Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Stopping by the Sea - Marbella, Spain

On one of the easier bikes rides of #WorldTour2015, I slept in and casually dismantled my tent while enjoying the cool morning weather before hitting the road.  Scouting out my plan for the day while I had WiFi and eating a healthy serving of local fruits and meats, Marbella looked to be a good midpoint for lunch.  One reason I made this choice was due to the literal translation of the city's name "beautiful sea".  I mean, if I am going to stop and eat something, I had might as well have a view to enjoy, right!?  As I entered into the city, I quickly made the executive decision to extend my time in Marbella.  While I dodged my way through the inner city traffic, I did my best to follow the "i" signs to get my hands on more sites to see aside from the beach.  Once I acquired my stack of information pamphlets, I set out to find a beach hut for some lunch and reading time.  As I read more about the heart of la Costa del Sol, I had to limit my exploration options down to three points of interest.  The first being to relax on the beach and admire the incredible sand sculptures of all sorts and sizes.  Following my tie in the sun, I freed my bike from it's chains and ventured up to the narrow passages of the Casco Antiguo. In the Old Quarter, despite the small size, I found one interesting site after another.  From climbing on the ruins of the Moorish citadel to walking about the crowded markets from flower-covered alleyways of brightly colored houses, this area deserved far more time than I had available to commit!  Weaving my way out of the heart of Marbella's historical quarter, I made my way to Parque Arroyo de la Represa to rest my legs before continuing onward.  More importantly, there was a bridge I wanted to check out!  Rising above the numerous beautifully manicured trees of the Bonsai Museum was the central tower of the Puente del Santisimo Cristo del Amor.  Taking advantage of  the shelter of the shade of the bridge and the cool grass of thee park, I enjoyed the culturally acceptable siesta before departing beautiful and ancient city of Marbella.

Polo de Rio Guadiaro - San Roque, Andalusia, Spain

While on my way northward from Gibraltar, I found myself taking a break from bicycling at the bridge over the Guadiaro River.  After getting un-lost from taking the wrong traffic circle, I was on the right path of least resistance as I ventured through the borough of Nuevo Pueblo.  As I came off the service road paralleling the Autovía 7, I was faced with staying on the main road which had an ever so inclining grade to it or take the downhill route of Avenida los Canos.  I took the risk of the latter option and made an adventure out of it!  As I passed through Guadiaro proper and I faced the uphill or path of least resistance choice again which was also paved versus unpaved by the way. Down the dirt road I went only to realize the road became a track and presumably a dried creek bed later.  Sticking to my commitment of the 'short cut', I pedaled along down the path until a near collision between myself and a young vaquera occured as we both came around the bend and that is when I realized I was in horse country.  After getting my heart rate up, I enjoyed the shaded track while it lasted until I came upon the junction where I was looked upon by questioning eyes of the group of fisherman watching me come out of the trees in bright cycling gear towing my little trailer.  After that left turn I was back on the pavement and amidst the aroma of blossoming orchard ranked in perfect rows nestled between A-2103 and the river.  Rounding the bend toward the green steel truss bridge, I heard the familiar sound of horse hooves and there was certainly more than one horse!  As I curiously pushed forth, I found a break in the trees and what was the cause of the speeding horses.  I parked my bicycle by the bridge and walked down to enjoy the practice games and admire the stock of this local estate's stables, and well, the estate itself!  

Monday, January 11, 2016

Climbing the Rock - Gibraltar

Starting my first full day in Gibraltar with climbing the famed Rock in mind, I had a slow start due to a few adult beverages I had the night before!  Taking the wise words of my Gibraltarian host, Nicky, for making the most out of the day I headed south through the maze of streets filled with churches, synagogues, mandirs, until I found myself at the Mosque of Two Holy Custodians.  I did not intend on going at the way to the Europa Point, but hey! Why not!?  Turning my bearings back north, I ventured on until I got distracted by cool architecture and the smell of food for it was snack time!  After getting a kebab or three and a refill of my water supply, I travailed up the hill in the summer heat seemingly rising as each step was made higher and higher.  As I climbed upward, I rounded a corner with a beautiful retreat spa built entirely atop a giant rock formation and for a moment, contemplated skipping the climb and just relaxing for the afternoon but that would not have been as much of an adventure!  So, I marched, well I steadily continued with sweat dripping from my brow on upward. Coming up to the entry point I was expecting to find the ticket booth, but finding the Jews' Gate cemetery and the monument of Pillars of Hercules were true bonus finds.  From there, I broke off from the beaten path to take the "scenic route" of the Mediterranean Stairs.  Now, there may be a reason as to why the Stair Option is not the beaten path but the views are undeniably breathtaking!  With that beauty comes a difficulty rating of "hard" and after taking the megalithic stairway up the eastern side, I can fully agree with that rating!  Throughout the 1,400 meter stretch I only encountered two others and they were taking the easy route - downward!  After playing around in a few abandoned fortifications and natural caves one, because they were there and secondly, they were a nice relief from the summer heat!  Charging to the top of the Stairs, the views only got better which led me to scrabble out to a precipice and relax my tired feet while taking in the panoramic wonder of the Mediterranean Sea along with the beach patrons enjoying the sapphire blue waters and sands with the sailboats and cargo ships slicing through the ranks of waves.  Cresting to the top of the Stairs put me right at the highest point within Gibraltar and on the path to Saint Michael's Cave.  

