Málaga, the capital of the Costa del Sol and the birthplace of Antonio Banderas, Pablo Alborán and Picasso, is one of the oldest cities in the world.
It is also a place you don’t want to rush. You need to look up at the architecture, down the skinny winding streets, across at the landscape of sea and mountains and around at a buzzing vibrant community of culture, history and gastronomy. Most people walk it, but if you are smart (and have a certain zest for the different) you Segway it!
The Segway Human Transporter, the first self-balancing, electric-powered transportation machine, uses five gyroscopes and a built-in computer to remain upright. It is a relatively new way of getting around and was unveiled in New York in 2001 as a nifty way to travel over pavement, gravel, grass and small obstacles. It works by leaning forward, it stops by pulling back and it turns as you turn.
We are at Segway Málaga Tours and chatting to José Reig, the owner, about living in the fast lane.
‘It doesn’t really go that fast,’ he admits. ‘About 20km per hour, but then again that is the perfect speed in which to discover this great city. That way you can see everything you want without getting tired.’ I ask for a demonstration and he holds the machine steady while I gingerly step on and off I go. It’s not like riding a bicycle, you can fall off a bicycle, it’s more like growing a set of wheels. Much like skiing or ice skating, the smallest movement of your body controls the direction in which you travel. I’m thinking of giving up waking altogether, it’s easy to master and great fun.
I ask José how he came up with the idea of opening Málaga’s first Segway tour office.
‘I was in Cordoba in 2007 and I was out of work,’ he tells me. ‘I saw a group roll by on one these and I thought how great it would be to see them in my home town of Málaga, it was as simple as that. I used to work for a car hire company, so I guess there is some correlation between that job and this one. I started off with just seven standard Segways and opened this office. I now have eleven machines, plus we have off-road tyres and all sorts of extras like bags to put your belongings in and safety equipment. Next we are investing in two-way radios so I can give my guided tours to our groups without having to stop or shout out, they can then listen to me through their earpieces while take in all the sights.’
And historical sites is something Málaga is certainly not lacking in.
Shaped by the city’s location in the south of Spain its history spans over 2,800 years. The Phoenicians founded the colony of Malaka in 770 BC and at the end of the 1st century it was part of the Roman Empire and referred to in the Latin name Malaca.
For just 30 Euros your one hour Segway tour takes you past a number of important landmarks – museums, churches, palaces and the port. Although Málaga’s main attraction, the epicentre of this grand city, is the Cathedral.
Construction began in the 16th century at the start of the Christian’s rule over the Moors. It was built on the foundations of an old Mosque and designed by Diego de Siloe in the Renaissance style, although the façade is Baroque. Its magnificent towers (the second tallest in Andalucia after the Giralda in Seville) look over their city proudly, glowing white in the midday sun. And if you are an American tourist in Málaga you have a lot to thank the Cathedral for, as the money that was raised to complete the build of the south tower I the 1700’s was, according to a plaque on the site, used instead to help the British colonies (which became the United States) to gain their independence from Great Britain. The tower still remains unfinished to this day, although it doesn’t feature too greatly in the 4th of July celebrations!
The Cathedral is located within the limits defined by a now missing portion of the medieval Moorish walls. The remains of this wall still surround the nearby Alcazaba and the Castle of Gibralfaro – and if you have two hours to spare you can enjoy a two hour tour and take your Segway through the tree lined roads to the top of the Gibralfaro mountain and visit this Phoenician fortress built in 929AD. Perched on the edge of the mountain it overlook the city in all its splendour, including the huge bull ring, the busy port that made Málaga the historically rich European landmark of old, and the glittering Mediterranean sea.
And if you tire of all this history, but are not yet ready to use your feet, you can also go off-road around the surrounding countryside. In fact there is no terrain the Segway can’t cross.
So does José have plans to expand his business to other parts of the coast?
‘Not at all, I love Málaga too much to look outside of this great place. I love the people here, the food, climate, plus it has the best summer ‘feria’ in the country. Customers always ask me what it must be like to live here, I tell them I love it, that the company will get bigger but I’m staying put.’
A family of nine, like a wheeling version of the Sound of Music, have just turned up for their own private tour. As they get kitted out in vests and helmets and explained the safety procedures I ask José what the public’s reaction is like when his customers zoom on by them?
‘The tourists laugh, some even write down our name that’s printed all over our Segways then come by the office a few days later. The locals find it a bit strange though, I guess it’s a weird sight seeing something so modern in such an old city. But either way you can’t miss us with our fluorescent orange vests on…we certainly stand out.’
Two young lads are currently working part-time at the Segway office on a student exchange trip, one from Latvia and the other from the Czech Republic. They too are impressed with the city where they have been staying the last few months.
‘The people here are different to back home,’ the Czech tells me. ‘They are friendlier, they talk more, and they are helpful. The other day I got lost and not only did the lady give me directions but she accompanied me there, I couldn’t believe it.’
They have been helping José at the start of the tourist season leading the non-guided Segway tours. I remark that it looks like a pretty fun job getting to wheel your way around the city all day.
‘It’s cool, and it’s easy, it doesn’t feel like work at all,’ the blonde boy tells me. Imagining myself as a teenager on the Costa I ask them what they think of all the beach bars, clubs and partying further on down the coast.
‘I’ve never heard of all these places,’ the younger one exclaims, hastily typing in words like Banus and Chiringuito into his phone. ‘I didn’t know there was anything else outside of Málaga.’
Maybe he’s right, maybe there isn’t.
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