Friday, August 28, 2009

Luxembourg to....

It was much too tempting, free food and accommodation, far away in deep dark Spain, and then afterwards a fully paid for room and meals at hotels with a touring music group, I couldn't go home. I also had around a hundred pounds of what i had budgeted to spend, so it was a challenge to stay cheap for a further 3 and a half out came the thumb and after taking the public transport (and not paying!) we got a lift southwards with Hakm, an Algerian Frenchman. France blew by in a wondrous blur. Hakm dropping us off at a petrol station, only for Eric and Ile a half hour later to whisk us a further 500 kilometres to just north of Lyon by 11pm. An indulgent one hour break in the service station, and "xxxxx" (can't remember at the moment), another French Algerian man, a chauffeur for Glasgow rangers footballer amongst other people, took us as far as Montpellier, a further 400 kilometres! Out we jumped, and had our photo taken with him, and as we had our standup wash in the toilets, Waseem recounted how he had begun to fall asleep at the wheel, Waseem asking him, with English restraint, "are you all right?" and we got there in the end. I had slept through the drama.
Pascale then took us on to the Spanish border, another large drive, he was a chemical salesman and his car smelt like it. Again I plunged into sleep, Waseem informing me again afterwards that he had started to sleep at the wheel and that he had asked him to pull over. Dangerous stuff, hitchhiking overnight. I slept right through it again, but I had been making good french conversation for quite a few hours of that night, and so probably needed to rest my English language shy mind. Smelly and tired, we were at a toll station and Spain was within walking distance, and so we slept in a field by the motorway. UP we got and, not soon after, we were into Spain with Victor and Florence doing a booze drive. The hills by the coast are rounded and well coiffed, like broccoli heads or poodle perms, the car rolling on by hay bales round like wheels. These lovely green hills, i noted from a road sign, were shielding our view from the white-toothed glare of Cadaques, its square and brilliantly white houses clustered around a bay immortalised by the surrealist painter, Salvidor Dali.
They dropped us off at a little town, where they had come to buy some eau du vie and some cheap San Miguel. Most of the people here were french, and we found it difficult to get a lift and walked out of town in 37Celsius and jumped over a fence to get to a petrol station on the motorway. Here it was difficult too, either the heat or the national temperament making people less communicative and helpful. But a couple of hippies, Tulla (listen to her at myspace, under the name of Sardana, she has appeared at Glastonbury!) and Carlos picked us up and dropped us off at a toll station, where we got a lift within 5 minutes by Sergio in a BMW convertible. Unfortunately when he dropped us off at Tarragona, just 100 kilometres south, he left us on the side of the motorway and so we marched off along the side of it in the hope of finding a petrol station. Petrol stations are better for hitchhiking as you are able to talk to people to ask them for a lift, and they also have more time to think about your suggestion. However, we just encountered a toll station, where unfortunately we were asked to move on. 4 or 5 kilometres later, after following the motorway westwards towards Llieda on the Madrid road, it was getting late and so we decided to sleep at a parking place by, or on in Waseem´s case, some chunky furniture. Before sun fall we stole some grapes form the vineyards and ate almonds off a tree, tasting richly of marzipan!
5 kilometres from a service station, we started off to hike there along the motorway, with the fanfare of the occasional horn honk to keep us to good speed and soon after a passing RAC van who escorted us along the hard shoulder with its flashing lights. Once more, a Spanish service station and we were met with the relatively terse and unfriendly responses of those we questioned about lifts, but Waseem with another of his good ideas went over to ask some people getting out of a large coach and they gladly agreed to take us as far as Madrid, 5 hours away! They were all Christians from a church in the Lebanon, and bade us Inhsala as we jumped aboard. I was mute on the voyage, as the music blared and Waseem entertained two small girls with the hand trick (where it looks as though your finger has been chopped off) and played games with them and chatted to the very friendly Wasim. Pssshhh, the doors opened and we stepped down (onto the side of the motroway again!) and with a feeling of elation jogged down the motorway verge, across a bridge over a few barriers and to a bus stop where Ily, the Lebanese minister, told us there would be a bus stop to the centre.
A hostel stay later, we were knackered, the trip having taken much longer than anticipated, we tried to hitchhike at the outskirts and dramatically failed, wandering this way and that to either hail down cars or search for buses to take us to better positions, with 16 kilograms on our back in the 37C heat until at 7pm, we gave up after a good 5 hours of trying. And again, in weakness, caught a bus, for a whopping 24 pounds.
In the sinking sun we drove in the express coach though the country around Madrid, where sad tress melted on a golden landscape, undulating and swirled like a caramel cream ice cream. We floated on in our clean, sofa style seats, the sun catching stubble int he fields and lighting them up brilliant yellow, soil a chocolaty brown, and the residual hum of the sunshine colouring purple 50 to 100 kilometres away. this was a vast plain, and on our boomerang trajectory away from the city, a last view of Madrid was sighted, row upon row of houses lit with sharp lights gazing south warily towards Arabian Africa. At least 20 peaks seem at the rim all around the plain, then the coach climbs a fly over, and this number multiplies to 200 then 500 discernible peals, this is a dramatic gathering of landmass! The trees mark the exotic terrain, rotund ones mixed with pines and with anorexic conifers. By the road, a 20 foot high black bull, a 19th century advertising hoarding for "Osborne" wine, retained across Spain for its symbolic depiction of Spain's national character, behind the sky is hot and glowering, as if removed from a fire, in the west it hangs like a piece of unquenched metal dented along its rim in irregular serrations like a scimitar blade by the long stretch of the hill line. Soon we would be in Trujillo, after a whopping 4 days of travelling, and we were in good need of real food and regular washing. But the next day, the 22nd of august, marked the beginning of Ramadan and a new challenge, to accompany Waseem on his fast. Wish us luck!

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