of the plantings is amazing and we chatted about our friends Azzat and Nola wondering how their olive oil business in South Lebanon is going and how John Cominos is going with his Queensland olives.

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It was about 4 degrees C with a wind chill of 130 kph when Jo took off her gloves to take this shot of olive groves. It was going to be published regardless of quality.

Our destination was the town of Jerez de la Frontera (the locals pronounce it Heireth). Not on the usual tourist short list but of interest to us as it is the home of the world sherry industry and all of the large sherry houses (called Bodegas). It is also Andalusia’s horse capital and is a hot-bed of flamenco due to the large gitano community. The town has about 185,000 inhabitants, lots of rich bastards thanks to the sherry industry, but high unemployment because the sherry industry is all there is.

Our decision to stay 4 days in Jerez was less related to the town’s attractions and more to the fact that Thursday 6 December and Saturday 8 December are both public holidays, and as we found on All Saints Day in Barcelona, the locals were sure to take the Friday off and make it a four day weekend. We decided the best option was not to be looking for food and lodgings at this time.

Within a few hours we had walked the town and discovered that Jerez has:

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Lots of nice public spaces and expensive shops…

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…most of which have been spoiled by graffiti.

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A great 2nd hand book market on Thursday nights…

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…and lots of orange and jacaranda trees shading the streets.

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We find lots of tourists in the town on the public holiday, but the vast majority are Spanish discovering their own country. The English and Germans come in the summer. This little tourist train is sponsored by one of the large bodegas, Gonzalez Byass, which produces the Tio Pepe brand.

The town has considerable English influence and several of the bodegas are English owned. The financial investment in Jerez dates back to the 17th century but really took off in the 19th century when the English army brought back a taste for sherry after the Napoleonic war. It has brought wealth to some, but many poor areas of the city remain and, as the photo above shows, spill over to the wealthy parts of town.

The great thing about travelling off season is that you often have nice things for yourself. This proved to be the case when we were the only starters for the English language tour of the Gonzalez Byass bodega. We had the guide, Andrea, to ourselves for the tour and no need to fight the crowds.

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The English language guide, Andrea, was from Slovakia, spoke excellent English and Spanish and was informative company for the 90 minute tour. She looked a million dollars in her smart corporate overcoat too, with us in the same old riding gear.

After the stinginess of the French, we almost laughed out loud when we were given a table in the tasting room and had an un-opened bottle plonked down with the instruction to try this one first, a sweeter one would follow. We are not sure how the Spaniards define “tasting”, but this was more like “drinking” where we come from.

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Mike makes a start on the chilled Palomino Fino.

We rolled out with a rosy glow after two hours and headed home for a siesta pleased that we had spent our €18 well.

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The public statue of the founder of the Gonzalez Byass bodega, Manuel Gonzalez Angel.

Not wishing to be seen as only interested in wine, we stepped out to visit the Alcazar of Jerez. This was the citadel and residence of the emir during the Arabic period from the 12th century. Like many national monuments in Spain, this one was well presented and organised without being over-done. Of particular interest was the original olive oil mill.

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The olives were crushed by a mill stone pushed around by a donkey...

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…. The resulting paste was then put onto round woven mats, stacked under the press then squeezed using an 18 m lever pushed up with a screw. The oil was allowed to settle in a sump to allow the impurities to settle to the bottom before being siphoned off for bottling.

Elsewhere in the palace a complete 19th century pharmacy had been restored. Ever the scientist, Jo was very taken with:

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…the beautifully restored and presented display of containers…

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…strange ingredients we were sure you could no longer get in a chemist like “Extracto de Opium”…

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…and great old machines.

Our final visit for Jerzez was to be the National Flamenco Museum. Unfortunately we made the mistake of visiting on the Feast Day of the Annunciation only to find that it was closed during the public holiday.

Normally we would have been surprised that a museum was closed during a public holiday, but since the times for opening and closing of all manner of things had completely eluded us during our month in Spain, we shrugged our shoulders and went looking for a tapas bar instead.

In some way, however, the closed museum was emblematic of our time here. We turned up, but it was closed.

The day we left Jerez for the short ride to the coastal port of Algeciras and a boat to Morocco, we planned to have breakfast at a nice café just around the corner from the hotel. We packed the bike and rode around the corner to find the placed closed and a couple of locals peering in and checking their watches. Spain can be like that. We didn’t stop but kept riding south with Mike humming an old Dylan song in his helmet. The verses were a little confused, but the pretty tune was strong and melodic:

Spanish is the loving tongue,
soft and gentle like the rain.
Was a girl I learned it from
while travelling down Sonora way…

Posted by Mike Hannan at 06:47 PM GMT

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