We only planned this trip ahead a few weeks at a time, and realized after we got to Seville that it would be worth the expense to rent a car and see some of the Spanish coastline before we went to Alicante. It is very expensive to rent a car with automatic transmission, so we opted for the manual, and the most fuel-efficient option. We only had one small suitcase and backpack each, so we didn't really need any extra room. The clerk at the rental pickup tried to convince us that we should get a bigger car - for an extra 7 euros - and I told him that since we were getting a Toyota I was sure we'd be fine. He said "it's a lot of hills, are you sure?" Not wanting to be a sucker for his up-selling, I declined and we loaded our bags into the back of the small four-seat Toyota Aygo and headed out of town.
I have had several manual cars in my life, my favorite one being a six-speed Mini Cooper S, and like the feeling of control when I drive them. I had always had performance-driven manual cars - a European "city car" was a new experience. I found myself asking Shane if it were possible that the car was made with a two-cylinder engine. (I found out later it was actually 3.) It was slow - really slow. There are lawnmowers with more horsepower. I was unable to keep up with the speed limit in the mountains, and was the right lane hazard who sped up going down each hill, and then sputtered along each incline.
We decided we would stop for lunch in Grenada, and try to go to the Alhambra while we were there. We took the winding road outside of the city to the entrance of the landmark, only to find that it was sold out for the day and no more visitors were allowed. We drove another 20 minutes and managed to find a place to park in an underground garage in the city center. We walked through the 40 degree C heat until we found a place to eat that had some good Trip Advisor reviews. It was completely disappointing - we had both heard so many good things about Grenada, and experienced nothing remarkable about it.
Once we were back on the road, it took very little time to reach some amazing mountain views. We listened to Spanish radio, and looked at maps to see where the most scenic routes could take us. Once we reached the coast, we hugged the southern edge of the country, passing through villages and towns that cropped up between the seaside cliffs.
As the sun started to sink lower in the sky through clouds of fine white dust over the rocky moonscapes of Andalusia, we decided to take a detour off a major road to try to find a castle that was listed on a roadside sign. The internet had stopped working, so we had to navigate the old fashioned way - signs plus instinct plus orientation with the sun and sea. We wound through strange streets that seemed to all lead to nowhere - not even rural nature. We were in the kind of nothingness that only a desert plain can offer. Eventually, we found ourselves in a neighborhood that had a private club with tennis courts, a pool, and a restaurant. We were both getting a little edgy from lack of food, so we went in to what looked like a restaurant at the club and asked for a menu. We were the only people in the building who did not work there. I felt like such an intruder - I had no business being there, and no ability to explain myself.
Shane was able to communicate enough with the nice woman inside to learn that they did not have dinner service until later, but we were able to get some nuts and olives, in addition to the two espressos that were essential for the 4 hours left in our journey.
When we got back into the Aygo, I noticed that the gas gauge was VERY vague. It was digital, but it only had 5 LED bars on it - with no "empty" light. We had one bar left. Shane scanned the car's manual (in Espanol) as I tried to figure out how to get out of the neighborhood. My phone (the only one with any internet) officially died, and my worried mind started to venture into daymares of being stranded in the Spanish countryside after dark with no ability to find a gas station or even a human being for many miles.
We accidentally found the castle while we were trying to find our way back to the main road. We arrived just as it closed, and the sole guard at its entrance told us to leave as he walked to his car to do the same. There was an abandoned building next to it that looked like some sort of old saloon or casino. It had been empty in the lonely stretch of coastline for decades. Shane found a large rock in the middle of a flat span of dry earth nearby, and we climbed to the top of it for an amazing view of the castle, sea, desert, mountains, and the sunset.
We started wandering again in the darkening twilight, through strange squared streets and stop signs surrounded by nothing but dusty white earth. As we headed east, small housing areas with a few solitary people started to crop up. There were no restaurants, no gas stations, just tiny apartments crammed together unnecessarily in the midst of vast open space. We kept driving parallel to the beach as the houses gradually got larger and we could see expansive resort developments under construction with bright, fresh paint, green irrigated lawns, manicured ponds, and flat, shiny new sidewalks. We realized the small apartment villages had been built to house the workers who erected these luxury condominiums and overpriced tourist restaurants. I hope that the anticipated wealthy vactioners will produce more jobs in a very economically depressed region of an economically depressed country.
Much to my relief, we found a gas station, worked the math on how many liters we needed to buy and how much it would cost, and grabbed some chips and water to complete our dinner. Three and a half more hours of winding through the starry-skied coastal mountains, and we were back in the comfort of Shane's grandmother's home where we had said goodbye to her two years ago.
words by Kara
photos by Shane + Kara