Joonto's Travels: Andalusia

Andalusia is the land I always wanted to visit, but I never made it for some reason, until 2019...
As I said in my previous article Joonto's Travels: Sevilla, I'm a curious person who can appreciate great marketing. One advertisement posted on a science magazine I read when I was like 13-14 is still stuck in my head. This ad published on the science magazine said:

The Phoenicians were here...
The Romans were here...
The Byzantines were here...
The Visigoths were here...
The Arabs were here...
And you? When are you coming to Andalusia?

Well here I was! As I landed at Sevilla airport I picked the car booked with Europcar. For once I opted for a touristic, expensive solution. From one hand I have the buyers remorse, on the other, I feel right. I was coming from a stressful month and needed to do things with the highest comfort possible. So these 256 EUR of car rental, with full insurance, were acceptable, as long as this will remain an exception.
The car was a Fiat 500, cute and agile car. It suffers a bit on the highways, but after all it did its job.
As I left Sevilla airport, I headed to Gibraltar with great determination! I was craving to see the other side of the igaming industry. I wanted to see Malta's secret twin...

Gibraltar

This trip put to the test my phone. I was stupid after all to run Google Maps even on the highway, making my phone overheating already half-way. I had to turn it off and resume it only when I reached Jerez de la Frontera. Damn! I could include a visit to the F1 track too! How many damn things I have to see in Andalusia???
I was tempted, but I had promised my ex-manager to meet her in Gibraltar. A promise is a promise. No temptations allowed.
I felt excited when I passed in front of the check point at La Linea. I was surprised by La Linea, the Spanish town bordering Gibraltar. Everyone in Malta compared La Linea to Bronx in New York, to describe its ugliness, poor cleanliness and crime rate. I found a totally opposite place. La Linea is colourful, clean, with tall green palm trees and wide white beaches kissed by tall waves that make it a perfect spot for surfers. The crime that people refer to might be some weed dealer roaming in the central park, nothing major. In this park you will find a skating platform and a bunker. Of course this bunker remarks that it was built "against Gibraltar", pointing toward the rock like a watchdog.

Gibraltar is still a pain in the arse for Spanish. It doesn't matter if after all, the Rock brings a lot of money in Andalusia too, through the igaming workers living in the surrounding towns and even tourism. Tourists visiting Gibraltar spend money in Spain too. This little rock created a unique economic eco-system, but sometimes blind nationalism can overlook these aspects.
Regarding nationalism, I felt ridiculous to enter a check-point, but that's how the situation is there.
La Policia couldn't care less, so I began to think the same of the Gibraltarian guards: “Excuse me Sir...”, the cop said with the typical British accent. I was walking past him. Lazy, I pulled out my ID. The cop stared at it for some seconds, after which he was happy with his useless task. He decided I wasn't a threat for Gibraltar security and I was free to pass.
On the other side of the gate, there was an airport track! This is the moment I was waiting for the most! Crossing the only pedestrian passage over an airport track in the world!

I couldn't understand where I was. The first thing I thought of Gibraltar is that is a Montecarlo for the poor, not in a negative way. The architecture, the tall buildings just below this sharply high rock standing above your head resemble closely the Principality of Monaco, with the difference that Gibraltar scene is scruffier and is lacking of luxury cars. In other words, Gibraltar is more realistic than most of the microstates I've been. It is the last thing I expected from this place!

