Walking along the shore, boots tucked under one arm with both hands clutching a warm cup of steaming espresso, I dipped my toes into the icy Mediterranean. Between the freezing water and strong café I was finally starting to perk up. Still bleary-eyed from my red eye across the pond and exhausted from a full day of non-stop walking, I plopped down on the golden shores of Barcelonetta Beach and quickly dug my feet into the sand, in hopes that my toes would eventually unthaw. I sat there peacefully taking in the scene of a nearly deserted beach, with the exception of the two tourists far to my right, who were getting pampered by the Vietnamese migrant workers that were out propositioning beachgoers for seaside massages. Nuzzling further into my sweater to help shield myself from the chilly breeze, I began contemplating the two major misconceptions I had about Spain, both of which were most likely a result from the fact that I currently lived in Miami. The first was that the rest of the world would follow Florida’s seasonal calendar. It was May and already full blown beach weather back home. The mere thought of this irritated me knowing my new bikini, which I had bought especially for the occasion, would not be making its European debut (at least not in Barca anyway).
The second misconception was that Spain would be somewhat similar to Latin America. Having lived in Miami (aka Little Cuba) for several years, in addition to having taken recent trips to Nicaragua and Brazil, I came to know Latin culture to be boisterous, colorful, warm and welcoming. I also found the people to be extremely curious by nature, to the point of borderline intrusive. Needless to say, when immersed in Latin culture I had grown accustomed to receiving lots of attention. Some wanted. Some not. There were always the inquisitive locals who asked, where are you from? How old are you? Are you married? (wanted). And then there were the unavoidable cat calls from teenage boys all the way to grown men (unwanted). Either way, being a blonde American female I was used to being a spectacle. So I figured with Spain being the mother country of Latin America, how far could the apple really fall from the tree? Let’s just say if Spain was the mother country, I was now under the supervision of a neglectful parent.
I somehow managed to spend the day traversing the entire city, combing every narrow alley way and spacious plaza of this Mediterranean hotspot, while going unnoticed and being overlooked. From the moment my plane landed at 10am, I quickly ditched my bag at the hostel (since it was too early to check in) and set off to explore the city, all in a jet-lagged haze and the same stale clothes from the long flight over. I spent the whole morning getting lost in the labyrinth of the narrow and twisting dingy stone block streets of the Barri Gotic district (literally and figuratively). I lingered in the Picasso Museum and stood in awe of the nonsensical lines of the Tim Burtonesque structures of the La Sagrada Familia and Casa Mila. I spent the afternoon sipping sangria while people watching in Plaza Real and eating churros as I overlooked the Port Vell Marina. All the while, I was invisible. In fact, I went the whole day without engaging in a single conversation with another human being beyond the trivial exchanges of goods and services at cafes and museums. The Spanish possessed assertive yet poised temperaments as they swiftly walked straight past me, uninterested in my presence, with each step calculated as in Flamenco itself. It wasn’t that Spaniards were unfriendly, they were just indifferent. And it was this laissez faire attitude that allowed me to seamlessly blend into the background and become a silent admirer. Barcelona wasn’t like the Latin American places I had visited, it was dark, sophisticated, arty and seductive. And I was completely enamored by it.
In addition to my new found sense of admiration, the course of the day’s events also left me with an acute awareness for just how alone I really was. Sure I had “traveled solo” before, but that was usually for less than 24 hours, as I would typically be meeting up with friend later that same night or early the next morning from when first arriving in a new destination. There had always been someone waiting for me, knowing that if I didn’t show up that something must be wrong. This was not the case in Barcelona. I had the next 4 days stretched out in front of me before I had to meet any obligations in Seville, which was where my university’s summer abroad program was set to begin. But for now, I had nothing to do and no one to report to and if something happened, I had no one who would notice. A realization that was strange, thrilling and slightly scary.
Just then, a strong gust of wind came and snapped me out of my deep contemplative state as I scrambled to grab my now empty coffee cup flailing in the wind. I had no idea what time it was or how long I had been sitting on that beach. So far my time in Barcelona had been as unstructured as a Dali clock. At that point, I knew I should probably go find an internet café to let my friends and family back home know that I had arrived safely but I could not will myself off that beach. I was too busy basking in my utter aloneness and in the warm evening sun.
But after a little while longer I finally peeled myself off the beach, dusted off the sand, rejected my final proposition for a massage and started to make my way back to the hostel. Judging by the sultry shadows being cast by the Spanish sunset, I guessed it was about 8:30pm.