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The story of Granada will start at the gates of the Rambutan hostel, yes the same hostel where we discovered a furry dog, some hippies and… well, and love.
Earlier, I had left Valencia in the morning. As the first bus to Granada was leaving only in the evening, I carpooled my way to the historic Moorish city. Thanks to the times we live in, I managed to find a couple of hostels on my phone Internet while we were driving, and froze on the Rambutan Backpackers Hostel.
When I reached the old part of the city, passerbys indicated that it was perched right on top of the hill. In the mail the hostel staff sent to me, they informed that it stood right next to a house with orange trees and a cactus bush. As an attachment, they had also sent me a scanned copy of a handmade drawing with the directions. A pub, some bushes, and a few steps stood out prominently in the drawing.
How do you not smile and conjure up a picture in your head when you are told that you live next to a house with orange trees? I decided then that I had probably made the right choice by settling for the Rambutan.
Sacramonte, the part of town where Granada originally grew from, and where the Rambutan is present, is the oldest part of the city. Hilly and unplanned, all the house walls are a delightful white in colour, and lie shoulder to shoulder, right next to each other. Between the houses, there are small streets that go up and down, never level, and at no point there is space for more than three people to walk side by side. The streets are cobbled and pebbled, and not tarred as the silly ones in our cities.
As I trudged up and down with my heavy backpack, the Alhambra Palace shimmered with its lights in the background. It lay just 3 Kilometres away, on top of another hill.
I could not find the hostel. If I found houses with cacti, they did not have orange trees and those that did, refused to have any cacti. Also, I was probably giving the wrong signals to worried owners as I peered over their walls, inspected their gardens and kept going ‘Gaah, dammit!’
After half an hour, I was exasperated. the sun was beating down mercilessly, my back was killing me, and I was probably as close to the Rambutan as penguins are to the equator.
As I passed yet another pretty little White House, a voice beckoned me to stop.
Ladies and gentlemen, we shall take a moment and pause here, for the author has closed his eyes and is smiling like a jackass thinking of …
Right. Continuing from when the voice beckoned me to stop, I turned and like magic, a gate opened up to reveal the prettiest girl ever. The prettiest girl ever, in a knee length blue dress. The divine little creature, actually she wasn’t that little, smiled at me and said “Hi, I am Lisa. Welcome to the Rambutan”.
And indeed, suddenly, I did feel extremely welcomed. Suddenly, the heavy backpack on my shoulders felt like cotton, the hot sun felt nice and warm, and the thing nuzzling close to my thigh…wait, what was that..
I looked down to see a giant black dog pushing itself into my legs, hoping I would pet it’s ears. “Oh, he likes you” the divine voice said happily, and I wondered if we had spent enough time for me to ask her if she would marry me. He could go on nuzzling if it made her happy, though a part of me felt quite concerned about his proximity to my groin. But then what is love, if you can’t even let a predator attack your manhood.
“Follow me” she said, and I walked behind her, just like Mary’s little lamb would. Just that, instead of only Mary and her lamb, there was a giant dog too trotting along, wanting the lamb to pet him.
“His name’s Poker”, Lisa informed me as Poker poked me for the twenty third time in my groin, lovingly albeit. Good name”, I replied, and pushed away the poking monster hastily as soon as Lisa looked elsewhere.
In the next eight minutes, Lisa had taken down my details, had handed me a room key, and had told me about some of the best things to do in Granada. In the same eight minutes, I had rehearsed my marriage proposal speech sixty two times.
“And you must, must go to the gypsy caves”
“In sickness and health, in rich or poor..”
“Errr nothing. So you shall give me a key..err how silly of me..haha I see they are in my hand already. So, nice weather eh”
And with such classy lines, I was trying to woo the most beautiful girl in the world. God save me. I did not see Lisa that evening again. Neither did I see her for almost the whole of the next day, or the day when I left Granada.
After Lisa left to cater to another guest, and the world seemed dull again, I went for a shower. When I had had a bath and came out, I noticed that unlike other hostels, the Rambutan’s dormitory rooms did not have lockers. I was to leave my passport and money in the open? At the mercy of seven others sharing the room with me? Well, they were doing the same. So, I guessed I should be okay with it too.
