Thursday, February 16, 2012
Granada, what a pleasant surprise
My original plan was to fly into Madrid and head over to San Sebastian in the Basque county. The plan, however, was thankfully hijacked. After staying almost a week in Madrid, I realized how much time I had and how easy it was to travel. So when my friend Cassondra asked if I wanted to follow her down to Granada for a weekend, I shrugged my shoulders and casually answered, "sure, why the hell not?"
The journey was not all that easy, of course, and due to my incompetence to wake up, I nearly sabotaged it. The previous night I had gone out and stayed up late. Cassondra informed me that she would be leaving at around seven am to meet up with her friend Cady, and that I could take a later bus and meet them there. We were staying at separate hostels so it really didn't matter if we took different buses. I awoke to my phone vibrating. It was a text from Cassondra reading, "we missed our bus. Long story. If you want you can take the 10:30 bus with us." It was nine am. I figured this was more than enough time for me to get to the station, so I languidly took my time in the shower. When I got out it was already nine thirty. Shit, I had to go! I secured my backpack, which was mostly already packed up, and headed to the metro.
I arrived at the station a few minutes past ten. I wasn't too nervous until I saw a humungous line. I secured my placed and crossed my fingers, constantly glaring at the time, which seemed to be speeding up. A couple behind me pleaded in Spanish to the woman in front of me and cut ahead. It was a moment I really wished I knew Spanish. I stated my plea in English but only received blank stares. Finally, my opportunity came. I asked for the ticket and the vendor was surprised I wanted the bus that was leaving in five minutes. "Vominos," she said as I ran off to the platform. Finding the platform should have been easy enough but it wasn't. I was running all over like a fucking idiot, asking anyone I could for help. Finally someone spoke enough English to direct me to the right escalator. I ran up that bitch to the platform where the bus was just pulling out. I flagged him down with my ticket and for some reason he stopped. He yelled a bunch of profanities at me in Spanish and let me aboard. Cassondra and Cady were laughing as I was panting and sweating. "Thank fucking God," I said as I walked passed them.
The bus ride from Madrid to Granada was beautiful. Granada is almost directly South of Madrid. The six hour bus ride took us through the small cities like Toledo, and quaint mountain towns and villages like Manzanares and La Carolina. This was the first time in my life I had taken a bus through hilltops and mountainsides. It's really amazing to see inhabited isolation; villages literally exist on the side of mountains, or in a canyons, surrounded by boulders and trees. I remember at one point listening to Deadmau5. Just when the song started to climax, the Sierra Nevada Mountains came into clear view through the large windshield of the bus. It was unreal.
Once I got there I settled at my hostel, the White Nest, located in the old quarter of Granada. The streets were very slim with rustic, Spanish style housing. It was down the street from an old Cathedral where a wedding was being held, creating a lively and happy energy that stained the air.
That night I went out with the ladies. We bought a cheap bottle of Spanish wine and roamed the hills of Granada, settling on a ledge that overlooked the city and its most famous attraction, the magnificent Alhambra. The night was chilly, but the beauty kept us warm. As we walked up and down jagged streets and paths paved with uneven cobblestone rocks, we frequently stopped in awe of the fantastic graffiti that lent a more modern and artistic feel to such a preserved place. Many times I huddled underneath a tree, gazing around me while soaking in the romance. Screw Paris, this was the real capital of love.
That night I checked in early, playing the guitar (which I had dearly missed) and checking in on Facebook (guilty). Next to me was a bald man who ended up sleeping in the bunk above me. I didn't know it at the time, but this man and I would be connected by more than just bunks.
The next day we went on another hike up in the hills of the Old Quarter. I scoped out the inhabited caves located on the dry hills of the Sacromonte (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sacromonte). While prancing ignorantly up the Valparaiso hill, which was built on old Roman catacombs, I heard some scrambling coming from one of the caves. I looked up to see an elderly man leaning on a cane. His skin was thick and wrinkled like aged leather. He was starring intently at me, like he was casting a spell. I looked to my right and noticed another man squatting on a mattress. Bed sheets barely covered his trite expression. I carefully turned my body around and ran down the hill without looking back. That moment really encapsulated and defined my journey. I was a foreigner in a land that wasn't mine.
When we returned from the hill we ate at Kebab King and roamed the city. That night the girls checked in early because they were going to the Alhambra early in the morning. I stayed out and ended up meeting a guy named Taylor at my hostel from Colorado. We chatted and decided to grab a beer and some tapas. He went to grab his friend from the hostel. He returned with the bald man from my room. His name was Henrik, from Denmark. We all talked about our adventures and future endeavors in life. They told me about their experience getting ripped off in Barcelona. I should have learned from their story, but in Barcelona apparently everyone gets robbed. That night Taylor headed in early, and Henrik and I headed out for some more drinks. We ended the night in front of our hostel at three in the morning with two Asian guys who were drinking Jameson. We helped them kill the bottle and retired for the night.
The next couple days were a blur. Henrik and I became good friends, and saw people come and go from our room. One night, a girl and her cousin checked in. We all went out that night and got to play tour guide since we had discovered the good tapas bars. We stayed out til about four in the morning and I was to check out the next day. I also had yet to see the Alhambra. So at eight thirty in the morning when my alarm went off, I felt like pure death, contemplating whether or not to go. Without giving much more thought, I threw on a pair of pants and headed out the door, forgetting to tell the front desk that I'd have to check out late.
While I was walking up the hill to the Alhambra I ran into a pack of college kids I had met the night before. They were in just as terrible condition as I was. We were sweating out the booze from the night before, trying to follow the signs in Spanish to this great monument. They had lost one of their friends the previous night, and were all getting frustrated, bickering at one another. I broke away from them and explored the Alhambra solo. I can't really put it into words how amazing it is up there. There is a aura in the air that completely overtakes you, and no, it wasn't just the hangover. I staggered through the enormous complex built of ancient Moorish palaces. I was in awe by every site and story explained by my automotive guide. If you haven't ever heard of this place, follow this link and explore its History.
I returned to the hostel and the receptionists immediately asked, "Are you Anthony?" I responded with a timid, "yes..." And they exploded with laughter.
"Thank God you are alive. We thought you may have disappeared, or were dead." I was a little shocked those were their first thoughts.
"Does that happen a lot?" I asked, naively.
"Well, more than we'd like. Good to see you back, but can you check out please?"
I gathered my belongings and said goodbye to Henrik. We exchanged numbers and I told him I was off to Malaga. On my way out I ran into a couple who were also traveling to Malaga. Apparently they also knew Henrik and Taylor, and so we decided to travel together. It was the beginning of a beautiful journey into Southern Spain.