Friday, September 12, 2008

Rota Route and The Rock

I don't get it. The southwest edge of Spain has a lot going for it, with beautiful weather, fantastic scenery and one would imagine, a laid back Andalucian attitude toward life. What's not to be happy about? For some reason, and maybe it's just the places we hung out, joie de vivre must have taken a holiday. Perhaps seeing everyone else on vacation makes you remember that you are not. For whatever reason, most of the people we ran into seem dour. That's the best word I can think of to describe the attitude. I don't think it was anything we had done.

Thursday - September 11th 2008 - La Linea da Concepcion, Spain

Sometimes you should just follow your instincts and I don't know why I didn't push for an earlier departure from Luz. Google maps told us it was about 400 kms from Praia da Luz, Portugal to Rota, Spain, and about 4 hours driving time (I've found the mileage is usually right on, but either I drive fast or they calculate slow, because I usually beat the time estimate.) Leaving at 7:00 in the morning would get us there about 11:00 - 11:30 if we dawdled on the way, safely ahead of their 12:45 showtime. Military travel on space available flights would drive me nuts. Richard seems to thrive on the thrill of the unanticipated cancellations, delays, and heirarchical "bumping" that takes place. His military background is comfortable with the idea that if you are not physically there at the precise moment the clock ticks 12:45 you lose your seat, and you are now stuck at some air base until another flight comes along that is heading in the general direction you want, who knows how long later. According to Rich even if they could see you crawling to the door with a gut shot, but you were not quite across the threshold, too bad; next in line, please. Ugh.

Click for Entire Route

There were three things that I instinctively thought could go wrong: traffic around Sevilla, lack of specific directions when we got to Rota (Rich was sure he would remember where the airbase was when we got close), and something else. My instincts were 66% correct, there was no traffic around Sevilla, the least of my worries. We left Luz right on time, and made excellent progress heading east, into a beautiful sunrised morning. Deciding to postpone our breakfast stop until we got to Spain (as it turned out a good and critical decision), we cruised through this beautiful corner of Portugal, all being right with the world.

At the border crossing (Spain side) we spotted a petrol/restaurant and decided to stop for a little breakfast. It was a busy little place and 5 minutes standing unserved at the coffee bar was making me a wee bit antsy. Time is the one commodity you have no control over, and though we had plenty of it at the moment, there was no good reason to waste it. The wait staff showed no interest in serving us; in fact they seemed down right grumpy. Finally we were served and stood relaxed with our coffee and doughnut. That state of relaxation lasted as long as it took me to pay attention to the wall clock behind the bar (I haven't worn a watch since we retired). It was like one of those science fiction movies, or perhaps a Dali painting, where the clock was lying. I couldn't understand why the clock would lie to me. We could not have lost an hour, particulary not this specific calm producing hour. You lose an hour at 2:00 in the morning, fine, but not the 8:00 to 9:00 hour, and not just because you crossed an imaginary line on a map. Had we stopped on the Portuguese side we might never have known about our "lost" hour.

Looking back it seems comical, at the time not so much. We didn't spot a cop in Spain, and at the speeds we were traveling one would think they would have spotted us. Very little talking in the car, mostly probing of Richard's brain about the specific location of the airbase and the best route around a little city called Jerez (but not pronounced like that). Rich said go through the city, it looked small on the map, in at the top, out at the bottom, no problem. Big problem. Jerez is large, and crowded, and we were in Christmas mall traffic moving an inch an hour (not quite but it felt like that), and we were lost. Passing a TI on one of our loops Rich ran in, I crawled along, he ran to catch up and jumped into our still moving car. He was clutching a map of Jerez, and somehow had obtained pretty good directions to Cadiz (also not pronounced like that - what is with these people?). Ten minutes later we were out of the center and saw our first sign for Rota and cheered.

It was close. We arrived at the airbase gate (right off the main square) at 12:36 so they had 9 minutes to get to the air terminal, and a plan to Euro-entice any soul coming through the gate to give them a lift. We did the kissy-huggy-thanks thing in record time and asked if we should wait. A "No, we'll be OK" over the shoulder, and they were gone in 60 seconds. So were we. As the adrenaline seeped from our pores and pooled onto the hot Rota sidewalk we felt pretty proud of ourselves as we walked to a little cafe for lunch, imagining Rich and Lu safely booked onto some westbound troop transport.

Rota is cute but not picture worthy, not even the Rota sign in the town square. Now La Linea de la Concepcion is a postcard picture waiting to be taken. There are large fountained rotaries with "The Rock" as their backdrop. We ended up at Linea by whim and it was a good choice. Our only goals on this part of the trip were to experience the Rock and casually float through Sevilla. We had read nothing good about Gibraltar and nothing bad about Sevilla, which made each of them attractive to us. We scooted by Tarifa (the ferry departure point to Africa, and we weren't going there), and drove through Algeceiras, which was too busy, too dirty, and too crowded. We drove around the bay and liked the sound of San Roque, but there was road construction, and we couldn't find anything so we continued south. As we rounded a bend, there was the Prudential icon, right in front of us and the Rocamar (I'm guessing Sea Rock and thinking not all that creative given the monster outside the door) hotel to our left. They had a room and we had the afternoon in front of us.

La Linea means "the line" and if I've got my history right, it was the imaginary line laid down by the Spanish around 1700 across which the British colonists camped out on the rock were not allowed to step. They added "of the conception" in honor of the Immaculate Conception who was the patron saint of the infantry. The line of the Immaculate Conception doesn't make much sense to me, but they seem all right with it. In keeping with the general attitude of the people we've encountered in this area of Spain, the hotel staff was less then helpful in explaining to us how to navigate our way to Gibraltar. I guess there are still hard feelings.

We drove the half mile to a parking garage right across from the "Aduana" or customs gates. We did flash our passports to the Spanish agents on one side then the British agents on the other side, and noted that none of them seemed interested. The second thing you notice when making this trek (the first is the rock, duh) is that you have to cross an active runway and must therefore wait for any incoming or outgoing jets to clear it.

This is a first for us. Even a small Airbus looks huge and causes the ground to rumble when it goes screaming by you at full throttle on it's takeoff roll.

Our first impression of Gibraltar is that it is much more developed and crowded than we imagined. We followed Rick Steeve's advice and took the bus around the island to get our bearings, alighting at the souuthern point to take a picture of what seemed to be reachable Africa. It was warm and windy, and pretty much deserted at this end of the isthmus, peaceful in fact, as we watched the ships make their way through the straits. Conveniently this was the turn around point for the bus, so we were able to reboard and complete the circle back to the town area.

Ya gotta love the Brits. They refuse to switch to Euros, so everything is priced in pounds, you pay in Euros, and receive pounds in change. Their coins weigh a ton (has the queen gained some weight?) so you carry them or spend them on souvenirs. Once you cross the Aduana the pounds are worthless once again and I imagine many sink to the bottom of the straits.

One of the main reasons I wanted to come here was to get a good fish & chips dinner. We found a restaurant (there are many on the busy little streets) and it was awful (I've had the good stuff in Bournemouth, Poole, and London, so I know from whence I speak). The fish was greasy and the chips were soggy. The beer was good. We retraced our steps, recovered our car, returned to the Rocamar and figured we would give the local scene one last try. We headed to the hotel bar and after being ignored for a while somehow managed to convince the surly barmaid to serve us. We yield.

We headed upstairs and settled in for a well deserved night's sleep, wondering where Rich and Lu were, and looking forward to tomorrow and a fresh look at Gibraltar, this time from the top down.

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