October 9, 2015
To take advantage of the long weekend in Madrid, my friend Stacie and I booked a trip to Seville and Cordoba. Our bus left Friday evening and after saying good-bye to Jamie who was going back to Ireland (so sad!) I made my way down the big hill to the train station. Of course the train took forever to arrive. At last it did arrive and at the next stop, the announcer said something in Spanish. Most people got off but two other Spanish women stayed on so I stayed on too since it wasn’t my stop yet. All of a sudden, the lights turned off and the train started going backwards. I nervously glanced at my watch wondering if I was going to be stuck on this train forever. In addition, my phone inconveniently ran out of data and I had no way of contacting Stacie. I made my way towards the Spanish women and somehow got the message across that I needed to get to Atocha Station. They beckoned for me to follow them and we walked through the empty carts in the dark until we were in the very first one. I was ready to pull the alarm button at this point so security could get us out of there, but instead they pried open the door and indicated that we were going to walk on the track’s ledge until we could jump on to the platform. (What!?)
Thankfully we safely made it to the platform and then had to impatiently wait for the next train. I desperately needed to call Stacie but my phone was unusable so I asked the person next to me if I could borrow hers. She didn’t understand English or my exaggerated gestures. Feeling defeated, I sat there glancing nervously at my watch and looking very forlorn. That was when a guy asked me if I needed help (thank goodness he spoke some English) and I asked if I could borrow his phone. He looked at me sadly and showed me his phone. 1% battery life. Still, he began punching in her number…and then it died. (In your moment of need, I think you can safely assume that everything that can go wrong, will go wrong). Now there were about seven minutes until my bus left. He explained that as soon as we got to Atocha, I had to run up the stairs and then turn left. We arrived at Atocha. “Good luck,” I heard him call after me as I bolted out the door.
At the top of the stairs, I turned left and didn’t know which direction to go from there. I ran up to two policemen. “Sevilla” I told them breathlessly and they pointed to another set of stairs. (Why are there so many stairs?) At the top, I looked desperately around but there was no sign of Stacie. We weren’t able to get tickets on the same bus so hers left 30 minutes after mine and she had my ticket because her host dad printed them out for us. So without my ticket, I approached the security lady and tried to show her my ticket on my phone but she shook her head which was very aggravating to say the least. Then Stacie appeared behind me and we shoved the ticket under the security lady’s nose and ran as fast as we could to the platform but….the bus was gone.
If you’ve ever missed a bus before, I think you would probably agree that it’s one of the most hopeless feelings, especially when you don’t speak the language and it’s so hard to get help from people. Our first solution was to book the next bus which left late that same night but it was just our luck that they were all full because everyone was taking advantage of the long weekend by apparently going to Seville. Another man missed the bus as well and he told us we could potentially catch a bus at a different station. We followed him onto a squished metro. Stacie and I pulled our bags closer to us because the only thing that would make the night an even bigger disaster would be to get our wallets stolen. I took a leaf out of Professor Lupin’s book and offered everybody chocolate. I admit, it did make me feel slightly better.
The man behind the ticket book informed us there were no available buses going to Seville. We were in the middle of frantically checking if there were any blah-blah cars going that direction that night when suddenly we had the inspiration to reverse the order of our trip and go to Cordoba first and then Seville. There was another guy behind us who was also in desperate need of a ticket and he decided to do this as well. This was a genius plan – and we were so lucky that there was an available bus leaving in a few hours!
Over the next few hours of waiting time, we cancelled our couch-surfing request, made all the necessary alternate arrangements, and walked around to try to find a phone charger for Stacie’s phone because we would be completely lost without a working phone. By midnight we were safely on the bus; by 6am we were in the Cordoba train station. It was too early and we were too tired to do anything so we found a private spot to sleep…and by private, I mean that we climbed some stairs and stepped over a gate so that we weren’t in the general area where everyone else was sleeping. (A few hours later, the security guard found us and told us to leave).
Missing that bus could have ruined the rest of our trip. We could have ended up going home in defeat. But thinking fast and logically, we found a solution and ended up having a wonderful time. In fact, we were able to completely reorganize the details of our trip in half the amount of time it took us to plan it originally, and with unpredictable wifi to boot. (It’s amazing what you can accomplish under pressure) I think this is a good real-life example of “Describe a time you found yourself in a stressful situation and what you did to handle it.”
I hate missing buses, not only because of the inconvenience but also because of the wasted money on tickets. After it happened to me in Copenhagen, I swore that I would never let it happen to me again. But this is travelling, and sometimes things like this happen. As much as I plan and prepare, I probably will miss another bus in my life (God forbid, a plane) or maybe I’ll get my wallet stolen or maybe something equally as upsetting will happen.
This is travelling. It’s not a vacation – it’s travel. Vacation is comfy beds and 5-star hotels; travel is uncomfortable buses and floors of train stations. Vacation is nice meals every day; travel is budgeting, budgeting, budgeting. Vacation is relaxing – travel is frantically looking up the best deals and formulating an itinerary that makes sense. Travel is missed buses, and sometimes cold showers, and having nothing but peanuts for dinner at times. It’s being lost in the middle of the night where nobody speaks English and having to find your way back home, and it’s constantly finding yourself out of your comfort zone.
But travel is also random moments of human connection that restore your fate in humanity and discoveries that fuel your curiosity about the world. It’s also sunsets that you can’t capture the beauty of on your phone and sights that make you feel things you’ve never felt before. Travel is conversations that inspire you, and ordinary people doing ordinary things that somehow have the power to impact the way you think about life. It is realizing that the world is both big yet small, and discovering that you’re a lot stronger than maybe you thought.
And this is what I think makes travel worth every missed bus.