Following a narrow, winding backroad to Alozaina, a small mountain village just north of Malaga, I turn the volume up; Arcade Fire’s Wake Up explodes in my earbuds, and I make my way across the green rolling hills leaving the Sierra de los Nieves pass behind. My gear shifter is wobbly – somehow, I’d managed to strip the tread of the clamp, and I have to shift cautiously now – but for now, I just need to make it to the village and worry about the gear shifter later. The road is completely empty, the setting sun already hiding behind the smoky blue mountains, and I weave around corners feeling like the bike is floating just above the tarmac – the curves are so perfect we fall into a steady rhythm, seamlessly swinging out of one bend and into another.
Alozaina is tiny. One wider street shooting off the main road, a roundabout, a grocery store, and a fuel station with two pumps; a tavern that also serves as a guest house, a tobacco shop, and a few quiet alleys lined with old white houses built to keep the heat out. The tavern is full: Andalucia has relaxed the COVID restrictions again, and the locals are enjoying an evening out. Families with kids, a few older men with their eyes half-closed against the setting sun drinking coffee, a group of young people sharing beers – life, it seems, is back to normal in Alozaina. The proprietor, a short, chatty woman with black-rimmed glasses, ushers me inside, shows me my room, and excuses herself – she’s busy with her regular tavern patrons, and I’m left to my own devices.
Leaving my gear and luggage in the room, I go out to check the gear shifter. The tavern guests watch curiously as I unzip my tool roll; nothing much I can do – the tread inside the gear shifter clamp is almost completely stripped, and the only way to fix this is to get a new part. I tighten the clamp as best as I can and go back inside. I’ve got a cold Corona and a canned tuna salad in one of the panniers; that’ll do for dinner. For some reason, I don’t feel like mingling with the tavern-goers downstairs. My room features a tiny balcony with a wrought iron railing – too small to put a chair in, but spacious enough to sit on the floor cross-legged, watching the dusk engulf the hills in the distance. There’s a cacophony of clinking glasses, cutlery, and voices from the tavern downstairs, but out here, I’m ensconced in the soft, velvety twilight, and I can still make out the dark shapes of the foothills on the outskirts of the village. The canned tuna salad smells of corn and cat food. Sipping the now lukewarm beer, I watch a warm yellow street light glowing and flickering below my balcony, besieged by a growing army of moths.
The next morning, I head to Malaga to find a replacement for the gear shifter. Spain is never same Spain, even within short distances. In Alozaina, stopping at a grocery store to buy some bottled water and apples before I leave, I patiently wait as an old woman wearing a brown cardigan, shiny from wear at the sleeves, counts out the prices on a notepad, listing the water, the three apples – no, two apples…two apples, yes; would you like an orange, dear? They’re in season, you know. Fresh. Now, where was I – then re-calculates it again, chews on the tip of her pen thoughtfully, then confirms the price with a younger girl stocking shelves (a niece, perhaps?) and finally takes a few coins and counts out the change carefully wishing me good luck. I wonder if the younger girl will eventually take over as the storekeeper, and if she, too, will start wearing cardigans with worn sleeves. I like this version of Spain – old Spain, old Andalucia, old roots.
In Malaga, bars and clubs litter the seafront, people wear designer sunglasses, and the large, spacious motorcycle dealership Google suggested hosts a squadron of uniformed young salesmen with headsets, clearly bored out of their minds but determined to appear aloof and important. One glance at my beat-up, dirty DR and its zip-tied fairings, and I’m instantly classed as a nuisance inside their heads; I’m not here for a new jacket or costly routine maintenance. Still, one of the chattier guys promptly orders a new gear shifter and tells me to come back on Monday to collect it. Or, possibly, Tuesday, but could also be Thursday, let’s see, I’ll WhatsApp you, yeah? Next!
Hoping the clamp would hold for another couple hundred miles before I can get a replacement, I join the busy traffic on the outskirts of Malaga. Slowly, it dawns on me it’s a traffic jam right before the siesta. I haven’t been in one of those for months. The heat is rising, my helmet is stifling, and if there is a breeze from the sea, I can’t feel it. I follow a creative scooter rider filtering through the congested streets like there’s no tomorrow, leave the city, and head for A-7000, a road recommended by a local rider. It’s a small mountain route cutting across Montes de Malaga, a national park wedged between the sea and Granada.
Soon, I’m on an empty, twisty road again. It’s siesta time now, and the doors and windows of little sleepy villages along the way are shut. The world is perfectly still again, and the road climbs ever higher, revealing glimpses of the bay of Malaga below. I’m headed for Granada, and I should see the snow-capped peaks of Sierra Nevada any second now.
There is a gravel trail forking off the main road and disappearing into the woods. I take it – the map confirms it’s a shortcut.
As my tires kick up a cloud of dust, I think of the oranges in Alozaina.
Perhaps I should have bought a couple.