Shane's grandmother, "Nan," was kind enough to open her home to us in 2012, and kind enough to do it again for our adventure this year. El Campello is a beach town just a few miles north of Alicante, a mid-sized city on the eastern coast of Spain. It is located on a train line that provides easy access to Alicante and other towns and villages along the Costa Blanca. Nan's place is a modest, homey apartment with a balcony view of the Mediterranean Sea and a kitchen window view of the mountains. We settled in to our temporary bedroom, and into an easy life of family, beautiful beaches, and home-cooked meals.
There was no internet at Nan's place, which was good for me but not so good for Shane. I was able to read and write more easily without the distractions of a wired world, but Shane needed to work. We found a tea room with air conditioning and free wireless internet across the street from the apartment, and it became Shane's makeshift office for the following two weeks.
When we arrived, I had expected to spend some time in Alicante and exploring some of the areas to the north and to the south. Inertia set in, though, and we spent most of our days working/writing/planning in the cafe, our evenings on the beach, and our nights walking along the boardwalk and stopping in for a drink or two in the seaside restaurants.
We took an excursion one Friday night to Alicante. We wanted to go to some bars or night clubs to enjoy the Spanish nightlife- El Campello is relatively quiet, and filled with young families and retirees. The trains stop running a little after midnight, but people don't go out until after 11, so we decided to take the train into town and splurge on the cost of a cab ride home.
We got on the train at about 10:45, and it was already filled with young people ready for a night out. With each stop along the line, we realized more and more that the "young people" were teenagers - very young teenagers.
I have always been bothered by the high drinking age in the U.S. - as someone who graduated from college before I could legally drink, I have never liked the "quasi-adult" status conferred on people from 18-21. The night out in Alicante proved that, despite my philosophical issues with the U.S. age limits, there are some advantages.
The night club district teemed with teenagers, and the nightclubs themselves all had hawkers in the street handing out coupons for 5 euro mojitos and 2 euro shots. Some of the revelers looked like they were as young as 13, and all of them looked like they were under 18. I felt like I was committing some sort of crime and contributing to their delinquency as I brushed shoulders with the de-facto childen when I went to get a drink at a bar. The party spilled out into the streets, where people were all legally able to walk around with alcohol and, presumably, share their XXL mojitos with their 12 year old friends.
We ventured out from the center, and were approached by yet another promoter with yet another cheap drink pitch. We had just abandoned the remnants of the biggest, most syrupy, worst-tasting mojitos we had ever had, so it was time to try something else. We asked her if there were any 14 year olds in her bar. She assured us there were not, and, luckily, she was not lying.
Once we decided to call it a night, we walked toward the beach where the taxis lined up in front of a Kentucky Fried Chicken. Shane decided it was an essential part of his exploration of Spanish culture to sample their version of late-night fast food, so we headed over. As we crossed the street, we saw a large, completely naked woman strutting down the street, smiling, arms swinging, without a care in the world. I thought for a second I might have been dosed with something, but the reactions of the other people nearby confirmed that it was not a halluciation.
The next week, we decided to hit Benidorm, a town just 26 km and an hour's train ride to the north. Nan told us that most people stay out all night there and sleep on the beach. I assured her that I would do no such thing, and we found out that in the summers, there is a late train at 3:30 am.
Benidorm is a little bit Atlantic City, a little bit Spain, and a lot of stumbling drunk English people. It is so crazy that there is a British t.v. show about it. I don't think I heard a single person speaking Spanish the entire night we were there.
When we arrived, we went into the old town area, which was crowded with tourists and open-air cafes and restaurants. We stopped for a snack, and took in the sights of a vibrant gay scene and tacky tourist shops. There was one amazing Art Nouveau building that looked like it was being renovated - I couldn't stop thinking about all of the talent and design that went in to creating that place, and how horrified its original builders would have been at what was going on in front of it today.
We walked toward the beach, in the direction of the flashing neon lights of the nightclub area. It was like a carnival for adults with drinking problems. There was a lot of sex-themed entertaintment, go-go dancers, and bad party tricks. Most of the people there were sloppily drunk. We met some fun people, all Brits, including some costumed guys who were visiting for a "Stag Party," which was apparently the occasion for about a quarter of the people in the town.
After the bars all closed, we realized it was too late to catch the late train. We walked down to the beach, and found some beach chairs where we slept until we were nudged awake and told to leave. The sun rose with the sliver of a crescent moon and the punctuation of Venus, and we boarded the surreal early train with a dozen others who were all weary and ready for the comfort of a real bed.
Shane's Nan and aunt both laughed at us when we came in just as they were drinking their morning coffee. "I knew you'd stay out all night," Nan said. Nan might be a pensioner, but she's no dummy.