That time when my brother and I rode the dry Spanish desert to the lush mountains of Andalusia. A taste of both.
Mountain biking and furthermore, mountain culture is embedded in my identity and even in my genome. From family blood to the town, I grew up in, I have deep roots in mountain culture. What's interesting about where Cody and I traveled is that one place made us feel at home while the others made us feel like aliens.
Mid-winter 2019 my brother and I packed up our bikes and climbing gear to head for Spain. Calgary > Frankfurt > Madrid, this was our first overseas trip and as we drove our rental van south into the Spanish sunset, we had no idea what to expect. 5 hours later we rolled into the desert near Almanzora where Cody and I laid our heads down in a cluttered and cold Air BnB. The small cots layed up on cold marble tiles gave us a short night's sleep before rising to the landscape that was still a mystery to us.
The January sun sat low in the sky, its brightness pouring onto the dry and rugged massif of the Sierra de Los Filabres range. What Cody and I didn't realize was that the economic crisis in 2008 stopped British investors and developer's dead in their tracks. This is what explained the ghost town feel that rippled through the streets, we were in the middle of nowhere... The architecture was hugely contrasted between slum and forgotten suburbs. Half assembled giant statues and water fountains with abandoned machinery scattered the towns. Stray dogs and cats littered the streets we rode through.
The people we came across glared. Spending their days drinking coffee or wine, cigarettes delicately balanced in their chapped fingers. We stuck out like sore thumbs, especially at the corner cafes dressed in our premium outerwear alongside our flashy bikes. It was eye-opening for us to see a dissected and barren part of Spain and with our sheltered upbringing, we felt homesick. It's funny how out of place we felt, clinging to our dear bikes, the only thing familiar to us.
The riding itself was what kept us there for as long as we could stand it. Big day rides with long descents spitting us into beautiful white villages for homemade soup, fresh bread, and coffee. Other than these outings there was really nothing for us to do. Two friendly Canadians felt unwelcome in this small town. We'd sit in our small cots for hours in between our rides scrolling through our phones. There was something missing.
The riding was unlike where we had been, the trails in El Chorro were built specifically for biking and had an amazing flow to them. Not only was the riding more exciting, but the people also made all the difference. Carlos at the local bike shop was incredibly kind, including us on shop rides and pointing out local gems as well as the people that filled the hostel, being vibrant and generous. The time slipped by as we ticked off rides finishing off the days with beer and cards. Along with the amazing dirt, the rock was outstanding. My brother and I pulled out our rope and buckled into our bike helmets to share some of the classic multi-pitches and crags with the Irish. When it came time for us to head home, we were not ready. This place had a great vibe. The riding, the food, the friends, and the climate made it a complete paradise. But it was time to get back to work and catch our flight from Madrid.
We spent a day in Madrid drinking at local cafes and visiting museums. People dressed in fancy clothes, wearing expensive shoes, with salon-fresh haircuts. Again, we stuck out, looking rugged from 2 straight weeks of riding. Once again, we were reminded why we choose to stay in our beautiful mountain towns.
I don't regret going to the desert. In fact, it made our time in the lush El Chorro that much more special. The real difference and conclusion we had was that; connecting with people gives you energy. The dose is subject to the person but connecting is essential and we'd notice how much easier it was when you share a common passion, that being: The mountains!