“What?” Tyler asked. He could tell immediately based on the look on my face what was up. “They’re booked.”
“They’re booked.” I agreed back.
We were in Granada, at Granada Inn Backpackers. At least, we were for the next hour or so. It was a Saturday, and like a couple of dumb idiots, we didn’t book in advance. Tyler would argue that we were simply planning on moving on that day, but to be completely honest, we were in love with Granada. There was no way in hell we were going to leave yet.
We thought about next moves. We didn’t want to leave the city, but we sure didn’t want to pay in excess of 100 Euros for an Airbnb on short notice. Even the hostels spike on the weekends to extortionate rates: 30-40 Euros per bed, even in the more dive places. We went downstairs, forming a plan as we walked.
The folks at the front desk were understanding. Most hostel employees are backpackers themselves, and have been in the same situation before. On the same note, they could just as easily have said “well, you’re shit out of luck, adios.” Luckily, they didn’t. We spoke with a French girl and a Spanish guy at the desk, both of whom were very accommodating. We settled on a plan: we’d pre-pay for the next night’s stay and in exchange we’d be able to leave our packs in lockup, use the kitchen, laundry, and showers if needed. The stroke of Tyler’s genius was that we had a tent, a guitar, and granola bars out the wazoo. I also had beer.
We hung out in the kitchen most of the day, whiling down the hours by cooking bean patties and grilled cheese tubes (I’ll explain that one eventually). We chatted with people who came and went, shared coffee, stories, and drinks. I was tempted by the sangria happy hour (3 Euros all-you-can-drink) but my better judgment warned me against it. Around eight o’clock we gathered our things. Tyler’s pack was the smaller of the two and it suited us well. We had flashlights and food bought at the phenomenally bizarre store TIGER. I highly recommend this insane place. It’s like if you cross a dollar store with an IKEA and also a bit of cocaine or something. There’s just an air of manageable absurdity to it. We had our Opinel pocketknives and all other kinds of krimskrams. Tyler’s guitar was strapped to my back, along with our bedrolls and sleeping bags. We bid the desk staff a good night and headed out into the Andalucian night.
Our goal was to put up the tent in the Sacromonte area just outside of the city. There’s a lot of grassy hills overlooking the city proper, with incredible vistas of the Alhambra and beyond. Well, I get the benefit of seeing the lights of these places, anyhow. We set out with our gear, light as we could make it. The walk started busy, even though it was early by Spanish standards. The hostel’s in a warren of back alleys not far from a main road. When we came out into the city proper, oddly enough dominated at the main intersection by a Burger King, of all things, we elbowed through the crowds, heading north. Along Calle Reyes Catolicos we passed closing, or already-closed shops. Zara, H&M, the whole bit. You really get that immersive feeling.
I’m being facetious.
My favourite part of the street, though, is this one stretch that has, by our count, five (maybe six) kebab shops. We called this the Kebab Kingdom, since you’ll see shops called “Kebab King,” “King of Kebab,” and even the one outlier, “Shawarma King.” Some real Game of Thrones content, right there. Actually, I like this bit of road better than Game of Thrones. To the best of my knowledge, Shawarma King never killed a Dire Wolf in the third episode so I’m never watching it again.
Anyway, we passed safely through the Kingdom of Kebab, until the road became Carrera del Darro, a much more narrow street following along a stream (and the Alhambra prominently on a hill) to the east, and the El Albacin neighbourhood on the left. El Albacin is wonderful. Hilly, a bit sketchy in the evening, and it smells of food, spices, and once in a while like someone barfed in the corner. Which they probably did.
We rounded El Albacin, leaving the Alhambra to our backs and we started to climb. I remember there was a soccer/football match on and at some point during our hike the city just went off. Horns, cheers, boos, yelling, firework, the whole lot. And still, we climbed.
The asphalt gave way to gravel and dirt, and eventually became a simple walking path. We’d been up the hill a day or two before with some Americans we’d met, but night hiking is a different story. We chose the spot we were going because we’d be inconspicuous; neither of us were 100% clear on the freecamping laws in the city, so the less attention we drew, the better.
Yeah, the hill was covered in people. I don’t blame them. It was a beautiful night. Maybe 19 degrees. The people sat along this wide cinderblock wall, just watching their city, enjoying the night. Me, I couldn’t really see a damned thing.
I use light. I manipulate it to my advantage. How I mean is that, at night, I have to use what I can see to deduce what’s in front of me. That sounds simple, like what we all do, right? That’s because, yes, it is. I just do it slightly differently. See, a sidewalk absorbs and reflects light differently than asphalt, than wood, than a sewer grate. I use logic to figure out, “okay, so this lighter bit stretches off ahead and the darker bit goes off to the right and that’s much darker. This is obviously the sidewalk.” Or if I’m on that sidewalk and suddenly there’s what I perceive to be a giant square void, I tentatively reach out with my cane and find that, oh, hey, it’s a subway grate.
