Chapter two: Unsteady Feet

I tame my unruly gut long enough to finally depart Santander, heading West along the rugged North coast of Spain.

Under close examination it seemed that most of my foot had reattached itself during a pleasant, sock-less night and had ceased looking so embalmed. I decided there was no better way to break in my new skin than in the pursuit of a Spanish road map and a phrasebook.

Wait, what? That easily – from tourist information you say? Useful titbit to remember perhaps. Who’d have thought it’d take me so long to master the fundamentals... High off the back of this win I swam around town till I found  a mobile phone shop that I recognized (Orange), and tried to buy a sim card for my phone.

But in reality, I didn’t nail anything myself. I just posed a question, agreed things it seemed I should have and stood there while they all argued with each other. Honestly, people were shouting and everything. Then other customers got involved. It was like a sim card party.

It looked like all things were coming up Tom Hartland, apart from the intestinal whimpering and humming bird heart rate. Milk was the only thing I could stomach but wasn’t helping me bulk out my collapsed and quivering digestive system. My brow remained obstinately sweaty.

The rain had stopped pissing down on Santander in the afternoon, so I dragged myself around a lazy ramble hoping to catch some sights.

Friday 4th April – Santander to Gijon

…via the orange shop because I’d got several missed calls and figured out it was probably because I’d left without paying. But as it was closed I mooched round a pharmacy for something that could stop me blowing red-hot burp rings. I risked it all on a magic potion from someone I hoped was a chemist and took long drams of the stuff from a bench in the high street, photosynthesizing nicely in the white hot morning sun.

I made my way back to the hostel to pack what felt like too much stuff away, glad to be leaving. There was only so long I could mope lonely through the small corridors. The receptionist, also a biker, departed some wisdom about travelling the north coast road while the weather was good, as it’s often dismal in this part of Spain. I was maybe an hour into the route when rain happened. Obviously. It clung around for the rest of the day.

Still, not wanting to spend all day on motorways I followed the coast roads through loads of lovely towns and villages, taking my time and enjoying the scenery. A warm haze clung over plantations despite the weighty grey clouds overhead. Along with the palm trees the place still had the air of the tropical about it.

Later I met Carlos the smoker who showed me his scars and talked through my route, or at least that’s how I interpreted it.  Ribadsella hosted me for a cafe con leche stop before I carried on to Gijon, a heavily industrial and modern town by first glances. Cramped in, identical apartment blocks blocked out the view for miles, it was the perfect time to realise my free mobile satnav app couldn’t understand any of the Spanish street names I’d programmed it with… Instead of carrying on without clue, I stopped every 300 meters or so and checked in with a passerby for the best way to the seafront, thereby tourist office and potential hostels. I was pointed in the right direction and given a colourful local map.

The first one looked like what I’d imagine the hostel film hostel to look like – I’ve never seen it. But to summarise – murdery. Tiny cramped elevator, door to building left invitingly ajar, dark corridors with one dim light above the door that had a very old, creepy ‘hostel’ sign on it. The doorbell actually rang in a flat downstairs when I pressed it – I heard the people come out to look around. I envisaged this was so that killers can grab you from behind while you’re hammering on a door with no reply. The light bulbs blinked on and off ominously. I left – looking over my shoulders.

I carried on through my list until I reached an old couples house right in the middle of the city above a bar. An overload of rich, old stained oak and dusty windows suffocated the light out of the downstairs restaurant. I made my way to an aged couple in the shadows behind the bar. Without any Spanish it was proving difficult to wield my Spanish to English phrasebook with any certainty, but based on what happened I think I conveyed the need for a twin room and insisted I’d pay too much money. My elderly host led me out the door and up some stairs at the back. At each of three locked doors I stood impatiently as he fumbled the keys around in his arthritic fingers, trying each of them five times. I smiled through his incoherent pleasantries. The guy was bent over double with a hunchback. Finally through the door I wasn’t surprised the furnishings were as old as my landlords. The bedsheets looked lifted straight from the wet dreams of old gypsy witches. I had to remind myself that I wasn’t in the murdery hostel – even though the walls and floor here were also unnecessarily easy to wipe-down (i.e. after a bloody good murdering).

I rationalized that if bed sheets were my main alarm bell then the situation probably isn’t really that bad. I just needed to MTFU a little. It was only a short walk across town to collect the luggage from my bike and, despite being left unlocked for a second time,  no one had taken an interest in stealing it. Happy…if not a little hurt.

That night I grew more brazen and bolder, weariness from my initial trauma fading, and ventured out into the night for an actual meal as apposed to the cheese and chorizo sandwiches I’d been eating for two days straight. Not really a balanced breakfast, lunch or dinner. I ordered a local specialty from a happy, hairy man and sat wondering what might emerge from the kitchen. Bread, beer and small grilled fish and bacon – I wasn’t sure it was any healthier than my sandwiched, but I could easily put up with it…


Full of little fishes and bacon and beer and warmth and content, I retired to my nice, cold gypsy bedsheets. I was getting the swing of things nicely, LIKE A BOSS.

1 comment on “Chapter two: Unsteady Feet

  1. Glad to see that after three countries of failure you’re starting to get the hang of finding maps.

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