Link to photo collection: Spain
Quick disclaimer : I'm not a vulgar person but my vocabulary can be colourful. My life is R-rated and my website occasionally reflects that. Be aware of some frank language. All my photos are PG, but please read blogs before sharing with kids.
I've gotten myself in one hell of a jam.
I had found Andalucia, Spain's southernmost province, to be difficult to negotiate; train connections were sparse and the white hilltop villages I wanted to visit could only be reached via long, drawn-out bus rides. So I paid a visit to a car rental agency and set off in search of that evening's bed.
The new hostel in the city of Ronda was just inside the Old Medina, the cramped medieval district that gives the Spanish city its ancient, exotic vibe. As I drove under a majestic 14th-century archway, the smooth pavement of modern roadways gave way to uneven cobblestone. The hostel's road, my first-and-only right turn, was barricaded: going left was the only option. That left turn led me down a kilometre-long alleyway, which spat me out onto a busy plaza on the other side of the Old Medina, a complete deviation of my intended course.
Now, I know what you're thinking: What about Google Maps or a GPS? Well, a year of backpacking had left little need for such conveniences, and my simple directions to the hostel had been written out that morning: «Under the archway, first right, 150 meters down.» A new plan now came into play: Find a parking spot, walk to hostel, get new directions from owner.
Alas, there wasn’t a parking lot in sight. A plethora of cobblestone streets leading out of the plaza were splayed out before me. Which street would lead me back to my starting point? I chose the widest one and veered onto it.
Within minutes, my Toyota Matrix felt as wide as a Hummer. And despite my efforts to reach my point A, I could never really choose where to turn. A bird's eye-view would have revealed a tangle of steep, one-way alleys, pedestrianized streets and dead-end lanes. No normal streets anywhere! Passages seemed to get narrower and to multiply exponentially but confidently, I kept my foot on the pedal.
While my grasp of the Spanish language is questionable, I do read body language fairly well; the locals weren't warming up to me. Having done multiple runs through the same lanes, I was being recognized. Hands waved frantically, locals hollered, transmission oil burned... One gentleman's angry admonitions turned into smiles and friendly waves after I passed him a fourth time.
Now don't get me wrong - I had set out that year in search of adventure. Yet suddenly, I yearned for the square grids that modern city streets are built on, having once criticized them as boring and lacking in character. These Old Medina lanes, created long before the advent of cars or even carriages, were utterly labyrinthine.
In complete exasperation, while spitting out my fair share of colourful superlatives, I rolled up a steep street with both my mirrors tucked in, and squeezed out from between the two walls into an open space. I found myself facing a dead-end, with a children's play park to my left and a long staircase leading down to a wide (gasp!) paved street on the right. Whooping with short-lived relief, I quickly realized that I couldn't reverse the car down the steep, narrow hill I had just driven up, and the children's park prevented any u-turns; I was stuck. So how does one escape? By taking the stairs, of course.
I hadn't realized it was possible to sweat so much whilst sitting - the whole thing felt like a stunt scene from The Fast and The Furious. I painstakingly negotiated my front tires over each long step, praying that the undercarriage wouldn't scrape the stone stairs and attract more local attention. The only exit in any direction was at the bottom of those stairs; I had inadvertently found the most creative way to get to it.
Once outside the medina, I quickly found my hostel, parked, and exited that car faster than a horse bucking out of his rodeo shoot. I wanted nothing to do with getting back into that vehicle, and I was giggling and sweating from sheer nervousness. The adventures of the day had left me longing for nothing more than a bubbly, hot bath and a glass of bubbly, cold wine.
And a GPS, of course.
Link to photo collection: Spain