San Sebastián

July 22, 2010

San Sebastián (n):
1. A small beach town on the northern coast of Spain.
2. The city where I buried my traveling fears.

After a sleepless night in Pamplona, I greeted San Sebastián with a limp handshake and notable traces of malt liquor knocking against the walls of my empty stomach. Jeremy and I put one stinky foot in front of the other and began the gargantuan task of locating what seemed to be the only available bed in the entire town. With every booked hostel, the red and white outfits that had once represented solidarity quickly became badges of shame. Thankfully, the aptly named San Fermin Hostel opened its dirty doors despite our sorry state.

After setting down my bag and breaking the seal on my travel tear ducts, I attempted to meet my basic needs by showering, eating three slices of bread, and taking a nap. Jeremy, who is not a friend of the nap man, decided to wander about the city, leaving me with a miraculously empty eight bed dorm.

Enter bunkmate.

Bunkmate was a grizzled man in what appeared to be his fifties – a characteristic that turned out to be his first strike against hostel normalcy. To a sleep-deprived, anxiety-prone young woman, this strange man seemed to be the stamp on my impending letter of doom. I was busy sharpening my quivering elbows when I realized that bunkmate’s primary interest was talking himself to sleep. Like a disturbing bed time story, I listened with shallow breaths as his monotone ramblings turned to whispers and eventually, silence. As he slept, I began watching each of my worries jump over the fence of rationality.

Enter nonsensical panic.

How in the world could I make it through five months of perpetual change? How many showers the size of telephone booths could I let drip rusty water onto my tired little body? Why did I decide to empty my shallow pockets for a series of uncomfortable situations? Where in the hell did I put my tooth brush? Eventually this list of irrational fears weighed down my eyelids, and I followed bunkmate’s bread crumbs to sleep.

Two hours later, I opened my eyes, gritted my teeth, and prodded myself into survival mode. When in doubt: climb a mountain, a hill, or – if located in Chicago – any slightly elevated surface. Without fail, this control tactic has slapped sense into me on numerous occasions. Following the good word of Jimmy Buffet (and my mother), I tightened the straps on my Chacos in hopes of changes in latitude, changes in attitude.

Forty five minutes later, I reached the peak of Monte Urgull and found…God. Yes, that’s right folks. My therapeutic hike led me to a monstrous statue of Jesus Christ perched like a spinach leaf on the front tooth of San Sebastián’s highest point. After my laughter faded into the grin of a common sinner, I sat my ass down and admired the phenomenal view of the city. To my relief, I felt small for the second time that day. Unlike the first time, however, I didn’t feel small in comparison to my fears. I felt small enough to thread my way through the lonely moments, the scary moments, and the sad moments that will inevitably come and go.

After a slow descent, I turned the corner (pun intended), returned to my hostel, and found my damn toothbrush.


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