I’ve had my fair share of annoying travel mishaps: cancelled flights, extended delays, road & track closures, detours. Then there was that time I stood on a train for 30 hours from Nanning to Shanghai, jammed in a wagon with 300 smoking Chinese people.
But none of those can deliver quite the exquisite pain of spending 8 hours on a bus with a redneck family, their 3 shrieking children and a wailing puppy, from Cádiz to Madrid.
We’ve now bunkered down in Madrid for the next six weeks, and have somewhat recovered from 20 days of boozing and tapa-ing around southern Spain, as well as that bus trip.
We have a small apartment on the top floor of a building in the south of the city. There is no air conditioning and very little breeze and we’re hitting at least 35 degrees every day. The building is a criss-cross of apartments, passages and courtyards and all of our neighbours are very close. We could reach through our windows and touch their hands if they would reach out too. But I think people who live this close learn to keep their hands to themselves.
During the night we can hear people coughing, turning over in their sleep, the cry of a baby. Then, for a few moments, silence. The glow-in-the-dark stars on our ceiling watch us unblinking. And then someone stirs, and someone else, and there are all the nighttime sounds again until the next silence comes. There is an undulating ebb and flow to it that both invites sleep and precludes it.
Lying in bed this morning, slowly waking up, I felt like I was camping – that pleasant period when you’ve woken up because your tent is too hot but you’re not ready to get up and have a beer yet. I listened to the sounds of the wildlife as it came to life around me. People brushing their teeth, cooking, packing bags, slamming doors. The smell of coffee and toast. And maybe frying onion? It’s like waking up into a dream, a place of possibilities and impossibilities.
Now that we’ve arrived, how will we approach this city? So far we’ve been happy to recuperate – but this is a city of museums, bars, bustling streets, live music, all-night parties, all in one! At some point we have to get in amongst it. But tonight we’re staying local – heading out to a cerveceria just down the road. If nothing else, I hope to have enough beer to knock me out so I can ignore the stifling heat. It’s hard to complain about the summers here, after having a very real winter. And anyway, it could be worse – we could be surrounded by shrieking rednecks.