The Reunion World Tour, Day 4: Begging for change and arriving in Spain


Per usual, I had a brief sleep of 4 hours as I needed to wake up at 5:30am to get to my 8:30 flight on time. Yesterday, Taylan advised me to not get to the airport too early, as security in Gatwick was the most efficient in the world. I trusted them so I got to the airport later than I usually would for an international flight. Today I was heading off to Alicante Spain to meet up with my study abroad host family from 2010.

I walked to the tube station using the horrendous map that my hostel provided. Essentially it was a printout of Google maps of the area with most streets and major sights unmarked. This isn’t a map, this is a step up from a child’s scribble of the city! Luckily, I was able to determine my route using the curvature of the road and my compass, instead of street names. I really hate bad maps.

I headed to the airport, and as Taylan predicted, security was a breeze. Gatwick has you through security, if there are no hiccups, in less than ten minutes. That’s from entering the line to exiting. It’s insanely easy. There are rolls of plastic quart size bags for you if yours ripped or you need one. There are huge tubs to pour liquids from water bottles or whatever you may have to drain. They queue you up and there are large numbered dots on the floor where they tell you to stand as you load the trays with your items. This way, seven people are loading the trays onto the conveyor belt at once, and then as you exit the metal detectors, they call you up to an area where they sort through your tray if there was an issue. My issue was a jar of jam I took from the afternoon tea yesterday, which was sitting in my purse instead of in the Ziploc bag. You never know what snacks you will want to eat on the road while traveling, ok? Who knows if bread or crackers were to appear to me in the future? The security guy and I had a laugh about it, and he returned me my jam and other items with a smile. A SMILE, folks. That’s more than I’ve ever seen in an American airport.

After security, I passed through the food market to get something to eat. I knew I wouldn’t get much for converting the coins I had remaining into dollars, so I may as well spend it all here. Unfortunately, I had 3.70 and the super special meal deal was 3.99. Grr! But I had a plan, and it involved begging. I found the nearest customer of the young male persuasion and asked if he had thirty cents, er, pence. I told him I needed to get rid of my handful of coins but I was just short of what I needed to buy something. Luckily, he happily gave me the coins I needed and I didn’t have to approach other strangers for a measly few pence. Success! Now I could buy my meal deal with a Cadbury caramel bar, a pomegranate juice, and a delightful-looking sweet potato falafel sandwich with roasted red pepper hummus. I was more than excited. All of this for only $5 USD! This was a dream. I paid and off I went to board my plane.

The flight was short and my first task in the Alicante airport was to get a map. Yes, I knew this city very well after living in it for nearly six months, but I haven’t memorized all the streets and in which order they go from east to west or north to south. So as I exited the customs area, I went to the tourism counter which was unmanned, despite being open. I looked through the rows of pamphlets, the stacks of papers and the glossy promotional cards scattered on the tables and saw no map. Of all things, this is the most important thing a tourist counter should have.

I looked and looked and finally spotted a map on the counter, but on the staff's side (not the customer's side). I reached over the counter and tore one off the pad, folded it and tucked it into my purse. I then ran to the taxi line and hopped in the first cab.

About five minutes into the journey, I cried out in disappointment. The cabbie asked what I forgot. “UN BOCADILLO!” In the rush of grabbing the map and setting all of my items on the counter, I must have left my sandwich behind. Damn, and that sandwich looked so good! This trip is the WORST. The cabbie laughed, and I did too, to mask my sheer disappointment that my tastebuds would be missing out on some hummus and sweet potato action. Horrible, just horrible! I know you’re sympathizing with me right now as you read this, that it was an awful start to the day.

The cabbie and I enjoyed some chit chat as I got to use my conversational Spanish for the first time in ages. For the low price of 20 euros that I handed to the driver, I arrived in San Vicente in less than thirty minutes. I wanted to arrive as quickly as possible to allow time to meet up with Loly from the radio station (where I’d interned while a student) before needing to meet with Rocio at 2:30pm. I went straight to Vodafone to activate my international phone and found out that they couldn't activate it in their store, for some strange reason. The agent was very helpful and friendly, letting me use her own personal phone to call Loy to no avail. I had no luck reaching her and ultimately the agent suggested a nearby library for me to access WiFi. Before heading off to the library I took a look at my map to see where I could arrange to meet my friend later. I lifted the map and immediately noticed a river. There’s no river in Alicante. Then I realized the map was for VALENCIA. That sandwich sacrifice was for naught as I didn’t even have the right city’s map. Why would they have no Alicante maps!? GRR!

