Meet Freddy. Freddy used to be a French project manager, but he got fed up with his job, so he decided to pack up all his stuff and move out. After working in London as a bartender for a few years, he wound up in Valencia (Spain), where I met him under most unusual circumstances.
More or less on a whim I had decided to spend a week in Valencia, as it was one of the major Spanish cities I hadn’t seen yet. I bought a ticket on the slow train (which is cheaper and more interesting than the fast train), jotted down the addresses of some decent hostels, and as the train was pulling out of the station, I posted a last-minute couch request in the Valencia CouchSurfing forum. I had five hours to go before getting to my destination, so plenty of time to figure out what to do.
About halfway through the train ride, I got a text from Freddy: “You can stay here tonight. I live near the bus station. Text me for details.” Ok, cool. So I had just secured a place to sleep for the night, and gotten the opportunity to meet someone interesting. I send a text to confirm, and quickly got a reply, a tiny part of which got me just a wee bit worried: “…no water yet. Fountain ok.” What the hell did that mean? But I like to be adventurous, and you’ll never experience anything interesting if you don’t take some risk. So I went there.
Waterless in Valencia
It turned out that Freddy had only moved to Valencia just two weeks before, and was in the process of renovating a flat. That didn’t stop him from extending his hospitality to those who were willing to accept it. Just the day before he had gotten the electricity connected–the rest of the time he had been in the dark–but there was no running water yet. WHAT?! No running water??!! One of the most basic comforts that I had relied on all my life was not going to be available. Water might be one of the very few needs that I rank above wifi. (Not surprisingly, there was no wifi either.)
No water meant not taking any showers. Alright, I can go a day without showering. It kinda sucks when it’s 28 degrees (Celcius), even at night, but I’ll live. Also, there was not going to be any washing or quick freshening up. That’s a little tougher. Brushing my teeth… now there’s something I really like to do at least twice a day. I might be able to substitute once with eating a few pieces of chewing gum, but that won’t cut it for long. And then there is going to the bathroom… we all need to go at some point. How was I going to make it through the night here? More importantly: how had Freddy been doing this for more than two weeks?
replacing running water
Freddy proved to be an excellent guide on the topic. For drinking and freshening up, there were fountains in every park. And Valencia has a lot of parks. Showing his good taste, he commented that the water in the main city park had a better flavour than the one in the small park next to the flat, but of course it was farther away in case of quick needs. For domestic needs such as doing the dishes, you could buy bottled water which wasn’t too expensive in the supermarket around the corner. This also worked just fine for brushing my teeth. It wasn’t quite ideal from an environmental perspective, but it got the job done.
Getting a shower was a bit more of a problem, but not an insurmountable one. Freddy pointed out that there was a small sports stadium close to the flat, where you could take a shower for 1.70 euros. He used it sometimes, but found the cost to be somewhat prohibitive. Instead he preferred to bike to the beach, where there were free public showers. However, it would take over an hour of walking to get there. The alternative was a short metro ride, but that would cost 3.00 euros both ways, defeating the purpose. Since I was only in the flat for a short time, I opted to just forego my showers altogether.
Then there was the issue of the bathroom. Being a man, finding a place to take a leak is usually not that much of a problem. For, ehrm, larger needs there were a few options available. Close to the flat there was a big cinema, which had well-maintained ‘public’ restrooms. However, the cinema didn’t open until noon. There was also a branch of the large department store ‘El Corte Inglés’ nearby, which opened a little earlier in the day. “It’s the first place I go each day”, commented Freddy.
A homeless point of view
All in all, Freddy had managed to survive for two weeks without running water, and most of the time without electricity too. For internet he used a nearby internet cafe, or one of the public free wifi spots around the city. He had effectively figured out how to use the city’s facilities to replace most of the basic functions we all have at home (save shelter and a place to sleep).
At the same time Freddy had adopted virtually no ‘tourist’ perspective on the city. He didn’t know what the major sights and attractions were (other than the beach and the park), he couldn’t identify the monuments we passed on our tour through Valencia, and the best bars and restaurants were as much a guess to him as they were to me.
As I thought about it later, I surmised that this is how a homeless person might view the city. Being in the know about all the places where you could get basic needs for free or for little money: food, shelter, drinking water, showers, toilets, and for the more connected hobo also internet. Now I don’t know any homeless people (if I don’t count the people who just have temporary homes, like myself), so this statement remains but a conjecture for now.
I really enjoyed getting a sense of the city from Freddy’s perspective. These were things I would otherwise never have known or even thought about. During the afternoon we explored a bit more of the city, discovering some of the cool sights together. In the evening we met up with two other guests Freddy was hosting and with two Americans who were travelling through town. Altogether it was a lot of fun, enjoying the nice local tapas with some beers and exchanging travel stories. We finished the night sharing an assortment of food and wine at Freddy’s flat. (The eclectic combination of Spanish red wine, water melon, sweet breakfast pastries and nacho cheese chips.)
The next morning, Freddy offered me to stay another night, since I was still without lodging. Although I had thoroughly enjoyed his company and his perspective on the city, I felt in need of a good shower, so I declined. I checked into a hostel, which provided provided all the necessary comforts that you’d expect. But the night without running water is the one that I’ll remember.