I walked into the reception again, to make myself a coffee. As you entered, on your right was a little washbasin and a platform for coffee, tea and anything else you wanted to make. On my left lay a huge table who’s top surface was an inscribed world map. Straight in front, there was a foosball table, behind which stood a giant, giant shelf full of books from all over the world. A few board games sat along with the books. The room hardly had any space to move through, but it was warm, friendly and I loved it.
At night, I walked down and up, literally, the streets of Sacramonte, lost in my own thoughts. From every fourth or fifth house, a guitar or a violin was being played and in the quiet of the night, it sounded lovely.
Granada had a different vibe to it. Or maybe, it was just Sacramonte. In its streets, in its gypsies, in its music, it had a unique flavour about itself. And they were all looked after, watched over by the mighty Alhambra at the top of the hill. I found a little square with a bar sometime later, and sat down to have some paella with seafood and beer. And all throughout, I could hear somebody play the guitar from the house yonder. It is easy to lose yourself in your thoughts, to surrender your conscious mind, in such environs.
The Alhambra kept looking at me, from up above the hill. I bought my tickets the next day and saw the palace and it was as beautiful as they had said it would be.
Two days later, I left the city. But Granada had taught me something that Barcelona and Pamplona did not. In Barcelona, I had begun my trip. Excited and over enthusiastic, I followed all the guidebooks and in five days saw all the important sights of the city. Then in Pamplona, I did what I had come for. Run with the bulls. The rest of the time, I was either drunk or dancing. Just like the rest of the tourists.
But in Granada, I learnt to relax. That, travelling was not about seeing the best sights, not just about eating new things, and marking them all in your notebook or diary, but also about relaxing and taking in the moments. In Granada, we sat for hours on the hostel porch, both on the second and third days, high up above everything else, just sitting, talking and looking at the hills, the trees, the man playing the guitar on a cliffside bench, and the Alhambra. If I could, I would stay at the Rambutan for a month, with all those Germans and Swedes and Brits, storing cornflakes and bread in the fridge just like they did, and sit on the porch and do nothing for weeks at a stretch.
Next time, we’ll get a six month visa instead of a one month one.
But I left after three days, for Malaga, with the Rambutan, the Alhambra, the past and the future of the trip swimming in my mind.
Wait, we need to insert Lisa somewhere in that last line, eh?
I saw her on the second night, again. I was sitting in the porch and she breezed in just like that, and Poker ran lovingly to her. When I nodded at her, she asked me if I had seen a flamenco performance in Granada. She was wearing a violet dress that ended just above her knees.
“No, I haven’t”.
“Want to see an original one? By the gypsies?”
When I nodded, she said she would come to my room at 2 am and if I was still awake, we’d walk through the hills, into the caves, where the gypsies lived and see if we could catch an original flamenco performance.
At 2 am, she knocked and I threw the cologne that I had just sprayed so liberally, and opened the door nonchalantly. We walked out of the Rambutan and for the first time in days, I followed Lisa, instead of my Google maps. We walked past houses, narrow streets and squares. I a, jot sure if Sacramonte had street lights, think it was the moonlight that guided us in our walk.
We climbed a wall, and jumped into some bushes, thankfully not cacti. We walked and I looked at the skies and imagined that we were using the stars for directions. Over the hills, over the Alhambra, over Granada, they shone, silvery and twinkling, in the dark of the night. We stumbled over little rocks, and kicked a few pebbles. Somewhere, I could hear a little stream, maybe to my west. At 3 am, we reached the caves, and saw light streaming out of some of them.
We walked inside and I worried for the little money I was carrying. There were a few people sleeping. We tiptoed past them silently,and found a group of gypsies sitting around a fire, laughing and singing. When she sat down, so did I. They looked at me gravely. An old woman spoke rapidly in Spanish, and someone else shouted back angrily. I looked at my partner, but she did not seem to understand too much of what they were saying either. After a while, they were back to talking and joking and singing.
A woman rose and the people cheered. A man joined her, and suddenly the pace of the music gathered momentum.
In the shadows that the fires cast, I saw the most beautiful flamenco performance that I could ever. And I did so, sitting next to a girl called Lisa, whom I never saw again either.
Note: Credit for image goes to thehomepage. Sourced via Google.