I wanted to go from Morocco directly to Portugal with a ferry but the schedule around Christmas Day only had ferries to Algeciras. You can see Spain from Tanger, where Africa and Europe are only 15 km away at the closest point, and the ferry is only supposed to take 35 minutes. But, the boat leaves half an hour later than its supposed to, and passengers disembark one by one in Tarifa where lonely backpackers are obviously suspected for drug smuggling. So once all our bags have been ripped apart and our bodies patted down, you take a bus from Tarifa to Algeciras, with a view of Gibraltar rock in front of you and Morocco on your right the whole way. Take in the one hour time change, and the trip from Africa to Europe takes about 4 hours… but I didn’t feel I had gotten very far since Algeciras was full of cafes with Arabic speaking men drinking coffee. Not a Spaniard was in sight, probably because it was Christmas day, but the only two things open were the bus staion and an internet café, so I managed to make it to Seville on the only bus.
I couchsurfed with an Italian in Seville, and his Moroccan friend came over, and they were the two strangers I shared Christmas night with. We drank Portugese beer and made paninis on his mini George Forman grill, so it was a very non-religious, international evening. The next day there were no direct buses to Portugal, so I made my way through Merida where I could change buses for a connection to Lisbon. I had 3 hours in Merida which I expected to pass without much excitement, but I found out Merida was a gorgeous town full of ancient Roman ruins. A Roman bridge, a Teatro Romano and a fort overtaken by African Muslims in the 14th Century provided beautiful grounds to wander around and dream about what this city was like 700 years ago. Since it was December 26th, the streets were full of eager shoppers trying taking advantage of the post-Christmas sales, and I started feeling very grateful that there was no direct bus that morning, or else I would have missed seeing this happy little city I hadn’t known existed.
After 8 days in Portugal and celebrating New Years eve in Porto, I needed to get to Barcelona. I thought it would be easy to bus it all the way across Spain, but again there were no direct buses so I had to connect in Madrid. I decided to take a day bus from Lisbon to Madrid, and an overnight bus from Madrid to Barcelona, but Jan 6 is another big holiday in Spain so there were no seats left on the bus to Barcelona. I didn’t find this out until I was in Madrid, standing at the bus ticket counter, and the next 12 buses were full so I was forced to enjoy a night and half a day in Madrid, unregretfully.
I stayed in the gay neighbourhood and drank beers with my Parisian friend, and the next day we walked through Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor to take in all the festive markets and enjoy traditional cake for the Kings holiday.
In Barcelona, I met up with a British friend I met at Burning Man 3 years ago and hadn’t seen since. He lived in a huge flat with 2 other British guys, a French Guy, and a Spanish girl in the party center of Barcelona, and we joined them for a typical Saturday night out in Las Ramblas. We went to a club called Apollo, and after I walked 5 metres into the bar, I spotted a guy who looked exactly like a friend from Iceland. I thought about how funny it would be if I went up to him, tapped him on the shoulder, and excitedly started telling him in Icelandic how happy I was to see him, when I realized it really actually was him, and he was with 6 other Icelandic people. Small world.