The problem, as I see it, is that it ain't staying mainly in the Plain. It's following fourteen motorcycles around the southern region of Andalusia, like when you were ten and your dippy cousin Eddie used to follow you around after Thanksgiving Dinner. I mean, we CANNOT get rid of it.
The thing of it is, motorcycles and rain go together like ketchup and pancakes. Things get messy, and nobody has any fun. No less than five people went down the first two hours after I got on my bike yesterday morning. When I pointed this out to our leader, Ramon, he snidely suggested I take mine off the kickstand.
I'm on a tour organized by Edelweiss, an Austria company that's been doing this around the world for thirty years. There are sixteen people on 14 bikes, including folks from Puerto Rico, Germany, Israel, Canada, Korea, and a few wanderers from the US of A. Think of it as the United Nations in crash helmets.
There are all kinds of bikes on the tour. We were talking about how bikes are always associated with movie stars. Most people are riding BMW's, just like the one ridden by Ewan MacGregor on a documentary shot in Mongolia last year. There are a couple of Harleys ( Peter Fonda - Easy Rider ), and one or two Triumphs ( Marlon Brando - the Wild Ones ). I have the only Honda ( Debbie Reynolds - the Singing Nun).
There are a few things you notice about Spain right away. For one thing, it's one of those countries where everybody is thin. I've figured out that part of this is due to the size of the dinner plates. At each of the hotels we're booked at, the plates are roughly the size of the ones that Barbie had when they threw her the engagement party when she hooked up with Ken. ( I wasn't invited, but my sister was, and she reported back in great detail.) Also, all their cars are wicked small, so they have to be able to get in them.
They have some fairly widespread notions on energy conservation – the hotel hallways all have motion detectors, so when you charge out of your room after dark, there is a second or two of total blackness, and then on pop the lights. It's like a surprise birthday party every time you leave your room, except you keep looking around in vain for your friends and relatives.
And there is a slot in the wall just inside your front door for your key card. Until you put it in, none of the lights will work. This made for some really hilarious moments the first time I used my room - I blundered around in the dark for fifteen minutes, hitting switch after switch to no avail, thinking, "Can't they even change ONE stupid light bulb?" On my way out to the lobby to complain about their inability to pay the light bill, I spotted the gizmo by the door, and slipped the card in, and Voila!, there was light all over the place. When you think about it, there are two obvious reasons for this system: first of all, you can't leave any lights on when you leave the room. More importantly, you can actually find your room key card when it's time to leave. The time savings alone in that regard are amazing.
So far, we've seen three significant sights: The first is the greatest tour draw in Spain, the Alhambra. This is like a cross between Sturbridge Village and Las Vegas. It's a castle/fort/temple/residence built by the Moors in Grenada over a 200 year period, and then surrendered by them to the Spanish Monarchy in1492, which must have been a pretty good year in Madrid. The next is the downtown section of Grenada itself, which looks like the Casbah meets New Orleans. Tiny streets, people selling everything legal, and, I suspect, one or two things that kind of cross the line. And restaurants. Lots and lots of restaurants. Everything seems expensive, until you remember you're paying in Euros. Then it seems REALLY expensive.
The third amazing thing we've seen is a weather report that says this thing called The Sun will come out tomorrow. We'll see. Reporting from the Costa Del Soaked, keep the light on. Actually, turn it off, this energy thing they do is contagious.
Okay, I’m back in Marblehead. When I left there were boats in the harbor, the sun was out, and you could go out without a sweater. I flew back in the middle of the worst snow-storm in October I can recall, somebody took all the boats, and the temperature read the same, except in Celsius. Yup, home again.
The rest of the trip was conducted in a mixed omelet of rain, sun, fog, and just plain cloudy overhang – the good news was, people stopped falling over like bowling pins. The bad news was….actually, there wasn’t any, as southern Spain is a knockout in any weather. We sampled the roads between Grenada, Antequera, Arc de la Frontera, and Ronda. Ronda, by the way, is the highlight of any tour through Spain. It has a bridge in the middle of town with a view that must have made the day of the Spanish Tourist Bureau guy the first time he hit town. You look down, and it’s a seriously long way, we’re talking mini Grand Canyon here, and not too mini at that. Then you look out past the chasm onto a plain that stretches to never-never land, where you can see more mountains in the distance. Everybody tries to take a picture of it, but unless you have an omni-max theatre to view the picture on, there’s no way you can appreciate the scope of what you’re seeing.
Images of Spain: -First off, coffee. The worst coffee in the worst restaurant is better than just about anything you can find in the rest of Europe, unless you count Italy’s preoccupation with espresso. The Spanish, however, drink it in real life-size cups, and they always have warm milk handy. This warm milk thing could catch on here, trust me. -Shoes: these people are very proud of their shoes, which in fact are pretty well made, and stylish to boot. Speaking of which, there are maybe three or four women in Spain who don’t wear boots, and I’m pretty sure they were on their way to the Boot Store. -Ham and cheese. This is the home of the ham and cheese sub, except it only comes with bread, ham, and cheese. Period. Every store and coffee shop sells them, and if there’s a jar of mustard in the country, they’re saving it for a special occasion. -Tight clothes. On women, that is. Actually, tight is not the word. We’re talking the latex school of fashion, as in latex paint. I swear, there’s not even room for a coat of primer.
Also, the striking thing about the Spanish people is that they are, in fact, very ordinary, which is to say, like you and me. This is not a country of peasants, it’s actually very middle class. To be a little brutal about our expectations, when we hear people speaking in Spanish, we tend to think South or Central American, which in turn brings up the specter of illegal immigrants, working class families, and a host of images we carry from watching the Latino population in America grow from 1% to 20% in my lifetime. But Spain is a country where just about everybody has a car, a home , and a job, and there’s not a sense that very many of these people want to go anywhere else, like, say, America. They’re reasonably friendly to tourists, but you get the sense they expect all of us to eventually go home. Sound familiar? Like I said, a lot like you and me.
Spain is part of the European Economic Community, which is to say they use the Euro. Which means the single dollar is a coin. As is the two dollar currency. This makes for a lot of clinking as you walk along. It will never catch on here, as we are fond of our dollar bills. Try playing liar’s poker with coins sometime – can’t be done.
They don’t have a lot of bad food, unless you count the pastries, which just don’t have the zing of American munchies. I think it’s a sugar thing – we’re just used to a ton of sugar. Want to go broke? Start a Weight-watcher’s franchise in Spain.
There is a public toilet somewhere in Spain, by the way. Or so I hear. I never actually saw one, but I know a guy who knows a guy…. I mean, there just has to be one somewhere. On the other hand, find one in Back Bay when you need it.
So it was a grand adventure, if a little scary at times. I went out for a quick ride on our rest day with a couple of guys who used to race motorcycles. Big mistake. On the way back to the hotel it started to rain, and I found myself taking sharp curves on a steep mountain as the sun started to fade. The next thing I know, I’m passing a bus. On a mountain. In the rain. In the dark. On a hairpin. Thinking, wait a minute, This Is Vacation? What happened to reading bad novels on a beach?
Sometimes getting out of your comfort zone is a good idea. I was so far out of mine, I needed a GPS to find my GPS. It was a good idea to go, and it’s an even better idea to return.