Thursday, May 26, 2016

Andalucía Motorcycle Ride

Whilst I more or less decided not to do any more riding in Europe circumstances changed and I unexpectedly found myself flying to Spain for a couple of weeks. I dusted off my plans I once had for riding Andalucía. Spain had been one of the places on my bucket (ride) list so I was happy about the opportunity to ride there.  

I arrived in Madrid and immediately was pleased to find the feel of the capital city more relaxed than I have come to associate with Europe. After a couple of days I took the high speed train to Malaga where I was going to base myself for the next week and found the place quite laid back and the people friendly with good attitude to tourists which was such a nice surprise. I have been to Europe a number of times and always found it interesting but often the people unwelcoming to the point of being obnoxious so I had decided that I wasn’t going to return ever again as so many other nice places on earth but I may have to make an exception for Spain.

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The film festival was on and the red carpet laid out for the Spanish celebrities in town.

Going to start out with some background stuff and getting a damp start to the ride but bear with me as it turned out to be superb.

I had booked a motorcycle for four days of exploring the region but initially had a bit of trouble arranging a rental. I first tried with the large motorcycle tour company IMTBike but was informed I could not rent because it was a long weekend and they would be closed which I thought was odd for a travel company. I then made a booking (rather foolishly) with a company called Rentalmotorbike.com. I felt something was not quite right with things looking at their web site however I did some searching and it seemed legit. Short version is avoid this company as they will take a deposit then you hear nothing. They provide no way to contact them, the phone numbers simply ring out, the booking form works but then then no email is provided. I eventually found a way via Facebook to contact and cancel but they kept the (fortunately small) deposit despite advertising it was fully refundable.

I eventually secured a reservation for a Yamaha FZ8 Fazer with a Malaga car rental agency Marbesol who are based at the airport. Well kind of at the airport, I wandered about for a long time and eventually located them quite some distance away (found out on return they have a shuttle bus). Marbesol also offered helmet and jacket rental which I booked as the weather going on averages should have been mid 20’s so I need not haul all my bulky gear along with me. As it turned out the week was affected by some unseasonal weather with a cool front bringing some rain and lower temperatures. Then the FZ8 Fazer turned out to be the naked version rather than the half fairing model I expected so I wondered how I would go but oh well nothing to do now but try.

Nice thing about picking the bike up from the airport was within moments I was on a multi lane toll road heading towards my day one ride destination. No city streets or traffic to navigate. The highway speed limit was 120kph but the Spanish seem to do a minimum of 140kph and the FZ8 reminded me a lot of my Buell XB9 with a tiny screen that deflects wind straight into your chest you get possibly a worst wind blast than a straight naked bike so 120kph at first was uncomfortable until I adjusted to the force of the wind on my chest and of course the strain on one’s neck with a naked bike from the wind.

I had a loop ride planned first up riding a famous motorcycle road the A-397 up the range to Ronda. The weather deteriorated as I left the sea and I encountered some light mist rain with low clouds. As I climbed I realised I would have to put my light spray jacket on under the unlined textile rider jacket I had been provided as I was really feeling cold. This combo seemed make a immediate improvement so I carried on. The 397 is a cracker of a road. Hard to photograph as is often the case but it is the sort of road you could lose your head with, almost race track like all the way to Ronda.

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At the top the weather cleared a bit and I was riding towards El Chorro in some scenic rocky mountainous areas.

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Trying to avoid the overused ‘bike in photo’ composition but it just jumped into this one.

Unfortunately after this some light rain arrived again and with only summer mesh gloves my hands in the cold and damp were literally starting to go numb so I just had to turn back and head down off the mountain. Hmm well so much for May being warm riding weather as predicted. I wondered what to do and decided just to find my way to the apartment I had rented in Malaga and have a hot shower to warm up.

This is kind of what I was going to ride.

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I decided I needed warmer gloves and some way to help keep my upper body warm as a minimum to try any more riding if it was going to be as cool as today. I walked downtown to a department store and was initially looking in the sports department and found some ski gloves then it turned out the department store had a motorcycle or scooter area inside the shop with a line up of scooters and rider gear.

