Monday, July 31, 2006

In Spain

The buses had stopped running for the night. Pédro, my trusted friend and fellow world traveler, joyously exclaimed that the only recourse was to get drunk. Dutifully, I agreed. I even offered to buy the first drink.

“Tequila? Beer?” I said.
“Tequila! Cerveza!” Pédro echoed.

The proprietor of the first bar was an attractive lady, forty, big chested but slim, with long and beautiful legs, specifically designed to be explored by ardent travelers such as ourselves. We told her as much, only to be countered by a weak and ordinary smile. She was not a very happy or willing person. I ordered our drinks and, half-starved from our excursion to the white cliffs of Gibraltar that very morning, a plate of fritura malagueña, or fried fish. Much like Gibraltar, I felt detached, even removed from my home. In fact, I had no home. Not counting the beach, the streets, the alleyways. The hotel bar. What the hell was it that I was doing in Spain again?

We thanked our host for food and drink, then ventured to El Calvario, a quieter area north of the main road. The sun, long since tucked away behind the Cordillera Bética Mountains, had given way to the cool blanket of evening. The second bar we found was less refined, a few angry Anglo-Saxon tourists as its main occupants. More beer, more tequila, a game of darts. Courtesy of Pédro.

Moving on. Our goal was to escape the average tourist. We, as Pédro explained, weren’t average tourists—we were travelers, explorers, wanderers. My great uncle from Germany would have been proud. Wanderlust, he called it. The desire to wander, to explore. To live life for a change! Oh, yes, a bunch of bull, if you ask me. Great in theory, much like capitalism, socialism, pacifism, Mormonism, and a host of other isms too numerous to mention. But not a lot of fun when you’re near penniless, in a strange country, with odd customs, and a barely decipherable language. Where was I during Spanish class? Thank goodness for good friends, like Pédro, part-time translator, full-time inhabitant of Earth.

We came to a dead-end street, with an available bar in need of a few thirsty men. Our third stop of the night.

“Tequila? Cerveza?” Pédro said.
“Tequila! Beer!” I echoed.

I learned to drink from this man. Let it be known that these conquistadores know how to drink. I checked my pockets but my wallet wasn’t where I had left it. Not much IN it, per se, but enough to feed a man’s thirst. Here, in Torremolinos, where I had felt warm, happy and loved, I had now been stung by greed, another casualty of capitalism. The poor fellow who stole my wallet was its first victim of the night.

“Bastards!” as Pédro exclaimed. Yes. Poor bastards.

An abrupt end to the night, to be sure, as we thumbed our way back to the hotel. A kind of anti-climactic boxing match, where the young hopeful goes down for the count in the first round.

River Rats

Old Man George, a senior river rat, got up first, as always, to light the campfire and boil the water. A product of an older (wiser?) generation—age unknown—he had a big belly, scraggy beard, and warm eyes. The sort of fellow you’d like to have as grandfather. He poured himself a cup of coffee and stood there for a good six or seven minutes, alone in the morning stillness.

In his younger days, he must have been very popular and had many friends. These days, most people found him apprehensive, hesitant of friendship. Who could blame him? The world had changed in a hurry; George had refused. It was only a handful of us river rats who knew him well enough to call him pal, buddy, mate, or friends. That’s FRIENDS, always in the plural form. I was lucky to have him as mine. George was a river man, and so by trade—and choice—a loner.

The thing about George that earned one’s immediate respect was that he was a good listener. Friends who know when to shut up and listen come by far too seldom. When they do, hold onto them for dear life—and thank yourself later. Instinctively, George knew how to listen and listen well. And when he did, you knew his ear was tuned to your every word, receptive to the beat of your soul. Too poetic? Perhaps. True? Absolutely.

He yawned quietly now. Being barefoot, he strolled carefully down the snaking path—so as not to step on pointed rocks or pine cones—to the rushing river below. To brush his teeth. It was a morning ritual for him, brushing his teeth by the cool water before the rest of the world woke up.

Second to rise that morning was Cooper, a black-bearded Ohio car salesman, who yawned as he crawled out of the tent, under a gray sky, then poured himself a strong cup. (Of sludge). He stood there for a few—shivering a little, then warming up as the coffee made its way through his bloodstream—before making his way down to the river where George stood diligently, still brushing away.

“Morning,” Cooper says. “Morning,” George replies. Future Speakers of the House.

“Goddamned owl kept me up most of the night,” Cooper says, minutes later, scratching his head. No response from George. Done brushing but still busy. Busy listening to the bugs, the birds, the fishes, the wind in the trees, to the rushing water. Even to the flowers.

Good friends know when to shut up.

I was the last to awaken. The sun was damn near halfway up the sky. Coffee, grits, bacon. A man’s breakfast. Then I, too, found myself down by the river, the third musketeer of this here expedition.

“Morning,” says I.

Grunts, mumbling. Farting.

I had to crap, and so excused myself from my compatriots. Soon to return. As I did, the three of us stood there in silence, rugged outdoorsmen that we were, one listening, the other sipping suds, and yours truly feeling a lot lighter, having returned in kind to Nature what Nature had so graciously given to me before, in form of food, drink, nourishment.