2017 Vuelta a España: Stage 09
It's ungodly hot and humid in this part of Spain.
I Stage 09 Report
We are staying at a “hotel” in a rest stop on the side of a freeway one exit past the airport from which airport you CAN’T get a direct flight to Casablanca or Tangiers even though that’s insane BECAUSE BOTH ARE RIGHT THERE. Just past the beach. Our car is parked in the caged part of the parking lot because it’s safer there. Safer from what? I can’t run because I don’t want to run down a freeway and back. The parking lot is fenced-in but behind the hotel/gas station/restaurant complex there are some hills and what looks to be a trail system. Hop the fence? I literally don’t think I’ve ever stayed somewhere with a shittier running outlook. I mean, that’s why you run right, because you can run anywhere. All you need are running shoes and forty minutes. That’s ALL YOU NEED. Well, and a road. I mean, I guess I thought a “road” was a given. [UPDATE: It’s the following morning and I’ve just learned that some of Team Postobone’s staff just came back from a trail run in the industrial hillside behind the hotel. So that trail is a trail. Apparently they saw lots of animales. I tried to ask what kind, because you know, it’s relevant if I go for what amounts to an unsanctioned and possibly illegal Tough Mudder. I think they said/described rabbits. We’ll see.]
Today we are WITH THE TEAM. We will ride the Team Bus to the start. And we will ride with Car 3 during the race. We are fully embedded. I don’t speak Spanish. I’m in Spain traveling with a Colombian team.
It’s ungodly hot and humid in this part of Spain. We are reminded over and over again—the landscape, the arid vibes, the color of the dirt, the bleached-out sky, the low clouds, the highway signs on the way into Alicante with information about the Ferry Terminal written in Arabic—that we are basically in Africa. Yes, this part of Spain is technically separated from Africa by a thin channel of water that flows into the Atlantic in one direction and the Mediterranean in the other direction, but let’s get real here, we all know how Pangea worked and this chunk of land clearly matches Africa more than Europe, so when we say it’s Africa-hot here we mean it’s Africa-hot here. So maybe that’s why the temperature in our room is set to 18 degrees Celsius. Which is basically a little bit colder than your average walk-in cooler where restaurateurs—I know because I worked at several Domino’s Pizza restaurants and while slapping and tossing the dough was my principle responsibility/skill/art, sometimes I had to fold boxes and fuck with the tomato sauce—hang meat and store shit. And/or maybe it’s because the thermostat in this room will let us set it that low. That’s unusual for Europe; normally the thermostats here are equipped with an overzealous governor. It’s a handicap room, maybe that has something to do with it. I know that has something to do with the bathroom havning essentially no boundaries or retaining walls or lips or slats or dykes of any kind separating the shower “area” from the rest of the bathroom. But listen, I think we’re getting off topic here. All I wanted to tell you is that every night I sleep naked aside from a Mountain Hardwear down jacket, because our nearly featureless beds are equipped with only two sheets and one pillow and that’s it. And that’s also why every morning I wake-up with cold feet. Tonight I’m going to sleep with wool socks on, even if sleeping with your socks on really DOES give you bad dreams.
Speaking of feet, many members of Team Manzana Postobón have pink feet because they’ve been pouring water onto their shoes during the race everyday because it’s Africa-hot (see above) and their pink socks bleed, and now they’re all walking around barefoot in the bus and at the Team Hotel with pink feet.
Driving out of the Team Hotel (also our MFS Team Hotel) Parking Lot, in the Manzana Postobón Team Bus, it’s quiet. Everyone is still basically sleeping, chilling, lounging, et cetera. The drive takes about forty minutes. It’s hard to say when and how it started, the change is almost imperceptible, but by the time we pull into the start area all the riders are laughing and throwing shit at each other and moving around and eating bananas and getting dressed and clowning, and listening to Reggaeton really really really loudly.
My cameras and Klaus’ glasses fog up several times throughout the day. There is no middle ground in the race chase environment, you’re either outside in the insane heat or you’re inside a car in the insane air-conditioned cold. The only rational and reasonable environments, it would seem, are the bars and lunch spots one finds on the side of your average Valencian gas station.
