¡Iberian Espectacular! – Day 5

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June 6th, 2018 – Almeria, Spain to Jerez, Spain: ~280 miles
Vy and I head to Gibraltar to make friends with some monkeys.

Did you miss Day 4? Finally set up with our BMW R1200RS, we spend a day focused on…other bikes..

We didn’t have time for a proper breakfast, so at our first gas stop we got some snacks and juices. Vy’s rule is that when we’re abroad, we try to get chips in a flavor that aren’t available back home in the US. We also love spicy stuff, so this Doritos “roulette” had promise.

We hit the road and were greeted by miles and miles of potential Microsoft Windows desktop backgrounds.

A checkered flag sign caught my eye, and the “Ascari” name sounded familiar, but why? It clicked three seconds later, so I turned the bike around.

For the second day in a row, I had a Top Gear-inspired moment, as I remembered a review they had done of a car called Ascari KZ1:

Ascari was the brainchild of Klass Zwart, a Dutch businessman and racecar driver who created his own car company in 1995. In 2000, he bought some land outside of Ronda (our next stop) and created a racetrack that features 25 corners in a lap (many of which were inspired by famous corners from racetracks around the world) and facilities such as a clubhouse and hotel. According to this New Atlas article, a membership costs $162,000 plus a $6,500 annual fee, and that gives you 50 track days, of which 20 can be transferred to someone else as a gift. I knew it wasn’t going to be open to the public, but I still was curious to know how much I could see as a random non-member. The answer was not much.

A few kilometers later we stopped to enjoy some of our snacks. I hopped off the bike, turned off the ignition, and reached into my pocket to pull out the key fob so I could open the saddlebags…and found nothing. I was split between panic and confusion – the R1200RS has keyless ignition, but there is a sensor that lets you know if you’ve ridden away and left the key behind. I never saw that warning, but the last time I used the key was a couple of hours ago. Whenever I have a motorcycle with keyless ignition I keep the key in my front right pocket to ensure it’s easy to find, but I was stumped. I don’t want to admit how long it took before I realized I had left the key inside the trunk lock…it had been there for over 100 miles. I was very, very lucky that the key had not fallen out somewhere on the road, as I assume I never would have found it. You can also be sure that I triple-checked that I had the key with me for the rest of the trip. As if that wasn’t drastic enough, we were severely disappointed to discovered that the roulette Doritos weren’t spicy at all!

I saw an awesome sign and we pulled over to get a photo. By the time Vy got her camera out, we saw some go-carts on a guided tour go by. They seemed like a blast!

Had to get a close-up of the sign. As I would discover later, the greyed out parts are supposed to be reflective red.

The town of Ronda is best known for two things – being the birthplace of modern bullfighting in Spain, and for its location atop the Tajo Gorge. Orson Welles’ ashes are also buried here, though I didn’t find that out until after we left. To minimize the impact of tourism in such a small town, they prohibit non-residential vehicles from entering the historic part of town from 10am-1:30pm and 5pm-8pm. Through no planning of our own, Vy and I were in town during approved hours so we took the BMW in.

Ronda is the largest of Andalucia’s “white towns”, a name bestowed upon a series of communities that are dominated by whitewashed walls and red tiled roofs.

Our main reason for visiting Ronda was to see the New Bridge, a name that’s less relevant now as it was when the bridge was completed back in 1793. It took thirty four years to build – they presumably took their time as the previous attempt to build a bridge resulted in disaster: it collapsed after less than six years, killing 50 people.

A local cat joined us on the trail to check out the bridge, as well.

Above the central arch is a small room that has served many functions over the years, one of the more gruesome of which was a prison. During the Spanish Civil War, it’s claimed that the prison was used as a torture chamber and some prisoners were thrown out of the window to their deaths some ~300 feet below. In less depressing news, the Frozen Bronze/Black Storm Metallic livery of the RS was starting to grow on me, though the non-color matched bags stood out in a bad way.

From Ronda it was another hour and forty five minutes to our big stop of the day, Gibraltar.

Along the way, we saw a cat that knows where the car gets its food.

