Part II: King of Pigeons
“Where’s Chris?” I asked my classmates in Spanish class.
They all shrugged. I gave a frown. It was Monday – we were supposed to look at car rentals together after class. We had three days left before the trip to the Pyrenees Mountains.
One finally answered. “Chris biked to Pamplona for the pigeon festival last weekend, remember?”
“Where is he now?”
“…We don’t know.”
The class snickered. We all began to remember – Chris had, for a while, been talking excitedly about biking from Bilbao to an ancient festival in Pamplona where they capture pigeons and eat them as a delicacy. We stared at the classroom doors, waiting for him to fly through gracefully with a flock of pigeons.
Instead, Chris stumbled in an hour after the bell rang – ragged and worn, but as bright-eyed as ever.
We knew he’d seen some shit.
“I biked – all the way back-” he heaved as he sat down behind me. His bicycle was visible, parked just outside the classroom. “I got – to the mountain – of the festival. It was so steep – that I – hitchhiked – with a Basque woman named Arrosa. She – took me to – the festival – and when I reached – the top – there were…no pigeons.”
I let out a loud laugh. This poor guy – biking across Northern Spain just to see and eat some pigeons. A simple cloudy day altered his plans – but, with a quick glance at his shining eyes it was easy to tell that the adventure had been far from spoiled.
“Alright, Chris,” I patted him on the back as Spanish class ended. “Glad to have you back. Let’s prep for your next master plan?”
Turns out that renting a car in Europe was a hard thing to do.
To our knowledge, the Pyrenees Mountains could only be accessed by car (unless you dared to take the myriad of buses throughout Northern Spain and walk miles on end). Being American students, Chris, Adrian, and I had no European license or car to use. It became a daily fashion – review cheap car rentals, nod and agree with the 20 euro daily rate, then later find out that our classmates had been smothered by the same car rental company through a bucketload of international taxes and fees.
Then – a game changer.
“Hey guys!” Adrian texted in the Baby Theft group chat. “I’m adding Philippe in the group chat. Philippe is a French exchange student who’s interested in joining. He also has a car.”
“Hello!! Thank for add me” Philippe wrote. “Let’s go for leave Bilbao today afternoon? We taking my car.”
Funny to say, but I knew Philippe before he knew any of us – or of him, at least. Once I caught wind that there was one lone French student in our university (who literally drove all the way from Northern France to study in Spain), my heart skipped a beat. I really needed to practice my French – I didn’t study the language for two years and move right next to the country just to cast it away.
It was then set. We packed our clothes for three days’ worth of travel – once Chris and I finished our Spanish class Friday morning, we would drive off to the Mesa De Los Tres Reyes. The hostel located near the trail wasn’t answering the phone, so we decided that we would just show up to the facility to check in.
That wouldn’t be so bad, would it?
It was then set. Once Chris and I finished our Spanish class Friday morning, we would drive off to the Mesa De Los Tres Reyes.
“Well this is bad,” Adrian said humorously as he returned from the hostel’s front desk. “They’re all booked. No rooms left.”
We were inside the hostel’s kitchen and dining room, surrounded by muddy mountaineers, each of us drinking a whole pitcher’s worth of beer.
“Well, I guess that means Plan B,” Chris said as he patted Philippe on the back. “You’re okay with us sleeping in your car?”
“Why yes, yes,” Philippe said, nodding. “We will use the blankets Thibaud brought and find a way to sleep. Not a problem.”
“I can sleep in the trunk,” I said with a laugh, though not entirely joking. Philippe’s car was a 2003 Honda Civic – that meant squish time. Fortunately, no one seemed phased by the small inconvenience.
“The sun’s setting real quick. Let’s walk around the area. I saw a mountain I’m interested in,” Chris said as we close our tab.
The mountain that Chris had seen wasn’t just any old hill. It consisted of sheer rock walls that held interesting pathways to the top. It had to be at least 100 ft tall. We passed by the grazing horses and instinctively scaled the walls.
“Let’s climb it?” Chris said as he began to place his feet on the footholds. Adrian smirked and then shrugged. “Sure,” he snorted. “Why not?”
“Okay, let us climb the mountain,” Philip angreed cheerfully.
A little hesitatingly, I agreed as well and so began our climb.
When I say that it was sheer rock, I mean like a literal wall.
