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Saturday, October 20, 2012

One Night in Zaragoza: Fire, Brimstone, and a Bus Station

The plan was simple.

A group of 12 friends would get together and spend one amazing night in Zaragoza for the Fiesta del Pilar. Great! Sure we didn’t have a place to stay. Sure we would be there for 27 hours straight. Sure our funds were limited. But hey, the intention was to party non-stop and have the time of our lives with a great story to tell afterwards. What could possibly go wrong with this plan?

Yeah. Everything.

The trip started out well enough. We packed our book bags with sheets and enough liquor to get an elephant drunk and headed off to the Logroño bus station at 9am on a Saturday morning. We made sure that we all got our tickets and ended up on the same bus and headed off to, what we thought, would be a great time.

We arrived in Zaragoza at about 1pm. We saw some great sites. Beautiful architecture. Interesting alters for Pilar. Spiritual parades.

The alter in the middle of the plaza.

When we first got to the city, we were a bit confused. We couldn’t figure out where all of the infamous crowds were and had to find our way to the tourist office to get maps and directions. We did manage to make it to the main plaza and saw this huge live flower alter made to honor the Virgin Pilar (I’m not positive, but I have been made to understand that all of these virgins are merely variations of the Virgin Mary…I should research this more but let’s be honest, we were only there for the parties).

Now this is where the story takes a turn….

Fae (she shall be called because I consider her to be a Scottish fairy) thought this would be a GREAT time to start making jokes and calling into question the validity of Mary’s virgin status. And thus began the smiting. From that moment forward, anyone that chose to remain in Fae’s company was met with God’s wrath and sense of humor.

We actually managed to capture the smiting on film.

We left the plaza and went to lay around in a nice local park for a bit. I would hate for you to believe that we seek out these sorts of tranquil settings for their aesthetic value. In fact, I couldn’t tell you what that park looked like now to save my life. We had one purpose, and one purpose only. To get wasted. We quickly spread out our sheets on the grass and got to the bottle poppin’ portion of the program. And boy did we pop bottles! We all quickly found ourselves in a drunken haze and only abandoned our tipsy retreat when we were, suddenly, overrun by even more drunken 12 year olds (no, you didn’t read that incorrectly- they were in fact 12...14 at best).

The aforementioned drunk children taking over the park

We ran to the nearest city bus and then proceeded to head in the direction of what we thought was the Oktoberfest event. Wrong! Clearly our communication was already taking a turn for the worse because we were, in fact, headed to another grand tent party. No big deal.

Half way through the bus ride, my roommate, S, was overtaken by her blood alcohol level and looked to be on the verge of vomming on the bus. The Spanish clearly do NOT play that! The bus driver made an impromptu stop and several riders shoved helped her off the bus. Luckily, before the doors fully closed Sweet P jumped off the bus to help her out. The last image I had of them that evening was S waving sadly as the bus pulled away and she resumed retching. And then there were 10. (Smite #1)

We made it to the tent shindig and ran through the line (they made us throw out our remaining liquids, which included my Redbull that I planned to help me stay awake). But this was okay because we were pumped and ready to start the party!

After getting through security with our lightened loads we were quickly informed that we had gotten into the wrong line and needed to go around the block to the line for people without a prepaid party pass. (Smite #2) We were sad to have wasted our drinks but headed off with faces stretched with smiles anyhow. Silly us! The line that we were supposed to get into stretched for about a mile and a half -and this was by no means a single-filed line. (Smite #3) We decided to give it a go regardless. I mean, really, why the hell not? Where else were we going to go?

After 2 hours and only ¾ mile progress, I grew delirious, restless, and worst of all…sober. Luckily, I wasn’t alone in this feeling. Unluckily, I was not alone in this feeling. The line was completely still. Due to a strong wave of delirium and the cold night that was steadily settling into my bones, I decided to rally the troops and vehemently insist suggest that we find a bar. RG-1 was busy macking it to a scarecrow and a few other people in our gang seemed to have been frozen to their spots. The rest of us were ready to move on to greener pastures but, of course, we couldn’t just bow out gracefully and walk away. We left with a bang! Cursing, calling the other people morons, berating them about every ill decision that they had ever made in their miserable existences and stormed off. (Ok, it wasn’t THAT dramatic, but the aftermath was equally embarrassing). And then there were 6.

