by Derek Blevins 13th January 2017
It is exactly seven years to the day, from I arrived in Benidorm and made this great place my home.
A great time to reflect on what was the most horrendous journey of my life. I set of from Northern Ireland on 10th January 2010, expecting a journey that would take about 2 days to complete, it took a little more due to a few oversights on my part.
My journey really starts a few months before setting off from Spain. I had reliably been informed that you can’t keep a British registered car in Spain for longer than 6 months. With this bit of information I decided the best option was to buy a car in Northern Ireland which would be cheap enough to scrap in Spain but good enough to make the journey to get me to Spain. After several trips to the local car auctions and buying a few cheap cars, driving them for a few days and deciding they where no go and putting them back in to the auction to try again, I eventually settle for an old BMW. It had a few problems like it tended to jump out of first gear and the heater didn´t actually work. But my journey was long so not much use for first gear, and I was going to Spain so I wouldn´t need a heater. I decided this was the one that would make it to Spain.
Early on the morning I packed my PA system into the boot and filled the passenger seat to capacity and half of the back seat as well. I was clever; the driver’s seat could fully recline for sleeping breaks. Off I set, at 1pm, leaving behind a temperature of minus 10 to live under sunnier skies. Just one hour later I was at Larne and boarding the boat for Scotland. This was going to be easy. I was already sitting back relaxing, life was good.
Driving off the boat at Sranraer, I headed down the beautiful Scottish coastline heading for the M6. I had been in England many times so nothing much to see there I thought, get to France as quickly as possible. Constant driving with only occasional coffee breaks and I was at the channel tunnel late that evening. I think from memory I caught the 11pm train, and although a little freaked sitting in a cabin in my car and knowing the sea was over the top of me, that part of the journey had all gone to plan. On arriving in France it was late and feeling tired I decided to rest up for the night. Thank God I had packed a quilt, the temperature was still negative and the journey had been cold all the way through England, but with the quilt I was able to get a little sleep in a lay-by and prepare for the exciting part of the journey next morning. I woke and set off at first light on the morning of the 11th. Having to scrape the frost off the windows before I left, the temperature hadn´t risen much yet, but sure what the hell, Spain was only just over the border in the south. I’d get warmed up then. I had been reliably informed to set my Sat Nav to avoid Toll roads. Apparently I would save myself about 300 quid in tolls and only add at most about 2 hours to my journey. The roads run almost parallel anyway with the toll roads and are just as good I was told. So far the information seemed accurate.
I was on motorways admiring the scenery and wondering why French fields don´t have hedges. Anyway I could see for miles so who cares. Then it all went pear shaped. The back of the car started to sway from side to side. I thought, so much for the cheap car, the back axel must have gone. I managed to pull the car onto the side of the road, and stepped out to inspect the damage. On setting foot on the road my foot decided it would prefer to be in the air and my ass hit the road seconds later. With horror I realised I had been driving at about 70 miles per hour down an ice rink. It seems I was the only one who realised it, as the cars where passing at typical motorway speeds while I was struggling to even stand up again. I actually though I am going to slip and fall in front of one of these cars. Getting back into the car, I decided the best option was to continue my journey at about 20 miles per hour. Off I set again with cars flying past me at frightening speeds. They must have been thinking I was a right idiot driving at that speed, but they would have realised the reason about 2 miles further up the road.
Suddenly there was a queue of traffic which appeared to go on for miles. I m not sure if an accident had caused the initial tailback, I could not see anything ahead other than cars for what seemed like miles. At first I had a great sense of relief. I was no longer the only coward on the road driving at 20 miles per hour. Then it struck me. How far does this actually go and how long am I going to be here. With speed now reduced to 10 miles per hour, Spain suddenly seemed like a very long way away. Furthermore, with no heater and the windows down to avoid the condensation on the windscreen, at ceased every opportunity the traffic stopped to jump out and scrape a little more ice off the windscreen. Taking great care no to land on my ass each time. This part of my journey lasted for 200 miles. Apart from a short break for a bite to eat I was sitting in the one position for about 10 hours. My back was breaking, my ass was still sore and I was freezing.
At around 10 that evening I decided to give up and call it a day. Spain would have to wait. I found a service station where it was possible to get a shower to help warm me up; a decent hot meal and I needed my quilt again. Somehow I managed to sleep in the same seat I had sat on for 10 hours. Exhaustion won.
