“Welcome to Madrid” read the sign.
What a damn good sign.
It meant I was one step closer to the San Fermines, a week long celebration in Northern Spain with literally millions of people from around the world wearing red and white, cruising the streets while openly drinking beer, sangria and Kalimotxo, a mixture of red wine and Coke. No, not that type of coke. Coca-Cola. It’s a Basque region drink and it’s delicious.
I just needed to figure out how to make the 390 km trek as fast as I could. Shouldn’t be too hard.
Buses are the cheapest and best way to travel Europe so I headed straight for the ticket counter.
The line was a mixture of locals and very obvious international backpackers with the same goal and same characteristic lack of planning. We can’t be bothered to make plans, we just go with whatever happens and make it work.
The guy in front of me steps up to the counter.
“Do you speak English?”
“There are no more buses to Pamplona. They are all booked for the next few days. The next train leaves at 10 o’clock tonight” comes the response in surprisingly well spoken English. Rare in Spain.
Fuck. Not good. Tomorrow morning is the opening ceremony and it’s a must. I can’t miss it. Thousands of people in the crowded Town Hall square, drinking sangria as on lookers hurl buckets of water and all sorts of random liquids from their balconies. The fireworks, the absolute insanity as the crowd of 5000 take bandanas off their wrists, hold them in the air as the countdown begins, then erupt into mass chaos as everyone jumps around spraying sangria and beer as the masses tie the bandanas around their necks to signal of the start of the festival.
I have to be there.
America peels off, dejected, and I soon follow, having already heard the bad news. I quickly catch up to him.
“Hey mate, keen on renting a car together? It’s our best chance.”
He’s down. Now let’s track down some other travelers. Got ‘em.
The group of us, 3 Aussies and an American, head straight for the rental car station, making small talk and getting to know each other.
“All y’all are from Australia? That’s awesome, do you know each other?”
“No, mate, not all Australians know each other. It’s a big fucking island.”
Newbie. We’re all well into our travels but he’s just starting his.
To rent a car for the 5 hour trip would cost about 50 Euros a person. About twice as expensive as a bus and slightly more expensive than a train. But it’s the fucking San Fermines! None of us doubted throwing down the money. We all knew what was at stake.
“The car is a manual. Can you drive a manual?” I ask the American, figuring he’s our best chance since the rest of us drive on the left side of the road.
“Sorry, girl, never learned.”
“I can drive a manual” chimes in the Western Australian-300 km-outside-of-Perth bogan. “Only problem is I’ve never fucking driven on the right side of the road.” He swears more than I do.
“Fuck it, you’ll learn quickly.”
We get all our Euros together, pay the fee and we’re off in no time, our driver taking it slowly at first but quickly escalating his driving skills. He get so good, in fact, he is soon participating in the consumption of the San Miguel half carton we bought for the drive.
Soon we’d all be in Pamplona for the time of our lives.