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The Iberian Horseshoe — A Journey

Part III. South East

Almost a Night in Granada

Steve Porter
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In Granada, surrounded by snow-tipped mountains and pine trees, there was a distinct chill in the air. We got acquainted with the main streets and stopped off for tapas before visiting the tourist information office. We had been told to expect long queues at the Alhambra Palace but Granada appeared to be a city where waiting had become a serious discipline. Mary and I couldn’t be bothered with the queues and set off to begin our search for accommodation in the streets around the bottom of the Albaicín. There were hundreds of hostels but the first few had completo signs stuck on the front door. We decided to split up and take a street each to see if we could get a result. Many disappointed backpackers were being turned away from hostels.

“They are all full up,” said Mary, when we met at the bottom of the street.

Suddenly backpackers were running through the Old Quarter trying in vain to be first in the race to discover a new area. The task was becoming impossible so we took a bus out to a less fashionable area. It made no difference. The whole city was crawling with tourists.

At the bus station, hundreds were scrambling onto buses to the coast at Motril. But we might well find the same problem there. Maybe going inland would be a better bet. Jaén was only an hour away. We could return to Granada later and this would give me a chance to visit Lorca’s home at Fuente Vaqueros. But by the time we arrived in Jaén it would be about eleven at night. There was no guarantee of accommodation. The facilities at Jaén bus station were likely to be very limited and neither one of us fancied roughing it.

The chill in the air hit us hard as we were used to the mild temperatures of the Alicante coast. Tired and dejected we agreed that we might as well catch the early morning bus back to Elche. Granada was just too busy and I didn’t want to experience another day like this one. As we waited to catch the bus, a skinny guy with long hair and a pointed goatee beard approached.

“¿Habla inglés?”

“Yes,” I said. “It’s our first language.”

“Gotcha. Do you know if this bus goes to Barcelona?”

“I think it does, eventually,” Mary said.

“Yeah, I reckon that’s its final destination,” I added.

The driver confirmed the bus went on to Barcelona. It was one of those low roofed double deckers. We climbed the stairs to the upper floor. The beatnik followed and spread himself out on the seats opposite us. The bus set off into the dark night leaving Granada and its illuminated Alhambra Palace behind.

“Gee. I’m glad to be out of there. You two been long in Granada?”

“Er no. It’s been too much of a hassle finding somewhere to stay.”

“Couldn’t agree more,” he said. “I roughed it for a couple of days and managed to get somewhere last night by being on the spot at midday when people were leaving the hostels.”

“We just didn’t expect it would be so busy,” Mary said.

“No offence intended,” I said. “But there are an amazing amount of your compatriots in town. I heard so many American accents.”

“You know who I blame for that,” the beatnik said. “Bill Clinton.”

“Clinton? What’s he got to do with the price of tapas?”

“Clinton came down here a little while ago for some summit meeting thing and said that the Alhambra sunset was the most beautiful sight he ever saw.”

“It’s frightening that the public still take American presidents at their word,” I said.

“You’re damn right,” he said, and broke into a loud high pitched laugh. A moment later a guy came up from behind. He asked the beatnik in Spanish if he wouldn’t mind keeping his voice down as it was three in the morning and some people were trying to sleep.

Mary soon joined the ranks of sleepers. The beatnik kept talking in a lowered voice. He had been travelling extensively. He was down in Cádiz for a month and in Turkey before that. He had once worked in a commune in Chiapas, Mexico, where he looked after the chickens. He asked me if I’d ever tried to catch a chicken.

“No, cockroaches are more my line,” I said.

He was going to Barcelona to spend a night or two there before flying on to Amsterdam. In a way I admired his lifestyle but one night in Granada had left me looking forward to Sunday morning in my own bed. The bus pulled in to the station at Guadix.

“This looks a real one horse town,” he said. “Nice looking church in the square there however.”

I had wanted to visit Guadix. It was famous for its cave dwellings cut into the surrounding hills. The bus stopped and we got off and took a leak.

Back on board, I asked him if he ever grew weary of travelling. What about all the different languages in all those countries he visited?

“That’s no great problem. If you can count up to five in any given language you can’t go far wrong. In Turkey it’s let’s see…”

It seemed to me he had just the kind of carefree attitude a worldwide traveller required. Even the arrogant assumption that everyone can understand slow spoken English to some degree, if they made the effort, might help you get around.

I dozed off into a light sleep. When I woke up daylight was breaking on the town of Lorca. Here, just a few months before, a van carrying fourteen Ecuadorians to work in the fields was hit by a train at a level crossing. Twelve of the immigrant workers were killed. The tragedy highlighted the issue of immigrant workers across Spain. Farmers need them as they cannot recruit enough locals due to the low wages, long hours and the seasonal nature of the work. The president of the Murcian agricultural union, FEOCAM, said that the Murcia region alone needs ten to twelve thousand agricultural workers each year. Murcian farmers admit they hire workers illegally because manual labour is required at short notice. Aznar’s government did not wish to loosen the law on work permits for immigrants.

This accident at Lorca sparked off protest movements by immigrant communities across Spain. Meanwhile, the clampdown on illegal employment, combined with no change in the law, left farmers without harvests as well as unemployed and destitute immigrants without work permits. A group of Lorca’s immigrants walked seventy kilometres to Murcia to protest about the situation. They locked themselves in a church. The same thing started to happen all over Spain. Some even went on hunger strike.

The sun rose over Murcia. It seemed like a collection of small towns rather than a city. It differed from most other Spanish cities I had seen in that it felt spacious — the planners built outwards rather than upwards. But the heat could be horrendous. The city’s pretty Old Quarter was spoiled a little by river pollution though a campaign was in place to get the Segura river cleaned up.

A smartly dressed teenage couple boarded at the bus station. Their conventional appearance hinted they were going to Elche. As they sat down, the boy nodded to his girl. She broke into a wide smile at the sight of the beatnik. The bus got on the road to Elche, I looked at the beatnik. He never did tell me his name. I understood we were just people passing in the night and not pals for life. He stirred from his sleep and muttered a few noises. Was he sipping Turkish tea on the Ramblas and trying to pay in dollars? Tomorrow he would be on a flight to Amsterdam where he would learn to count from one to five in Dutch.

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Copyright ©Steve Porter, 2004
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Date of publicationMarch 2007
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