Day 3: Nantes to San Sebastian (15/03/05, Tuesday)
Nantes does seem to enjoy Dave’s and my presence. It was impossible to get out of the city the day before. We got about 7 hours of sleep when we woke up at 7:30am in “La Manufacture”, and was it enough sleep? There can never ever be enough sleep it seems. Damn you sandman. We had a breakfast of orange juice, coffee and plenty of jam and bread. Leaving “La Manu”, we trek a couple of kilometres, going over a couple of bridges onto the south embankment of the Loire, all in the purpose of hailing down our next good Samaritan. We discover that the French are best not approached in the morning (the intensity of finger wagging increases exponentially, correlating with the sun it seems. Mornings are BAD), but we nevertheless manage to entertain a few token French. We come to the conclusion that the fastest way to get picked up is to entertain the drivers. At this point in the hitch-hike we didn’t know this though. Our pattern the day before (the French pattern it seemed) was that we would either be picked up by truckers or by guys (or occasionally moms for about 4km, or part of the female student body) driving battered French cars. The pattern failed to live up to the standards of François and his old, yellow, model Citroen though. Nor did it predict that it would have the Bond 007 painted on the side, the 7 turning into the gun, and a loud fog horn for a claxon. Where Gillaume screwed up the day before, François saved by getting us the hell out of Nantes.
François, speaking only French, somehow conveyed to me that the week before he attended a huge festival where loads of suited up Citroens gathered. There were about 1000, one of the most memorable cars having the claxon modified to play the well know cavalry charge when pressed. He was a joker. Moustache, long hair, glasses, very French. He dropped us off a few kilometres south of Nantes on the motor way. It was not a very good spot, mainly because there was nowhere for drivers to slow down and pull up. We stood there for 45 minutes, waving at cars, trucks, ambulances and vans, but it was hopeless. Shortly after a cigarette break, a purple van pulls up. I run down to it and this guy tells me in frenglish that the spot was no good to hitch-hike (to which I muttered “no shit Sherlock”). The best bet we had was to walk down to the peage. "How far away is the next peage?" Only a couple of kilometres. "Really?" Oui. "Merde".
We pick up our stuff and hike the 2 kilometres down the French motorway on a mid-march morning. Road to our left, and vineyards to our right. The combination of physical excersion and improving weather, as opposed to sitting on our asses in a acclimatised environment, causes the sweat to break. And the curse of having to carry winter coats around. We finally arrive at the peage with half a bottle less of water, whereupon we relax, lie down on the grass, have a couple of cigarettes, you know, just cotch. However, the desire to continue south is still invigorating and the breakfast from “La Manu” is still surprisingly energising. We make a sign for Bordeaux and start to rip the piss. Our aim: Get peoples attention any way possible. We hail down cars, run after them with our sign, taunt them, pray for them, generally having a blast. Considering this was the best weather so far of the year, that spring was in the air, we were in high spirits. Clowns of the road we were. Put there by divine providence for the amusement or embarrassment of the French driver in his hallowed hall, the motorway. I write a sign saying “ESPAÑA ¡POR FAVOR!” so as to catch Spanish trucker’s attention, and in doing so, inadvertently start Adam’s story.
After running around and pleading, I saw this Spanish truck leave the peage and slow down next to us. Mild adrenaline rush ensues, we were leaving Nantes! I ran to the cab to ask the driver where he was headed: “Bordeaux, an hour south of Bordeaux”. Very good. His name was Adam, a Pole, who has been living in Lleida for the past 3 years (city north of Barcelona). We travel about 7 interminable hours with this guy. He’d never ever shut up. At first it was great. He spoke basic English, Spanish, French and German, fluent Polish (obviously) and Russian (a historical legacy he explained). As a footnote we found out that a truck works with 8.5 gears (as to the extra 0.5, I really do not know the benefits it brings), the horse power in trucks are incredible, that Adam was a devout catholic (a rosary hangs beatifically from his rear-view mirror) and has a daughter. He also offered Dave to try out driving the truck, which would have been interesting as a source of comic relief I suppose. We stopped off for a 45 minute break, where we ran into a couple of Spanish truckers, one donning a complete cowboy outfit; hat, boots, buckle, the works. We also gleaned in on to the truth behind trucker’s fame as to being heavy smokers. There would be a 5 minute break between cigarettes. Maybe even 6. Nothing less, nothing more. Apparently poles refer to overflowing ashtrays as “hedgehogs“. We‘d have to empty these friendly tarry mammals quite regularly. Adam also turned out to bear an intense hatred towards the French, and I mean INTENSE. He constantly cracked jokes on the libido of French men, supplying the evidence in the form of fornicating French wives. French wives would visit trucker stops at night for a full servicing. Some would even travel with their fuck-masters for a week or so, depending on when the trucker would tire of the lady in question. I garnered the impression that Eastern European truckers are devoted to their jobs. It gives good money to support their families (and French mistresses) and future lifestyles of early retirement, peace and bliss (and 10 apartments in Warsaw).
