Updated On: April 9, 2006
Current Location:Tarifa, Spain
Distance Since Last Update:
441 miles
Total Distance: 4,474 miles
Current Weather: Sunny, Windy, Mid 70's
Local Fare: As much western food as possible: pizza, pasta, and a few Big Macs
Wildlife: Fearless Toro Bravos!
Recent Activities: Prepping for Africa! Watching our first (and last) bullfight.

 
 

Lagos, Portugal - April 3, 2006
Up Early, we packed the last remaining items and checked out of Motel Marsol. Our plan was to head for Tarifa, Spain, stopping along the way in Portemao to look for a turbo charger mounting bolt and to call Optima about arranging pickup of a replacement Yellow Top Battery in Spain. .

In Portemao, we first stopped at the Toyota dealer to inquire about a replacement bolt. Unfortunately, the parts department was at another location across town however a kind salesperson offered to guide us there. Good thing as we must have made at least 50 turns down narrow winding roads to get there and nobody seems to speak English which would have made getting directions very difficult. Once there, we hit another dead end as the parts department said it would take several days to order the bolt from Belgium. Ugh!

Next stop was a more enjoyable affair. We made our way to a dive shop recommended by Elmar as having the best selection of dive gear in the region. Our goal was to pickup snorkel gear as well as a few basic pieces of dive equipment. While the owner of the shop has a bit of a sour reputation, he proved very helpful and we found everything we were looking for. Better yet, when we went to pay for the gear we realized he didn’t take credit cards and we didn’t have enough euros. When we told him we only had US dollars, he smiled and said no problem, he’d accept dollars on a one-to-one basis. What a stroke of luck as this saved us about 20% on our purchase.

Happy with our purchase and our newfound good fortune, we setoff again for Tarifa. Along the way we stopped at a payphone to call about our getting a replacement battery. First two calls were to local Optima dealers near Tarifa. Neither dealer spoke English however our Spanish was good enough to determine they couldn’t help us. Our next call was to Pangaea Expeditions, to retailer who sold us the battery. No luck as we got no answer and the mailbox was full. Next call Optima USA. I was a bit frustrated as we were getting nowhere and I’d already tried to call Optima a couple of times which also yielded no progress. Sheri took a turn this time and again explained our situation. This time they referred her to the head of sales for Optima Europe and said he would be expecting our call. Not the resolution we were seeking however it was progress.

Happy to have made some progress, we continued towards Tarifa. The balance of the drive was an uneventfully smooth trip down Spanish highways. We arrived in Tarifa at 11:30pm and setout to find a campsite. This didn’t take long as Tarifa is teaming with campsites. The first one we found was Camping
Paloma. When we arrived we were greeted by a night watchman. Our conversation with him was somewhat comical as he spoke no English and very fast Spanish. Not long into the conversation we were completely confused and so we told him that we didn’t understand and to speak more slowly. This proved to be the funny part as he acknowledged what we were saying and only continued at the previous rate pointing this way and that and going on about who knows what for another 5 minutes. We have no idea what he was saying and just sat there shaking our heads and telling him that we didn’t understand while he continued on as if he didn’t really hear us. In any case, we have no idea what was said however in the end he ushered us through the gate and we found a vacant spot. It was warm out but the wind was howling and the trees which shielded the campsite were bowing to one side. None-the-less, we wasted no time pitching the tent and were in bed within 15 minutes.

 
 

Tarifa, Spain - April 4, 2006
Our campsite is nestled in the forest that’s situated between the ocean and a high peak several miles outside of town. Last night we listened to a symphony comprised of birds singing and the rustling of wind through the trees and this morning we were woken up by roosters crowing. We were eager to do a bit of exploring in Tarifa however the first order of business was to sort out our batteries and find the replacement bolt we needed. Fortunately there was a phone at the campsite and we were able to call Optima’s European sales manager who’s located in Germany. When we called he was already aware of our situation and told us to contact the sales manager for Spain who was also in the loop and would find a solution. So we contacted him and he told us arrangements were already being made and he would have the details for us by later in the day.
Having made progress with Optima, we next headed to Algeciras, 26 km from Tarifa, to see the Toyota dealer about the bolt we needed. They didn’t have it in stock however they could have it by Thursday afternoon, April 6. So we ordered the bolt (along with a few spares) and a replacement high beam bulb and motor oil. Having made further progress, we contacted Optima Spain for an update. More good news. They were having a new battery shipped to a dealer in Algeciras and it would be there on Thursday afternoon. Things were now falling into place and it looked like we could be in Africa as early as Friday.

