An Interior Road Trip

photo: fountain
Color and memory may fade, black and white does not.

Around Spain In 30 Days

Costa Brava:- Monday, 24. August 1998:- Like a lot of people who visit a Mediterranean country that has been getting 50 to 60 million visitors a year, I have seen some dives on the coast and on some islands.

About 20 years ago, it was 14 years since I had landed in Spain the first time. This 'landed' was in the old sense; I got off an Italian liner in Gibraltar and walked across the border at La Linea, and took a taxi up to Torremolinos. Girls in the disco-bars that year said the Beatles were finished and the Rolling Stones were on the way out.

It was in mid-February, and the winter started the next day. All the locals' big talk about swimming on Christmas Day seemed like myth. It rained for a month.

There was no glass in the windows and there was no heat anywhere, except bodyheat in bars. Spring came and so did the bullfights in Malaga and working in Rick's Tahiti bar and it was downhill until the money ran out.

Then 14 years and a couple of lifetimes later it was time to go back to Spain again. The Ibiza version of Torremolinosphoto: alhambra was in the past too, so it was time to see new country. Such ambition! France was part of this 'new country' too, because it was on the way.

Over the border and by a lot of traffic around San Sebastian and then avoiding Bilbao by going over Tolosa with the trucks. The ETA were burning cars with French plates then, so when the car came to a rest it was in Burgos.

There was a open-air book fair on, with bookstands with red stars and Ché and Lenin, and others with imported porn, and Franco three years in the ground must have been spinning. I remember the book fair, but not the cathedral. I don't remember eating or sleeping in Burgos, but I must have done.

For the last 50 kilometres before Valladolid I practiced saying it and after it I was tempted by Zamora. Did I stay in Salamanca? I remember the Plaza Mayor there and some sort of restaurant, but not the hotel. They were 'hostals' anyway, and they didn't cost much unless they had three stars.

On the long haul from Salamanca, the car almost got squashed by a truck. It came up too fast from behind, to where I'd stopped in front of another crash, in a blind curve. Luckily two others cars had gotten past the truck after me, so they cushioned the blow. It was a mess.

Roads are - or were then - two-lane blacktop and the rail net is not thick. So everything, from water to canned beans, is moved by trucks over distances too long, territories too big. The country is rough, so it is easy to get into spots without escape hatches.

Going into Caceres I was pretty rattled and couldn't find a two-star hostel, and ended up in a marble hotel. It cost more, for the marble, but everything else was equal.

Caceres has an old part; Roman I guess, and it had been cleaned up and had a few lights at night, where bigphoto: tiles almeria crowds hung out, talking and playing guitars softly in the warm air like silk. Three years before, it had probably been forbidden.

The main road south headed for Sevilla. It was on the list, but not this easy way. In the middle of nowhere, maybe near Los Santos, I turned left, east, for a run to Cordoba.

This is all Extremadura and the road ran between the Sierra del Pedroso and the bigger Sierra Morena, which is sort of the northern wall of Andaulusia. If you look at a map, you will not see much here; on the ground the Sierras are far, very far apart, until you get into a narrow cut north of Cordoba.

If you want to be in a place where there is not much, then take this road. Unless it has changed much, sun-blasted villages are 20 kilometres or more apart and there are not even fences between them. There is the road and the earth of Extremadura and the sky and that's the entire list.

And then in a village, say Azuaga, stop. Nobody on the street, which is the main road. Everything is much whiter than any chemical giant's laundry. The colored plastic strips are serving as the door to the bar and they are weaving slightly in the moving air.

The bar, inside, is new tiles and new stainless and a new espresso machine; the tapas are fresh in their displayphoto: barcelona ramblas cooler and the fish that has arrived in the morning is glistening. The fish is from Bilbao or San Sebastian. Brought by magic, flying trucks.

After the day on the bright plain, the run down the gorge to Cordoba is wearying. The town is humid and granizada is discovered; a lime concoction in litre glasses full of mashed ice. Cordoba is the granizada capital of the world and everybody in town is in the centre having some.

This is now Andaulusia and the run down to the coast is a rollercoaster ride to humid Malaga and greasy Torremolinos, and its really sad hostels.

The whole concrete eggcrate slides by until after Marbella, and settles down to ratty outposts. Rounding the corner at Algeciras is a relief, even if to run along the burned gulf past Cadiz and up to Jerez de la Frontera.

Jerez is sleepy like Champagne, with its major sights inside warehouses and on the southern outskirts of Sevilla an office says there are no free rooms in the city. The one found is with character - the bar below has its beer barrels delivered at six in the mornings - in the centre, where you can think you are in the last century.

By the river it is very hot and humid and walking is swimming and the little plazas with their fountains are better than the big sights.

To see a lot more burnt Andaulusia it is possible to head straight east across it to Antequera and then up to Loja, before making the endless run to Granada.

This is the Hotel Washington Irving up by the Alhambra above Granada where it is cooler, and the 19th century bars in town below where it is livelier. This is the start of the run down the Sierra Nevadas through the Alpujarras to the cane at Motril, and then west again to accidently find Nerja.

This may still be the jewel it was as recently as ten years ago. I hope so. Some prefer Almuñécar or Salobreña and they are fine too. They are not near any airports and do not have train service.

To get back to reality I tried La Rabita further east, which was the bad beginning of a long climb up to thephoto: barcelona market frontier. Almeria was blasted white, with its highest number of sunny days a year. I'd like to see it for a year.

Days passed with side looks at Cartagena, avoidance of Murcia and non-stopping in Alicante, Valencia, Castellon and Tarragona, and a peek at Sitges in the rain, just before settling into Barcelona's downtown, high above the screeching trolley tracks.

Ramblas, Barrio Chino, Barrio Gotica, maritime museum, bars, cafés, walking; in noisy Barcelona. On going away then, straight north into the Pyrenées foothills and then west to Seo de Urgel, with its arcades set up for winter snows.

This set up the ride through Andorra, which is high but not stunning. On the French side, the National 20 starts, runs through Foix and Toulouse and right up to Paris.

Twenty years ago it was mostly two-lane blacktop and driving it in a little car was a lot of tedious work, but this was just the last couple of days of it - after 6,000 kilometres and 18 hostals in 30 days.

The following year I got a bigger and more comfortable car and never went further than the Schwarzwald in it. On the road that is; it got car-trained a lot down to Madrid. From there it is a day's drive to Nerja. That is, unless there is a pause in Granada for a drink and some tapas.

All photos taken in Spain in 1978. Erickson©1998
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