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Lost in Spain

SPAIN | Wednesday, 14 May 2014 | Views [68] | Scholarship Entry

I haul my pack to the window of the Cordoba train station and ask for a ticket to Ronda. At last, I am almost at the Feria de Pedro Romero.
"Todo completo. All the trains are full."
My heart sinks. "When is the next available train?"
"Manana."
Tomorrow?! How had I failed to book ahead? Now, after crafting the past fortnight's schedule to get to the festival on time, it's all at risk.
I lug my backpack to the estacion de autocares and scan the booths of the numerous bus companies. Granada. Baeza. Cabra. Madrid. There is no route to Ronda. Rubbing the tightened cords of my brow in disbelief, I rack my brain for options. The only way out of this is through the nose: an expensive rental car.
Dramatic, cliff-top Ronda is on the edge of the Cordoba-Seville-Malaga triangle, a broad plain of vast skies, olive groves and grainfields ringed by minor mountain ranges and linked by secondary roads that slink out of provincial hill towns. You need a decent road map. Like my excellent fold-out Michelin map of Andalusia. At home.
The rental agency gives me an A3 place mat demarcating the entire 87,000 square-kilometre region. Squinting, I can make out that I'm north and Ronda is south.
Five kilometres into my road trip I'm tangled in Spanish interchanges. I stop at a service station for a proper map. They don't have one. I pore over tiny charts in guidebooks and pamphlets for half an hour. Then I realise: I have Google Maps on my mobile phone! I bid adios to Cordoba and, pleased with myself, get on my way.
The highway snakes past whitewashed towns. Elaborate church towers jut above Ecija like upturned table legs, and ochre-soiled fields of sunflowers surround Osuna.
An hour into the Spanish plains reception evaporates, taking with it my map. Now my phone is useful only for beating against my head. Being lost in urban Cordoba was preferable to being lost in expansive nowhere.
But where there are roads there are petrol stations, and hidden on the back wall of a garage at a remote highway junction I recognise an orange booklet poking out of a little shelf. It is my Michelin map of Andalusia.
I accomplish the two-hour drive from Cordoba to Ronda in a record six to find an ancient town of narrow streets clogged with a tourist influx that would turn Christ misanthropic.
The man in the wooden booth of the dusty parking lot charges me fiesta prices and I haul my pack to a nearby hotel to find a room.
"Senor, it's the feria," says the lady at reception. "All the hotels are full."

Tags: 2014 Travel Writing Scholarship - Euro Roadtrip

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