During may 2000, Ernst and me made a trip to Spain, of three weeks.
We got stuck in the mud near El Burgo de Osma, stayed in Trujillo and had a look in Montfrague, were surprised with a Feria in Cordoba, saw the bird world of the Cota Donana and El Rocio, traveled through the landscape arpund Ronda towards Antequera, rode through the Alpujarras, over the Sierra Nevada, and then to the north, seeing Guadix, Cuenca and Cardona.
To get in Spain from Holland, you first have to cross France.France is a vast country to cross, but has, of course, many places that seem to be made for motorcyclists. The Gorges du Tarn for instance, not to mention the Franch Pyrenees (where we crossed the Col d'Aubisque in heavy mist).
Entering Spain looked promising. There were Bee-eaters, red rocks watching over a river, meandering roads, and Storks on every church.
After a while however, it started to rain, exactly on the moment that we had left the paved road, and were in the middel of a deserted country on muddy paths.
We got stuck: the battery of one of our Beemers failed. We found a village with very friendly villagers, speaking Spanish and nothing else.
The women fed me cake and coffee, and put me near the stove. The men helped Ernst: after a while, we got over the language barrier: they understood the problem.
There even appeared to be one English-speaking man in the village, and after his siesta was done, he was our translator.
I can't imagine a better way to get to know the inhabitants of a Spanish village.
Trujillo is a small town in the Extremadura. We went there because I wanted to visit Montfrague, which is famous for its birds of prey and vultures.
Montfrague was magnificent, but Trujillo even more.
In the first place, there are the birds: Storks nesting on every tower available, Lesser Kestrels swooping over the town, Hoopoos calling from very old buildings, Red and Black Kites soaring above the town, and of course Swifts everywhere.
Apart from the birds, the town itself is very agreeable. There is an old part (from Moorish times), and a "new" part (Middle-ages). The really new part doesn't count.
The Plaza Mayor of Trujillo is one of the most pleasant of all the Plaza Mayors of Spain (and there are lots of them). The houses are of the time of the Conquistadores, the fortune-seekers in the New World.
And when you sleep in the Parador, as we did, you really feel as if you are living in a town of several hundreds years old.
The first night in Cordoba, we experienced the victory of Valencia over Madrid (football). Cordoba went berserk ;-)
While we admired these festivities, somebody of the crowd told us that there was another feast in Cordoba, a much better one: the Feria. He let us promise to have a look there: there we could see that Cordoba knows what a party is.
The Feria consists of a big area, covered with sand, with tent-like stands in a grid-form, leaving sandy "streets" inbetween.
During the afternoon, men and women in Andalucian dress, parade on Andalucia horses, on these streets. The horses are of the type of Arabian horses: small, very fierce, and very energetic. The horsemen and horsewomen must have been born on their horses. Together, they form a stunning sight.
During the evening, there is music everywhere, in every stand, flamenco, salsa. When we take a look in one of the stands where they dance the sevillana, we are brought in, and get to know a group of Cordobans, who teach us (well, try to) to dance the sevillana. Some of them even speak Dutch, because they have worked in Holland for a couple of years. We have to come back the following night, and they make our visit to Cordoba simply unforgettable.
The Mezquita of Cordoba is a building beyond words, it is simply the most beautiful building that I know of. It's main feature is, in fact, a simple grid of marble columns. These columns are of different colours of marble, because it was built in a hurry, reusing material available from Roman buildings and churches. Double arches, built of red and white bricks, connect the colums, and these arches carry the roof.
The columns form a forest of columns, changing with every step you take. The size is so enormous, that it takes you a while before you notice the cathedral built *in* the Mezquita, and even this cathedral is not able to ruin the atmosphere of the building.
After a while, you start to notice the details, the calligraphies, the arabesks, the mosaics.
But the main charasteristic of the Mezquita is the simplicity that creates stunning beauty.