With arrangements made to take care of our remaining truck work, we headed into Tarifa to check things out. It’s a relaxed, laid back town vibe that seems part frontier town, part kite surfer hangout. Inside the walls of the old city we navigated a narrow maze of streets that weave between white washed building that cascade down to the water front. We topped off the day by stopping in at a local Irish pub for a pint of ale followed by dinner at La Tratoria.

 
 

Tarifa, Spain - April 5, 2006
With all of our truck parts on order, we called Sharikay and Eric to get a status update and coordinate a meeting time for the ferry from Algeciras to Ceuta. Unfortunately, it turned out that their truck problems were far from over. To make a long story short, in addition to needing a new condenser, it was determined that they should replace the clutch before heading into the sand dunes. The parts were supposed to arrive overnight however after the truck was taken apart, they were told the parts would take another week plus to arrive. Moreover, the condenser wasn’t available and there were no guarantees as to when it would arrive. Bottom line is that, best case, they wouldn’t be ready to leave for Morocco before Friday, April 14. Possibly later. Ugh!! What a nightmare. We felt terrible for them.

This also meant we needed to rethink our plans. On the one hand we’d been looking forward to crossing into Africa together however on the other, there’s a growing concern about how hot it would be by the time we made it into the desert. So, after much debate, we decided to keep our plans in place and leave for Morocco by Sunday, April 9th, at the latest. That way we’d have more time to explore Morocco before meeting up with Sharikay and Eric and heading into Mauritania.

And with that, we went about taking care of the last outstanding items. Most notably, we had to order a replacement registration plate for the truck (our rear plate somehow fell off on the drive from Lagos to Tarifa). We called Matt Savage in England and he said he could overnight a plate to us and it would most likely arrive by Friday afternoon. Assuming it did, we’d be able to leave by Saturday morning.

 
 

Tarifa, Spain - April 6, 2006
With our fingers crossed we headed to Algeciras to pickup our parts and new battery. First stop: the toyota dealer. Good news. Everything arrived. Just to make sure it was the right bolt I installed it before I left the dealership. Next stop: El Globo, the Optima dealer where our new battery was to be shipped. Good news again. It arrived. All we had to do was hand them the old battery and we were off.

Back at the campsite, I installed the new battery and replaced the high beam bulb. Unfortunately, the light still didn’t work and now the outer beam didn’t work either. Through a fair amount of tinkering and the help of Matt Savage, I determined the cause of the problem: a blown fuse and the cause of the blown fuse to be our November test run at Salisbury Plain {SEE VIDEO}. Turns out that the water I went through was so deep that it clogged up the light sockets with mud. So I cleaned the socket, replaced the fuse, and everything works again. Hopefully, problem solved.

 
 

Tarifa, Spain - April 7, 2006
With everything pretty much ready to go, we eagerly awaited the arrival of our new registration plate from England. While we waited, we headed up to Algeciras to mail a box full of no longer needed guidebooks and gear back to the U.S. It was a beautiful day and crossing the mountains back to Tarifa gave us a clear view of Africa just on the other side of the Straight of Gibraltar. The sun was just starting to set and we decided to drive to the top of a high peak where we watched the sun go down and the lights of Tangier twinkle to life. It was a surreal sight. Africa seems so close now. We can almost touch it.

Before returning home to find out if our new tags had arrived, we headed into Tarifa for dinner. Afterwards we returned to camp where we found our new tags waiting for us at the reception desk. With our tags in hand we were ready to depart. All that remained was to select the exact date (Sat or Sun) and departure time. After some discussion we decided on Sunday afternoon. This would allow us to catch a bullfight on Saturday night and would also allow me an additional day for my back to heal (started to hurt a couple of days ago – probably as a result of jumping off the roof of the truck every day).

 
 

Tarifa, Spain - April 8, 2006
With only one day to go before our departure, we spent most of the day lazing around camp, washing clothes, and enjoying the fantastic spring weather. It was a wonderful, relaxed way to spend our final day in Europe. All day long however there was a bit of a nervous undercurrent. Not so much because we were nearing our departure for Africa but moreso because the hour was growing near for us to attend our first bullfight. At 4:30pm we climbed into Betty and setoff for the 6pm fight. On the drive over we were a bit anxious. Partly because we’ve always wanted to see a fight and learn more about an event that’s so much a part of the Spanish culture, and partly because we’d seen some footage of fights on television and it seemed pretty cruel. We arrived at the stadium at 5:30. It was the opening fight of the season and locals and tourist alike were pouring into the tiny stadium. On the way into the stadium we purchased two tickets for 30 euros each. This bought us the cheapest seats in the house located directly under the intense afternoon sun and beside perhaps the loudest, drunkest, most passionate, and perhaps popular spectator in town.