We stomped off in search of a bus and finally found one that said it was heading back into town. As we drove past our friends in line we quickly realized that we had actually been only moments away from entering the party. However, our pride just wouldn’t let us go slinking back. (Smite #4)

Eventually the bus pulled up to the curb and the driver yelled out that it was the last stop and told us all to get off… We had absolutely no idea where we were. And even better, there was not an open bar in sight. (Smite #5)

At this point, the night had grown colder and we had all grown more bone weary. We found a café and ordered some hamburgers (something my stomach still has not forgiven me for) and C. Beezy went off in search of possible hotels. That turned out to just be a late night stroll because it turned up no results. (Smite #6) Not for most of us anyway. One hotel was way over priced and quickly vetoed by the group at large. However, one of the group…let’s call him “The Deserter”…decided that he would prefer to cough up the cash and snuggle up on his own in the available room. To be “fair” he said one of us could split the tab with him. We decided to stay together and off he went into the night with nothing but a t-shirt and a night of restful sleep ahead of him. And then there were 5.

We roamed aimlessly for a while longer hoping against hope that a hotel room would become available to us. It never did. Also, the irony of the evening was not lost on me. Fae just HAD to insult the Virgin Mother and now we were doomed to wander the streets unable to find any room at an inn. Thanks, Fae! (Smite #7)

Finally we decided to just head back to the bus station where there would at least be shelter and the possibility of sleep. Please note that by this time it was nearly 3:30am.

On our way to the bus station, I noticed a group of revelers headed in our direction. They were pretty drunk and rowdy and had already made some disparaging remarks to a few of the people in our group ahead of me. As they past me, the guy at the end began to stare at me strangely. I gave him my best Miami girl “What the hell are you looking at?” face and kept walking. He decided he wasn’t through with me yet and suddenly grabbed my arm with enough force that my free hand began to become a fist. He then yanked me toward him, saying something in Drunk, and palmed my butt with all the force he could muster before sprinting away. I, being of sound mind and Dade County spirit, immediately swung for his face. He managed to dodge my hit and went running off leaving me screaming like an insane banshee in the middle of the street. I was with a less…reactive…group than I am accustomed to so they were all for brushing off the moment and continuing on to the bus station. I continued to seethe and stomp around like a petulant 5 year-old for the next hour of our walk. (Smite #8-10)

We finally got to the bus station and apparently stumbled into homeless heaven. I know how insensitive that sounds, but truly there were people sleeping everywhere, travelers and vagabonds alike. We quickly found an available corner, spread our sheets, and tried to get down to the business of trying to catch some zzz’s on freezing cold tiles.

After some readjusting and group spooning, we were finally on our way to sleep (Geordie was getting suspiciously close to a homeless man). We actually managed to squeeze in about 30 minutes of sleep though.

Then came the Doppelgangers. A group of Brits with the same names as a few of our British group members and their very own Scottish girl that sounded rather like Fae entered the bus station and shushed each other because of all of the people around them trying to sleep. I guess they didn’t take their own request seriously because they promptly began to yell at the top of their lungs. Somewhere in the night, I completely lost my mind and began yelling “Literally! Shut the hell up!” from my floor bed. (Smite #11)

They eventually tired themselves out and went to sleep and thus we were allowed to pass out as well. As soon as we settled into slumber, the lights came on and two Spanish police came in yelling that everyone had to wake up. New rules: If you were homeless you had to leave. If you had a ticket you could stay but you had to sit up. They had a respectable business to run. (Smite #12)

At this point, we were all at that lovely place where laughter is nothing more than a mask for tears. We were so tired that were near to hallucinating and everything felt surreal.

And because Fae just doesn’t know when to quit, she chose that moment to look up to the sky and say “Really God, what more can you do to us.”

