IR INTERRAIL 2003 > Day 16 > Córdoba


I had been joined in my dormitory by a Brazilian, who was touring the south of Spain as a travel guide writer and researcher. He was gathering information and penning personal accounts of his experiences for a new Portuguese-language publication which was gaining popularity in his own country. It seemed an ideal career, being funded by publishers to enjoy oneself and see the world. Naturally though, there were some less less glamorous aspects to the work as he explained.

Often he would have to spend considerable time in each town exploring every last place of interest (or sometimes very little interest), checking the details and prices of countless attractions, restaurants, nightspots and places of accommodation. It could become very tiring, but I still saw it as an enviable job, and one which I was becoming evermore keen on doing myself in the future. He was awake and out of the room early in search of unaccounted treasures within the city of Córdoba, but there was also an American guy sharing my dormitory.

I was on the upper bunk, a position I had become unhappily familiar with in many of the recent hostels. Being ever conscious of my belongings and the possibilities of theft, I was never so keen on the upper bunks as they didn't offer so many spaces for keeping things nearby. Besides which, clambering out of the bed in my underwear was always less graceful when descending from the top bed in clear view of other guests. On this occasion I had the added irritation of laying on a very noisy squeaky bed, which rocked rather unhealthily with any sudden movements made by its twin occupants, threatening to collapse completely and turn the unfortunate victim below into the filling of a rather large inedible sandwich. Every last twitch caused a creak and sway in the bed frame, and I even felt guilty for breathing during the night. Given this awkward situation, I wouldn't have reckoned upon the actions of my lower bunk companion shortly after the Brazilian guy had left the room.

What began as a very slight backward-forward rocking motion as I lay attempting to gain one more hour of sleep, slowly evolved into a frenzied lurching back and forth which quickened pace as the American underneath me became over-excited with his own body parts. As the bed squealed and rattled and springs pinged, it must have sounded to residents in neighbouring rooms like they had booked into a decidedly dodgy hotel where activities of a more salacious nature were commonplace. I was embarrassed at the prospect of exiting the room and showing my face for fear of what people might think. As expected, this flustered activity reached an apex and suddenly stopped, and the knocking and shaking sounds of the bunks were replaced by calm snoring. Whether this man was aware of my presence just a couple of feet above his head seemed debatable, but I would be astonished if anybody could have slept in that bed and not been aware of even a worm laying in the other bunk. It wasn't the most refreshing start to my day - the experience was rather like being a roadie on a George Michael tour bus.

It was the only time that I had been aware of anybody indulging in such singular pastimes when within my gaze or earshot. Certainly it was the latter of the senses that was engaged on this occasion, which was probably fortunate as I feel that to have gazed at such activity would not only have been distressingly unrewarding, but would also probably have resulted in either a punch on the nose or the sinner becoming more excited and begging my participation. Given that the dormitory contained its own separate toilet and shower rooms, I was even more surprised that he didn't opt for some privacy or wait until I had departed. I suppose it was the danger element which had overcome him, not least the danger of being crushed by an unsturdy heavy metal bed collapsing and flattening his manhood.

It had all rather ruined my appetite for breakfast, but I knew that I must eat and there were only twenty minutes left to do so. I faced the tricky decision of whether to wait, hide under the blanket and let him escape for his own morning meal with a false peace of mind, or instead to get up and alarm him by confirming my existence nearby and my sure knowledge therefore of preceding events. Worse still, I might climb down the ladder and be confronted by an expired shrivelled bodily tool that had been left untucked before drowsiness took over. I chose to play out one of those classic actor routines, in which I would begin stretching, yawning, sighing and generally giving the impression of becoming newly awake fresh into the morning and oblivious to former circumstances.

At just that moment I was given a helping hand in this plan by my watch, which I had set the night before to sound an alarm fifteen minutes before the end of the breakfast period. It was the perfect cover. As it beeped I performed my waking charade and lowered myself to the floor, only to find the American laying on top of his sheets wearing just a pair of bulging boxer shorts. He opened his eyes and casually began asking me questions, suggesting the relaxed persona of a partner smoking a post-coital cigarette. I bid him good day, grabbed my shoes and left before he asked me 'How was it for you?'

A white Renault 4 parked in the centre of Córdoba

I had no specific plans for the day, but I had perhaps unwisely booked a two-night stay at the hostel in order to relax, and I now became aware of how difficult that might be if I didn't escape my room and the flustered antics of one of its residents. My first priority, however, was to take some action regarding my footwear. The misery and suffering couldn't continue any longer, and I hunted around the nearby shops in the centre of the city for a remedy. I found the perfect cure - at least a temporary one, with some insoles which brought some welcome relief. Whether they would do the trick for the remaining two weeks was doubtful, but I was determined not to splash out on a whole new pair of shoes. For less than 3 Euros I felt like a new man, and I sat myself down in the park with.......a cake. Now that I had left Portugal and such fancies weren't forced upon me, they had become an attractive proposition once more.

I spotted a Renault 4 parked on the road opposite (above), set against a backdrop of apartment blocks which were in a fairly decrepit, run-down state. The city, like Seville, was in another baking tray location sufficiently far inland to escape any welcome sea breezes drifting up from the Atlantic, and also like Seville it contained a combination of beautiful boulevards and contrasting grotty bits stashed around some corners.