When I crossed the old walls and entered in the first main square, I was hungry. I immediately could notice that food-wise I was in the UK. That was bad... I didn't know what to choose, so I gave up to the first kebab I saw. The choice of ingredients was narrowed to 5 salads only: carrots, sweet corn, lettuce, onions, peppers. Faster saying what I wanted out of my wrap: carrots and onions.
It was so funny that the kebab owner (a native Gibraltarian) was translating to his Spanish employees what I was saying, even when it was clear that I could speak Spanish too! I think that the Gibraltarians have their brains confused by the constant switch between Spanish and English. This problem doesn't affect the Spanish working in Gibraltar as they are told by doctors that speaking English is not healthy...
Gibraltarians are funny when they speak English too. They have a cute accent that is something reminiscing of the cartoons for kids, like Winnie Poo just to give you an idea! :-D
No offense intended here, just a hilarious observation! :-)
Carla, my former manager at PokerStars, agrees with me. Surreal to meet her so far from Malta. Now she works in Gibraltar and lives 20 minutes from it. She took me for a brief tour across a park in the heart of downtown. Carla is from Portugal, so Gibraltar stands in an awesome position for her to go home whenever she wants.
From there though, you can go further than Portugal; you can even cross the Pillars of Hercules and be in Morocco in just 25 minutes! The first thing I thought was: "So if I lived here, I could be in 4 different countries within 2 hours driving...."
The idea of moving to Andalusia sounds more alluring to me than ever...
Not only the chance to reach exotic destinations though; Gibraltar offers also a nice Marina, full of odd bars and restaurants. The oddest is certainly the Casino. This is a proper Casino built simply by parking a yatch in the Marina permanently. The rest of the Marina is built just as Venice was built; by claiming land from the sea and planting platforms above water. This is genius and aesthetically brilliant.
It was so nice to have a pint of Guinness with this old friend, at the local Irish Pub.

The biggest regret is that I couldn't meet the monkeys... They live up the rock. The cable car was closing at 19.30, but I didn't imagine the whole park closed at that time too. My climbing over the rock was useless and interrupted by the guard: “That's the thing! For you it would be more convenient to come back tomorrow as you will need at least 2 hours to see everything.”
What Carla told me about the monkeys is that they are bad kids. Rule of thumb is to never bring a plastic bag with you. They will think the bag contains food and will steal it from your hands as they can!
However, climbing over the rock wasn't totally useless. The upper town reminded me those villages of the Cote d'Azure in South of France. It made me feel home. I didn't expect anything like that. I was expecting something artificial. The cutest part I spotted was close to the park entrance, where the guard stopped me before. It is a 18th century church that looked abandoned, even though a signal says there are regular masses.

Moreover, up there I found an astonishing view point to take a photo of the Pillars of Hercules! I beheld the very end of the ancient world. I saw Africa in its face! I peered through the pillars to look the Atlantic for the first time in my life! This was an eternal moment, up there on The Rock, in a relaxing silence, in front of the world...

Dear Gibraltar, this wasn't the last time we saw each other... Expect me back soon...

Malaga

The closest big Spanish city to Gibraltar is Malaga. I was so excited to pin my flag on this city. Wikipedia told me that it's one of the oldest cities in the world, having been inhabited uninterruptedly for almost 3000 years!
Like all the great things though, you have to struggle for it...
When I was 50 km away from Malaga, Google Maps decided that connecting to 4G is not cool. This meant that I had to sort myself. Reaching the city wasn't an issue. The problem was to find my accommodation there... Where the hell Calle Sant Agustin was???
I stayed a little longer at the service station to boil down a rage that struggled to fade. When I texted my friend James what happened he joked: "You entered into a blackout area and soon you will be abducted by aliens..."
I wasn't in the mood to joke, even if it was aliens, not even as the #Aliencoin founder. Not all. I replied with a flamed vocal message at 90 decibel: "Now I'm fed up with Google!!! It wants to create problems every single time!!! Now I swear that I will go to Mountain View with a gasoline truck and I will set Google HQ on fire!!!!"
James just texted back: "Come on relax! You're just on holiday... :-D"
This peaceful mantra helped me to vent my rage, relax, think rational again and hop in the Fiat 500.
"Only 50 km and then I will be able to sleep!", that was my only thought. I began to make a countdown every time I saw the signal to Malaga: 40 km, 30 km, 20 km... endless agony!
Up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light. My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim. I had to stop for the night. However, no Hotel California was in sight. Somehow, at some point, I was inside Malaga, around the harbour. Relying on my quasi-eidetic memory, I went back to the only time I checked the Airbnb area on Google Maps in detail. I remembered that the Roman theatre was very close to Calle Sant Agustin. I had to search for the Roman theatre, if only there was a signal to it...
I stopped for a second in an empty spot, behind another car that was dropping a woman in white. This woman in white stopped for a second to say good night to her driving friend. Once the greetings were over, the driving friend, a woman in black, reversed... too fast in my opinion! I began to wave my hands to signal a big NO! The woman in white started to say something too, but the woman in black didn't stop in time. She hit me. I was appalled and didn't even know how to react, nor what to say... I remained still in my car for long seconds. Meanwhile the woman in black drove away, after her pal in white said something like everything was good...
"Good I got the full insurance this time!", it's all I could think. I even didn't jumped off to check the damage. "First let's find the Airbnb, then I will think about the damage!".
At some point I finally found the Roman Theater and managed to park in front of the city hall. After all, it looked like it was legal to park there at least until 8.00 in the morning...
Checking on a real map, finding Calle Sant Agustin was a piece of cake. It took another 40 minute to take back the luggage and park the car in a safe place. Finally, at 2.30 am, I could take a shower and have a deserved rest!
My face here, when I reached the Roman Theatre, says it all...

