All entries for February 2006

February 06, 2006

Final Journal entry

Day 7: Marbella to Tangier (19/03/05, Saturday)

I woke up a bit displaced, and then I realised I was in Marbella. At about 8:30am I believe. We headed for the beach to get some food, and more importantly, coffee. Dave is surprised by the quality of Spanish coffee, whether its in some sleazy bar or an up-market joint. Ah, coffee connoisseurs. We went back to the hostel, where Dave took a shower (I believe that was going to be our last shower in 3 or 4 days), we pack our bags, pay the hostel patron with many thanks and aimed for our last ride in that charity hitchhike.

We walked west to the outer part of town and try hitching by the roadside, with no luck. We take the opportunity to take a couple of photos, to actually prove we went on a hitchhike. At the time, a local told us to head 100 metres further down the road to the gas station we had actually been looking for during the past half hour. Despite the change of location our situation was the same. This being Marbella, for every shit Seat, Fiat, Polo, truck or van there would be 10 suave BMWs, Mercedes, Rovers or Audis. Marbella; a city for the rich and the corrupt. At this point I would never tire from people’s reactions to hitchhikers. Everywhere else we had been laughed at, smiled at, joked with or played with. Here, we were considered part of the Barbarian hordes. Most people would avoid eye contact, just in case Vandalism was caught by eye to eye infection. For jokes, we’d aim our efforts at 2 seater Porsches, you know “go on bruv, it will be tight, but we can all fit in”. There was an amazing amount of foreigners, so English was used quite a bit.

outside of Marbella
hitchhiking out of Marbella

Another sign was written, saying “AUTOSTOP DE CARIDAD” (“CHARITY HITCHIKE“), to pacify the rich snobs. Dave took the gas station exit, I took the traffic lights on the busy main road. I was in a good mood despite the overcast sky, and just took the opportunity to piss about on the road side. Young people laughed and pointed. Old couples looked bemused. Middle-aged couple looked away, especially those that were closest to me, the raving blond Barbarian with a sign for a weapon. This was especially the case when I decided to get on my knees and start praying at them. At one point I started jumping up and down and chasing after the cars, or getting into the middle of the road on a red light, which really got my crowd going; people started honking horns, laughing and shouting encouragement. It also got us a ride. The last ride of the hitchhike, the last leg of 1400 miles from the UK to Morocco, the ride given to us by the chief mechanic of Puerto Banus, Tedorino.

He stopped by saying he was en route to Algeciras, the reason why he was taking us being “Has estado pegando saltos como un canguro”, or translated, “You’ve been jumping about like a bloody kangaroo”. We piled into his van, throwing our stuff in the back and sit up front. As we were leaving we suddenly hear a rattle and a bang. Dave didn’t close the back door properly, and it flew open and the trolley in the back would have flown right out hadn’t it been caught on the door. We stopped quickly and let Teodorino assess the damage. Dave and I looked at each other a little sheepishly, and see each other thumbing it for another hour but thankfully there was no damage. We weren’t going to make the 3pm ferry anyway, so we had plenty of time to kill. Teodorino came back in, saying that damage control was fine, so we drove on. He told us he was going to Puerto Banus first to pick up his wife. We stepped down from the van and into the port, checking out the huge boats, speed boats and the occasional sailing boat. It was all quite impressive. Marbella, the city of luxury and mafia bosses. As we headed back to the van, we notice Teodorino, his wife and a common friend sitting in the front. We were relegated to the back of the van with no seat, seatbelts or comfort of any sort for the next 45 minutes. And since Teodorino didn’t understand the concept of using a brake, we flew around the back of the van a few times before realizing there were some dubious-looking handle bars on the sides, which I grabbed on to for dear life. It wasn’t very relaxing. Nor was the fact that I had a large, quickly revolving, rubber tire about 4 centimetres below my ass. What to do but buckle up… ah, I couldn’t do that either.

We drove down south. The Mediterranean facing my back, the mountains in front of me. Gibraltar loomed in the distance and before I knew it we arrived in Algeciras. Teodorino parked next to this decrepit old trawler or fishing vessel of some sort, about 70 metres long and 15 wide, rusty as hell, and apparently his. Newly his. He had just bought the floating heap of rust and was obviously proud of his purchase. We got off the van and clambered on to the ship, and realized that that was it. The end of the Hitch. No more thumbing it across Europe. To celebrate we take a couple of photos of us on the ship, and waited to take one with Teodorino. We waited quite a while, but he had taken his wife and some friends that had met up with him on the quay into the dark, dank bowels of that metal leviathan. T’was truly a monster of the deep. We took in a view of Algeciras which lay at our feet. To be honest, it was a carbon copy of Le Havre, but warmer and drier. We got off the ship, telling Teodorino’s friends to give him our thanks, since he was inmersed in a maze of iron and steel, and headed for the ferry.

