There were five lanes of traffic: the extreme right shortly filtered off just past the traffic lights; we were next to that; there was an over-taking lane, then two lanes of traffic coming the other way on the left. From one of these a moto-rider, the wind in his hair, veered right across the wide road, cutting up entire lanes as he wobbling through the traffic, and setting off a cacophony of honking and shouts (what does “carapolla” mean again?), in order to draw up alongside a car in the filter lane, which contained some people he knew. In order to have a chat. The car stopped in its tracks, short of the traffic light, though at least that was on red. The moto boy was perched between the filter lane and our lane, pointing the wrong way, laughing and talking volubly. I don't want to steer into the world of stereotypes, but it's hard to imagine this happening on a Saturday morning on some very public road in Britain without it being all over the early evening news, complete with police helicopters.
In the hill villages I have seen a man on a mule holding up two cars (one mine) and a lorry while having a good old chin-wag with the occupants of a truck coming the other way. I appreciate this kind of very Spanish traffic peculiarity, suggesting a slower more measured way of life, a belief that passing the time and conversation is more important than getting ahead. But it is not typical. A much as we might like to imagine that Spain is the country of the laid back, time unconscious, chilled, calm and unhurried, Spain's young men feel the “need for speed” as much as any macho-rapper on a racing circuit. Driving is like a bullfight, a roller-coaster, a rally centre, a special-effects-full X-box game. Foreign-registered cars, two-wheeled vehicles, bigger vehicle (lorries) or anything observing the speed limit must be overtaken immediately, regardless of the road
conditions and on-coming traffic.
Not (quite) all Spanish drivers are completely bonkers. Astonishingly I have found most lorry drivers to be impressively competent and considerate. They have, in contrast to other Spanish road users, discovered a use for the indicators, signaling right to let following drivers know they can over take. But for all that it is well worth driving defensively. Maintain distance, watch your speed, wear full body armour…the usual.
Other cars aren't the only hazards. Many older pedestrians like to expand across any road coming to a tight bend, blissfully unaware of how they might end up decorating it extensively if unlucky. Donkeys, horses and mules appear with alarmingly little warning. But the big menace is motos. Not the occasional scooter driven by a farmer between fields, nor the helmeted foreign bikers keen to get out off-roading but the wheelie practicing, substance taking, wing-mirror lacking, ear-splitting adolescents. They are completely – and competitively – bonkers. Not to mention dangerous.
As for parking, it can be better described as car abandonment. Give me a few square feet of road, hillside, pavement, abandoned shack or gateway and I'll get the car in. The great British trick of putting the hazard lights on while parking in an illegal and-or dangerous position is less evident since illegal parking isn't felt to need an excuse.
Having said all of which, how many foreigners own properties reached by such ridged, vertiginous and narrow tracks they frighten mountain goats? I don't know how they do it! But maybe I'm just turning into a “dominguero” – a Sunday