I woke up quite early, like around 9.30 am. Damn! The light was so bright! The city was so lively, another place compared to the ghost town I found the night before. I got surprised by the incredible position of my accommodation. So cheap (27.00 EUR a night) and so central. It is literally in front of the Picasso Museum, around the corner of the Cathedral and just 3 minutes walking from the Roman Theater. Everything is beautiful, elegant and clean. The center looks like a little Madrid, with the add-on of ancient heritage from the Roman era that it is absent in the huge capital instead.

I would like to tell you something more about Malaga, but I spent more time finding a parking space than exploring the city. I wish I could visit the Picasso Museum, arrive before at the Mercado Central (awesome prices for fish!), going inside the Roman citadel and enjoy the night clubs placed right in the very historical center, furthermore few steps from my place. I also left the city with the regret of not having met my great friend Miguel. He is a brilliant guy who lived in Malta for some years, working in the gaming industry, before switching from the office to the sailing life. A real brave man, like few these days. But how can you meet a now responsible father, when you arrive in the city at 2.30 the first night and at 00.30 the night after? Well, actually the night after, when back from Marbella, I had arrived in Malaga already at 21.30, but then I needed other 3 hours to find a parking...
So yeah, the only real useful tip I can give you about Malaga is to reach it by any mean but not by car! Not your own car at least!
By the way, the woman in black didn't do any damage to my car... ;-)

Marbella

Among the people who switched Malta with Andalusia there were Jarno and Patricia.
"Why don't you pop in to see this small but lovely town?", Jarno texted me. Why not? I thought! What did I rent the car for? Renting a car is a waste of money yes, but at least it gives you the freedom to change plans at any given time. A region so big and yet filled potentially with many people I knew, made the car a necessity, at least for the first 3 days of roaming across the then Caliphate of Al-Andaluz.
After giving another round to Malaga and stuffed my stomach with calamari, I rode straight away to Marbella!
The Fiat 500 struggled to hold the grip on the long fast bends, but what worried me the most was my intestines when there were only 10 minutes left to my destination. Luckily for me there was a service station right there. I inhaled and exhaled as if I were pregnant. Giving birth to liquid shit on a rented car was out of discussion! With great organization, I hopped off the car, entered the bar, ordered for an espresso (I don't drink coffee but that was the first thing popped in my mind) and rushed into the loo. Closed the door, the pain left room to bliss... while I was reading:
"La Guardia Civil es el brazo armado de la Mafia!" - The Civil Guard is Mafia's armed branch -
This is what I found in the loo.
When hearing about Marbella, you always hear about the Mafia, after the scandals created by former Atletico Madrid president and then mayor of Marbella, Jesus Gil. He favoured a real estate boom never seen before, with wild speculation and zero care for environmental consequences, all things that I know very well...
Useless to say that the real estate industry skyrocketed for a decade and that such kind of industry attracts every kind of investor, even and especially the least desirable. But I wasn't there to play the cop like Simon Pegg in Hot Fuzz. I was there just to see my friends and how's living in such a place.
I must admit that Marbella is better than I expected. It offers long boulevards with long palm trees. It's a pleasure driving there. If you want to walk, you have the seaside few meters away.
Jarno and Patricia brought me though to the most exclusive area of Marbella: Puerto Banus.
Puerto Banus is a Spanish version of Montecarlo, but less serious and with a fresher look! For example, the first Ferrari I met was painted with military camouflage! It's nice to see that I'm not the only one who painted his car in an... original way...

