the true stories
España. Hitch-hiking was so difficult here, I nearly abandoned the practice. From now on, it was a combination of perambulation and ferrocarriles that would get me to the Tangiers ferry. The trains were old and the cheap tickets had me standing the entire way. The approaches into large cities were always heralded by drab concrete apartment complexes, a few stray goats and dirty children playing on any vacant space. Overhead, from the balconies of the projects waved the colourful laundry of many an unhappy family.
In the stations, children sold snacks through the open windows of the rail cars. To leave the train was not an option for the long hauler. I stood packed tight between two big Swedish girls and their massive rucksacks. They had been in Morocco and had scary stories of narrowly escaping being sold as slaves by a Bedouin farmer and his sons. They had been camping outdoors in the Atlas Mountains and were warned by the one of the man's wives only hours before their impending capture.
We leaned out the windows and smoked and talked as the dry landscape slid by like a western movie set. I was headed to the east coast and then south to Algeciras for a boat to Morocco. The landscape began to green up as we approached the sea. We stopped in Barcelona and the två skön Svensk flikarna bid me farewell and good luck. I had picked a smaller town as my destination. Tarragona. I'd try hitch-hiking again once on the coast. I didn't have much use for big cities anywhere in the world.
It was still day when I disembarked the train. I had been standing for many an hour and my legs wanted some action. I walked far away to a beautiful beach. There were many people swimming in the surf of the Mediterranean. After a moment, I realized that something was different about the scene I was enjoying. All the women and girls were topless! Even the grandma's. It was a blessed relief from the usual fat men in fluorescent orange thongs.
I saw some small mountains above the shelf of the beach and began to climb up. As I hiked along in the heat, watching for snakes, I paused from time to time to check my back-trail, so I could find the beach again. I reached the first plateau and was treated to a sight that I celebrated with an extra long pull on the wine-skin. It was a genuine Roman aqueduct. It was a series of beautiful arches done in red uniform brick. It appeared that it had carried water to the town over the valley I saw in front of me.
Not anticipating it was half the enjoyment of finding it. I knew nothing of Tarragona or its history, but this told me much. I surveyed the harbor and also noticed a large amphitheater. This was going to be an interesting place. I hiked along to the north of town until I reached some cliffs overlooking a windy sea. I scouted around and found a unique camping spot.
I was on top of a rock cliff. The wind had worn it smooth and clean. A few small sticks and bunches of grass were the only growth. As I walked to the edge of the cliff I felt increasing vibrations from the waves pounding the cliff face. About fifty feet away from the precipice, there was a lozenge-shaped hole in the rock. The hole was about ten feet by five feet. Every seventh wave or so, the spume would rise up to the top of the hole. Beyond was another twelve feet or so of cliff. This part was worn down to two or three inches thickness by the eons of wave action.
This roof vibrated like a war drum with every wave when the water met the main cliff many feet behind where a cave had formed. I sat on this wafer of stone as the waves rushed at me from the endless blue, disappeared under my feet and crashed behind me with the sound of God's cymbals. I set up my small tent on this feature and anchored it with stones against the wind. When I lay in my bed I could see only the sea and I could feel every swell of the restless deep. I gathered some dry twigs from the hills behind and made a small cheerful fire. That night I was witness to a sunset that I described thus:
The water went
turquoise to gold
and then to ink
for my thoughts
a beautiful rose
just visible over
I lit a fire as
this magic orb
before tired eyes
I wanted only
for those I love
to share and know
these unique moments
The night was black but the sky was punctuated by brilliant silver stars and a moon of many colours. Out at sea I could hear boat motors and occasionally see their pilot lights.
The sun woke me just before I heard voices. I had been invaded by German tourists! As I tugged on my jeans and wiped the sand from my eyes I saw a big, red smiling face in my window. Another Teutonic voice said, “ Können wir ein Bild Ihres Lagers nehmen?” I staggered out to face my foe men.
It was a group of two ladies and two men. As soon as I cleared the door of the pup tent, three of them rushed in to pose for the fourth. This was repeated to exclamations of,” Was eine glänzende Lage! “
I was clapped on the back by all hands and they merrily went on their way.
I stayed three days and three nights. I had a long trek to get my supplies, but my possessions were safe in the tent. I played on the cliffs watching the octopus hunters snorkel in front of the cave with their tridents. I tried some of this local specialty fried in olive oil and it was addictive. I found an ancient old woman far up in the hills behind, who laundered all my jeans and tee shirts for a reasonable fee. She used cakes of blue soap that was locally hand-made and smelled like limes.
