We both woke up cold at some point in the night and added a tarp over our blanket for extra insulation. Probably because of this, we woke up much later than intended at 8:30. As we were leaving, a van was just arriving at the house next door so we got out of there sharpish and headed to the beach.
A morning swim was tempting but we were still feeling chilled to the bone after the cold night, so we just had a wander along the beach instead. We sat on some rocks to eat breakfast (crackers, cheese and apples) and watch the surf lessons. Then it was time to say Au Revoir to Hossegor and made our way towards the edge of town. On the way, we found some fresh cardboard in a skip and paused to write a new sign saying ‘Bayonne… San Sebestién… SVP ☺’ with a motorway symbol.
Aim for the day: Spain!
As always, we had the sign attached to O’s backpack as we walked in the direction of our chosen spot. We had an hour or so walk to get to a good location to get a lift onto the motorway, but it was a lovely day and we were full of good spirits after our unexpected evening.
After twenty minutes of walking, a passing car (going in the opposite direction) turned around and came back, stopping beside us. The driver asked where we were heading and offered to take us to where the motorway started.
“It’s a long walk!” He smiled and beckoned us in.
He lived in Hossegor but liked picking up hitchhikers, he’d done it himself a few times when travelling but not in France. After a short journey of chatting and listening to music, he dropped us near the beginning of the motorway and turned around to go back into town. He’d gone out of his way, just for us – and we hadn’t even been trying to get a ride! A good start to the day.
We only had time to put on our rucksacks and walk a few steps when we saw another car had stopped. Surely it couldn’t be for us?
It was! We couldn’t believe our luck and enjoyed a quiet, smooth ride in a Renault, 100% electric car – a first for both of us. This calm, friendly guy drove us to where he left the motorway at Bayonne. The day was going very well! We went into the supermarket to stock up and ate an entire box of ice-creams to celebrate.
After a morning of getting lifts without even trying, we decided we needed a break and sat outside the supermarket in the sunshine for a bit. We were entertained greatly by the brilliant invention of a 24hr bread vending machine.
Feeling refreshed after half an hour or so, we then headed back to the road and found a good spot before the roundabout leading onto the motorway. Here, our luck continued! We were there five minutes at the most (I only had enough time to draw two stick figures and right ‘San… ‘ on a new sign) when a car pulled up. It was two young, trendy French guys heading over the border to Spain for the day. They would be leaving the motorway shortly after crossing the border but said they could leave us at the first services after the border.
“Once you get to Spain, it’ll be easy because there’s no French people!”
“French people are boring!”
These claims, spoken with thick French accents, made us laugh. We commented that actually we’d been really lucky that day and it had been ridiculously easy to get rides – we’d barely even tried!
“That’s because you are in Basque Country, it’s not really France.”
Once over the border, they pointed out how it still looked very similar, same architecture, landscape etc. – because it is still Basque Country. They also pointed to the green areas and told us it actually should be much greener but it had been a very dry winter. One of them in particular was very concerned by this.
They dropped us at a petrol station, but it seemed quite quiet and we saw a sign for services close by so we walked ten minutes under a bridge and up some steps to find a bigger service station with shops, restaurants etc.
We had made it to Spain before 1pm!
Since the day was going so well and we had already completed our target for the day, we decided we deserved to sit in the sun for a bit so I could catch up on my diary writing and O could sort and edit photographs for our instagram. We chose a spot outside the entrance where we could still have the sign on O’s backpack visible to people entering and leaving the building. I had just taken off my shoes and socks and opened my notebook when we heard a voice behind us.
“Where are you from?”
We turned, and answered.
“And where are you going?”
We told him we were heading towards the south coast of Spain, or anywhere in that general direction.
“Are you trustworthy? If you’re trustworthy, you’re going to Madrid. If you’re not, you’re going to Burgos!”
And this is how we met José Manuel and Francisco.
“I’m going to Madrid. You come with me. We go now.”
JM spoke briskly before disappearing towards the car park, with F following silently behind him.
