Saturday 31st July, Madrid, Spain.

A persistent beeping noise disturbed my sleep. I leapt up from the hard floor and rolled up my sleeping bag and mat. Eyes still closed, I staggered downstairs under the weight of my backpack. Clumsily shuffling through the moonless night, I somehow made it into Chercos and lay down on the hard plastic bench at the bus stop. As the roar of the approaching bus shattered the dawn silence, my last view of Chercos was the foozeball machine in the main street. I had seen it every day, but never questioned why a small village in the Andalucian mountains should have a foozeball machine at the bus stop.

Of course, a foozeball machine in the main street.

Sometime later, the bus driver woke me to change buses. Almeria arrived and a strong cup of coffee brought me to life momentarily, before I boarded another bus and sleep kind of returned. I say 'kind of' because I don't believe I was ever really asleep. Rather I spent the following five, six or seven hours in that strange hallucenogenic state between awake and asleep. People were speaking Spaish all around me, then their words sounded like English- garbled nonsensical words and phrases. Then they returned to Spaish again. Alicante arrived, or was it a dream?

The park by the bus station looked like a lovely place to lie down. Actually, the sidewalk looked fine for a nap as well, but I knew I should find a bed. My first bed in a month. I allowed myself a small sleepy smile at the thought of a big soft bed and crisp sheets. The hostel was a two kilometre walk away, and the air was too hot and my legs too weak for such an expedition. Instead, I walked four or five kilometres in large concentric circles, in search of a taxi. Apparently, taxi drivers- like everyone else- take a siesta. That's great for them, but not so good if you need a cab mid afternoon. Finally, I found this elusive beast and he dropped me at the hostel, which is for members only. The kind lady there recommended me to another cheap pension, and another taxi driver took me there. It had closed down. Nearby I climbed a staircase and for the princely sum of eighteen Euros, secured myself a room that smelt like an old people's home. When I undressed, I noticed that my denim jeans were completely soaked with sweat. I wondered why I'd been wearing jeans. I opened the window that faced out into an interior light tunnel, and fell asleep to the sound of trickling water and loud Spanish television.

Now, as I sit in the lounge of a Madrid backpackers hostel, I wonder if Alicante had been any more than a dream. But I notice that my web journal has been updated, so that must have happened in Alicante. My memory strains. I recall twelve hours' sleep, twelve hours in a dingy internet cafe, and time spent in a number of cafes and bars, seemingly dozens of hamburgers, bacon and egg breakfasts and glasses of coke. I remember a pint of Guinness and allow myself another smile.

There were people in Alicante who had invited me to stay with them, but I was too tired to talk, and figured it would be rude to stay with someone and not talk to them. In an attempt to save eighteen Euros on accommodation, I caught the night bus to Madrid. Night buses work like this: you sit at a bar till midnight, board a bus and fall asleep, only to wake disoriented in a new city that is still deep in slumber, more tired than before you left. The money you saved on a night's accommodation was spent at the bar last night, and on taxi fare when you arrive (because you're too exhausted to realize that the Metro station is right next to the bus station) and on a number of cups of coffee in a seemingly futile pursuit of normal brain function.

It was twenty-four degrees in Madrid at six o'clock in the morning. That's what the flashing red sign told me, but I couldn't tell. I had emailed my Madrid hosts from Alicante yesterday, but it was short notice, and I wasn't confident of a reply so soon. Spain is not an 'early to bed, early to rise' country. Even the twenty-four hour internet cafe was closed at that hour of the day. I looked for the huge Plaza Mayor, where I could find coffee, but I walked six blocks past it. There was a small cafe at Plaza Del Sol, and I sipped coffee in a daze as Madrid woke up around me. On cup number three, my morning was brightened by the arrival at the cafe of three young Spanish girls, who asked if they could sit with me. After a month in the mountains without so much as setting eyes on a fair young maiden, I rushed to clear my empty coffee cups so they could join me. They told me I was number one, the best. They said I looked much younger than thirty-five. In exchange for their compliments, I offered to buy them a round of coffees, but they politely declined.

Welcome to Madrid.

Marga, Cuka and Teresa are university students from Seville, in Madrid for four days' holiday. After an endless night of drinking and dancing they'd decided it would be a good idea to get some piercing done. Marga and Teresa were having their lip pierced, Cuka was going for the belly button. When I asked them why they would want to do that, they said because they like it, then they smiled and sang the MacDonald's theme in chorus "We're lovin' it!" I couldn't argue with that! The girls were waiting till ten o'clock for the piercing shop to open. I was waiting till ten o'clock for the internet cafe to open. They shared a cup of coffee three ways, because they had only set aside just enough money for the piercing. As the effect of the night's cocktails wore off and the caffeine started to work, the girls seemed to question their piercing decision. I saw them later milling around outside the piercing shop. They said they were four Euros short for the cost of the piercing.

Feeling alive again after several strong coffees and having enjoyed the company of three sexy young girls, I phoned my mate Matt back home and engaged in a lively discussion of all things feminine.

As I'd feared, there was no response from any of my Madrid hosts when I checked my emails. I could wait till later, but I was in urgent need of a shower and a sleep. The backpackers hostel was just a short walk away, and I checked in, took a shower and fell straight to sleep on the most comfortable bed in the world.

Hopefully my next journal entry will make more sense.

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