Cordoba offers more than the Mezquita, though the Mezquita, for me, is a world miracle. It has an old centre with narrow roads, houses with patio's, ceramic tiles everywhere, a Moorish bridge over the river Guadalquivir from where you can spot Little Egrets, Catle Egrets, Squacco Herons and Night Herons.
More pictures of the Mezquita on the Dutch Day 10 nl .
El Rocio is the perfect base for exploring the Coto Doñana. The village is worth a visit of its own: it's rather unhabited, its streets all consists of sand, and once a year, pelgrims from all over Spain come here (often by foot and on horseback) to sing and dance and drink and eat, and touch the statue of the holy Maria (to be seen in the white church on other occasions). Most of the houses here are owned by so-called brotherhoods, for this pelgrimage.
Much of Coto Doñana is owned by the national park. You can only enter the park in a guided tour, which we did. Our transport was cared for by an Unimog.
The national park is huge: beach, dunes, forest and marisma (salt-water marsh), wandering and changing all the time. On our trip, we didn't see m any birds, but the birds at El Rocio and at the visitor's center made up for that: Flamingo's, Spoonbills, Avocets, Stilts, a Marble Duck, Red-crested Pochards, Kites, Storks, Whiskered Terns, the list goes on and on.
Between Sevilla and the mountains around Ronda, there is a big flat area, very hot and dry, even in May. Crossing this area before entering the mountains makes the change dramatic, especially when you enter the Sierra Margarita at Zahara de la Sierra, a white village, glued against a mountain, with a Moorish fort above it.
The mountains here are a motorcycler's paradise: curves, curves curves, sometimes riding in the forest, sometimes above the forest, with the possibility of looking through the curves, and with great views everywhere.
The Sierra Margarita, the Sierra Ubrique, the Serrania de Ronda: robbers and rebellions had their hiding places here for ages, and riding your motorcycle here, you are tempted to join them (they are extinct now, don't you worry), to live here and ride here for the rest of your life.
More pictures of the mountainous area around Ronda on the Dutch Day 14 nl .
We climbed the Sierra Nevada from Granada, using the A395, a splendid road, wide tarmac, with very fast hairpins, climbing until you meet a chain, indicating that you are not allowed to go any further.
Recently, this pass over the Sierra Nevada (the highest of Europe) has been closed for motorised vehicles. But it would not have been of any help had we been here a few years before: the pass only opened in july and august; the rest of the year, it is covered by snow.
We could only go back, but there was an alternative road: a very narrow one, the GR 460, the old tramway. Very, very steep, very, very narrow, a great experience by bike!
The only way to reach the Alpajurra's, at the south-side of the Sierra Nevada, is to travel around the Sierra Nevada, using the N323. The A348 takes you through the Alpujarras, the mountains on the south-side of the Sierra Nevada, lower, green, with picturesque white villages, Moorish in style. Touristy in the west (the cheapest original handicraft is sold everywhere); quieter when you go east.
We slept in a small hotel in Valor.
We pass Guadix by highway, but even from the highway, you see the canyons that are carved in the rocks here. Also from the highway, you can spot some cave dwellings.
When you leave the highway and enter the Hoya de Guadix, you are not any longer above the level of the Hoya, and you can't see the canyons anymore. At first, the area seems flat, covered with olive trees.
Then suddenly, you ride into a canyon. The road descends between high red walls of rock.
After a few curves, the landscape opens, and before you, you see the blue-green of the water of an embalsa, and at the other side, canyonwalls in white, orange and red.
At the other side of the embalse, the colours of the rocks are overwhelming. This landscape is not mentioned in any of the guides I read, there is no tourist information, but it is one of the most peculiar landscapes we encountered.
The Cazorla national parc, the origin of the Guadalquivir, is completely different. Here, there is forest, and the Guadalquivir forms an enormous lake. This place is not as hot as the rest of Andalucia, and there is water, so you find lots of people here, swimming and walking and camping. It's idyllic.
More pictures of the Hoya de Guadix and Cazorla on the Dutch Day 16 nl .