It had taken me a good twenty minutes but I had figured it out: “Perdón, de dónde esta la oficina de informacion por favour?” Subtitle: “Excuse me, where is the information office? Please dude, check this out, I’m speaking Spanish”. Fellow backpacker Sarah Sausage and I had just crossed the border into Spain, and were somewhat hazy on our location in a small town called Figueres. And by “somewhat hazy”, I really mean lost. A local señora replied to my query in rapid-fire Spanish that was met by lots of smiling, nodding and mutterings of “sí sí” on my part. After the helpful local departed, Sarah asked “you have no idea what she said do you?” Errmm…no.
Helpful hint numero uno: learn Spanish.
Surviving this experience, Barcelona was next on the hit list. My Grandpa had visited Barcelona sometime in the 1960s and considered himself a bit of a wizened guru on the city. Through narrowed eyes and in a lowered voice he had earlier advised to keep a tight grip on your bags as the city was full of dirty, long-haired gypsies. Unfortunately I did not encounter any such fierce, calculating, kumbaya bandits that no doubt ruled the city from a criminal underground with flowers in their hair. But it didn’t stop me from eyeing up potential bag-snatchers and silently daring them to ‘just try me’.
The main boulevard of Barcelona, La Rambla stretches for a kilometre and hosts quirky twentieth century sculptures, sky-scraping palm trees and a myriad of sights, smells and sounds. At all hours, tourists meander through fruit stalls, aviaries, florists, alfresco diners, buskers of all descriptions and even the odd local. Wide-eyed and open-mouthed I was in awe of La Rambla’s architectural flamboyance as neoclassicism, mixed with gothic that was mixed with modernism. For this naïve eighteen year old traveller, the sheer vibrance of the place was overloading the senses. I needed a lie down before I fell over and hurt myself.
Helpful hint numero dos: ditch the 25kg pack. Breathe.
La Rambla on a Friday night could easily have passed for Courtenay Place during the Lion’s tour. It seemed that every tourist, local and their perro were frolicking in the street. Instead of joining the boozing mayhem, some backpackers and I indulged in late night hot chocolates (that were so thick they needed to be eaten with a spoon) and churros (deep fried dough sprinkled with sugar). Despite the sugar rioting through my veins my bunk bed enticed me to sleep while the whole of Barcelona partied outside my hostel window.
Helpful hint numero tres: when in Rome do as the Romans. When in Barcelona, scull cheap wine and shake your booty.
Spaniards, bless them, like their afternoon naps. This sounds idyllic in theory, but for the tourist trying to get places before dark, the siesta can lodge a mighty spanner in the works. At 10am Sarah and I had managed to catch the last bus to Calella de Palafrugell (think a Spanish Bay of Islands) causing relieved smiles and a round of self-congratulatory high fives. The bus stopped on the outskirts of the town. Yet with our powers combined, Sarah and I decided to stay seated until the bus took us further into the township to save our wearied feet. A stroke of genius we thought. Somehow, the fact that we were now the only remaining passengers escaped our attention. The next thing we know the bus was hurtling down the road just travelled and before we could muster the courage to alert the driver to our plight, we were back where we started. The driver was not impressed. For five minutes he shook his fists and stamped his feet as we stifled giggles under bowed heads. The hilarity/ stupidity of the situation soon dissipated as we realised in the interim, the locals had drawn their blinds to snuggle down for their afternoon nap. Dejected, Sarah and I had no choice; we sat outside the bus station waiting for the lazy-good-for-nothingmumble- mumble Spaniards to rouse from their snoozing.
Handy hint numero quarto: always carry a book.
After a few days lounging on the golden sand beaches, Sarah and I mustered the energy to do a spot of exploring. Apparently a walking track followed the rugged Costa Brava coastline and offered spectacular views. There was a distinct lack of signage, but like troopers we persevered, and improvised if you will. Half and hour later we were gripping desperately onto foliage as the dirt cliffs crumbled under our feet. Either we were literally off the beaten path or this was some extreme form of bush walking. After a few too many cactus bites and close encounters with crumbling rocks we eventually conceded defeat and scurried back to the safety of our beach towels and gelato parlours.
Handy hint numero cinco: there is only one Action Man.
I could most certainly offer more helpful hints to survive backpacking around Spain. Run faster than the bulls for example. But Spanish culture is not about rules and safety nets. Just grab a vino, pull out your best Macarena moves and follow the groove of the gypsies. Ole!