Spain: 1001 Reasons to Slow Down

Hitchhiking is like giving a presentation, a presentation that lasts no more than three seconds. It’s important to smile and look the driver in the eye, which is why I don’t wear sunglasses if I’m thumbing. A sign with the intended destination definitely helps too, especially if there’s something funny or clever written on it. Even if the driver doesn’t slow down or pull over immediately, I like to give them a friendly wave anyway. Sometimes it takes a minute or two for a driver to make up their mind so it’s important to maintain a good rapport, even if you think you’ll never see that person again.

17 kilometers down
17 kilometers down

I explain this to Jason as we’re walking back into the small town that shall not be named. Peter told us it was a seventeen kilometer walk and boy he wasn’t kidding. We see maybe fifteen cars, two tractors, and three government vans in the three hours it takes us to reach the outskirts. No one stops to give us a ride. We stumble back into the only cafe in town which is no longer serving breakfast. We order two coffees that we’re barely able to finish before our bus arrives.

Well manicured street art in Lagos

Staring out of the bus windows, we have a stunning view of the influence tourism is having on southern Portugal. The closer we get to Lagos, the more obvious it is. Quaint surf hostels become surf apartments, surf apartments become surfing towns, and the surfing towns stand in stark contrast to the abandoned factories and boarded up shops that lay on the periphery. We step off the bus in Lagos for a second time with an overwhelming desire for a hot meal. Ordering is easy since everything is written in English and everybody we talk to speaks English, but I get the impression that less than half of the population knows any Portuguese. Jason and I split the cost of a hostel. It’s cheap and we relish the idea of sleeping in a clean bed, washing the smell of poo fire from our clothes, and having reliable internet. We are living our lives from one wifi zone to the next.

Looking out on the ocean before our bus to Spain
Looking out on the ocean before our bus to Spain

We spend the day reaching out to every possible contact we have in Portugal and Spain, desperately trying to reformulate our plans. We are confident that someone, anyone will contact us by morning. No one does.
With no reason to stay in Lagos, Jason and I decide that it is time for us to press on into Spain. We spend the morning exploring the coastal town before boarding yet another bus. The ride itself is eye-opening.

We have front row seats to an unmaintained image of the country. Nestled in the hills are old farmhouses, abandoned by the last residents and left to be reclaimed by the earth. On the outskirts of each new city lay factory after abandoned factory; hollowed out symbols of a once productive country. My assumption is that the interiors of the cities probably look somewhat like Porto and Lagos even if there’s not much more than darkness on the edge of town. Instead the landscape we see looks dreary. Entire streets are as empty as the boarded up shops and countless vacant houses displaying the same faded signs: “à venda” (for sale). We have only a pinhole view as the bus zig-zags through the deserted streets and our impressions of these sites are limited to the comfort of the cushions we recline in.

imageThe first thing we do in Seville is check into The Cairo hostel. It’s a bit too fancy, but relatively cheap for the amazing view of the city. We have two e-mails from Workaway hosts and one from a friend of friend. They have all invited us to stay with them even on such short notice but we have already passed them on our way into Seville. Jason and I hang our heads and solemnly agree that we cannot go back. We must press forward, always forward. We wander Seville, eat some dinner, and head back to our hostel. Before we are able to make it through the door, an older gentleman stops us and asks where we are from. We tell him the USA. He hoots and hollers and says that he’s from Austin, Texas.
“We’re from Austin,” Jason says.
“Serendipity! My name’s Sutton but everyone calls me Sut.”
Sut invites us up to his flat and offers Jason and I a Coke then a joint. We decline the second. Sut is full of some amazing expression and I try to keep up with one amazing quote after the other. My favorite is,  “Welcome to Spain, 1001 reasons to slow down.”

Hobo baths in fancy fountains
Hobo baths in fancy fountains

The next day we take a page out of Sutton’s book, check ourselves into another hostel, and spend the day exploring Seville. We discover the CGT offices, explore the old castle walls, gawk at the impressive cathedrals, and follow the other tourists in circles around the city. It’s all very beautiful, but I feel without purpose here. We are spending too much money on hostels, buses, and trains. I keep asking myself what’s the point in any of this? Why are we here? I didn’t come to Europe just to bleed my wallet on the sights. We need more time to prepare a proper plan, but we simply cannot afford to stay another night in a hostel.

Carriage driver in Seville
Carriage driver in Seville

I follow Jason back to the CGT offices hoping that at least one of us has something interesting to write about. The main door is open, but the gate is still barred shut. Jason and I decide to split up and make the best use of our time. He stands in the doorway whistling old Spanish civil war songs as a sort of Anarcho-Communist mating call while I run to the bus station to find out when the last bus for Barcelona departs the following day. We’ve found that both Portuguese and Spanish public transit websites are about as accurate as meteorologists when it comes to making accurate predictions. After I get the  information, I run back to the CGT offices to find Jason in high spirits.
“They let me in. We have an interview tomorrow at ten.”
“Did they hear you whistling” I ask.
“No. Some random dude poked his head in and asked if I was trying to go inside. I said ‘yes’ and he hit all the intercom buttons until someone responded,” Jason says.

When living cheap, never forget the desert
When living cheap, never forget the desert

After the interview with the CGT, Jason and I wait at the bus station hoping to hear from someone in Seville about a possible place to stay. At nine in the evening, all of our possible contacts decline our requests and we end up buying tickets to Barcelona. It’s going to be a long, expensive ride.

– Nathan

Editors Note: On March 5th, 2015 will change to just

4 thoughts on “Spain: 1001 Reasons to Slow Down”

  1. Interesting photo of the headless musicians. Is there any meaning to it or just eye-catching?
    Thanks for the update regarding the new web site blog address. Thanks for sharing your adventures. M


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