I had clicked “Confirm” on what would have been just another Thursday afternoon while sitting at my desk at work. Anxiety roiled in my stomach as the mouse hovered over the yellow-colored button on the computer screen. I had looked over my selected flight itineraries countless times (and I’d also called my boss over for a second pair of eyes) and the only thing holding me back from slightly lowering my finger to finalize the details was my own trepidation.
I had never done something like this – at least to this magnitude. Two years prior I had booked a weekend trip to New York City for my birthday on a whim. But this was different; this was overseas, this was multiple foreign languages, this was the unknown.
I’d like to say that what I felt at my desk was half nervousness and half excitement, but the emotional pie chart was more close to 75 percent nervousness, 5 percent excitement, 5 percent fear, and what felt like 15 percent acid reflux. Clicking Confirm meant this was really happening. It would no longer be something that “could maybe happen one day” or remain an “I always wanted to do that” bucket list item.
If I pushed Confirm, I would actually have to do this thing.
I held the breath in my lungs, quickly exhaled, squinted my eyes, and clicked.In the months between Confirm and September 14, my brother (my traveling partner-in-crime) and I had decide on the countries, cities, and sights to visit. We also booked accommodations, applied for transaction-free credit cards, purchased EuRail passes for train travel, and created a rough itinerary for how long we would be in each place and what we might try to see each day. It’s quite a lot to take on, especially while also beginning an internship and starting a new part-time gig on top of a new position at work. Needless to say, my plate felt a bit full.
The trip was like this thick, dark, looming cloud far off in the distance; it approaches slowly at first, and then all of the sudden it’s upon you. I didn’t feel prepared at all. The last Spanish I had uttered was over ten years earlier in high school, and that was Latin Spanish, not Spain Spanish. And French was a completely different matter; my knowledge of the language didn’t go much farther than bonjour, baguette, and matinee – my plate was full and I was in over my head. Many people may thrive off this uncertainty, but not me – my body tightens up as if it’s trying to fit into an invisible shell on my back. All I want to do is hide.
But the day came. A Sunday. The night before, I had packed up my steel-blue backpack that I’d bought a few months before specifically for this trip. It was this odd item; unfamiliar and stiff, yet I knew that it would soon mold into a comfortable, dependable friend – and that thought was also strange.I filled it with the clothing and essentials I’d laid out throughout the week (or two) prior, and was worried when it seemed too full. In reality, I had packed up what would be my life for the next three solid weeks and shoved it into a 20-pound pack. In hindsight, I should have considered it a triumph.
I looked around at my quiet little apartment said goodbye, and hoped that the one large, pitiful, hand-me-down plant I received from a previous neighbor would survive without me (and my black thumb) by the time I returned.
My brother and I arrived at the airport two hours before our flight, after having to quickly turn around because someone (me) had left their phone on the charger in the living room (ahem). Off to a great start.
As we entered SeaTac, it was feeling real: we were on our own. As the automatic doors slid closed behind us, in my mind they weren’t made of glass, but rather of 10-inch steel. We approached the Departures ticker board with its orange numbers flipping and rolling. Jeff seemed to know exactly what to do, while I was still coming to grips with this new reality.
After arriving at our gate with no hiccups or bumps, we sat in the terminal and waited for one of the women at the counter to announce our boarding. This is when you sit and stew – whether it’s about the flight to come, your impending trip, or what you’ve forgotten to pack. Or if you’re me, all three.It had been years since my last international flight, and on that one I had travelled on my own. But yet again, this trip was different. When we touched down in about 12 hours from now (which my flight-fearing half thought optimistically), we would find ourselves in a place where communication would be a constant barrier. Everyone at home kept insisting “Don’t worry. Everyone over there speaks English. You’ll be fine.” – but that wasn’t it. I wasn’t looking to speak in my language while in these foreign countries; I planned on speaking theirs.
Though it is impossible to learn a completely new language (or two of them) in a few months, I had hoped to at least familiarize myself with key phrases and words, but juggling as much as I was in the months leading up to the trip, that goal was never reached.
And at this point, sitting in the terminal at SeaTac with takeoff in an hour, it wasn’t likely to happen.I was pleasantly surprised by the ease of the flight. I watched several movies (and a fresh eye roll from Jeff each time he saw that I had started yet another animated one for kids) plus the airline fed us like crazy. That’s one sure-fire way to keep me content – well done, Delta.
