On The Road: The hitch-hiker’s guide to an elusive Spanish monastery

Originally in: The Independent

“Everybody hitchhikes in Orgiva,” Sophia said matter-of-factly, before dropping me off. Not wanting to seem ungrateful to my Austrian host, I restrain my horror-movie imagination and put my faith in humanity for once.

From the lay-by I can see all the whitewashed buildings of Orgiva. To the north, the mountains look invincible. Just south of the Sierra Nevada, Orgiva is a melting pot of hippies, foreigners and locals. Most Andalucians are bemused by the place, but not as bemused as I am about to be.

I stand facing the traffic in classic hitchhiker pose – thumb outstretched, big smile – and wait. Thirty minutes later, I’m still waiting. At this rate I’ll never get to O Sel Ling, a Tibetan Buddhist monastery high up the mountain. I have no special reason to go to there. I just want to see what a Buddhist monastery in Spain looks like, and enjoy the views along the way.

A middle-aged hippie appears and sits on the curb. Staring vacantly at the oncoming traffic, he seems in no hurry to go anywhere. A few minutes later another man appears. Wearing ragged clothes, he greets the hippie and me with a smile. He then sits on the curb, pulls out a wooden flute and begins to play.

Before I have time to appreciate the bizarreness of this, a car pulls over and offers me a ride. A friendly couple whisk me up the winding mountain road. They deposit me at the base of a road which, Sophia had told me, leads to O Sel Ling.

I walk for hours with no sign of the monastery. Eventually I give up. It’ll be dark soon. I turn around and begin walking down the mountain when I see a glimmer in the distance. It’s the Mediterranean Sea – a golden light on the horizon.

Maybe this is it, I think. Enlightenment.

Suddenly, I hear a flute. I look around, but it’s only the wind. As I walk down the mountain I curse my overactive imagination. It was no enlightenment, but it sure was beautiful.