Day 15

We had a late start today after a difficult night of sleep. I left Ondra sleeping in our cave and went for a wander around on the rocks, finding a few other smaller caves to nose around in.

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It’s a shame we have to leave so soon (our flight leaves Murcia, 190km away, tomorrow evening) but also we’ve been very lucky not to bump into a single soul at our paradise cave, since we were technically breaking the rules by camping there. We had no fires and, as with everywhere we stay, we took great care to collect all our rubbish and take it away with us. It sucks that everyone doesn’t do this and that the authorities feel the need to ban wild camping anywhere at all. The area where we found our paradise cave would be great to come to with a small group of friends, there’s plenty of caves to share around.

I woke O and we ate brunch and packed up our stuff. We decided to leave the little stone wall/bed-edge we’d made in the cave as it was doing no harm and perhaps it’ll be useful to someone else one day. We said goodbye to our wonderful cave home and left at about 1pm, walking for half an hour or so into the small town of Agua Amarga. The road was quiet, especially going in our direction, but we stuck out our thumbs to the two or three cars that passed us.

It was drizzling steadily and didn’t seem to be showing any signs of stopping. Agua Amarga seemed like a bit of a ghost town as we walked into it, there was hardly anyone around at all. There were rows of similar all-white block like buildings, with no windows and deserted roof terraces. We found a bus stop to take shelter in.

There was still very little traffic on the road, it wasn’t looking good for us. The bus stop had a very confusingly written timetable on it, but it seemed to be saying there would be a bus leaving Carboneras at 15:15, coming past us and heading to the main road. It was 14:45 by now so we decided we’d try and hitch until the bus came and then get on that.

An hour later and the bus still hadn’t come. It was cold and wet and miserable – it didn’t feel like Spain! We were missing the homey protection of our paradise cave.

At 4 o’clock, we set off on the 7km walk to the bigger road which we hoped would be easier to hitch from. The walk took us an hour and a half but it actually brightened our mood quite a bit. For a start it warmed us up, and it always feels better to be moving forward rather than standing still (I spy a cheeky life lesson there!). The drizzle let up for a bit, we had some good chats and it was interesting to look around at the homes and the countryside.

We made it to our destination just as the rain started to kick in again. We chose a spot with an easy place to pull in and got to waving our signs around and sticking our thumbs out. It wasn’t easy to keep our spirits up, but we managed it for a half hour or so. Surely the good people of Spain wouldn’t leave us here stood in the rain?

At last, a car pulled over. They had actually already passed us and turned around just to see if they could help. They could only take us a short distance to the autovía entrance, but from there hitching should get easier again.

Our saviours turned out to be a father and son from Brighton – where we started our journey two weeks ago! They’d lived in Spain for two years and worked as labourers of some kind. They’d actually just finished work in Agua Amarga and they confirmed that rain is very unusual in this region. Although, it is the fiesta in their village this weekend – which often seems to bring the rain, apparently. The fiesta Is held up in the mountains above their village and it always ends in everyone being very drunk. The local police actually escort the cars down the mountain, because all the drivers are so pissed, and then everyone continues the party in the village! They were super laid back, friendly guys and they sold the idea of moving to Spain to us a bit more. They stopped at a petrol station to get beers and insisted on getting us each one too.

Shortly after this garage stop, we came to the autovía and the guys dropped us at a junction near the entrance. I wouldn’t have immediately opened my beer if I’d realised we were getting out so soon – drinking a beer by the side of the road doesn’t seem like the best way to get picked up somehow. But, despite the open beer can in my hand, we hadn’t even got our bags on our backs yet when another car stopped! They were going to Mojácar and could drop us at a service station, again it wasn’t a long journey but would get us a little closer to Murcia.

The man was Spanish, the woman was from Lithuania and they were both Buddhists. The woman is planning to move to Spain in the future and often comes to the area to visit a Buddhist centre in the mountains. She’d hitchhiked herself in the past in various places, including Spain where she’d found it very difficult and had once waited for a full twenty-four hours. She told us a funny story about a man giving her a lift and telling her off for the whole journey – ‘this is so dangerous!’… ‘I could be a maniac killer!’… etc. – until she eventually asked to get out because it was getting so boring, but he refused because he didn’t want to feel responsible for her ‘getting picked up by a crazy killer instead’.

