Sunday, 14 February 2010

Si Si Espana

El Torro (the bull)

I left Portugal in search of Spain, land of El Torro. My dreams and wishes for a back wind, just for once, were not coming true. I would say 90% of this trip has been into head winds. If I ever got lost along the way I just headed into the wind as that was the way I would be going.
Using the sun as a compass was no use either. I must be turning into a vampire as I haven´t seen my shadow since leaving Morocco. I dare not look in the mirror either as my time scale has been ruined because I have not shaved when I needed to. For all I know it could be easter already.
Wait a minute.
Was that an easter egg I just saw in the supermarket window?
What day is it?
Where on earth am I?
What´s happened to the weather?
Where has my cloud landed?

El Burro (the donkey)
Ok. I found out where I am. In a town called Friganal de Real, about 200km from where I left Portugal. And yes, it`s raining.
Long straight roads, battling with head winds that slowed me down to 3rd gear.
That`s about all there is to say for that part of the trip.

Next stop, Caceres. I looked at the weather report before I left and guess what.
It planned to rain. When I awoke the next morning, guess what. It was raining. All I could do was to put as many layers of clothes on as possible, just enough so that I could still move and take a deep breathe and get on with it.
It wasn´t as bad as the journey me and Kevin had from Fez in Morocco. I´m not sure that journey will never be forgotten but at least now we can laugh about it.
So looking on the brightside of things, I set off again for the next town. This time I was going to stop in a town that had more than 2 hotels and 3 bars. I actually felt quite young while I was drinking in this town as most of the regulars were either over 80 years old or the beer I was drinking was having strange effects with my vision.

The rain in Spain falls mainly on the Vespa.
Poor the Vespa.
Caceres. I arrived in town. I found an alarmingly expensive 1* hotel and dried my things. And I mean I dried all my bits and bobs.
When the rain finally stopped that afternoon, just as I entered my hotel room, I took a quick stroll through town in search of food.
No food.
Being Spain and being around 4pm in the afternoon, it was almost impossible to find somewhere to have a hot meal. I forgot, the Spanish love to fall asleep in the afternoons, wake up at around 9pm and go out for food. What people do in this siesta period if they want a hot meal I don`t know. So I had to survive on tapas and beer until any of the numerous restaurants opened. Walking down one street I picked up a familiar smell.
Wait a minute I thought, is that lovely aroma coming from that bar?
I checked it out.
Inside I could no longer sense any sensimilia so I ordered a beer, as you do. The few people inside were getting drunk and they were all under the age of 40. That was a good enough bar for me as in the other bars there´s only so much `Spanish farmer idle chat´ I can put up with. Whilst this bar had loud music and drunken laughter. The barman, I found out, loved rock music.
Oh well not everybody is perfect. But he also loved Morocco and Moroccan things. He gave me some Moroccan souveniers for my journey so I was most happy and forgot about the fact that the spanish play darts using funny plastic darts and funny plastic boards. I guess this game stems from ´Pin the tail on the burro´ and it made no sense to me what so ever. Who cares what the rules are, they loved it and got drunk whilst playing it. Sounds fair.
I found out that the aroma I caught was probably coming from the shop across the road which sold numerous things for growing exotic plants. Then a little later someone sparked up a lovely smelling pipe in the bar which I happened to comment upon, hoping to have a taste. Nice one geezers. I was most happy.

The next morning, having been elightened into the ways of spanish darts, I decided to stay another day here in Caceres.
Nothing to do with me having a hangover.
Oh no.
Of course not.
What me?
Actually I was glad I stayed a little longer as this gave me the chance to explore this lovely town. What´s more I was exploring in glorious sunshine.
Yes. I said Sun-she-ine.
It does exist after all. I was beginning to enjoy being outside again.

What were you expecting? A picture of Elvis Presley? Ok. Here´s one.

Moving on swiftly now (the internet cafe I´m in at the moment is about to close). I left Caceres, this time no rain. YIPPEE! The sun was trying it´s hardest to come out to play but to no avail. The snow was stopping it.
Yes that´s right. Snow. The first I´ve seen falling all year. The first I´ve seen falling for years actually come to think about it. I guess you lot in Blighty have seen enough of it already. Well, now its my turn.
I was heading north again towards Santander, where I planned to catch the ferry back to Blighty. Trouble is I only managed to book a ferry that sails to Plymouth in Devon. So close but yet so far from home.
The next town I stopped at was Salamanca.
No, it isn´t the place where James Bond villians reside but another interesting town where there are no cafes/restuarants open until around 9pm.
What do these people do in the late afternoon when they get hungry?
Well I had to do something quite unexpected of me. The only place I could find in the whole town that sold anything warm (execpt small tapas) was McDonalds. I still never went in that horid place. Another walk around the block in search of something more appealing and I ended up heading for a Burger King I spotted in the distance.
Not much better than McD admittedly.
That was just about enough to put me off eating until 9pm, when nice food was available everywhere once more. I feasted on a fake chinese and more beer.

Who-uge (a norfolk term for large)
On the way out of Salamanca I was looking for the bar, from the hit film, "From dusk till dawn", which Kevin had told me about before.
Unfortunatly the snow, yes more snow, and the head on winds, yes more head on winds (and no, I´m not making this up or exaggerating, the weather has really been that bad) meant that I didn´t often look up, as snow and wind would whistle down my neck if I turned my head too much.
So head down, holding on for dear life and gripping my handlebars like they were my wallet, I headed north into more bad weather. I thought one more stop off town before I reach Santander, my final spanish destination, would be ok as I had 2 days to travel 300km. Under normal conditions I have been allowing an easy 1 day = 250 - 300km, which is not hard to do at all.
Unless that is, you decide to try and do it in gale force winds, rain and snow, getting chased off the roads by snow ploughs and generally not being able to feel the ends of your fingers or toes.

