Sunday, January 28, 2007

Spain, Portugal & Gibraltar

We’ve now been a week on the road and having a wonderful time. We’d been calling this our belated honeymoon after 25 years of marriage.

Or at least that’s what I’ve been calling it. On our drive to Chicago, early on the first day Betinha informed me, “Let’s not be calling this our honeymoon. How about calling it The Queen B’s World Tour? With her entourage!”

“Entourage! But there’s only me? Entourage conveys the fact that I will be at your beck and call?”

“That’s right! Hope you don’t mind being the only member of my entourage? You are all that we could afford.”

So we’re now on B’s World Tour. Sorry…Queen B’s World Tour. And, I’m on it!

On landing in Madrid we had trouble getting around the airport, always getting detoured around an area that appeared to be being demolished. It was only after we were on the road, that we realized that the area being demolished was actually where the bomb had gone off in late December. We were shocked by the destructiveness of that car bomb.

We headed for the coast of Portugal, stopping in Guarda, which is the highest elevation town in Portugal (3,000 ft) and spending the night in Aveira, which was known for its salt production from seawater. Today it’s cheaper to import salt but they’ve maintained the infrastructure in the marshes around the city and are trying to turn it into more of a tourist attraction. They also have a wonderful canal system and are called the Venice of Portugal.

Another interesting small town was Obidios which is self contained within the walls of an old castle. Only about 200 people live there. Cars aren’t allowed on the streets, like they could have possibly fit if they were allowed! People were very friendly.

We noticed quite a change in our drive from Portugal back into Spain. There was more activity in Spain, particularly on the farms and in the number of small manufacturing operations and shops. Even though there are right next to each other, share similar climates and land, and both were world powers in the 1400s and 1500s, Spain is much more advanced. Betinha and I both commented on the fact that the Spanish seemed to see the glass half full, whereas the Portuguese we met saw it as half empty. It would be interesting to look at.

Gibraltar was something we decided to do at the last minute, as we were driving up the coast of Spain. As many of you probably know, it is British colony on a very small peninsula that sticks out into the strait between Africa and Spain. Actually it is just a big rock, The Rock of Gibraltar, which I was surprised Betinha had never heard of. Spain has been mad about Gibraltar for centuries, closed the border for decades and threatened to take it by force during WWII. It is a totally self contained town of 30,000. And things are very compact. As an example, their international airport shares its runway with the main road leading onto the peninsula. We were briefly stopped by flashing gates, watching a jet take-off on our drive in.

We were enamored by some of the old castles like Alhambra and Alcazar, which were originally built by the Moors, an impressive feat of 1,000 years ago. Betinha pretended she was the queen and I devised ways to defend her as we climbed through the ruins.

While I thought that “the rain in Spain falls mostly in the plains,” I didn’t know that it also snows there. And, they were the biggest flakes that I’d ever seen. One waitress told us she had never seen snow before. And judging from some of the drivers, I wasn’t surprised. We plowed on, often passing white-knuckled drivers who thought that the speed limit was 10 mph.

After the snow driving experience, I saw an olive factory and decided to stop in. In the office the gentleman I found didn’t speak English and I sure don’t speak much Spanish, but he let me know that they were closed. Sometimes it helps when they know you either can’t understand or aren’t going away.

“Este fotographia aqui” in my best Spanish version of Portuguese. I should explain that when I try to speak Spanish, I’m really speaking Portuguese with what I think is a Spanish accent. No one understands but me, but it makes me feel better and I get it honestly. When my Dad didn’t understand someone he just talked louder to them. It is the same principle.

Anyway, back to “Este fotographia aqui---This photo here,” pointing at an aerial view of his factory. “Is this where you receive them?” He either thought that it would be much easier to show me the factory, rather than try to explain it to me, because off we went on a tour.

Jose Miguel Blanco, manager of Aceites MonteOlivo (I got his card afterwards), showed me how they received in the raw olives, which was very similar to how you would take in grain. They cleaned them and then put them into the crushing machines which crushed up the entire olive. Then they heated up the mash to 32 degrees Celcius (90 degrees) and put it through a horizontal centrifugal machine which separated the mash from the oil. Then the oil was refined.

The plant produced 5000 tons/year from 600 farms of about 20 hectares (50 acres) each. Afterwards he gave me some of his oil in some fancy bottles and I gave him a copy of BoomtownUSA. Betinha didn’t think he looked very impressed and thought that he asked for one of the bottles back, but sometimes its better when you don’t understand the language.

I’m convinced that niche crops like olives are going to be in much greater demand. If I were in a region that could produce olives, I would be over here trying to learn some things from them.

We ended our trip back in Madrid visiting the Prado Museum, having spent 6 days on the road, traveling 2,700 km (1,600 miles). It was a lot of fun and we learned a lot. We’re off to Greece.

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