If ‘Traveling While Stupid’ was Against the Law–I’d Still Be In A Spanish Jail!
I’ve always considered myself a keen backpacker, a respectful traveler, a very appreciative hitchhiker (I buy lunch or a drink!) Even as a senior citizen I still hitchhike in safe places like Portugal, Madeira and The Azores. But after much reflection and many years of international travel, I’m thinking that particular part of my life should probably end now. Looking back at the highlight reel of my globetrotting days I have come to the conclusion that I might be too stupid to travel.
There was that long-ago train trip from Malaga to Madrid with a little 90-year-old lady sitting beside me. She had left her village for the very first time to visit her son in Barcelona. She talked the whole time; I understood little. When we pulled into the Barcelona train station, she was still socializing with other passengers. I panicked, grabbing her suitcase and getting her off the car and into the station. She’d never seen an escalator so I had to muscle her and her bag onto the moving stairs.
The human pile-up at the bottom drew bystanders to help us get up. Handing her over to other Spaniards, I ran up the escalator two steps at a time and boarded the train just as it was starting to move. I was exhausted but quite proud of myself. Until…until I looked at the ticket the frail widow had left on her seat clearly marked ‘Estacion de Franca.’ For the record, there are two train stations in Barcelona. I had got her off at ‘Estacion de Santes.’ For all I know, she might still be there.
I hate airports and can’t get away from them fast enough. So it was years ago when I grabbed my bag at Gatwick and quickly boarded the train for the 40-minute trip to London’s Victoria Station and my nearby B&B. Up the narrow stairway and into the tiny room, I unzipped my bag and…I’m not sure how’d I’d look in a black teddy with matching fishnet stockings and frankly we’ll never know because…out of the B&B, walk to Victoria Station, train back to Gatwick. It’s just as well I did not understand the language of the angry woman who had been standing with my bag at “Lost Luggage” for two hours. “Bastardo” and “stupido” needed no translation.
But the piece de resistance which from my vast command of foreign languages means “real doozy” began when my travel companion and I stuck out our thumbs near Ventnor on the Isle of Wight on an overcast New Year’s Day. With no buses running, we decided to hitchhike to the ferry at Yarmouth and from there back to the mainland.
Immediately we got picked up by a young and friendly English couple in their small compact car. I’m sitting in the back seat on the passenger side but I cannot see the guy’s wife sitting directly in front of me because my back-pack is riding high on my lap.
This bloke, sorry, this young man was fascinated that we were hiking and hitching with no booked accommodation. In a country with a pub every mile, if not every block, we were not exactly roughing it.
He asked a lot of questions, but the problem was he turned right around to face me when he talked. We were having a great animated conversation, but his eyes were rarely on the road.
Typical of England, the road was ‘hedged’ so that every time a car nosed out from a side road, I gently pushed the guy’s arm and pointed to the oncoming motorcar that was about to end all our lives. Now I’m sweating.
“No fear, mate,” he’d say and turn around to talk to me about Canada, a place to which he once wanted to immigrate. As nicely as I could, I’d urge him to look ahead where an oncoming lorry, sorry, a truck was heading straight for us and carrying four coffins with our respective names embossed on the sides. I’m sending desperate looks at my companion but she’s not helping or saying a word. I’m now damp and breathing hard.
Continuing to point at oncoming traffic and touch his shoulder, this guy now believes I’m either hitting on him or in his country recovering from bad brain surgery. Finally, the car stopped. “Thank you. Bye bye. Cheers.”
“That bleedin’ bounder, sorry, that freakin’ lunatic nearly got us killed.” I said, way too loud. “The man’s a maniac! He only looked at the road when I drew his attention to it!”
That’s when she turned to me and said, with a certain amount of merit, I must admit: “He wasn’t driving, stupid. She was.” “Oh, okay, then why in the hell can’t these people put the steering wheel on the right side, that is the correct side, I mean the left side? A bit patchy that. Wot? Looking back and for the sake of those around me–maybe my road should be a lot less traveled.
William Thomas is the author of ten books including
Never Hitchhike On The Road Less Traveled
For suggestions, a book or a guest speaker
Go to www.williamthomas.ca