All entries for Sunday 29 January 2006

January 29, 2006

Third Journal entry

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
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.


spun out of a heliocentric universe

Arrived from London this morning. and i am feeling a void in my head. where thoughts should be, all i find is a mercurial churning, quicksilver spinning around the locus of my self.

went to london to celebrate the birthday of a good friend of mine, about 6 of us went, all on the megabus company (which btw is amazing; 2 hour trip from canon park to victoria station for about 3 pounds). we saw lyrics born and quantic, and in good fashion recieved a thorough alcohol-induced trashing. some more than others, i was pretty broke, and going into london armed with 25 pounds is not nearly half of what u should have to properly enjoy a night of that calibre. many anecdotes arose from the general chaos. attempted a failed flirtation with the fit little girl from the support act, where the common thread of a common language (in this case spanish) has oft than not, common results; namely a "oh really!? what are you doing here?" "and urself? u were amazing! can i get you a drink?" "oh sorry, i have to see some people, il try and see later though!"...

its amazing what sleep deprivation and booze can make one do. either pass out or summon energy from the most obscure sources. i wonder if the mitochondrial walls can function with alcohol. i suppose you'd create beer-fuelled twats exhuding vodka vapours. After 4 hours of sleep, where it started hailing-snowing when we got back home, a 2 hour bus ride and the lingering palseys of a beer occasionally striking you from the middle of nowhere, i am finally home and everything is a blank.

mercury is now slipping out of my ears, the yolk of my mind draining, and am looking forward to a few hours of mindless computer games, TV shows and movies. hopefully il wake up with actual grey matter and a couple of hemispheres between my ears, spinning around helios, me, the heliocentric universe of my mind. cuz right now, helios is a feeble matchstick and the planets of my reason of been flung out into the dark emptiness of vast space, the emptiness of my mind.


Second Journal entry

Day 2: Le Havre to Nantes (14//03/05, Monday)

We disembarked in Le Havre, dans la France, avec tout les grenouilles. It was 7:30 in the morning and the sun reveals to us all the majesty of this port city. And all the denizens of this vast metropolis came to greet us in the form of rush hour traffic, impatient commuters and a foggy cold morning with the industrial structures of any ugly port clambering out of the salty mist. We all walk down to a main road to buy some authentic, fresh, French baguettes, which being purchased at a gas station, were not very fresh at all. Cigarettes were also an issue but they could wait. Bas and Giuseppe got their first ride after about 5 minutes of waiting (which began their marathon sprint south), leaving Dave and myself waiting another 55 before being picked up by a student who drove us from Le Havre (thank god) to Caen, where she studies every day.

The drive was in a word, uneventful. My sputtering French, combined with French countryside and a French wine induced ferry crossing hangover left me attempting to win an uphill battle with the sandman. Nevertheless we did cross the impressive pont de Normandie which are 2 bridges that cross the estuary, which on this particular morning stood out from the haze. A couple of Chateaux crossed our path, as did some large forests, but considering the amount of wine that was drunk coupled with the fact that we only slept about an hour left us too tired to attempt socialisation with our dear lady friend-driver.

So this French woman drops us off outside Caen at a peage, where we quickly assembled some signs to take us south towards Bordeaux or le Mans. It took us about 45 minutes before we got a ride. Our attention grabbing skills were incompetent at best, where we received a mix of amused smiles and French glares. Quite amusing to say the least. Our second French driver was a young student visiting his parents from somewhere outside Paris I believe. My memory is not exactly elephantine. The drive went by very quickly, primarily because the sandman routed my forces on the left flank and I failed to see his pincer attack come, whereby I lost awareness. This left a rather awkward situation where our French patron was in the presence of 2 English (and very exhausted) strangers passed out in his car. If he was expecting a conversation he would have been in for a surprise, because at that point my French was rustier than the USS Maine, let alone my catastrophic defeat at the hands of the sandman. I came to the conclusion with those 2 drives that not only are the French extreme fans of Reggae, but that Bob Marley may actually be related to our constant yet unpredictable companion the sandman. I awoke to our French host wanting to drop us off on the motorway, but I kindly asked him to drop us off at the next aire, mainly because I did not really fancy receiving a full body cavity search from the Gendarmes for walking on the motorway. It turned out that the next aire was that of Mt Sant Michel, but there was no mount, let alone an ocean or a beach visible. I was disappointed that I could not see it, but finally managed to buy a pack of smokes, baguettes and had a proper meal. The weather turned for the better, getting warmer and clearer, and on that high we picked up our possessions and headed to the on-ramp heading south. We got picked up by a British trucker with a weekend habit of snorting coke (hopefully not on the job). So we nick-named him Charlie.