We felt bad taking an open can of beer into someone’s car – especially Buddhists – so drank it as quickly and discreetly as we could. They were really friendly and helpful, dropping us at a service station just off the motorway. The man even went into the shop to find out bus times for us as a last resort. He advised us that if we were struggling to get a lift with our signs saying ‘dir. Murcia’, to try writing ‘dir. Vera’ instead. He thought Vera might be easier to hitchhike out of as there is a lot of tourism there so maybe more traffic. He also gave us a phone number for a taxi driver friend of his and his own number for if we ‘ever need any help in Spain’. We sat and chatted with them for a bit before saying our goodbyes.

We treated ourselves to some biscuits from the shop, put our waterproofs back on (it was drizzling steadily again) and found a spot to stand. We made a new sign saying ‘Vera’ and O held that whilst I held ‘Murcia’. We were there about twenty minutes before being picked up by a Brazilian man heading 12km in our direction. He took it upon himself to go a little further out of his way so he could drop us at a service station just off of the autovía.

As soon as we got out of the car, O pointed out a yellow vintage toyota land cruiser parked up at the side of the petrol station. He’d noticed it earlier when we overtook it on the autovía.

“Let’s get a ride in that!”

This was partly because of his admiration for vehicles with character, and partly because there was no other cars about. There didn’t seem to be much traffic passing through this petrol station.

O went into the shop to get us a snack and I hovered by the entrance with a sign, trying to catch the eye of the land cruiser driver. He was filling up the car and as he came into the shop, I smiled at him.

“Hola!”

He said hola back and then looked apologetic and said something I didn’t understand. When they pulled away from the petrol pump, I waved goodbye and they returned the wave and smiled.

O came out of the shop and we headed to a spot by the exit slightly sheltered from the relentless drizzle by some trees. We watched as the vintage land cruiser left the petrol station and pulled into the hotel and restaurant next door.

It was past 8pm, we were cold, damp and tired and there was very little traffic coming through the station. We were still about an hour’s drive from Murcia. We tried to stay positive, discussing how it would soon be after dinner time so maybe we would catch a ride with someone leaving the restaurant. After about half an hour, we’d only seen 4 or 5 cars pass. It wasn’t looking hopeful.

Then, we saw the couple from the land cruiser leaving the restaurant and wave to us. We waved back and then, to our elation, they beckoned! We rushed over and said hola, we couldn’t believe our luck. They were driving beyond Murcia and could take us all the way. Hurrah!

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We told them we’d admired their car as soon as we’d seen it. They told us it was from 1987 – the same age as O! – and that they’d taken it on a lot of long journeys, including to Morocco. O chatted enthusiastically with the man, bonding over their shared love of cars and film cameras with no electrical element at all. The man had hitchhiked himself in the past, which is a recurring trait of the people that pick us up. As all our lifts have today, the couple joked about the weather and how very lucky we were to experience rain in this region as it almost never happened!

On the way, we contacted some Couchsurfing hosts and bookmarked a few cheap hostels on our phones. The couple dropped us to the north of Murcia near a big shopping centre, as we neared the drop off point the man pointed out the tram line nearby. As they pulled off after dropping us, the man leant out of the window and called out.

“There’s a tram coming now, if you run you might make it!”

We ran, and just managed jumped on the tram. We were headed into town. Just as we’d figured out where we were going and decided to stay on the tram until the last stop at the university, O spotted an official checking tickets. We didn’t have any of those.

“Go! Go! Go!”

We jumped off the tram in the nick of time.

Having had no reply from couchsurfing hosts (due to it being so last minute), we’d decided to head for a cheap hotel we’d found on the outskirts of town in the direction of the airport. We had an hour until the bus that went there at 11pm, so we walked through town stopping on the way to buy bread at a late night bakery. We got to the bus station at five to eleven, but couldn’t see our bus number on the departures display. We were confused for a few minutes before realising that we’d misread the bus info online and the bus went at 11am tomorrow, not 11pm tonight.

Shit. What now?

We looked again at accommodation in town and actually found an even cheaper hotel than the one we were heading towards! So, off we went.

The hotel receptionist was somewhat odd, not very happy, one-handed and didn’t speak a word of English. We had a stilted communication where he mainly seemed annoyed at us for interrupting his watching of the reception TV. When we’d paid and he’d checked passports, he abruptly got up and walked out of the front door, gesturing vaguely for us to follow him.

So we went behind him, out of the hotel, down the road and round the corner into another building. He found our room and went in first to check it over, seeming surprised that it was all okay and then walked out, saying nothing.

We showered and got into bed.

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