To say it’s been hot in Valencia this summer doesn’t do it justice. So hot that I have no tan. Because it’s too hot to go outside. Sweat dripping and hair plastered to my head holds no appeal on a beach or even sitting in the park. So I have opted for indoor pursuits and waited, and waited, and well, waited some more.
Today, I was rewarded. The Gods of Hades took a day off from handing out skin cancer and wrinkles to those of us with northern European ancestry. We awoke to glorious overcast skies that look to threaten rain – but none was in the forecast. We were going a little stir crazy – like a winter in Seattle or a summer in Scottsdale – so we decided to take advantage of this brief reprieve and go for a ride on the motorcycle up into the mountains west of the city.
Jeff mapped out a route and we headed out. A few missteps along the way – his ‘mapping out’ had been more theoretical than actual, so a quick review on our GPS and we re-pointed ourselves in the exact opposite direction and were off! We headed up to an area called ‘Parque Natural Chera -Sot de Chera’. It’s a natural park in the mountains that is protected but dotted with some small mountain villages that date back centuries. There is evidence that Sot de Chera goes back much further to Roman times.
The castle tower in the center dominates the village of 400 residents – like so many towns in Spain. But here the setting is more dramatic. The mountains rise up above the town on all sides and are are part of what makes it so picturesque, while keeping it from expanding beyond its current borders. We arrived in the middle of the Fiesta San Roque. We have no idea who he was but he has a dog in his effigy – and we like dogs – so we were all in.
The whole town was out for the various festivities which included decorating every lamp post, tree or railing with crochet bric-a-brac and what not. We walked up the hill towards the square after parking on the other side of the river Sot. The entire town was packed into the square bidding on home made cakes and baked goods with a fair amount of competitive gusto. The winners receiving boos and cheers, paying for their winning bids of 3 euros 80, and then triumphantly making off down the street with their Pyrex pan full of something that looked yummy. We watched from a bar across the street as those who won avoided those who wanted a sample on their way home.
The town is lovely and the people are friendly. After walking through all of it in less than 20 minutes, we decided lunch was in order so we headed for the cafe by the river. No one in the town speaks English and my Spanish wasn’t at the optimum level today so it didn’t help that everyone who worked in the cafe was boozing behind the bar. But they all seemed jolly and I was able to order for us.
I know that ‘Hamburgaresa’ is a hamburger. That’s it. That’s what it is no matter where you go. Except in Valencia we have encountered some issues with that recently. Emilie’s last week here involved us trying to order hamburgers at a place called ‘Bim Bim – An American Cafe’. It’s not far from our Metro stop and Emilie spotted it and we decided to go in. We tried to order the ‘Angus Burger’ but were told they were out of ‘Angus.’ That day they only had Zebra, Ostrich or ‘Crokodillo’ (yes, crocodile meat). ‘I’m not eating animals in a zoo.’ She said loudly. I thanked them politely and we left.
So I shouldn’t have been surprised when our ‘Hamburgers’ arrived and they looked nothing like a hamburger. Jeff lifted the bun and asked me what I thought it might be. I said perhaps SPAM, but after one bite I was very sure it wasn’t. He had put the top back on and just started eating it. I gulped a bit and cut into mine with a healthy dose of ketchup and mustard and my eyes closed. You see, I believe I have encountered it before when my ex-Mother-in-law made some sort of tongue. I ate it then, and today, I ate it again. But I said nothing to Jeff.
Soon it was time to go and we had decided we would head towards Requena, via the town of Chera. We could see it on the map and while the mountain road looked a bit winding, the views would be spectacular. What we weren’t aware of is that the road to Chera is a one lane paved road that clings to the side of a cliff held on only by grandmother’s wishes and Angel’s tears. I have never been more terrified in my life.
I had planned on taking video of at least part of the ride out of town and along the mountain, but it was all I could do to keep my eyes open while twisting around blind corners, staring down cliffs, and trying to keep the ‘hamburger’ tongue from coming up. Jeff seemed to believe he was in some sort of race that I’m very sure is hosted by Ferrari or Lamborghini – do they make motorcycles? – and took it as fast as he could. I was squeezing him so tight that if I had spikes on the inside of my knees he would have bled out before we began our descent into Chera.
I truly was concerned I might lose my lunch but then I thought I’ll just pull up the face portion of my helmet on one of the hairpin turns and take care of it, if need be. It was clear Jeff wasn’t slowing down for anything.
Later, we rolled into a very small village on another one lane trek (Jeff had mistakenly set his GPS to ‘avoid highways’ Ugh!) and I got some water. Was I a little pissed off at his riding on the cliff and the mountain road we were currently on? Yeah, I was. But I decided to take a different tack.
‘So, you seem to enjoy the ride to Chera.’ I said casually, sipping my water and swallowing a lot.
‘Yeah.’ he chuckled. ‘You seemed a little scared. You were gripping me like you were going to fall off at any one of the 100 corners. Why so nervous?’
Deep breath. ‘Oh, I don’t know. I think it might have been the hamburgeresa that was sitting my throat. I was wanting to make sure it stayed there.’
He laughed. ‘Yeah, it was a little strange.’
I smiled. ‘Well, since it was beef tongue and not hamburger, that would probably account for the unusual taste, texture and smell.’ I said, taking another swig of water, watching him. ‘The vein down the middle gave it away.’
Jeff, the least culinary adventurer on the planet, almost spit up his Coca-Cola. And the arrow hit the mark. I smiled. Two can play at that game and we both know each other’s buttons. I knew I could apply more pressure, but since he was my ride home, I decided not to press the advantage. I figured this newfound knowledge might just slow him down on the curves.
We made it back to Valencia and Jeff navigated us home like a pro, through city streets and construction. Past busses and closed express tunnels. Something he would have struggled to do a few months ago. Neither of us are very hungry tonight, but it’s no wonder. We had our fill of twisty roads and mystery meats.