Mere hours into turning 30, I was off to a rocky start. I had woken up a little later than I intended after a disappointing night out. Frantically, I began to nail down my plans for that day.
I wanted to go hiking, but I had yet to secure a location. I needed someplace close by and cheap. A Google search led me to decide on Cercedilla, a municipality near the border of the Madrid province and the province of Castilla de Leon. Unlike the other close camping spots, Cercedilla offered a hike and natural pools. Being the water child that I am, I chose to indulge in the best of both worlds.
I had two options to get there, by train or by bus. According to the schedule, The next cercania, high-speed train, to Cercedilla was scheduled to leave at 11:01 and would take a little less than an hour and a half. Perfect.
I left my house at 10:30 and headed towards the bus stop. The trip would take only 15 minutes and drop me off directly in front of the train station—if the bus were to come on time. So I walked the three minutes to the bus stop and waited. And waited and waited.
When the clock on the bus station read 10:50, I thought it best to weigh my options. The next cercania wouldn’t leave for Cercedilla until the following hour. Which meant that I would not arrive at the mountains until 1:30. I could not imagine starting my special day at such a late hour, so I checked the bus schedule again. I was in luck! The next bus was scheduled to leave at 11:15.and would get me to Cercedilla in a little over an hour.
I arrived at the bus station in Moncloa with about 8 minutes to spare. Now, I had to find an ATM. At the train station, I could have paid for my ticket at a machine with a card, but bus tickets had to be purchased on board with cash. I found one on the floor below and managed to get back upstairs with about 2 minutes to spare.
This is the point when all my luck dramatically changed and the day became so, quintessentially Spanish
This is the point when all my luck dramatically changed and the day became so, quintessentially Spanish...at least in my experience. I approached the driver and I tried to hand him the twenty dollar bill I had just taken out of the ATM. He gave me an exasperated look and threw his hands in the air.
In a hurried Spanish, he exclaimed that he did not have the necessary change to break the bill. He pointed to a sign above his head that urged customers to have the correct change because the drivers didn’t have the necessary change to break anything larger than a five euro bill.
As a point of reference, I had taken the bus, with the same bus company, four days a week for 7 months. This was the first time I had ever seen such a sign or heard of such a rule. I was flabbergasted.
The Bus Driver
He shrugged his shoulders and I let out a pathetic, ¿en serio? before I turned and exited. It was one of the many moments that I wished that my Spanish was better. More than being kicked off the bus, I was annoyed at the illogicality of the sign; or, more specifically the placement of the sign.
“Why ” I wanted to impress on him, “would you put that inside the bus? After the person has already entered and has no means to rectify the situation? Wouldn’t it make more sense to have it hanging somewhere on or above the door on the platform? Or on the little board with a map and prices so that people would know before they got on that they needed to have correct change?” Unfortunately, I did not have the vocabulary to vocalize that frustration. Instead, I turned and walked off the bus.
The following bus was scheduled to leave thirty minutes later. So, I headed back downstairs to a kiosk that sold freshly squeezed orange juice and croissants. As I was walking up, I saw the only employee dragging the trash away. No, bother. I had time to kill. In the meantime, I tried, to cool off. I decided that fresh squeezed orange juice would serve as something of a treat in spite of my troubles.
5 minutes later, the girl showed up. “¿Dime carino?” she said. I told her that I wanted a small orange juice. She told me that the machine was broken. I hung my head and let out something that was a combination of both a sigh and a laugh. She went on to say that they had some sort of lemon drink that would be very refreshing on such a hot day. I agreed, assuming that it would be lemonade, a welcome substitute. Instead, she handed me a Spanish version of a lemon slushy. I handed her the money, took a sip and immediately began to question all of my life choices thus far.
It was literally the sweetest thing I had ever tasted—at least in a very long while. In my experience, Spanish confections and dessert drinks tend to be less prone to producing a diabetic coma than their American counterparts. But this drink it seemed as though it had been sent to me directly from a country fair where fried Oreos were considered a diet food.
But this drink it seemed as thought it had been sent to me directly from a country fair where fried Oreos were considered a diet food.
I took my drink and my paper towel upstairs and boarded the bus without incident. I thought that I heard the driver tell me to keep my receipt, but I wasn’t quite sure. As I was sitting down, the receipt flew out of my hands and into the space between my seat and the one directly behind me.
I tried to reach for it, but too many people were still trying to board and I didn’t want to be in the way. As we were departing the station, the bus driver stopped to let on another passenger, before finally taking off. The newest addition and the driver spent some time chatting and I watched the people in the seats in front of me pull out their passes and receipts.
I took time to formulate how to ask the passenger behind me to please hand me my receipt. Luckily, my bid was successful and I spent the rest of the ride relaxing.
Eventually, we neared the mountain range and the bus rode past the train station in the town. I had planned to ride the bus to the end, but I panicked a little and got off at the stop directly preceding the train station. I planned on walking back towards the train station where I could ask where I could find the tourism office and grab a map. But I remembered, a little too late, that the writer of the blog had mentioned that the office was about a mile away from the train station. Great. So, I started walking through this pueblo in desperate need of a map and a bathroom.
I walked and walked and walked. Admiring the charms of this tiny pueblo that seemed to have only one main road and the mountains that loomed before me. Despite all my stumbling blocks, I was confident that I had made the right decision in deciding to celebrate my birthday here.