Arl roight boi?
I didn´t even reach my planned stopover town of Aguerilla. I fell about 50km short and about 2 hours past my normal stopping time. This meant that it took me about 6 hours to travel about 180km.
Ok, so I did have to stop at every petrol station to warm my fingers under the hot air hand dryers in the toilets and drink copious amounts of steaming hot coffee. Also, the reason it took me so long was because I had to travel most of the way in 3rd gear. Whether it be uphill or downhill, 3rd gear was all the Vespa could manage. It was like being in the mountains of Chefchouan again, all those moons ago.
I reached a place called Osorno, which had a choice of two hotels.
One was as cold as the reception I got when I walked in.
The other was a lot friendlier and the staff were, urm, well, very, er, hmmmm pleasant. 
So there I stayed. I asked nicely if the Vespa could be parked inside in the warm somewhere, which it was. I ended up drinking a bottle of the house red to go with the dinner and the beers I had that night. Once again, I had to wait until 9pm for the chef to wake up but it was worth it.
When I awoke the next morning (this morning, at the time of writing) I ventured back down to the bar area and I thought I was still drunk. There in front of me were around 10 local guys and gals all in fancy dress. None of them spoke english so I hadn´t got a clue where they had been. I knew they had been out all night, as oppossed to going out that morning because the smell of alcohol was very prominent. There were a couple of boxers, a man in drag, Napolean Bonerhard and others dressed in such a way I couldn´t really make out what/who they were suppossed to be. Whilst I was having my breakfast, an old local farmer came in and was immediately chatted up by the guy in drag. The old guy was having none of it and promptly left, muttering something about, that in his day men were men and..... I followed him whilst I could escape the madness. I had to leave soon, otherwise I would have been snowed in.
Snowed in with the cast from a badly drawn cartoon was not my idea of fun.
Looking outside I saw cars half covered in snow.
More snow.
I asked the guy at the garage if he had any skiis that I could borrow, to help me get to Santander.
He told me, (I can't do the accent) "In a car, it would take about 2 hours".
"On the Vespa", he said laughingly, "at least 4 hours".
"In this weather...". I never heard how long he expected me to take on the Vespa as he was too busy trying to clear something from his throat I think. Either that or he was laughing too hard.
Once again, I shrugged my shoulders, found some skis for the Vespa and set off into the unknown.
'I maybe gone for some time', I thought to myself.
Party goers in Osorno this morning

Sometime it took too.
I passed a whole fleet of snow ploughs, ploughing majestically through the drifts of Extremadura.
Along one particularly bad stretch of road, I stopped to take a few pictures of the Vespa in the snow. A passing 4x4 stopped passing, reversed and asked if I was ok etc.
I was just trying to take a photo but my camera seems to be frozen. Or my fingers were frozen. Then the kind gentlemen, in his nice warm 4 x 4 got out, with his camera, took a picture for me and said he would send it to me via telegram, sorry I mean email. What a nice chapo. He also told me that it was -2 degrees. I´m guessing that with the wind chill factor it was a lot colder for me. If you're reading this amigo, 'muchos gracias'.
A little further down the road, I stopped again to try and take a photo and yet another 4x4 stopped with the driver asking if I was ok. Again, I said I was just stopping to take a photo, as no one would believe me that the roads were this bad. He got out of his nice warm 4x4 and took the photo for me. What kind people they are in this neck of the desserted, snow drifted, out ot town area they are.

On na rood agin
On my 2x1, Santander was now in sight. The Vespa was going strong now that there were no head winds and I was on the motorway doing over 113kmph downhill. (114kmph)
So that´s what it felt like to have no head on winds. 
I was so used to hearing the noise of wind rushing through my open faced crash helmet that I thought I´d gone deaf when I could no longer hear that cold, freezing wind that was numbing my ears.
Then, going through a 2.6km long tunnel, the Vespa started coughing and almost stopped altogether.
No. Not now. I´m almost in Santander. Please at least let me make it to the ferry, I´m so, so close. The Vespa spluttered and wheezed its way off the motorway and slowed down.
It didn´t stop.
It daren´t.
The Vespa may decide not to start again if I stopped so I just carried on at a slower pace. I had plenty of time to spare on my way to Santander. I slowed down to around 80kmph. Now I know how Kevin must have felt cruising at such a speed, watching everything on the road overtake me.
I´m guessing it was a fuel blockage. Or the spark plug needed changing. Or it may have been the Vespa was so cold that it just wanted to stop and have a nice warm curry in a nice warm hotel.
Enough of this I thought and with around 5km to Santander I opened up the throttle once more to see if the problem had dissappeared.
No. The problem was still there. I still fancied a nice warm curry in a nice warm hotel.
But the Vespa seemed to have recovered. It was ok. A little noisy perhaps. Or maybe it sounded noisier because it's the first time I've heard the engine running at high speeds instead of hearing the head-on winds.
I´ll be happy to make it to Plymouth I thought. Even if I have to push it off the ferry to the hotel that I booked in Plymouth. There was no way that I was planning to ride off towards Diss from Plymouth at 6pm in the cold wintery evening.

Now, here I am, in Santander, writing to you all. Tomorrow I catch the ferry to Plymouth where I still have another +550km to go back to sunny Diss. This journey will be the longest I will have made on this trip in one day, so far. Or it may have been the 1 day trip from Morocco to Portugal.
I´ll let you know if I make it on the Vespa or with the help of the AA. I´m still not sure the Vespa has recovered as yet but there is only one way to find out and that´s to ride full throttle all the way home.

See you all soon?
Adios amigos

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