Stepping into the air conditioned comfort of the cafe/souvenir shop/ticket office was a welcomed relief from my climb up the east side faces and to enjoy a liter of chilled water and ice cream.  After getting my fill of refreshments, I transitioned from the shop building that was a few decades in age down the stairs into the first of many cave halls that have been intriguing to visitors dating back to the early times of the Roman Empire.  Descending one set of stairs after the other into the depths of the cavern, I find the legend to be believable that the cave system would reach to the African continent!  Of the many information tablets about myths shrouding the caves, one is quite fetching and involves Gibraltar's most famous residents: Barbary Macaques.  Up until my exit from the caverns, I had not encountered these fiery primates and the first happened to be what I would consider to be a toddler.  As I headed upward (again) I came upon more and more of the macaques and in the strangest of places.  Making one of the final turns of the road, I met the mob of tourists with their cameras and phones all striving for that full frame of action going on in the center of the circle. What was their attention drawn to you may ask?  Two adult monkeys perched on the back of one of the Rock visitors!  I, however, made sure to keep my distance from the summit citizens from friends that had made the trek prior to me and know I fully understood why as those two riders started to brawl on her back.  Continuing on, I caught glimpse of a young photogenic macaque and after capturing what I consider to be the best photo I caught while on the Rock, I figured I could call it a successful day. I made my way down by the siege tunnels last used in the Second World War and the ancient Moorish Castle into the city to have dinner and a well-deserved beer!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Riding to the Rock - La Linea de la Concepción, Spain

 The first glimpse I caught of the Rock was three days before I crossed 'the line' as I was on my downhill slide into Algeciras.  Once I crossed over what seemed like an endless hill, the bike ride was a piece of cake along the small coastal hills of the Bay of Gibraltar.  Until I heard a high pitched whistle from behind me and watched my rear tire deflate before my eyes with less than one kilometer to my destination!  Luckily, I had enough air in my tire to limp down off the autovía and commence my first tube change of #WorldTour2015.  After a few days of relaxation in San Roque, I was ready to head to the United Kingdom!  Well, one of its' many Overseas Territories that predominately speaks Spanish or Llanito (super Spanglish) and inhabited by peoples of every corner of the world!  The ride from San Roque to my final destination was simple as could be: Head to the big rock.  Taking my sweet time along Avenida Principe de Asturias next to the bright blue waters of the bay, I came upon a right hand turn and chaos.  That chaos being the mess of traffic coming and going from the "immigration control" between the Kingdom of Spain and the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar.  I put immigration control in quotations being there are officers standing their post but as I was attempting to present my passport, I has hastily waved through with not a glance at my travel documents or undeclared goods.  This was round one of three for me not getting a desired passport stamp!  After maneuvering the official border crossing, I made my way down Winston Churchill Avenue on my AWOL to the unofficial and most unique crossing I have ever made into a different territory - across an airstrip!  Pretty sure this is the only intersection where the  traffic signal is dictated by the cross traffic of commercial airliners and military aircraft!   

One Day in Africa - Tangier, Morocco

As a 'spur of the moment' decision to make the crossing the night prior to arrival, the group tour I thought I paid for ended up being with a private guide about the city being "my name was not on the list".  At first, the company was hesitant on letting me in on the tour that soon left.  Still holding my ground with my e-receipt as evidence of payment, the tour coordinator made a quick phone call and soon enough a salt and pepper, olive-skinned man came walking up the path.  The coordinator introduced him to me as Nadir in which I responded to in Arabic 'تشرفنا، نادر' (tasharrafna nadir) and both of their eyes light up with excitement! Nadir's walk changed from his slow saunter coming to the office to spry step onward into the time-worn streets and walls of the medina.  As we made our way up the winding passageways between small markets and shops, I felt the history of this multicultural city come to life with her sounds and smells!  After a few minutes, the narrow street opened up into a vast maze of market stalls and that is where the real-life tour began.  Nadir gave me a few words to the wise about going into the market, dealing with the shop owners, and staying safe.  In the web of shops and stalls, I could find anything from fresh fruits to young kittens enjoying a small, morning cat-nap!  He later commented on my cultural awareness and said that he would be willing to take me a little more off the beaten path for the next few stops!  Between the market and our next destination, I will admit, I felt nervous but those feelings passed as soon as I stepped out into a spacious courtyard.  Although the buildings had seen better days, most likely a century ago, this enclosure cut off from the noises of the city was home to a series of small workshops.  As Nadir guided me along the graffiti covered walls to the next corner, we came to an open door and to my surprise were two men running the looms to make the traditional style of rugs to the Kingdom of Morocco.  Continuing on, we came to a neighboring worker preparing a loom for what would be about a three meter by four meter rug.  Asking politely in my best Arabic, my request to enter in and witness the operation was answered with a weathered yet warm smile of this artisan.  I find it hard to describe those short moments.  The smells of the spools of wool and the crispness of the wooden tools filled the small room as he quickly but precisely set the loom of hundreds of long, delicate strings of the canvas that would become a work of art and a story of their families, culture and home in which they so openly welcomed me into even if it were just a day.  