I headed over to the very modern and hip local library and I emailed Loly but never reached her. It looked like I wouldn’t be meeting up with her. Rocio was the next person with whom I needed to meet up, at the nearby campus. I was excited to fit in a campus lunch special, which usually consisted of a nice hot three-course meal and drink for less than 8 euros. We coordinated a meet up time and I walked over to the campus to eat before our meeting.

It was nice to see the campus again. The University of Alicante campus is gorgeous and for a few months in 2010 I got to live out my fantasy of attending a west coast school, as this campus was beautifully manicured, with cactus gardens, a bird sanctuary, and wide brick boulevards to accommodate the foot traffic that comes with a school that can enjoy such beautiful weather year round. I passed the meeting place and saw Rocio, and I thought, oh, what a coincidence that we’ve run into each other a whole hour before we needed to meet! She asked me how lunch was and I was confused. Well, my phone and tablet both read London time, which was an hour behind Alicante time. Oops. She figured there might be an issue and she arrived at our meeting place a bit early, and I though that it was lucky that I happened to pass by it on my way to get food. It didn’t matter that I missed lunch, though, because we were off to one of my favorite places in all of Spain: Mercadona.

Mercadona is the best grocery store in the world. I'm not the only one who thinks so. Fans love their intercom jingle played in the in-store speakers so much that there are minimal house remixes of the tune.  Mind you, it’s just a regular Spanish grocery store. There isn’t anything particularly incredible about it except for the prices. One kilo of walnuts? Well that’s only $3 USD. In the USA, that same bag would cost well over $30. Tampons are less than $3. Juices are less than one dollar. They have everything from makeup to produce to meat to dry goods, and it is all ridiculously cheap. I look forward to spending money here since I know I will be barely spending any money at all!!!

Rocio, being the amazingly thoughtful person that she is, told me she already bought me oatmeal as she remembers that is something I ate for breakfast. She purchased the items from her shopping list and I grabbed an extra carton of horchata because I didn’t want to deplete hers. It was under a dollar. I greatly missed the deliciousness of Spanish horchata, which is made from the sweet tigernut, unlike the horchata we get in the USA which is typically Mexican and made from rice milk and cinnamon. This is sweeter, smoother, lighter, and more refreshing. SO EXCITED.

Off we then went to the city center, and Rocio dropped me off at the downtown Vodafone before she left to pick up Bruno from school. At this Vodafone, I had success in adding credit to my phone for a mere 5 euros. I attempted messaging my language partner Ana, but to no avail. Yet again, I missed an opportunity to meet up, as she had to cancel. Around 5pm, I made my way back to Rocio’s place to meet Dante and Bruno.

When I studied in Alicante, Dante was a mere 2 years old. Now he was ten. When I visited Rocio a couple years ago, she was pregnant with a yet-to-be-named boy, and now Bruno is a curly-haired two year old toddler like Dante once was when I lived here. Bruno was fussy and wild and entertaining, and Dante had come into a more responsible, caring personality to cater to his wee brother’s whims. Rocio was her usual caring self, accommodating me when I didn’t even need to be accommodated, calling me “cariƱo” and generally making me feel right at home. It was so nice to see them all.

I took a much-needed hot shower and settled down for some home-cooked rice and chicken that Rocio prepared for us. I loved the little moments I shared with them, watching Bruno drop chunks of bread into his water much to his mother’s chagrin and Dante snack on ginger snap cookies after devouring the meal before him.

Rocio put Bruno to sleep and Dante politely asked if I’d like to play a game. We ended up playing clue, in a travel version that would make anyone with less than perfect nearsighted vision cringe as the type on the cards was just large enough for an ant to read. After two rounds, Rocio joined us for a third, after which we played La Cucaracha, a board game that was a race to capture a vibrating bug by trapping him with little walls on the board. Since the batteries were low, the cockroach would get stuck in corners and the game would lose its flair, so we moved onto Chinese checkers. Dante was the steadfast champion, but I teased him a bit at the end as I kept one playing piece in place, preventing him from winning the whole game. Just when he started cursing up a storm with a series of “Joder!" and "mierda!" and “Me cago en la mar!" and “Me cago en la leche!”, I finally moved my piece for him to win. I would say it was like old times, but this Dante was more mature, more thoughtful, and more intelligent than his 2 year old self, by nature. It was nice to share this special time with him.

As it neared 10:30, we all retired to bed. Tomorrow, Nicolette would be joining me on my adventure!