Coughing and gasping for air, sweat is pouring down my face and back and waves of red-hot anger run through my veins. All hope is lost. I am trapped in the middle of fucking nowhere in Western Spain.
The Day Before
2:23pm The bus pulls into the terminal just as planned and we get off and head into town.
The day started a bit rough. Frantic and hungover we sprinted to the bus stop with all of our bags and were able to make it before the driver pulled out of the parking lot and left. I have been traveling for 3 days with a solid group – my friend from back home and a couple of English teachers we met along the way. After a long weekend in Sevilla it is nice to stroll without purpose in a smaller town. I look around and admire Almendralejo. It’s a quite wine town but there is some money floating around this area. Banks and upscale cafes are sprinkled along the streets.
After a good meal and the necessary pit stops – groceries, ATM, library (to use the internet), it is time to head home and siesta.
5.17pm Sprawled out on a couch, hands behind my head form the pillow as my mind wanders to earlier in the day. While leaving the station the conversation had come up about buying bus tickets for my return back to the capitol and it went something like this:
Friend: “Hey man you should probably buy your ticket for tomorrow. I think there is only one bus heading to Madrid”.
Me: “Naw I can just buy one at the station before it leaves. I doubt a lot of people will head back to Madrid on a holiday”.
Usually getting back to Madrid at an exact time would not have mattered. This time it really did. Visiting friends in Germany was my next plan and I had already bought a ticket from Madrid to Berlin. And it left at 8:30am, which meant I should probably be at the airport by 7am at the latest.
The sun had retired for the evening.
9:14pm After long naps followed by cold showers everyone seems to be up and ready. We head out American style – hungry and typically early for European standards. The night is filled with easy laughs and when no longer thirsty we head back.
I use my flight the next day as an excuse to turn in early. Not even quite sure of the time I know it is after 3am because some of the bars and restaurants are closed. I sleep well and after the morning routine, I pack and say goodbye to friends old and new.
2:59pm Walking at a leisurely pace, wearing my heavy backpack, and snapping a few quick pictures of the town everything is great. Only complaint is my voice is half-missing and my throat feels scratchy. Probably coming down with a slight cold but this shouldn’t matter I think. I only need to buy my ticket and then recline back, turn on the ipod, and enjoy a 6 hour bus ride through the countryside as I return to Madrid.
I walk into the bus station and approach the ticket counter. All smiles as I ask her the following in Spanish, (Just so you know Spanish can sound proper when translated back to English, almost Britishy).
“Good day, May I please have a return ticket to Madrid for today?”
The ticket lady punches the keys at an old computer, wears a blank canvas for a face, and states, “So sorry sir, but it seems there are no longer any tickets available. Today is a holiday and everyone is returning to Madrid”.
Panic and confusion flash through my head, I cough several times, regain my composure and calmly ask, “In this case, would you happen to have any other departure times for this afternoon?”Again she punches the keys, shows no sign of emotion, and informs me there will be no more buses heading to Madrid until tomorrow at 1pm.
3:25pm Running through my head are images and tastes of Germany I will never know. Large flame grilled parts of animals, the stench of hot mustard and sauerkraut sitting in its own bath water, the feel of a massive glass filled to the top with frothy beer. Not to mention the empty faces of those waiting for me at the Berlin airport. I had nothing to do but sit down and think. It was just after 3:30pm and the bus would be pulling in at 4 o’clock. I sat there and felt sorry for myself. Then I thought back to something that seemed to keep happening while we were in Sevilla. For no real reason we had been nice to everyone, almost saint like. It seemed at every turn we were going out of our way to help somebody. Finding a hotel room for a stranger, marching in the rain all night just to help with a hookup assist, and translating for confused Americans. That’s when it hit me. My friend had said, “Dude were building up some serious karma points” after another good deed. He was right and now it was time to cash in. It had to work because luck was not even enough at this point, I needed karma on my side.
4:01pm My only remaining hope – the only way of getting to Madrid – was going to be to ask each bus driver if there were any open seats and then buy the ticket from him. There were going to be 4 buses that pulled into the parking lot, filled with ticket holders, and then they’d be off. While others boarded I would need to ask the driver. Only problem was I didn’t quite know how to ask that question in Spanish. Oh yeah, and at this point my voice sounded like a warning from those cigarette commercials.
Bus #1 pulled in and I was up like a bolt of lightning, first person in line. Thinking karma, karma, karma, I asked the driver in stuttered Spanish:
“Sir, I need to buy a ticket to Madrid…I want to buy a ticket….ticket. Please?”
He continued to shake his head and reach behind me, snatching the tickets from the others in line. My voice was failing me and I didn’t quite know how to ask my question. Yea I wanted to ask, “Is there an open seat? I would like to buy that ticket”. But my Spanish was sounding muddled, rambled, and in a Marlon Brando like whisper, no one was going to hear me. The bus left and no one even looked back.
Bus #2 approached the parking lot. I decided to go a different route. I waited calmly as everyone else boarded. As the line thinned I made my way to the front and asked the driver if there was any room on the bus for me. He said no. I asked if I could stand in the back of the bus. He thought for a moment, then said no.
4:07pm All hope is lost. I am trapped in the middle of fucking nowhere in Western Spain
Bus #3 rolled into the parking lot and I was already shaking mad. Sweaty, dust covered, and near panic mode. I chomped down a couple of Spanish faux Halls and got to the front of the line. I heard grumblings and voices of dissent but I didn’t care. I asked the driver as soon as the bus doors creaked open,
“Hey I need to go to Madrid. I need a seat on this bus!”
He paused for a moment and looked at me, forgetting for a moment he was the only one in charge. Then he remembered. Kid, move to the back of the line he told me.
When the bus was full he looked back at me and said in Spanish, “There is still another bus coming, ask if he has an open seat for you”.
I replied back, “Ok but how do I ask?”
As the doors were closing he yelled, “Hay plaza libre”.
I would have never thought of that. Then I saw it.
Bus #4 came barreling into the dusty parking lot. Come on karma. I pushed my way across the platform to where this bus was going to stop. Before the driver even took a breathe and opened his doors. I knocked on the driver side window. Confused he cracked it open and asked, “Yes, can I help you?” This was my moment.
“Good day, I would like to buy a ticket for this bus” I told him. Actually it was a mouse whisper. He could not hear anything I was saying over the loud bus engine. He started to get up and head down the stairs so I just yelled as loud as possible,
“HAY PLAZA LIBRE?”
He turned and waived me towards the line. That actually worked? I was confused but starting to get very excited. I started pointing at the bus and telling him over and over, I want that seat. He kept putting his hand up and saying without words, crazy American you need to calm down. But he didn’t know what this meant. I was getting back to Madrid tonight and I would be able to fly in the morning. Berlin here we come baby.
Finally the line of ticket holders was empty and he waived me up the stairs. Shaking I held out a 20 euro bill as he adjusted his little computer. A ticket printed, I paid and walked down the aisle happier than anyone has ever been to be see an empty bus seat. The woman sitting next to me read my face and said, “Wow you got lucky”.
I couldn’t talk at all any more. My voice completely gone, I just smiled and shook my head.
Thank you karma.