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Sue & Dean McCraw fly Space-A to Spain & Morocco!

A walled city on the coast of Spain. Photo by Sue McCraw.

A walled city on the coast of Spain. Photo by Sue McCraw.

We live in Stillwater, OK, and as such, our closest installation is Tinker AFB in Oklahoma City, OK. Tinker has few Space-A opportunities although they are very good about posting flights when they occur.

Our next closest Space-A facility is McConnell AFB in Wichita, KS. They frequently have KC-135 flights to Europe and various bases in CONUS. The next facility in proximity to us is NAS JRC Ft. Worth, TX. They have frequent flights to various locations in CONUS as well as overseas. They fly mostly C-40 aircraft and are very good about posting their flight schedule on their website as much as 30 days in advance.

Our objective was to get to Norfolk, VA, to catch a posted C-5 flight to NAS Rota, Spain, leaving 18 March. Our best option was a flight from Ft. Worth to Oceana, VA, leaving Ft. Worth, March 17.

So, Friday, March 16, 2012, we traveled by POV from Stillwater to Ft. Worth before checking in to the Navy Lodge suite ($66).

The Gateway Inn at NAS JRC Ft. Worth is just as nice and costs a little less. We have stayed there before but not this time. It is possible that I just called the wrong number. Those things do happen and it is the duty of the wife to point those things out. At least that is the way we do it.

We put our car in long term parking next to the terminal and took the flight, a C-40 with 121 commercial airline quality seats available and 11 passengers. It was a very pleasant flight which left and arrived on schedule. There was a commercial charter flight posted from Oceana to Rota that afternoon but the terminal was packed with uniformed duty personnel in transit and the odds of making a flight were not very good.

The only travel option from Oceana to Norfolk, VA, for category six folks is a 30-mile cab ride with a fare of $70. We took it and felt pretty darn good about it.

At Norfolk we checked in to the Gateway Inn, ($56) closest to the terminal. As usual, the room was fine.

A potentially important point here is that Norfolk is a very large installation and the lodging options are not all in close proximity to the terminal. Ask that question when you make reservations.

The next morning we checked out of the lodge and took a cab to the terminal in time to make the posted show time.

Another important point is that our time at Norfolk was over the weekend and, although the terminal was open for business, only flight related facilities were open—i.e., cafeteria, snack bar, etc.—were not open. There were some vending machines but no other options within walking distance. Our flight out of Norfolk was a C-5. That is frequently not good news and this case was no exception. All was not lost. We had the chance to watch from the very comfortable terminal as a CH-53 helicopter and several large containers were loaded inside the C-5. The helicopter with crew was deploying to the Gulf area. We arrived at the terminal at about 0800 and at about 1800 the flight desk announced that the aircraft would not depart until morning. A civilian shift change worked into the equation some way, but how is not clear.

We took a cab back to the Gateway Inn for another night then returned to the terminal the next morning where we watched the plane all day, again. It was pretty darned exciting!

We got clearance to load and departed Norfolk for the one hour flight to Dover AFB, DE, at 1500. A short stop turned into two days at Dover. The C-5 had more maintenance issues. The distance from the Dover terminal to lodging is long but walkable. We, along with several other couples, started out walking and were offered a ride by an Air Force sergeant who, it turned out, was the supervisor of an aircraft maintenance unit at Dover AFB.

He said, and I will paraphrase, “Travis sends us their (xxx) junk C-5’s and we have to work on them to get them back to Travis”.

I initially thought he was talking about C-5s in general as they do have a reputation, but, in this case, he was talking about that specific airplane. It apparently has an individual reputation. I cannot help but wonder whose maintenance budget took the hit for repairs the Dover AFB crew made on the Travis AFB plane. Oh well, two days later after issues with maintenance and life jackets for the crew we were airborne en route to Rota, Spain.

Our time at Dover was quite enjoyable as the terminal has nice lounges, both DV and USO, and the Eagles Rest Inn and Suites is very nice, very reasonably priced and has a golf course and a very good eating establishment, Mulligans, across the street. One of the couples in what came to be called “the Rota group” even worked in a round of golf during our stay. There are some perks for a retired O-6. Sometimes they are beneficial, sometimes not so much. With respect to quarters, on base, DV quarters for O6/E9 and above are frequently available. They are always very nice but cost a little more.

It has been my experience that the standard quarters are always less expensive and, with few exceptions, very acceptable. It brings to mind a “service connected narrative”, (some call them war stories) in which we were waiting to brief a one-star general in preparation for a briefing for a two-star general at Ft. Sill, OK. While waiting for the general to show up, one of my colleagues said, “You know, the biggest difference between being a colonel and a private is that as a colonel you get to ‘hurry up and wait’ in the coffee shop”. The saying has merit.

