It’s the little decisions that seem to sting you the most.
Crawling back from the bar after 5:30am it looked like the wind in my sails was changing. We’d smashed back tequila, lost half the group, sincerely danced to a live jazz band, witnessed a Canadian girl bitch slap her boyfriend and one of the most innocent in the group had accidentally bought cocaine after some entrenched language barrier issues. Clearly Madrid is one of those big cities everyone can relate to.
Some good company had been born out of the free (only costing €5 in guilted tips) Madrid tour in the morning, namely three Australians by the name of Jack, Jay and Yumi who were travelling around Spain for a few days. We witnessed the changing of the guards at the royal palace while the king was in residence. What does that mean? Street sweepers shovelling horse shit and uncomplimentary selfies mostly.
Tour over we hit a bar for a complicated round of questionably free sangria, a bowl of shells they called Paella (I know what paella is meant to be like…) and some more cafe con leche to show off our limited vocabularies. We spent our 3 days in Madrid roaming the streets aimlessly together with frequent upbeat conversations about death, destruction and where suicidal thoughts come from, all in good taste. The final day was beset by the collective’s need to buy bus tickets, but an aimless 4 hour search materialised nothing, so we sacked it off and hit the park – rediscovering the Spaniards apparent love for turtles and grandeur.
Madrid had been the worst excuse for rest and recovery the world has ever seen. I had to steel myself against a hard won, multi-day hangover body for the ride to Toledo, an imposing 80 or so kilometres away. My escape from Madrid was fraught with accidentally running red lights and locking the back wheel up, the city streets shoe-shine slick and squealing like I was riding on polystyrene. The guys and girl were thinking of heading to Seville so we arranged to hook up in a couple of days.
The hostel I’d booked for Toledo was well and truly nestled in a pedestrian zone and my passage required diverting through bus lanes, riding against the ebb of traffic and eventually dropping down some tiny, stepped side-roads that would be worrying enough to walk down. My panniers compressed and caressed the yellow alley walls as the bike and I rode down the stairs. The road ended abruptly outside the hostel with no space to spin round. A creative fifteen point turn meant I could at least get the bike out in the morning.
The lonely planet website suggested seeing the city at night, so I showered and ventured out in shorts and flip flops like the debonair tourist I had become. If I’m honest, I couldn’t really see the hype. It was just dark and I felt awkward dining out on an evening meal for one. I spent the night chatting to a Japanese traveler who would just repeat certain words back to me, albeit rather enthusiastically. The hostel host had a thalidomide hand.
In the day time buildings obscured by dark and shops shut for the night becomes less of an issue. Still, the mile high cathedral spires have become boring in their repetition and I start notching up my visit to Toledo as a poor life choice…
Moving onto Seville became more problematic. I thumbed the frayed end of my earphone jack and realised I must have caught it in the chain the day before. I’d been relying on satnav audio directions to get me through the mad city streets and somewhere close to my hostel. It was back to old school nav from here – a 3 inch wide selection of map held in the tank bag and a nautical compass, a crappy tourist one picked up from Santiago de Compostella, gaffer taped to the bikes head-stock. The whole set up was confusingly successful and I reached Cordoba in no time and without incident. I sat congratulating myself over a beer and tapas in a wonderful indoor/outdoor food market and flicked through a guide about the Cordoba Mezquita on my phone. Deciding to check it out, I thunked loudly into first gear and pulled off slowly through the city streets. The Mezquita, as luck would have it, is a complete hack job mosque-to-church conversion. All the Christians did was hang up some crucifixes. It’s still very clearly a mosque – but at least there’s plenty of Muslim religious iconography for a change.
I moped around through clusters of orange trees, narrow cobbled streets with white wash buildings and walled beer gardens before getting back on the bike. The day had turned scorching hot and without the cooling effect of 100kmh wind you could feel exposed skin sizzle away like pan fried bacon. Seville was close, but concentration was ebbing slowly away as the sun made the helmet heavy and my eyelids dry through constant squinting. Only a small breeze of cool air could reach my face else underneath my sun visor, otherwise I’d get bugs straight to the eyeball, mouth and nose-holes, so I slackened off my cuffs and front zip with the hope of at least catching some more draught.
Getting hit in the face by an insect at speed is bad but at least they usually die on contact with my must-be-chiseled cheekbones. But going up a cuff? No, that apparently slows them down like a comfy crash mat so that they just track around irritably in your sleeve. This happened along a beautiful stretch of green, flowered meadows and I distractedly thumped my arm a few times to squash whatever it was. A couple of seconds later it was all too apparent that it was, or at least had been, a bee. I rolled to the side of the road, de-garbed and pulled a huge convulsing sack from my skin, cursing the burn in my arm. No sign of the bee, a shame as I’d have thumped it into kingdom come. Looked like the bee won this round, even though it did leave half of its ass in my arm.
Feeling somewhat deserving of another pub crawl I’d barely put my panniers on my hostel bed in Seville before heading out with a new group of people again. I did have the patience to take a quick bee sting photo though.
I’ll end at binge drinking, where the post began.
But BEES EH? WHAT ARE THEY GOOD FOR? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING..