‘Have you had a good day?’ I ask Victor as he squeezes the juice out of a bowl of oranges.
That’s what I like about this place. Despite southern Spain experiencing increasing economic hardship the definition of a good day to the owners of this young business has no instant relevance to their takings or how busy they are.
I found El Ultimo Mono on my second day in Malaga, exactly one week ago. I would have walked straight by were it not for the words scrawled on the window: ‘Happiness Available 7 Days a Week.’ In the corner was a table painted with a Union Jack. A sign.
The name translates as ‘The Last Monkey’ but it means more than that. ‘The last option’, perhaps? Brave, to call a new company that, especially when there’s no shortage of other cafes in Malaga. But I read more into it,completely exchanging formal translation for
the story Victor and Sergio shared with me. Once there is no other option you are freed to do the thing you want to do.
A man with friendly eyes and a well-trimmed grey-white beard dashed slides past my right side. ‘I am sorry for my English, it is very poor,’ he says, introducing himself as Sergio’s father-in-law.
‘Your English is better than my Spanish, I am the sorry one,’ I reply, hand on my heart. The man nods towards Sergio, who is busy creating some Cinnamon and Muffins,
‘He tells me your story, I want to say thank you for coming here.’
They change the Wi-Fi code every morning, today it is ‘DOITWITHPASSION.’ Yesterday it was ‘HELLOMRSUNDAY’. From the furniture (no two items are the same) to the music to the lego bricks in the wall to the messages of motivation stamped on the coffee straps, this place is my paradise. I have found a temporary soul mate in a cafe. Unexpected.
I don’t need to ask for coffee any more. Sergio places it on the counter with a smile, my liquid happiness, my fuel, my energy. ’It is our honour that you are here,’ Sergio tells me. ‘We will look after some of the cost…’ He waves a thin hand at the drink between us, we fist pump.
That first day one week ago Sergio and Victor told every customer about me, eyes burned into the side of my head endlessly. My business card was made available for photographs. The upshot of this has been an invite to a surprisingly delicious Vegan breakfast by the lovely Emma Fry, and an interview with a local culture magazine named Staf. ‘There is a TV show in Spain that you would be perfect for,’ Sergio tells me, ‘do you mind if we call them?!’
Beyond everything, after almost two years of drought, I am writing again. I have found my place on a table beneath a lamp, words flow each day by the thousands. The book I began writing has turned into something else entirely. I have found my peace. Two years of almost non-stop movement has led to these ten weeks in southern Spain. I’ve had little time to process my last five expeditions and each meeting, project, train ride and decision in between. I’m a different Dave to the one who turned 30 on the Murray River in 2009 and I’m only just realising why, right here in El Ultimo Mono, Malaga.
My writing desk.
I’ll leave you with a post the boys posted on their Facebook page last week. Thank goodness for Facebook translation!
Priscilla, 4 wheels, several thousands miles under the hood (pedals), well-travelled, very friendly, makes a great city runaround and is very much a head-turner! Needs good home.
Currently available for viewing in Coconut Grove, Miami.
Size: 5 foot 7 wide x 8 foot long
Price: will listen to any offers
Comes complete and ready to pedal for one or two people. Tools. 2 x deckchairs. Cooler box. Cushions. Groundsheet for tent. Other bits and bobs.
History: British Adventure and Author Dave Cornthwaite has just completed a 1000-mile journey on Priscilla the Bikecar between Memphis, TN and Miami, FL, adding another expedition to Priscilla’s history with Paul Everitt, who built the Bikecar and took her across Europe and Canada.
If interested please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 760-453-3059
Videos of Priscilla’s ride to Miami can be seen on www.davecornthwaite.com
It’s a novelty writing this from within a solid structure in Miami, Florida. Bar the odd night here and there with strangers who saw fit to welcome a 4-wheeling sweaty, tired and British man into their homes I have spent many of April and May’s night snuggled up tight in my Sky Tent.
If you didn’t see my post and video about the Hammock Bliss Sky Tent written during last year’s Mississippi River SUP Expedition, here’s an update on the product and a variety of images showing just how versatile I find it on my expeditions.
In summary, the Sky Tent itself is a rainfly with a mosquito net sewn into it, effectively a cosy, spacious bug-protected cocoon. Primarily designed to allow a hammock to hang inside, now and then when trees don’t make themselves available I fling aside the hammock and set the Sky Tent up as a tent. Particularly in hot, humid climates, the mosquito net rather than canvas walls allows a more comfortable night.
I was delighted to hear from Hammock Bliss that my regular use of the Sky Tent on the ground means that they’ve developed an upgraded model with durable ripstop nylon on the underside rather than parachute. There’s also a new adjustable ridge line and two new openings allowing a second hammock to hang inside.
Over the past seven weeks the Sky Tent has protected me through freezing nights on the sandbanks of Tennessee’s Wolf River, in violent storms ripping through Florida, windy nights in Mississippi, heavy dewfall in Alabama and a bunch of other conditions, mainly involving the words hot, muggy and a humid. I’ve rigged it up mainly as a tent in parking lots, swamps, forest, roadside ditches, river sandbars, campsites, muddy banks and even on a gravel road just off a highway.
Riding a 4-wheeled Bikecar across America always meant I had at least one fastening point, therefore I just needed one more to set up camp for the night. Perfect!
