Following a small, narrow and winding road to Alozaina, a small mountain village just north of Malaga, I turn up the volume; Arcade Fire’s To wake up explode in my ear cups, and I make my way through the green hills, leaving behind the pass of the Sierra de los Nieves. My shifter is wobbly – somehow I had managed to get the tread off the clamp and need to shift carefully now – but for now I just need to go to the village and worry about the gearshift later. The road is completely empty, the setting sun is already hiding behind the smoky blue mountains, and I meander around the bends feeling like the bike is floating just above the tarmac – the bends are so perfect we fall into a rhythm regular, swinging seamlessly from one fold to another.
Alozaina is tiny. A wider street starting from the main road, a roundabout, a grocery store and a gas station with two pumps; a tavern which also serves as a guest house, a tobacco shop, and a few quiet alleys lined with old white houses built to protect themselves from the heat. The tavern is full: Andalusia has eased COVID restrictions again and locals are enjoying a night out. Families with children, a few older men with half-closed eyes facing the setting sun drinking coffee, a group of young people sharing beers, life seems to be resuming its course in Alozaina. The owner, a chatty little woman with black rimmed glasses, ushers me inside, shows me my room and apologizes – she’s busy with her tavern regulars and I’m on my own.
Leaving my gear and luggage in the bedroom, I go out to check the gear lever. The tavern guests watch curiously as I unzip my roll of tools; I can’t do much – the tread inside the shifter clamp is almost completely bare, and the only way to fix this is to get a new part. I squeeze the clamp as best I can and go inside. I have a cold Corona and a canned tuna salad in one of the saddlebags; that will do for dinner. For some reason, I didn’t feel like mingling with the innkeepers downstairs. My room has a small balcony with a wrought-iron railing – too small to put a chair in, but spacious enough to sit cross-legged on the floor, watching the twilight engulf the hills in the distance. There is a cacophony of clinking glasses, cutlery and voices from the tavern downstairs, but here I am settled into 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 lamppost glow and wobble under my balcony, besieged by a growing army of moths.
The next morning, I head to Malaga to find a replacement for the gear lever. Spain is never the same Spain, even over short distances. In Alozaina, stopping in a grocery store to buy bottled water and apples before leaving, I wait patiently for an old woman in a brown cardigan, shiny from the wear of the sleeves, to count the price on a notepad, list the water, the three apples – no, two apples… two apples, yes; Do you want an orange, my dear? They’re in season, you know. Costs. Now where was i – then recalculate it again, thoughtfully nibbles the tip of his pen, then confirms the price with a young girl stocking shelves (a niece, perhaps?) And finally takes a few coins and counts the change, carefully wishing me good luck . I wonder if the girl will eventually take over as a storekeeper, and if she too will start wearing cardigans with worn sleeves. I love this version of Spain – old Spain, old Andalusia, old roots.
In Malaga, bars and clubs litter the waterfront, people wear designer sunglasses, and the large and airy motorcycle dealership that Google has suggested to house a squadron of young salespeople in uniform with helmets, clearly bored but determined to appear distant and important. One glance at my dirty, dirty DR and its zippered fairings, and I’m instantly classified as a nuisance in their head; I’m not here for a new jacket or expensive routine maintenance. Still, one of the more talkative guys quickly orders a new shifter and tells me to come back on Monday to pick it up. Or, maybe, Tuesday, but could also be Thursday, let’s see, I’ll whatsapp you, right? Next!
Hoping the clamp would last a few hundred kilometers before I could get a replacement, I joined the heavy traffic on the outskirts of Malaga. Slowly I realize it’s a traffic jam just before the nap. I haven’t been in one of them for months. The heat is rising, my helmet is choking, and if there is a sea breeze, I can’t feel it. I’m a creative scooter rider who filters through crowded streets like there’s no tomorrow, leaves town, and heads for the A-7000, a route recommended by a local biker. It is a small mountain road that crosses the Montes de Malaga, a national park wedged between the sea and Granada.
Soon I’m on a winding, empty road again. Now it’s nap time, and the doors and windows of the sleepy little villages along the way are closed. The world is again perfectly still and the road climbs higher and higher, revealing glimpses of the bay of Malaga below. I’m heading towards Granada, and I should see the snow capped Sierra Nevada any second to the next.
There is a gravel path that branches off from the main road and disappears into the woods. I get it – the map confirms it’s a shortcut.
As my tires raise a cloud of dust, I think of Alozaina oranges.
Maybe I should have bought a couple.