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Notes from the home of the hitchhiker

Till the end of Europe

Gibraltar Barbary macaque on the rock
'Sorry, are you going towards Girona?'
'Yes, where you going?'
'Em..., to South America.'
Rafael, probably the third person I asked for a lift at a station near Perpignan, was really curious about my trip. So I had a ride straight to Girona and I started just an hour before in Montpellier. Perfect. After a few minutes we switched to English, as I couldn't fully explain myself in Spanish. He lived in Barcelona and even though he was very busy, as he was working up to twelve hours a day to pay off his debts, he drove off the motorway to bring me closer to town.

In Girona I was picked up from the train station by Toni, a younger brother of Miki. When we arrived to his parents' flat I felt that dictionary would be my best friend for a while. I studied Spanish before in university, but after years of not speaking, it felt like at least half the words just evaporated. Talking to Miki's mother was the most funny part. I was asking about something with broken Spanish and she was answering with simple English, just to practice it, as she had started to attend English classes. After two days of family time, fantastic food and a bit of sightseeing I hit the road again. Before I got to the motorway entrance it was already dark and getting pretty cold.

First lift was in a blink of an eye. To find a second one it took me three hours. It was past midnight when I ended up at a small service station not far from Barcelona with nearly no traffic at all and two more hitchhikers. Birgit and Josefa, two German girls, were on their way to Portugal. We had a nice time with some snacks, bottle of red wine, lots of laugh and a bored guy working in the station, looking at us while we were jumping around to warm up. We couldn't go inside, the door was shut for the night, and only one small window was left open to pay for fuel. There was also freezing wind from the mountains and no traffic. It would be much worse if I had no gloves. After a few hours the shopkeeper left the station, drove his car closer to us, opened the door and told us: 'You can sleep in here till the end of my shift.' Wow!

In the morning all three of us found a lift to a next station and there the girls found a car for me in just a minute with a guy going to Tarragona. After an hour we were together again and by the evening I ended up at a big service station in Sagunto, with lots of trucks and three more hitchhikers. Running away from winter I thought, just like me. When I came to say hello I noticed they had funny clothes, looking like some kind of hippie circus freaks. I didn't tell them that of course, I saw many freaks in my life, I was probably one of them for some.

Hampi, a guy with precisely trimmed beard and Andrea, a girl with long dreadlocks were from Switzerland. Second girl, Angela, was German. We started to play dice and tell stories from the road, asking around from time to time. We managed to find a lift for all of us in a pretty small car. The driver was Spanish who grew up in Switzerland and he dropped us off near Alicante. We found some field behind the station and camped there for a night. Staring at the black sky pierced with millions of stars I fell asleep happy that it was warm again.

Oranges growing in Alhambra - Granada, Spain
Alhambra - Granada
Next morning, or rather noon, welcomed us with the sunshine and ripe oranges growing around. We started another day of lazy hitch. Hitching in Spain was like Spain itself, where you could always feel the atmosphere of siesta, where everything was half working and half asleep. After hours of such laziness I finally had a lift straight to Granada, the city I wanted to see since a while.

My driver wasn't a talkative person, so I could stick to the window and admire the landscape. Sierras were growing in our eyes, all covered in olive trees looking like green dots on naked rusty soil. I was dropped at a station on the bypass of Granada. Sun was already hidden behind the mountains. It looked like a massive fire glowing above the peaks. I went to the station to charge my phone a bit and check maps. By the time I did it Hampi, Angela and Andrea were already outside the station and drinking wine. It was a goodbye drink as they were about to split. Girls wanted to continue hitching to get to Cádiz, while Hampi convinced by a driver, decided to discover the city. So we started to walk together. On the way he explained me why they were dressed like that. It's an old tradition from German speaking countries connected with crafts. Every craftsman was supposed to travel around for a while to find out more about the world and improve his skills by working around. It dates back till the medieval times. Different craft has a different colour representing it. Hampi was working with wood and his clothes were black.

On our way to town we were popping in to different bars for a small beer and what surprised us was that all of them had free tapas with every beer. After a few bars with stomachs happily full we had to find a place to sleep. Hampi had his own technique to survive in cities, specially in winter: to find a high apartment block with lifts and sleep at the staircase almost on the top. No one uses it, just goes for a lift. We were successful with the first door we tried. It was unlocked even though there was a code. We fell asleep in a minute.

Next morning, after coffee and baguette, we headed towards the old town to discover Alhambra, Moorish fortress with castles and gardens built on the top of one of the hills. Alhambra was the last bastion of Muslims in Spain. It was surrendered in 1492 to the Catholic Monarchs. The sense of aesthetics, beauty  and rhythm was magnificent in this place. It influenced many artists, like M. C. Escher just to mention one.

In the evening, sipping a beer in a small tapas bar, we realised we both didn't have a shower for a while. It was about time. I checked my email to see if any couchsurfer replied. There was only one negative answer. So we decided to go for a hostel and we had found one in the city centre. It was in a beautiful, old building on one of hundreds of narrow streets. It had a nice atmosphere even though it was nearly empty. Or maybe because of that. I felt pretty good in there even though I wasn't a big fan of hostels. I mean I met great people in some, real characters sometimes, but they were foreigners most of the time, just like I was. Sometimes even owners weren't locals.

A soldier in Gibraltar
A soldier in Gib
After three days of a regular hostel life I headed towards Gibraltar. Hampi joined me as he had never been there before, just like me. After an easy hitch we ended up in a flat of three lads from Couchsurfing. Felix, a guy from Dresden was an IT specialist and he shared the place with two lads from England - John and Shawn. They lived a minute away from the border, in La Línea, because it was cheaper on the Spanish side.

The first day was spent on discovering Gibraltar. It felt weird to walk through the streets of the town. Kind of like being in England, but not really, as the weather was too good, architecture more Mediterranean and the mostly heard language was llanito, a mix of English and Spanish. The rock itself was an impressive piece of limestone and a home to hundreds of macaques, the only apes in Europe.

After some sightseeing it was time to start looking for a boat. Felix told me that in November, some guys who were crushing here, where able to find one even in a few days. Yeah I know it's too late, I thought, but what else could I do? Wait another year? No way! I left notes in marina offices and there were three of them: two in Gib and one in La Línea.

Days were passing by and hitching a boat was way different to what I imagined. There was not much movement at least at this time of the year. Sometimes I was sitting in a marina for hours just to have a chat with one person. In most marinas I couldn't enter pontoons without knowing the code or having the key. Just waiting. My hope was going up and down depending on whom I was speaking to. Some were saying: 'No it's not too late, there are still boats going.' Others weren't giving me hope: 'Too late man, we're all just wintering here.' I was checking my email like a maniac, hoping that someone sent me a message. Nothing.

After nearly two weeks spent in Gib I decided to go to Cádiz, to see if it would be possible to hitch a truck going to the Canaries by ferry. There was no info about it on Hitchwiki - the hitchhikers' wikipedia. I definitely needed some change.