Standing 5,000 miles away from home, soaking in the warm Catalan summer rain, I was left high and dry. The only possessions I had to my name were the clothes on my back (now drenched), phone, wallet and passport. I had hit rock bottom.
The downward plummet started the day before when I withdrew—what I later found out to be my last—20 Euros from the bank. I needed to buy a bus ticket to the airport the following day. It shouldn’t be more than 10 Euros.
Later that night I tossed and I turned. I couldn’t sleep. Something was bothering me. Maybe it was the earth-shattering snoring coming from one of my hostel mates. I hopped down from my bunk and made my way down to the common area. Just a wink after 2:00 a.m. and this area was lively as ever. Any other night I would have joined the drinking games. But I had to rise early the next morning and I only wanted a snack … or three.
The vending machine hiding in the corner was pretty standard. You had your choice of candy and chips and a few other random items, all extortionately priced. Twix, chips and a crappy cheese sandwich was on the menu that night. I fed the machine its coins and grabbed my goods.
Before heading back up, I pit stopped at the book exchange shelf. The colorful title of “The 100-year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared” caught my eye. I’ll be sure to drop off a book before I head out tomorrow. When my appetite was curbed, I head upstairs to give sleep another go.
I made sure to wake up extra early. Like all Ryanair airports, mine was situated nowhere near the city and I had no idea how long it would take to get there. In fact, it wasn’t even in Barcelona, but in Girona—wherever the hell that was. I just knew a short walk from my hostel was a station where I could grab a bus that would take me where I needed to be.
The hostel receptionist printed off my boarding pass and pointed me in the direction of the airport shuttle; I had plenty of time. Shortly after crossing the threshold of being closer to the bus station than I was to the hostel I realized I hadn’t held my end of the book-exchange bargain. I still had the Hemmingway I told myself I was going to exchange. Too late.
Turns out, I wasn’t as early as expected. I had about 10 minutes to kill; not as much as I had planned. I made my way to the small kiosk that could have only been the ticket station for the airport shuttle. In no mood for attempting conversation, I simply said, Aeropuerto. Obviously in a similar mood, the attendant replied in broken English, “15 Euros.”
OK, a little more than I thought but I should have the—
When my last coin transferred from right hand to left hand, I was only at 14.85—a mere 15 cents off. I pleaded my case, begging this lady to let me slide to no avail. My late-night snack attack put me over.
I panicked. I rushed around the empty bus station trying to salvage 15 cents—somewhere, anywhere. Nothing.
My backup plan was my Eurorail pass. Supposedly it was valid with the Spanish train network, so I figured I would give that a shot. I retraced my steps and headed to the metro station to catch a train to the airport.
Upon arriving at the train station, I was optimistic. I read the destination board and found Girona. Perfect! I rushed to the track and asked the nearest attendant if the train went to the Aeropuerto Girona. “Girona” and “Airport” seemed to make enough sense to the attendant. She nodded her head and pointed toward the train.
With a few minutes to spare, I was safely aboard. I wasn’t quite sure how long the ride would be, but figured I would start noticing low-flying aircraft when I was near.
About an hour-and-a-half later the train rolled into a station in what appeared to be a dried out desert town. An announcement was made in what I presume was Catalan and everybody exited. After three minutes sitting alone on the train I realized this was the final stop. I must be in Girona.
The tiny little village I ended up in with the tiny little station was not where I needed to be. I ran around asking people in broken Spanish how to get to the airport. One person pointed this way and another person pointed that way. My safest bet was trying a taxi.
I made my way up to the nearest idling car. Fortunately the driver’s broken English was good enough for both of us to understand each other. He informed me the airport was about a 20-minute drive away. There was still time!
Like most things in that village, the taxi was about 20 years behind the times and I couldn’t use my credit card. The driver told me he would take me to an ATM around the corner, free of charge.
The first stop: no luck. Insufficient funds.
The second stop: same story. Insufficient funds.
I was screwed. I returned back to the driver with my tail between my legs and no money in my wallet. At that time I remembered the loose foreign currency I had in my backpack, nearly 30 Euros worth in Swiss Franc and about 20 Euros worth in Czech Koruna. After pulling out my phone’s exchange rate app, the driver was not sold and took me back to the train station, where I made one final offer: my laptop.
Yes, I was willing to part ways with my laptop for a 20-minute taxi ride to the airport. There wasn’t anything I needed on there anyway. He wasn’t interested in what I had to offer. I think at this point he really felt bad for me.
Back at the train station, I at least knew which direction to go once I was on the train: the only direction I could go. Back to Barcelona.
An hour-and-a-half later I sat in the comfort of McDonald’s using the McWiFi. I called my girlfriend—who was already in Oslo waiting for me—and assured her I would get there. A day late, but I would still get there.
I found a flight early the next morning. Booked! This time I had 18 hours to get to the Barcelona airport. I planned to get there early—10 hours early—to ensure I didn’t miss my flight again.
With nowhere to go and nowhere to be for nearly an entire day, I headed back to what I knew. I made my way back to my (old) hostel and kindly asked the receptionist if I could print out my new boarding pass. She kind of laughed when I told her what happened, as I sort of found the humor in the situation at this point.
