Sometimes there are moments in life where you stop and think; am I completely and utterly stupid? Do I have any brain cells whatsoever kicking around in my head?
This is exactly what happened to me last summer. I had just started a month’s travelling in Spain after working in a summer camp out there, and was due to be travelling from San Sebastián, on Spain’s north coast, to Barcelona, where I was meeting my friend from home. I was travelling by coach, and had decided that instead of paying for a night in a hostel, I would embark upon an 11-hour overnight coach journey so as to save time and money. It seemed like the perfect plan.
Only the coach journey was not as straightforward as the simple, direct one that I’d envisaged. As I examined my ticket I realised that in the middle of the night I was due to change at a city called Zaragoza, in central Spain. It was not ideal, but I accepted the fact that at 2am I would be stumbling around this bus station in a zombie-like state, in search of the Barcelona bus.
These details, by the way, are an attempt to defend the absolute stupidity that came next. Because, seeing as the ticket said my next bus was at 2am, would one not then assume that we would be arriving in Zaragoza shortly before this – maybe an hour, half an hour?
But no – we did in fact arrive at Zaragoza at about 11 o’clock, and everyone dismounted the coach and started scurrying towards the departures board to look at the buses to Barcelona. A bit baffled by this, I asked the coach driver where I had to catch the Barcelona coach, and as he pointed vaguely down to the other end of the platform, I blindly wandered in that direction. Realising that there were buses arriving throughout the night to go to Barcelona, I wondered whether I was supposed to catch an earlier one – but hang on, did I want to arrive in the early hours of the morning, and waste time doing goodness knows what at the bus station until my friend arrived? However, likewise, did I want to hang around this bus station for a few hours in the middle of the night?
So I returned to the departures board with the rest of my Barcelona-bound companions and studied the list, confused as to what would be the best thing to do here. Anyone who knows me will be aware that I am painstakingly indecisive; any decision, big or small, is weighed up and discussed in depth. But not here. Nope, I didn’t know a single person here, and it is only after pondering this for a while that a horrific thought enters my mind:
Where is my bag? My rucksack? My travelling rucksack, one of the typical, oversized ‘I’m-on-my-gap-yah’ rucksacks?
Well the answer to that is very simple – it’s on the coach where I left it of course. Cue sprinting back to the platform, praying that the coach is still standing there, the driver greeting me with a smile and handing me the rucksack that contains everything I need for the next month.
But no. No coach in sight, whatsoever. Nada. I suffer a mini heart attack as images flash through my head that the coach must have carried on its journey, probably to somewhere like Madrid, complete with my rucksack in tow, lost forever. After a brief, unsuccessful search along the platform to see whether it had by any chance been left for the silly English girl to collect, the next cue is a frantic sprint inside the disconcertingly large bus station in search of any kind of information or help desk. In my frenzied state, it didn’t occur to me that to the Spaniards I must have looked positively insane. Unfortunately at this time of night Zaragoza bus station was pretty much a ghost town, and the only sign of life I could see was a café, to which I sprang in screaming ‘Help! Help! Information!’ in Spanish. The poor woman inside didn’t know what to do with me, and her response was ‘…Police?’. ‘Noooo’, I replied, and again resumed my sprint.
What happened next turned out to be the best thing that could have ever happened to me. As I ran around like a headless chicken, I recognised the boy that I had been sat next to on the journey. ‘My rucksack is on the bus!’ I explain breathlessly in Spanish, which is met with a confused face. Nevertheless, we go back to the platform, once again confirm that the bus is nowhere in sight, then he leads me to the information desk (it transpired that this was his local bus station so he knew these things). On our way we bump into some men, who I learn are his uncle and his cousin and have come to collect him from the station. One can only imagine how surprised they were to find him partaking in this frenzied mission with a complete stranger. However we explained the situation to them and they were immediately on board; queuing up with me and speaking on my behalf to the woman at the help desk. Much swift Spanish conversation ensued, and although I can speak and understand Spanish, I was in no fit state to attempt to discuss the problem with the woman and would have been 100% stuck had it not been for the help of these strangers.