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I found a pair of Alpinestars Transition DS gloves which I thought would be perfect for the cool but not winter weather. They are also waterproof and I could see myself using them back home when my Held winter rain gloves are too warm. So I got these and then went looking for a technical base layer thermal long sleeve shirt and was lucky since it was past that season to find a high quality item on sale back in the sports area. Ok I felt ready to try again the next day and layer up with a extra t-shirt and the spray jacket as needed. Looking ahead the forecast hovered around 19/20 the days I was there then jumped up to 27 on the day I was set to leave which was the sort of temperature I had been expecting. Oh well this is just one of the things that happens to us riders. 

When planning four days of rides I came up with an alternate 5th route to combine the key points I wanted to ride into one huge ride day if weather was not looking good i.e a back up plan of sorts. The next day’s forecast looked hopeless for riding with steady rain all morning to the east so I thought I would just stay put and evoke my back up plan of the huge ride day for day three and try some of the better Spanish red wine I had found in the department stores diverse wine area that night.

Next day was my birthday so I decided to spoil myself with perhaps the most expensive burger in Malaga in some sort of gourmet burger place. This is the wagu beef burger and some fancy German beer. I was rather pleased with both.

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By the time I finished lunch the weather was looking not too bad, by about 2pm it was blue skies so I decided to go for small totally unplanned ride to one of the white washed villages in the hills above the ocean that the area is famous for.

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This is the pretty town of Mijas.

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After this with plenty of daylight left and warm air I just wandered about exploring some small roads and the rural views in a sort or broad arc back towards Malaga. Just riding with no plan and taking what ever road looks interesting is the best sort of riding for me. I really enjoyed this outing today, more than actually doing a planned ride even if it meant not visiting some item of note. A motorcycle, fine weather, low traffic roads and no fixed plan – this combo is the most freedom I ever feel in my life.

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Grand houses or Haciendas with their own small olive groves on the outskirts of Malaga (click to enlarge any of the photos) and an abandoned property below took my interest.

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I pulled into a small town bypassed by the main road and got some fuel and then rode along the narrow streets some only the smallest cars might fit in to arrive at the town square. Have a look at the photo below and see where the sun is and now look at the clock which was accurate. The sun does not set until after 9pm and at 6.30pm is about where we would normally find it in the sky at 3.30pm and that is also hottest part of day just like about 3pm is in Australia so basically things operate a little different, about 3 hours later than normal. This makes people eat from 10pm onwards and restaurants did not even open until 8.30 or 9.00pm.

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Chance of some early shower then clearing, chance of late afternoon shower was the forecast but I did not have the luxury to wait another day so I was up and away by about 8.30. Going earlier did not make any sense since the sun does not make an appearance until about 9.30am, prior to this you get a grey extended dawn for 3 hours. It is quite cool in that extended dawn until the sun eventually turns on then the temperatures rise very rapidly. I rode highway for about 3 hours to get to the east coast Carboneras region. The highway ride east is fairly straight forward multi-lane stuff. I was quite cold for the first hour until the sun came out. In one section there is 10000+ plastic hot houses growing food which made the landscape look like a refugee camp. I had read it was a must to ride the Carboneras so I just hunkered down as well as I could on the FZ8 and got used to the wind blast riding at about 140kph all the way with couple of rest breaks to warm up and refuel. Really wanted a hot coffee but the road had no services all that way, even fuel I had to go searching in a small town a few km off the highway. I had a burger at a small beach town at 11.30am thinking perhaps I should have ordered breakfast to fit in to the local eating then enjoyed the ride north along the coastal road. The nice section always photographed is lovely but a little short and soon you end up in mostly beach resort towns. Possibly there is more I missed to the south because there is no decent blog about the best roads in Spain that I found prior to going although there is one under construction as I will elaborate on shortly.

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As I was saying not too much in the way of road side rest areas in Spain. The toll road highways have service areas with restaurants and gas stations however all the regular non toll highways have nothing, no rest areas or places to even pull over for break down or answer phone. I always seemed to have to go off into a small town to get fuel, the FZ8 having a small range. Gas stations often had a bar built into the building in the same way you find a small café attached in some countries and indeed the bars were like cafes but I noted that often drivers were having a beer and toasted ham and cheese sandwich which seems one of the most popular foods and is served complimentary as a tapas when you order a large beer in quite a few places.

