Freedom had finally beckoned. I was behind the steering wheel of Clio on a long drive through Spain, from San Javier Aeropuerto to Conil de la Frontera. It was estimated to take around 7 hours, as Spanish Carmen the GPS had told me, after I re-routed when I exited the car hire company turning left instead of right.
In the left hand side of the car on the right hand side of the road, I felt strangely comfortable and wondered how I was ever going to ‘normally’ drive in New Zealand again. Spanish Carmen made me snigger with her soft British accent trying to articulate the names of Espanol roads. I found a radio station that played rock music, in the dusty red countryside. Rage’s ‘Killing in the Name of’ came on just as I had reached the 120 km per hour part of the highway. I tested Clio’s speakers and turned up the radio to max, passing trucks and singing until my voice broke.
I was happy. I was free.
An hour in and I couldn’t hold on any longer. There was the increasingly urgent matter of finding a bathroom. I felt like I was driving and perched on a stick, where I was clenching to hold my insides in. A rest stop sign waved out to me and I pulled into the parking bay. I left Clio and went over to the round construction of two cubicles. I didn’t dare look in the first one, because there was water trickling out from underneath the door. The next one, I tentatively opened the door, feeling like I was about to uncover a horror movie scene. With the stench from sh*t stains in the bowl, I looked down; no seat, no paper, no soap, no water, no way. I went back to Clio and sat down.
My stomach gurgled. F@#*. I grabbed some tissues and held my breath as I tried option number one. I opened the door and the concrete was slippery from the porcelain stream. There was a large gap in the window slat, letting the fresh breeze in from the cars driving past. Cars that I could clearly see their drivers in, drivers that could clearly see me. It was a now or never moment.
I came back to Clio, wanting to walk through a disinfectant spray shower on the way. Outside there were some people who’d stopped to have picnic lunches. My stomach yelled. This time it was hungry. I tried to reverse, but I did a classic NJ dick thing and for the life of me, I couldn’t. Clio kept rolling forward into the kerb and I did not want to be the foreigner that drove into a sign, in a parking bay. So instead I was the foreigner who went and asked a man in as minimal words as possible, if he could help me. He revved the engine and had Clio in reverse, then put her back into neutral. He looked up at me, puzzled as to why I had a problem in the first place.
I climbed back in and said “Grasseeus.”
“Be strong” he said.
I zoomed off, embarrassed about how ridiculous and gammy he’d think that I was. And as soon as I hit the 120 again, I started to chuckle at yet another ‘NJ situation’.
I tried going to a roadside restaurant for lunch. I pulled in, parked up, walked in and then walked out. I wasn’t feeling adventurous enough, yet. But I did find signs toward a quick fix, dirty old McD’s. Something I never do (especially in a foreign country), but I wanted to eat and run. I was already running late. Next to the golden arches was a supermarket. I went in and picked up some snacks for the 5 plus hours I still had to go. At the checkout the operator scanned all of the products and then picked up my banana and asked me some serious questions. The queue all turned and stared at me. She then ran off to weigh and put a sticker on my banana. Unaware that I had to barcode my banana, I’d put a massive spanner in the operation of a Spanish supermarket checkout. The McPollo afterwards made me feel a lot better.
The Spanish countryside is remarkably beautiful. At times, you feel like you are driving through a painting with no frame; its endless beauty whizzes past your eyes as you navigate the open road. I spotted houses carved into rocky hillsides. I marvelled at Olvera and Villa Martin; pueblos of white casas bowing down to their churches on peaks. I gawped at fields of bright smiling sunflowers with power supplying windmills whirring in the background.
The scenery had brushed a new set of imagery in my head, one that I wanted to encapsulate in a photograph. The opportunities for me to pull over for a quick pic at the right spot were slim. I then found a small exit amid the green and gold lines of flora. I did another dick driving thing and had forgotten that I was in a manual, not an automatic, so I stalled big time at the intersection. After a quick check to see that no one was looking and a shake of the head, I was on my way to a moment of photographic freedom.
I was so close to my destination but still so far. I got stuck behind a tractor. I got tooted at for over-taking a slow vehicle and had to slow down myself because I was then in a speed camera area. I got looked at sideways for trying to overtake a slow vehicle who had decided to speed up when there was an opportunity to pass him. I got eyeballed for trying to merge safely when the other woman wouldn’t adjust her speed to accommodate me.
Eight and a half hours later and I was cruising along the beach front in Conil. Spanish Carmen had taken me down a narrow one way street that had bar patrons sitting at tables and chairs on the road. I stayed calm and tried not to scrape Clio, or any people. There were no car parks for the address that I was given, so I found one out in the open, down the road.
At the address, there was I couldn’t find the house number. I wondered if it was just one of those Spanish things. I paced, not knowing what I should do next. I watched a young family go into the security gate and I ran up and asked them if there was a 3f. They looked at me, puzzled. I remembered that I had topped up the credit on my NZ phone, so I called my new host. I was several hours overdue for my arrival and hadn’t been able to make any contact.
It turns out that Spanish Carmen was cheeky and wrong. She’d directed me to the wrong street. So there was a rescue mission of host and daughter coming to save the lost and tired Kiwi, out of the village and into a white wash of an Andalucian apartment complex. My day of cross-country adventure closed with a meal at a restaurant on the beach, bathed in the orange glow of a spectacular sunset. Good evening NJ and welcome to your new home.
There is a lot to write about my time Spain, so I will break it down as best I can in the next few blogs; about my lifestyle and exploring new places. Until then, keep living your dream! x