In the case of Dover AFB, a DV suite was only $48.50. It was easily the nicest room we had on the trip and certainly the best bargain.

Box lunches—$4.25 each—were distributed at 1300 hrs. and in most cases consumed by 1400 hrs. We called for reservations at Rota Navy Lodge (1-888-AFLODGE) from the Dover terminal and departed Dover at 1725 hrs. for the eight-hour flight to Rota. We needed some “poggie bait” to finish the trip.

When the C-5 is in the air, it is a fine ride with rear facing, airliner quality seats. In this case, only about half the seats were taken. The flight arrived at Rota on Thursday, March 22,at 0630 hrs local time.

Sue McCraw says hello to a friendly burro in Morocco. Photo by Sue and Dean McCraw.

Sue McCraw says hello to a friendly burro in Morocco. Photo by Sue and Dean McCraw.

From the Rota terminal we walked to the Navy Lodge, a jaunt which was on the outside edge of walkable (next time we will take a cab) and took us in front of a relatively new Gateway Inn, which is apparently seldom available to Cat VI personnel.

Rooms at the Navy Lodge were quite comfortable, (two beds, bath, kitchenette, TV, $75.00). In the old days we would have hit the road immediately. But that was then. This is now. We checked in and took a nap—the C-5 is not THAT good of a ride.

We had previously reserved a rental car from the Hertz dealer in the Rota terminal by calling prior to leaving home. They are very accommodating and offered no problem when we had to call and change the reservation due to delay in transit. In this case it was fortunate that we had called because some who had not called had to wait until other cars were available.

Our car was a Toyota something or other; a tiny little thing, that got excellent gas mileage and cost $622 per month. One of our traveling acquaintances chose to rent from a vender off base in Rota as it was less expensive. The convenience of renting and returning a car at the terminal may be worth the difference.

The next morning we woke to the sweet smell of orange blossoms. I suspect the fragrance was present the day before also but we may have been too tired to notice.

Rota is a closed base. Our first task was to obtain a pass for admission through the gate. To accomplish this we had to have an official document from the terminal showing our names, nationality, flight origin etc. As it turned out, we had the document we just didn’t know what it was.

The first day we had to take that document along with passports to the police station in Rota and get our passports stamped as visitors. It was not really a visa; in fact, I am not sure what it was. At any rate, we then had to take that to the visitor’s center at the base for an admission authorization. I am not sure about this but my memory tells me we had to renew that at the visitor’s center (which is at the main gate) every 24 hours. For subsequent entry we had to have the permit on the dash of the car and show the permit along with our ID. Rota is a Spanish installation. The Americans are tenants. We were not treated rudely at all. The Spanish military MPs staffing the gate, who spoke only broken English, were just adamant that we could not enter without the permit.

Friday: We checked out of the Navy lodge and had lunch and dinner with new friends we met on the trip over. Again, one of the real benefits of Space-A travel is meeting new people with similar interests. We have done so on each trip and expect to continue to do so. Before leaving Rota we decided to spend a night at a nearby resort.

One advantage of traveling in the off season is that drop in rooms usually are available. We checked in for one night (60 Euros) at the Playa de La Luz, located just outside Rota. It is a nice resort on the Mediterranean coast. The room was very small with two twin beds, but offered an enjoyable evening and morning of the next day.

Saturday: We checked out and drove to Jerez where we checked in to Hotel Trype Jerez, (59 Euro + 13 Euro parking). It was a very nice, large room with two beds. It was an excellent location downtown near plazas, cathedrals and other points of interest.

Sue McCraw poses for a photo in front of a scenic Spanish village. Photo by Sue and Dean McCraw.

Sue McCraw poses for a photo in front of a scenic Spanish village. Photo by Sue and Dean McCraw.

We toured the Tio Pepe winery which is noted for sherry of various types the tasting, of which was included in the tour. We took a taxi (5 Euro) to a flamenco/dinner club which did not open until 2230. Most evening functions in Spain, including restaurants, do not begin until after 2100. During our wait for 2230 we walked about the area and discovered what proved to be a rehearsal for a Sementa Santa parade function. This proved to be a sign of much activity to take place the following week that would significantly affect our trip plans.

We had heard (from Rick Steves, et al.) and read about Sementa Santa but did not really have a good idea of the extent of the observance. Holy week, Palm Sunday thru Easter Sunday, is a time of much emphasis in Spain. Parades and floats are enormous and totally dominate the area—including traffic, room availability, and essentially everything else.

It was a tremendous experience which we had to deal with throughout the remainder of our trip. Our observance of the dress rehearsal proved to be our best opportunity to see the activities close up. We observed the flamenco performance at El Laga de Tio Parrilla (30 Euro per person). It was well worth it and is an important part of the culture of the area.

