Because there was quite a long way to go we planned for a very early start and it was still dark when we left just after five o’clock we surprised the car by piling in and starting it up at an obscenely early hour in the morning.
Tony had the rough guide to Europe map and had sorted the route and there was a very simple plan, we would take it in turns and drive non stop all the way only stopping when the car could take no more, it would be tapas in Madrid at lunchtime, Bordeaux in France for evening meal, and a bottle or two of nice red wine, a night in Evreux in Normandy, and a visit to some friends who lived there, and then on to Dieppe in plenty of time for the ferry in just over forty-eight hours time.
So simple it hardly needed a plan at all!
Even though there was no motorway in 1986 the one hundred kilometre drive to the border was quite straight forward at this time in the morning but the lack of an offsite headlight did make things a little bit precarious at times. We drove inland for about half the way and then joined the coast road for the final section of the drive towards the border with Spain, which we reached more or less on schedule.
That was the last time!
The border with Spain is the Guadiana River and these days a bridge takes the motorway straight across but for centuries before that the ferry link between Vila Real de Santo António in Portugal and Ayamonte in Spain was the only way to get across. There was a slight delay waiting for the next available ferry but nothing too serious and as we took the twenty minute, two kilometre journey the sun started to come up ahead of us and we arrived in Spain just in time for breakfast.
This is when we came across our first problem. We needed some fuel but none of the petrol stations that we passed accepted credit cards and it soon became obvious that this was quite normal in Spain. It was a problem because as we only planned to be in the country for a short time we didn’t have many Pesetas between us. Eventually we had to resort to plan B (to be honest we didn’t really have a plan B, or even a sensible plan A) and we pooled all of our Spanish currency for fuel purchases and that meant there was nothing left for food and reluctantly we had to skip breakfast.
And then there was the second problem because although the map indicated that we were driving on a motorway it wasn’t a motorway in the UK M1 sense of the term and this single carriage road went straight through the middle of every busy little town and village on the way and with every mile that we travelled we fell slowly further behind schedule.
Still, at least the weather was nice and we were in Andalucía, which is possibly the most typically Spanish of all of the regions of Spain, the land of Carmen, Don Juan, bull fighting and flamenco and we drove on relentlessly towards Seville a hundred miles or so from the border.
By the time we arrived it was getting hot and we were quite surprised to find that the fourth largest city in Spain didn’t have a bypass and the road took us directly into the centre past the bull ring at the Plaza de Torres along some busy roads, past the railway station and on the road out the other side.
Seville did look absolutely splendid and everything that I imagined about Spain; bulls, flamenco, guitars, palm trees and beggars but being hopelessly behind schedule we had to abandon the plan for hot chocolate and churritos.
At some traffic lights two scruffy boys without shirts, blue-black hair, burning eyes and ribs like radiators started to wash the windscreen with a dirty rag and completely ignored our instruction to stop. Having completed the unnecessary task one of them put his hand through the window and demanded payment, ‘Cien’ he shouted and then just in case we misunderstood ‘Cien’ again.
I was nervous because we had all sorts of things lying about on the dashboard within reach of thieving fingers and I quickly calculated that a hundred pesetas was actually quite reasonable so I gave him a coin. This didn’t satisfy the ungrateful little urchin however and he demanded more from the others in the passenger seats while his pal stood in front of the car with arms outstretched on the bonnet in a sort of roadblock sort of way.
‘Cien, Cien’ he kept shouting and this I thought was unreasonable and as there was practically no chance whatsoever of Tony parting with a hundred pesetas (he would rather swim with sharks or wrestle alligators) I decided to make a getaway from the hold-up, hit the accelerator pedal and drove on. The boy on the bonnet rolled theatrically to the side to feign injury and his pal chased us as far as he could until we were out of sight.
We were pleased to be out of Seville and on our way to Córdoba another hundred miles away and on a road that followed the course of the Guadalquivir River and we passed through the city at about one o’clock and it was then that I had to concede that we would probably not make Madrid for lunch time tapas.
Since leaving Alcantarilha we had been travelling relentlessly east and after Córdoba we had to continue for another hundred kilometres or so before the road finally started to turn north through the Desfiladero de Despeñaperros, which is the only mountain pass that leads out of Andalucía and onto the endless plains of Castilla-La-Mancha, the Don Quixote country of windmills and castles and miles and miles of absolutely bugger all!
Have you ever been over optimistic about travel times?