HAVING COMPLETED stage 1 of the annual accumulation of stuff that is Christmas (stage 2 is when you need another bookcase/shelf/cupboard/box in which to put all your new stuff), it occurred to me that 2012 has given me more than consumer products, it’s also given me some travelling tales which I have yet to share. And what better way to share them than through the medium of objects? If the BBC can do it, so can I. Like a shameless album of b-sides released for Christmas, this is a look back at my travels of 2012.
And where better to start than an orange? This particular citrus was photographed hanging in the garden of the casita which we rented for a week, in the Apuljarras, Andalucia, Spain.
It’s an orange remarkable not just for the novelty of seeing it on a tree rather than in a supermarket, but also for the fact that it witnessed myself and Beckie, my fiancee, alive and in one piece despite driving on Spanish roads. Ok so Spain isn’t as bad as Central America (where it is common practice to overtake on a bend with simply a hoot of the horn to warn oncomers), but the key difference is that we were behind the wheel, not a grizzled amigo, no stranger to RTA roulette, as was the case when we were travelling in Central America. The casita was deep in the Sierra Nevada mountains and we had no choice but to drive there ourselves. Although actually it wasn’t the mountain roads which were the challenge: it was Malaga.
ARRIVING AT Malaga airport we found the free shuttle bus to take us to our ‘budget’ car hire firm, a short five minute drive from the terminal where all the well known car hire firms were. “Solo mi hoy,” our driver told us as he threw our bags into the back of the minibus and ran around to jump in the driver’s seat. “Arriba arriba!” he shouted as we struggled to do up our belts and he accelerated up to 100 miles per hour. I was glad that Beckie had volunteered to be the first to drive on account of me having a sprained ankle.
“So,” said the woman at Nisa car hire when we presented our documents, “the insurance that you have covers the wheels and the bottom of the car, but none of the windows or body. Do you want to take out full insurance? It’s six euros a day.”
“Si, si. Definitely. We want the insurance. Por favor.”
“Good,” said the woman behind the desk, “because your car’s covered in scratches already, so it’s hard to find the new ones when you bring it back in.” I smiled encouragingly at Beckie, and endeavoured to limp a little more convincingly.
“Drive on the right, give way to the left,” I told Beckie as she pulled out of the car hire firm at about two miles per hour onto a roundabout where Spanish drivers were hurtling about with little regard for life or death. Encouraged by my advice from the passenger seat, she navigated our battered car through the streets of Malaga. “That’s good, that’s very good, now remember to give way to the right, yes, that’s it, you’re quite close to the curb now. Really close to the curb. Watch out for that… really close REALLY CLOSE. You’re going to HIT IT! Ok good, well missed. Ok we also just missed our turning. No I wasn’t looking at the satnav either.”
Despite my prophecies of doom as we drove along, Beckie did a fantastic job of getting us to our hotel. I certainly would not have done it so calmly. We arrived successfully at the hotel to find an empty car park.
“Good, now just put it in one of the spaces.” I was starting to get the hang of this driving thing. However, after Beckie had five attempts to put the car in a space – driving forward, then back, then forward again to straighten it up – I was starting to think that my cheerleading from the passenger seat was ineffective. Then the receptionist from the hotel came out. “Please,” she shouted, “for the love of God, stop reversing!” You’re the only people in the hotel tonight, it doesn’t matter where you park.” The two of us were silent for a moment. “Well, I think that we did a really good job there,” I said, nodding, “good reversing.” Beckie gave me a look that confirmed my suspicions about what added value my driving advice was bringing. We had arrived on holiday.
We were in Malaga for one night only, before moving onto the lovely city of Granada. I have blanked most of that journey from my mind, but I do still occasionally get flashbacks to the bit where we ended up in a pedestrianised part of the city and had to slowly inch our car through crowds of people before dropping off the curb and back onto the road. Granada: I love you, but what is going on with your road system?
