There were hardly any people out there. There were more larks, squirrels and perhaps mountain foxes than people. This was the end of France. The republic ended here and the principality started hence.
I got out of the train and under the July sun, wondered around the lonely end of the train track, surrounded by dark spruces and ringing creeks. Afar I could only see snow-capped peaks, popping out from dreamy clouds. I realized I was standing in the last flatland of the last valley before the endless mountain ranges started, which served as the natural border between France and Andorra.
I walked into the only restaurant, which was also a shop, gas station and post office. There were 2 tables, 3 clients and 1 big guy standing behind the counter.
“Excuse me sir, are there trains to Andorra?” Staying in France for 7 weeks, I got so used to TGV and all the convenient train services. Yes, I was spoiled.
“No. You could rent a taxi, or you could hitchhike!” He said it with such an expressionless face and immediately reengaged himself in his business, like it was his daily routine job to push people out of their comfort zones.
I had not hitchhiked for 2 months and my thumb was getting inert, time to use it again.
“Where, where is the best place to stand then?” I asked.
“Oh, just there.” He pointed out of his little shop and immediately returned to his business again.
Just outside the restaurant, there was a piece of short wall beside the grassy road.
I jumped on the short wall and …… no, I did not instantly thumb up, not because I was scared or what, because there were simply no vehicles in view for several minutes. I heard mainly soothing birds singing instead of engines booming.
3 or 5 cars passed without looking at me. The birds symphony sounded more and more irritating than soothing. Some people eating in the shop were staring at me, curious to see how this Chinese guy would end up. Anxiety was slowly cooking up in the air.
Again I heard engine booming from behind the mountains and thumbed up. Different from previous ones, this car stopped almost immediately beside the short wall. A granny with glasses covering an expressionless face was driving it. I jumped in like a darting arrow.
The official language of Andorra is actually Catalan and it is the ONLY country in the world using Catalan as the official tongue, well until Catalonia reaches its long-aspired independence, if that ever happens. I did not speak Catalan but luckily she spoke French.I did learn some French and actually that was why I stayed so long in France this time.
“Where are you going?”She finally spoke.
“The capital I guess. I am going to see a friend in Spain and I am pretty sure there would be transport I could use in the Andorra la Vella.”
“No idea. I live in the village just at the edge of the plateau, so we will be there soon. I will drop you at the bus station and from there you can make your way to the capital.”
“Thanks, do you always pick up hitchhikers?”
“Yes. You see. There are not many ways to cross the mountains.”
“Thanks so much! My name is Wei. There is always a way/Wei, no matter how far your destination is!” I smiled and pulled this slogan of my name.
No, she did not laugh, either smile…… She remained expressionless.
Our communication went on in this manner until the moment when the flatland ended and the perilous winding road started. Granny had to fully focus on the road and did not respond to my talking anymore. Me? I was fully focusing on the views. It was magnificent! Endless lush lands drew charming curves, slightly kissed by the mountain fog. The lawn turned, turned and turned, like there was no end.
On the flatland there was still some warmth to prove that it was high summer but right then cool wind started to creep in the car and gradually it went from cool to cold and at the end we were among snow covered grass. “One Ride into Four Seasons” I called it. I had wondered why those people I met in this valley, including this Andorran granny, all had such expressionless faces. Now I came to guess, perhaps because they all had to watch out for the railingless mountain roads so much everyday that their faces were simply frozen in such a state by the cold air?
I started to regret. I could actually have walked through this breathtaking landscape! It would be heavenly to touch the fog, the grass and all the four seasons with my feet! It might take like 3 or 4 hours, but surely would be worth it!
Suddenly all this tortuous turning ended and we broke the clouds and landed on the sunny plateau! The villages, the cliffs and the creeks made me believe that we had arrived in another parallel world and the cloudy mountain road was the “time machine”.
“There you are, bus station.” She said with still the motionless face.
Thus have I arrived in Andorra.