For the first time since I arrived in Vitoria- Gasteiz, I devoted the weekend to finding the best pintxo bars, sipping on Txakoli (Cha-coli), Basque sparkling wine and visiting cute, eclectic shops that seem to always be closed when I pass by, thanks to the Glorious siesta hours** with my great friend, Angelica.
An unexpected friendship that began my very first night in the land of jamón and vino in a hostel, jet-lagged, excited and overwhelmed for my new beginnings while being surrounded by auxiliars who seemed to already have established their cliques in. I felt I was in high school as I buried my nose behind my computer trying to figure out trains and buses to my new pueblo, though I should have called it bed-time instead at 7pm. It was then, I noticed her across the modern lounge room as indigo, lime green and lipstick red and highlighter yellow bubble-shaped lamps hung from the ceiling; a breakfast space by morning, and chill out/pass the time on your computer by afternoon. I didn’t say anything in that moment but I knew I wanted to chat with her- everything about her was different and feeling like I was back in high school, all I wanted was different. This meant one thing: I wanted to get to know this gal.
Exhausted and without much progress on how to get to my town (I’d soon learn, Spanish transport websites don’t always work as easily as they could/should), I called it a night and headed up the numerous flights of stairs to my 4th floor room. I can figure this all out after a good nights sleep, I told myself. I was pleasantly surprised to see her in the next room and I hesitantly approached her and asked if she was also an auxiliar, which turned into an hour conversation. Meanwhile, my body played jet-lagged tricks on me, after all I had been awake for over 26 hours- I felt like I was moving when I was standing still and my brain couldn’t form simple sentences. It didn’t matter she had just arrived a few days before. We had just arrived to this land and we had similar ways of thinking, we had various jobs after university and traveled before applying to this program. We had things in common.
The following day when I saw her in the lounge on the computer she invited me to sit next to her while she busily researched places she was going to live. The race to find a piso in Madrid, while every other auxiliar in the hostel did the same. I eagerly accompanied her to look at her first piso, a dungeon feeling dark apartment with a young Turkish woman who had eyes that could kill and if she were a cartoon, would be the cat from Alice in Wonderland. We both looked at each other when we were back on the street, feeling the sun rays grace our cheeks and said to the other, “What do you think?” and we burst out laughing as we talked about not wanting to meet that woman in a dark alley, let alone live in the same building.
Good we’re on the same page.
I had known her less than 24 hours but I sensed something about her, our dynamic just seemed natural. We roamed through Lavapies, an immigrant neighborhood and I enjoyed my first Doner Kebab while kids played football on a cement plaza where four police cars were parked, as groups of police looked on, arms and legs crossed. I wondered what type of area this was, would be safe in a few hours? I had just arrived and didn’t know the areas I should avoid but we were ok. Soon after, we found ourselves in front of the RTVE, Spanish radio station and studio with a crowd outside. Naturally, my curiosity lead me to find out and ask, an middle aged attendee “they’re is an orchestra performing and is being filmed for TV” and then she went inside. Intermission was ending.
I looked at Angelica and my eyes said, “ whatcha think, we can sneak in? but I felt a bit chicken and I wondered what if we get caught…? but the woman seemed to know our thoughts. She reappeared and told us, “Some friends of ours didn’t show up and there are plenty of extra seats. Follow us and act like you belong here, no one will say anything.”
And that’s just we did.
We looked at each other in our plush red velvet seats and laughed. This is crazy! We just met each other and unexpected opportunities are falling in our lap.
And our friendship continues to be full of unexpected, wonderful things. When we’re together magic seems to happen. Like getting invited into casetas, or striking up conversations in bars and cafes and spending evenings with new friends. She used to look at me surprised but now just says, “I know anything is possible with you.”
We exchanged details, we drank sangria until 2am in a bar in Sol and I caught my bus to my new town at 7am the following day. I can’t recall who emailed who but I remember the few moments I was awake on my 7 hour bus ride, I had happy thoughts that so far, everything was going smoothly, better than I could have imagined it. Soon after, she was on a bus visiting me in my
twilight zone, middle of nowhere coastal town and then we were planning trips every puente we both had.
I feel fortunate, special and happy that now that were on our unexpected year two in Spain we are able to visit each other in our respective cities. My city may not be on the tourist map but she came to visit me. See me. Spend time with me. To share time together. And yes, that’s what true friends do but I also know that with hectic lives (hers is more busy than mine), it’s easy to make other things in life a priority. Lucky for her (and for me), this year I live in a city that has a European feel, isn’t quite in the middle of nowhere and has everything one needs- good food, decent prices, endless amounts of pintxos and vino, cute shops, towering cathedrals, and pretty plazas.
Her visit wasn’t about crossing off a new city off her list, doing touristy things or seeing famous sights but about just enjoying time together. It’s a bonus that’s a new city and new region, though likely not a place she would visit if I didn’t live here.
I’m grateful to see my adopted city through the eyes of a friend, hear her perspective and have a greater appreciation for where I live. This weekend was just what I needed- eating and enjoying Basque wine, and catching up with someone who knows me well who can remind me of all I’ve been through and keep me in check when I get nostalgic. It’s great being able to share with each other: how far we’ve come on this journey we started together (though lived 7+ hours away by bus) and both thought was ending in July when we returned home, to reflect on our worries and fears, the what-if’s, the should’s vs. taking possibilities, and more importantly to continue living and experiencing what seems to be the grand life lesson of the last few years: that sometimes letting go is the best thing you can do and allow life to lead you one step at a time.
We’re both so grateful we’ve come back to Spain and both curious about the future but we keep each other in check; reminding each other to enjoy the moments, enjoy the present and allow life to guide us despite our bad case of wanting to know and trying to control our destinies.
Have you ever met someone and quickly knew that you’d become good friends?
**aka, for non-Basques and Spaniards, it drives most tourists and ex-pats nuts and makes us question just how this country has managed so long with inconvenient store hours- do they actually want to sell things?