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Steph/Travels || Steph/Preparations || Merri/2 Gringos in Sevilla || Merri/My Suitcase is Fish
Steph/Prolog || Merri/Need Sleep!! || Steph/A Ride in Spain || Steph/Spanish Windmills
Merri/Spring in Andalucia! || Steph/WOW!!! || Steph/Still Smiling! || Merri/WoW!


Merri/27Mar: It Begins || Merri/28Mar: Prologue || Merri/29Mar: Day 1 - El Rocio
Merri/30Mar: Day 2 - Sanlucar de Barrameda || Merri/31Mar: Day 3 - Montenmedio
Merri/1Apr: Day 4 - Algeciras || Merri/2Apr: Day 5 - Ronda
Merri/3Apr: Day 6 - Antequera || Merri/4Apr: Day 7 - Granada
Merri/5Apr: Day 8 - La Beata

Saturday April 5 2008 - Day 8 to La Beata

2 Fases:
1 - ALcala la Real to La Beata, 37.47 km
2 - La Beata - La Beata, 24 km... shortened to two 5-k loops.

The last day of Al-Andalus: Steph got to ride Arenal on the last day; I got a ride with Flemish-born Spanish photographer Kristian Fenaux. The riders officially left the starting line at 9 AM at the bottom of Alcala la Real (a half-hour drive from Granada), then headed up into the town to the La Mota Castle - dating back to 727 AD when the town was under Muslim rule - for a picturesque start. Kristian and I headed down the highway to search for the first Assistencia point in the mountains.

Some of the driving directions weren't quite on the mark, but having been here the last two years, Kristian knew where to go; it was a long uphill winding narrow road that would be slow going for the vans and cars pulling horse trailers. We arrived at the stop long before anybody else showed up, and found a good place to set up and wait.

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Friday April 4 2008 - Day 7 to Granada

2 Fases:
1 - Loja to Lachar, 41.16km
2 - Lachar to Grenada, 21.8 km

Early rising again for everybody; the start was in a little parking lot in the middle Loja, 30 minutes away. The start was scheduled for 8:30 AM again, but again, "Always late. The Spanish are always late," laughed Spanish Luis, who was hauling Steph and me around again today. We're not sure who got stuck with our bags today, but we didn't worry about it. They'd made it every day so far.

The reason for the delay today was that a construction company had just dumped a pile of their equipment right over the planned route over a dirt trail through and out of town. So Javier and Nacho and José Soto and the local police put their heads together to come up with an alternate path, while the horses and riders warmed up. Nobody got too excited - it was all part of a big ride like this - sometimes unexpected things happen and you deal with them.

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Thursday April 3 2008 - Day 6 to Antequera

2 Fases:
1 - Serrato - Cortijo Montero, 31.5 km
2 - Cortijo Montero - Antequera, 24.6 km

Today's start was at the foot of the little white village of Serrato, where the townspeople came out at dawn and set up a table of hot coffee and pastries for our procession. Before the ride, when the routes are planned out, the Al Andalus organization comes and talks with the town councils, and gets them involved with the ride if they are interested in participating. It was another chilly morning, with many of the horses warming up with butt blankets.

Refreshed with a whole 7 hours of sleep, I was ready for another day on the trail, riding with driver Luis, and Antonio, a representative of Kaliber beer, seeing Al-Andalus for the first time.

Steph and I had left our bags behind in the hotel, being told somebody would pick them up. Well, they'd made it to every stop so far, and I carried with me my cameras, computer, extra clothes, passport, and Raven, so I was good if my suitcase didn't make it. No worries.

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Wednesday April 2 2008 - Day 5 to Ronda

2 Fases:
1 - Jimena de la Frontera - Cortes de la Frontera, 31.7 km
2 - Cortes de la Frontera - Ronda, 28.79km

You get to the mid-point of the ride - and it all happens at once. Steph's phone rings at 3 AM. A car wreck. Truck containing the quads and motorcycles that lead the ride gets the keys locked inside. An SUV gives up the ghost, blows up. Horse is forgotten in stables. The wind is blowing a gale, and the trail for horses very rocky, technical, challenging, and tiring today. We lose the course at times. Nacho drives slow. Slow??

Our 8:30AM start for today's ride began just outside of castle-dominated Jimena de la Frontera, half an hour's drive from Algeciras. Only 8:30 AM slipped by, the orange sun rose in the east, 9 AM passed, 9:30 AM... and we waited. We weren't sure for what we were waiting, exactly, but it gave us time to visit with, among other people (such as a few campers, and one of the thousand British residents of Jimena de la Frontera, come to see the spectacle), José Muñoz, the director of Andalusian Sports Bureau and Tourism department, one of the main sponsors of Al-Andalus. José Muñoz's enthusiasm with his part of Spain is as passionate as Jose Soto's. He loves Andalucía and the idea of showing it off to tourists, and he loves the idea of involving sports in it all. Add horses and Al-Andalus to the equation - he's ecstatic about the possibilities.

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Tuesday April 1 2008 - Day 4 to Algeciras

2 Fases:
1 - Dehesa Montenmedio to Facinas, 27.6 km
2 - Facinas to Algeciras , 32 km

"I mean - I saw the Rock of Freakin' Gibraltar today!" was how Steph described the end of another great day of riding in Al-Andalus. What more need be said to sum it up?

