A Vagabonding Night in Spain
The packed bus roared into Pamplona. And immediately getting off, I went to look for a place to stay for the night. Not a hostel or a hotel or pension, but a place where I could lay down and stretch out unbothered by petty criminals and too much noise.
This idea came to me while in Barcelona, paying nearly 35 dollars a night for an oven that overlooked the streets near the Las Ramblas where nothing pipes down til 5 in the morning, if ever. Believe me, I would have gone the economical route and gotten a cheaper one, but all beds were too hard to find. I had to accept the 25 euro price, that being not much more pricier than a shared room. I found my room without air-conditioning and without silence, and therefore found myself without sufficient sleep. I decided right then and there, I am sleeping in the streets.
I caught a rare bus to Pamplona a few days before the world reknowned Festival of San Fermin. Things seemed to be already awashed in festive spirits. I had little prominition of how that Spanish town was to erupt once the first festival day arrived.
I walked out of the bus station met by cool air. We were higher in the mountains and more north, so I observed how those kettle hot days in Barcelona were over for now. And to my delight, I looked over and saw this immense, old ancient fortress. Like a sort of park dug downwards into the ground offering many lush patches of green grass to beckon my sleep-craving body and lull myself to some soft trance of fairy-tale slumber and sylvan dream.
Practically, I thought to lock my bag in the bus terminal for a hefty price, so that I wouldn't have to worry about pickpockets going through my belongings while I dreamed away. I kept a small amount of cash in one of my pockets. I had no pillow nor sleeping bag, just a long sleeve shirt and a pair of shorts on. I only thought to lay and stretch myself out to fall right away into slumbers. I went bounding into this fortress area looking for such a convenient place. I found countless places of solitude, laying on the grass, hidden in the shadows of the ancient past. But I underestimated the mountain climate. Now, I was just a pinch or two too chilly. As the night deepened so did the temperature. I was not freezing, just mildly uncomfortable. It vexed me that I did not bring my sleeping bag from out of the bus station. I spent alot of time, trying to find a place away from the wind. Laying here, laying there. Sometimes the grass wasn't right, sometimes, I found what looked to be the habitation of a homeless person and didn't want to risk being woke up by his hand in my pocket.
After awhile, I went back to my first original spot. And lay down and closed my eyes, and maybe would've drifted off into enviable rest when I got this sense of someone nearby. I opened my eyes and saw this African lurking a few yards from me. It was obvious he was watching me and trying to be quiet. I immediately, jumped up, "What do you want?" I impatiently whipped out in a strong, steely voice. Very softly he mumbled something out in Spanish about there was no danger from him. "Be at peace". I could tell he was worried about someone hearing me. And then he sauntered off. Well, I knew that I couldn't sleep there. He would come back and probably try stealing something off of me, if he found me asleep. So, I decided to leave the park and try my luck in the churchyard.
There was this large, modernistic cathedral not far from this fortress. It looked like some sort of church designed in Soviet Russia. Nevertheless, it had an open courtyard off to the side, and from what I could tell this wasn't a cemetery, although this would be the usual place to put a cemetery. Not a tombstone nor headstone, besides I was too tired to worry about that. So I found me a spot next to a hedge and again closed my eyes and was about to make the sweet leap into slumber, when again my eyes shot open due to some sense of something approaching. This time, I saw two Spanish guys. They were young and dressed in normal clothes and they were approaching me. I jumped up again, and they were immediately trying to talk to me all in Spanish. All that I could ascertain was that they didn't want to startle me and they wanted me to come closer to them. Well, I didn't want to waste any time here. All evidence pointed to the fact that they wanted to mug me. So in the middle of their speech, I took off, dashing out of the courtyard and then leaping down the cathedral steps, vaulting over full flights in one bound. I took off like a rocket down the streets. They yelling after me. This was why I didn't want to have a backpack or sleeping bag with me. So that I could do this. One of the guys was after me. But I thought surely once I got into the streets where people were still about, he would stop following me. But this didn't deter him. I ran up the street. I saw people walking down. And thought that he wouldn't mug me where tons of people where at. So I stopped to catch my breath, he eventually caught up and began to grab me. He first tried talking to me. While twisting my arm. And then he grabbed my hair, when I was breaking free from that. I was still catching my breath. And that moment dawned on me, when I had to decide to either talk my way out of this one, or fight. The temptation was there, but luckily I didn't act on it. But meanwhile, people where passing by and I was just amazed that he was so persistant. I began to say to the people that walked right beside us, "Where is the police." But they didn't understand. His friend was coming up behind. Then they both, when they heard I was talking about the police, told me that they were police. I scoffed at this. "Where are your badges", I signalled with me hands. One of them flipped up a wallet and I saw what looked like a plastic little medallion. Something from a cracker-jack box, the other showed me some sort of card, that looked like a student ID. I tried reading it, but he wouldn't let me. Then they both began to escort me towards the church again. And I thought for sure they were going to mug me there. But as they walked, one on either side of me, they began to ask me silly questions for criminals, and they asked me for my passport. (Perhaps it is only policemen that can ask you a stringful of ridiculous questions; they and customs agents.) I told them that it was locked with my bag in the holding section of the bus station. With these question, I began to think that they may possibly be real policemen. We passed right by the church to my relief. And they were taking me to the police station. They were policemen. Undercover cops. And they were wanting to know why on earth would I run from police officers. They probably told me they were officers when I first saw them, but due to language barriers and my initial reaction, I never really heard that.
We got to the police station and they took me to their captain. Nobody spoke English. And I didn't speak much Spanish (Dang my laziness in college.) But somehow I managed to explain to them that I thought they were thugs and that I didn't want to get mugged. That I had my passport along with any other form of ID in the bus station, and I couldn't retrieve them til the morning. Other cops joined in on the spectacle. We were all in the captains office. They told me that sleeping on church property was illegal. I told them that all I wanted was some sleep where I wouldn't be bothered. The captain jokingly offered one of his jail cells. I almost took it. One of the undercover guys says that it is Pamplona around festival time and that I shouldn't sleep but go downtown and party. They let me go and I began to walk downtown. It must've been about 3. I found a group of Spaniards in a bar, they ended up buying me drinks and we were all dancing. I went to sleep the next day tucked away in the bus station where I sleep peacebly for 6 hours.
Fortunately, I did have one contact however. A woman who goes to my church back in the states told me that her brother lives in Pamplona. His name is Hal Ward and he is a missionary there. I met up with he and his family and they allowed me to stay at their church office. Even gave me a key. I was very lucky. The rest of my time at Pamplona, I always had a place to crash.