Mt. St. Michel
Le Mt. Saint Michel. We never saw it

It turns out Charlie is an ex-army man. He explains to us how he used to blag train rides around Carlisle (his hometown). It was quite tiring to keep up conversations with him. He apparently followed the family tradition of working in the transport industry. He was nice enough for dropping us off on the on-ramp to Nantes on the ring-road around Rennes. Unfortunately he missed the ramp and left us on the worst on-ramp possible. We were stuck there for an hour entertaining the silly French bastards, many who gave us the soon to be well-known French finger waggle accompanied by smile and offered explanations. The waggle consists of the driver using the hand on the steering wheel, where he lifts the index finger, moving it from left to right while driving by. The weirdest thing about this waggle is the fact that they try and explain to you why they cannot offer a lift, attempting to speak to you. But there are a couple of problems with this approach, a) I am standing on the road, stationary, and their car is going at least at 30kmh around a bend which infers that b) there is only about a 2–3 second window of opportunity to explain why they cannot give me a lift (because they are going to the supermarket, or they have to give something to someone, etc, etc, etc), let alone that c) the windows are generally closed. This sequence of events played itself out many a time during this lapse of time outside of Rennes. We effectively played court jesters at the hallowed halls of French commuters: the On-ramp. There were an incredible amount of ambulances which, in an amusing attempt, didn’t give us lifts. So there we were, stuck for over an hour. We sat, we stood. We laughed, we sulked. We waited there until a good sir came to us as an epiphany does; unexpectedly. This epiphany-like man didn’t fill out his pre-ordained role, but did us the majesty of taking us to the correct ramp that Charlie missed, and sped us away from that hell-hole after inhaling carbon monoxide for a good hour.

We walked on to the main highway and on to the correct off-ramp, offering aid to a British couple whose caravan had lost a wheel, flying off at the elliptic, a couple of seconds before we arrived. A few minutes after that incident, we were picked up by Gillaume. As it turns out, Gillaume is quite the legend. He is an ambulance driver (one of the many that drove past us on the on-ramp in Rennes, numbering at least 40–50 the hour and a half we were there) who drove a nice blue Audi A3 and was heading towards Nantes. On the drive south, I really practiced my French which was somehow rushing back, or, in this case, regurgitating out of my mouth with many a “erm, comme ça dit… q’el est le mot qui je cherche… un moment…”. Dave crashed for a while, and that was generally the best ride we had had so far that day. Very relaxed, and Gillaume turned out to be an interesting guy. He entered the city of Nantes while talking about his experiences of Morocco, and was nice enough to drop us off at the banks of the Loire, next to the centre of the city, at his own expense, quite out of his way. We started hiking, and realised that Gillaume had made our journey out of Nantes a tad difficult. To get to the main part of town we would have to walk a good 2km with all our stuff and on an empty stomach. Thus, Gillaume was sadly reduced in our esteem. Drove a nice car though. We walked a kilometre down the main road, on the banks of the Loire, which was picture perfect. Unfortunately for us we had no picture. We came upon a Lidl supermarket and stocked up on crumbly bread (no baguettes, came as a shocker to me), cheeses and ham, and decided to camp down on the grass by the road.

