Friday, March 4, 2011

Day 112: Hitch Hiking From Toledo to Córdoba

To drive the 350 km from Toledo to Córdiba would take a little over three hours. When I left Toledo I had no idea that it was going to take me four days until I arrived. Asking for rides, camping under olive trees, and walking a total of 50 kilometers was the adventure I thirsted for. It was a crazy journey so I'll start from the beginning.

Córdoba, here I come... eventually!

Hitching out of Toledo set the tone for this trip. It took me nearly two and a half hours to get a ride to the big highway that headed South to Córdoba. The moving truck that picked me up was going Ocaña, a small town Northeast of Toledo. Around 18:30, right before dark, I found myself at a gas station and restaurant along the highway.

I tried to get a ride going South here for two days.

My hopes for getting a ride were high as there were a lot of cars and trucks passing through. But soon I found out that no one was headed South. Instead they were headed to other big cities like Valencia. I gave up after a few hours of asking for rides, I pitched my tent in an olive orchard behind the rest station and hoped for better luck tomorrow.

Where I spent the night.

I awoke to the sun on my face and a morning breeze that carried the light scent of wildflowers. I luxuriated in the moment before starting my day. Despite yesterday's dismal progress, today I hoped to get to Córdoba. I asked and asked but, no one was going South. When I looked at a map of Ocaña I figured out why. I was in a sort of road knot with highways branching off in every direction. I realized if I wanted to find a ride I would need to walk about 20 km South. Around 16:00 I bid adieu to my temporary home and began walking along the highway. I wove through hills and passed countless olive trees while I traversed the Spanish countryside.

I was so happy once I started walking.
The cherry trees were blooming with glory.
Relaxing after climbing a big hill.

Thank goodness it was dark when I reached the first highway that I needed to cross – while crossing this monster I wanted to attract as little attention as possible. Climbing up on ramps and navigating across the massive 4 lane onslaught I felt like frogger. There were a few instances where I had to scale the fence designed to keep people like me out. Luckily I survived

Radio mind-control tower.
Beautiful colors from the sunset.
Walking along the side of the highway getting honked at.
Luckily there wasn't much traffic on this big 4 lane bugger.

It was another hour or so until I reached the next rest stop. I was very lucky. Not only did they have delicious food but internet. There were more olive trees behind this rest stop so when I got tired I teetered out there and passed out under the stars. I was sure that the next day I would make it to Córdoba.

They had internet and tasty sandwiches!
Excuse me miss, arn't you a little young?

Knowing that I was out of the highway maze I had a new energy. Today was my third day on the road to Córdoba. After a delicious breakfast of Cola Cao and tortilla de patatas I started walking.

This was my favorite sleeping spot.
I was worried the farmer was going to come and kill me.

The first gas station I arrived at was rather small and it was clear I wasn't going to get a ride there easily. A car pulled off the highway with an old man and young boy and they started checking their tire pressure. "¿Vosotros vais a la Sur?" I asked, in what I was pretty sure was comprehensible Spanglish. "No, we're just turning around," the man replied. "Thanks goodness!" I thought in my head. It had been days since I spoke with someone who understood English. I asked him how far the next gas station was and he said about 8km. After a bit of persuading, he agreed to take me. My second ride in three days... whoopee! He was as Texas as they come, born on the Mexican border – gristly chin and a spirited handshake. He dropped me off and wished me good luck at another small restaurant and gas station.

Southward bound!

Surprisingly enough, it didn't take me long to find a ride. Usually I can tell when I ask someone if they will give me a ride or not. I had a feeling about a older man who pulled up in a small red car. Sure enough, we were on the road within a few minutes – screaming down A4/E5 like a rocket ship. He didn't speak any English but from what I understood he was a truck driver, liked his job, and had a daughter in college. He took me nearly 200 kilometers, through the Sierra Morena mountains, and dropped me off in La Carolina.

Congratulations - you took me the farthest!
Why won't anyone give me a ride?
Staying positive.

La Carolina is a small town off of the A4/E5 with a gas station full of friendly people. However, my pleas for the South went unheard. Finally someone at the station explained to me that there was an entrance to the highway nearby that would be a prime hitching spot. He spoke in Spanish and I only vaguely grasped what he said thanks to a lot of pointing and repetition. Armed with a fresh cardboard sign, I hiked a kilometer or so to the highway entrance. With about two and a half hours of sunlight, plenty of traffic, and lots of room for cars to pull over, I was sure to get a ride.

Come on then, take me! Let's go!
Two hours later... nope!

