The prodigal "sun" returns

Trip Start Jun 21, 2008
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Trip End Aug 03, 2008


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Flag of Spain and Canary Islands  ,
Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Up early - hot and stuffy in the room, I had difficulty sleeping.  The nice thing about the late hours that Spaniards keep is that it means a late checkout - 12 PM.  Off to the largest indoor market in Spain - a disappointment as less than 1/4 of the place was full.  I noticed a lot of homeless people live along the river, on the way to the market.

Old town was a little dead, but it was still early (9 or 10 AM).  Grabbed some breakfast and walked while I ate ... my ankles are killing me for some reason.   

I grabbed my first cafe con leche of the trip - much better than the crappy coffee I had in the Canary Islands this past Christmas!  Grabbed a newspaper to read as I sat, and wondered "WTF?"  I couldn't understand any of it, then realized it was written in the Basque language.  I was having coffee in a Basque independence bar, after all, and its walls were plastered with patriotic-type items. 

I noticed that the garbage guy actually comes into the cafes/restaurants to collect the trash from the kitchen.  I wondered if this was part of the service, or just an excuse to come in and check out the senoritas.  Could you blame him?

Purchased a tortilla to go - in Basque country, they definitely aren't as simple as the crappy ones in the rest of Spain.  Mushrooms, cheese, minced serrano ham, potatoes ... a little salty, but good.  The accompanying bread was pretty bad; I had to wait until I got back to the hotel to eat it because it's not a food you can eat while walking. 

I made a few phone calls to reserve some hotels for later in the trip - I was surprised when I checked out that they cost 5.50 Euros!  What the heck?  I complained that it was very expensive, and the receptionist just shrugged his shoulders.  Sorry buddy, but that doesn't do anything for me unless you're a cute senorita!

It was very humid today, but still quite beautiful - I walked along Gran Via and the new town, and also the old town.  More senoritas were out today, resulting in sunshine - more evidence to support the theory I proposed yesterday!  The sun and the senoritas have returned ... all is well in Spain, once more ... 

I collected my backpack from the hotel and headed down to the riverfront to catch a tram to the bus station.  Came across a couple of North American students with that shell-shocked "We're in Spain, don't speak Spanish, and nobody speaks English!" look that I had so frequently on my first Spain trip.  I pointed them in the direction of the TI, gave them my map, and wrote down the address of my hotel (they were looking for a hostel, but there doesn't seem to be one in Bilbao).

I had the option of taking the scenic train to San Sebastian, but it takes much longer - I figured the scenery wouldn't be that great because of the fickle weather so far, and that by arriving earlier in San Sebastian, I'd see better "scenery" walking in the streets :)

On the tram - some kids were talking to a lady, asking if she was a dancer.  "Yes!" she replied, as she slapped and grabbed her own butt as proof.  I'm glad I witnessed that!  I was ecstatic to return to San Sebastian - it's one of my favourite places in all of Spain.  I couldn't wipe the huge grin off my face as I sat on the bus, listening to Spanish music.  My guidebook says that San Sebastian has a bit of a Rio de Janeiro feel to it - if that's the case, I need to go to Brazil soon!  In case you've missed any of the other 1,000,000 times I have said it - I LOVE SPAIN!!!  And in case you've missed any of the other 1,000,000,000 times I have said it - I LOVE SPANISH WOMEN!!!

I first visited San Sebastian because as a child growing up in a house full of women, I was forced to watch countless soap operas.  I remember one storyline involving a woman being kidnapped and held in San Sebastian.  I didn't know at the time if they were referring to the one in Spain, but when I first saw San Sebastian in a guidebook 3 years ago, I knew that I had to go.  I really should've been born a Spaniard - my grandfather used to live in the Philippines and wanted to name me Mariano, a very Spanish-sounding name.  I was destined to have this Spanish obsession! 