After a long discussion, they explain to me that although the bus isn’t there, my bag should have been removed from it and put in the lost luggage office – which opens at …8 in the morning. Although this is good news, it also throws up a number of problems; firstly I am booked on to a bus that leaves at 2am. Secondly, I am due to be meeting my friend in Barcelona in the morning. And thirdly, 8 in the morning meant an awfully long wait in the bus station.
However, my new friends think it is unsafe for me to stay there overnight, and offer to drive me back to their house so that I can get some sleep, and then return me to the bus station on their way to work the next morning. Obviously this is incredibly kind of them, but it did enter my head that I had met these people for the best part of an hour, and it would be slightly irresponsible to impulsively accept their offer.
As you can imagine, my indecisiveness did not help the situation. But I decided to say yes, grateful for the prospect of a bed for the night and overwhelmed by their kindness. They had already changed my bus ticket so that I was now booked on to one for the next morning, and after half an hour’s drive we arrived at a tiny Spanish town. It still crossed my mind that I had no idea who these people were, what they were like, or where I was going, and that I could potentially end up on the news as an ignorant traveller who came to a sticky end. But sometimes you have to go with your instinct and have faith in humanity, and I quickly realised I couldn’t have stumbled upon a nicer family.
They had obviously rang home to tell the mother of my arrival, and I was greeted by an enormous smile and ushered into their cosy living room. She then insisted on cooking me some food, and as we all sat round the dinner table I attempted to explain to her in Spanish how on earth I would be stupid enough to forget to collect my bag from a coach. The whole situation was positively surreal, and once I had eaten I phoned my parents, who were holidaying in Portugal that week, and explained to them what was going on. It definitely stands as the most bizarre phone call they have ever received from me.
So I was given a bed for the night in their lovely guest room, told to help myself to anything that I needed in the bathroom, given a towel and a travel toothbrush, offered breakfast the next morning… I really had been so lucky to meet such a generous and welcoming family.
After leaving a thank-you note in the bedroom, the father and I set off for Zaragoza and attempted to resolve the rucksack dilemma. It dishearteningly turned out that my bag was not in fact in the lost luggage office, and thankfully he stayed with me as we were sent on a wild goose chase around the bus station, in search of different people and departments who supposedly could help us. Once again, if I was on my own I would have had no chance of handling the situation, and was so incredibly grateful that this man was taking time out of his day to help me.
Eventually we discovered that the coach that I was on hadn’t actually continued its journey after stopping at Zaragoza, and should still be in the bus station somewhere. Fortunately we were able to track down the bus and somebody from the company who had the keys, and as the door of the luggage compartment slowly rose, we had a moment of euphoria as my rucksack gradually came into view. I had never been happier to see it, and – bless him – nor had this Spanish father.
We rebooked my ticket for a bus that was soon leaving for Barcelona, and as we said goodbye I couldn’t thank him and his family enough. I asked if he would take some money to buy them a gift, like chocolates or flowers, but he refused, saying that I was a young girl on my own in a foreign country, and he hoped that if his children were to get themselves into trouble in England, my parents would do the same. I wanted to cry (and I think I did a little bit) at the kindness of these Spanish people that I had been so fortunate to meet.
Before I departed he had written down their names and the town they lived in for me, and once I was back in England a few weeks later I looked it up online and composed a thank-you letter in Spanish. I didn’t know the exact address, but tried to work out on Google Street View which house was theirs. I wrote on the outside of the envelope that I was trying to reach this family, and enclosed my address and email, hoping that it would somehow get there. I was thrilled to receive an email from them the week after, and they were clearly very shocked to hear from me! I just had to let them know how grateful I was for all their help and kindness. It was probably one of the most surreal experiences I have had in my life, and I will never forget my adopted Spanish family, for restoring my faith in the Good Samaritan and genuine human compassion.