So, like I've told you, about a month ago I gave up on my plans to hitchhike across the Atlantic on a cargo boat. Dejectedly, I flew; my flight reached Madrid, Spain on January 31st.
Another option would've been for me and my funny little American friend, Jason Fox, to buy a cheap $300 sailboat online, then show up to buy it carrying oars and wearing orange life-jackets, saying "Which Way's Europe?" But, we didn't do that.
From Madrid, on January 31st, my plans were as follows: visit pal Gerardo before leaving the city; camp in "Las Marismas", a marshy river delta area in southern Spain home to many birds; buy a cheap boat and sail to Morocco (or, probably, take the ferry); go to wildly unfamiliar Algeria for three months; then, travel Africa for two years. -- Considering magnitude of these plans (in retrospect, now), I'd say the trip was a bit unsuccessful. That's because,
on Day 1,
I hitchhiked in the airport to get to Madrid, because I didn't have any Euro's and I didn't want to exchange money in the airport. A plainly-Spanish-looking but nice-looking young woman named Carmen took me to the city. She was shy and mellow, worked in the hospital as a doctor, and, when asked about her hobbies, said she liked climbing at "el rockodromo." But, once we arrived in the city, I still needed a metro ride to get to an exchange bureau. When I finally found a phone and called Gerardo, he was mad because he'd been waiting for a call since my plane landed.
He, my Madrid host, wasn't very talkative on Day 1 - largely because he'd just lost his job. The attic he lived in was so small that I could only fully stand up in parts. I slept on an air mattress next to Gerardo and his girlfriend's air mattress, and I felt tired and uncomfortable, not knowing what to say to Gerardo's girlfriend.
Then came Day 2.
Gerardo told me, "Mi casa es su casa." (My house is your house.) But, he lamented that this three-day visit of mine - due to his small home - would be a bit uncomfortable.
- Venezuelan Gerardo is a guy who means a lot to me. He is kind of an icon for bachelors. I'd met him four years ago, when he was twenty-eight and studying English in Trinidad & Tobago. He was a bit paunchy, like a Venezuelan Babe Ruth. But, with his daring and outrageous sense of humor, a cute chubby smile, baby eyes, a tongue-flicking-across-the-lips laugh, and his unperturbed coolness, he always had a girl or woman or two. In Trinidad, he started calling me ... "my boy!"
- His girlfriend of three years, Venezuelan Mairin, who's almost his age, had moved to Madrid with him in search of a better life. I'd met her only briefly before. -
We went out to a nightclub, called "El Perro de la Parte de Atras la Coche" (The Dog from the Part in the Back of the Car). Gerardo loves good music: progressive rock, Manchester rock, Argentinian rock, reggae, jazz, salsa. (He had once broke into tears when burglars robbed him and he found his record collection smashed in the street.) This dimly-red-lit, dungeon-roomed club played great mellow rock ane mellow electronic music, but, to my grief, it was an extraordinarily slow night, so no one danced. Cheerful Mairin and I talked a lot, then Gerardo joined in.
In an unrelated matter, in the car, Gerardo imparted these words of wisdom: "Creo que el que no se casa es mas inteligente que el que se casa." (I think that he who doesn't get married is more intelligent than he who does.)
Day 3 was a big one!
We attended a small house gathering.
I had kept some of my deepest beliefs hidden from Gerardo for too long; late in the night, the time came. I told of my belief in the principles of the "Romantic Revolution" (which are 1. Care About Others, 2. No Sex, 3. No Monogamy, 4. Every Guy Kisses Every Girl, 5. No Family).
I knew Gerardo wouldn't like this. He'd once told me, "Life is only about good eat, good drink, and good fuck." He was a guy unafraid to lecture to his friends on taboo subjects of sex and how much he liked these taboo subjects. But, he was accepting, and we had a debate.
To my surprise, Mairin understood a lot of my reasoning and even took my side on many things.
An intense argument between boyfriend and girlfriend took place, when Mairin suggested that sex is like a drug because both affect the brain in the same way by releasing endorphins. Strong Gerardo, who'd had some rum, defended his attacked sex religion by yelling and refusing to recognize this statement, that sex wasn't beautiful and natural but a drug. I watched the argument.