I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone because every car that drove by was full or carrying parents and children. Surely someone had to pick me up? Unfortunately not. Heaving my pack on, I followed the road along the highway to... somewhere. Night fell quickly. While I was walking the high beams of cars sliced through the darkness and projected eerie patterns on the grass as they passed through the highway guard rails. I ended up walking 30 kilometers before I found a big rest stop, serving Indian food. What a welcome change. It's good to strive for diversity in diet even while hitch hiking! The chicken, rice, beans, and bread that I had for dinner was delicious but the desserts were legendary.

Highway art.
This tree was awesome!
Even goats look creepy at night.
They had the best desserts.

I spent most of the fourth day walking. I tried hitching at a few more gas stations but to no avail. The hike was gorgeous. But the hills that make Andilucia so beautiful were also aggravating the blisters on my feet. I had to stop more and more often to let my socks dry out and rest. I walked for around 8 hours and just before dark I arrived at a restaurant. I went in, ordered a ton of food, and collapsed in a chair. When the waitress brought my food I asked her how far the next town was. "18 km," she replied. It was too far. My heart said yes but my feet said no. I figured this was the end of my hitch hiking. I was still around 90 km away from Córdoba so I figured if I could just get to the next town I would take a bus like a wuss.

Where I slept the fourth night.
Walking walking walking...
Beautiful olive orchard.
Have some class, people.
The Andalucian countryside.
Unfortunately for me, they were closed.
Shadow photos.

I made a final sign that said "Andújar" and started a pathetic dance outside of the gas station. I reached my limit, after four days of walking and hitching I was exhausted. It was dark and cold, there weren't many cars and none of them were stopping. Finally a van that sat at the gas station for half an hour pulled out. Their window rolled down, the passenger said something in Spanish, I asked if they were going to Andújar, they nodded, I hopped in, and we were off.

It felt so good to get a ride. Cars are really amazing. There were three guys who looked like they were in their early 30's snacking on jamon flavored potato chips and candies. They didn't speak any English so our conversation was limited. They asked me where I wanted to be dropped off in Andújar and told me that they were going to Córtoba. "CÓRDOBA!?" I said in disbelief "Quiero Córtoba!" And that was that, I was on my way. It may have taken me four days, two huge blisters, and a lot of walking, but I successfully hitch hiked from Toledo to Córdoba!

The gang that brought me to Córdoba!

I arrived in Córdoba giddy as a school boy on Fridays when the school cafeteria serves Jell-o. My ride brought me straight to a McDonalds where I found the route to my host. Everything went smoothly, and I slurped happily on my Kit Kat ice cream as I zeroed in on my new couch. I was so ecstatic to be in Córdoba. After a 40 minute walk to the apartment I rung the bell for 6-4 and I waited. I rang the bell again, and waited. Repeating this process for about 5 minutes, I was a little upset. Exhausted, I donned my burden and started looking for directions to one of the hostels I found on my iPod.

As I began walking down the steps, a miracle happened. A girl came up to me and asked if I was with CouchSurfing. "Yes!" I replied excitedly. "If you are here for Oset then come with me, I am his room mate." What luck! I told her how thankful I was, that her timing was perfect, and that I was happy to be here. Four days of sleeping outside made me appreciate sleeping on a couch, but what I appreciated most was a shower – hoo ha. It was good to be in Córdoa.

I want to live my life through as many rich experiences as possible. For me, the quality of an experience is directly related to the quality of the story that can be told from it. This experience was exhausting but I don't regret a single second. Imagine if I had taken a bus from Madrid to Córdoba. Unless I sat next to Barack Obama I wouldn't have as interesting story as I do from hitch hiking. Walking through the Andilucian countryside gave me a perspective that I couldn't have enjoyed any other way. The slowness of my travel allowed me to enjoy the sights, smells, sounds and maximize my sensory experience.

You should have seen the other foot.

Hitch hiking is not the safest method of travel, nor is it the fastest or most reliable. Waiting for hours on the side of the road hoping that someone will be kind enough to take me to the next town can be frustrating. I've got the money to take busses and trains, but I choose to hitch hike. Why would I put myself through this? I enjoy talking to drivers and meeting new people. Unfortunately, while hitch hiking from Toledo to Córdoba, only one of the drivers spoke English. I found a new love for hitch hiking because through all of my waiting and frustration, I learned much about appreciation.

I've noticed that the less I have, the more I appreciate what I've got. Appreciation comes from realization. Realization is created from being in touch with your environment, or living in the present. In my case, realization came about because I was deprived. Riding in a car I could travel the 20 km that it would take me a whole day to walk in a few minutes. Deprived of a ride, walking made me appreciate every step. I enjoyed the beautiful terrain around me, and my focus shifted from arriving at my destination to enjoying the present. I had many things to be thankful for. There wasn't any rain. There was a dirt road that ran parallel to the highway for me to walk on. There were rest stops whenever I needed one. The temperature was perfect. I don't know if it's possible to convey what I experienced on this trek but I feel like I learned a lot.


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