Bla Bla-ing to the Border

Determined to learn from our mistakes and not get stuck without transportation across the Spanish border into Southern Portugal (see an earlier blog post re: attempting to travel 100 miles from the Duoro Valley to reach Spain,) we began exploring options for nearly the last leg of our trip: Tarifa to the Algarve. Once again it didn’t seem as if bus or train service was available. Not easily turned off, we began asking everyone we met in Spain for their opinion and advice. That’s how we found Bla Bla Car, a ride sharing service that is the rage right now. It’s similar to Uber (a car service for which I have mad love) but slightly different in goal and operation. Rides are cheap and designed to help offset gas costs for a trip the driver, who you pay directly, is already planning to take.

Eager to experience Bla Bla, we scanned the website and found a driver going our direction. We sent her an email and the next day found ourselves in a car with two other travelers and the driver Lara, making our way from Cadiz to Huelva and one step closer to the Portuguese border. The other riders spoke about as much English as we speak Spanish so conversation was quite. But who needs chatter when you have a Michael Jackson mix blarring out of your speakers. Now, mind you, not the good “Billy Jean” Michael. Think more “We Are the World” Michael and you’ll get the picture. Still we arrived safe and sound in Huelva two hours later, no smelly fellow bus riders or screaming babies and for a little less $.

Bad music aside, we enjoyed the Bla Bla so much that the next day, we scanned again and found a driver leaving in just an hour and going from Cadiz to Ayamonte (a town right on the border with Portugal.)

And that’s how we met Jesus, a professor of economics at the university in Huelva. He lives in Ayamonte and makes the commute a few times a week. He told us that before Bla Bla he always lamented how much he spent in gas money since he barely survives on his relatively low paying job (he did stress how happy he is to have a job in a country currently at around 24% unemployment.) In addition to offsetting his costs, Jesus said that he really enjoyed the company and conversation that taking riders provided.

During the short trip, he asked us our opionions on the EU, economic policy, and football. We talked about America and what life and work were like for us. And, we discussed Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the commercial flight tragedy from last week. Conversations we probably would not have had with a Spaniard on a bus (or anywhere for that matter.)

And that’s the thing: there’s something intimate about being in a person’s car. It immediately feels like a road trip. It immediately feels like being with a friend.

Jesus told us we would need to take a boat from Spain across the border to Villa Real de Santo Antonio in Portugal and from there we could catch a bus to almost anywhere in the Algarve. He dropped us at the ferry station and we said our goodbyes, happy that we had more insight into the life of a middle-class professional in the beautiful country we love so. All for €4 each. And, by the way, his music was good…spanish, local, good.

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photo courtesy of Bla Bla Car.

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