Prison Camp


It´s dark and cold before sunrise and I´m waiting at the train station for this bus to get me out of France. But it hasn´t come yet and I´m beginning to have this irrational fear that it won´t and I´ll be stuck in this country forever.

My head ached and I was tired as hell. having spent the past two nights in fits of insomnia, as I often do. My bus was departing at 6am and I wasn´t going to get to Spain until 8am and then wouldn´t have a place to stay until 2pm. Waiting at the train station, which was closed except for its doors, I eventually found a Little Wayne looking mother fucker (excuse my French but there is just no other way to describe him so plainly) who spoke English (of course) and told me where the bus would be. But now 6am was approaching and I was beginning to doubt the master rap artist. I walked outside to check and tripped over some luggage with it being so dark, only to realize that it was a man in a sleeping bag spending the night outside the station on his backpack.

Well, as it turns out, Little Wayne is a liar and the bus was not where he said it would be. No surprise there. It was 10 of 6 and I had been instructed to check in 30 minutes prior. Now I was panicking and running down across the street to the bus stop where two busses had just pulled up. Neither were mine so I waited alone in the dark. 6:00, 6:05, 6:10 ... I was officially stuck in France.

A comedy of errors type family strolled around the corner approaching the bus stop in a frenzy. An older couple accompanied by a mad man and 7 rolling suitcases. The woman, she must have been in her 60´s, began speaking to me in rapid fire French questions before she realized I only spoke English. She instructed me to converse wit her son who spoke my language. He did not, by any accounts, speak English. Mumbling incoherent sounds at me and spraying my face with spit, he only shouted his words louder when I told him I did not understand. I just shrugged and took a seat back on the bench. I was too tired for this. I watched them bobble about like fools, shouting and scurrying like finch about each other among the route signs trying to find their bus. The son, leaving his luggage in the middle of the road, stumbled to the building next to me and began urinating … loudly and for an abnormally long time. The parents didn’t seem to find this unusual. So again, I shrugged.

The night leaker came out from behind the building with more speed than he could carry and I watched him topple out over his suitcases, landing on the pavement, and sending his red, white and blue snow cap flying further into the street. I didn’t help him. I didn’t even move. Neither did his parents. It was all very strange and exhausting and the only thing I kept thinking was: Please let my bus come and please let the hostel allow me to check in early so I can sleep.

I had overspent and overindulged in private rooms the past month in France, unable yet to succumb to the dormitory life with strangers, but after inconceivable expenses between that and the car, I decided that June in Spain would be the hostel life. The hostel was in Bilbao and just for 1 night on my way to Logrono. Located directly behind the Guggenheim in town, it had looked cheap but promising. (Although, the website displayed no pictures of the bedrooms themselves, which is in hindsight, an obvious red flag). I arrived at 8:30AM in the rain and knocked on the front door of a glass cage of a building until a woman let me in.

Boxto Gallery Youth Hostel was a hideous place and it reeked of a thousand sweaty backpackers. The boy at the counter running things that day could not have been over 17 years old and he took his time serving an array of old milk and stale bread as breakfast to those who were already awake. Finally, he took me into the room with a sheet and a pillowcase, placed them on the top bed of a triple bunk squeezed in-between dozens of others and pointed to my locker. I was inmate 24B. In the quarantined section of the barracks. The room was open with only a curtain to separate it from the common room and a half a dozen people still lie asleep in their beds with their sheets over their heads, the lights on, and raucous coming from those already awake in the shared space. Ok, Kristen … now you are backpacking. Deep Breath. Just embrace it. I put my luggage down and with sleep as the only goal in my line of sight, climbed up the rickety metal staircase to the top bunk, avoiding the death glares from the sleeping bunkmates and the grunts of the girl whose arm I had stepped on climbing up. I brought my valuable possessions backpack and my purse up with me despite being forbidden to do so, and sunk into a deep sleep despite the lights, noise, and stench.

I get a juvenile flight of butterflies like a middle school girl every time I overhear someone speaking English with an American accent. I had just woken up due to the influx of voices awakening, who were most likely consequence of the miserable hostel maid sweeping up trash and plastic cans while slamming her broom into the metal poles of the bunks and crunching plastic bags under feet. It was two of them- the voices - a girl and a boy and they were definitely American. Lyna, a young Greek goddess and Bob, her best friend’s brother, whose arrival they were awaiting. Chicago bred, they had just traveled from Amsterdam and were meeting Bob’s sister Colleen who had studied the previous semester abroad in Bilbao. I chatted with them for a bit before venturing out to explore the town on my own and knew that upon my return, I would be attaching myself to them for the night like a little sister tag-a-long.

Spain was loud and chaotic. There were music, children and dogs everywhere. (Which painstakingly made me miss my little brother and my dog). The people talked faster than anyone I had ever met and the Spanish I thought would come back to me had failed to do so thus far. But at least, I had more to work with here than I did in France and menus were easier to read. The air wasn’t quite as soft and romantic as dreamy France, but it was charged with an infectious energy that I loved. Accordions and violinists filled the streets (literally, there is one standing over my shoulder playing in my ear as we speak and he won’t go away) and tapas were spread out across every bar in town and up for grabs… beautiful little creations of bright colors, meats, thick sauces, herbs and seafood. And ham… Ham was everywhere, huge thighs dangling from every bar ceiling grazing the bartenders’ heads – hips, hooves and all.

I latched onto the Chicago trio that night and Colleen showed us her town as it had been for the past 3 months. We ate pinchos (tapas) out in the square where every bar was on the honor system. No table service and no credit cards held, you took your tapas, ordered your drinks and went outside, and then came back in amongst the crowds when you were done to tell the bartender what you ate and pay. We stayed up drinking and laughing about the terrible accommodations we were currently subjected to and this crazy, old Camina lady that we had met earlier that day backpacking and walking her way across Spain and staying in a youth hostel. They told me stories of their recent journey through Munich, Brussels, and Amsterdam and I traded stories from my past month in France. Colleen had accidentally walked through security at the Amsterdam airport with two lighters and a bag of weed in her jacket pocket (which they later smoked out of an apple), Lyna had had her 21st birthday in Amsterdam where a room full of strangers sang “Happy Birthday Nina,” to her (a name she kept for the rest of the trip), and they had stayed in a hostel infested with rats. It felt so good to be with Americans for the first time in a month. I climbed up into my third story bunk bed and had a surprisingly good four hours of sleep before waking to catch the bus to Logrono.