More interesting than the bus.
Hey cool, I didn’t get ax-murdered.
Always trying to save money (seriously, someone hire me…please?) and have interesting experiences, I decided to skip the bus from Santiago to Madrid and hitch-hike. Don’t tell my mom. (Hi mom.) I figured this was a great place to do it, with all these great pilgrim people around, Santiago must be used to alternative travel arrangements and trustworthy folk, right?
Besides, I had just come off an incredible three days couch surfing so was pretty high on the human spirit. (If you don’t know couchsurfing.org and are cool, you should check it out and sign up.) I headed over to the spot recommended by my host and stuck the thumb out.
It took longer than I expected, and I admit I was getting a little down on the Spanish character when I got a ride from a lady with a mini-van full of kids. Unexpected. Normally when I see kids in the car I lower the pulgada because I understand someone not wanting to put some wacko off the side of the road in the car with their progeny. But this car was different. I don’t know what the story was, some sort of kickass foster program, maybe? The kids were from different countries, and the conversation ranged from drugs (where I duly reported that they are an awful idea, other than a little natural herbal goodness) though the kids knew more than I do I think (what the hell is “pollen?”) to what strange food we’ve eaten, where I thought my goat-head soup with brain, kidney, heart, liver and who knows what else would stack up well enough, but even the tiny dude has eaten the testicles of some sort of animal (I couldn’t hear him real well over the background noise of his adorableness).
They recommended a place to get good cheap food, so I went over and ordered my chicken-breast sandwich. It was good for the first half, which I ate fast enough o not notice that the chicken was basically raw. Nothing like hitchhiking with the imminent possibility of projectile vomit, right?
I started walking again, trying not to be grumpy about the cook’s ineptitude (these things happen, right?) because no one wants to pick up a grumpy hitcher. Apparently I hid it well enough because the very first car stopped and picked me up. It was one of those mini van-truck things that are so uber-popular in Spain (called fulgonetas here).
The highway we were on went straight to Ourense, with no other towns of note and no other highways to choose from, but he consulted the map to make sure it was on his way. That could have been a sign.
He was coming from a seminar of vocational training classes in Galicia and on the way back was looking at a house he was considering buying in Castilla, before returning home to Madrid. Sure, why not, I’ll ride along.
We made our way to the town. The village. The hamlet. The Podunk. It was one of those towns that I passed through on the Camino de Santiago where all the young people have left and the streets are dry and unstained, four octogenarians sharing the occasional bench in silence. Those were sad, this, without the passing pilgrims, was worse.
We found the house and I am proud to say I managed to wait until I was out of their sight before letting my jaw drop open in absolute astonishment. The place was…a mess. I can understand that not everywhere is going to have the USA realtor style of polishing everything and spraying New Cookie Smell aerosols everywhere, but shit man, at least sweep up some of the dead cockroaches, no?
It was one of those traditional countryside buildings, with roughhewn timber ceiling beams below plaster and adobe walls, uneven floors and a big pit for a cellar. It was like a museum…that hasn’t had funding in 30 years…where the curator died 27 years ago without anyone noticing…and he left the doors and windows open.
There was stuff in the house from the previous owner, but of course it couldn’t be normal stuff, no, it had to be bizarre canes and tattered religious icons and dishes covered in dirt from the decaying ceiling and thingymajiggit whosawhatsits. And I swear I got some seriously spooky vibes from that back bedroom, the one with the bed in the dark corner below the crucifix. Somebody got themselves chopped up with a kitchen knife in that room. Possibly by one of the dolls in the parlor that were watching me.
And there was a noticeable difference between the level of the roof outside and the level of the ceiling inside, with no access and no windows. It was less than a full storey width, but more than just an attic. I asked what was up there and the agent, without meeting my eyes, murmured something about other space and changed the subject.
My driver guy though didn’t seem to care about these details, and when I got back from exploring, fleeing, and protecting my soul from the vengeful poltergeist, he was ears-deep into a monologue about the corruption of the Spanish government and how the people in this town, all 1,000 of them, should form a new political party and overthrow the system.