FASHION TREND REPORT:
- A) Giant, flat, maximally mirrored sunglasses.
- B) (Still 😟) Bedazzled, distressed, acid-washed, appliquéd, heavily-zippered jean shorts, jorts and shants are a thing. Sigh.
- C) It’s so hot women are walking around in bikinis and bras and underwear.
- D) It’s so hot men are walking around in less than that.
- E) Dear Men, come on, it’s not thaaaaaat hot, some of you should at least wear a bra. I’m not saying you NEED to wear one but… I’m not not saying that either.
Have you ever been walking down a freeway past an abandoned casino in the middle of a Russian money laundering housing development “area” that hasn’t seen activity in twenty years because the second round of funding was never secured, and you’re surrounded by desert and rocks and billboards with faded and peeling advertisements for car dealerships that have been closed since forever, and it looks and feels like you’re on a different planet made for fine art photography students and you couldn’t feel more alone and weirded out and further from anything or anyone that you know and then the dude that’s been walking through the haze and shimmering heat in your direction for the last ten minutes suddenly materializes and says, in a Madrid accent, “Hey, are you with Manual for Speed?” Has that ever happened to you? It happened to me. And it was maybe the high point of my 2017. Because first of all dude is young and friendly and clearly switched on. He’s wearing a Golden Saddle Cyclery shirt. He’s from Madrid, his name is George (I think) but everyone calls him Jota. He’s carrying a Contax G2. He’s taking photographs of the NOT THE RACE but the people watching the race for a local newspaper. And while Spain is breathtakingly beautiful in many ways, and everyone we’ve met at the race, in the race, near the race, next to the race and not all having anything to do with the race, has been remarkably friendly and kind and genuine, it’s still weird as fuck out here in rural Valencia. Plus, there’s random and then there’s raaaaaaaaandom.
I don’t know why, but Aldemar Reyes lost a tooth during the race. Well, there’s lost and then there is lost. He lost it from his mouth but then found it or kept it or had it. Nobody will tell me why or how it came to be not in his mouth. Anyway, the point is, the assistant DS wrapped it in a blue napkin and stuffed it into the vent of the Team Car. To keep it cool. But then that, for me, raises the question: can A/C—even an A/C set to Arctic—keep a tooth alive? Can you do a tooth transplant, or re-installment or whatever that would be called? Is a tooth like finger or digit?
Asking everyone that works at New Delhi how to take the ferry to Africa and subsequently having and failing that conversation in three different languages with three different people in three different sessions, was a High Point. Also, I’m not being facetious or sarcastic. It really was. Having relatively wonderful Indian food in the city of Alicante on Sunday night is enough to be a high point. But planning an impromptu trip to Africa because it seems like you can, now more than ever? So much so that you feel obliged to? The questions is Morocco or Algiers?—turns out that’s an easy question to answer, because you need a visa for Algiers. And while it sounds as though a visa is easily obtained it’s still a “barrier to entry”, literally. Ferry or Fly? Looking up various tickets and fees on our phones. Also looking up the next two stages of the Vuelta to see if we’re going to get any closer to Gibraltar in the next few days. Getting the staff involved. Yeah, that was a High Point. As was ordering Sag Paneer and Chicken Tikka Masala in Spanish and listening to the dude with a Catalan lisp recite your order back to you with that S.
Watching Michael Woods finish third because wait, who the fuck is Michael Woods and why is he finishing a mountaintop stage of the Vuelta ahead of Contador and Nibali?!??!!?!?!
While it was short lived—it turns out you can’t just go to Africa even if you’re IN European Africa already and it looks like, on a map, that it and us is about the same distance between San Diego and Los Angeles—it was fun to think about trying to convince Lachlan Morton to come to Africa with us like that time we went to the beach in Adelaide. Yeah, this would have been a bit more involved but not that much. Plus, high risk, high reward.
II Three Quotes Overheard During Stage 09
III The Alicante Experiment
Sometimes, an Indian restaurant is a proverbial gastronomic life raft when you are abroad. Say you find yourself in rural France, or some suburban setting in Finland, and you begin wonder what on Earth you’ll be eating. Ideally you want something recognizable and edible. It may sound small-minded of us, perhaps downright provincial, that we prefer comfort over adventure. But that’s simply not the case. It’s just that sometimes, during a trip, all you want is plentiful food that tastes good, is easily understood, and easily enjoyed so you can get on with life, and feel happy. That’s where the Taj Mahals, India Gates, Saffron Houses and Taste of Indias of the world come in. They nourish you. They save you.