With my new boarding pass in tow, I headed to the nearest Starbucks, where I was introduced to the Raspberry Refresher a few days prior. The barista told me they ran out of that flavor, so I stuck with the refreshing theme and chose an iced coffee.
I figured I could kill a few hours here messing around on my laptop. I scanned the entire shop for an outlet but there was none to be found. I plopped my backpack down on the cozy chair in front of me and took a second to relax. I didn’t hear my drink get called but I saw the barista motioning to me that my drink was ready. I asked for an iced coffee. This was a hot coffee. …
With two strikes already, I took my drink over the sugar station. Since this wasn’t what I wanted, I might as well try to make it the way I like. A few packs of sugar, a little milk and a quick stir. Fifteen seconds. Tops.
I returned to my chair, sat down, and realized I mistakenly sat in the wrong seat. This wasn’t where I left my backpack. I was mentally exhausted from the earlier ordeal.
I stood up and my heart sank. This was where I sat. This was where my backpack was.
A quick scan of the shop for anybody with a blue backpack. They couldn’t be far. I made eye contact with an older Indian man sitting behind me. I could tell by the look in his eyes he realized what just happed. Whoever just took that backpack and left took my backpack. He pointed toward the door.
When I ran over to the door, I asked the nearest man sitting in the corner if he saw a blue person with a blue backpack leave—in English. Yes, he nodded and pointed outside. The unfortunate thing about this Starbucks was it was on a corner. Essentially I had a one-in-four shot of guessing the right direction.
I asked the man again, which direction? This time he grew a little uncomfortable with me … with English. Suddenly he forgot how to speak English and started firing of sentences at me in Spanish. Or Catalan. Who knows. My suspicion grew. How did you all the sudden forget how to speak English?
I looked at his table. No coffee. Conveniently he was finished reading his paper the moment I asked him which direction the thief ran. In hindsight, I should have stuck with my suspicion and stuck with this man. He knew more than he was telling me. But I had no time. I had to run out into the crowd and frantically look for anybody with a blue backpack.
My safest bet was to run toward the most-crowded area. Surely a thief would want to blend in. It didn’t take long to realize I was never going to see my backpack again. Was this really happening?
I informed the barista who messed up my order (yeah, I’m putting about 50 percent of the blame on him) what just happened. He went in the back to phone the police. Nothing they could do at this point. This was just another hour in Barcelona. He came back after reviewing the surveillance and confirmed what I already knew: Somebody walked off with my backpack when I had my back turned at the sugar station.
The most unnerving thing, however, was that he too noticed the odd man sitting without a drink in the corner by the door. When he looked at the tapes closer, he realized they were a team. The man I spoke to was the spotter!
I always keep my important items on me at all times: Passport, wallet and phone. Even though nobody expects to get jacked, it’s always smart to be prepared. I guess you can say I was prepared. I think it’s a saying somewhere that more people leave Barcelona with fewer items than they arrived with than people who don’t. That’s actually something I made up, but might hold water.
For the second time in an hour, I headed back to my hostel. For the third time that day, I printed out my boarding pass … for my second flight. The same receptionist could only find sympathy in my story this time.
I saw a few of my hostel friends and explained to them what happened. They felt bad and offered me a beer. They said I needed it. During this time, sitting in the hostel wondering where exactly in the last 12 hours did this butterfly effect go wrong, I realized where karma left my side.
Twelve hours prior, unable to sleep, I grabbed a book from the book exchange. Only I forgot to replace it with a book before leaving that morning for the bus station. Somewhere in Barcelona, maybe even in Africa by then, both books were in my backpack along with everything else I owned.
One of the Swedish guys told me I should file a police report, just to have record of it. I figured it would be pointless, but then again, I had nothing else to do. He kindly accompanied me to the local police station where I took a number and we waited.
You hear about how common theft is in Barcelona, but you might not realize how prevalent it is until you’re sitting in a police station, waiting for your number to be called among 20 or so other ill-fated theft victims.
Nearly two hours later, after explaining the story for about the tenth time already, my report was complete. I’m not sure what I expected to come of it. Maybe some compensation for lost items through my travel insurance?
Of the 8,580 or so days I lived up to that point, none have been worse than that day. I hoped to leave the police station with all my misfortune behind, but that would make too much sense. Ten steps into my new journey with no belongings, it started raining; The cherry on top.
Soaked, I made my way to the nearest H&M to buy what would be my new wardrobe. For the second time that day, a product of Sweden was there for the rescue. I bought a few shirts, a scarf, a pair of jeans and a backpack and headed to a bar that would accept credit cards. I needed another drink.
I smashed two beers and relaxed a bit. I looked at my phone; it was 6:30 p.m. I should start making my way to the airport now. I couldn’t take any more chances.
The good thing about having a light backpack as a carry-on and only owning about five items of clothing is the ease of airport security. I hadn’t yet shaken the feeling that I was forgetting something but I had everything.
As I lay on the cold concrete floor of the Barcelona airport I laughed a little to myself. What a crazy day it was.