When I was younger, my friends and I used to dream about doing a road trip, just heading off somewhere, stopping when we wanted, the freedom. But things got in the way (okay, then, boys got in the way. Damn them) and it never happened.
However, one of the good things about upping sticks and moving to a new country is suddenly everything and anything seems possible. Dancing till six in the morning when you’ve got work the next day? No problem. Sneaking through the open gates of a football stadium to see what it looks like? Piece of cake. Running from the security guard who’s just spotted you? A little more difficult with the passing of years, I grant you, but do-able.
So getting in your car and heading off who knows where for a weekend? Easy-peasy.
Leaving the cats in the capable hands of friends - honestly, I think finding babysitters is easier - we packed up the car and headed off for Valencia. The route, thanks to our trusty mapreading internet site, looked simple enough: go to the roudabout on Plaza de Alsacia and then turn left. Except when we did this, we ended up at the Carrefour supermarket we always go to. Still, it gave me the chance to stock the car up with all-important sweeties for the journey and then we retraced our steps.
Obviously, Ged was reading the instructions wrong. So we stopped, shouted at each other, then headed off in the opposite direction which at least took us to a motorway. A toll motorway, and the guy wasn’t too happy when we handed over a 100 euro note to pay the 1.75 fee (we’d spent all our change on the jellies we were now happilly chewing. Perhaps I should have offered him one?)
Still, we were back on the open road, fulfilling my dream of years, even if we were now heading to Andalucía and not the Valencian coast.
Aware that the furthest I’ve ever driven in a day was Edinburgh to Inverness, I decided frequent stops for coffee were called for. So, when we hit Jaen, we called into a service station.
I should have realised something was up when even the cockroaches were walking out the front door, but I was tired and needed coffee - NOW - and something to take away from the sugar rush of all those sweeties.
The menu was large and it took a few minutes to decide: bocadillo de lomo for Ged and one of calamares for me. “They’re sold out,” said the surly girl behind the counter. Okay then, jamon and tortilla. “They’re sold out.” We tried a third time. “We’ve only got bacon and cheese.”
“Well, one bacon and one cheese, please.”
“No. Bacon and cheese.”
“Ah. We can’t have a bacon and a cheese?”
As Ged hates all cheese except parmesan, we left. So far, my road trip wasn’t really thrilling me. But never mind, we went to get petrol and decided to stop at the next cafe for something to eat.
I struggled with the security-first safety catch of the petrol cap and popped the nozzle into the hole. Nothing. I put the nozzle back in place and tried again. Nothing. I looked around for help. Nothing. Eventually, a voice crackled over an intercom telling me I had to pay for the petrol before filling up. “But I've never filled it full before so I don’t know how much petrol it will take,” I objected. Answer - nothing. I struggled with the security-first safety catch again and drove off, cursing with every gear change.
Four hours and one successful pitstop later, we pulled into a little town in the mountains of Granada. There was a mirador - somewhere - where we were going to spend the night. But Ged was map-reading again and “somehow” we’d ended up a narrow lane, on a gradiant of God-knows-what, with nowhere to go. “I’ll have to reverse,” I said through gritted and very tired teeth. Ged hid behind the map as I tried to make my way down the windy road, aware of a local watching me with keen eyes.
Yup, the scraping sound told me something wasn’t right. “You’ve hit something,” said the helpful local who’d watched every movement without saying anything. “I know,” I answered. “And you’re leaking,” he went on, pointing to a trail of liquid following us up and then back down the hill.
I jumped out and looked under the car. Yup, there were two distinct drips coming from underneath. Thankfully, the small bollard I’d dunched had been all sound and no action - it left no mark on the car.
But that was it. I lay my head on the top of the car. Not even Easy Rider Peter Fonda had this much hassle on a road trip.
“Hey,” said Ged, who had used my breakdown to have a chat with a group of guys nearby. “They say the leak is just the water from the air-conditioning. Look, it’s already dried up. We’ve had it on all the way from Madrid so they say it’s natural for it to drip. And, we’re twenty minutes from the sea - how about we spend a nice night down there, then head back to Madrid tomorrow?”
It was the best thing I’d heard all day. And so, we joined the old fogies enjoying the late autumn sun on the beach - and you young things can keep your road trips.