Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Moped Diaries: Part 1

The Moped Diaries (1:2) from Forest Woodward on Vimeo.

2 underpowered mopeds. 4 days. 600 Kilometers.

March 12th, Day 1: Leaving Sevilla. Lots of questions. Following John as he strangely weaves through traffic. Weaving sounds to graceful - imagine the way a drunkard weaves. As we strapped on our space helmets and filled out paperwork for the rentals he confessed that he'd never ridden anything more powerful than a bicycle before. Watching him now I wonder if he had even ridden that. Just moments ago we had spluttered out of the garage at Vespa Sur. These were no Vespas. We're talking bottom of the line gringo scooters. If they'd known what we planned to do with them I doubt they would have even given us these. Questions still churning. Amidst the jumble two resurface repeatedly, "Is John going to wreck?" and "How long until my moped breaks down". Twenty minutes out and my moped is steadily losing power. We turn back and trade it in for a different one. Back on the road John's moped splutters as he frantically swerves out of traffic and coasts to a stop. Neither of us are mechanically inclined, but eventually we do manage to figure out how to unscrew the gas cap and peer into the empty tank.
Gas tanks refilled we reach the outskirts of Sevilla. Now what? Tere had said to go recto recto recto until we got to Dos Hermanas. It wasn't that we didn't understand her, but something looked so appealing about that on ramp. Now we're on the autopista. This is where Tere told us not to go. The speed limit is 120 kph - no one drives the speed limit. I glance down at my speedometer. It maxes out at 80 kph. It doesn't want to go faster than 60. We pull over. Two grown frightened men on mopeds. John asks if I had seen the sign saying that mopeds were prohibited on the autopista. I hadn't. 6 more km - we decide to chance it. Off the hellish freeway and still alive, we relax a little. Scooting into pastoral Spain - we can see the Sierras in the distance. Later tonight we'll be in the foothills. The sun gathers speed as it slides towards the horizon. Golden light twisting through ancient orchards of olive trees. Long after nightfall we splutter into the quaint town of Arcos. Dinner is red wine, fried egg, bread, potatoes, sausage, chicken, salad and flan. Street lamps guide us through winding cobble streets and the whitewashed houses situated atop the rocky tore rising out of the foothills. Friendly people, good food. We've arrived in the first of Los Pueblos Blancos. I like.

Day 2: Sunrise. Being a photographer sucks. I wake John up and tell him it's time to go. He asks if the alarm has gone off and I tell him I think so. Why else would I be telling him to get up? He looks at his cell phone, "it's 3:15". Confused but happy about the prospect of more sleep. 6:00 AM comes and it might as well have been 3:15 again. Sunrise still seemed a stupid idea. 2 hours later I'm ecstatic. From a rooftop John and I watch and photograph as the sun creeps up over the distant ridge-line of the Sierras, illuminating the landscape into which we'd ridden last night under the cover of darkness.

Midafternoon: Headed further into the mountains we've pulled off the main road onto a dirt track. The countryside rolls out away from us in green waves until they meet the rocky crags of the Sierra Beticas. Lush meets arid. We find shade and crack a bottle of rioja. Queso curado, olives, fresh bread, mandarins, dark chocolate. If nothing else, the Spaniards have taught us the value of a good meal. Traveling with a photographer can be really annoying. I know this. John's been a patient companion and even a willing model, but when I ask him to jump a barbed wire fence and go sit in the middle of a field of cows he balks. More rioja. Still no? I abandon my pretensions of high fashion and appreciate the landscape as is. Siesta in the shade. Shadows are getting long and it's time to push on.

Dusk: Winding up into the mountains, the country soon looses it's soft pastoral feel and is replaced by rocky tores and gnarled trees twisting into dark tunnels. Chasing the last of the light up the mountain we emerge from the forest and out into the high tundra. Pulling out the camera for the 100th time, I encourage John as he obliging drives back and forth along a winding stretch of road, leaving a trail of light through the dusk. Below the valley is in shadow. Ridges fold into one another, velvety shades of blue against the pastel horizon. We're nearing Grazalema, the next pueblo blanco, and our destination for the night. Stars are out now. Mountain stars, desert stars, call them what you want, they're the stars that are always there but can only be seen when you leave the lights of civilization and find those places where the air is clean and dry.

Pulling out of another overlook I gun the engine (how do you gun a 49cc engine?) and as the tire hops up over a berm and back onto the road I feel and then hear the dull flat thunk of an airless tire. No tools, no lights, no air. We drag the offending scooter up into the woods and stash it. Now the interesting part. A backpack of camera gear, 300 lbs of man, and the rest of our provisions. Forget Che Guevara and the Motorcycle Diaries, this no longer passes as even a parody. Somewhere the trip has metamorphosed and now Dumb and Dumber are sharing a ridiculously overloaded scooter headed over a mountain pass. Surprisingly we arrive in Grazalema intact. Dinner and a shower and I'm sleeping contentedly. It's only been a couple hundred kilometers, but it feels a world away from the classrooms and museums of Sevilla.

Routa de Los Pueblos Blancos in a larger map

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