It was around 1am, and I’d just gotten home from an evening at the “Meet and Speak” event, my second trip to the Citylife Madrid language exchange which I spoke about in my last blog post.
I was in quite a frenzy, hurriedly typing out messages, inputting details, passwords and beginning to pack my bag. This wasn’t a case of an impromptu run-away, but instead a last minute decision to escape for the weekend and join the Carnival.
I had just booked a ticket to visit Cadiz for the weekend, at a price of £133, and would be leaving my apartment at 8am sharp.
How great it felt to be slightly reckless.
My consistent thought of that evening was of course “am I really doing this?” but the tone was implicit of someone who was ecstatic that finally, finally, I was taking life on with some spontaneous vigour, and jumping at the chances presented to me.
Pre-sunrise I got out of bed and met my, thankfully equally impulsive, friend at Moncloa station and made our way to the meeting point.
Such late planning has its slight draw backs. We had to rush to find a cashpoint to fund the weekend and weren’t on the pre-made list for the coaches, but these things mean little when you’re off to the carnival.
An eight hour coach road awaited us, and I took the time to actually find out where in Spain Cadiz was.
For the record, it’s a seaside town in the South West of Spain.
The long haul gave me chance to catch some very brief moments of sleep and also realise that I was without a real “carnival costume”, and so came another draw back of the impulsive traveller.
The costume is the essential item of a visitor to Cadiz Carnival. Vibrant, creative and sometimes unique (que two men dressed as tetris pieces) costumes are deeply rooted in the heart of this festival.
Ever since the 16th century this event has taken place annually, starting on Ash Wednesday and running for 10 energetic days of music and partying.
(Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)
Dubbed the biggest carnival in mainland Spain, people really commit to reinventing themselves and it wasn’t uncommon to see a man dressed in drag or an old lady as a pimp.
Still cruising south I was given an insight into this aspect of the carnival, when a swift look around me revealed a cowboy hat peeking out from the bag rack.
There’s also nothing like a coach journey to train your bladder control.
The highlight of the journey was meeting a majestic little cat at a rest stop. He was still there when we returned, so he is an obvious resident and complete must-see in Spain.
We arrived at our hotel at around 6pm, and finally I was granted sweet freedom from the coach and stepped into the noticeably warmer Cadiz air.
Marvelling at the pool, the palm tress and the expanse of flats we took some time out to take necessary snaps and then found our own temporary home.
Whilst the room was pretty the subsequent buffet stole my heart.
Not to mention the crazy cheap alcohol, I mean, €1.30 for a litre of San Miguel? I was like a child in a candy store (only difference being I am an adult who can legally drink).
The buffet gave us chance to experience how the Spanish do all-you-can-eat. Apparently it involves lots of red wine and fresh bread.
Being a Citylife Madrid trip the carnival crew launched straight into the party vibe, and everyone was sufficiently riled up once we jumped on the coach to the discotecha.
Now I must take a moment to praise the nightlife in Cadiz. This club played the greatest selection of old-school R’n’B hits, infecting the atmosphere with a dose of energy and the, perhaps subjective, ability to dance.
Whatever you have heard, Spain is the country of partying till sunrise. Even though we left the clubs much earlier than closure, Citylife always organised an optional “afters” for those of us who weren’t ready to accept defeat and head to bed.
Saturday taught me how manageable it is to function on under two hours sleep when there is a promise of a free breakfast buffet and a trip to the beach.
You have to understand that as someone who grew up in the Midlands and had to travel for hours to the nearest beach that the seaside is a complete source of excitement for me.
The beach was hidden behind a winding path with wooden fences holding back the wild greenery that threatens to engulf it.
Running into the sea in a bikini in the middle of February is never really advisable, but this was Cadiz not the UK and, whilst cold, the temperature of the sea reminded me of a rainy day in Cornwall during and English summer.
Besides, what better way to wake yourself up than with repeated smacks to the face with slightly freezing saltwater?
No-one warned me how hard it is to make a toga out of a bedsheet, however. I frantically ran around the hotel lobby as people took pictures of their pre-prepared costumes, searching for help.
As luck would have it, help came to me. An old lady enjoying her stay in he hotel saw this poor English girl of 5ft2 wrestling with a white sheet and came over to save her from her misery. With ease and apparent years of practice she wrapped me up in an impressive toga.
There were even optional sleeves, and it stayed secure all day.
My luck soon ran out as my bag zip broke and, after making two dashes back to our apartment to collect my backpack because of an inactive key, I was rewarded with a hard fall to the tiled ground and I missed the professional group picture of the Citylife team.
Bruises and some seashells are now my only Cadiz souvenirs, but that fall would have been very comical for anyone watching.
The Carnival itself came as quite a surprise to me. The beautiful, historic town was quieter than I imagined, as if the party had come and gone before we arrived. This aside, there were some impressive performers, a musician who played guitar with a harmonica at his mouth and cymbol at his feet and, of course, music.
It was cold, it was raining, I was tired, I was hungry and the street party didn’t really kick off until much later, but I was happy.
Seeing everyone saunter around in their outfits, proud to dedicate themselves to the event, was enough to keep me smiling.
That night almost mirrored the last, with a trip to a local club called Woodstock and an after party. The only difference was seeing a cat or nun downing a shot of vodka and a show of people jumping into the hotel pool as dawn started to break.
Spending valentines day on a cripplingly long bus ride didnt dampen my spirits. I’d made friends, I’d seen the city of Cadiz and can file these memories away for future reference.
You may be missing from lists, have to borrow hotel property, crash to the ground and trot around endless streets on a freezing cold night, but impulsivity gave me my best weekend on Erasmus so far, and taught me that it’s easier to say yes than I once thought.