I won’t rehearse our week in Granada, save to to say that IT RAINED. I may already have mentioned that. Next stop: Las Alpujarras.
OUR CASITA was at the end of an unpaved road, which we inched along at about 5 miles per hour, rocks flying everywhere. We were deep in the Alpujarras, near the town of Orgiva – and, yes, the sole reason that we had come here was because we had both read and loved Chris Stewart’s Driving Over Lemons, an account of how he and his wife had moved to the Alpujarras and bought a farm. On our way down the rocky track we passed some workmen digging a hole by the side of the road. I nodded to them in a manly fashion, I hoped giving the impression that I knew where I was going and that every day I drove over uneven ground in a totally inappropriate car. They didn’t nod back.
Remarkably, we arrived at the Casita in one piece: the rain had gone, the sun was shining and the sky was blue. Our garden looked like this:
My guide to making your very own orange juice:
We spent five blissful days sitting in the sun and reading. It’s lucky that we didn’t want to go anywhere, as the morning after we’d I’d arrived we walked up the dirt road to go to the town. About half a mile up the road – the sole access to the Casita – was a hole, dug by the workmen that I’d nodded to the day before. It stretched across the entire road. We were able to walk past it, but there was no way you’d get a car past. It was Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday. There wasn’t a single workman in sight. Whilst we were staring at the hole, a local resident struck up conversation with us. We told him that we were leaving on Wednesday. “Don’t worry,” he said, “I spoke to the workmen yesterday. They said that they’re probably going to fill it in by Tuesday.” I shrugged, as is the Spanish way, put it to the back of my mind and went to the shop to buy some orange juice.
On the penultimate day, there was a power cut. We noticed because the beer wasn’t cold in the fridge. It was a minor disaster, but we soldiered on. That evening, we lit candles. It was romantic. We did note that the other casitas further down the road seemed to have electric lights, but thought no more of it. On our final day, we were still without electricity, so we called the owners of the Casita, who (of course) lived in England. Was it the fuse box that had gone? No it wasn’t. What could it be? They arranged for a handyman to come out and have a look. About an hour later, a small German arrived on our doorstep. He looked at the fusebox. He looked at the electrics. Then he went outside to the road, where the electricity meter was housed. “Aha!” He shouted, when he opened it up. “Here is your problem! You have no electricity meter. They have come and taken it away!”
“Who has?” I asked.
“The electricity board of course.”
“But why would they do that?”
“Well, the owners must be not paying the bill for this to happen.”
That night we had candles again. It was less romantic.
Still, we left the next day refreshed and rejuvenated in a way that can only be achieved by time away from home. This lasted half a mile, until we reached the hole in the road. Which was still there. A large man in a hard hat and a high vis jacket stood next to the hole, his belly poking out from under his T-shirt. He idly watched me inch the car up to the hole. I stopped and wound down the window.
“Is it possible to drive over?” I asked, in my broken Spanish.
He looked at the car, he looked at the hole.
“Si,” he said.
“Are you sure?” I asked.
“Si!” He nodded more vigorously this time.
I folded in the wing mirrors, hugged the car to the wall and started to inch across the remaining strip of road, my friend in the high vis jacket gesturing me onwards.
I nearly made it, but for the fact that my back right wheel fell into the hole with a bang. This didn’t deter Mr High Vis though. No, he manfully got behind the car and pushed, whilst I desperately revved, aggressively spun one of my wheels and generally covered him in dirt. And then suddenly there was traction, and we were away! We left the workman behind us in a cloud of dust. I gave him a cheery wave out of the window, shouted my thanks and was silently grateful that we’d taken out the extra insurance on the car. Thank you Mr High Vis. Sorry about covering you in dirt!
PERHAPS THESE stories don’t reflect the culture, history and learning that we experienced on our trip to Andalucia. And there was plenty. From marching bands:
But sometimes when you travel, it’s the mundane that sticks in your mind, the familiar things that you end up doing differently. And for me, Andalucia was all about getting my orange juice in the morning.