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Off the highway to get fuel I stop at the worlds smallest church. (actually I jest as I have seen smaller)

I was not far from where Sergio Leone made the famous Clint Eastwood westerns trilogy. (A fistful of dollars, A few dollars more and The good the bad and the ugly) Actually I rode straight past the movie sets location at Tabernas. I was tempted to call in being a fan of those movies but it was 50 years ago they were made, the movie sets or fake western town was used and changed for other movies and then incorporated into a wild west theme park. So I think only the biggest fans of those movies would get something out of it and I prefer to visit some real locations in the west next time I go to U.S.A.

Next up I went to my road riding destination no.2 (counting down that is) Puerto de Velefique. A road I had seen in photographs which looked amazing but took me some time to find where it was as very much off the beaten track located in Sierra de Los Filabres, in Almeria Province.

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The beginning of the amazing climb.

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As usual my photos do not go anywhere near capturing the scale or how grand this road was. I have ridden the famous Stelvio pass and this is far better road to ride with the switchback corners not really so tight, the road surveying is much more generous and the surface quality is top notch like all of Spain.

At the top I met two guys that had lifted a motorcycle onto one of the rocks for a photo shoot and also had a drone taking some video of this road. They are building a best motorcycle roads web site. I mentioned that was exactly what I had been looking for (for Spain) prior to coming as amazing roads like this were not being promoted. I gave them my web site and mentioned it contained something similar for Australian motorcycle roads although rather modest. Their web site will be called Motorcycle Diaries which I so far cannot find. The choice of name is a bit unfortunate as there is a famous movie with same name and my searches just get directed to sites about that movie. They may need to rethink this. My blog is not a commercial enterprise (I have the ads activated just to keep Google happy as they tend to shut down anything not making them money) but it has ranked page one for some years now so the few people reading can find it easy at least. If I wanted to make money blogging I think I would have to move over to video and have a YouTube Vlogger channel as a large percentage of people seem to not want to read and only watch video these days. Youtube and Facebook are where the numbers are. I am the opposite, I like to have control of how I digest content which reading allows as I can speed read and skip over things but not miss them then focus closely on what I am interested in most while video forces me to follow the delivery being presented which in a lot of amateur YouTube footage is poorly edited and shot on shitty action cams. I guess you can fast forward a video but then are you just looking for visuals and forgetting the dialogue altogether? (update I found the guys web site HERE it is still under construction as of writing)

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The sort of road photos you could capture with a drone would be amazing. The perfect framing and angle would be always achievable. Of course I would need a van to carry the bike and drone and other gear to the site like these guys had so not practical for an actual rider but I presume in not too many years we will see small pocket ones you can bring along to take selfies. That may sound far fetched but for me being able to video call on a hand held device is almost science fiction since I am a lot older than I look in photos yet children now do not know a world without this. It was very satisfying to make it to this hidden gem of a road that I had dreamed about while sitting in a office cubicle in Australia a few years back. So glad I decided to try do some things in my life now rather than wait until later. As it stands I already had waited a bit too long. Making compromised plans or abandoning a few things I used to think of doing. If I had waited until later I would never have done this. Although I must say if I had another person of like mind who wanted to ride some nice roads around the world then I think I could do anything still but by myself it becomes a challenge… (photo below thanks to Motorcycle-dairies.com)

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It was 2.30pm heading back down and I was told take extra care as this is most dangerous time on Spanish roads the period of mid afternoon as the culture is people all drink with meals then drive. When I got to the bottom I looked back up and saw the top had totally clouded over. How lucky had I been! Riding along the country roads in the foot hills the landscape at times certainly reminds you of that shown in those old spaghetti westerns. The roads continued to be superb.

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I was riding next over the eastern edge of the Sierra Nevada which offered some grand vistas. Did you know Sierra Nevada translates basically as snowy mountains. Sounds much nicer but actually is as imaginative as what Australians called our highest mountain range. I was going to ride over the middle of the range if the weather had been warm as it should have been but it would have been unwise to try it with lots of snow still up there so just some foothills. 

