The Road From Bilbao


The first roundabout we encountered outside the Port of Bilbao proved something of a challenge. Just for the record, we went around it 10 times.
‘The road map, Lottie, where’s the bloody road map?’ ‘ I don’t know! I thought you’d put it in the car?’ ‘NO! You said, that you were putting it into the car before we left’ ‘Well I must have forgotten it then because it’s not here’ ‘Oh for God’s sake woman!’

Irishman pulled over and stopped the car. It was 7.30am and still dark. We were already bickering and we’d only been on Spanish soil for 10 minutes. He dragged his laptop out from the back, lit a cigarette and started flouncing about on the keyboard.
‘Here!’ he said shoving the laptop into my hands ‘at least one of us had the foresight to look the directions up on Google Maps first’ and with that he put his foot firmly back down on the accelerator and took the second turning on the right.

For the first half hour of our journey, I kept very quiet. I was longing for a cup of coffee, and a pee, and I was also desperately trying to ignore the fact that every so often the car was omitting the strangest noise from beneath the bonnet. It sounded a bit like I imagine a turkey would sound if it were being throttled. If the noises were not disturbing enough, the car was also making strange juddering movements. I’d noticed both of these perculiarities on the way down to Portsmouth but was so caught up with my ‘on-road’ confessional that they were ignored. Not being able to bear the silence a moment longer I asked Irishman what he thought it was? ‘I’ve no idea, Lottie, why don’t we ask your father?’ at which point we both burst into fits of laughter.

Two years previously I had lent my dad my car. What at the time had seemed like a marvellous idea, turned into something of a nightmare. A few weeks before moving to Indonesia, Irishman and I tied the knot; this meant my changing my name and address on all my documents. For some reason there must have been some confusion at the DVLA because when I handed the car over to dad, unbeknownst to me everything regarding it was still in my name. None of this would have mattered in the least if Ol’ Pops weren’t such a speed merchant. Within a week or so of being in possession of my car, he’d notched up one speeding ticket and by the end of the first 6 months he’d amassed another two. Because of the errors in the car’s paperwork, legally, I was the one responsible for these fines. Week after week, the Norfolk Constabulary had sent reminders to our London address to pay the fines but as I was away on the other side of the world, I was blissfully unaware as to the mountain of paperwork that was meanwhile building up on the doormat at home.
To cut a very long story short, one year later I had to go to the Magistrates court in London and explain myself. I was given a £600 fine, my driving license was taken away and then when I later appealed to have it returned, I found that I had 6 points on it. The moral of this story is, if you lend you car to anyone, make sure you double check that all the i’s are dotted and all the T’s crossed.
But finding myself on the wrong side of the law wasn’t the end of it. Dad was clearly not just a boy racer; he’s also become an unspeakably bad driver. When the car was dropped back in London shortly after we arrived back from Jakarta, there were untold scrapes, scratches and dents all over it. The front bumper had become a veritable kaleidoscope of colours, and the entire trim on one side of the car had vanished! In lieu of my lovely black Citroen, dad had returned a stock car with a turkey wrapped round the engine.

We drove for a couple of hours; firstly through the drizzle and wet of the mountainous Basque country and then down through Rioja towards Madrid. According to Google Maps it was going to take us between 7.5 and 8hours to get to Granada, a distance of nearly 850 kilometres. Every so often the turkey let out a loud screech and the car would start to judder and hop. We could only pray that we wouldn’t breakdown. Our budget certainly didn’t stretch to a night in a hotel or costs for getting the car fixed. We stopped at a motorway service station, downed some strong coffee and gorged on fat slices of delicious tortilla before hitting the road once more. By 1pm we were circumnavigating Madrid and we both whooped with delight when at last we saw signs for Cordoba and Granada. It was at this stage the enormity of setting up home in a new country really started to sink in. In the space of 5 days, we’d gone from living in Indonesia, to now embarking on a whole new adventure with little money, no paid work and only our enthusiasm and faith to really keep us afloat. Irishman hadn’t seen the house and in truth I had only seen it once on a gloriously sunny day in August. We had no furniture with us in the car, just a tiny gas camping stove, a kettle, a saucepan, some mugs a few clothes and some bedding. I hoped beyond hope that Antonio, who we had bought the house from, had remembered to leave some of his brother’s furniture behind. There was an old brass bed and a sofa and some chairs that he’d kindly agreed to leave them for us if we wanted them, I prayed that he’d not forgotten.

Leaving Madrid behind us we then drove through the heart of Castilla-La Mancha made famous by Cervantes with his stories of Don Quixote. The land is much flatter here, with only the occasional ridge of hills to break the landscape. I spotted a shepherd walking his flock of sheep through the golden autumn fields, a donkey by his side. On and on we traveled until at last the road forked south of Bailen. We took the road signposted to Granada and just before Jaen, the countryside started to change dramatically. Suddenly the hills became mountains and the motorway cuts its way through the rocky passes. Every so often we’d drive through a tunnel, some of which were at least 2 or more kilometres long, an amazing feat of engineering that when built must have shaved hours of the driving time between Madrid and the South.

At last it was time to turn off the motorway. Irishman and I were both exhausted, it had been a tiring few days and now we just wanted to get home. An hour later we were on the approach to the village. It was late in the afternoon and the olive groves were bathed in the last glow of a warm, sunny day. I fished a piece of paper out of my pocket on which I had cobbled together some greetings and phrases in Spanish. The estate agents had left the keys for our house with our new neighbours, Paco and Antonia. Rather conveniently, Paco and Antonia also happen to own the bar and the village shop.

We pulled up outside the bar. On the low wall opposite, like swallows on a telegraph wire, sat four old men chatting. As soon they saw us, they stopped their conversation and turned to stare. Suddenly all eyes were on us. We greeted them in unison with our finest Spanish ‘OH-LAR!’ before swiftly diving into the bar for some Dutch courage and our keys.

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