In an effort to blog on a more regular basis I’ve decided to begin writing about things other than what is currently going on in my life. This should give me something to fill the gaps between blog-worthy events and should make for some cool themes that you’ll enjoy reading about. For starters, I’d like to revisit some travels of the past, so I’ll be telling the stories of my top 10 coolest travel stories. Sweet! There’s no rules really, just stories that I think are cool to tell – mostly fun / interesting moments or events that make for good cocktail conversation (depending on the company you keep).
Putting together this list has made me really think about the way I travel and the things that I could do different on the road. Honestly, I think I could benefit from being a bit more reckless. I’ve got some good stories here, and the average armchair-traveler / blog reader will probably be impressed and appalled at some of the stupid and awesome situations I’ve been in, but I could do better – and I will. There’s a lot more adventure on the horizon, and this time around, I’ll be actively seeking it instead of just taking it as it comes.
That being said, let’s get started!
Welcome to the first installment of:
Justin Jones’s Top 10 Travel Tales from the road of self-aggrandizement / Deprecation. (long title, I know!)
Number 10: Barcelona Blues
Barcelona has always been one of my favorite cities to visit. It is truly an international city—the type of place where you can wander down a narrow cobblestoned street and find an amazing tapas bar on every corner, complete with multinational sex workers and bums that know how to panhandle in any language. But next to that tapas bar, just past the Romanian hooker in the pink miniskirt (you know the one), you can also find a bustling Irish pub with pretty Dutch girls working the Guinness tap and clientele from all corners of the Earth. And all this with beautiful Spanish weather and just blocks from the beach.
This is the story of my second trip to Barcelona, but it actually starts on a very rainy day, just down the coast in Valencia. I had somehow misplaced my toiletries bag and had to wander the streets in the rain (sans umbrella) until I found an open pharmacy. Soaking wet, and unable to say anything useful in Spanish, I was forced to resort to my miming skills to convey the various items that I needed to buy. Luckily, the attendant was very kind and accommodating. Shampoo, deodorant, toothbrush, etc. I went through the motions and we both giggled at the silliness of the situation. Q-tips proved to be a bit of a difficult charade to pull off, but in the end, I checked everything off my shopping list and headed back to my hostel in the rain.
The next day, I was off to Barcelona, but when I awoke that morning, I felt terrible, My throat was sore, my bones ached, and I was coughing up some gross , yellowish phlegm. The previous day’s rainy expedition, the germy hostel, and the strain of having been on the road for the last few weeks had taken its toll – I was sick.
To Make things worse, when I finally arrived in Barcelona, I realized that I had lost my Eurail pass! I was traveling on a two-month ticket, and I had forked over a major chunk of change for that thing, so I really couldn’t afford to shrug off a blunder like that, but what the hell was I supposed to do?
Luckily for me, I had purchased the Eurail insurance plan, so I knew the ticket was replaceable. After a few phone calls, I was told that I had to file a police report to make things official, and that after that I would be issued a new ticket. Unfortunately, the English-Speaking Tourist Police were closed that day (WTF?) so I needed to find a place to stay for the weekend.
I hit Las Ramblas, the main drag, and started my search for a hostel. I was still feeling sick and to make things worse, I was still dragging around my enormous backpack as I stomped down the road passed the buskers and bums that perpetually lined the street. After just a minute of walking, I was intercepted by a pretty young lady who asked me in English if I was looking for accommodation for the night.
“What?” I asked, not sure if she was a prostitute or if she was just trying to drum up business for a local hostel.
“Oh, I have a place up the road…” She stopped herself, noting my skepticism and clarified, “it’s an apartment, but it’s like a hostel – are you looking for a room for the night?”
Well, I was looking for a room, and despite my confusion, I’ve never been one to pass up an opportunity to chat up a pretty girl, so off we headed. She lead me a couple blocks up the road, and then down a side street. We stopped in front of a massive corrugated metal garage-style door that was covered in shitty graffitti.
“This is it!” she proclaimed as she pulled a key out of her pocket and opened a smaller door adjacent.
We stepped into a dark basement-like room that smelled of trash and urine. An elderly woman stood in the corner with a bicycle and shot evil looks in our direction as we passed. She did not trust us. I was lead in the direction of the staircase and we proceeded up – 5 flights up – to the top floor, where she produced another key and ushered me in to the apartment. Exhausted from the stair climbing and the events of the day, I stumbled inside.