The routes we climbed were chalked, meaning that they’d at least been used before. However, some advanced rock climbing techniques were needed to pass through certain pathways. One wrong move and a more than 50-foot drop awaited your fall.
A little thing called worry began building in the pit of my stomach. “The sun is going down pretty quickly,” I said in a huff. “We might not be able to see.”
“Having second thoughts, Jay?” Adrian teased from behind me. The simple joke triggered me and, in those two seconds, Big-Girl-Jay took over as I began climbing faster up the path.
We all sighed a breath of relief once we reached the top. 100 feet stood below us – the horses now looking like ants. “Whoo-hoo!” Philippe exhaled. “That-was so scary!”
“That wasn’t too bad,” Chris heaved triumphantly.
“Yeah, what’s the worst that could’ve happened?” Adrian joked. “We could’ve just died.”
I began to realize the dynamic of the group. Everyone was daring. We all shared the same mentality – if you’re interested, go for it.
Half an hour earlier, I hadn’t even considered climbing this mountain… and yet here I was, standing on the top. The thought of committing this action hadn’t crossed my mind, as I’d always been conditioned not to consider such a feat. If I’d been with other friends or family, I would’ve been scolded and scowled upon for even thinking of such a thing.
With the boys, it was different. I felt no judgement or negativity in any way. Good, bad, or just plain stupid, literally anything was possible.
The group seemed… unique. different. I could feel it.
We all shared the same mentality: if you’re interested, go for it.
“Well,” Adrian looked out over the horizon and sized up the cliffside once more. “We’re not going down, not tonight at least”. I began to realize how the darkness had surrounded us. The sunset had come and gone. He was right – it would be too dangerous to climb down in darkness now. And temperatures were dropping fast.
“Alright, guys,” Adrian clapped his hands together. Adrian, an experienced outdoorsman, luckily knew exactly what to do. “I’ll make a fire pit. Philippe, you can help me collect firewood. Chris and Jay, you can collect needles and grass to make a bed.”
We set out on our tasks. As we continued bending our backs and collecting the grass, the dusk-lit sky turned into dark blue night. Stars began to emerge.
“So Chris,” I stroke up a conversation as we picked. “What’re you majoring in back home?”
“I’m pre-med! My parents think that that’s the safest major to go with.”
“…But do you like the medical field?” I questioned. I recalled back to a time on Adrian’s balcony, the same moment where we’d agreed to set out on this adventure. Chris had kept mentioning anthropology books that night, even relating to my Polynesian background through Margaret Mead’s Coming of Age in Samoa.
He shook his head, his gaze still picking the tall grass. “Honestly, no. I’m just a college sophomore, but I don’t know what the safest way to go is. And even though I like Anthropology, it’s often not looked well upon.”
“Chris,” I snorted. “As long as you work hard enough – and in the most correct way you can – you can make anything work. Passion does the job. Don’t let societal standards deter you from what you enjoy.”
“I guess so,” he said, softly. “It’s funny – I love reading about different cultures, different regions. But all of this – it’s just so new, you know? And it makes you second-guess what you’ve been working for.”
“Have you ever traveled outside of the US?”
Internally, I jumped in fright. Here this guy was, reading about the world – and yet he had barely stepped outside of his own state.
“I also feel guilty – going out here, biking to Pamplona,” he raised his arms, now bundled with dry grass. “And all of this.”
“My father wanted to do this. He taught me how to fish, how to camp, everything. But he now has a medical condition that pains him every day. He’s not able to go outdoors anymore. I feel bad whenever I’m telling him of my travels, because…” he sighs, “Because I feel that I make him depressed when I tell him these stories. I feel like I’m reminding him that he’s not able to do any of this.”
“Chris,” I tell him. “A parent is always proud of what their children do – whatever good things they’re doing or have done. It’s hard to have a loved one who’s in physical or emotional pain. But you’re an extension of your father. You’re the one who’s able to make him happy, make him feel that he’s experienced these things -because you’re experiencing it for him! And that’s what matters. Your happiness is his happiness. Don’t feel guilty about that.”
He didn’t change his expression, but I could tell that he was feeling better about it.
“I think you’re right, Jay.”
We finished bundling up the grass and headed back to our campsite, ready for a night in the open.
Jay: Basque Country, 2018