As the morning turned to midday, Nadir, led me down this 'street' that when I extended my arms out, my fingers were tracing along the walls of the stucco homes rising above us.  After a few more bends and turns, we came to a small blue door framed by unbelievably ornate tiles and a firm "MARHABAN!" from a man standing just inside.  Him and Nadir chatted in their thick Moroccan mix of French and North African Arabic with an occasional Spanish and English dropped into the dialogue.  Soon enough, I was being led up the tiled staircase of more strikingly beautiful tiles to a gorgeous dining area next to the arched windows with a bird's eye on all the happenings down below.  Settling in with a cup of mint tea on it's way, Nadir took his leave to run a few errands while I had traditional Tangier cuisine!  Without saying a word, dish after dish came to my table and I enjoyed every second of it!  From my tribulations of forgetting my passport in the morning and only having a small breakfast on the ferry ride, along with a collective handful of dates as lenders offered them up for me to try, I was ready for a real meal and they complied!  I left that table with a true taste of Morocco!  As I stuffed the last bites of the dessert line-up, Nadir came up the stairs with a happy smile and a young lad in tow - his youngest son.  Squaring up with my gracious host, I paid for my meal which came to a total of around 11 Euro (about the same as the US dollar) and my best guess from the Moroccan restaurants back in the States I would have paid about forty to fifty for this meal.  

Completely satisfied, we all ventured back out into the summer Moroccan sun and walked about the medina as Nadir's son practiced his English skills with me and my Arabic in return.  Coming up on a different market area, we made a hard right turn into a small side alley.  As we were walking, Nadir switched over into the local dialect and from what I could gather from the son's reaction and collecting his books from his father's bag, he had to go back to school.  As the son set off, Nadir fired up his scooter to take me to a few other spots of the city - off the charts!  From the new and modern uptown to the new construction of the megaport and a few side places in between, my one day stop in Tangier was extensive and exciting.  My last request was to spend some time on my own around the Grand Mosque and Nadir was honored to oblige with such a request.  Zipping through the narrow streets after following the port boulevard, Nadir and I parted ways just outside of the chaos of the traffic buzzing about this ancient and sacred ground.  As I meandered on my own toward the rising minaret, I stumbled upon a placard giving a history of the 'masjid' of the Grand Socco area of Tangier.  The foundations date back to the Roman times when a temple dedicated to the demigod Hercules was a place of worship to the far ends of the empire.  Later, a cathedral built by the Catholics of Portugal stood on this hilltop overlooking the trading port below.  Today, the grand mosque stands as a quiet sanctuary to worshipers despite the chaos that occurs just outside it's walls.  From this high point of topography and of my trip, I slowly made my way back down what were once strange streets to the port to catch the ferry back.  As I conclude this post, it almost seems like it was impossible to do all of this in one day without any planning.  Although, with the help and kindness of a local man by the name of Nadir, I did and I will hold each and every bit of Tangier dear to me.

Crossing the Strait - Tarifa, Spain

Despite Africa not being in my itinerary when I began my WorldTour2015, I learned how the power of 'why not!?' and decided to make a day trip across the Straits.  I left my tent early on a foggy Friday morning from my camping spot at Torre de la Peña and headed east into the brightening sky to Tarifa to board the ferry.  After casually bicycling to the port and about ready to reclaim my boarding pass, the realization that I had left my passport behind came to frightening reality.  Heart racing, I pedaled those 8 kilometers in record time and tore through my tent door to find my essential travel document of the day waiting for another stamp on her pages!  Hightailing back to the port, I made the boarding in just the nick of time - Off to Africa!  As I settled into the space-age catamaran ferry to watch the sun break through the clouds to start the day as I started my surprise adventure.  As the ferry was piloted out of the ancient harbor and past the lighthouse on Punta de Tarifa which is the southernmost point of mainland Europe, I can now check that off the list!  Despite the weather not being all that cooperative with my desire to snap some shots, the ferry ride was fascinating in itself, but the mixture of cultures of the Mediterranean European and the North African, the elderly bearing the old ways but using playing on their iPhones down to the toddlers running about the ferry in their brightly colored clothes of Spain's casual summer wear or the touches of traditional Islamic apparel.  With all of that going on in the hour's time to cross, this was my bridge from one world to another.