Cresting a sandy hill somewhere on the outskirts of the Gorafe Desert, Andalucia, I stopped for a short break to snap some photos. A soft breeze rustled sparse, dry grasses on the slopes of the rolling hills; not a living soul in sight for miles, no traffic noise, and no traces of human activity as far as the eye could see – it felt like for one blissful moment, the world stood still, the sun beating down on the cracked earth, the air almost electric with silence and scorching heat. My only company was a lone, bone-dry bush resembling a phantasmagorical Joshua tree, and instead of taking the camera out, I simply sat on the bike, engine off, taking it all in, in no particular rush to get anywhere at all.
For three days, I’d experienced nothing but solitude and quiet exploring the area around Granada and Guadix, the heart of Andalucia. Out here, Southern Spain is nothing like the beach bar culture of Marbella or Malaga: the Gorafe Desert with its endless sandy trails, rocky climbs, and dry riverbeds, colorful sandstone formations similar to those in Arizona and Utah, and sparsely populated swaths of dry, untouched land feels more like some remote corner of Australia or the Western US, and for an entire day riding the trails, I met no other bikes, 4×4’s, or people.
Coming back to my little B&B in the nearby village of Los Banos, I encountered a cheerful Easter party underway. Half of the village had turned up for a post-siesta dinner and drinks, and, having shown up on a filthy DR650 covered in red dust and grime, I became an instant attraction; COVID or no COVID, the locals were gearing up for a fiesta, and I could have easily joined in. Instead, I wolfed down my pulled pork and steamed veg dinner and asked for a glass of tinto de verano to go: I intended to enjoy the Andalucian wine and lime juice cocktail on the terrace of my room, soaking in the view of the red rocks rising above the village and watching a local shepherd lead his bay pony and a herd of goats along a mountain path, wondering where he found pastures in this dry, sun-baked land.
It’s not because I’m a grumpy hermit, or because I don’t enjoy interactions with locals; I do, and the following morning at breakfast, I let the hostel proprietor’s kids sit on the bike and chatted to the chef about the best tinto de verano recipes (a tiny dash of red Bacardi vermouth, I learned, is key). But for most of the time, I’m an introverted traveler – and I prefer the solitude over the social buzz. The more I travel, the more I feel that simply observing from a distance can sometimes tell you a lot more about the country or culture than joining a local Easter fiesta or going on a ride with local motorcyclists: being an observer rather than a participant, you’ve got more room for detail and imagination.
Most travel bloggers advocate for immersing yourself in the local culture head-on going to events and meeting locals or hanging out with other travellers along the way. And for some, that’s the best part of travel: I’ve met riders who routinely buddy up with other two-wheeled hobos for weeks and even months on end, then find another group or rider heading in the same direction after a just few days of traveling solo again; or riders who explore every pub crawl, campfire session, and overlander meet to the fullest. Some travellers throw themselves in immersive experiences like volunteering, language or cooking courses, and organized activities to make friends with locals for weeks.
That’s one way to travel – but for me, it’s more about the quiet helmet time, places off the beaten path, and spotting lone trees in a Mars-like desert for no good reason except that it’s beautiful. I get my fill of socializing at rally races and while guiding motorcycle tours; everything in between is all about introvert travel and solitary trails, peace and quiet in small countryside guesthouses and AirBnB’s, and short conversations about tire treads and weather with gas station attendants and goat shepherds somewhere in the mountains. Even my work is completely self-confined; I can happily tap away on my laptop till the small hours without needing to chat or interact with anyone at all. For days. It’s isolating, but it works for me.
In many ways, introvert travel is a privilege, and in times of social distancing, I’m more grateful for it than ever. PCR tests and some restrictions on international travel aside, I feel like my moto travels have not been disrupted in any significant ways; desert trails and mountain passes, after all, care little for COVID.
What’s your MO on the road? Introvert travel or social butterfly everywhere you go? Share in the comments below!