Chapter 2: Spain – Donde esta una lavanderia?
As I shrugged off my jacket and sat down to wait for my flight to Zurich, something on my arm caught my eye.
The bruising was around the spot where I'd had a blood test almost a week earlier, but how or why it had spread that far I had no idea. I didn't have much time to ponder on exactly what tropical disease this may be a symptom of, because before long they called my gate and I had to board. Having slept all of about 4 hours in the last 48, I was happy to get aboard and crash (figuratively). The 11-hour flight went faster than I expected, and after a curt and highly orderly Swiss entry procedure, I was on my transfer to Malaga.
Upon touching down, I was picked up by Carlos, of Casa Don Carlos
. He was holding the hire bike, a brand spankin' new F800GS, on behalf of Hana at Motoadventours
, who was away on a tour. Hana's company is unique in many ways: for one, it's one of the very few companies in Spain that will not only let you take the bike to Morocco, but will also kit you out with offroad tires and soft luggage so you can get off the beaten trail (and it doesn't void your insurance). Moreover, she does it for a price that beat most of her other local competitors, and to quote the bio on her website, “....will go out of our way to make your holidays a truly amazing experience. ...Also we don' t spoil any fun, and we are nice to look at !!!!” Based on this, I was expecting quite a machine to be waiting for me, and I wasn't at all disappointed.
Hana had really gone above and beyond the average hirebike standard of service, leaving me a selection of bags to choose from, as well as tire repair kits, luggage straps – the whole 9 yards. Carlos' place wasn't too shabby either.
Carlos fixed me the best toasted ham and cheese sandwich I've ever
had, and we sat on the patio and fixed up the last of the bike's paperwork. As much as I would have dearly liked to just stay there that night, I had a ferry to get early the next morning, and he was totally booked out too (no surprises there). So I hit the road, taking the coastal highway south to the little port town of Tarifa.
It was here that I got my first introduction to Spanish driving. I'd been warned about it before, but after Bangkok, I barely noticed. Whilst the roads were far less busy and the people obeyed the more critical road rules (like red lights), they were certainly far more aggressive drivers, concerned only with the placement of their own vehicle. Being overtaken at 40kph above the posted limited became par for course. The hardest part about driving on the right was getting the correct exit ramp so you joined the next road going in the right direction. Still, it was a lovely cruise along a highway that carved sweeping curves into the side of the coastal hills. The F800 was proving itself to be a very capable road tourer. The saddle was comfortable, and whilst it was seemed to be a little lacking in grunt for an engine of its size, it still had the power and suspension to carve up the rest of the traffic in the corners, even with the extra luggage. The fast flow of the sweepers was broken up only by freak afternoon sea-fog across the roads, occasionally obscuring my view of the erratic drivers ahead, and beyond that, the whirling arms of wind farms, and the jagged peaks of Gibraltar set against a blue Mediterranean sea.
Tarifa itself is a small seaside town, built around an old Moorish fort. With all the major shipping moved to the larger port city of Algecircas to the north, it's a rather sleepy little ferry terminal, which is exactly why I chose it, hoping to avoid long lines at customs. Hotel Alboranda was my home for the evening, and I was glad to see that the internet reviews held true; it was clean and comfortable, if perhaps a little pricey at 60 Euro. My grasp of practical Spanish soon proved to be the big disappointment of the day, finding myself unable to understand the checkout girl at the supermarket when I went to buy some spare food to tuck away in my panniers. Having expended my meagre clothing supply in the sweatbox that was Bangkok, my quest from the remainder of the afternoon was to find a laundromat. I had one little morale boost when I asked a gas station attendant “Donde esta una lavanderia?”, and actually understood enough of her reply to know to follow the road ahead and then turn right. But upon finding it, I was further crestfallen when I discovered it was the only laundromat in town, and it was closed. So, as is often the case, necessity became the mother of invention.
Having turned my bathroom into a makeshift washing machine, I ventured out to find dinner, where once again I was woefully disappointed with the extent of my self-taught Spanish. Reluctant to talk to the locals out of fear of embarrassment, I found myself in a strange state – surrounded by people and yet quite alone, unable to speak the local tongue and yet unwilling to be the guy who wanders in and asks “Does anyone hear speak English?”. And so it was that I wandered the streets of the medina for hours, trying to find somewhere that looked friendly enough to tolerate an illiterate. But it wasn't all bad – there was a lot to see.
As much as I was enjoying the sightseeing, all I'd had to eat that day was a sandwich. I was starving. So, I screwed up my courage, consulted my phrasebook, and enquired of a relatively empty pizza place: “Tiene una mesa para uno?”. Much to my relief, the young waitress laughed and answered 'Si', and before long I had myself a meal. With the initial nerves overcome, I found myself remembering more, and while I was still disappointed I knew so little, I at least managed to make myself understood. Midnight rolled round, and I headed back to the hotel, mulling over the events of the day and pausing to take one last photo along the way....
Tomorrow I would cross into Morocco. French and Arabic were the language options there, and I knew absolutely none of either. The Spaniards I'd encountered so far had often spoken a little English, and had been tolerant and even helpful with my ignorance of their langauge, – but would the Moroccan border police be so understanding? And what about further into the country? Would my little phrasebooks be enough? I sorely hoped so - I didn't want the rest of the trip to be like this evening, surrounded by a new country and yet unable to enage with it. Pondering those hypotheticals, I packed my bags, moved the damper clothes closer to the window, and went to bed.