Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Al-Andalus Day 7: Nearing the Meta - Granada

Friday April 4 2008

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.

All of the horses walked around patiently, grazed, or hung out - all except Bulería, José Leon's mount. She was headed toward her home territory today and she was ready to book it. José wife said in Spanish, "The rest of the horses are tranquil, but Bulería is poquita loco!" Bulería pawed the ground and shook her head and pulled José closer toward the salida, the exit. Finally an hour later, Luis came up and said, "We go!" We jumped in his car and took off over a bridge on a main road over a freeway in front of the field, then stopped to catch the 17 horses coming by.

Today I learned some new important Spanish words, like chopos - the trees of the plantations we passed. They are black-poplar trees (these had a smooth silver bark, and golden leaves), a fast-growing deciduous tree used for making paper. There was mucho polvo - the fine white dust that was covering the face and hair of Carlos the cameraman on the back of a quad, making him look like a ghost, and muchos baches (the many bone-jarring holes we were flying over at 90 mph on the dirt roads). And there was the ever-important "Quieto parado!" said with the correct stern inflection, "Be still - STOP!" I never could get this one quite right, and I kept practicing yelling it (and Luis would stop, and I would say, "No, I'm just practicing!"). The one time I did see a great photo shot I got all flustered and it came out as, "Cayete pare!" (kind of like Shut up! Stop!) but he got it, and stopped quickly, laughing.

Today's route was fairly flat, much of it along the Genil River, on a few dirt roads, a good amount of asphalto roads, and a great amount of rocky roads, past wheat fields, chopos orchards, and asparagus fields. People were working in the asparagus fields, picking it from the ground and stacking it in enticing little teepees every few yards. It was a pleasant 21*C in the shade, and climbing to near 26*C in the sun, if you had no breeze.

The horses did have a little altitude to gain into some hills of olive orchards and golden flowers. We had a great view down onto the horses as they were little specks at the bottom. I didn't have to yell at Luis to stop; he knew this was the best spot of the day. José Soto, always following the progression of riders every day, paused on his motorcycle to admire the view.

Arriving at the village of Lachar for the vet gate, our car escorted a couple of riders through the paved streets, while townspeople stepped out of their doorways to watch when they herd hooves clomping past on cement. Luis raced ahead to encourage a guy to move who had stopped his car in the middle of the narrow street. He just backed up in time for us to make the corner right in front of the horses. Lunch was in a park in the middle of town, where the assistance cars and vans crammed into every available parking space. Townspeople strolled around the horses watching the activity, and shopped across the street at an outdoor market.

It was a short 22 km fase to the finish in Granada, mostly along a canal framed by the chopos plantations, and over most of the baches, potholes, in Andalucia. This time, Luis got me to the finish line at some new stables (newly built by Nacho's Royal Society Hippica de Granada riding club, of which he was very proud, and gave us a tour later) to see the winners come in. The still-snowy Sierra Nevada mountains were the backdrop for the city that was last major Muslim stronghold until 1492 when it was conquered by the Christians. A lasting legacy of the Moorish reign in Iberia is the Alhambra palace and gardens, and the white-waashed houses and the narrow winding streets of the Albaicín quarter. We of course wouldn't have time to visit, but it's always a goal for next time.

Steph took a tiny ride in the tethered Andalucia hot air balloon that has been at some of the finish lines, and I prepared myself for my first galloping meta, finish, of the first-place horses, between Marta Hidalgo on Urbe, Juan Carlos Calle on Humpry, and José Leon on Bulería. But, here they came, trotting as a team under the Meta balloon arch. It didn't matter who crossed first because the finish was a vet gate finish: winner would be the first to pulse down and present to the vet (and pass). Marta and Juan headed for their crews and buckets of water to cool down their horses; José hopped off Bulería, took off her saddle, and one bucket of water was dumped on her as an afterthought as they went straight into the vet ring - José knew her pulse was already down. Bulería trotted out soundly to cheers from the onlookers, and was the winner of Day 7. Marta was second, and Juan third.

Coming fourth (and first Binomios) was Carmen Illanes on Capri CP. The 10th horse across the line (4th in Binomios) caused a bit of a stir - Campanera and José Baquerizo. They got a cheer vetting in, as they are in the lead of the Binomios riders, having gone every day so far, with one more day to go. Every day, they have come second, third or fourth (and one first) in Binomios, steady-on every day, same loose reined hackamore, same pleasant smile from José.

As everyone finished and got their horses settled in the new stables, groups of people had fun posing in the arena in front of the Sierra Mountains for pictures. First it was the officials, then the officials and press, then the officials and press and some riders. The group gathered more and more people for the photos as they went on, till there wasn't a theme to it anymore, other than fun.

Dinner under the portable food tent was a 20-minute drive away (if you didn't get lost, as did the drink van), and then the hotel was another 20 minutes away in downtown Granada. Our suitcases were not only at the hotel, but were waiting for us in our room! We wondered which poor soul had the sad job of transporting them there. Sure, they have wheels, but they are still ridiculously heavy, even with my rule of throwing out something every night. I'm not sure what other people did for parking at the hotel with their cars and caravans, but Luis left his car for the valets. And I'm not sure what crews and riders and veterinarians did about vetting in the horses back at the stables (which is usually done about 7 PM), and getting back to the hotel and finding parking for the rider briefing. The 8:30 PM meeting was delayed by at least an hour, though I missed it anyway for working on photos.

One clever way riders and crew were kept informed of changes in times and meeting places was that all were sent text messages with updates throughout the days and evenings. Ingenious and easy.

Tomorrow was the last day of Al-Andalus, and part of the celebration throughout today was the myth of not having to be at the starting line till 10 AM - whoopee! We wouldn't have to leave the hotel till 8:30 AM! Upon thinking about it, that seemed awfully optimistic... a 60 km ride, starting at 10 AM, (if we started on time) the first finishers at... 3 PM 4 PM? Wait - it was a mountain ride again, maybe the toughest terrain of the whole ride. Maybe the first finishers at 5 PM?

The 10 AM start was the final word from the meeting, but as soon as Steph returned to our room, a text message was sent out to participants. The start was moved up to 9 AM; we'd leave the hotel at 7:30. In 3 minutes Inés called Steph: "We will pick you up at 7 AM." Now our waking time of 8 AM had rather quickly deteriorated into 6 AM. Steph said, "OK, but we're not answering the phone anymore!"

It was hard to believe the last day of Al-Andalus had already arrived.

Full day's results at:


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