San Sebastian first became famous because Queen Isabel used to come here to cure her skin problems.  If it's good enough for someone named Isabel, it's definitely good enough for me!  San Sebastian cured Queen Isabel's skin problems but for me, it's a place that in the past has cured my soul.

Despite a feeling of bliss, I was pretty tired on the bus - I only got 6-7 hours of sleep last night, which is still better than the normal 4-5 I get, and infinitely better than the 1.5 hours I had the day before.  I arrived in San Sebastian and took the long walk to the hostel - it's a place named after the owner, David Quinn, an Irishman who has run the place for the past 2 years, and ran another hostel in the old town for 9 years before that. 

The place is great - cozy, clean, and nice.  Met the first bunkmate, Rob, a software engineer from Australia taking an extended holiday and traveling around for 10 weeks.  He's a Spaniard at heart, because he obviously likes taking siestas!  

I took a siesta as well, and met another bunkmate Pervez - being Indian, we had lots in common because of similar upbringings.  He was a little shocked to meet a fellow Canadian (he's from Vancouver), and is taking 4.5 months off to travel after having just attaining his chartered accounting designation.  Good for him, he's only 25! 

The other bunkmate was Vanessa, a lady from Portland who quit her job to travel for 2 years.  She's just getting started and has a LONG way left to go!  Strangely, also a HUGE hockey fan.  I noticed that our room smelled of BO - I wondered if it was mine???

Us boys headed out to San Sebastian's famous tapas bars.  Of course, the subject of my many travels to Spain came up.  Early on in the evening, Rob commented to me "You're definitely right about the women here!"  And all throughout the evening, Pervez kept telling me "You should just move to Spain!"  Such a wise guy, for someone so young ...

The tapas were incredibly delicious.  The Basque country, without a doubt, offers some of the best food in all of Spain.  Food and drink is cheap here - we hit four or five bars over four hours, and stuffed ourselves.  We took turns buying rounds of food and drink, and probably ended up spending about $50-55 CAD each.  Not bad for a night out on the town, considering that it included dinner and 4-5 drinks each. 

We left the tapas bars of the old town and headed over to the new town.  On our way, some drunk, possibly homeless guy started talking to us.  Trying to be nice, I stopped and chatted.  When it became obvious how completely hammered he was, I said bye and walked away.  He grabbed onto my arm with this death grip - it's funny how you can so quickly change languages in those situations.  I almost lost it on him - "Don't touch me!", I repeatedly yelled in Spanish.  After, Pervez commented that he was surprised I didn't slug him.  So was I ...

Over in the new town, there were kids and bonfires all over the place.  We guessed that it was the of school, because there were piles of burning books everywhere.  Rob and I laughed that kids do such dumb things, and laughed even harder when we admitted that we did the same stupid things growing up. 

Back to the hostel - I had trouble sleeping and listened to my iPod for awhile.  Then I got up to use the bathroom and noticed David in the kitchen.  He mentioned earlier that he was tired of running a hostel in San Sebastian.  I took the opportunity to ask him about it - maybe I could buy it from him?  

He recommended against it - there's not much money to be made here.  David has to make enough money in the summer to get through the winter.  I guess the apartment is worth $1.5 million CAD, and he pays rent of 2,000 Euros a month.  The place is only about 1100-1200 square feet.

He's sick of the lifestyle here because people are too content just to get by.  David actually has a friend that won two separate lotteries, totalling about a million Euros, and squandered it all away at the casinos and other things.  She could've bought her flat and made some investments, but was happy to piss it all away and just get by.  He feels lazy here, and that you totally get sucked into the status quo.  Food and drink is cheap, the women are beautiful ... who wouldn't want to just sit and drink serves and sangria all day long, watching the world go by? 

I'll have to think more about this.  Maybe I could run the hostel for the summer and do engineering the rest of the year?  Some food for thought ... maybe I could make it all work!  But I'd have to trade all that travel for living in Spain for 4-5 months a year ... finally fell asleep around 3:30 AM.
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