There are very few people who would call a bus journey relaxing. Try as any travel company might to make the most extortionate, the most luxurious and the most intricate cabin spaces a model of home you are still cooped up in one place for as long as it takes to get to where you’re going.
So when I say a three and a half hour bus journey is the most relaxing thing in the world, you’ll be forgiven your scepticism.
The statement comes with a few caveats. Firstly, in addition to writing, I’m a teacher at the end of a trimester. And schools are loud.
At least a minimum of 90 students a week plus the hustle and bustle of an active, happy school means that an excitable cacophony of Spanish is never out of your head.
This isn’t a complaint. Teaching and getting to know and working with youngsters is a pleasure that, if the glove fits your personality, any old soul can find immeasurably gratifying.
That said, at the end of a three month stint of doing your damnedest you do become exhausted. This is more down to the idea of the end than the end itself. The body sort of gives up the ghost because it knows a sojourn is in sight. You get ill, more fatigued and a little ill-tempered. Student-teacher simpatico becomes slightly frayed and happy routines become a bit more tedious in the wind-down before a holiday.
This is probably a good sign – if a teacher isn’t exhausted by the end of term then they have’t been working hard enough for their students. Hence then the relaxing, rewarding bus journey.
El Ejido to Malaga and vis versa during the day is actually beautiful. The bus might be taking the long way round (a direct car journey takes half the time) but the Southern Spanish coast is a ravishing mix of shimmering blue sea sided against yellow hills. It’s desert country and t’s not difficult to clock just why Almeria has doubled for the old Wild West or Ancient Egypt in Hollywood films (famously the Sergio Leone Westerns and more recently Exodus with Christian Bale).
The usual bus sounds and chattering of passengers are a dull rocking to sleep. It’s white noise, never too loud or distracting and certainly not enough to keep you awake. If you can keep your eyes open on this trip you can survive the worst kind of sleep deprivation with flying colours.
Drifting in and out of snoozing and the mind sort of takes over, goes on autopilot and shows you what you need to see. It’s a time to recollect, to think back on the previous months as you’re literally leaving them behind.
When living abroad and going home intersect, usually when you’re travelling to and fro, each place becomes a series of distinct, episodic memories. It’s a surprisingly purifying ritual to travel home and remember with unforced clarity what have been the accomplishments and can-do-better moments of the last few months.
By the time you reach the lay over hotel before the flight the next day the whole thing has been a cathartic, if sleepy, experience. To evoke a tired cliche, seeing the woods from the trees with precision is actually rather nice.
It wears off of course. By the time you fly home you sincerely begin to ask if it was all a dream; not out of some romantic embellishment, but because the two lives are so different in memory and circumstance that you’re the only one who remembers them.
That passes and before you know it the time has come to repeat the whole thing. That’s life.