Turned out the picnic was one the most amusing events of the day. Nice food, a post-meal cigarette to enjoy on the river bank, the sun on our backs, and half of Nantes staring at us and our “SUD” sign propped up against the tree. People would slow down to read the sign, then to stare at us, trying to comprehend what the hell we were up to. This happened so much that in fact we caused a small traffic jam of very curious Nantian citizens. People honked, laughed and stared while we enjoyed our meal, a very surreal one at that. With all the hitch-hiking, I reckon that I should get into some show biz. That is all hitch-hiking is in the end, a lazy effort of getting from A to B, prostituting your charm and conversational abilities to your client. It was at this point that we came across the French chav. Not so menacing or perverse as their British counterparts, the French chav is still a group that makes us react with our basic instincts. This journey became an odyssey of watching the different styles of European chavalry in 3 countries. The Brits still win the cake by a long shot though. After packing our stuff and easing the traffic, we crossed the Loire and made it to the island of Nantes on the Loire, where we got picked up by a French woman. She ferried us across the other bit of the Loire and on to the southbound motorway, giving us back our sign-pad after forgetting it in her van (which was quite a cringe moment).

So once again we were on the French motorway, “en direction sud”, nothing spectacular considering we had been at it all day. Nevertheless nature takes its course and days must end in nights, however regretful that may be. We only waited a few minutes before being picked up once again, and the sun was closely shaving the Western horizon. A description of this French joker is needed; speaking in Frenglish, he is a mason who gave me an explanation of the differences in stones and slates in this area of France (something to do with tectonic plate movements and the conditions of the sea). He was also a severe reefer driving an old Peugeot, like half of his fellow countrymen. The other half drive Citroens, a statistic that would have made De Gaulle proud. This fact alone, the dusty old Peugeot, didn’t make me wary. What made we wary was when I noticed at first sight that he was a pot head of the greatest calibre. He had long hair, red eyes and dust caked his car. There was also a horse fly running up and down his coat. Whether he was aware of the fly or not, I do not know. All I know is that this guy was named Pierre.

Nevertheless, a ride is a ride. Dave and I pile in, and since I can speak some semblance of frenglish, I have the honours of being the go to buddy of Pierre’s fly in the front seat. We speed to what I understood would have been La Rochelle. We watch Mother Earth swallow Father Sol and the ensuing spectacle of dusk, and arrive outside La Rochelle. About 200km outside of La Rochelle. Outside a peage 200km north of La Rochelle and about 30km south, outside of Nantes. And 1km west of God-forsaken Montaigu. God, may he give Pierre lung cancer from his beloved pot and a broken skull from his precious slate… His mind moves slower than the continental crust he was attempting to explain to me and their migrations across the planet’s surface. To make it worse, we arrive in the late hours of the day, and all the light available is moving fast into twilight, which became dark within 10 minutes of arriving there. Night had us at our finest hour. We approached all the parked cars and rosary-decorated trucks with praying hands. But it was to no avail. The truckers were asleep and the cars empty. What else could we do? All we could of course. Thumb it out the hell away from that place. Stick out signs as our hitch-hiking brethren would do. The situation does not give much space for hope though. It was about 8pm and the commuters were all tired, French, white-collar labourers driving nice, comfortable cars, going home to wife, kids, dinner and TV. We waited a half hour, with our moods slipping every minute, and the prospect of crashing at the peage dawned as the likeliest scenario with each passing moment. We created another sign in pure desperation saying “PROCHAINE VILLE!”. I left it with Dave as I went to the peage and talked to the ladies working in the office. I asked how far away Montaigu was, if there were any hostels, as well as “how about you let us take kip in your office, we won’t cause a mess” talk. Montaigu has squat and there was no way we’d be able to sleep in the peage.

Lo and behold, I walk back to our possessions and Dave should receive sainthood. He hailed down a couple of students driving back to Nantes, with one of them being named Gillaume, our second in the day. We speed back to Nantes, finding out more about Morocco on the way, as well as a number to call once in Marrakech. That phone number was lost, but instilled in me the impression that the French really have a love affair with the Arab world. We clamber out of the car at the Nantes train station, thanking the students profusely for saving our lives from the Montaigu horrors and quickly find a hostal they recommended, “La Manufacture”. We pay up the €17 each for a night and breakfast and discover the annoyance of 20 minute timed showers at hostels. We have a quick meal of brie and bread (tip of the hat to Lidl there) and let the sandman enter.

End of day 2.


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