His answer: Just watch.

Enter: The Spanish girl that needed her phone charged. We were sitting directly over the power outlets. We told her sure, go for it. She plugged in and sat unusually close to us. She tried calling someone a few times and when this failed apparently, broke out into loud sobbing. At this point the night had just gotten too ridiculous and I couldn’t hold myself together anymore. I burst out laughing right in the girl’s face. I couldn’t control myself. To be more polite, I swiftly ran to the closest bathroom to get the laughing/tears out of my system. (Smite #13)

She soon fell asleep right next to us (with her eyes creepily cracked open the whole time) and we started to settle back into our sleep as well. An hour or so later, without warning, the sobbing disaster woke and ran off leaving her charger behind. She did collect some souvenirs before departing: C. Beezy’s face wipes and Granny Rose’s water. The whole encounter was more than a little odd. (Smite #14)

She was very serious about her phone

Finally the light of day arrived and with it came back all of the lost members of our tribe. First the partygoers trickled into the bus station touting stories of a fantastic night (of course). Then S and Sweet P showed up. Turns out they also spent the evening in the bus station but they managed to find a warm, quiet area to sleep in and had a completely restful night. Last came “The Deserter”. He shared with the partygoers the tale of his fabulous sleep. Fae and I gave him the look of death, to which he responded with “I was really worried about you guys”. We… lost… our… minds! I’m pretty sure that at some point our heads began to spin and we started spewing green pea soup like a scene out of the Exorcist.

After several more hours in the bus station our bus home finally arrived. Fae was smited yet again. This time by some guy that was very serious about sitting in his exact seat number leaving Fae pinned into a corner window for the entire duration of the ride home. (Smite #15)

We arrived later that afternoon in Logroño to a lovely walk home through the rain. (Smite #16)

This was definitely one of those trips that were only fun in hindsight. And while Zaragoza may never see my face again, it was definitely a memorable trip that has laid some awesomely hilarious foundations of friendship here in Spain.

Have you ever had insane trip that you will never forget and never repeat? Ever made any spontaneous roadtrips with serious backlash? Ever slept in a bus station? Do share!

¡Hasta Pronto!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

First Impressions: PART TWO—Culture Shock

So, immediately after A (henceforth referred to as RG1—don’t ask…that was his creation) snagged us from the bus station, we dragged my massive load of luggage to our apartment (thankfully only 5 blocks away…less thankfully in the rain).

We dumped our stuff, toured our place (which is awesome!!!), sat for a few minutes and then prepared to head off!

A glimpse of our lovely living room
A very inaccurate look at my room...things have been moved around and completely redecorated...

We have already begun putting this room to good use.

Culture Shock 1: Hundreds of angry Africans. There is a rather large population of African immigrants here and many, not all, have taken to street vending here in Logroño. Some of the things that they sell are actually rather nice. However, their marketing pitch leaves a lot to be desired. Cut to: African woman essentially wrist raping me with a bracelet that she was insistent that I buy. I begged her repeatedly not to put it on me (My body, my choice!) but she was not having it... She then told me the price expecting me to just hand it over. I, of course, still said no, to which she painfully ripped it off of my arm and proceeded to call me everything BUT a child of God under her breath. Ummm…l’chaim to you too, ma’am!!!

We decided to go try some pintxos (Northern Spain’s version of tapas) and lots and lots of wine. Pretty chill evening because we definitely needed to unwind after that whirlwind trip.

Oh yummy I love thee!!!

The next few days and nights became a whirlwind of parties and festival processions thanks to San Mateo. Man, these people go hard!!! I mean really, there was nothing in my sad little American experience (see: lots of tailgating and frat house keggers) that could have adequately prepped me for how intensely these Spaniards can party. To give you a small idea, let me explain that clubs in this city do not OPEN until 2am. The temptation to just sleep in the street was immensely strong.

Free midnight concert so that people can pre-game before the clubs open

Its 3am...let's just dance it out!