Sunday: We checked out of the hotel and attended Mass at the cathedral across the street in Jarez. We drove to Marbella where Sue had made reservations at Marbel-la-Mijas Crown Resorts Club through the Armed Forces Vacation Club ( The trip there was an adventure in itself as I found that I had the preferences on our GPS set to “shortest route” rather than fasted route. We saw some beautiful back country scenery but the road was fairly rough and the trip took a couple of hours longer than we expected.

The first week at Crown Resorts cost $352 + $28 electricity/water. It was a very nice resort and proved to be very economical that week. We decided to stay a few more days into Holy Week and the price increased to 66 Euro per night, which was still less than the routine Holy Week cost for hotels in the area. The resort was also much more crowded (pools, sauna, etc.) and less accommodating after the first week.

It is also important to note at this point that if you are counting on a GPS device to get you from place to place as we do, you must have a definite address. In this case we had the name of the resort and, in that area of the Southern Spanish Coast, there are extensive resort developments called urbanizations which may or may not be listed in your GPS. Suffice it to say we had a difficult time finding the place and needed some luck breaching the language barrier, asking locals for directions as darkness was approaching.

The time we spent at the resort proved to be an efficient use of time as we were able to use our own initiative to plan and conduct day trips to places of interest and take leisure time as we wanted. We were also able to use the resort’s resources to participate in the tours and guided activities they offered.

Monday: Day trip to Nerja: Nerja in its natural state is a small picturesque town on the coast of the Mediterranean. With the extensive development along the coast, it is hard to tell where the town limits start. However, the mid-town area is well preserved, with many quaint stores, restaurants, bars etc. available for tourists. We spent a leisurely evening walking, and had dinner at a restaurant with seating on the water’s edge.

It is worth noting here that most streets in most of these small Spanish towns do not run in a straight line and cross streets typically do not cross at right angles. Be sure to take note of where your car is parked. A walk of a couple of blocks will usually turn into several blocks with several street changes. Add to this the fact that it will get dark and finding your car becomes a challenge. You can carry your portable GPS with you or at a minimum note or take pictures of street markers to help you navigate back to your car. We spent nearly an hour and much unnecessary walking to locate our car.

Tuesday: Day trip to Ronda: This was an excellent day. Ronda is one of the premier “white washed villages” that dot the mountain tops in this part of Spain. An early departure and the approximately two-hour drive left plenty of time to sight see and still return to our room before night fall. The bullring and museum, the gorge, and various other sights are well worth the trip. Add in lunch and other sightseeing makes for a full day.

Wednesday: We spent this day utilizing the resort facilities, doing laundry, with short walking tour of the immediate area around the resort. A small grocery store is within a couple blocks walk of the resort.

Thursday: A road trip to Granada with visit to the Alhambra was on today’s schedule. We made the trip without incident but were unable to enter the Alhambra due to a national strike in Spain in protest of the well-publicized economic problems and proposed solutions. We were aware of the pending strike and the desk clerk at the resort called the Alhambra prior to our leaving but were unable to get specific information. After we arrived it became all too clear that Alhambra is a government operated facility and all government workers were on strike. No one was being admitted and there was a wait in excess of three hours in line to get a refund and/or reschedule attendance. We had prepaid the tickets with a credit card and were able to easily get refund by disputing the charge on the credit card. The action was completed in a couple of days and all done on line.

With the Alhambra closed and public transportation not operating we drove to old town Granada. That was difficult at best due to congestion (cars, people, motorcycles, and bicycles), one way streets, lack of parking space and general unfamiliarity with the town. Public transportation is a much better option. This was a “good news, bad news” kind of a day. We had a good trip over and back but the day in Granada was not very productive.

Friday: We spent this day at the resort and short walks around the local shops near the resort.

Saturday: Hotel group tour to Morocco: We scheduled this tour through the resort. It cost 78 Euros per person and include a tour bus to and from, round-trip ferry from Tarifa to Tanagier, guided bus/walking tour of Tangier and a very nice lunch in a Moroccan restaurant.

Sue riding a camel in Morocco. Photo by Sue McCraw.

Sue riding a camel in Morocco. Photo by Sue McCraw.

The walking part of the tour included snake charmers, camel rides and EXTREMELY PERSISTENT street vendors trying to sell their wares. Sue rode a camel she called “Fatima” for the sum of 2 Euros. It was a long day with the hassle of getting there and back but all in all it was a unique experience and we thought well worth it.

Sunday: We moved into the room next door and the rate went up from $51 per night to 66 Euros per night. This day’s activities consisted of another group tour from our hotel to Mijas Village. Mijas is a really nice little town which puts much emphasis on burro taxis and bull fights in season. We attended a bull fight (50 Euros per person) in the afternoon.