On the card for the evening was 6 fights. The first fight began at 6pm as the band announced the entry of the bull with a blast of horns. Here’s a summary of what took place (note: these are our observations based on attending 6 fights and clearly include our editorial comments):

In each fight, a team of toreros (bullfighters), led by a matador, battles a clearly enraged toro bravo (fighting bull).

ACT 1:
When the band begins to play, the gates open, and often with a significant amount of thrashing and banging of bull against metal, a clearly angry bull comes racing down the tunnel and into an empty stadium to the roar of the crowd. Once the bull is in the ring, four peons enter opposite corners of the ring dawning bright capes. At this point the bull is spitting mad and eager to charge anything that moves. At the first sight of a peon he charges across the ring to attack. Just as the bull reaches the peon, the peon steps behind a protective wall and the bull either skids to a halt or, in some cases, rams the wall head on. Next, another peon steps out on an opposite corner of the ring and the same action plays out. This goes on for several more times, each time with the bull charging across the stadium and the peon stepping behind the wall for cover. With each charge, the bull expends precious energy and as he begins to tire, the peons move further and further from the protection of their walls, eventually dancing around in the center of the ring as the, now tired, bull charges their capes. This concludes act one. In my view, the goal was for the peons to wear down the bull in preparation for act two.

ACT 2:
As the peons continue to dance about the stadium confusing and tiring the bull, act two opens when a picador armed with a long lance enters the ring riding a huge fully armored horse (picture a knight on horseback). Once in the center of the ring, the picador moves into the bull’s line of sight, which gets his attention. Without fail, the bull charges the picador. As the bull charges, the picador drives his razor sharp lance into the bull’s withers. Enraged and clearly in pain, the bull continues to ram the heavily armored horse as the picador continues to work his lance into the bulls back. By the time the joust is over, the picador has inflicted terrible damage to the bull, which is now covered in red and hemorrhaging massive amounts of blood. Perhaps most unsettling to us is that the joust between man and bull is so stacked against the bull. The horse is so heavily armored that the bulls charge has no effect and if the bull is successful in dislodging the lance, as was the case in one fight, another member of the toreros team races out and hands the picador another lance. The act ends with the bull standing in the middle of the stadium, bleeding profusely and panting heavily.

ACT 3
With significant damage now done, banderilleros enter the ring armed with banderillas (basically picture hunting arrows with razor sharp, barbed heads concealed under colorful streamers) and charge the tired, injured bull, stabbing the banderillas into the bulls neck as they pass. At my count, 6 banderillas are driven into the bull before the banderilleros exit the ring. The act closes with the bull gravely wounded, completely worn out, standing in the center of the stadium with it’s tongue hanging out of it’s mouth, letting out loud cries of pain.

ACT 4
The toro bravo now hardly resembles the strong, beautiful beast that charged into the stadium some 15 minutes earlier. The bull now tired and motionless, the peons have to work to get him to charge their capes. At this point, the matador enters the ring. Armed with a red cape and sword, the matador works the exhausted bull further, demonstrating his fancy footwork as the bull halfheartedly charges the cape. After several passes, the matador reveals his sword from behind the cape and, as the bull charges, drives it squarely between the bulls shoulder blades and presumably through it’s heart, in theory killing the bull. When done correctly, the bull drops almost immediately and another member of the team arrives with a dagger, which he drives into the bull’s brain stem ensuring the bull is dead. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always go to plan and in one fight, it took the matador 8 attempts to kill the bull. Each time he drove the sword in, it missed the mark, putting the bull through more agony before it was finally killed.

ACT 5
If the crowd likes the fight the bulls ears and tale are cut off and the matador parades around the stadium tossing them to eager fans. Meanwhile, a team of horses enters the stadium and drags the bull away while a cleanup crew uses shovels to clean up the blood soaked dirt that’s left behind. Once everything has been cleaned up, the matador exits the stadium, the horns sound, and a new fight begins.

6 fights later, the event was over. Leaving the stadium we watched a front end loader carry the slain bulls to a waiting butchers truck. Are we glad we attended the fight? Yes. Do we endorse bull fighting? No. It was difficult to watch. Perhaps mostly because there’s nothing fair about it. Everything is stacked against the bull. The peons have walls to hide behind. The picador sits high atop an armored horse with a team ready to come to his aid if he gets in trouble. And, most troubling is that the matador doesn’t even enter the ring until all of the fight is out of the bull.

In any case, it was a worthwhile experience and we’re not always going to agree with what we see while traveling. It’s all part of experiencing new things both good and bad.