Travel And Culture: Am I Doing It Right?
A seductive siren, San Sebastian sings to me. Headphones in and jammies on, I tell her to shush.
Outside is the reason I am here in Spain for a month-long travel writing course. Outside is the reason I am the furthest physical point away from home in Australia I could be.
I’m in my hostel bunk, mattress several centimetres shorter than I am, curtain pulled to stow myself away in this beige-coffin storage unit of a bed. Sitting next to a plate covered in bread crumbs and my own fingernail trimmings, I worry, Am I not doing this right?
Any relaxation gleaned from staying in while travelling is tinged with guilt. I’m watching sketch comedy and eating veggie crisps – mad chillin’ you could say – but neglecting the Spanish nightlife I’ve longed for all year. What the fuck, Banana chips do NOT belong in veggie crisps. Get a life.
For the duration of this trip, I’ve been unable to break off from the group. My supposedly ‘unlocked’ phone will simply not accept a travel sim, so I am maps-less, Google-less, and if lost, helpless.
Tonight’s alone-time is a welcome pause to my social energy expenditure. A short walk to the supermarket seems a good way to get into the breezy San Sebastian air and get some real food. And, I can get there myself with no maps and no chaperone.
Before reaching my limit and heading home earlier today, I’d been at the beach with a friend of a just-met-her-yesterday friend, who was notably generous with her weed. Dressed, hungry and still a little bit stoned from earlier this afternoon, I head outside.
The group of Aussie and Kiwi gilipollas from room four across the hall happen to head out at the same time as me. Embarrassed by how Aussie-not-in-a-good-way they seem, and unnerved by their lad-bro vibes, I cross the street.
Even as a glad-to-be-Aussie, I want to avoid this pack. I’m suddenly deeply aware of how embarrassed, anxious and a little bit stoned from earlier this afternoon I am to buy dinner as a foreigner. I’m fairly sure Cuanto cuesta? means ‘How much?’, but I’m nervous I’ll stress the wrong syllable and embarrass both me and the cashier.
To the supermarket self-service machines!
I enter the supermercado which I’ve already been to twice today. ‘Tainted Love’ plays, a soundtrack for the bopping and tipsy-awkward swaying of the middle-aged crowd that fills what should be the supermarket.
This strange apparition makes me worry I’m either having a Jack Torrance in The Shining moment, or I’m more than a little bit stoned from earlier this afternoon.
Perhaps I need to come at it from a different angle. I do a block and find myself walking in the same entrance. Huge neon signs read ‘PARTY’ and ‘BAR’.
The idea of grabbing a drink here crosses my mind. I’m outside and I’ve literally stumbled upon a PARTY BAR where I’d expected to find a €0.48 baguette. I can’t bring myself to navigate the crowd dancing to Soft Cell where the deli should be.
I lock eyes with a man wearing a brown-fedora and rocking a B-grade Johnny Depp vibe. I recognise him from my first lap. I wonder if he’s noticed my confused entrances.
I notice a black sheet thrown over what, this morning, was the fruit stand. I attempt to take a photo so somebody would believe that the supermarket stopped existing. Quite frazzled and a little bit stoned from earlier this afternoon, I take a hurried, blurred photo which proves nothing but my shaken frame of mind at the time.
Off-brand Johnny sees me again and, evidently did notice my previous cameos; his expression says, What the fuck guiri? Body language is universal.
Confused and amused, I head back home. I order two pintxos from a small red-lit restaurant with liquor lined walls on the corner of the hostel’s street. I point sheepishly to some non-descript meats and sauces on bread.
“Hola! Uno…. uno…”
I sit far back in my seat, a forced attempt to appear relaxed. It only serves to embarrass us both. Desperate to be back in my coffin, I decide it’s okay to take a night and decompress without shame, no matter how exotic or highly anticipated your foreign location may be.
If you do chose to venture out – and this is the wonderful thing about travel – it only takes a few steps to be somewhere totally new, theoretically exciting, and likely quite bizarre.
While my disappearing supermarket experience was not entirely Spanish, it was memorable and required merely stepping out into unfamiliar territory. And being a little bit stoned from earlier this afternoon.
Cover by Bruno van der Kraan