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And so I arrived at the no. 1 road destination on my ride wish list. A road which I am sure locals have a name for but I only know as the AL-3404 in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada near the village of Canjayar (pictured). I saw this a few times in photos of riding in Spain and eventually located it. A more perfect looking motorcycle road would be hard to find. Besides three sports cars that blasted past there were no other cars for 30 minutes while I tried to capture it, only partly succeeding.

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From here I rode west at the bottom of the southern side of the Sierra Nevada range for 75km on road A-348 which was great riding all the way on mostly sweeping bends, the road following a dry gorge near the base of the ranges. I do not know why but I cannot locate any photos I took of this section which was terrific riding although not as photographic as the two ranges, it would seem the files have been erased or did not save at the time. What I do have however is a short bit of on board video captured with my Polaroid Cube which was just hand held by me in left hand riding nice and easy. The link to watch is here https://youtu.be/5qzVaCk0NuA as it is very difficult to embed video into blogger sites and anyway you want to see things in HD these days not watch them low res in that tiny Youtube window so need to go to the sites player for that. For me one good photo beats an hour of action cam video but this footage gives a bit of an idea, as you can see its a terrific road, now imagine that for the next hour of riding. Smile 

It was about 5.30pm in the selfie above photo, the sun sitting high still as it does in Spain but after an hour of riding west the sun had moved behind some heavy clouds and light became dim and the temperature plunged from warm to rather cool. Surprising how the temperature can change so dramatically. By now I was actually ready to get back onto some straight highway road and make for home. As easy as the FZ8 is to steer around corners I was simply fatigued as I approached 10 hours in the saddle. Once on the highway I blasted back west and more or less went into zombie ride mode which is never good and certainly not the best when zipping along at 150kph but the roads are exceptionally good and that was the speed the highway was flowing at and we all kept a good gap. I’m not endorsing speed but I will try to go with the flow. Going slower than the flow can make drivers angry and I have had them pass me so close I had my leg brushed one time elsewhere so now go with the flow always. Some low clouds and mist arrived near the coast and so I could not ride that nearing sunset as I hoped. A shame but I told myself after all I had experienced today I had done pretty darn well. About 11 and 1/2 hours today by the time I was parked on the footpath outside the apartment.

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Last day with the FZ8 and I had plenty of options. I could head back east to ride more in the foothills but I decided to ease it on down notch, have a good sleep after such a big day previous and wait for the sun to appear about 9.30-10.00am and burn off the morning mist that makes  riding earlier cold then go exploring the roads in the hills behind Malaga and not do any highway. Within 10 minutes I was high above Malaga with a terrific view riding some excellent roads in the hills thinking what a place to live if you are a biker.

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I was just free wheeling turning onto roads in a general arc to the west when I noticed a few bikes going a certain way so figured they probably know the best roads and turned out the road they took was a very scenic ride. It is extremely hard to capture landscapes effectively, the camera tends to push everything back and flattens the scene which to our naked eye is much more 3 dimensional and immersive but I can tell you the views were grand in real life. What a find by sheer chance. They say every journey has a hidden destination or something like that.

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Talking about hidden destinations, I stumbled upon a not very common in regional Spain fast food restaurant McDonalds in a larger town (city?) of Antequera in its newer industrial area so decided I should check it out. Dedicated motorcycle parking was nice as the place was packed out with families on this public holiday. The meal deal combo (burger fries and drink) in Spain offers beer as drink choice no extra charge. Yes McDonalds Spain serves beer. I was beginning to agree with what that guy had told me about drinking being a issue as I watched everyone chugging beers. (ps. that is not my order in the photo)

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I then explored a little of the old town which was lovely. I could have spent the afternoon there but not in riding gear as the weather had finally warmed up now that I was on my last day. Quite hot in the sun 26 degrees after riding in maximum of about 19 down to low teens in the mountains the last few days.

