Andalucia Steve

...living the dream

What's it like motoring over here?

 
On the whole I prefer driving in Spain to the UK. Something about driving on the right-hand side of the road and changing gear with the right hand feels more natural to me. On the occasions I've returned to driving on the left I've found it took me a few days to get used to it, though when I return to Spain I snap back instantly. 
 
I saw a report recently that named Spain as the 11th safest county to drive in worldwide. https://www.atlasandboots.com/remote-work/worlds-worst-countries-to-drive-in/ This did surprise me a little as there are number of reasons I would have expected to relegate Spain to a much lower position on the list. One of these is the macho boy-racer mentality that seems to take-over normally sensible people as though they had been assimilated by the Borg as soon as they sit behind the wheel. I worked with a chap like this, Manolo, for three years and dreaded every journey. His specific problem was an inability to remain behind other vehicles that weren't travelling at less than supersonic speed. Many of the journeys we took would be on long, straight, single carriage roads between towns and villages in the Murcian interior, a rural area in which we would often find ourselves stuck behind lorries full of sheep or agricultural machinery being moved from one farm to another chaperoned by a flotilla of warning vehicles with flashing lights. Once caught behind something like this he would become agitated and start checking his mirrors and nudging across the line in the in the centre of the road to see if there was anything coming the other way, often darting back quickly when something was. Then the magic moment would come where he would drop a gear and seize the moment to power past his quarry, during which time I would often be slamming my feet down on imaginary brakes in the floor-well of the passenger seat. When life returned to normal he would then throw me a smug grin and say "Fernando Alonso". How I lived to tell this tale is one of the greater mysteries of my life.
 
Spain's appetite for partying is another reason I'm surprised there are not more deaths than there are. During the September Feria in Cehegin, an English chap I knew found himself driving towards another car on the wrong side of the road, and narrowly avoided a head-on collision.  He turned his car around and chased the other vehicle down. When he pulled the driver out of the car he found him to be blind drunk, having been partying all night at the feria. The drunk driver was laughing! Another town I knew about had three people killed by a drunk driver at their annual feria. For this reason I always look twice when crossing the road during holidays and fiestas in Spain.
 
It's not just the drivers, but the roads themselves that seem unusually dangerous here. Not long after I moved to Andalucia, the stretch of motorway connecting Murcia and Andalucia, A-92 was damaged by rain. Much of the road was built on a sandy foundation that just washed away! Huge swathes of dual-carriageway were reduced to a single lane for months to effect repairs. Locally too, I had to drive to a house in the countryside near Pruna in the dark one evening. The same rain had washed away a section of road which just came to a cliff-edge drop. It wasn't fenced off, there was just no more road. Had I been travelling a little faster and not stopped in time, that may have been the end of me!
 
The authorities are notoriously slow to fix issues. Well known accident blackspots can persist for years before anything is done. The artist César Manrique (who deserves a blog post all to himself) campaigned for over 30 years about the dangerous stretch of road near his home in Lanzarote where accidents frequently occurred. Nothing was done and Manrique eventually died in a car accident near the village of Tahíche on the very stretch of road he had been complaining about.
 
Which reminds me, the first time I drove in Spain was in Lanzarote. I hired a Fiat Panda which rather than having a clutch seem to have an "on/off" switch for changing gear. I was a little nervous having never driven on the opposite side of the road before, and to make things even more complicated, the car was parked perpendicular to the road, meaning I had to back out into traffic on a busy main road. It was a baptism of fire, but I drove all over the island in the brave little Panda during the following two weeks over some rough terrain and perilous mountain tracks but it never let me down. 
 
I have a poor sense of direction which is not good in Spain as signposts here are invariably misleading. I got lost driving back from Alicante airport one evening and drove merrily along for over an hour before realising my mistake when I saw a sign for Madrid. I don't know if it's just me, but the number of times I got lost driving back from Malaga airport is insane. I take no blame for this. It's all the fault of poorly thought out road-signs that are either too general to be of any help, or are actually lying. I think the folk who design them are taken with those novelty signposts in tourist traps that instruct you that Timbuktu is 2700 miles that way.
 
Speaking of remote places, I broke down one summer whilst driving on the road between Calasparra and Blanca. The route takes one through a flat, agricultural land in which there are nothing but grapevines as far as the eye can see. Luckily I had a phone signal and was able to phone for roadside recovery. 
 
"Where are you" the operator asked. Well I looked one way and then the other. There was absolutely nothing I could give to indicate may location. All I could do was say I was halfway between the two towns! I was told it would take a couple of hours to get someone out to me. It was July so it was really hot, about 36C and apart from the car, there was no shade anywhere. I sat in the car, but without the air-conditioning on it soon felt like I was in a bakers oven. I took to standing outside of the car with covering over my head. It took hours for the truck to arrive but it seemed like an eternity. Fortunately I'd stopped at a garage and bought a bottle of water before I'd set out. I was very glad that I did as waiting in that heat without water would have been dangerous. Since that day I've never driven anywhere without a drink in the car, just in case!
 
Now I don't want to put anybody off driving in Spain. It's a beautiful country and many of the roads are empty even in high season. Some of the roads are so picturesque in this part of the world that the big European motor manufacturers film their advertising here. However I write a "warts and all blog" that tries to tell it like it is as I have nothing to sell and am not promoting anything. I will finish with one more wart and one that drives me crazy (pun intended). That is the sneaky way the police catch you out with speeding tickets over here. Typically there will be a stretch of road near a junction or something that has a reduced speed limit. The police will hide out with their radar guns and catch all the folk who miss the sign and fail to slow down. This is low-hanging fruit and I'm sure they have better things to do, but they take it so seriously. A chap I knew was given an 'on-the-spot' fine in one of these stops. He didn't have any money on him, so they accompanied him in to town and stood over him while he took the money out of a cash machine for them. Quite frankly I think they'd do better to spend their time catching all the Fernando Alonsos and drunk drivers out there.
 
 
 
 
 

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