Spain’s Valencia municipality is no different: we’ve found an astonishing number of Indian restaurants here. Interesting, considering we didn’t think there would be a single one, largely by taking into account that our hotel is in a highway rest stop. But since Indian restaurants surround us, we intend to visit as many as possible during our time here. For your collective edification, we’ll be reviewing and comparing each of these eateries. Each night, Daniel will order Chicken Tikka Masala, Sag Paneer, a Mango lassi and a mixed pickle. Klaus will order Garlic Naan and Ali Gobi.
Located in the Gran Alacant shopping mall, the Gallery Indian Restaurant is easy to find. Because it’s pretty much on a highway rest stop (which, based on our hotels, feels comfortingly familiar). Visitors will be overwhelmed by the sights and sounds that surround this eatery. Imagine a Japanese arcade, double its capability to deliver sensory overload and you’ll understand what we’re talking about. As you walk through the mall looking for the restaurant arcade games beep and flash and children run around water fountains that blast Back Eyed Peas from what we can only guess are magical, underwater (or at least water proof) speakers. As a response to all this, after walking to the second floor of this rest stop mall, we asked to be seated inside.
Our table was comfortable, and the décor your average Indian restaurant fare. Bedazzled paintings of peacocks and the like. The bathroom had a sliding door that, even when fully closed left a six-inch gap, allowing passers by to see you perfectly as you did your business. It did have a latch though (yay)… but the latch didn’t work (ugh).
No choice was given with regards to spice level. Due to the high humidity in the air, the papadum that was brought to our table went from being crispy to having the consistency of Play-Doh within seconds. The familiar three-chutney tray was brought to the table, but was promptly removed. I felt that the tamarind chutney was made out of ketchup and Tabasco sauce.
The aloo gobi portion was generous and surprisingly good. What it lacked in fresh cilantro, it made up for in its flavor. Impressive, considering that the spice level was on the weak side.
The garlic naan was a bit disappointing, and whatever flour was used to make it differed greatly from that which we’ve become accustomed to in North America.
I love it when they put an ice cube in your mango lassi. Also, the glass and the straw can have a major impact on your lassi experience; this place nailed both. Simple, straight forward equipment. Also, it was not too sweet. Lassis are ALMOST ALWAYS too sweet. The other thing about a lassi is it comes out first, sometimes before the papadam, it’s like a canary in your personal Indian coal mine. When I got this lassi I was like wow, even though we’re basically in an arcade in an above-ground strip mall in a freeway rest area, this dinner is maybe going to be amazing.
The mixed pickle was PERFECT. Not too salty. Some lime but mostly mango.
The chicken tikka masala was amazing. Fresh ginger and almond slices. Creamy but not too rich. Great color. Good portions. Wow, when it’s good it’s good.
Palak panner, as you know, can get weird in the color and cheese departments. Nobody wants a neon green spinach with rubber cheese for dinner. Like the tikka masala, this dish tasted fresh and had great coloring. The mouth feel was silky. Also it tasted fucking great.
A Cultural Divide Bathroom Reporting by Klaus
Postmodernist thought won out. Pluralism shapes our worldview, and warns us about the lure and flawed nature of absolute truths. And yet, when it comes to certain topics, there can only be one answer. One correct approach. That, I would argue, is the case with one issue/question that came up today in room 002 of the Hotel Sercotel AG Express, Elche, Spain.
Is it OK to pee in the shower of a hotel bathroom, when you are sharing that room with another person?
Our views on this issue are diametrically opposed. Which of us stands on what side of the hotel room peeing divide is inconsequential. But we’d like to get some input on the matter to help us figure out who is right. Or at least whose take on this issue is more common among an important (albeit selective) group of people. Meaning you. The readers. So we are asking you.
Travel Question: Is it OK to pee in the shower of a hotel bathroom, when you are sharing that room with another person?
— manual for speed (@manualforspeed) August 28, 2017