It was plain to see straight away that JM was a real character, and that as a duo him and F bounced off each other hilariously. Later, F described JM to us:
“He’s like a character from The Simpsons.”
We quickly packed up our things and went to find them. They were stood by a shiny black mercedes, moving bags from the back seat to make room for us.
“Excuse me, I need to have some lunch.”
JM gestured to the sandwich and bottle of coke in his hand. After one bite of his sandwich however, he exclaimed in Spanish and pulled a disgusted face.
“This is SHIT.”
F shrugged and puffed on his cigarette as if to say ‘Well yeah, what did you expect? That’s why I didn’t get anything.’
JM went to throw the sandwich in the bin. O and I exchanged a glance and O quickly said that he would eat it.
“You don’t have any money? You don’t have any food?”
O explained that we had both those things, we just couldn’t bear to see food wasted. They raised eyebrows at each other but handed O the sandwich.
“That is not food though. When you are used to Spanish food, that is not food.” F chipped in, looking disgusted.
We got in the car, commenting on how nice it was.
“Just be careful with my car. That’s all I ask.” JM said sternly.
They were concerned we didn’t have enough space, that we might be uncomfortable. We explained that we’d travelled all the way from Calais to Bordeaux, in one trip, in a Renault Clio, with bags on our laps – we would be just fine in this mercedes!
“What would we even do with all this space?!” O whispered.
JM and F told us they had been in France for work, having driven there just the day before. It was clear that they did not think much of France and were eager to get back to Spain.
We didn’t talk with them much for the first part of the journey. They had some animated conversations in Spanish which seemed to be about business and also had a shared phone call on loudspeaker where F switched between English and Spanish. They smoked a lot, especially JM. Although they opened the window slightly, I could feel the smoke in my throat after just a short amount of time in the car – it was amazing to me that anyone could smoke so frequently! F slept for a bit and I caught up with some diary writing.
After a few hours, F turned round to talk to us.
“We will stop soon to go to the toilet and take a break.”
I thought we would be stopping at a service station or something like where we’d met them earlier, but we pulled into the car-park of a very grand looking building. We drove around the car park a lot as JM & F seemed to be disagreeing over parking – it was good natured bickering with laughter dispersed throughout. O commented that although he didn’t speak Spanish he could tell that they were very funny. F laughed and explained.
“He needs three spaces to park his mercedes.”
JM tutted and muttered at the other parked cars and F continued.
“Now he will go back to the first place I suggested.”
F laughed and shook his head as JM turned the car and drove back the way we had come.
“Yes.” JM was totally deadpan.
We parked and got out, seeing that the building was actually a hotel and restaurant.
“It’s a castle, the oldest hotel in Spain” F informed us.
It really was!
We walked past a beautiful bandstand towards the entrance. It seemed a bit odd/unacceptable to us to be entering what seemed like a fairly fancy restaurant just to use the toilet. We asked F about this.
“Yes! It’s fine. You’re not in France anymore, you are in Spain. No one will charge you to use the bathroom.”
We were led from room to room to find the toilets. There were exposed wooden beams above us and various ornate items on display, including a collection of elegant clocks on one wall. The staff were dressed in what looked like traditional clothing.
“This is all very Castilian,” F told us, gesturing towards the decor and the uniforms.
O and I both went to use the toilets and I came out to find JM and F sat at a table in the restaurant. I asked F if he was going to eat, feeling concerned that this place was out of our price range and thinking maybe O and I could sit outside and eat the food we had with us. He shrugged.
“Probably. I haven’t eaten.”
O returned and a waitress came over. JM talked with her and looked at menu before turning to us.
“You like blood cake?”
A pescatarian for ten years, followed by a few years of very occasional and fussy meat consumption – I had only tried black pudding for the first time last year, homemade simply and cooked outside in the Scottish wilderness. O also eats very little meat and we both have a vague rule at the moment of only buying vegetarian (usually vegan), but generally accept any food offered to us (especially if it’s otherwise going to be wasted). So, we nodded.
“And Spanish omlette for you? And for drink? Beer?”
We agreed politely, exchanging a look of ‘oh well, we’ll just edit our budget for the rest of the trip’.
