I was finally on my way to Pamplona, the reason for my whole trip to Spain.
In summary, when I was a kid, I was watching CNN – cause it was on, not because I was so interested in world affairs – and I saw a couple of people running down some narrow streets with big cows chasing them. I saw that clip and decided that when I grew up I was going to do that because it looked like fun- it was a simple dream.
Then I grew up some more, and found out the country was Spain, and the event was annual – well, at least the big festival, there are bull runs in smaller towns/villages at other times. San Fermin, I found it was called, every 2nd week of July. I decided that the day I stepped into Europe, I would run with the bulls (later ‘from’ the bulls) and so here I was, finally going to run, YES!
I get on the bus, the seats are assigned. I have a window seat. I look at the faces of people climbing onto the late night bus, studying their faces as they squint at the seat numbers and check their tickets. I watch them, a little eager to see which one of them will be my neighbour for the almost 9 hour bus ride from Barcelona to Pamplona up in the North of Spain – and within reach of the French border.
Nobody that looks interesting seems to be coming by – mostly old, sleepy people travelling with their families. I lose interest and look at the people outside the bus. Nobody seems to be travelling alone, most people are hanging around with other people, laughing, yawning and fidgeting.Some tired backpackers in pairs, checking and double checking that this is their bus lest they end up in some random city. I feel someone heave themselves into the seat next to me, I look, she smiles, I smile. She’s in shorts and snickers, she has dark hair that seems a little curly, and a very friendly face.
I look away cause it’s not polite to stare, I always look at the people I’m travelling next to – what they’re wearing, what they’re reading, and then I start guessing what kind of people they are or what they do. I usually make these observations sidewise, pretending something outside the window/ on the aisle (depending on where they’re sitting) is interesting. It’s a more decent way of staring at someone. You can also usually tell from the person’s body language if they’re willing to talk to a stranger on a long journey.
‘Going for the bull-run?’ I venture
She says something in Spanish.
Finally, I can use my line: ‘ No hablas espanol!’
‘Si, Yes,!’ she replies enthusiastically, with an accent that sounds French to me.
I pause. You can’t just ambush someone even if they look like they’re willing to talk, it’s safer to ease into those situations. It’s a safe move because you don’t want to appear overenthusiastic. It’s also safe for you because sometimes you end up sitting next to someone who can’t shut up, then you spend the journey regretting you started it. Keeping decent poses in between your first lines of conversation allows you to judge if you’re sitting next to one of those crazies. If you establish that they are, pretend to fall asleep or just stare outside the window and pretend the scenery (even if it’s a night bus) is breathtaking.
‘Are you going to run?’ I ask again
‘ Nooo!!I am not crazy!’ she laughs, ‘You?’
‘Yes!’ And we both laugh. The excitement of the trip instantly creating that bond that is sparked so easily between travellers. It’s always interesting how the context of travel stops awkwardness between travellers, even if you’ve just met. You don’t care about your possibly bad-breath, your sweaty armpits, swimming in underwear, your stinky socks.
Speaking of underwear, always wear nice underwear on the road because you never know when you’ll need to swim. If you have a pair of boxers that are like some I used to love – so old and frayed and they’re more like a skirt cause the middle part is torn, you don’t want to have to swim in them in public. Though I could wear those boxers from the top- like a t-shirt, they gave people the wrong impression. I had to let them go.
We start our banter for the next 9 hours on the night bus. We laugh a lot, because she’s funny, and she has a funny voice, and we’re both travelling alone so we’re glad for company- though she’s meeting her cousin in Pamplona.
She’s from Mexico, but she lives in Barcelona. She’s in her 30s and married, but her husband is in Mexico- she’s going back because she only came to Barcelona for a few months – don’t remember for what. She seems to be enjoying her freedom, but whenever he comes up in conversation, she has a strange look in her eyes, I can’t tell if it’s uncomfortable or shy or just a look that shows she’s missing him or a combination of all those. She tells me about Mexico, how friendly the people are, and how you go out to clubs to meet people, because it’s perfectly normal to talk to strangers and spend the night hanging out. I note that Mexico is clearly a place I can visit alone. She tells me how many hours her and her husband have to work because life is expensive there. She shows me pictures of her town on her i-phone, then she starts scrolling and doesn’t stop for almost an hour. I see her home, her place in Barcelona, her husband (young and friendly looking) and her dogs. I wonder if this is a common thing for women on the road to do – to show people pictures of their husbands and dogs. Even the pornstar I once met spent time showing me pictures of the same thing – though she also felt the need to show me pictures of her boobs when they were new (in a bikini, relax). I have to say this though, the picture was of her in a swimming pool, and her boobs were literally under her chin- I guess silicon floats.
Anyway, I don’t know my Mexican’s friend’s name, but I like her. I fall asleep at some point, probably to the relief of the man sitting in-front of us who kept shifting in his chair and trying to look at us- in other words passive-aggressively asking us to shut-up (he clearly wasn’t Dutch). It was a very quiet bus, like most night buses, and only the 2 of us were talking. At some point I tell her we should lower our voices, but she says she can’t sleep on buses and anyway, she doesn’t like Spanish people, because they’re rude to us tourists even though we’re bringing money to their country. I don’t know what she means, maybe it’s a Mexican thing.
I nap and then wake up. She’s still awake, she says I blacked out and ‘slept like a tiger’. We talk about our travel plans after Pamplona, none of us have a solid plan. We decide that we should catch a bus to Bilbao after the festival, or maybe head to France- which is one good thing about the Schenghen visa that allows you entry into 26 countries in Europe. She’s amusing, her and her tiny clutch-bag sized backpack- that’s all she has.
We finally get to Pamplona.