130 Kilometers an Hour in the Wrong Lane

Posted on: April 9, 2008


[Photo] Traveler Taj Terpening

130 kilometers an hour is not normally an alarming speed, but Cass was not looking at the road. He jerked the e-brake and we skidded sideways past a sign that read "The Road to Nowhere." With his right foot firmly planted on the gas and his left knee steering us around another blind corner in the wrong lane, Cass fidgeted with his camera and snapped a picture of the speedometer. "Frickin' wicked!" he exclaimed in a thick Newcastle accent. After returning his eyes to the rapidly deteriorating road he shouted over the wind and the straining engine, "130 kilometers an hour! I think we've got them beat!"

Southern Spain, where perpetual chaos and sunshine are practically the national mottos, has always intrigued me. Chaos pervades all Mediterranean countries except Greece. The Italians invented the idea, and evidently the Spanish found it so appealing they took it up and eventually passed it on to Mexico. Thankfully Americans are too obsessed with their own personal space and obeying rules to embrace the same kind of chaos found in southern Europe. But perhaps more importantly, Spain is full of climbing, particularly in the south along the sea between Barcelona and the Straights of Gibraltar. La Costa Blanca collects climbers from around the world itching to climb sea cliffs roped or solo, ascend massive monoliths or hump tufas 'til their hearts are content. The idyllic island of Mallorca, La Costa Daurada near Barcelona and the adventure climbing playground El Chorro aren't too shabby either. [Read Traveler's September 12, 2007 Weekly Feature on El Chorro for more riotous escapades. —Ed.]

Some say that when traveling, the journey is the destination. Normally I agree, but for this trip from my home in Berlin to Alicante, Spain, I foolishly chose Ryan Air. Ryan Air is a low-cost British airline that looks great from the safety of your home computer. Their rates are fantastic, and their image suggests professionalism. The reality is that they allow only 14 kilos of check-on baggage, and I have a suspicion they recruited their employees straight out of Britain's highest security asylum for the criminally insane. Moreover, the meals they sell you at extortive rates seem to have been compiled from leftovers gleaned from other, more respectable airlines. For each additional kilo of check-on baggage they charge the outrageous rate of 7 Euros. Because the American economy is collapsing and I travel with a lot of cams, that translates to... a hell of a lot of US dollars!

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I darted out of the check-in line when I realized the petite, smiling employee would not only win the argument but might also make me cry if I continued to question the ethics and legality of the fee. I crunched the numbers quickly in my head and discovered that the extra fee for my bag would be coincidently the exact balance of my checking account and an entirely unacceptable amount. If Ryan Air was going to be devious and deceptive, so was I. So I stashed 38 pounds of quick draws, cams and rope in my clothes until I looked like a Michelin Man dressed for the Arctic. Sweating miserably, I finally boarded the plane, which had been held on my account. Adding to the indignity of the situation, my seat was in the very back. From the entrance at the front I held my bulk in place with both hands and waddled down the aisle, suffering cruel looks and comments for thirty rows.

I emerged into the 90-degree heat of Alicante and bolted across the tarmac, dodging luggage cars and bored teenagers with orange vests and light wands. Reaching the sanctuary of the airport restroom, I tore off layer after layer of sweat-soaked clothing. A restroom patron looked on in horror as cams, quickdraws and other bits of stashed climbing gear fell to the floor from their hiding places. The last item before I was free was a cleverly stashed 70-meter rope, dispersed evenly between my pant legs and jacket arms.

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