It has been exactly one month since Priscilla and I began our relationship. One month since we pedalled out of Memphis with my friend Rod Wellington in the passenger seat. One month since that car hit us off the road. A lot happens in a month.
Following the crash the damage to Priscilla and my psyche meant a few days off the road in Vicksburg to regroup before the journey started once more in Crystal Springs and ever since then I’ve been plodding in a south easterly direction up and over the hills of Mississippi and Alabama then into a flatter, more topographically friendly Florida.
The early stages of this expedition presented me with the most physically difficult challenge I’ve ever encountered, but it is the mental battle and the necessity for focus that will forever define this journey for me. To survive the crash on Day One without anything more than a sore shoulder was beyond fortunate, but boy did that encounter clarify what it would take to complete this traverse of the South.
Having not pedalled anything for over a year was obviously not the ideal preparation but after five or six days I became conditioned to powering 400lbs-worth of Bikecar, gear and human. Meanwhile not two seconds passed without an eye on the wing mirror, assessing the ever-approaching danger of cars, motorcycles, log trucks and other vehicles. Priscilla’s width means I rarely fit entirely within a roadside shoulder and my life is dependent on an ability to get out of the way when another driver isn’t paying attention. Sadly, this is often.
The lack of respect for non-motorised vehicles in this country is astonishing but not surprising. After all, I’ve been travelling through country that is home to the fattest, most unfit people in the world. The idea of riding anything but an enormous truck around the corner to the fast food eatery is laughed out of town down here by 90% of the population, and of course the lack of sidewalks or cycle paths means society gently encourages folk to sit upon a motor for even the shortest of journeys, which of course develops a deflation of any understanding what those lithe, exercising people are doing down there on the road with their pedals. Because of this America has guzzled up three of my nine lives on this journey, and with that estimation I’m being generous.
Of over 200 motorcycles that have passed me in the last 810 miles only two riders have been wearing helmets. ‘We have a right not to,’ say the unprotected. At some point, the wind in the hair will cost some of them their functions, if not their lives. I have learned the bizarre failings in highway common sense by studying patterns on the road. I deplore what I have nicknamed ‘The Metallic Conga of Death,’ the impatient habit of cars speeding along on a long straight highway leaving no more than 10 metres between ones front bumper and the rear of the car in front. I’ll go for miles without seeing another car and then BANG, twenty careering trucks end-to-end will thrash by. It takes one of them to brake, adjust or defer from a consistent speed and there will be a multi-car pile-up, swerving cars bringing people in other lanes into danger. My God, it’s like everyone has a death wish.
But of course if people can’t understand the intricacies of their own mortality I shouldn’t expect them to care about mine, so I remain tied to a personal policy that I should act like I’m invisible, I mustn’t assume I’ve been seen by anyone and therefore if there’s the slightest chance that I could be struck I move off the road. It has been slow going but I’m still here, still breathing, still enjoying the challenge, still learning. My average day sees me moving for 7 hours and stopped for three and a half. That is how long I spend in intervals pulled over on the roadside grass, or dirt, or sand, waiting for gaps in traffic. But I’m patient, this is just part of the journey, part of travelling by Bikecar, part of the process.
I have 189.5 miles remaining to Miami, not that I’m counting. This expedition has been rich for me. New friends, hours of thinking-time, experiences I wouldn’t have ever dreamed of having had I opted for my original April and May plan - writing in a room in London. Despite the daily dangers I have grown, I have had fun. I have ridden past armadillos and eagles and snakes and alligators and wild hogs. I have woken to misty mornings and fought through the boiling midday sun. I have listened to people tell me I have a death-wish and replied that to the contrary I am living life with every drop of time I have. Sure, it can be dangerous out here but the decision not to finish my Bikecar career immediately after that accident a month ago was one of the best I ever made.
The joys of finding the peace and quiet of a bicycle path or a quiet state road or even a remote dirt track through the woods are now an integral part of my day. I will not stop living my life just in case something bad might happen; dreams are best when experienced awake, don’t lock them away until you sleep.
Thanks for reading…
As I plod along the roads of Mississippi, Alabama and Florida for 6 weeks it’s more than worth remembering that I’m only contributing a small amount of memories to the wonderful life of this Bikecar.
Priscilla was built by Paul Everitt, from Grimsby, UK. Originally it had four seats and a trailer and its first journey was through Europe. then Paul rode it (mainly solo) for 5 months across Canada, 7000km!
In January I met Paul and he kindly offered Priscilla to me, as it was rusting away in a shed somewhere in Eugene, Oregon. With a trip to Memphis to paddle a river already planned it seemed only fair that I should take up the offer, Paul and I shook hands and Google Maps told me that it was 1001 miles to Miami from Memphis.
And that was all it took. Well…almost.
Some big logistical support from Canadian Adventurer Rod Wellington and some magical southern hospitality from folks in Memphis and Vicksburg overcame some initial technical difficulties and a car crash before this journey got properly underway.
So, as I’ve just nudged over the 500 mile mark on this Memphis to Miami journey it’s important not to forget where Priscilla came from. Without Paul’s vision, expertise and generosity there’s a very good chance I’d currently be spending my days writing a book in a London coffee shop, so despite the fact that I’m now writing a blog in the Floridian town of Perry, which thanks to a local pulp mill smells upsettingly like cabbage, I’d like to thank Paul and direct you to his Going Solo website. In a couple of months he starts an epic journey down my beloved Mississippi River, on a raft!