Our drive south with Adam became increasingly marked by the discussion of market economics. He kept on discussing possible business ventures, selling steel and iron in Poland being an example. All scrap iron in Poland was bought by a Russian who owns all the steel mills, thus a good venture is found there. Selling wood in Spain is also a good choice, since all the forests were cleared in the 16th century to give way for pastures for the merino sheep, in the wool industry. Adam would become increasingly passionate about these issues, to the point that he asked me if I knew any good hackers. I replied “perhaps, why though?” the answer? Simple: hack into Spanish banks (who apparently have the laxest electronic security), steal money, and invest itl in import/export. His last venture in this field was selling furniture, where he made €30000 in 3 months. It screwed up after he was incapable of finding any transport (please note, a trucker is stating he cannot find trucks to distribute his furniture). Thus, the scheme he had in mind was to spend some money buying 3–4 trucks and use them as we needed them. WE. Adam had in mind to have Dave and myself as his business partners. Once we made enough money, we would go into construction … Adam is without a doubt a visionary. A passionate one at that. Let the wind blow and see where the seeds of fortune land. With luck they will take root and grow, fulfilling his dreams. Good luck to you Adam. More pressing concerns are we arriving in Morocco. He was insistent in exchanging numbers. I accidentally gave him my dad’s. still have his though…
Adam finished his day, as promised, at an aire in Les Landes, an hour south of Bordeaux. Deep in the endless pine forests. Surprisingly enough I recognised the service station. In any case, he parks, we scramble out, and he helps us find a ride down south, to San Sebastian, Irun, Spain in general. If we didn’t find a ride, he offered to take us tomorrow morning. I was exhausted from his boundless enthusiasm though, and decided to let lady luck spin her unreliable wheel. We asked a few truckers, but they declined on grounds of insurance and job loss, even though Adam harped on about what a couple of “good guys” we are. Strolling to the other end of aire, we receive a few honking from one of the trucks. Turning around, we look at what was up. Lo and behold! Hitchers! 3 of them in the truck! They wave at us enthusiastically as they drive away, south… bastards. We started asking around and eventually a Spanish trucker agrees to take, albeit after much begging and pleading. The first impression was that the guy wasn’t exactly enthusiastic to take us, but the good Samaritan inside got the best of him. We waited for him to finish his coffee, throwing our stuff into the storage container on the back, alongside car chasses waiting to be assembled into full grown cars in Madrid. Thus, off we sped down to Irun, the town on the French/Spanish border.
I sit in the cabin/bunk bed, Dave sat in the “office”, and we chatted about his 35 year experiences of being a trucker, on how much Europe has drastically changed. He’s a native of Extremadura, the region of the conquistadores in Spain, but has been living in Irun for the past 30 years, with Basque grandchildren whom he loves immensely. He’s been all over Europe, Africa and some parts of Asia. He was even a trucker for the red cross during the Balkan wars, to which on his return from the mission, he told his boss “next time you need a job like that done, do not count on me”. he said it was the absolute pits. His favourite country in Europe is Italy, for it’s food, followed shortly by the UK. He stated that the Brits have an immense respect for truckers when on the road. We cross the south of France, entering the French Basque country, passing St. Jean de Luz and finally cross the border. We park and get out, finally in Spain. I no longer have to practice my French. The man’s name was ooold Spanish, something like Teodorio. In any case, he gets out, opens the compartment for us to retrieve our belongings, and is approached by the Spanish police. Damn. That bitch Irony would have had her day if we were to end our day in a Spanish jail cell. Nevertheless, Teodorio manages to sweet talk the guardia civil, being a good neighbour of these polite, firm men, explaining he picked us up at Biarritz or something, because he felt sorry for us or something. The police leave, and all glory be bestowed upon Teodorio! He even offered to drive us to the train station in Irun, in his Rolls Royce (truckers really do make a lot of money…), so we could catch a train to San Sebastian.
The bay of San Sebastian
We arrive in the train station, after Teodorio explained how to get back to the border to continue the hitch. It is apparently impossible from San Sebastian. We climb out of the Rolls, thanking Teodorio immensely, when we run into the hitchers from the aire, south of Bordeaux. Seems that that bitch Irony is ultimately a subtle cow. Their names were Chris, Lucy and Liz, and from all possible encounters, are from Warwick. In their first year. We take the cercanias train with them into Donosti (Basque name for San Sebastian), and on account of one of them having been there before, latch on with them to find a hostel in the city. After 40 minutes looking, we found a decent one with no curfew. Guys in one room, girls in the other. We freshened up and hit the town for Donosti’s fabled tapas. We walk along the Concha beach and into the beautiful old town, where I explain to Dave the latest trends of Spanish chavalry, having come across Spain’s representation of the phenomenon in the center (mullet hairstyle essentially, with feather filled jackets and tight trousers). We ate really well, having had crab, Spanish omelette and something resembling a porcupine… Donosti, the capital of Spanish tapas. Heading back to the hotel, we ran into “S to the power of 6”: stoned Swedish surfers sur San Sebastian. They apparently arrived into the city after driving a day and a half from Morocco to catch a swell from the Atlantic, meaning good surfing. An interesting prospect for a lifestyle. Finding our Warwick team increasingly annoying, we find the hotel, and crash, sleeping very well.
End of day 3, finally in Spain.