The day started off with a wild ride with Nacho to the start of the ride at Montenmedio. We had to fill up with gasoline on the way, and it might have been that third cup of coffee that put us behind. We made it 2 minutes before the twenty-three horses in today's ride left. It was too dark for decent photos at the start, and I shoved the camera out the window for on-the-fly shots of riders heading down the road as we sped past them in the first few kilometers.

But then, in those quirks of timing, we began climbing into hills of yellow flowers, dusty roads, and cattle on a private ranch just as the sun was coming up, and I had my best photo ops of the entire ride. Nacho passed a good number of riders, and we stopped partway up the hill, and the morning light hit the riders just perfectly as they worked their way up the hill. Smoke puffed out of horse noses in the chilly morning, and dust rose from their feet and the cows they disturbed, and from the vehicles gone ahead.

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Monday March 31 2008 - Day 3 to Montenmedio

2 Fases:
1 - Puerta Real to Medina-Sidonia, 28.4 km
2 - Medina-Sidonia to Dehesa de Montenmedio Golf & Country Club, 33.7 km

Some nights, you just don't sleep. This was one of them - maybe 3 hours total if I was lucky - but, you just go on about things. Some days, you just can't get good photos, no matter how much you hope. This was just one of those non-photo days. What can you do, but not worry about it, accept it as part of Al-Andalus, and enjoy the day - which was not a hard thing to do. And today, our car got stuck in the mud. What can you do, but not worry about it, accept it as part of Al-Andalus, do the best you can with what you've got, and enjoy the day!

Steph and I got up too early, at 5:15 AM, and downed a quick coffee-and-breakfast, before jumping in cars to leave the hotel. In é s was stuck taking our heavy bags (I sure hope she got someone to help her lift them in her car!), while Nacho drove us in his car, racing through the dark before dawn, back to the stables in Sanlucar de Barrameda. Steph wasn't riding today, but she would travel in the caravan with Fernando. Paco's stallion Ibor finished his ride yesterday, but really needed a day off. In order to receive a lesser time penalty than if he didn't start at all, Paco would start his horse this morning and turn around and retire immediately.

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Sunday March 30 2008 - Day 2 to Sanlucar de Barrameda

2 Fases:
1 - El Rocío to Matalascañas, 33 km
2 - Matalascañas to Sanlucar de Barrameda, 34 km

The morning is chilly and damp, with El Rocío being only 12 km from the Atlantic Ocean. After a quick breakfast snack and coffee in the cafe, we all head over to the dusty square in town, where the riders are warming up in the quiet streets beneath the white church surrounded by hundreds of flying pigeons. It is just getting light, and while the start is to be at 8:30, it's really 7:30 if you want to dwell on it - we've had the misfortune of hitting daylight savings time (a second time this spring!) and we all lost an hour of sleep (just what we need!).

Today's ride is all about sand - ankle deep sand, knee-deep sand, and hard-packed sand for the horses, and axle-deep sand for the vehicles; the trail will go through Parque Nacional de Doñana, along the beach - 50 km of frolicking along the Atlantic Ocean!

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Saturday March 29 2008 - Day 1 to El Rocio

3 Fases:
1 - Sevilla to Villamanrique de la Condesa, 28.7 km
2 - Villamanrique de la Condesa to El Rocío, 22.6 km
3 - El Rocío to El Rocío, 10 km

The first day of Al-Andalus established what was to become a normal pattern and an essential ingredient of Al-Andalus - not enough sleep!

The hotel cafe opened at 6:50 AM with coffee and breakfast food for all of us - riders, crew, officials - just as we were ready to leave! I (with my heavy suitcase) was to catch a ride with Javier Gutierrez, the course designer; I saw him rushing out of the hotel, and as I ran to follow, ineffectively yelling, "Wait!" around the donut in my mouth, pushing my heavy suitcase and carrying my computer, and backpack with cameras, I got outside, and he had disappeared! By now most of the other people had left, and I was in a pickle - missed my ride, no room with the other riders and crews left (I ran back inside to ask them), and now would be a terribly inconvenient time to call Inés to ask her to come back to the hotel to get me. Oh, dear, already making trouble the first day - maybe it would be better to call a taxi. Just as I was about to do that, Javier whipped around the corner with an SUV full of people that he'd picked up, with one seat left. Now, here I was, with a huge suitcase.... [More ...]

Friday March 28 2008 - Prologue

The Prologue takes place in Dos Hermanas outside of Seville, at the Gran Hipódromo de Andalucía. Dos Hermanas, founded in 1248 by King Ferdinand III is so named "Two Sisters" after the sisters of his lieutenant, Gonzalo Nazareno. This is why you might hear Dos Hermanas natives referred to as nazareños or nazareñas.

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Thursday March 27 2008 - It Begins

ANDALUCÍA is an autonomous community in the south of Spain, touching both the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean, and encompassing the highest point in continental Spain (Mulhacén, at 3,479m, in the Sierra Nevada range). It is a land of romance and passion: it is the birthplace of bullfighting and flamenco dancing and the Andalusian horse; it is the home of the legendary Don Juan; it is where Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan began their voyages; there are fiestas, celebrations, ferias, romerías (pilgrimages), and world class horse competitions.

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