My hitch West to Asturias went smoothly and I made two new friends on the way – a Moroccan girl named Hanan and her Peruvian friend Jorge. They agreed to take me from just outside Santander to a place a little way West where the autopista becomes normal road for a while and I can hitch on it. But we got on very well and drove together to a little town they had wanted to visit, where we looked at the sea and they bought me a cup of red tea. Then they decided to take me further: to Gijon, a city close to Oviedo.
I got a bit lost in Gijon after accepting a lift from two young drunk guys with dreads. It was a crappy roundabout and I was desperate, but it turned out they were only going round the corner to the pub. One of them tried to convince me to drink with them, saying I could stay at his house after, but I declined and walked in the direction they told me there was a gas station – only to wind up in a giant grid of intersecting motorways and flyovers. In desperation I stuck out my thumb at any and every car that passed, whatever direction they were travelling. A man stopped and took me to a better place, a petrol station where I quickly found a lift all the way to Pola de Lena with a youngish guy who constantly told me I am “guapa” (beautiful), and tried to convince me to be his girlfriend and to come to Madrid with him. After repeatedly stating “no quiero” (“I don´t want” – my grammar isn´t very good yet!), he reluctantly dropped me off in Pola de Lena. He was nice enough, but persistant. He told me all the girls in his town are ugly.
I began walking through Pola with my thumb out. The man on the phone at Escanda told me to get the train one stop from there, but I am a stubborn die-hard hitcher and trains feel a bit like cheating.
Pola de Lena looks like an interesting place. It´s an old mining town completely covered in communist propaganda graffiti. I decided to come back and take a closer look another day. I reached the end of the town and crossed two roundabouts before a car stopped, an older man and his son. The older man poke in Spanish and the boy translated for me – “Father says it is too late for you to be walking on your own.”
They said they would have to take me all the way to Ronzon, as it was too late for me to walk. Thanks! The car climbed a steep mountain road and I was glad of the lift up. I had no idea where in the village to go, but the car pulled up outside a house – “The English people live here”.
I go to the door where I´m immediately greeted by a very friendly man. “Is this Escanda?” “Yes! Are you Jo?” It´s nice to be expected somewhere for once and I am immediately made to feel welcome by Itay, who greeted me; a Finnish girl named Maria; and Gala, who is Spanish. No English people appear to live here at all! I am shown to my room – my very own room with a double bed – whoop whoop! The room obviously belongs to somebody who is currently away and it´s almost a shame that she is, as judging by her bookshelf, photos and other bits and bobs that are lying around we would have got along very well.
As is customary for me now, I arrive in time for dinner, which I help Itay prepare in the portacabin they use for a kitchen. It´s omlette, with eggs from their own chickens. They can cater for vegans too, they assure me, but I have already decided that if a community keeps chickens and is nice to them then I will eat their eggs while I stay there. I´m scoffing honey too. Does that mean I´m not vegan anymore? I guess not – but I´m still not eating meat or dairy and I won´t eat eggs from the supermarket.
I have been meaning to visit Escanda ever since I first heard about it more than a year ago. It hosted a Radical Economics Gathering, which I failed to hitchhike to last year and a Women´s Health Gathering a year or two before that. Back then it was a much bigger and more thriving community living in the mansion next to the smaller “casita” now inhabited by the six-eight people who are left. Renfe, the Spanish state railway, built a bridge under their house, which destabilised it and meant they all had to move out. The organisation that owns all the houses and lets them live here as part of some arrangement gave them the house next door as a replacement, along with a couple of portacabins, but it´s still a horrible thing to have happened and the community has suffered a lot as a result.
I am eating and sleeping very well here. I sign up to cook lunch on my first full day and have the pleasure of making soup with some of the butternut squash we pulled out of the ground that morning and some courgette that is almost as fresh. Still, for some reason my armpit disease is back with a vengeance. I have six big red swollen lumps in my right armpit. The left one, where the plague originated, is now completely fine. What the fuck is wrong with it? There are a lot of tinctures and herbal concoctions here in a wooden storage room on stilts where they also keep the dried food and some other stuff. I am now taking a plantain tincture three times a day as directed by a label on the bottle, which claims it will help reduce inflammation and infections, along with various other things. I had a dream while still at Uli that I had given up coffee, so I´ve been three days without it now. I have a bizarre and foundationless intuition that my armpit could be somehow related to coffee drinking.
This is the first rain I have seen since leaving England. I´m definitely travelling the wrong way – bring back Barcelona with it´s 24 hour heatwave…