fourth Journal entry
Day 4: San Sebastian to Madrid (16/03/05, Wednesday)
We woke up early in San Sebastian, at around 7am. It was bloody well freezing in the room, so we dress appropriately. The other Warwick hitchers were still fast asleep. Dave and I head down to the 35degree angle, worn out wooden staircase into the city, and are overwhelmed by heat. It was a balmy 19 degrees outside, at 7:30am. Incredible. We could not figure out why our room was so cold. We got some breakfast in a swish café, croissants and coffee, and take a walk around the beach, marina and old part of the city. Culturally satisfied, we take our belongings, put on fairly clean clothes, and head for Irun via cercanias train. Taking the bus to Bahabia, we trek to the border. At this point we realise we have lost out handy, huge marker pen for our signs. It was probably left in France… poor bastard. We made signs for Madrid and then Vitoria, because luck was petering out fast. I was scolded by the guardia civil for hitch-hiking “in their presence”, upon which I leave their presence. We have become immunised against the noxious fumes of mingled exhaust, gasoline and piss that permeates all trucker stops it seems. We finally ask this trucker who was wandering around the area when we arrived where he was headed. Here starts Vladimir’s story.
I approach him and ask him in Spanish where he was headed to, noticing at the time that his truck’s license plate was Portuguese. I naturally assumed he was a Portuguese man. He replied in relatively good Spanish (any Portuguese can speak Spanish really) that he was going past Vitoria, which was on our route to Madrid. The day before, we spoke to Bas and Giuseppe who advised us to go through Vitoria, not Bilbao (The bastards arrived in Madrid the day before. They had to camp out in Aranjuez though, hehe). We found out later that he was also going through Burgos, which is a mere 2–3 hours away from Madrid, north from Madrid as the crow flies (which is incidentally how the road was laid), eventually finishing at Valladolid. Thus, we were on a route non-stop to Burgos. With any luck, we would be in Madrid by the late afternoon or early evening, if we did not encounter any hitch. We climbed on to the truck and start chatting to Vladimir, who as it turns out, was Ukrainian. The name was a dead giveaway, but until he told us his name I was convinced he was Portuguese, his accent was flawless (to me at least). He showed us photos of his wife and child back in Kiev. He had been living in Evora for the past 7 years saving money to go back to Kiev, living like a King. I reckon he mentioned he had a couple more years of driving as a trucker before he could move back.
After about 15 minutes of idle chat, Vladimir decided to move on, get on the road, move south, towards sun and sky. We sped down the motorway of the Basque country; moving into hills, mountains and villages, the sea and San Sebastian far behind. This was by far the most scenic moment of the journey so far. There was still bountiful amounts of snow on the mountains; remnants of the blast of chilled, cold Siberian wind and tempests from a couple of weeks ago that had brought traffic to a halt. All the truckers we had travelled with agreed that it was nigh impossible to travel through Irun on those days. On the route through Vitoria, ultimately ending in Burgos, we talked with Vladimir. Dave practiced his Spanish, and I attempted to translate Portuguese to the best of my abilities, generally enjoying a very pleasant drive to Burgos. There was no constant chat as was the situation with Adam, where I was mentally fatigued by the time we arrived in Les Landes. There was actually comfortable silence. And no smoking. He was our first encounter of a trucker who did not suffer the urge to fill his lungs with tar every 5 minutes (and us with the driver, it was a chain reaction. Anyone who lit up a cigarette would be promptly followed in succession by the other 2). During the drive I finished reading Pygmalion, and Dave came up with an idea for a movie script. It was indeed a productive journey. What was a source of amusement was Vladimir’s reaction to my reading and Dave’s writing on his Clié; He’d always look at us with the corner of his eye. At certain moments, to break the silence, I would talk to Vladimir on several issues, one being the E.U., how the Ukraine was a crossroads between the east and the west, and what countries bordered with the Ukraine (this was around Miranda del Ebro, crossing into Navarra). Pretty odd all around.
Alas Vladimir followed the same doomed fate as Gillaume, when he dropped us off in the center of Nantes. Instead of dropping us off in Burgos city, he dropped us off at a mountain port outside of Burgos, el Puerto de la Brujula. I will never forget that god-forsaken place. It was only 20 kilometres outside of Burgos and should have been, theoretically, a good hitchhiking spot. We got off the truck, saying goodbye and a sincere thank you to Vladimir (saying “what a legend” as we left, ironically). We had a lunch of jamon Serrano sandwiches in baguette bread as well as some good Spanish coffee. We resumed our hitchhiking tradition shortly afterwards. It took us 2 bloody hours to get off that mountain of Satan. Most of the truckers were very irritable and most of the cars were headed in the opposite direction. It may have also been the coincidence that it was siesta time for most people around then. Nevertheless, after 2 hours, a trucker took pity on us and decided to take us all the way into Burgos city. His truck was dustier than the Sahara and smelt quite stale. His name was Maturiño I think, something very old and very odd. But all in all, it was the chariot of the angels! It took us away from that remote hell hole. Maturiño was married to a Moroccan woman and lived in Leon, with his wife and daughter. He detested the police, and on a side note, we went past Atapuerca.
We arrived in Burgos at 5pm, and with our spirits low, headed straight for the train station to get to Madrid as soon as possible. Screw the hitch and it’s rules, I simply wanted to get home that night. 1 problem: The earliest train would get into Chamartin train station at 11pm, and the clubs wouldn’t be open in Chamartin on a Wednesday. The bus would get us in at 10:30pm at a cheaper price; we’re students, sod the hitch. It was 5:30 and the bus didn’t leave until 8pm. We had quite a bit of time to waste. We decided to visit the cathedral of Burgos, which was probably the nicest cathedral I have seen after having globe-trotted across Spain’s stupidly large heritage of catholic buildings. The stone was bleach white, light streamed in through various glass panels. There was a crypt as well as a museum, with sliding glass doors at the exit that gave the impression of a 21st century inquisition, leading to a “you are not worthy” anecdote. We strolled around the old quarter of Burgos, being constantly stared at by Spanish chavelry, occasionally taunted. We had coffee, wine and pan con tomaca (tomato and garlic on toast) and jamon Serrano. I also spent a good half hour looking for a cash point after the closest one was fiddled with by gypsies.
The Cathedral of Burgos, among other things to see in a 3 hour timeframe
We finally got the bus and headed off to Madrid. I crashed for some part of the journey, chatted with Dave for the remainder. And in we rolled into Avenida de America bus station at around 11pm. My Dad picked us up and took us home, exhausted but happy. Bas and Giuseppe were already there, cotching (the bastards not only arrived in Madrid a day early, but went through my food). We drop off our stuff, and had food, wine, a much needed shower, and headed into the city to meet up with Renata, Tom , Aks, Leah and Greg in Ducados café. Got trashed, had a few laughs, and in perfect tradition, headed off to the pub to finish the night in a swirl of Guinness. Unsurprisingly, everyone was astounded by the potency of Spanish copas, how late one can go out till. Renata and I concur in the surreality of having Warwick friends in Madrid, a truly unforgettable night. We headed back home whereupon Giuseppe and Bas crashed, and Dave and myself nurtured philosophical thoughts ranging on how the impressions and experiences one has, and how empathy can never be attained in truest form, until 6am. Disastrous.
End of day 4, home, sweet home