The opening act for the bull fight was a flamenco dance demonstration which was conducted on a temporary dance stage set up in the bull fight arena. It was well done and the application of the dance to the bull fight itself was much more apparent than it was in the flamenco dinner club we attended in Jarez.

There was much pageantry and the bull fight itself was clearly a part of Spanish heritage. I am glad we went; however, I doubt we would ever go see another one. It included three successive “fights” each with different matadors and a bull. Each bull fight lasted about 20-25 minutes. The bull is at a bit of a disadvantage as he is out-numbered four or five to one and the fight is not over until the bull is dead. If the first fight had been scored on points over a predetermined period of time, as in a boxing match, the bull would have won easily.

El Toro considers his next move at a bull fight in Morocco. Photo by Sue and Dean McCraw.

El Toro considers his next move at a bull fight in Morocco. Photo by Sue and Dean McCraw.

Monday: We were so impressed with Mijas Village we went back on our own to spend more time there then went on to Coin, another white washed hill town located high on a mountain side overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. There were lots of shops, burro taxis, caramel coated almonds and peanuts. It was a good, relaxed day.

Tuesday: No trip to Costa del Sol would be completewithout a visit to Alhambra. Since our first attempt was foiled by a government strike we elected to do this one as a group tour from the hotel (66 Euros per person). It was a 12-hour trip, including a guided tour of Alhambra, lunch in a tapa bar, bus tour of the city and free time in old town Granada. Tour guide books are filled with material about Alhambra and it is quite impressive.

Wednesday: This day consisted of a day in the resort for Sue and a SCUBA diving excursion for Dean. The dive cost 95 Euros which included pick up at our hotel, all necessary equipment, a SCUBA familiarization session in the pool and an approximately 45 minute dive in the sea. The dive consisted of walking into the water at the beach among the swimmers. There was not much to see and the water was very murky from sand stirred up by the swimmers. It did not compare well at allwith diving in Cozumel, Mexico. The high point was my diving partner, a 14-year-old boy from Wales. I enjoyed very much my opportunity to visit with him and his parents.

Thursday: Checked out of Crown Resort Marbella and drove leisurely to Rota where we checked in to Navy Lodge ($75).

We went to the terminal and checked the flight schedule. There was a C-17 scheduled to depart to Corpus Christi NAS, TX then on to Kelly-Lackland AFB, San Antonio, the following morning. Since our car was in Ft. Worth this seemed like a good option for us. We registered for the flight, then spent the day in Rota and vicinity.

Friday, April 6 ,Good Friday: Throughout most of Spain, Holy Thursday and Good Friday are holidays. On the base most offices were open on Thursday but all were closed on Friday.

We arrived at the terminal at 0600. The rental car desk was not staffed but there was the convenience of a key drop box at the counter. The plane was delayed due to lightning in the area but was cleared for takeoff at 1030. I parked the car in the rental lot and dropped the keys into the drop box.

Our initial contract for the rental car was a monthly rate. Since we turned the car in after about three weeks, the daily rate was higher but still allowed a refund on the initial rate for the month. The difference was credited to our charge card about two weeks later.

No box lunches were available due to the holiday staffing at Rota so we picked up some snacks and boarded the aircraft. The C-17 load consisted of three passengers and a wounded Blackhawk helicopter.

There was plenty of room for us to stretch out and plenty of time to do so as the flight from Rota to NAS Corpus Christi was 12 hours. We had our own sleeping mats and the crew chief provided us some pillows and blankets.

We landed in Corpus Christi at 1630 local time. The third passenger, a staff sergeant headed from Rota to visit his family in Arkansas, was getting off in Corpus Christi, and as it turned out, the plane did not need to stop at Kelly-Lackland AFB.

Since we had to get a rental car anyway we got off and shared the cost of a cab ($50) to the rental car desk at Corpus Christi airport where we rented a car, one-way, to Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport ($128). We returned to the NAS Corpus Christi and checked into quarters (Gateway Inn, basic room, $40). We went to Landry’s seafood restaurant located on the wharf. We had an excellent seafood meal but were too tired to really enjoy it.

Saturday: Left Corpus Christi for drive to Ft. Worth. We went by NAS JRC Ft. Worth and picked up our car then drove both to Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, the only place we could turn in the rental car.

We then spent the night with relatives in Arlington, TX.

Sunday, April 8, Easter: Joined relatives for Easter meal then drove back to Stillwater, OK (five hours).

EOM (end of mission).

It was an excellent trip which covered 24 days for total cost of $95 per day per person.

B. Dean McCraw, COL, AUS Retired and Sue McCraw, GRI, (Ret.) Stillwater, OK

Reprint from Mar-Apr 2013 • Volume 43, No. 2


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