Out in the dirt trails, it’s all cane and all sound. If I’m lucky, it’ll have rained a bit, or maybe the plants will have moisture on them to reflect some light, to differentiate it from the path. Not that night. I had to navigate with Tyler’s footsteps ahead of me. I’m getting better at listening to someone’s footfall and anticipating what I’m about to be in for. Tyler’s a great travel companion because he’s also pretty cognizant of what I can and can’t see, or interpret. He’ll give me warnings of branches and things my cane may miss, which is definitely handy.
Eventually, we found a decent, flat area to camp down at. We were discussing whether or not we should go further into the hills or just move if we get told to when we both stop and look at each other.
“What the hell is that?” I ask, “Is that…bass guitar?”
“…yeah. It is. Like, super close. And amped.”
We listened for a few moments. Sure enough, there up in the hills we were hearing what was clearly an electric bass guitar, accompanied by a girl’s beautiful singing voice. We barely discussed it and picked up our things to go find the source.
We didn’t have to go far. We found a group of about eight or ten people standing in a circle, around a girl sitting in the grass singing, and a young guy next to her, perched on a small travel amp, playing his bass. The crowd moved slightly to allow us a view and we stood in silence. No one spoke. After that song, some chatted briefly but were cut off when they started back up. Everyone was sitting at that point. About three songs in Tyler pulled his guitar out and started to strum along. Egg shakers (little plastic eggs with beads, like maracas) came into play. After about six songs, including some Blur and Radiohead, we all started to speak.
They spoke to us first in Spanish. When that didn’t work, French, then English. After explaining we were Canadians, backpacking, filming a YouTube channel, we were immediately accepted. They were a group of friends from all over Europe, part of an Erasmus (European exchange language learning) program. There was an Italian, some Germans, a few Spaniards, and they were all exceptionally lovely people. For the most part, they were musicians, and that’s what brought us together: music. We played and sang for what felt like hours, suddenly friends. The smell of the grass and the trees in the distance. The sound of the city below. The lights of the Alhambra, prominent. Even the stars were out. the air started to crisp up.
“Where are you staying tonight?” one of the girls asked us. Tyler motioned to the tent and waved his hand toward the hills further on.
“Up there, somewhere?”
The group conferred a bit and concluded that us camping was entirely unacceptable, not when they had extra mattresses in their apartment. We tried to decline politely at first but the decision was unanimous. So, we walked as an oddball international group, back toward Granada.
I spoke with one guy, and I was curious about something: they knew I’m blind, they could see me walking with my cane…weren’t they concerned of my being up in these hills, with roots and trails and gravel?
“Well, you got up here. You seem smart enough not to do something you can’t get out of.”
Right answer. That’s the first time I’ve met a group of people in their early-to-mid twenties who got it immediately. That’s what I set out to show, and here’s this group of wonderful weirdos in the hills outside Granada who immediately figured it out. I felt home.
We snaked our way back into the city, guitars out, singing multilingual covers of songs, including the Jungle Book’s “Bear Necessities.” I don’t know why that song, but it didn’t matter. We picked up a few bottles of Heineken along the way, passed through the Kingdom of Kebab, into a part of town we hadn’t yet been. The building had a massive, door made of old, worn, dark wood. Two, maybe three floors up was the apartment. Or, apartments? We weren’t really sure.
The rooms were a warren, maze-like with high ceilings and cracking plaster. We sat around in one living room talking about nothing and everything, in about four different languages. From one room they found us mattresses. Tyler was beat, and at one point fell asleep sitting bolt upright. A few of us went to the kitchen and ate. I was handed, repeatedly, fat slices of bread with tomato and proscuitto on them, and cheese, and olive oil, and…I can’t even remember everything. It was all great, though. We talked about love, life, travel, music, tattoos, adventures, loss, happiness, sadness. At one point, before Tyler crashed out, we went to the roof of the building. I’m not convinced there were even other residents of this place, in the heart of beautiful Granada. That kind of thing sticks with you, you know? The after-midnight air in the centre of a city, on a rooftop, car horns and laughter in the distance. You look around and it’s all rooftops and lights. You look up, the night sky. I think Tyler said he saw the stars.
Brag about it, dude.
In Ireland there’s a word I love. Well, there’s a lot of words I love there, and let’s be honest, they swear an an entirely different level than we do. But no, the word I like is craic, pronounced crack. Craic doesn’t really have a clearly defined English equivalent. But the best way I can describe it is that it’s a good feeling, but deeper than that. Being around family at Christmas, that’s good craic. Happy crowd at the pub, just shooting the shit with your friends? Good craic. When we met these folks up on the hill and chose to follow the music rather than stay the course, we made one of the finest choices on our adventure. The feeling of being around new and immediate friends, making music, laughing, eating, sharing…that’s great craic.
Last Minutes and Lost Evenings is a new series of stories from Dan, Tyler, and others they’ve met on the road. Not necessarily about low-vision, the stories aim to give an honest look at what budget and long-term travel truly is like. The name is shamelessly borrowed from this wonderful song by Frank Turner.