The realtor’s mom, because what realtor doesn’t bring their mom along, was giving him one of the best askance looks I have ever seen. I wanted to take a picture. Instead I walked back to the car before the doll that was following me with a rusty (that is rust, right?) cleaver caught up with me.
We left behind the decaying adobe walls, straw and underlying bricks hanging out into the street, and got back on the road. He seemed to be considering buying it.
From there it was onward to Madrid. The trip should have taken maybe 5 hours. It took us 11. I don’t understand how, because he drove like a madman. A blindfolded madman. With a tendency to reach behind him for a soda as we approached sharp turns, roundabouts, or pedestrians. I wasn’t sure Red Bull was such a good idea.
Americans can’t drive straight, we drift around our giant lanes like oversize pinballs. Italians drift fully across and between lanes. This guy did the same. My favorite was when he would drift over until we were straddling the lane line, then signal and move back into the one we’d just left. Once it got dark he would randomly flick on his high beams, without any sort of rhyme or reason that I could identify.
Early in the trip he told me he was tired of living in Spain, but every country I suggested he was afraid of. I thought that was actually kind of cute, in a sad way. Poor guy, scared of everything.
Then he offhandedly mentioned that all his friends and family think he is a monster. I didn’t ask for an explanation and he didn’t offer one.
Then I learned how he had run afoul of Almeria. The entire town. He told me about how it was all mafia down there and after some unintelligible details concerning the sale of a motorcycle or three, some sort of medical process gone wrong, and a whole lot of legal denunciations on his part, he had fled the city.
Looking to change the subject I asked him about the classes he had taken. They hadn’t ended well, with him leaving early after being threatened and abused by the programs sub-director. And more denunciations. Those were kind of a theme of his. The classes he was taking were about programming automatons.
Then he was telling me about his dreams and detailed belief in extraterrestrials, and how he remembered his own birth and back to his own conception.
We got to one of the tollbooths for the highway, and as we pulled through I wasn’t sure if I wanted the Guardia Civil to approach us or not… Dealing with the Guardia Civil is kind of like dealing with belligerent gorillas or being in prison, you kind of just don’t make eye contact and see if you can slip by. But not my guy. He pulled up to the two officers, who I swear looked to me like they were about to start goose-stepping, and asked “Can we help you with anything?”
I don’t know who was more surprised, the officers, me, or himself. They responded with a curt and clipped “move along” and off we went. I couldn’t help but wonder if it would have been better to jump out at that point, losing my backpack to save my hide.
But we kept on, eventually getting to the Community of Madrid, where I breathed a cautious sigh of relief at having made it. Turns out the Community of Madrid is frickin massive, and we still had 47 kilometers to go. By this time he was getting really tired, seemingly at an increasing rate. Now when he drifted over to span two lanes he didn’t seem to notice or care.
He was running a fairly continuous commentary, and it increasingly made no sense. “El coche zapatilla” and “el coche de Bilbao aqui era dejado” both sound like bad poetry, but when they are spilling from the glazed aspect of the person who is driving the truck you are in at 120 kilometers an hour? Not so pretty.
We finally made it to the streets of Madrid proper, where at least we were going slower. Now if only he hadn’t been honking at all the semi-naked ladies (seriously, I don’t mean to sound conservative but…never mind, that’s another post) and drifting into crosswalks. Then he got in the taxi-only lane and when we caught up to the queue of taxis honked at them for blocking the way.
I don’t know how long it has been since he was here (he says he lives here) but he tried to turn onto a street that was now a pedestrian zone covered with people at 1:00 AM on a Spanish Friday night. Twice.
But we made it to the neighborhood where I know of a few hostels, and I climbed out. To be honest I am very thankful to him for taking me all this way, and really wish him the best of luck. And I gave him my email address, which is linked to my face book, which has this blog address…maybe I shouldn’t post this…