It was a tiny, two bedroom apartment – one room was hers and the other room had three bunk beds in it and little else. The place was strewn with open backpacks and dirty clothes and the unmistakable smell of backpackers – dirty socks, stale beer, sweat.
I dropped my backpack to the floor, forced a smile, and turned to my new roommate.
“I’ll take it,” I said.
She directed me to one of the top bunks and I climbed the creaky metal ladder to test out my new digs. The mattress was thin and lumpy, the pillow was mildewed, and the bunk creaked like a squealing pig. Pretty standard stuff.
I closed my eyes lay there for a few minutes, barely conscious. My eyelids felt hot on my eyeballs and I could feel my lungs burning with what could only be the onset of bronchitis. I felt like shit – like I wished I could have been home to lay in bed all day and watch the Discovery Channel and holler at my mom to make me Mac n Cheese. I certainly wasn’t in any condition to deal with Spanish Police and Eurail customer service agents and wander the streets looking for decent accommodations. My cough was getting worse and I was fighting the urge to smoke a thousand cigarettes. I decided that I needed to eat something and get some rest.
After a satisfying sandwich from Subway (surprisingly ubiquitous in Barcelona), I trekked back up the stairs to my hostel / apartment / squat – I’m still not sure exactly what that place was. Once inside I met the wild group of hooligan travelers that were to be my roommates. There were 4 rowdy twenty-somethings from South Africa and one random young Texan. A nice group of guys for sure, lots of energy and jokes and testosterone, and a passion for booze and pussy that even rivaled my own.
They invited me out for a pub crawl with them but I insisted that I was too sick to go out, which prompted them to call me a “Nancy” and various other foreign slang slams. Not budging, they left me alone and went on their way. I fell almost instantly to sleep.
At some point that night I was awakened by movement and a rustling noise in the room. I assumed my roommates had just come home from the bar and would drunkenly stumble around the room for a bit before passing out (I’ve been there myself, many-a-time). I didn’t really mind the disturbance – I just rolled over and pulled the pillow over my head. A moment later, the bunk shifted and creaked and I was pulled back to consciousness. The creaking continued and started to pick up speed and I realized with horror that my bunk mate was actually fucking someone on the bottom bunk. SHIT! What the hell was I supposed to do?
They must have known that I was there, but assumed that I was sleeping. And now that I was awake, I felt like I should let them know. I contemplated this idea, but the awkwardness of announcing, mid-coitus, to a drunk couple, “Hey, I’m awake,” or “uhm…I’m in here,” was just too overwhelming. I thought about jumping down from the top bunk and fleeing the room, but who knows what terrors lurked on that bottom bunk – I mean travelers tend to drop their standards a notch or ten because, hey, who will ever know? I even considered telling them to get the hell out of there: “Hey asshole, I’m sleeping here! Why don’t you take your little bar slut to the bathroom and finish the job in there?”
Well, luckily as I was contemplating how the hell I was going to get out of this situation, the situation abruptly ended of its own accord. My creaky bunk creaked one last time (eee…er…eee…er…eee…er…EEE-) and that was that. I think we all exhaled a simultaneous sigh of relief. I tried to put the whole distasteful scene out of my memory and went back to sleep, pretending that I had never been awake at all.
I woke up the next morning, still sick, and a little bit weirded out about the sex show that I had unintentionally suffered through. It took another two days for the police station to process my “stolen Eurail pass” request, and as soon as it was done, I hopped on a train and got the hell out of there. Not that I don’t like Barcelona, I love it – and not that I’m a prude either, I’ve been to my fair share of good old fashioned sex parties, but I was really sick and I needed a clean and quite place to recuperate.
I took the train to Figueres and then caught a bus into Cadaques, a sleepy fishing village on the Costa Brava that Salvador Dali once called home. I rented a cheap room in a pension and stayed there (alone) for a few days. I recuperated by eating fresh oranges from the local produce market and smoking hash on the rocky beach with Swedish tourists – just the kind of respite that I needed.
Moral of the story: Don’t worry, South Africans don’t last long in bed – even after a night of drinking.
Stay tuned for the next installment of Justin Jones’s Top 10 Travel Tales from the road of self-aggrandizement / Deprecation!