Spanish nightlife is world renowned. When you read guidebooks about the country, authors often make a point to stress that most nightclubs won’t open until 10 PM or later. And if you do happen to be there right when they open, you’ll probably have the club to yourself for at least a couple of hours. The Spanish people party hard and they party late.
Prior to coming to Spain I had signed up for an intercambio, which is essentially a Spanish person who is taking English classes. So I, as the American, would have the opportunity to practice my Spanish with a native speaker who in turn could practice their English with me. I had made no preference as to a male or female one, although deep down I had marked no preference on the hope that perhaps my intercambio would develop into a Spanish romance. So when I arrived in Spain and saw that I had been matched with Javier (the name of the Diego Luna’s character in Dirty Dancing Havana Nights), I couldn’t have been happier. Things seemed to be on the right track in terms of potential romance happenings.
For our first hanging out, Javier invited me to go with him to a bar/club where friends of his would be performing flamenco music. I of course accepted even though my slightly puritanical mentality had cringed upon hearing the time we would be meeting…10 PM…on a school night. As I never went out on a school night in Spain and was always home for dinner, even my host dad Diego was most surprised when I announced that I would be going out that evening. “Julia, you’re going out? You never go out. Lisa is the one that goes out. You, you never ever leave.” “Yes, Diego, I am going to experience the madrugada.”Finalmente according to some I’m sure I thought.
As I made my way up Calle San Jacinto, I started to feel a little leery about the whole night ahead. I was about to meet a strange man and go with him to a club I had never been to, when it was late at night. Although I knew (or at least hoped they did) screened intercambio partners, I don’t think the center operated as if it was the CIA. When 10 o’clock came and went without anyone appearing, feelings of deep paranoia along with irritability started to set in. Here I was in a foreign country, a young guiri (what foreigners in Spain are called), standing on a corner late at night, God only knows what people were thinking about me.
Twenty minutes later, when I was just about to say screw the whole thing, two men stopped to look at me. Thinking I was to meet just one guy, I shifted my body so I wasn’t looking right at them anymore. Beyond my obviously American appearance, I also have red hair so I was constantly attracting gawking stares and whispered comments when walking by Spanish men. When they continued to look at me I was just about to tell them to stop looking at me and to leave me alone, one of them came over and asked, “eres Julia?” Realizing that it wasn’t a coincidence that this man knew my name on the very corner where I was to meet Javier, I then asked to be sure, “eres Javier?”to which he promptly said “si.” Relieved that I wasn’t about to meet my death at the hands of these two young guys, Javier then proceeded to introduce me to his buddy, Antonio, who was the quintessential gorgeous looking Spanish man. Javier, on the other hand appeared as if he hadn’t shaved in two weeks and not because he was attempting to grow a beard.
As we started to make our way to the club, I proceeded to apologize for being so leery of them when they first got there, explaining that I was somewhat of a worrywart when alone in a foreign country. They seemed not the least bit bothered by it and just responded with a lot of no pasa nadas (don’t worry about it) to my ramblings. I found out that Antonio was originally from Barcelona but had relocated to Sevilla for his business, not that I ever found out what it was. Antonio was renting an apartment from Javier’s parents, so that’s how the two of them knew each other. The more they talked, the more I wished Antonio was my intercambio instead of Javier. He was so much more polished, more guapo, more interesting. But he was also even older than Javier and Javier himself was 30 (old when paired up against my only 20 years of age).
The club they took me to was located in the city’s barrio de Santa Cruz. It was your typical Spanish club-plain on the outside, a bit more character on the inside. As a flurry of introductions were made on my behalf to Javier’s many friends there, Antonio asked me what I wanted to drink. Not, did I want something to drink, but what did I want to drink. Spanish men are very much “right to the point creatures.” When I responded with “cuba libre” (what a rum and coke is called in Spanish) he gave me one of his gorgeous, heartthrob-like smiles and disappeared. And so my night of late night drinking and mild carousing amongst lots of smoke and impressive flamenco music commenced. It was a very Spanish evening, as in lots of talking with clocks and watches being of no importance.
As the night crept along, I would periodically look at the clock and be amazed how late the time showed, one in the morning, two thirty in the morning, four. When I was younger and would attend sleepover parties, staying up all night had been the thing to do. But how much responsibility does a nine year old have to worry about? The fact that I had to be in class in four hours didn’t exactly eclipse my attention. When I told people I had classes the next day, early in the morning (very early by Spanish schedules), people gave me their typical “don’t worry about it, you’ll be fine.” “Javier, necesito salir. Tengo clases mañana.” Well, technically it was already tomorrow but I was still feeling a little of my buzz from earlier, not to mention being too tired to know or care. “Julia, estas en Espana, con amigos. Vives solamente una vez.Este es la madrugada.” Living only once to me still doesn’t mean you can throw all caution to the wind, and all responsibility out the window. But as it was extremely late at night and had no desire to walk home alone and see what nocturnal inhabitants were on the streets, I stayed. Not because I wanted to but more due to the fact that Santa Cruz was a maze of streets and one wrong turn down a street so narrow a car and pedestrian can’t fit at the same time going through, can lead to you becoming extremely turned around and confused. So I stayed…for almost two more hours.
When I finally approached Javier, it now being close to six in the morning, he just gave me a sly smile and said, “Julia, vamos” (let’s go). After saying goodbye to the still slightly crowded bar, full of people who looked as if they had no indication of leaving anytime soon, or that they were worrying about work, Javier and I proceeded to walk back towards my host family’s house. There is something to be said about staying up all night and walking through a city’s deserted streets, observing the cathedral and Giralda in the still of the night, the shadows of the approaching dawn.
When we arrived at my host family’s house Javier asked me if I had had a good time. I said yes, just that I was dreading my classes that day. He simply laughed, gave me the traditional European style kiss on each of my cheeks, and said, “buenas noches.”
The night I experienced the madrugada was the only time the rest of the semester that I would literally stay up all night. Ninety minutes of sleep that night and smelling like cigarette smoke all during classes because I was too tired to shower when I got back left me with no desire to ever stay out all night again. However, I did have a night I never forgot and even managed to impress my 75 year old host dad Diego with how late I had stayed out. Mind you, this was not an easy thing to do since his normal bedtime usually was around two in the morning. Spain is legendary for many things, but it is only those who have the opportunity to live there do they get to experience one of its most legendary happenings, la madrugada.
Julie is a librarian by day, die-hard travel fanatic and writer by night. When she’s not traveling, she’s either testing out a new recipe or being a foodie in Pittsburgh. If you're interested in seeing where she travels to or what she makes next, follow along via the links below!