MY FIRST VISIT TO Spain was in 1969 – I hitchhiked from Leeds to Dover, caught the ferry then hitch hiked all the way through France although the motorists thought my hair was too long, and crossed the border between France and Spain at the usual spot.
We caught the train across the border at Bayonne – in the carriage there Basque people introduced me to goatskins full of wine. They were good company and sort of understood my schoolboy French. We all got quite getrunken.
In Spain we found the going even harder than in France although a kind English couple gave us a ride over the Pyrenees and took us as far as Burgos. This is an ancient city with soldier ants bigger than we’d ever imagined them to be and quite prepared to take on a curious 20 year old youth. Bless them.
From Burgos we were forced to take again a train in Spain to Madrid – long haired youths were obviously not considered to be worth picking up – Spain was such a poor country then anyway. My pesetas went a long long way, San Jose.
A nice young guy on the train said that Spanish wasn’t a hard language, and proceeded to give me a bit of instruction in the lingo/bhash. It’s a shame I never learnt Spanish, it seems a lot more intelligent than Esperanto, or I hope so anyway.
The Madrid underground system had just opened – so recently that it hadn’t got round to putting signs on the individual stations – we had to count the stations to get from one side of Madrid to the other. Already having given up on any chance of hitch hiking, we took the milk train down to the Costa del Sol.
Andalusia, ah Andalusia. Here our thumbs started to work again and a kind American gave us a lift all down the Costa del Sol main road. He said that he’d been down here a while ago when the coast road didn’t exist and every single town like Torremolinos and Marbella were fishing villages, pure and simple. In Marbella, I learned to my alarm about The Troubles. And so the IRA.
In his car was a Danish guy and his German girlfriend. Although Danish, the German Army had called him up and he was a draft dodger, having a lot of fun in the south of Spain.
I’d already noticed that there were a heck of a lot of different police forces in Fascist Spain – every time we needed to sleep we had schlafsacks and that and just camped towards the beach. One morning we woke up to find three members of the tricorn wearing the uniforms of the Guardia Civil pointing their machine guns at us. As their motto is “Everything for the Fatherland”, we took their advice about sleeping on the beach and decamped rapido.
To Malaga and to the Morocco ferry. Queuing up I made some observations to my fellow travellers in English about my impressions of Fascist Spain and the number of police forces there seemed to be. In those days, speaking against the regime could get you thrown in gaol. A very nice Spanish gentleman, must have been in his mid 1930s, turned round to us and said: “Please keep your voices down. Spain is getting better all the time, but it is still unwise to speak out about the regime.”
And so to Morocco – or rather to Ceuta, a Spanish enclave on the Moroccan coast and no doubt as irritating to the Moroccans as Gibraltar is to the Spanish. Here we fell in with some conscripts in the Spanish Army, and just the way you can do when you are 20, we discovered they were paid the equivalent of one shilling a day. A month.
My Moroccan adventures don’t matter too much here – but I found myself once again on the ferry going back to Spain with some very foolish companions – a couple of very young American up and coming tennis players, who had stuffed the barrels of their rackets with cannabis. The journey was rough and the bows of the ferry caused many a passenger to vomit like there was no tomorrow and go green. I was OK – I don’t mind turbulent seas. What was really fantastic was passing through a vast shoal of tuna fish.
The customs house in Malaga was staffed with hundreds of officials and I did fear for them. But they somehow got through customs and we had to say goodbye to each other. I was going to fly for the first time from Malaga Airport. I had a ticket, but no money at all, only enough to buy a lemon in the old town. My flight wasn’t going to happen for a day, and I hadn’t realised there was something called airport tax you had to pay. There was a member of the Guardia Civil in the airport, and for one brief moment I contemplated nicking his pistol and shooting myself in the head. But a kindly English girl took pity on my and paid my airport tax so I could fly back to Blighty.