“Don’t worry. I pay.” JM said absentmindedly, waving away our ‘muchas gracias!’ and announcing he was going for a cigarette.
While he was gone, F told us a little more about JM:
“He is my boss. He hates everyone and everything – he is always calling everything ‘motherfucker’, always shitting on God. He says, ‘I shit on God!’ but really, he has a big heart.”
“I’ve travelled with him a lot and he is always giving people lifts, or cigarettes, or taking people for dinner.”
“He is actually very ill, this is why he hates everything. But really, he is a good man.”
JM returned, we were moved to a more comfortable table and the food and drinks arrived. We were all encouraged to eat some of the ‘blood cake’ (Morcilla) that JM had ordered and O and I explained that there was similar in both Scotland and Czech Republic.
We told them we had decided to stay in Madrid tonight and F said this was a good idea and that you could get ‘very cheap’ hotels in Madrid for €40. We told him we had already found a hostel for €15 and, on his request, explained what a hostel was and how a mixed shared dorm worked etc. He laughed.
“Not for me! Not for me! I can’t even take a piss if someone is in the next room.”
O explained that the less we spent on travel and accommodation, the longer we could travel for. We went on to explain about couchsurfing and they were very interested and amused, asking lots of questions. Although they obviously had a very different lifestyle and set of priorities to us, they were always non judgemental and inquisitive in conversation.
F asked how old we were and we told him, being told (as has happened, to our pleasure, several times on this trip) how much younger we look.
“Well, I’m 25 and he’s 27,” said F. (I’m not sure if his age was a joke or not!)
“Yes. Each leg.” JM was totally deadpan as usual, but had a twinkle in his eye.
They told us about their work – they make and sell machinery that vibrates and separates substances, used in mining. They travel a lot, though not usually together (only for ‘special clients’ etc.). We finished our food, JM had a coffee and then it was time to leave.
As we were driving out of the car-park, we saw some charging points for Tesla electric cars. O pointed them out (he’s a big fan).
“Maybe that will be your next car!”
“No… I believe in contamination,” JM scoffed.
“You mean pollution?!” F corrected him, laughing.
“I work in mining. Mining is contamination. So, I believe in contamination.”
Although this viewpoint is spectrums away from mine and O’s there was something refreshing about his honesty concerning his chosen profession.
I dozed most of the rest of the journey, waking up when F turned to tell us we were twenty minutes away from Madrid. Here began a hilarious back and forth where F was telling us how Spain was the best country he’d lived in (and he’d lived in a few), how Spain has the best quality of life…
“You might earn more money in Germany. But in Spain, you’ll be happy.”
… alongside constant interruptions from JM saying the opposite.
“No… Spain is shit. No one goes to the opera, no one reads a book.”
“How can you say that? You try to go to opera here and it is all sold out. Come on!” F leapt to Spain’s defence.
It went back and forth like this for a while, with me and O laughing. The conversation got more and more extreme, somehow ending up with JM telling us that Spain’s biggest problem was “people fucking everywhere”!
As they dropped us at the bus stop, they left us with some parting life advice.
“Don’t do drugs! Don’t have sex! Read books!”
We shook hands and kissed cheeks goodbye. It had been a long journey but hadn’t felt like it – a comfortable ride with entertaining company and the opportunity to discuss all sorts of topics (including money, meaning of happiness, patriotism, belonging, history, art, language…) with people who we probably wouldn’t usually cross paths with, or at least have spent so much time with.
The beauty of hitchhiking!
We got a bus (€1.50 for any 1 journey – ours was 40 mins) to Plaza de Callao and found our hostel. We had hot showers and got into bed – for the first time since Portsmouth. I’d been fighting a fever the last few days so a shower and bed was much appreciated!
The dorm room was empty but there were obviously two other people staying there. We snacked on avocado, olives and bread and I caught up with some writing.
As I was drifting off to sleep, someone else entered the room and began packing up his things. I eavesdropped on him talking to O and heard that he was leaving to catch a late flight.
I was soon fast asleep.