August 14, 2017 by Eden Flaherty
Hitchhiking from Lisbon: Day 4 — Heading to Madrid
Just as it was difficult to get into Leon, it also proved hard to get out. The first ride from a town is always tough, and most of the time people opt to get a bus or train to an outer spot to start hitching from.
This outer spot didn’t seem to exist in Leon, and we ended up in a tiny gas station on a small highway coming out of the city. After a couple hours, and a quick dumpster dive for cardboard, we were picked up by a couple of architects leaving the city. They were going to take us out of the town and straight down the main highway (A6) that we wanted to be on, dropping us at another gas station about 100km outside of Leon. This is perfect positioning, as it means that all the people stopping are heading in the same direction, and you can normally jump in a ride very quickly.
However, all did not go as planned. They overshot the last gas station and ended up having to leave us in a small town called Tordesillas, which sits in a loop in the A6 highway, just next to the Douro river.
Firstly, being back in a small town was not ideal, as we knew it would be a lot harder to get another ride, but we gathered our stuff and set up at the local gas station. We were immediately greeted with unfriendliness, and warned that it was illegal to hitchhike. After a couple of hours, we were still waiting, with everybody we spoke to heading in the opposite direction. It was getting late and the workers at the gas station decided they had had enough and kicked us out.
We regrouped and made the decision to get a cab back out to the highway in the hope that we could still get to Madrid that day. We phoned a taxi and a couple of minutes later a man arrived, seemingly out of nowhere, with no car, and an ID badge which simply stated “Taxi” in large, black letters. He explained that the gas station eight to 10 kilometers away, which we had been told about, was too small to be useful, and we would have to go at least 25km to find a decent one. We obviously didn’t take him up on the offer, having no money, and some self-respect, left.
The sun was setting and we decided that we should dine and see if there were any buses leaving that evening. As we walked around we realized that this is a town fed solely by the highway, and everywhere you looked were hotels. In a town of 8,000 people, we counted at least six hotels just in the centre. We were still in high spirits, even though were under a barrage of aggression from the locals.
With little else to do, we grabbed wine and food from the supermarket and picnicked above the bus station. The last bus from town was due to leave at 10pm. As it pulled in, we chatted to the driver, and it became clear that it was heading to Salamanca and there was nothing to Madrid until the next day.
This left us with two choices: stay in the town, or walk. Having already felt the town out as an unpleasant place to be a hitchhiker, none of us wanted to spend another minute there, so we gathered our strength, and supplies of wine, and started out on the eight-and-a-half-kilometer hike to what we had been told was a better gas station.
It turns out that this little town actually has some beautiful buildings as well as a spectacular river running through it. I think that if you went there in a car, or to visit in general, you would find it a pleasant place to stay. [Editor’s note: For history buffs, Tordesillas is where Portugal and Spain, back in the day, divided the world.] We, as strange outsiders, clearly ruffled some feathers in a small town clique.
We knew that the next station was along the A6, which we could get to via another highway, and as we walked along we spotted a glowing red sign in the distance. As we drew closer, we saw a large building called Le Club 33 bathed in neon red light.
We were under no illusion as to what the club was, but decided to explore anyway. As we wandered up to the door to try to gather more information, a security guard quickly came out and asked us what we were doing. After we explained our situation, he was a lot friendlier, and probably one of the nicest people we had met in Tordesillas. Before we left, we asked exactly what kind of club it was. With a knowing smile, he simply thrusted into the air, and we parted ways with our suspicions confirmed.
Luckily for us, just opposite Le Club 33 was what looked like a service road that ran parallel to the highway. After a long and heated debated on the morality and legality of prostitution, we eventually put on some music and danced, sang, and drank along the next 6km of road.
The sense of relief when we saw the service station ahead of us is indescribable, and we all rushed to the cafe. With no hope of a lift that day, we started drinking whiskey with the guys on the night shift. Why a motorway service station would sell €1 shots is worth thinking about, but we just enjoyed it and the small victory of making it out of Tordesillas.
After much drinking, and friendly chatting, the attendants said that we could sleep on the floor of the cafe and pointed out an area where we could camp with no hassle from the police. Bogdan Kamuta opted for the floor of the station, in what I believe was a protest at the confines of our Scout Junior tent. Our other companion and I headed out through an abandoned building to pitch tents in the wasteland behind the gas station, hoping to get a few hours sleep before having to start hitching again.