I was proud to see Malta's flags over 90% of the yachts in the Marina! Under this perspective, Malta is really efficient. Am I praising tax evasion? Maybe, I don't know and I don't care. When it comes to bring the yacht economy on the island, I recognize that Malta does a good job. If other countries want to reclaim these ships, they need to be more efficient. It's their job, they can't blame anyone else.
At a certain point, we noticed a big yacht entering the Marina. People were gathering with their phones. It had to be some hot stuff. Jarno, Patri and I fancied about some celebrity. The yacht was Solandge, a ship costed 150 millions EUR. She is 85.1 m long, weights 2899 tonnes and can host up to 16 passengers in her 7 luxury rooms. You can even rent this yacht for just 1 million a week, plus the expenses, but don't worry, the crew is included!

Who the hell could afford this beautiful monster? Our hopes to see some celebrity having a great week were soon dissolved. A group of Arabic drivers approached the landing point on black Mercedes and Land Rover. The Marina security struggled to push people away from the hop off area. On the upper deck we saw some men smoking cigars. After a long while, we saw the crew and slowly two Asian baby-sitters taking some kids out of the ship. Ah, just a rich family probably from the Emirates. Boring...
What wasn't boring was walking on a proper promenade, so green, so full of life, so posh but not in a pretentious way.

We stopped at a wine bar to have some cute tapas and some drinks. I was tempted to taste the local wine, but then I remembered that I was no longer in Malta. I know that you don't mess with the Spanish police. So I got a coke and a cheese cake. I know, a disrespectful choice worth of the fattest American tourist, but I wanted to try it in the Spanish way. I wasn't disappointed...

It was so good and even beautiful as you can see!
I can describe Marbella as the place to spend a different day, observing what the super-rich and the celebrities do during their days. It's the spot to find "alternative" cars, luxury yachts, fancy boutiques, but all surrounded by a friendly atmosphere, not at all intimidating. Like to say "We are rich here, but peasants are still welcome!" :-D

Why so serious? :-D

Road to Sevilla

From Google Maps, 3 hours of driving look OK, but to me they were eternal. I was already so tired from the previous days. On top of this, I'm not used to drive for more than 20 minutes in Malta. I'm definitely an out of shape driver. These distances are huge for me now.
For such reasons, I had to stop quite a few times before reaching the Andalusian capital. This is how I spotted a unique place by the highway. I'm fond of abandoned places and close to a service station, I found hot stuff for me: an abandoned farm, left not so long ago. I can estimate that it was left like 5-6 years ago. The structure was indeed still intact, the greenhouse still held pieces of cover and the floor was still defined, without a trace of grass piercing through it. Even the connection to the power grid was still there.
Today this place is the dwell of pigeons, indeed the second wing of the complex is dirty as fuck! When the pigeons saw me, the ran away with such a noise that I almost thought the flock was going to attack me!

This thrilling experience gave me the last boost to reach Sevilla. I was looking forward to drop the car. The only issue was to find a gas station before bringing the car back. As I imagined, there was a gas station just before La Estacion de Santa Justa, where Europcar dwells. “El lleno por favor”, I asked. Instant service and ready to go. Finding Europcar park was very easy. Here, one thing that annoyed me a lot. I just arrived, parked and not even the time to relax that a Europcar man was already there asking to check for the car! Come on guys! After hundreds of kilometres you bother me as I poke my nose in the parking area??? This is not cool, especially when you take the car long before the deadline. He even entered into the car before I removed all of my stuff! Now, my Spanish is not yet so fluent to let me get pissed off, but if he was an English speaker....
Anyway, for the “caring” Europcar man, everything was OK. They were happy with a total of 256 EUR. The price was not a problem. I had an experience, but from now on, I will move around the continent via BlaBlaCar, as my next travel companion was doing. She was coming from Madrid and for me it was time to meet her at The Backpackers Hostel Palace, in the heart of Sevilla...

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