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Published: December 17th 2006
We caught the 4 o'clock bus from Málaga, and it was surprisingly empty. After about 1.5 hours of driving through the mountains we emerged into a wide basin and stopped at the town of Antequera. We picked up about 15 people in the town, and then got back on the highway towards Córdoba. A couple of Dutch girls got on the bus as well, and after a bit they asked to borrow my guidebook to see where the hostel was. It was starting to get dark, and Eleanor asked if maybe we should try to call some places in the guidebook to book a room. I got out my phone, and started calling the Hostal's that were listed in her book. Over the next 10 minutes, as I phoned each one in turn, a disturbing trend emerged. I would ask "¿Tiene habitaciones para esta noche?", and they would reply with "No, está completo". And so we began to slowly grasp the severity of the situation we were looking at.
Since everything in the book was full, we decided to make a beeline for the only hostel (it's phone wasn't working), and try anything we saw on the way over. I was expecting the station to be in an area with a number of pensiones and hostales, but it turned out to be just a residential area. There was a 2 star hotel next to the station, which we figured we'd come back to as a last resort. And so, we started our walk into town. After about 10 minutes we entered the city center and got our first glimpse of the throng of people who were celebrating the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. All I can say is wow. My jaw absolutely dropped when we emerged into one of the main squares and it was 100% packed with people. I've never seen this many people in one place in Spain. Not even in Madrid. This is where we started to become really concerned.
After passing the square, we started coming across pensiones and hostales, as well as hotels. We started going into all the hostales and pensiones. Everywhere we went, the answer was "completo", "completo". I was beginning to hate that word. We eventually made it to the hostel, and as soon as I saw the age of the people hanging around the desk I knew that the hostel would be full. They suggested we try more places on the edges of the center, but they didn't really have any good ideas where.
As we walked back towards the bus station, we started stopping in hotels. They were full too. Shit. A really nice receptionist in a 2 star hotel spent about 15 minutes calling around town with absolutely no luck. She suggested we try some of the surrounding towns, but without a car it would be impossible. So, we headed towards the station to try our last resort. We walked in with our fingers crossed, but the answer was the same.
I was dumbfounded. This had never happened to me, not in more than 3 months of traveling. There has always been a place. I felt really bad, especially since Eleanor was pretty sick and I felt like I was coming down with something. Had I been alone I would have probably just camped at the bus station, but we needed to do something. After considering our options for a bit (not many) we went to the bus station and checked the times to try to go somewhere else. We had 2 choices: an overnight to San Sebastian, and an overnight to Madrid. The San Sebastian didn't make much sense, especially since it's a smaller city and we'd be more likely to find ourselves in the same situation the next day. So, the decision was made -- we were going to Madrid. We had about 3 hours to kill before the 1 am bus, and the bus station was dodgy as hell, so we walked across the street to the much nicer (and warmer) train station. I forgot to mention that we'd been walking around for 2 hours in 40 degree (F) weather, so it wasn't exactly a pleasant night.
We hung out at the station until 12 when they kicked us out, or at least that's what it seemed. At this point we met 2 people from London -- a mother and her son. They had arrived in Madrid in the morning, and taken the train down and found themselves in exactly the same situation as us. As we stood outside the station, one of the security guards was telling the woman to go to the hotel (that we had already tried) because they weren't allowed to sleep in the station. I explained to her what he was saying, and then to him that there was no point since it was full. He was astonished. I'm not sure why, I mean what would those two be doing trying to sleep in the station if there was room in a hotel? They didn't exactly look like the type that sleeps in a train station. So, him and his buddies talked for a bit and pointed us to a pension they thought would have space. It was close by and so we decided it was worth a shot.
The walk over took 10 minutes. When we got there, the woman looked devastated. It turns out it was the first place she and her son had tried earlier that evening. They had even been to more places than us, as they had a cab take them all over the city. Defeated, we all walked back to the station, where we left the two of them and Eleanor and I went to get our tickets to Madrid.
The window hadn't been open when we were there earlier, but it was now and so I got us 2 tickets. As it turns out, we got lucky. There were only 4 seats left on the bus after ours. After a little bit, we all boarded the bus and we set about trying to get some sleep. I woke up a couple times during the night, but for the most part we were both able to sleep for most of the ride.
We pulled in to Madrid at 6 in the morning, and it was even colder than it had been in Córdoba. We arrived at Estacion Sur, which is about 1km south of Atocha train station. There is a McDonalds across from Atocha, so we decided to go there to get some breakfast. The walk over was dark and a bit spooky along a basically deserted street. We made it ok, but unfortunately the McDonalds wasn't open. I've never seen them do breakfast over here, but we were hoping this one would. There was an all-night cafe open across the street so we went there and sat eating churros and hot chocolate with tons of Spaniards who were finishing their nights.
I'll leave off there, and this will continue in the next Madrid entry. So stay tuned.
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