If you go to Valencia, which I suggest you do, you’ll have a better time than I did. I’ll start with a diatribe about a little obstacle in our trip, and some general travel philosophy. Or you can scroll down to the rooftop photo.
I wake up throughout the night whenever I sleep in a tent, so it took a few iterations before I started to realize that something was waking me up. I kept scratching my hand and wrist. Then I heard the distinctive whine of a mosquito in my ear. I grumbled and rolled over, not wanting to turn on the lantern and wake up my dear sleeping husband. Inches to my left, on the other side of my tent door, was my pack. I keep it oriented so that I can reach the top flap, which is where I keep things I might want to access quickly. I knew my head net was in there because I had finally made a rule that anything as lightweight and small as that should just live in my pack. I found the head net, pulled it on, zipped my door closed again, tucked my hands inside the sleeping bag, and managed to fall asleep.
In the morning the story became clear. There were TWENTY mosquitos in the tent. We have to do root cause on this stuff, because if there’s a hole in the tent, then we need to patch it. Darling husband has immediately realized this was his doing. He got thirsty in the night, unzipped his door to get his water bottle, and left the door unzipped as he fell back to sleep. Root cause: water bottle not inside tent. Solution: make sure bottle is in tent before falling asleep. Bonus: pay attention when camp is adjacent to a bird sanctuary/protected wetlands.
We’ve zipped our sleeping bags together, meaning there can be a large opening down the middle of our bed. He’s lying on his side, his entire bare back exposed. I’m wearing thermal underwear. His total: zero bites. Mine: twelve. I have four in the middle of my forehead, one on my eyebrow, two on the end of my nose, and one on my ******* eyelid. There’s one directly under my watch, two more on my wrist and hand, and one on my hip. I feel infected, polluted, and disfigured. I want to explain to people: I DON’T REALLY LOOK LIKE THIS! I don’t look like I have bug bites; I look like I have some birth defects and a case of acne.
After my shower, I clean my ears with a cotton swab. Then I die. THERE WAS A DEAD MOSQUITO INSIDE MY EAR. There. I said it. I checked the weather forecast for our trip before we left, deliberately wondered whether there would be mosquitos, and decided it would be too cold. I didn’t bring bug spray and I didn’t bring my Therapik, either. Much as I love the Therapik, I wouldn’t have used it on my eyelid, so I would still have been in a rough mood.
This is something to know about travel. No matter whether you travel alone, with a lover, with family, with business colleagues, in a group of friends or strangers – there will be other humans. Sometimes you will do things to them and sometimes they will do things to you. Sometimes it will be intentional and sometimes it will be unintentional. Travel is stressful, and the only way to have fun is to remember that at all times. It can be so stressful that it can put you into an altered state of consciousness. Friendships end on big trips all the time, and love affairs do, too. I think if we were all more honest about the rigors and annoyances and depressing moments of travel, it would be easier to accept them philosophically and not let them ruin a trip.
The funny thing was that my husband apologized profusely, over and over again, but I didn’t blame him. How could I? I have a major parasomnia disorder (or several) and I do bizarre things in my sleep all the time. There is no way I could ever judge someone for doing something in a state of confusional arousal. He was half asleep and he made a mistake. It wasn’t his doing, it was the mosquitos’ doing. That didn’t mean I didn’t itch like crazy, and it didn’t mean I wasn’t paranoid about coming down with Zika virus, West Nile, malaria, or all three. All that happened was that when I complained about itching, he felt criticized and judged, while I would only really judge him for leaving the tent door unzipped while he was awake, which is a different story. We both agreed that it was a little unfair for the bugs to devour me and leave him untouched. At least vampires ask to be invited in first.
About nagging: it doesn’t really work. At least I don’t think it works past a certain age. My dad started taking me camping when I was 2 years old, and he was very rigorous in instilling certain habits. Tent doors are always zipped closed immediately after coming or going. If you can set up your time machine so you are simultaneously emerging and zipping, so much the better. Zipper pulls always line up in the precise center of any door, backpack pocket, window flap, suitcase lid, etc. By the time I was 9 I’m sure I thought my dad’s way was the only way. It made sense to me that everyone could always find the zippers in the dark, half asleep, in a serious hurry. When you wind up having to pee three times in the night, the idea sells itself. What I’ve had to learn through a couple of dozen roommates is that just because an idea makes sense to me, does not mean anyone but me values it in the same way. I’ve tried to focus on areas where I can teach myself to be more conscientious and agreeable any time someone else’s differing habits don’t mesh perfectly with mine.