We landed in Paris at Charles de Gaulle with a connection to Southern Spain’s Málaga airport. As we waited for the transfer flight, we were given a preview of what was to come: overhearing conversations in languages unfamiliar, feeling (more than) slightly out of place, and feeling blatantly American (or German apparently!).
I kept thinking “the next time we’re here in this airport, we will be on our way home.” And I pondered the uncreated moments and soon-to-be memories that were simmering on the horizon. I also thought that three weeks seemed like an awfully long time at this particular moment.
The three-hour flight from Paris wasn’t nearly as posh as our earlier one, and when we were dumped into the Málaga airport, we scuttled around like ants to find a connection bus that could take us to the bus depot. Though we’d been in-flight for over half a day, we weren’t at our destination yet. From Málaga we would take a bus to Nerja and then we arranged to contact our Airbnb host, José.
We (somehow) found the correct airport transport route to take us to downtown Málaga, and as we stood on the filled bus, what streamed by through the windows was vastly different than the views I’d seen daily through the glass on Seattle’s metro.
I watched tall, once brightly-colored apartment towers that were now a dingy orange, dirty awnings and clothes hanging between angled windows, graffiti-ridden doorways, women with thin strollers, and people visiting in fruit stand storefronts.
It was wonderful to look at the world through the same rounded frames of the bus, but with a completely different lens.
We just barely made the 14:30 bus from Málaga’s bus depot to Nerja, which was supposed to take an hour and a half. It could be that we were SO CLOSE to finally being at our destination, but more likely that we slowly curved around probably 50 roundabouts in 35 miles – the ride felt like it took ages.
It was getting harder and harder to keep my eyes open; after two flights totaling over 13 hours and now two bus rides, lack of sleep was creeping up on me. Soft and comfortable seats, the soothing sway of the bus, along with the hushed quiet inside (with the intermittent snores of one faceless passenger near the back row) had a cumulative pull on my eyelids.
The drive never seemed to end, even when the signs announced “Nerja 9km.” It seemed like each little cluster of seaside homes would be ours, but the driver never stopped.
At last we slowed to a curb and the brakes sang and hissed as the doors peeled open. It looked like a street just like any other, but apparently it was the Nerja bus station. We slung our packs on our backs once again and made our way to the small square (Plaza Cantarero) several yards from where the bus dropped us.
Unable to connect to service on my phone, I made Jeff call our host, José. We sat on a bench in the brick-laid square, lightly toasting in our stale clothes under a small flurry of trees and swatting the occasional fly as we waited for José to walk up Calle Pintada. After 20 minutes, we finally decided that Jeff must have misunderstood the conversation they’d had, and we made our way to find José, or at least Calle Trancos, the street where the apartment was said to be.
We walked down Pintada, a small lane with narrow sidewalks flanking either side. Two-story, sun-bleached connected dwellings and storefronts pressed up against the street and steered us deeper into the heart of the town and closer to the sea.
As we approached Trancos, a man called out my name from across the street to our right. It was José. It was strange to recognize someone I had never met in person; I had become familiar with his photo over the several months we had sporadically corresponded on Airbnb arranging details and sending updates. It was odd yet comforting to recognize a stranger’s face in this new and unfamiliar place.
José led us down the even smaller road to the complex entrance. From what we’d seen so far, the area was made up of a maze of connected, multi-family homes. There were no houses or yards, only one long and singular facade peppered with alcoves, doors and tile-rimmed windows below, and Juliette balconies, hanging plants, and clay-colored shutters above.Not only did it feel slightly awkward to recognize José, it was also strange to enter the apartment and remember it; to recall the terra cotta-tiled deck, cozy studio interior, and even the little wooden desk as if I’d been here before. We booked all of our accommodations through Airbnb months prior in our planning stages and I had printed out the listings, directions, and contact information the week before we left. It was all now huddled (in order) in a folder that would be attached to me throughout the trip. José gave us a quick tour (it was a studio so how long could that take), handed us a map with a few circled tapas bars and arrows pointing towards a few beaches and sights, and graciously left us to settle in.
We were here. Finally. We had been awake for over 24 hours and it was only 5pm in Nerja. In order to avoid jet lag, we needed to stay awake. What did this mean?