1. Pay-it-Forward Man
Well technically, we met this man in Sevilla. He was another passenger in our BlaBlaCar (cheap transportation service that allows you to travel with people going to the same place as you are by car) so we were introduced before we took off for Granada. However, once we arrived, he volunteered an hour or more of his time over a cup of coffee just to scrutinize our barely legible map of the city to highlight each tapas restaurant, cafe, bar, or attraction that we absolutely could not miss. He knew all the best places after living in the outskirts of the city all his life with six years spent within the city limits studying at university. His personality was contagious; everything from his laugh to his round glasses and his bulky sweater made him so darn likable.
The conversation was great, especially for someone we just met, and meeting him made us have an exponentially better weekend than we could have imagined. Some of his recommendations ended up being the greatest parts of our trip. At the idea that he should be a professional tour guide, he joked that he won’t be charging for his services today, but then very earnestly added that all he wanted was for us to “do that American thing called pay-it-forward” and offer our time to another traveler who may need some help getting around. We were so grateful for all the wonderful suggestions from our new local friend that the least we could do was offer to pay for his coffee. And let me tell you, I’ve never seen anyone so genuinely happy to be getting a free cup of coffee.
2. Travel companions
In just about any hostel, you can find someone who will want to go out and do things with you. We did, of course, after checking back in to our hostel room from a tiring morning exploring the Moorish-influenced narrow and winding streets of Albaicín. We met two German students who were studying in Cádiz and spending a weekend in Granada. Three of us decided to go out for drinks that night, and ended up having numerous conversations not only with the bartender, but also the boisterous Spanish floor hockey team celebrating a teammate’s birthday. The next day we traveled around Granada together, heading up to Sacromonte, the gypsy-influenced part of town with great views and beautiful houses built right into the hills, browsing the street markets that were near our hostel, and only eventually split up due to having different touring times of La Alhambra, the gem of Granada. We met up once again after the tour to do some more wandering before heading back to the hostel. Although they knew English, we didn’t know German, so our middle ground was Spanish. It was fun having some new friends to travel around with, and that definitely led to great conversation and good practice for our Spanish without having the intimidation of talking with a native-speaker.
3. Local promoter
This wasn’t the type of promoter you might be thinking of, someone trying to get you into his restaurant, club, or bar. No, this was the lone old man walking around Granada who happened to see people passing by a great attraction tucked away on a busy street. As we walked by, the man said something to us that was almost aggressive-sounding at first, causing us to keep walking and pretend not to notice. He caught up with us 30 seconds later to tell us we really need to go back and check out what his city has to offer.
The place he pointed us to was the ruins of an old Arab bathhouse used in the ancient times. I learned about them in my Anthropology of Andalucía class and was intrigued enough to take a look. We turned around to enter the baths, and although it was small, it was more impressive than the others I had seen, so I was definitely glad to go in. After we left, he saw us again and suggested checking out the Historic Archives of the City of Granada – also suggested by our Pay-it-Forward friend – which had a beautiful little courtyard that was almost reminiscent of fall in the states (hard to find in Spain).
He gave us a few other ideas before we left, and throughout the rest of the day we were all wishing we had our old Spanish friend with us to keep pointing us in the direction of other overlooked treasures.
Okay, to be completely honest, I only saw this mysterious Australian for about half an hour while we were hanging out in our hostel, but he still deserves an honorable mention. Because when is it not significant that you meet a rugged, attractive, Australian man traveling alone just because he can? And that accent, my goodness.
5. Lonely old traveler
Well, this person was definitely an interesting find. On our last night, we returned to the hostel before dinner to rest, warm up, and take advantage of the free Wi-Fi. In the lobby area, we sat next to an older Canadian man traveling solo around Europe for an indiscernible amount of time. We didn’t have much else we wanted to do before heading to the bus station to catch our ride home, so we indulged him in some conversation, and after listening to what he had to say, I still don’t know what to make of him. We talked about the general things, who we are, where we’re from, and what we were doing in Granada, then moved on to the more controversial topics such as health care and the “war on drugs” – the latter is what inspired him to talk about some of his personal stories, which were unbelievable, at best. He started by saying, “Well, then, maybe soon I’ll be allowed to enter your country again.”
After a few concerned glances and reserved questions, he went on to explain that he had been put in federal prison over a period of several weeks and subsequently banned from the country for having one joint in his possession while in Texas. More than slightly inconceivable, but then again, the 80s were a crazy time. He also told us how he’s practically fluent in Spanish and after I mentioned that I took a year of Portuguese, he went on to say that the two languages were so similar that when he had a Brazilian girlfriend, she would speak in Portuguese, he in Spanish, and they never had any trouble understanding each other. He added that their friends were so incredulous that they could go on like that in two different languages, but it was just so simple and effortless that they had no problems. Now I’m not saying that he definitely couldn’t have had a Brazilian girlfriend, but I did have trouble believing he was practically fluent in Spanish while he couldn’t even pronounce the word paella. It is, in fact, pronounced pah-eh-ya, not pa-illy.
Although I would not take his word for many of the tales he told, it was definitely interesting to sit and talk with this man. I’m glad we were able to entertain his stories for a while. Then again for some, traveling is a time to reinvent yourself – if you don’t like how you’re perceived in one country, you’ve got almost 200 more to change that perception. Personally, I would choose to actually reinvent myself through real experiences and not exaggerated stories, but I guess some prefer otherwise. Maybe the latter would be more interesting.
Overall, this weekend was one of my favorite excursions to date, and I had such a wonderful time in the chilly but beautifully romantic “last city of Spain,” Granada. So many travelers and writers have been so enthralled with this town, especially Washington Irving with his Tales of the Alhambra of 1832 that eventually catapulted the city to international fame, which previously was barely a tourist destination at all with a publicly inaccessible Alhambra. Now people wanted to see this mystical city, and I can’t blame them. I also can’t disagree with Hemingway when he said, “If you were to visit only a city in Spain, this should be Granada.” Still true, Hemingway, still true.