Córdoba station, baking in a heat of forty degrees celsius, just visible on the electronic sign positioned in front of the station

I had to sort out my travel arrangements for the following day, as realistically there was only one train I could take in order to reach Morocco at a reasonable time. Knowing by now how tedious the queueing system often was at Spanish stations, I headed off to the ticket office in Córdoba to get the business done and out of the way. Waiting to purchase my ticket was, as predicted, a lengthy affair, and I found myself pacing the station concourse for an hour. Once done, I walked back into the town, passing another of the electronic time and temperature signs which were frequently found in these parts by the roadside (above). I had seen them showing forty-three degrees celsius earlier on, and I was supposedly to feel thankful that this one was now confirming a comparitively cool forty.

The conspicuous lack of excitement today seemed inexcusable. It was Saturday, but along with the prolonged hangover from Corpus Christi, the soaring temperatures were keeping most wise citizens indoors and little was happening around the city. Cafés were locked up and the only people milling around were tourists like myself. I found my way to a tapas bar that was open, sat myself down with a tomato salsa and downed a cerveza, then spent a couple of hours firing off emails to the forgotten ones at the absurdly cheap Internet facility within the hostel.

By this time it was late afternoon, and expecting the evening meals served here to be equally good value, I put in an order for one. Some proper hot food would be a welcome change to my standard supermarket offerings which seldom involved cooking anything, but the cost was not as impressive as I had hoped it would be, and for the price I might as well have tried a local restaurant instead, soaking up some genuine Spanish cuisine in the process. I had rather lost my nerve a little when it came to eating out alone, and had there been anybody else similarly single in the hostel I would have been happy to suggest some shared dining experience, but the place was still unsatisfyingly quiet.

As far as other activities were concerned, my Brazilian room-mate-cum-travel guide had suggested visiting the Mezquita, perhaps the most famous landmark of Córdoba and located only yards from the hostel. However, I had missed the once-weekly free entry opportunity, and it would now set me back a fair price to go inside. I knew, having already reserved my seat on the train for tomorrow morning, that there was little chance of rising at 6am and taking a whistle-stop tour of the place before heading off for the station, so now was my only chance to visit. But I was feeling financially wounded and worried that at this, the halfway point of my adventure, I may already have spent substantially more than half my budget. So I missed out on what may have been the city's star attraction and instead spent the evening, once more, reading in the courtyard.

Days before leaving England I had found a novel in a charity shop which seemed a fitting companion for my voyages. It was based on the true stories of a writer who had moved with his family to Spain, and settled in amongst the local traditions in a province on the east coast. Although his middle-class perspective as a resident was at odds with my own humble tourist existence, there were many things I would read about and then witness for myself whilst in the country. Certainly the lazy pace of life in these parched regions was evident, as was the countryside with its rows of citrus groves, and the variety of the fresh local cuisine was also described in detail through the pages. There were countless references to all sorts of weird and wonderful characters and situations encountered in everyday Spanish life. I was fairly certain, however, that I never read any warnings about laying awake on a rickety, vibrating bunk bed whilst other persons openly pleasured themselves, so I had to assume that such events weren't a celebrated tradition in this part of the world. Nevertheless, I had my own small, embarrassing scene involving a room-mate still to come.

During my evening in the courtyard, I again sat as a solitary figure under the stars, with only the occasional gecko climbing the walls for company. The peaceful square was also a main passage linking one side of the hostel building, but so few guests were booked in that rarely did anyone walk past. Then a lone girl strolled in and glanced across at me before sitting down at a table on the far side. She was young, attractive and probably Spanish, judging by her features. It was fairly dark, aside from the area where I sat which was lit by the glow of some vending machines, acting as a magnet to various small creatures which found this a source of fascination, but I could see her occasionally looking around at me in a shy manner.

This was my opportunity, I had to seize my chance; a single female in want of some company and here I was, keen to practise my Spanish skills. I tentatively sat trying to look casual for a good fifteen minutes, exchanging the odd mildly flirtatious glance, and trying to build up enough courage within me for what would be an obvious pulling maneouvre. I had never been the greatest demonstrator of chat-up lines, or of initiating any communication with the opposite sex, but here, hundreds of miles away from home where nobody knew me, it didn't seem so daunting. It was a shame that she too wasn't a small enough creature to be enticed by the allure of my glowing surroundings, and this meant that I would have to make the first move and take my magnetic charm to her. I had sat endlessly going over all the possibilities and outcomes in my head, and then with a confident spurt, I decided to go for it and introduce myself.

As I approached, she suddenly began exerting previously redundant facial muscles and eyed me with a cautious, almost frowning look, rattling my nerve somewhat. My initial enquiry as to what language she spoke had only just extracted the word español, when our fleeting acquaintance was interrupted with the worst possible outcome. My Brazilian room-mate, who I had already shared quite a few friendly conversations with, arrived at that very moment and asked the girl if she was ready to go. He looked at me with a bemused and concerned expression, wondering why I had betrayed him in deciding to chat up his girlfriend, and I edged myself away red-faced, limbs frozen and unable to muster up another word to lighten the mood.

The Brazilian had never made it known previously that he was not travelling alone, and his big tease of a female partner had clearly revelled in not letting on either. It had taken me a full quarter of an hour to muse over the situation and the pros and cons of approaching the girl. If I had waited just three more seconds I would have been spared any embarrassment. I returned to my seat and the surrounding insects, and remained there with my wine and my book until after midnight, completing another six chapters about the cheerful life of Spain, and feeling that I was missing out on it.

HOSTEL REPORT: Albergue Juvenil Córdoba - see day 15

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