If there’s one thing I learned during these past few months, it’s how to embrace awkward traveling scenarios with confidence. I know all about the layer of sweat that accumulates between your skin and the bulky jacket you must wear to make space in your bag while it’s 80 degrees; the way a large backpack can both secure the sweat in place and annoy passengers inside a metro; how people will stare as you slowly limp up a ferry, across metro lines, and around a hospital–sometimes asking, ‘what’s wrong with your foot?’–but never offer you any help; and how a scarf wrapped around your face and worn with sunglasses must be a terrifying thing for others to see as they walk down the bus aisle but lets you sleep.
There was a time when I felt embarrassed for doing these things and I’d walk really fast or avoid making eye contact with people. But as I left Barcelona, I felt no need. I left the apartment on Carrer Amargos rolling a fat green suitcase and carrying a black crossbag and a black backpack with my head up high. Before I would’ve been ashamed to fulfill the White American stereotype of wearing a fleece jacket and sneakers in Europe, but my foot hurt and I would be sleeping on a cold bus that night so I embraced the look. When I was met with the long staircase down the metro, I took my sweet time going down step by step, unabashed of how much I was struggling to maneuver the monstrosity that was my bag. I chuckled when it rolled off a couple times and smiled at the large crowds of people who made their way around me in the small and hot corridors. I even took a break and had a snack so I could cool off for a bit.
I arrived at the bus station a couple of hours early, which gave me enough time to read some Zadie Smith and eat the bocadillo I prepared, which was packed with the goat cheese I bought at the farm in France. At midnight, I got onto a full bus and nearly slept all the way until arriving in Madrid around 9am. I stayed at the bus station to catch up on writing and have breakfast, then found a bus that would take me to the airport (avoided the metro stairs and the extra airport fee!).
The line at the terminal was ridiculously long when I arrived, even though it was over 3 hours before boarding time. Nearly everyone was Spanish, wore hats and shorts, and exchanged resort information and tips on how to arrive to different islands. As the line began moving, the wide screens above every check-in desk began flashing a “Have your return ticket ready” sign. Oh no. You’d think I would’ve learned from almost not being allowed on my Barcelona flight back in July because of a lack of a return ticket, but I hadn’t at all considered that this would happen again.
I pulled out my cellphone so I could start looking up departure flights like I had also done at O’Hare airport but my phone still wasn’t working. All I could do was to pull out my Watson reference letter and to continuously wipe the sweat from my hands until I reached one of the counters. Various explanations accompanied by the flashing of all my IDs, and I was luckily let through with only minor delay.
I finished the other half of my goat cheese bocadillo and finally boarded a huge, two story plane. This flight was like no other I had ever experienced. There were men gathered in the aisles drinking beer out of tiny cans throughout the majority of the flight. Who cares about respecting seatbelt safety signs when you’re headed to Punta Cana on an 8 hour flight? Just me.
When we finally landed, around 500 of us (some more sober than others) climbed of the plane and despite the overwhelming humidity, squished ourselves inside three buses. After we were dropped off at the entrance of a large lit building, everything moved pretty swiftly. I was pretty impressed by the personnel, who managed to sell everyone Tourists visas and pass us through immigration in around 40 minutes. I exchanged some money, found my luggage thrown in a corner, and tried to find the shuttle I had arranged prior to my flight. This took longer than expected because the man in khaki pants I was promised, was no where to be seen, and the people working at the car service desk only gave me bewildered looks when I mentioned both the shuttle company and the name of my hotel.
Eventually they found my name on some list and I was walked to a large empty van. I was still a bit nervous that the driver had never heard of my hotel, but as soon as he put his key in the ignition and Romeo Santo’s voice filled the car, I relaxed and decided to sing along. I had arrived.