Travel Spain: How Strawberries Saved Me In Pamplona
Feb 28, 2017
“Travel Spain,” they said. “It will be fun,” they said. Never would I have known that being dumped by my friends in the searing summer heat could end up being one of the best travel stories ever told.
Let’s just rewind a few months for context.
My first ever trip overseas was to Argentina when I was 18. It was quite a journey for someone whose first ever flight was the 45-minute domestic journey to Sydney just a couple of hours before the 16-hour flight into Buenos Aires.
I (stupidly) hadn’t learned a word of Spanish (or Castellano as it goes in Argentina) before I landed for my four-month stay. That was quite remarkable given the fact that my grandmother, who I was staying with, only knew one word of English: Strawberry.
So that meant that if she was to offer me a strawberry, she would point at the punnet of strawberries and ask: “Strawberry?”
It also meant that if she was giving directions, she would point one way and say: “Strawberry.”
When she kissed me on the forehead goodnight? Yep, you got it. “Strawberry.”
For the time I was in Argentina, spending most of my time in Rosario, Mar Del Plata and Buenos Aires, I learned quite a bit of Castellano.
Little did I know that it would prove so wildly valuable just a few short months down the track, after I had left Argentina.
I had moved on to London where my sister had been living for a year as an au pair. Her family had kindly allowed me to stay in their home for the month that I was exploring the UK, but it quickly grew into a bore as my sister’s place of employment.
A few friends from Australia who I was trying to catch up with in London said they weren’t able to meet up Tuesday because they were flying into Spain for the infamous Running Of The Bulls in Pamplona.
Unplanned, spontaneous, stupid – call it what you like – but within minutes I had booked my British Airways flight to Pamplona from London Heathrow (via Madrid) for 6:20am so that I could arrive at the same time they did.
Despite my sister raising completely valid safety concerns, I immediately packed my carry bag, said goodbye and went straight to Heathrow to spend the night.
“I’ll organise accomodation with the boys when we all get there,” I thought, innocently enough.
I lounged around the entire night at Heathrow, sparking conversations intermittently with randoms who happened to put their phone charger in the ports wherever I was. We never talked about anything of great significance but it was brilliant to pass the time.
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The only conversations of great significance were the one-way monologue I was directing towards my friends, querying where I would meet them.
“Do you guys want me to meet you at the gate you land at?”
“If so, what are your flight details?”
“Should be meet at the taxi rank out the front?”
No answer, but alas I carried on.
“Alright guys, I’ll meet you at the gate that you land at BEFORE we go through Immigration,” I remember asking as I boarded my flight.
Good news: They finally responded.
Bad news: This was their response AFTER I had landed in Madrid:
“Hey Nick, we’re actually not leaving until Thursday, not Tuesday. Sorry – we got the days mixed up on the ticket!”
“Oh, no problem. I’ll just catch you guys on Thursday 🙂 ,” I insisted quietly. The truth is that I was burning up with expletive-laden rage that would even make the internet squirm.
I landed in the searing Pamplona summer after a day of travelling to the realisation that I actually had no idea what was happening. I had been so reliant on the friends who dumped me that I genuinely had no structure to my stay in Spain.
I wandered over pretty aimlessly to the taxi rank. I mean, I had nowhere to go, why was I even getting in a taxi. It was there that I met my fate.
Oh, and two Englishmen. It was obvious they were English. Baggy clothing you’d expect pubescent adolescents to be wearing, especially in temperatures that were soaring over 30 degrees celsius.
They were also greatly over-packed, going by the large black bags that you wouldn’t associate with a short stay in Pamplona.
Perhaps most telling, they were having a very broken and loud conversation with a Spanish taxi driver. I wouldn’t even call it a conversation – all parties were just yelling out single words louder and louder, as if that were to dissolve the language barrier.
GRAND. HOTEL. PEARLER. They were the three words I could make out from one of the Englishmen, quite loudly. The other was simultaneously trying to show his phone to the driver.
“Permiso, da nos unos minutos por favor,” I calmly said, meaning “Excuse me, give us a few minutes please”.
Judging by the silenced and stunned looks I got from all three, I had just transformed into Jesus Christ incarnate.
Ben and Dave, confirmed of English descent, explained to me that they were trying to get to Gran Hotel La Perla. Those who understand Spanish will be able to see the funny side of how easily that confusion reigned until I arrive.
With the driver clear on where to go, the two gentlemen jumped into the back of the cab – one wriggled over to the left side and the other snuggled up to him in the middle – before both turning heads towards me.
“Well, you’re going to Pamplona, aren’t you? Get in!” Ben exclaimed.
Without a second thought, I was in.
“Where are you staying, Nick?” Dave asked.
“Funny story that…” I replied, as I proceeded to explain what had happened.
“Oh wow, so you’re just going to Pamplona by yourself?” Dave asked. “Did you even book any accomodation or tickets or anything?”
The more he quizzed me, the more ridiculous and stupid it sounded. It must have been obvious I was questioning my travel skills (and safety).
“Don’t even worry about it, you can come stay with us,” Ben said.
“We’re photographers at the Daily Mail and we’ve been sent over here on a work trip, so accomodation is all paid for and there’s actually two single beds and a blow up bed if you need.”
“You helped us out so we’ll help you out, how about that?” he offered.
Over the following 24 hours, we were kicked out of countless bars, a tonne of restaurants, and numerous modes of public transport before eventually getting to the festival in San Fermin.
I never knew where I was going but at least I knew I had a roof over my head, two legends I’ll be eternally grateful to and one of the best travel stories ever heard.