Two weeks into my very first travelling experience, everything was running smoothly and going to plan. Therefore, I got to relish all the comforts of home, while retaining the illusion that I was out travelling the world and experiencing the unknown.
This was until the morning before checking out of my room in Seville, I awoke startled by the alarm, knocking my phone off the bedside table. With anticipation, I reached for my phone, begging for it to be okay, but I was wrong. The screen was completely broken. I tried everything to fix it, but struggled in vain. In quiet desperation, I even considered buying a bag of rice, but soon realised my stupidity. How could a bag of rice fix a broken screen that was shattered to pieces? Where was the logic in that? For the first time since childhood, I had no access to a mobile phone or internet. On top of that, I was in a foreign country, entirely alone. When checking out of my room, the hostel clerk drew me a map, and marked the whereabouts of the closest internet cafe. It was near the cathedral on the other side of town, roughly a thirty-minute walk away. To tick another first time off the list, I would have to navigate the streets with a paper map. This act alone was more foreign to my technological-reliant existence, than Spanish culture was to home. I doubt that’s just because I was raised by a Spanish mother.
I quite enjoyed the process of reading and following the street names, another thing I had never had to do before. It really gets you thinking about the individual significance and peculiarity of each street. Why every road was given its name, and the story behind it. Nearly an hour later, I was sat behind a computer screen at an internet cafe, printing out directions to Santa Justa railway station, and from Jerez de la Frontera station to a cheap hotel I had booked a day or two prior. These directions mostly came in the form of vague screenshots from Google Maps. The walk to the station was even more difficult to navigate than the search for the internet cafe. I was carrying far too much stuff, as all first-time travellers do, but in my case, it was two unnecessarily heavy bags and a skateboard. I bought a ticket and waited for my train, rejoicing in the pleasure of completing the first stage of the task ahead. Upon arrival, I remember climbing a hill from Jerez de la Frontera station, basked in the afternoon sun, surrounded by old beaten-up houses with broken windows and chipped cement. Then in the most unlikely of circumstances, especially if you’ve ever been to Jerez before, I heard the sound of a skateboarder riding up the hill. Noticing my skateboard from a distance, he called for me and skated over.
It was as if he had never seen another skateboarder before. Overjoyed by the encounter, he shook my hand and introduced himself, but due to the language barrier, we couldn’t understand each other at all. Instead, our skateboards acted as a translation in which we automatically bonded and communicated. I believe this rule applies to all skateboarders across the globe.
After showing him my printed maps, I somehow conveyed that I’m trying to find a particular hotel, but he didn’t seem familiar with the address. He took my map and showed it to an old man who was sitting outside a cafe. Neither seemed familiar, but pointed me in the direction of the town centre. I shook hands with the skateboarder and thanked him for the help.
Who would’ve thought that our skateboards would bond us together? Two complete strangers, two lost souls in an unfamiliar world. His dissimilarity to the people of Jerez, due to the lack of skateboarders, and mine to being in a small Spanish town without access to a mobile phone or internet.
The streets were completely empty. The only place I saw open was a small bar for the kind of old men who chewed on tooth picks, wore shabby buttoned shirts and sat by the fan, shooing away insects. Attracting the attention of everyone inside, the friendly old bartender tried her best to communicate with me, and so did I, but we barely understood each other. All the barflies discussed among each other my question. Judging by their faces, nobody seemed to know where the hotel was.
The hotel turned out to be just down the road, despite the complexity of finding it. My room was a throwback from the past, perhaps from the 1950s, but in Jerez de la Frontera, this style of architecture and interior design was current and common. It wasn’t just the hotel that seemed lost in time, but the whole town itself.
There was a computer downstairs in the hotel lobby. It was so slow, it took five to ten minutes to load a single search result, but eventually, I managed to message my parents and let them know I was okay. At night, I was able to enjoy the peace and silence. The only downfall was how quickly I developed the need to listen to music. Instead, I resorted to the various flamenco radio stations on television to fulfil that desire. Simple experiences such as sauntering the streets felt much more enriching. There weren’t any messages to constantly check, nor Google Maps to make sure I was following the right direction. The “right direction” was every street and every corner, not just the landmarks I’d researched the night before. One limitation I noticed, was that I didn’t explore very far out of the city centre, and found myself sticking to areas that I could easily return to my hotel. This limitation however could just be a personal one, but perhaps modern technology enhances travel in the sense that we can go anywhere, and find our way home without the consequences of getting lost. This in itself while being a perk, could also be a flaw in relation to seeking experience.
Eventually, I got my phone fixed, but looking back on it now, I wonder how the trip would’ve played out if I hadn’t? How many more strangers would I have met and spoken to? Would I have gained a more enriching travel experience?
For the short time I was without a phone, I was forced to speak to more locals than I had ever done so before. As cliché as it sounds, the greatest part was finally seeing a new place with my own eyes, not having to constantly share my experiences on social media. Being right there in the moment, and nowhere else. That’s what travel is all about. Technology sure has its advantages when travelling, but once in a while, maybe we should leave our phones behind? Just to see what happens. After all, isn’t adventure what most of us are seeking?