The Conquest of Spain: The Final Chapter

I don’t know why I got such a kick out of this, but after it rained in Mallorca we noticed everything was coated with sand. We talked with some locals and learned that the sand is from the Sahara desert. It gets lifted up by the wind, crosses the Mediterranean, and enriches the pocketbooks of car wash owners all over Spain.

Poor little Marco the Polo didn’t know what to make of it, but since he couldn’t shake himself off like a dog, he just had to deal. Quit being such a big baby, Marco.

Anyway, maybe I got a kick out of it because the Sahara is surely the world’s most famous desert. It is in fact the earth’s largest “hot desert” (so described because the Antarctic and Arctic are both classified as deserts, and they are both larger than the Sahara, plus just a tad cooler), so that alone makes it impressive.

Or maybe it’s just from all of the movies I’ve seen that either featured the Sahara or were set in it. From Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves in 1962 to Lawrence of Arabia in 1963 to The Mummy in 1999, the Sahara has provided an almost mystical backdrop to many a film. And there we were with the Sahara’s very own sand having dusted our little car like powdered sugar on a donut. After I climbed into Marco to drive, I felt like Lawrence of Arabia, and would have shouted his catch phrase if I knew one that he had used. (“Go camels?”) I don’t even know what Ali Baba might have said. So I sang “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas, partly to acknowledge we weren’t in Kansas anymore and partly because that’s the only desert-y song I could think of. Carolyn doesn’t let me sing for very long though.

Google Maps provided us with a little history of our trip. The stop on the border is a town called Badajoz, which is now best known for being a conduit between Portugal and Spain, but apparently doesn’t deserve to have a name on a Google Map. We stopped there to buy some corn chips we can’t find in Portugal, so you’d think that alone would be deserving of some Google Map recognition, but nooo. I gotta tell ya, Google is so political!

Due to Carolyn’s balky calf, we only stayed one night in Barcelona. Since the hotel was relatively close to the Sagrada Família, a famous cathedral, we decided to test her leg power and make the 15 minute (per Google maps) walk to see the thing. 40 minutes later, we finally made it to the Cathedral. It was then that we knew we had made the right decision to stay only one night. The only time I can consistently walk that slow is when she is admonishing me while holding a wooden spoon and saying, “come here!”

We did see this while we were driving. We think it’s a bull fighting stadium. Neither of us are interested whatsoever to see a bullfight, but we understand they’re quite the spectacle. I doubt the bulls appreciate it much, though.
This looked kinda cool so we snapped a picture of it. I guess that could be the default caption for every damn picture we take.
Unlike the previous two, this one actually has an interesting story despite the fact that it looks the most boring. The hill there is basically one entire cemetery. I wish you could see it better, but at first glance I thought it was a weird kind of condominium complex, because lots of windows were facing us, glinting fiercely in the sun. It was only after closer inspection that we could see all those windows were part of the rows and rows of crypts lining the hillside. We’ve seen plenty of crypts in Portugal that have windows, apparently so you can double check that the caskets inside haven’t been ripped open by the undead. I’m not really sure why anyone actually needs to see the coffins, but I suppose that’s the only reason I can think of to ever buy a fancy coffin. Otherwise, it is so silly that people pay a ton of money for something that’s just going to be buried.

In any case, we learned that it’s very expensive to be interred there, but despite that, lots of people are still dying to get in.

Of course I had to go there. What did you think, you were reading a Fodors travel guide?
You might be wondering why we’re posting a picture of a plain ol’ bridge. Well, it’s because the train that was on it went by so fast that by the time Carolyn got her phone out it was halfway to Madrid. But I wanted the reminder because as the train whizzed by into the sunset I remember thinking, “Boy oh boy, we’re definitely not in Kansas anymore!” (Neither the state or the rock group.) Between the beautiful arts and sciences buildings such as in Valencia, and the numerous parks, bike lanes, and hi-speed trains in so many big, beautiful European cities, Spain and much of Europe clearly demonstrates how it can be, and should be, done. Are you listening Topeka?

The only real excitement we had was on the original drive to Valencia, whereby we passed a gas station on the left that I had thought about stopping in, but due to the way the road was designed we would have had to drive another 1/2 a kilometer or so and do a U turn to get to it. So I thought, “Aw the heck with it, I’ll hit the next one.” Naturally, that turned out to be the longest stretch of road with no gas stations that we experienced during the entire trip. So I’m occasionally and surreptitiously glancing at the gas gauge trying to calculate whether less than a 1/4 of a tank will get us to the next town, which looks like a lot of kilometers away. But then I notice Carolyn is now nervously glancing at the gauge about every 30 seconds. Outwardly, I assure her everything is under control and that we have plenty of gas. “Stop fretting, honey. Everything’s fine! We’d probably be able to make it all the way to Valencia on what we’ve got!”

But inwardly I’m thinking, “HOLY SHIT WE’RE OUT HERE ALL ALONE AND IF WE RUN OUT OF GAS WE COULD BE 100 KILOMETERS FROM THE NEXT GAS STATION! I’M NOT SURE WE’RE GOING TO MAKE IT!!!” Fortunately, it all worked out, as we are obviously alive and well and able to tell the tale as to how we avoided dismemberment at the hands of a crazed Spaniard who walks the remotest highways looking for people who run out of gas. Phew!

On the drive back, we avoided any more life-threatening disasters, but we did experience a lot of bull. You see, during almost every long drive we take Carolyn manages to find some sort of consistent theme to keep her busy snapping pictures. Sometimes it’s a series of signs that are interesting. Sometimes it’s stork nests. Sometimes it’s castles from afar. This time it was a bunch of bulls. All around Spain are these bull silhouettes, apparently leftovers from a marketing scheme for brandy. The promotion is long over, but the bulls captured the imagination of Spaniards countrywide, and so they live on, dotting the countryside with their black bullishness and providing hours of fun for in-car photographers named Carolyn.

And if you’ve made it this far, you deserve to see the best picture of the bunch, one I don’t even need to come up with a caption for!

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