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I rode south in a big sweeping arc as I reluctantly made my way back towards Malaga. The scenery continued to be magnificent and I let the little FZ8 photo bomb one more time as a reward for being good to me over the 4 days.

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Almost back to the highway I spotted an old ruins or something on top of a hill so spur of the moment decided to go take a look.

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Another interesting town Alora with an old castle/cathedral open for anyone to explore. I had the place to myself, not a single tourist which was same in last town. I enjoyed the view and relaxed for awhile and decided this was a good high point both figuratively and literally to bring the ride to an end.

Well normally I might do a wrap up paragraph about now however this tour has an extended ending. Sometimes lately I have been riding freezing cold or wet and wondering what the hell I was doing on a bike. Then I look at the costs to rent a motorcycle and think well that is 4 times the price of car hire, really a bit expensive in some countries and it limits the time I might spend riding considerably. So I actually decided to split my travel on this trip and rented a car to drive north through Spain to Barcelona. This being a motorcycle blog I am not going to start blogging about car driving but I thought it might interest people how I find this back to back after the motorcycle ride and I will add a few more photos just because I have them.

First day was a short drive to Seville. Not all highway and some of the roads would have been nice to ride however I was mostly getting used to driving again (I have not owned a car for some years) and then getting used to manual shift or driving stick as the North Americans put it then finally sitting on what is to me the wrong side of a car. The last part is the more challenging. If you ride a motorcycle in a country where they drive on the opposite side of the road to your home country then the adjustment is really easy. The motorcycle itself is identical in layout to any you would ride at home, controls all in same place (well lets not mention Enfield bullets ok) and even the job of being in the other lane is easy given how much vision we have as riders compared to cars. I can change from one to the other if riding in seconds. But it took me all day to adjust to the car.

Some positives that came to mind was being able to easy secure everything when parking and being able to walk around not in rider gear. Being able to hear the GPS voice instructions caught me by surprise. I have been riding around the world with my old Nuvi 760 strapped to various motorbikes since 2008 and this was first time to use it and be able to hear the voice prompts. It started to annoy me after just 5 minutes and I muted the speaker in 10 minutes of driving ha-ha. 

Bull fight arena Seville caught in the magic golden hour. Most photos were taken with an iPhone6S simply because my Lumix LX100 is unable to produce as good a photo due to Panasonic’s poor jpeg software always making a mess of processing. Such a disappointing camera.

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Next day from Seville to Avilla once on the N502 route north from Cordoba the roads just got better and better for motorcycling. I chose a route I would have ridden as no point going on the expressway you see nothing and by mid afternoon I was really wishing I had something like my FJR1300 to ride the route with as it was made up of mostly nice sweeping corners that would have suited the big bike well.

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The countryside was olive trees as far as the eye could see on day one but day two the vegetation and soil changed to often something resembling Australia’s low scrubby bush but what was more of a surprise was for a couple of hundred km on the N502 north the landscape was green and full of wild flowers, just there at the right time I guess. As mentioned in the ride report the Spanish roads have nowhere to pull off, the next photo is an example of how the roads are mostly raised. I got in trouble stopping by a highway patrol which told me no stopping. You could go 20 km before there was a drive way to turn off. No bull!

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Avila

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Day three I was nodding off at wheel a few times in the afternoon especially I felt like taking a small nap but nowhere to stop on Spainish roads. Driving is such a totally boring experience, so uninvolving and removed from everything. I was on fantastic curvy roads that would make any motorcycle rider feel alive but in a car I felt totally numb. And I could not see much having to try turn my head horizontal at times to try see anything not in that narrow viewing area a car presents to you. I need wonder no longer about what am I doing on a motorcycle next time it is wet or a bit cold riding. I need only to think back to this comparison to remind myself why I am riding.

Hope you enjoyed the bonus photos.

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2000 years old - no mortar!

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Barcelona, wine tasting in supermarket 0.40 a taste and AirB&B city apartment. Two great ideas.  

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This article originally appeared on Motorcycle Paradise Blog May 2016.

2 comments:

  1. Welcome to Europe. Glad you liked Spain. Your pictures are a reminder that I need to revisit, thank you.

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    1. Thanks very much Sonja. I had a great time.

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