Barcelona-Cadiz, part 1

Brief report on carnival, goat à l’africaine, and a night out with the Belarussian putimafia.

Stop looking at me like that: cycling short or even slightly longer distances is no stranger than typing. You get up in the morning, hook up to your machine, and start chomping away. When you’re hungry, you stop and eat, and when you’re tired you find a bed and sleep in it. Then, every now and again, you get some kind of reward. If you cycle, that’s carnival, goat à l’africaine, and a night out with the Belarussian putimafia. If you type, that’s your pay cheque and the chance to be patronised by suits. And cyclists.

In Albacete at the moment, taking several days off before heading south tomorrow via Yeste. Some heroes:

  • The excellent Jeroen Kreeft for checking over the machine at very short notice.
  • Magical Mary, for getting me extremely drunk the night/morning before I left, and then making sure I did, in fact, leave.
  • The Cornellà shopkeepers association, for putting on Sunshine Reggae on the main street PA just as I was leaving town, thus making it impossible for me to return.
  • Charming redheaded twins Tania and Olga, for tearing me away from some delicious, fatty veal and introducing me to a rather exotic whiskeria somewhere outside Tarragona.
  • Their friends, for not shooting me or the machine.
  • The Moroccan butcher in Torremdabara, for selling me mouldy cheese, which I’m pretty sure was being stored among the contents of his meat fridge. There must be a Panglossian rationale for this being a good thing, but it did wreck my digestion for a couple of days.
  • Maguette, democratically elected leader of the free Francophone sub-Saharan African squatters camp based in the buildings and on the grounds of a 70s tourist hotel north of Castelló, for barbecuing me a rather nice piece of home-grown goat and some potatoes.
  • Can Subirats in El Perelló, which does a damn good four-course menu for €10. The Spanish still go on about the excellence of their cuisine, but it’s actually going through the same crisis that British cooking did in the 70s: virtually all families and country bars serve up bulk-purchased shite, and I reckon you’ve got about ten years before the last decent granny-chef in Spain pops her ladle.
  • An extraordinarily cheerful Romanian peasant, for explaining why I should lunch at Can Subirats. (“Yeah, you could go to the place opposite, but he’s mad: it takes him two hours to serve us coffee.”)
  • Bar La Cova in Almassora for serving up the most comically incompetent menu del día ever. (“Do you want a Magnum for dessert?” “What else have you got?” “Nothing.”)
  • Al-Qaeda commander M, currently sleeping on sacking in a disused shed amid some old olive groves north of Vinaròs, for pretending to listen while I explained why manufacturing explosives from agricultural fertiliser is, well, a Bad Thing.
  • The countryside south of Valencia–where the winter orange harvest is in full swing–for smelling of Chivers Olde English Thick Cut.
  • The young Moroccan Ali G lookalike lounging around in downtown Canals, who turned out to be the only person in the whole valley who knew anything about which local roads went where.
  • The woman working at Bar Musical in Montesa, for giving me a huge portion of the best mandarins I’ve ever had.
  • My legs, for not complaining overmuch, despite not having been used for this purpose for some 18 months.
  • Mapping agencies, for being apparently unable to produce or market accurate, detailed road maps. This lack caused me to have a fascinating time between Xàtiva and Bonete cycling through olive and citrus groves and over forest tracks–bikes aren’t allowed on motorways unless you can convince the Guardia Civil that there really is no alternative.
  • Bookshops and service stations, for only stocking maps of the whole peninsula or of the particular autonomous community in which one happens to be. This leads to one cycling into the next political entity with roughly the same level of geographical knowledge as Jack climbing his beanstalk.
  • Regional broadcasters, for only providing weather reports on the political territory that provides their source of finance. So, for example, residents of Albacete get to see snow in Guadalajara, which is of absolutely no interest, instead of being able to check up on what’s happening down the road in Murcia. This leads to the use of German carnival wigs and colourful Italian woolly hats as headwear instead of polar gear.
  • Rob, Inma, Maria, Ana, Pete, Consuelo and Miguel, for putting (me) up (with me).

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