Max Williams: A snowball fight in Spain

Max Williams and friends in Spain

Snowball fight in Spain

We are free camping after entering Spain from Portugal and are somewhere in the north. A surprise awaits us the next morning – our van is covered in snow. It’s freezing on our way to Segovia, but we do have a spectacular hilly white panorama. We play silly buggers and have a snowball fight for a bit of fun.

Segovia is a pretty village with its UNESCO Heritage listing. Great historic structures such as the Alcazar Castle, cathedral and Roman aqueduct. We don’t want another freezing night on the side of the road, so we head to Madrid, Spain’s capital, and look for a suitable campground for a few days – Michael and I erect the tent for the second time and get better at the task. We act the tourist (walked our feet off again), organise North African visas, and try to change our Aussie dollars. (No bloody luck there, so we have to use our other European currencies!)

We spend a couple of hours in the famous Prado Museum, which is a standout with 100 rooms filled with works of art. Madrid is full of monuments, wide streets, many art museums and some fabulous architecture. It is a lovely city, but we find out that driving at peak hour is suicidal in Madrid. Crazy drivers a la Singapore!  

Read: Max Williams: A Singapore surprise

The bullfight

When in Spain, do as the Spaniards do. Right? Bullfighting is in their DNA. It is their number one ‘sport’.

We are at the Las Ventas bullring in Madrid. It is the largest in Spain and was built in 1929 of Moorish design and can hold 24,000 people. It has two top tiers of ‘boxes’ for the more affluent, but we sit with the plebs down below and rent cushions for our concrete ‘seats’.

The Beatles played here in 1965 and AC/DC in 1996 for their aptly named ‘No Bull’ tour. The arena resembles a Roman theatre where gladiators fought, with a sandy surface to soak up the blood! Vendors sell the usual snacks as well as brandy in small paper cups. We warm up with a couple of nips and are ready for this experience – but a bit anxious about the outcome.

The procession is colourful – matadors, banderillos, picadors and the young bull – black, shiny and strong. The banderillos tease the bull and stick spears into it. This sends the animal into a rage but weakens it for the matador to do his bit. He struts around “like an egotistical ponce”, writes Ursula, obviously without much ability, because “it takes him about six attempts to try and kill the bull with his sword”. The sword is thrust into the neck region and supposed to sever the main artery in one go. This bull won’t go down and keeps charging on its knees. “One of the other stooges stabbed the animal in the neck with a dagger. It was a cowardly display, as the animal had no chance whatsoever.”

The crowd voices their disapproval with lots of booing. Dana and Ursula shed tears at this brutal spectacle and leave the stadium. Michael and I stay for the next fight. It’s fortunate, in one way, that the matador kills the beast with one thrust of his sword. The crowd applauds loudly and he receives one of the bull’s ears – for his ‘great performance’. What would he do with the ear, frame it? This experience has exposed us to animal cruelty at its worst. How can this be a sport? It has now been banned in many places in Spain. More than 50 per cent of the population want it banned for good.

Read: Seeing Spain for a steal

Two outstanding Spanish cities

We leave Madrid after the bullfight and are all upset at what we witnessed. A quiet drive south to Toledo follows. We arrive after dark to this beautiful city, perched on a hill with its narrow streets, wonderful cathedral and old buildings (declared a UNESCO Heritage site in 1986) – all lit up and on show. Michael writes, “One of the most pleasant spots in Spain.” If you want to see the cathedral without paying, why not catch up with an English-speaking tour group and just blend in. We are bloody sneaky cheapskates!

Over the next couple of days, with snow everywhere, we get to Cordoba in Andalusia, which is home to four World Heritage sites. The Great Mosque is one, built 1400 years ago and is part Christian, part Muslim construction. Truly a standout place to visit.

Farther south, we pick up some long-awaited mail in Algeciras and relax for the afternoon, catching up with Aussie gossip. We stock up with lots of grog and grocery supplies for our sojourn into North Africa. Early tomorrow, we board the ferry to cross the Gibraltar Straits to Spanish Ceuta.

We’re in North Africa

Ceuta is not very inspiring and a bit sleazy, particularly in the medina. Maybe there’s more of this to come in Morocco. We spend two hours at the border with officials searching vehicles – for weapons, or drugs?

It’s midday when we get through the border control, and now we’re on our way to Tangier, the northern most city in Morocco. The scenery is pretty with rugged and mostly barren hills and mountains along this southern route via Tetouan to Tangier.

Read: Finding the magic is Morocco

This is all new to us – our eyes are wide open as we pass through small villages. We feel a bit under threat here – as western tourists we attract great interest, particularly among children, who surround us on every occasion begging for money or gifts. The men in their dark jellabas, seem to blend into the countryside and have no qualms about urinating in the open by the side of the road. Even at this early stage in North Africa, we know we will have to be wary of rip-offs and skulduggery and to expect the unexpected.

Don’t miss the next episode where I’ll tell you about a shocking incident we witnessed, which involved a number of Moroccan teenagers. This will even make the more liberated among us blush.

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Written by Max Williams

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