March 15, 2010

"Is it Worth It?" - Mallorca Day 4

Don at the top of Sa Calobra
Sitting at the top of Sa Calobra drinking coffee, before I had descended and climbed back up, before I had experienced this epic of a hill, a British guy walked over and asked, “Is it worth it?”.  
Don looked at him with a bit of a befuddled expression.  “Worth it? This is the best climb in the world.”

The best climb in the world.  I have to agree.

I will be the first to admit my naiveté when it comes to epic routes and world class climbs, but I am confidant Sa Calobra stacks up there among the best.

One minute I’m sitting at an orange juice stand enjoying café con leche, the next minute I’m plunging toward the sea.  Switch back after switch back, granite boulders surrounding me in three directions, the impossible color of the ocean stretched out in front.  Roads like this don’t exist in many places, certainly not in any of the places I have ever been.  The surreal quickly became reality when I reached the bottom, took some photos and geared up for the climb back to the top.  9 kilometers of 5-11% grade, smooth pavement, very little traffic; I wanted to ride it in under 40 minutes.  I reach the top in 38, a good almost-40 minute effort.  Then the ride continued. 

Which gets me to thinking…. The ride continued until we reached our next destination; a small little café serving Coca-cola, coffee, and sandwiches.   There are cafes everywhere; on the top of mountains, at the summit of a climb, along quiet back streets, in town squares.  These cafes may be catering to tourists, but locals frequent them as well.  They don’t charge inflated prices, they don’t sell cheesy souvenir snow globes, and they don’t bring you the check until you ask.  Complete with a full menu, a cigarette machine and a fully stock bar, cafes are different here.  You can sit outside for half an hour or 3 hours, you don’t order a double decaf, non-fat, extra caramel, vanilla latte.  You order an espresso or an americano or a café con leche.  Sandwiches are simple (not to mention delicious); made of crusty bread, olive oil, cheese and tomato – and we are talking good bread, great cheese and excellent olive oil.  Oh, and a side of olives – green and brown olives; the really good ones that still possess their pits. 

The culture is different in Mallorca.  I am not sure if it a Spanish thing or a Mallorcain, but either way, I love it.  A steep staircase made of unstable rock in a national park doesn’t require a liability waver.  There aren’t many guardrails to keep a cyclist or a motor vehiclist from simply rolling over the side of a very steep cliff.  There is a sense of personal responsibility and respect that is empowering and freeing.  The people of Mallorca are patient and good-natured.  The sheep and goats can cross the road at their own free will (if you hit one its your own darn fault) and the ability of most drivers to navigate around cyclists on incredibly skinny roads in continually amazing. 

It is only day 4 and I am already blown away by this place.

Some more photos of Sa Calobra, coffee, coca-cola and friends.