“Do you want to go in ze water?” she asked.
We stripped down to our underwear and ran down the empty beach. It was three in the morning in southern Portugal. The waves crashed over us as we bobbed in the wake. Her neck tasted like seaweed.
The city of Lagos had everything I wanted out of my summer. I had been in Portugal for almost two weeks, starting in the north and working my way south.
I was traveling alone, but I met a group of friends at the hostel and we went out together every night. Each morning, we ate an English breakfast at the local pub to numb our hangovers. On the third day, one of the Australian guys set off for La Tomatina, the world-famous tomato throwing festival outside of Valencia.
My mind started running through scenarios to get to Valencia by the following night, but it was on the other side of the Iberian Peninsula. A Brazilian girl had rented a car and we talked about splitting gas, but then she backed out. The two British guys offered to drive me as far as Seville.
Seville! Beautiful Seville! Not only was Seville one of my favorite cities, but one of my best friends lived there. I texted her and told her I was coming.
“In three hours.”
I cancelled my hostel and hopped in the car. The British guys dropped me off on their way home to Gibraltar.
When I arrived to her apartment, we immediately went out to meet her friends at a bar. A group of Spaniards sat at a table in the back and played flamenco. The owners locked the doors so we could stay later. When they finally closed, we helped wipe down the counters and sweep cigarettes off the floor. It was seven in the morning by the time we got back to her place.
I packed my things quickly and walked to the bus station. For the next hour, I sat on a dirty bench, trying not to fall asleep. The bus ride was twelve hours. I was never really fully awake, but never fully asleep.
It was ten o’clock at night by the time I got to my hostel in Valencia. I bought a ticket for the festival and printed it at the front desk. I went out and bought goggles, a dry bag for my phone, and a pair of shoes for ten Euros.
At the crack of dawn, I woke up to catch a bus to Buñol. On the bus, I met four Canadian girls who were flight attendants on holiday. We disembarked and ambled down into the madness, sangria in hand. The street was enclosed by metal barricades. Everyone wore white shirts. We had to elbow our way through the crowd.
Dump trucks rolled down the street overflowing with tomatoes. Police pushed us aside to make room as they passed. We linked arms so we wouldn’t get lost in the crowd. Soon we were pushed down a side alley. The tomatoes poured down from every direction and the streets surged with rivers of tomato sauce. We scooped handfuls and flung it in each other’s faces. We made tomato angels in the street.
That night, I met the girls at their apartment that they had rented and we began playing drinking games. We went out to the bars. We drank mojitos. We danced. I twirled them around. I woke up on their pull out couch.
“We’re driving to Barcelona if you want to come.”
My plan had been to hop between all the beach towns of southern Spain, but in my haste to make it to Valencia, I had skipped all of them. Now, Barcelona was in the exact opposite direction of where I wanted to go. And I had already been there three times. It made no sense to go.
“Sure, why not?”
We drove up the coast of Spain towards Barcelona. Whenever we went through tunnels, we held our breath.
That evening, we went to Parque Güell and climbed up through the surreal trails to its highest point. We sat next to the large stone cross and watched the sun set over the mountains behind Barcelona. I took them to the Sagrada Familia and we walked the length of La Rambla.
The girls were flying out in the morning and I still had no idea what I was going to do. I had wanted to spend the rest of the summer in Portugal and Spain. But now, I had accidentally circumnavigated the entire Iberian Peninsula. Barcelona was the end of the line for me. And I didn’t want to go backwards.
That night at the hostel, I went on SkyScanner.com and searched for flights. They have a feature that allows you to select ANYWHERE for a destination. And it gives you the cheapest flights.
I messaged my friend in Copenhagen.
“I’m coming tomorrow morning.”