Next morning it seemed a little brighter and the traffic seemed to be moving a little faster now. I had been driving all day yesterday down though France. I didn´t really know where I was but I was following a Sat Nav so at least I wasn´t lost. Spain could not be that much further. Wrong again. 20 miles per hour for 10 hours is only 200 miles. 200 miles does not even make a start when you driving through France. That country is much bigger than it looks on the map. I wasn´t even halfway down there yet. Thank God I had decided to move to Spain. I already hated France. Constant driving, stopping only for coffee breaks and to occasionally scrape the windshield clear (the temperature was still below freezing), I continued driving, and driving and driving. How big is this bloody country? Eventually I reached a point where I could see mountains ahead. It was already dark, but I was determined to make it to Benidorm that night, (Well I didn´t know I was nowhere near it yet, did I?).
I followed my trusted Sat Nav up into the mountains. Again there was a sense of pleasure as I got higher and higher in to the mountains and could see the breathtaking scenery even in the dark due to the bright moonlight and the beautiful snow. What added all the more was the fact that no other cars seemed to be taking this route. They were all French I presumed and no reason to go to Spain. I was content although still freezing. I had my thick coat, hat, scarf and gloves and the quilt thrown over my legs, I would be fine. There was an unnerving little bit of road where the wheels started to spin slightly going up a hill, and I realised the roads are a little slippery up here again. Better to slow down a bit. Then it struck me. There was no one up here because it wasn´t safe. There are no road barriers. The drops on either side of the road are about 100 feet. It’s frosty and I am up here on my own. I thought I should turn back, this is crazy. I looked around and realised the road was far too narrow to risk a three point turn. I had no choice but to go forward. Ok I thought in that case I am going to stop for the night and carry on in daylight.
But where could I stop. There was no place to pull in and I had no idea when a lorry or large vehicle might come around the corner and I would be parked in the middle of the road. Furthermore I realised the temperature was dropping drastically and that to attempt to sleep up there and risk the car not starting next morning, was second only to suicide. I would almost certainly freeze to death, and by the look of things there might not be another vehicle up here before April. I had to go on. Now I am travelling at about 5 miles per hour in a constant upwards direction. The scenery by now was terrifying. I suddenly struck me. I may never see Spain.
I continued my journey all through the night. I remember at one point thinking, I am actually driving down now more often that I drive up. Hopefully I am past half way. This journey took me the entire night. As dawn was breaking I suddenly came across life again for the first time in the entire Journey over the Pyrenees. I realised I had reached the Spanish border. The Spanish Patrol looked at me in shock as I approached them. I didn´t understand the language but it was probably, “where the hell did he come from” in Spanish. I think they give me a fool’s pardon to let me pass as I just sat and smiled at them all no matter how aggressive they tried to look. I was so pleased to see them.
I arrived in Spain on the early hours of the 13th Morning. It was still snowing. I was still freezing, but I was happy again. This seemed like a normal road at last. I found another service station where I could have a breakfast and stopped to have yet another sleep in the same position I had sat in for almost 3 days now. My ass was really sore by now.
I’m not sure what time it was when I awoke, but I checked the map on the sat nav. That didn´t look too bad. I’m sure I would be in Benidorm within about 6 hours. Almost there. I´m not sure if it was because the sat nav was still avoiding toll roads or if it was because I hit something I shouldn’t have when I checked the map. But almost as soon as I set off the sat nav directed my off the main road and I found myself driving along the coast in the north of Spain, looking at yet more beautiful scenery. Again, at first I thought, how nice. The road is going to take me into Benidorm by the coast. What a nice finish to my journey. Wrong again.
That coast goes on and on and on for miles. Have you ever looked at a map and noticed just how many towns there are in Spain called Beni...something. I never had, so when I come across the first town Beniwhateveritwas, I thought oh I must be getting near Benidorm. Then I went through Benianother and Benievenmore. On up past Beniyetagain and Beniwtf. Next stop Beniallthetime, then Beninotyet, Benimustbeclose, Benistillmileto go and Benithisisajoke. It took me about 11 hours to drive that dam coast.
At 11pm on the night of the 13th of January I arrived in Benidorm. I stopped outside Marianos for a bite to eat and walked in to find my good friend from home Gareth Fulton and a good friend whom I had just met while on Holiday in Benidorm just a few months earlier Albi Senior, sitting enjoying the cuisine that only tasted nice out of Marianos once the clock approaches the midnight hour. I was so relived to be there. I sat and enjoyed a meal and the craic as we say in Northern Ireland.
Then as everyone got up to head home I suddenly realised. I had no home to go to. Hamed, a waiter in Marrianos at the time was kind enough to offer me a room for the night at his house. Exceptionally generous since he had never met me before and he himself wouldn´t even be there, he was working. But I was forced to decline. Everything I owned in the world was in the car. I wasn´t about to abandon it at the time of night in a town which I had been lead to believe was full of muggers and pea men. I faced another night in that god awful seat. Next morning I found an apartment and was able to move the contents of the car to a safe place and spend most of the day in a decent bed. I was in Benidorm to stay. But one thing was for sure.
If I ever decided to visit home. I was flying.
This is now home.....