Gibraltar seemed like a good idea at the time
Seville, the capital of Andulasia, and one of Spain's crowning jewels is a city steeped in tradition and history. In fact, Romans, Moors, and Christians have all called its streets home at one point or another.
My life here is set to the backdrop of muslim influenced palaces, sprawling plazas, lush gardens, baroque churches, and one of the most resplendent gothic cathedrals in Europe. My days include strong but small cups of coffee, long lunches with copious amounts of jamon, cheese, and olives. I stroll past glittering store fronts selling everything from Flamenco dresses to toasted nuts. All around me the chatter of Spanish floats through the air. A logical person probably would have unpacked their bags, kicked up their feet, and soaked all of this in for the first few weeks. However, as a girl who’s always on the move, my first free weekend I re-packed my bags and set out on a trip with a few girls I had just met.
Gibraltar sounded like a great idea at the time.
One of my new friends had heard about the seaside town of Gibraltar from her grandmother. She had visited several times over the years and and claimed it was her favorite place in the world. That recommendation, the beautiful pictures on google images, and the excitement of making new friends were enough to convince me to book my roundtrip bus ticket and put down a deposit on an AirBnb.
Now Seville to Gibraltar is only about a 2-hour drive, but with several stops along the way the actual travel time came in around 4 hours. I know, thats a long way to go for a weekend trip. However I was able to justify the 4 hour ride with the thought of my relaxing beach getaway on the other end. The following events transpired.
Around 10pm our bus pulled into a place called La Linea de la Concepciòn. From there, our next mission was to secure transportation to our AirBnb; allegedly an easy 20 minute car ride away. I spoke to a woman in the bus station’s small convenience store and was able to track down a taxi (there were no Ubers here!!). Once we found a taxi willing to take us we loaded our suitcases into the car and I told our driver where we wanted to go. Tired and hungry, I sat back with every intention to relax, but after a few minutes our driver had some shocking news. He was unable to take us all the way to our AirBnb because it would require him to cross the border. To this my first thought was, what border?
With no place to stay and no plan we piled out of the taxi and onto the unfamiliar streets of a town I came to find out was called Linea. In desperation, I approached the first kind looking older couple I saw on the street. All I could do was hope for the best. In this instance, we had a stroke of luck. The random man I asked for help happened to be an off-duty POLICE OFFICER who spoke perfect english and patiently heard out our story.
This is what I found out from our conversation: In our hastily made plans we had missed the fact that Gibraltar was a disputed territory between Spain and the UK. In fact, Gibraltar is considered an international “problem area” and travel in and out requires passport and a visa, neither of which we had. In this moment, I was forced to seriously consider a night out on the streets. All I wanted to do was call my dad or my friends from home and I began to cry.
Seeing my friends and I in distress, the police officer’s wife began to cry as well. Not wanting to leave us stranded on the street she offered to take us in to her home so we could put down our bags, sit, and figure out what to do. She swept us all into her arms kissed our cheeks and said, “va a estar bien,” “it’s going to be okay.” At the house, we met their three young and very confused sons. They each gave us “dos besos” the traditional spanish greeting of a kiss on each cheek and we sunk into their coach to plan our next steps.
Maybe it was against my better judgement to go to a strange person’s home while in a very vulnerable situation, but there was something in my gut that told me to trust them. They were total strangers who had no obligation to help out 4 random, sweaty, foreign girls who made a silly mistake, but we were treated with the same love and kindness as their own children. Good people still exist.
I’m happy to report that in the end we found a hotel, spent the night there, and the next morning made it back to Seville in one piece.
In the immediate aftermath of this event, I wanted nothing more than to pack my bags and go home. I wanted the comfort and security of my friends and family in America. However, after some time to reflect I’ve come to realize that these feelings of uncertainty and discomfort are the reason I came to study abroad. It is in these moments of discomfort that I will also find growth.
Even as I write this post I’m unsure of my life here in Spain; who my friends will be, which places I will go, but I’ve decided that’s okay. I have decided to take a page out of the Sevillanos book, and slow things down. My time here is precious and there's no need to rush through it. Being abroad can sometimes feel like a vacation that's going to be over soon; In reality, studying abroad means I have time. I’ll go on another weekend trip at some point, but for now I’m content to stay put.
With that, I'm off to get a cafe con leche. Hasta Luego.
You can read more about the Gibraltar dispute on National Geographic's website, here.