Culture Shock 2: Pee-Pee Cobblestone. Sleeping on the streets here would probably be the easiest way to instantly contract herpaganasypholitis. I’m pretty sure at this point that these beautiful cobblestone roads are paved with dried pee. Really, after a long night of partying it is perfectly normal for people to just whip it out and get to releasing. And while the mental picture that first leapt into your head was more than likely that of a drunken frat boy, and this was the overwhelming majority, you should now stretch your imagination to include ladies in hot heels and skimpy dresses popping a squat in a side alley. Should we at least find a car or trashcan to duck behind? Nah! Just do it where you feel it, I suppose! (This part of immersion I think I’ll pass on)

On Saturday night, we, the oldies but goodies of the group, decided to pretend that we were 22 again and attempt to party until dawn. There was face slapping (not my face), drunken stumbling, pregnant women smoking (no worries, she was the recipient of many sneers and nasty commentary, shaming her into putting out the cigarette) and me trying unsuccessfully to tell a Moroccan man that only spoke French, I believe, in Spanish that I thought he had beautiful teeth. Good times!

With RG-1 and Estrella (our resident Italian)

There was a massive tent set up in one of the town squares where all the youngins had flocked to get down with their bad selves (showing my emotional age for this venture). This is where I learned the joy and curse of black Vodka.  Now before, the vodka I was merely pi-di-pi (I’m sure I spelled that horribly wrong but that is what the Spaniards here call tipsy) but I soon hit barracha status with force. My memories of this evening now flicker in my mind like some old TV with foil-covered antennae. There was just so much to see and take in and the major amount of weed smoke being blown into my face all night surely has helped to cloud this evening further.

No level of barracha could make this a good idea...
(Written on the inside of the tent)

Culture Shock #3: Mullets!!! Mullets EVERYWHERE!!! I mean, its like no one turned on the televisions back in 1999 to let Spain know that the new millennia had arrived. And it would be bad enough that mullets were accepted, sometimes even admired, here in Spain. However, these people have the downright audacity to have styled mullets. There are curly mullets…spiky mullets…and yes… even DREADLOCK MULLETS!!!! WTF?! What is that supposed to be? Business in the front, Rasta in the back?! Are you kidding me?

There was some nice down time as I settled into the wonderful world of siestas, sat in cafes, went grocery shopping (where are all the microwave dinners and sauces??), watched loads of Jersey Shore (gross but addictive) with RG-1 and M, and set up my room to make it feel all homey and nice. I even managed to successfully navigate laundry in Spain.

Me and M...(or Granny Rose as I like to call her)

Culture Shock #4: Panties on the Line. Now, I knew coming here that I would have to use a clothing line to dry my clothing. I was all mentally prepped for the crunchy jeans and over-stretched sweaters. I somehow, though, managed to never think about hanging my delicates outside the window like flags waving in the wind for all of España to see. I have nearly toppled over the balcony at least three times already trying to hang the heaviest towels I can find on the farthest line so that I can make a shield for my unmentionables. Listen, I have not even met and given dos besos to most of my neighbors yet. So I think it is a bit early for them to be able to describe my underwear in vivid detail.

I went on one really interesting meeting for clases particulares (private tutoring) where I was all by my lonesome with Spaniards for the first time and had to painfully bash my way through a conversation using no English. Luckily, they seemed to understand me pretty well and I think I will have a nice little side income coming in (to be used solely on awesome travel). One woman was attempting to talk me down from my price. Sadly, I was actually on the verge of giving in. Unfortunately for her, her demon lovely daughter chose that exact moment to hurl a bowl at my head. I instantly hit her with the straight face and jacked up my price by 5€ an hour.

So, basically it has been a really incredible, wild, confusing, mis-stepping, wine infused, rollicking good time so far. I’m learning something new everyday and (I would like to believe) I am meeting each new challenge with a smile and salud!

Any challenge becomes fun when you rock your Oompa Loompa tights!!!

Have you every encountered any sort of culture shock? Made any silly mistakes or attempted any ridiculous conversations? Know the correct spelling of pi-di-pi? Please share!!!

Hasta Pronto!!!