The impressive thing was, though Gerardo was yelling, intensely, powerfully, Mairin refused to take back her statement. I'm sure most girls would've laid down to such a strong guy. A woman who stands up to her boyfriend/spouse is more potent than one who doesn't. Mairin was impressive.
Things calmed down - with no one budging from his or her stance - and Gerardo moved across the room to take a seat on the couch next to me and offer advice to "his boy."
The first thing he said was a joke. "Lo veas, tu revolucion esta causando un divorce." (You see? Your revolution is about to cause a divorce.)
Then, he said all my principles and rules and vows (example: my current vow to drink no alcohol but dark beer) were like something "Fascista", and that I should just go with the flow. He said he didn't think I was happy traveling.
Mairin offered that she thought I was being "egoista con si" (selfish towards myself) by making the decisions I made. She added the well-known proverb: "El que nunca salio de su aldea es lo mas feliz." (He who has never left his county is the happiest.)
And, in an unrelated matter, during the course of this discussion, all the other members of the house party left the main room and gathered in the kitchen.
On Day 4,
I began hitchhiking to the marshy "Las Marismas." Two Spanish guys gave me quick rides - the second was smoking a joint - and then I got stuck at an ugly point in the road. Gerardo's opinion hounded me: I wasn't happy traveling?
I was sick of carrying my possessions everywhere. I was sick of waiting on ugly roads. I was sick of leaving everyone I met.
I went by some olive trees, sat down on my bag, and put my head in my hands. The return end of my roundtrip airline ticket (which I planned on not using) left in four days, and tempted me like the devil.
In the nearby small town, I enjoyed the nighttime entertainment of a local soccer game. A girl in the stands, and the self-deprecating young men of a humble team, were very friendly. I pitched my tent by the olive trees. Should I go home to Michigan?!
The sad morning of Day 5 ...
saw me awake in a state of dismay and personal doubt, and with a debilitating cough. I was lucky I only had a cough, and that my body hadn't broken in half at the lower back - so crippling was the strain put on me by my world's worst backpack. For the first time in nearly two years, I payed for a hotel.
I stayed there two nights. I thought about girls in Michigan who had nice personalities. I thought about family members in Michigan who had nice personalities. I thought and slept, 'til the bed hurt.
Finally came Days 7, 8, and 9 - in that order.
I spent parts or all of these days in the Madrid airport, waiting, at times with friendly fellow travelers. Armrests after every other chair made sleeping difficult. On Day 7's night, I - as did a Muslim man with his family - lay on the floor, which emitted an infecting black dust.
In the morning, I learned it would cost a lot of money to move my flight up from Day 9 to Day 8. I was about to leave my backpack with baggage check, then go into the city to have fun, but I refused to pay their exorbant fees. And, why carry my horrible bag to the Metro when I could just keep wheeling it around on the airport trolleys? Day 8's big epiphany was that the simplest answer to gaining the courage to go to North Africa would be to simply stay in the airport right up until my flight boarded, then not get on it ... Aha!
On Day 9's morning, I was in the middle of a princess's sleep on the airport floor, gaining confidence in myself and the trip to North Africa. I could really do it; no, I was GOING to do it!
But, then, the airport cleaning machine came by and woke me. It was a slow, slowly approaching, grinding, grinding machine - possible the world's worst sound, made worse by how tortuously slow it approached. Its sound grinded my spirit. I became dispirited. And angry. I rarely become angry. I wasn't sure what I was angry at.
Around that time I saw a thin, sleeping African refuge, who lay flat across three airport seats, with his thighs slid through the seven-inch opening in the armrest. He was so flat, so stuck. It was the most grotesquely inhumane sight.
On February 8th, I obeyed my ticket and flew home. In order to fulfill my "Act-of-Spontaneous-Ectstasy"-a-day vow, I sprinted down a moving walkway during my layover; I went fast!
How ironic that I, who'd wanted to spurn commercial flying altogether and take a boat to Europe, would spend three days in an airport! Ukk. My cough was back and more potent, as a result of all that black dust entering my lungs ...
Maybe Gerardo was right. He's been trying to tell me to settle down ever since he settled down.
Sometimes, I travel out of ambition rather than for fun - which probably isn't good. And often, my human needs aren't met while I travel.
But, I'm not one-hundred-percent convinced. I wonder if Gerardo doesn't miss his bachelor days a little bit.