We’re all going on a lemming’s holiday


It’s almost on us, the weekend when the Spanish don their lemming hats and rush to the sea. They don’t throw themselves off the cliffs when they get there, but you can bet your bottom dollar that, like every year, this weekend will register a bigger death toll on the road that all the other fifty-one.

Everyone likes to squeeze the last moments out of their summer holiday, but no-one moreso than the Spanish. The ‘Salida’, the mass exodus from city to beach that begins on Friday afternoon, the weekend nearest the 1st August, and the ‘Entrada’ the return on the Sunday of the last weekend of the month, are the times when you shouldn’t be seen dead on Spanish roads or that is what you might actually be seen as  – dead.

No-one seems prepared to leave a day later or earlier to avoid the record pile-ups or massive tail-backs, and each year the government and national police launch ‘Operación Salida’ (and ‘Entrada’) in an attempt to lessen the traffic blow – and invariably fail.

The Costa Blanca has been historically known as la playa de Madrid – Madrid’s beach, and hordes of escaping masrileños descend on the beaches and resorts of the region. Last year traffic jams covered almost 170 kilometres of motorway during the salida, almost half the distance from the Capital to Valencia city, (although admittedly not all going in that direction), and a trip that usually takes a comfortable four hours was taking up to twenty. On their return, the tens of thousands who fought their way to the coast fought their way home again, this time, according to pleased police sources, they only had to endure tailbacks of 90 kms trying to enter the capital city. It was also a good weekend as far as deaths were concerned, a mere 39 people died in 37 accidents, while in 35 accidents in which no mortality occurred a paltry 16 were considered serious. But that was just a small part of the overall total of 202 people who never saw their homes again.

The Dirección General de Tráfico, the Government Traffic Department, reckons that there will be around 5,1 million journeys made between 15.00 on Friday afternoon and midnight on Sunday, and as a fair percentage of them will be one-way, you can be pretty sure that there will be a few tempers lost in the bumper-to-bumper crawl, especially given the high temperatures the country has been experiencing over the last few weeks.

The DGT have launched a poster campaign to force the danger home to drivers. ‘In a second your life can change and nothing will be the same again. We all know how to avoid an accident. Why don’t we?’…a message so long that by the time you read it the bloke in front could have slammed his brakes on and you could be catapulted through the windscreen, bits of you joining his screaming kids in their back seat. ‘Watch your driving or you could be f*****g dead!’ would never get past the censors, but it might be a bit more affective.

The problem is worsened this year because the 1st August falls on a Sunday, so no-one is forced to delay their holiday because it falls during the middle of the week. Government statisticians tell us that fifty percent of mortal accidents occur during the salida, but it never seems to occur to anyone to let the lemmings rush off early, and then take a leisurely drive to the holiday home a couple of days later.

So, come the end of August, after a month of wall-to-wall people on Valencia’s beaches, fighting for a restaurant table and facing the worst traffic jams for years, the madrileños and Spanish from all corners of the country will have forgotten all about the lost tempers and hours of delays during their lemming-like rush to the sea a few weeks earlier, and leave their return home until the last minute. Only one question remains to be answered – why?

If you would like to know more about Spain, visit my web site, www.derekworkman-journalist.com , and Spain Uncovered


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