What follows is that account of what NOT to do while traveling alone.
Do as I say, not as I do.
“The air was cool and fresh, and even without sunlight, I could feel myself filling up with joy. It’s hard to say what kind of things will make you happy until you actually experience them. My whole life, I assumed that that having money, getting a real job, getting my diploma, owning a house, getting married—you know, the works—would make me happy. But without a doubt, I swear to you, I had never been so happy in my life than I was in this moment, inexplicably moved to the point of breathlessness at the beauty and wonder of Barcelona.”
I felt exactly the same way again, taken away and outside of myself, like I was coming home after a long vacation. Oh, Spain. The things you do to my soul.
So I started walking down the highway, holding my thumb out and smiling widely at passing cars, bouncing on my heels and dancing happily as people passed. Unfortunately, no one picked me up in the half hour I tried hitch hiking despite my visibly positive disposition, so I took a shortcut through the industrial section of Elche where most of the palm, olive, and pomegranate trees are grown and there are several factories (Elche’s main economic activities are olives, dates, and shoes).
This did not bode well for my journey.
Despite all the adrenaline and happiness coursing through my veins, it only lasts so long before you’re brought back down to normal levels of insanity. I’d made it two miles and everything was dark. Very dark. There were very few streetlights, and each of the industrial sections was blocked off by a high chain-link fence and guarded by a million angry, hungry, dogs. Coupling that with the fact that I only saw cars once every twenty minutes and there were plenty of places for people to hide, I decided this had been a terrible idea, but I couldn’t stop. My feet just kept going, dissatisfied with the tiny distance I’d covered so far. And then, to keep myself from getting scared, I started yelling at the dogs like I owned them.
“Oyed, oyed! Silencio! OYED!”
It didn’t really help. But after the fourth mile, there were no more dogs; just fields upon fields of olive trees and I was left alone in the stillness of the cloudless, windless night. There was a full moon, so there was plenty of light to see by, and at this point I had to continue talking myself into believing no one else was there.
“If there are homeless people, they’ll be in the city. It’s not advantageous for anyone to be out here,” I told myself. “Same goes for thieves and crazy people. Why would they be anywhere near here? They wouldn’t. I’m safer here than I am in the city.”
I passed huge villas, fields, abandoned buildings, restaurants, and a sex club.
With two miles to go, it was as if I’d left the airport a lifetime ago. I had to sit and rest my sore feet and take my backpack off lest my collarbones break in half.
Finally, after four and a half hours of walking, sweating, feeling scared (and yet incredibly happy and content to breathe in the smell of olives and desert under uninterrupted moonlight), I reached Elche.
Sunrise wasn’t set to happen for another three hours, so I stopped by a 24-hour pizza place and got a slice (for the price of that hot dog I wanted), and asked a woman who as standing there, obviously blasted from a day of drinking, where I could hang out until the morning. After a bit of difficulty getting out of French mode, my Spanish started to come back quickly.
“Is there anything open 24 hours here where I can sit down? This will sound crazy, but I just walked all the way here from the airport and I’m really tired. Maybe a hostel or something?”
“Fuck, man. You walked all that way? There’s not anything around here like that, except maybe the hotel right there will let you stay. But it’s something like 50€.”
“Okay, thanks. I’ll just try that. Can I have a slice of the pepperoni?” I asked, turning to the man behind the counter again.
Two doors down, there was a 3-star hotel with sliding glass doors and a fancy waiting room with a giant television and a big comfy couch. The doors slid open for me and no one was at the check-in desk, which I took as a sign. Walking in and taking my shoes off, I made myself quite comfortable, moving my things out of sight from the desk should someone come back.
As surely as Obama is a lizard (#lizardtruth), someone came back to the desk and found me an hour later.
“Oh! Hello?” It was a middle-aged man with a large bald spot reaching nearly to the back of his head and a crazed “I work the night shift and I need to eat meth to keep my molecular structure stable” smile.
“Hi!” Your move, I thought.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were here.”
“I didn’t know you didn’t know I was here. I just walked from the airport and was resting a bit.” I gave him some more general information about my trip but acted stubbornly like I belonged there.
“Oh! Well, you can sleep here a bit if you like. I can watch your things.”
“Yes, I’ll just put them behind the desk. But when it’s morning I’ll just have to have you leave before people begin checking out. Is that okay?”
“That would be awesome! Thanks!”
“Alrigh, and if anyone comes asking, you’re just waiting on your friends to check out, okay?”
So I gave him my stuff and got a full two hours of sleep. The sun rose, I collected my things, and set out for my apartment.
It’s rare that I see cities at dawn, and I wish I had the mental fortitude to be “madrugado,” an early waker.
Elche, with its little castle, impressive cathedral, cute shopping streets and thousands of palm trees surrounding various fountains was beautiful just before the sun rose. A few clouds were swirling on the horizon and the pink-orange dawn reinvigorated my senses, reminding me I was finally where I’d wanted to be for so long.