23 Hours

0500 Home. Rise. Face in the mirror looks tired. Eyes look cross.

0620 Parnell Street. I hug my Mom and Dad and board the bus.

0710 Bus. Impressive sunrise dazzles between the trees.

0720 Bus. Empty chairs around me rattle and whine. It’s like they are having a conversation with one another.

0900 Bus. I wish the chairs would shut up.

12:45 Gate 409, Dublin Airport. I am surrounded by six ladies in their fifties who are flying to Bilbao to walk the Camino de Santiago for a week.

13:15 Gate 409, Dublin Airport.Whatsapp from Oscar, my Air BndB host; I will stay at airport. I am a tall man with a black t-shirt of the rolling stone.

1317 Gate 409, Dublin Airport. Whatsapp to Oscar; Cool I am wearing glasses and jeans . I have 3 bags – each bag has a blue and white ribbon.

1345 Plane. I enjoy a cup of Barry’s tea and a bag of Tayto; Irish readers will understand that this is a last supper of sorts.

1615 Bilbao Airport. Waiting for a tall man in a black Rolling Stone’s t-shirt. My three bags are at my feet like obedient dogs.

1656 Oscar’s van. We talk Spanglish all the way to Erandio – more ‘glish than Span.’ Just how difficult this language barrier is going to be sinks in as I look out at uninspiring landscape.

1715 Erandio, Bilbao. There are a lot of ladies in the living-room; Barbie dolls, mannequins, posters, stickers. The mannequin’s private parts are covered with duct tape. Oscar must be into fashion, or something. My en-suite room is nice.

1818 Erandio. I have a look around the local cafes but it seems I’m a little early for dinner. One place rustles me up a bocadillo con lomo y queso.

2200 Subway to Abando. The train is packed. People are either wearing blue and white (Aste Nagusia festival colours), or red and white (Athletic Bilbo colours).


2245 Bilbao Centre; The streetlights are dimmed. Cars have been banished. Redundant traffic lights are telling everyone to stop. Thousands of people gather at the bridge. Everyone speaks in hushed tones. I squeeze through the crowd. There is a sense of anticipation as eyes look to the hill. A star surges upwards into the darkness with a strident sense of purpose, finds it spot and explodes- spawning smaller stars that shower down on us. Two more follow a similar arc. They are warning shots. Then it all kicks off. Fireworks whistle, whisper, scream, pitter- patter pop and bang. Sometimes the explosion is so loud you feel it in your chest. It’s too much for some children who retreat with their hands over their ears. We are dazzled for twenty minutes, after which the crowd bursts into rapturous applause. It’s an impressive way to welcome my arrival in the city.

2305 Bilbao centre;  The music starts up. A giddy crowd dithers over where to go; the samba drummers on the street corner? The rock band on-stage? Or the DJs in the tents?

2310 Bilbao centre;The pop- bars are a curiosity. I am inspired to explore them thoroughly. Each bar has its own artwork and slogans; the gist is anti-capitalist, pro-independence, pro-gay-rights. I’ll drink to that. The Basque region bohemian hairstyle is prevalent among male and female bar-staff; tight on the sides, large Mohawk, maybe a dread-lock or two.

0230 Bilbao Centre; Locals not availing of the bar services have brought booze in bottles.Tobacco is tipped out of cigarettes and replaced with grass.

0320 Bilbao centre; Wait! It’s what time? I walk back through the streets. Lads are pissing against walls. Gals are crouching between dumpsters. The aroma of weed is battling the whiff of urine. Thankfully, during the festival Aste Nagusia, the subway runs non-stop for 24 hours. The party rages on but I make my way towards my sanctuary in Erandio.

0400 Erandio. Bed. Fall.



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