Our first glimpse of the rock. Gibraltar is a British territory, captured from Spain in 1704 by the British and Dutch and then given to England in 1713. As you can imagine, Spain tried to claim ownership of the territory every once in a while but both times it’s been voted on in a referendum (1967 and 2002) the locals said no. Half of the world’s sea cargo travels through the Strait of Gibraltar, which is why the local economy is primarily dependent on ship refueling and tourism.

There’s plenty of signs that this is a British territory – the official language is English, they use the Gibraltar Pound as currency, and they even have double-decker buses, red mailboxes, and the quintessential red phone booths. One notable exception? You drive on the right side here.

We took the tram up to the top of Gibraltar.

It takes you up 412 meters, which is taller than the following structures:

Gibraltar’s flag looks out over the territory.

Gibraltar is famous for its monkeys (technically Barbary macaques), which means that tourists have been screwing with nature for years. There are signs all over the place reminding people not to feed the monkeys.

We walked around, assuming we’d see monkeys all over the place. Vy’s expression sums up our confusion after striking out for the first 15 minutes.

Well, we didn’t completely strike out – we found one monkey who was ready for some Heineken..

Despite all the warnings to not feed the monkeys, the first one we saw was hanging out with a tourist who had just fed him something out of a bag. Oh well.

Because the monkeys are used to having humans around, you can get up pretty close without spooking them.

Get too close, though, and they might come for you! Vy gets jumped by a monkey who was interested in the contents of her purse.

This macaque was in the process of a different kind of jump. These are the only wild monkeys in the entire continent of Europe, and there are an estimated 300 in total who live in five different tribes.

I took this photo as I thought the rainbow on the monkey was rather majestic. It wasn’t until I was going through my photos later that I realized the animal was in the process of defecating while being bathed in multi-colored light. So much for majesty.

After seeing our share of macaques, we took the tram back down and explored the city. I had to stop at the Gibraltar Fire & Rescue to see what vehicles they used, including these Honda PCX scooters…

…and an awesome Land Rover Defender double cab truck.

The parking lot at the bottom of the tramway was full of 2-wheelers, though it almost all scooters and our R1200RS.

Free parking works for me!

I saw an Aprilia with triple headlights out of the corner of my eye and assumed it was a motorcycle in the sea of scooters.

Nope – meet the SRV 850, a maxi-scooter with the engine and automatic transmission from the Aprilia Mana. It was never sold in the US, but it makes 76 horsepower, can do 0-60 in 5 seconds, and has a Brembo front brake.

One of the most interesting things about Gibraltar to me is that there’s such little room for an airport that they built the runway in a location where every single person – whether they’re a pedestrian or in a vehicle – has to cross the runway to get into or out of the territory.

It was very surreal to ride across a runway on our way out. When a plane is scheduled to take off or land, they just close the territory off from Spain for a couple of minutes, let the plane do its business, and open it back up to the public.

At the crossing back into Spain, there’s one line for cars and another for 2-wheelers.

Vy’s a sucker for interesting passport stamps, so she was looking forward to getting one from Gibraltar. Unfortunately, the border agent on our way in said that they don’t give stamps, which bummed her out because her internet research implied that she would be able to get one. So on our way out, I parked right outside of border. Vy took the pedestrian entrance into Gibraltar, found an agent who would stamp her passport, and walked right back out.

90 minutes later, we were in Jerez de la Frontera and our hotel for the night.

We got an excellent dinner at a restaurant that had seating in the street so we could people watch, and became friends with our waiter (who had spent some time in the US and wanted to hear all about what it’s like now).

On our walk back to the hotel, we stumbled upon some amusing vandalism.

Back at the hotel, Vy found out that her agent had requested a self-tape for some TV show. This happens on every trip, even though she tells her reps when she’s going to be on the road. Oh well – once the audition request comes in it’s worth the effort to create something, even if we’re halfway across the world. We improvised a tripod, borrowed an extra lamp from the hotel lobby, and got to work – I took a still to remember it by, this must have been the third take…

Tomorrow we make our way into Portugal!

On to Day 6!

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