Boat in Algeciras
Dave in Algeciras, on Teodorino´s love boat

As we walked to the ferry terminal, we noticed more Arab signs and Arab people conglomerating in the area. It was an appetizer of things to come. Whole families in cars were crammed on the road waiting to cross the straits and head home. We bought our ferry tickets and go to the waiting lounge (after being kicked out of the café because it has a costumers only policy), whereupon we ran into a couple more Warwick hitchhikers: a certain Joe and his female partner, who for the life of me, I cannot place a name on. We simply chilled. This was interrupted with the arrival of 3 more Warwick hitchhikers though: Chris, Liz and Lucy. Murphy, damn him, was certainly working overtime to make sure his precious law was observed. And despite trying to pass incognito, that Bitch, Irony was having a laugh. Of all the destinations, places and mishaps that could have occurred, we were stuck with them. Again. Hit 5pm we get on to the ferry and I get the Dutch passport stamped for the first time. We sit far away from the other Warwick hitchers, who nonetheless continue to pester us from time to time. We climbed on to the deck, and I bid my adieus to Spain and Gibraltar and greet the Moroccan coast, under a steel sky. As we walked down I was shat upon by a seagull. My guess is that it was from Gibraltar. And so much for that saying of being shat on by birds is a sign of good luck, we were stuck with 3 Warwick first years en route to Morocco. I passed the time by playing a bit on the Clié, which suffered an accident due to a faulty socket in our Marbella hostel. We also made economic amends, with Dave eventually owing me €100 as it turned out. After 2:30 hours of rocking to and fro, we arrived in Tangier. There was a big bustle to get out, and for some reason the Warwick hitchers stuck closer to us than warts would to an old hag’s ass.

But nevertheless, we walk the gangplank, in good pirate fashion, and touch African soil. Or cement. Anyhow, a new continent I have visited, a new culture to see. Night gently descends her inky veil across the grey dome of sky, and a minaret calls the faithful to prayer. And we walk down the port, into the Moroccan evening of uncertainty and pickpockets.


Sixth Journal entry

Day 6: Madrid to Marbella (18/03/05, Friday)

Dave woke me up at around 10am. After breakfast, we pack our stuff and lounge around, waiting for my Dad to show up. I gave Greg a tour of the garden and chat with Leah and Aks until my Dad showed up at around 11:30. I left behind all my U.S. documentation, since getting flogged in Morocco was not a tourist trap I wanted to experience. We headed for the service station outside of Ciudalcampo, where the day before Bas and Giuseppe had left from. We restarted the hitch by walking around the station, asking truckers and drivers to give us a lift south. But the truckers as well as the drivers were all either stopping in Madrid, going different directions, or were full to the brim. At this point, Dad ferried in Greg, Aks and Leah. We were now 5 hitchhikers looking for rides. Damn. Nonetheless, we pissed about, took some photos and played around with the hackey sack.

There we were, asking passers-by where they were headed, and generally receiving a curt “No”, until Rocio appeared. She arrived in a small, dark-red Peugeot, and I asked her where she was headed. “Me voy a Marbella” she said, “I’m headed for Marbella”, to which I replied “Oh mother of God PLEASE take me and my friend with you!”. Surprisingly, she accepts to harbour 2 complete, foreign strangers in her tiny car for the next 7 hours. She reminded me of a mouse; small glasses, dark hair, always carried her purse around with her, I got the impression that she secretly nibbled at table corners and bits of cheese wrapped in a napkin when no one was looking. All in all, she was a nice woman. We waited for her outside the service station with the unfortunate Aks, Leah and Greg (who would later end up getting a ride to Ciudad Real, via Toledo) and then pile into her small, cramped car. She was moving homes, sold a hotel she and a her Chef husband had in Vitoria and was starting a new life in Marbella, where her husband was now working as head Chef in a 5 star hotel. Word.

We drive off, heading south, getting stuck in the Madrid congestion (of course I would have to suffer a final bout of familiarity with the home city), but heading decisively for Andalucia. Rocio, as it turned out, spoke some English, so she and Dave could communicate and I could rest my brain from bi/trilingualisms. She was originally from la Palma, Canary islands, but had lived in Seville and San Sebastian, receiving a degree in tourism, even though she would have enjoyed marine biology a tad more. That’s life for you. It was not a particularly interesting drive, she studied English in Brighton, so Dave and her conversed on that note for a while. A lack of sleep was hitting us both pretty hard after our first pit stop though. We found out the main reason for picking us up, the unspoken contract; “I’ll help you two by taking you down south, and you two help me by keeping an eye on my stuff during the pit stops”. it was a fair deal. To be honest though, I would have though she would have been considerably more tired, after driving through half of the Iberian peninsula already. Dave took the back seat for sleep and I was relegated to being kept awake by Rocio’s chit chat, mainly on Seville, it’s beauty, and about the wonders of the 1992 Expo in that fair city, which I saw at the ripe age of 6. I couldn’t remember jack, but she filled me in on the details that my fuzzy memory decided to oust.