I noticed a strange lone figure who showed up on the second day and took up a position on a rock about 60 yards away and sat til I ate supper at night. He would then wander off in the direction of the town. Next day he would reappear and patiently sit and watch every move I made until sundown. If I went away to the beach, he would be there when I returned.
One day at the beach, I saw a man cooking paella. I was fairly starved and figured I could polish off a whole batch. I had conserved so much money by sleeping out and walking, I reckoned I could splurge. I approached him and ordered some. The man looked at me with great irritation and told me no. He continued in Spanish to inform me that paella was for a couple of people at the minimum. I assured him that I was as hungry as at least three Spaniards and would not waste a speck. He adamantly reiterated his negative response. I stood watching the fresh prawns, scallops, and octopus chunks browning in his great pan of steaming tomato, rice, garlic, olives and spices known only to the Phoenicians who first made the harbor here. All round me laughing ladies with bronzed breasts filled their red lips with spoon after spoon of this delicacy.
I walked several miles to a beach restaurant and after telling my story to an old Dutch man, he bought me a big fish dinner and a schooner of ale. We visited for hours and I walked the long way back. This way led through the town and took one along a street called the Rambla. After the steps at the end of this ancient road, it was a bushwhack back up the cliff and along to the tent. I arrived in good spirits.
When I got in the tent, I checked my possessions as I always did. My precious Scarpa boots were fine as was the balance of my meager gear. Only one thing was missing. My Hawkeye Instamatic camera!
Inside it had held a single cartridge of 36 exposures. This was only half used and had documented my trip from North Vancouver to where I stood. I was consumed with anger. I stood outside the tent with the waves spuming behind and looked for the mystery man. He was nowhere in sight.
I began a string of curses that encompassed every malediction I had ever heard or read in many languages. I directed my voice toward the land behind. I yelled until I was spent. I made the evening fire and settled for still being alive and having my fifty dollar boots. The next morning I was up early. I waited for the lone man to take up his position on his rock. I lit a smoke and walked briskly over to him.
I asked him in Spanish if I could be of any assistance to him. I pointed out that he had been staring at me for three days. I asked him if he had taken my camera or had seen anyone else lurking near the tent. He was very polite and polished in his speech and assured me that he was not the culprit, nor had he witnessed any thief. His explanation for watching me was a thin gruel of how amazed he was, being a Spaniard, to see a man happy to travel alone.
He said it boggled his mind and he kept returning to see when my wife or my girlfriend or family might appear to join me. I assured him that I liked my own company most of the time, though I also suffered loneliness, the same as any Spaniard. We talked philosophy awhile and I decided to leave that afternoon. The magic was gone from the place. Before returning to town, the man gave me the address of a bar I could visit on the Rambla before leaving.
I loaded my gear in minutes and headed on in to town. I had saved some crispy clean lime smelling jeans and a snow white tee shirt for my departure clothes. I found the Whiskey Bar Angel. It was near to a guitar shop, so I took about an hour in the latter before taking a seat in the former. Once inside, I found a nice stool with a view of the palms on the golden beach.
An attractive woman sat nearby and I lit her cigarette when the time came. We were the only two at the bar and so we began to chat in Spanish. She had an ethereal beauty draped over a permanent sadness. She was like a statue of a woman carved out of the wrong kind of stone. Rather than spoil her looks, her dolor was an accessory to her charm. I suggested we take a small table by a window.
She was elegantly dressed as most of the ladies I had seen were. She didn't seem to mind my large rucksack and dusty Guatemalan cowboy hat. I asked her if she would eat some tapas with me and have a drink. She said yes and I asked her what was a good cocktail as she didn't look like a beer drinker. She replied that the house had a specialty that was delicious. I ordered two. Two Angel's Tits. I giggled over the name and she caught herself just before she would have smiled. A man approached the small stage and tapped the microphone. He introduced himself as José Canada.
I bought him a drink and told him I was from Canada. He played beautifully that night. The lady and I talked of many things. It was wonderful to have conversation with such a refined young woman. As I took the little umbrella out of my third Angel's Tit, she mentioned her unhappy marriage to her insanely jealous alcoholic psychopathic Catalonian rugby playing bull running sword fighting black belted cocaine addicted wife beating stevedore husband who should be just about finished his shift at the docks and wanting his supper.
I listened with alacrity while signaling for la cuenta. I could tell she was sincere. As I paid the waiter, the lady summed up our predicament thus, “Estoy como un pájaro sin alas. Yo no puedo volar. Usted está como un pájaro sin pies. Usted no puede permanecer. She slipped on a tarnished ring from her pocket and I kissed her hand.
(I am like a bird with no wings. I cannot move. You are like a bird with no feet. You cannot stay.)
Copyright © 2019 by Michael A. Hawes. All Rights Reserved.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.