We set off downtown. I was tired, headachy, and of course itchy. The beautiful weather, warmer than Barcelona, was a help, and we were both looking forward to a nice day of exploration. We stopped at Starbucks for tea and decisions. We had a tourist map and TripAdvisor; the guidebook didn’t even include Valencia in the index. It looked like we could easily see everything we wanted to see and be done in plenty of time for the last bus to camp.
The first thing we did was to climb a bell tower and look at the view. There are a lot of tiny rooftop apartments in Valencia with little patios. It looks like a lot of Spaniards actually live the way Pinterest would want you to think they do.
Then I had to find a restroom. This is a chronic problem in Spain. Either there’s nowhere at all to go, there’s a pay toilet and you need exact change, there’s a combination lock, or the restroom is beyond San Francisco-level scary. We wound up going to a Burger King, where we needed a receipt and each restroom had a different passcode. My husband bought some fries for the cause. As he was eating the fries, an aggressive beggar came in and made a beeline straight for us. This happens to us at home on about a weekly basis, so we can’t really consider it a Spanish problem. The man had a posterboard with pictures of his kids glued on, or at least that was the assumption. His response to “No Spanish” was to start gesticulating and pantomiming putting food in his mouth.
Most places in the world have beggars. The most recent census for Los Angeles County, where I live, indicates over 46,000 homeless people. I have worked in a homeless shelter, a drug rehab, a transitional housing office, and other social services providers, so I’m familiar with the issue. I know that even if we could hand everyone who asked us for money $10,000, it wouldn’t solve the problem. We give to a soup kitchen and various canned food drives, I have sponsored a student in Zambia for a few years now, and we have done micro-lending together since before we started dating.
Can you tell how defensive I am about this?
Aggressive panhandlers always leave me shaken and upset. At home, I try to talk to people about whether they are aware of all the services in the area. On foreign ground, I don’t know what to do. I don’t know if we’re being shaken down by scam artists or if this poor man really does have physically starving little children at home. I can’t stop thinking about him and this incident for the next several hours.
We go to the Almoina Archaeological Center, one of the best museums we’ve seen, and check out the Roman ruins. The entire basement of the building is a preserved dig area, like the 871 Museum in Reykjavik. They have skeletons down there, which is a bit spooky. They also have intact glass vials, which is even spookier in a way. I mean, after a few thousand years, we expect people to have passed away and become skeletons, but… glass?
We pop into a little bookstore, still hoping for a birding guide, but it’s all popular titles in Spanish, with a major focus on self-improvement. Much of the same stuff that’s trendy at home, from yoga to juicing to gluten-free food, is also trendy in Spain.
We go to the city wall and climb to the top. Spain is full of forts and fortresses and castles. It’s strange that we have this romantic image of castles, when they were built to defend against foreign invaders. Most of them hopefully never needed to be used for their intended purpose, but some of them represent the deaths of hundreds of people due to battle or siege. Almost anyone who ever spent any time in a castle did so as part of a physically demanding job description with little or no autonomy. If you were there, you might well have been cleaning chamber pots. I thank my lucky stars that I live in the 21st century in a little suburban rental house.
We wandered halfway across town to a veg-friendly tapas place I had found. We had never had tapas before. We understood that tapas is really a name for Smartest Way to Share Restaurant Meals ever. You basically choose a bunch of appetizers and eat them for dinner. If you want more of one particular dish than the others, you order a larger portion. There wasn’t anything particularly Spanish about any of the individual dishes that we could tell. There was something from all of our favorite cuisines. If every restaurant in the world served meals tapas-style, it would probably result in world peace.
We went to the Falla Museum just before it closed for the day. Fallas are what would happen if Norman Rockwell painted the Garbage Pail Kids and they were then made into Rose Bowl Parade floats, with Burning Man afterward. The museum had a scale model of every winning entry dating back to the 1930s. Many of them abjectly failed any modern sense of political correctness. One was so alarming that I haven’t even shown the picture to anyone because it really needs a trigger warning.
Across from the little Falla Museum was the City of the Arts and Sciences. This place was amazing, partly in its own right, and partly due to its proximity to the Casco Antiguo, or historic district. Thousands of years of human history, and it showed. We had to hustle through it on our way to the grocery store. It was another moment of I Could Live Here. There were a lot of runners going by, and I knew that I’d be doing the same a few times a week if I were local.
We bought our groceries and waited at the bus stop, anxious that we were too late. I wanted to sit on a curb, but I saw a rat scurrying through the hedge, and then a few more. It had been a long, weary day. Valencia was a truly lovely place, enchanting really, but I felt like I could use a rest day. Instead, we wound up doing laundry back at camp. That’s where we met a friendly French teacher, who said she loved coming to Spain because the Spanish people are so warm and they really know how to throw a festival.
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I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.