After about 3 hours of driving, we go through the paso de despeñaperros (or better said, the mountain pass of dogs being thrown over a cliff, you have to love Spanish bluntness) where I roused Dave from his slumber to take in the scenery, which was, of course, definitely worth it. We rested for another pit stop, whereupon we tried to coax blood into our asses, Rocio’s seats are uncomfortable as hell. There was also copious exampled of Spanish Chavalry, a mere 30 kilometres north of Granada. Not exactly the most comfortable smoking and leg stretching environment when you have 20 “malotes” shouting, sneering and jeering around you. We switched seats so that Dave was on the receiving end of mouse woman and her prattle.

Puerto de Despeñaperros
Puerto de Despeñaperros, heading into Andalucia

It was the last leg of the drive. For some reason the names of trees was a prominent moment of our getting to know Rocio. Names of trees in English and in Spanish. How should I know! Going past Granada, I could just make out the Alhambra, and enter we did la Sierra Malagueña, where the weather turned foul. Some amazing cloud formations, and the Mediterranean was a steel horizon of metallic ondulations. The coast was the Spanish coast, the concrete coast, cranes and concrete as far as the eye could see. Rocio also mentioned that Malaga airport is the busiest in Spain, to which an image of the average British holiday family popped into my head: All sun burnt and on a constant binge, the kids too. Rocio also explained to us why she decided to pick us up in the first place. “It’s all a matter of the first impression” she said. She trusted us because of our T-shirts (she assumed that we were indeed a legitimate charity hitchhike) and how I spoke (I was very educated and oh so English).

We finally arrived in Marbella, well after nightfall, in the old quarter of town. We clambered out quickly, and I nearly forgot my hoodie, since Rocio was in such a rush, trying to get home to her husband who had no idea that she had just travelled through most of Spain with a couple of strangers. Maybe she told him… We landed in Marbella at 8:15pm and we immediately searched for a hostel. The second one we saw gave us a prize; 2 beds, a bathroom and shower, all for €35 in total. It could have been far worse. We dropped off our possessions and went in search for some place to eat. Our good patron the hostel manager gave us some directions, and I gave Dave a genuine window of opportunity to lavish in the tapas tradition, in a nice terraza on the beach. After good food and good conversation, we got some coffee and postcards, and decided to go swimming. We headed back to the hostel, put in some trunks and towels in a bag and enter a couple of 4 star hotels in search of their pools. To no avail, the security was too tight or the pools were closed. We thought of the sea, but it was too cold and dark and Jaws kept jumping into my mind. I think there was even a buoy out at sea, and a naked woman on it too… We gave up, headed back to the hostel, I took a shower, watched some TV and went to sleep.

End of Day 6, 64 kilometres from our destination.

February 05, 2006

Fifth Journal entry

Day 5: Cotch in Madrid (17/03/05, Thursday)

I am risen from a stupefied slumber at 10am by Elena, with a horrible hangover. Bas and Giuseppe are leaving, and Elena could not for the life of her understand what the hell they were saying. I assist in making sandwiches, also making the time to go see everyone in the garden. As an afterthought, I really did not comprehend how I lasted so long after only sleeping about 4 hours. I went along with the pair and my Dad, dropping them off at a service station at the north of Madrid, next to Ciudalcampo (whereupon they waited a mere 5 minutes to hitch a ride down to Seville). I headed back home with Dad, and on arriving see Dave awake and relaxed (no shit Sherlock…)

We had a good lunch, relaxed a tad more at home, and then headed into the city to show Dave the scenes , after a tour of the family grounds of course. We went around Sol, the Plaza Mayor, La Latina, the Royal Palace and had some Pizza around Opera. After going by la Gran Via and buying a copy of Don Quijote de la Mancha, we headed back home, at dusk. Upon arriving home, I got a call from Aks. They had no luck whatsoever getting out of Madrid that day. They were even given direction to a homeless shelter. In their sullen mood, they requested to spend the night at mine. Graciously, I accept.

Madrid skyline
The Madrid skyline from Arguelles

Dinner: A HUGE amount of pasta is made, accompanied with plenty of cheese and wine. Also accompanied with a Casablanca feature. Major kudos to Dad for buying those “El Pais” Sunday specials. Photos of Aks and myself when having gone to school together, at the tender age of 5 or 6 were passed around, followed with plenty of coos and sighs of “aw shucks, how cute”. Sleep slowly took a hold of us. The next day would be a busy day. We finished preparing sandwiched for the following day and went to bed.

End of Madrid, end of the cotch end of day 5. Seriously, the end of the cotch. Really.

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.

Burgos Cathedral
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

February 2006

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