A Week In Basque Country With Pitbull: A Reflection On Travel Relationships

As “Am I Wrong” was blasting from the speakers of his black Audi (got that new ride in an insurance settlement deal. Conveniently also took a trip to Ibiza with the same money) and we passed a painted pink sky and mountains, he repeated for the 27th time that we were going to come back and/or fall in love with Basque Country (“this is not what you have in Indianapolis” he continually repeated).

Jennifer looked at me and said, “I’ve never been so happy to not understand Spanish.”

She sensed that whatever speech was filling up his forced sensual voice, his interspersed whispering during sentences and his trailing off at the end of a comment, she didn’t want anything to do with it. 

Shuffling around in his pirate pants, interjecting all conversations, especial those which he has no business being in, and mumbling below his breath in a bad Spanish accent (presumably making fun of the way I speak), this man started to drive me crazy. 

Who was this man? A self described “sloth” and proud Pitbull lookalike, this man was the cousin of a friend we were visiting in Basque Country. He selflessly spent his week vacation to show us his favorite spots in the region. 

Being with Pitbull prompted reflection of my qualms about uncomfortable couchsurfing. It’s my constant dilemma while traveling. Do you stay around people that annoy you to no end only because they are “being nice”?

Defending the real Pitbull (“he’s a great person”), walking past couples exclaiming “viva el amor!” in the grossest voice I could have ever imagined, and lying about having raced in the Tour de France are just a few of the things we saw “Pitbull” do while we explored Basque Country.

I have to think back; when did we realize that something was off? Often with couchsurfing you look past the irritating aspects of someone by thinking to yourself that they are going out of their way to make you have a great trip. 

For instance; when does a simple act of kindness turn into a grueling routine? He decided that he didn’t like that Jennifer didn’t speak Spanish. Thus, he insisted on using the voice recognition google translator. That would be great if it didn’t interrupt all conversations with terribly inaccurate translations (do you know what “drops falling through the vessel is having graduation” means? Neither do I) Translating became the main focus of dinner and although we tried to appreciate his gesture, it was beyond irritating. “What kind of milk is in cuajada?” Jennifer would ask. “SHEEP SHEEP SHEEP!” He would enthusiastically translate then repeat up to four times.

I could get past the absence of one moment of silence (we rarely had a moment just to “be”), I could get past the his beady little eyes looking me up and down as I walked into the kitchen (and stares as I got water, sat down, ate my breakfast) in the morning, and I could get past his repeated bad jokes, most of which involved pretending to eat the watermelon shaped napkin holder or referring to everything I put in my mouth as an “explosion of flavors” (although Jennifer doesn’t speak Spanish that one was clear to her).

Then, there was an eye opener. One instance that marked the beginning of being sent over the edge. 

On our way home from quaint San Sebastián, we stopped by the grocery store. Following our every move, cocking his head at our every speech utterance, Pitbull stood by is as we checked out the Greek yogurt selection. Pitbull was on the left, Jennifer on the right, and myself in the middle as we looked at the offer. 

When Pitbull isn’t using his google translator, I become the intermediary, which I enjoy. Although it does stress me out a bit. For reasons that will soon become clear.

As Jennifer glanced around, deciding what to choose, Pitbull was repeatedly screaming at me that there was a “TWO FOR ONE DEAL, TWO FOR ONE DEAL, TWO FOR ONE DEAL” on the Dannon Greek yogurt. Meanwhile, as he continues to repeat this so-called deal, I take a deep breath and calmly translate the different flavors. 

While I thanked him for thinking of us, I politely told him Jennifer would choose a different brand. 

“Well, I was just trying to make sure you told her about all the options…” He smugly mumbled as he walked away. 

A few minutes later when he went to go check on Kimberly, Jennifer looked at me and asked, “Did I sense he was being a bit forceful there?”

“YES!” I exclaimed. So it wasn’t just me.

Two days later, the final straw came when we visited a long-anticipate trip to the Guernika Peace Museum. It was an impactful experience, giving historical information on the Spanish dictatorship, the bombing of Guernika and a thoughtful reflection on tools for peace and human rights.

Because this is one my favorite topics, I was slowly taking it all in, lingering at Gandhi quotes on the wall and taking pictures of powerful imagery.

Pitbull mistook the lingering as a language barrier. He started to shuffle behind me and translate all of the explanation cards. He even began to Wikipedia the events of the bombing and explain them to me as I was reading the museum’s information. 

I am not completely comfortable with confrontation, although I have improved. I was trying to remind myself he’s just trying to help. 

Throughout the museum, with each card, his explanations grew longer and my patience thinner. As he talked over movies and a bombing simulation, I gave him the death stare. 

Inside I was fuming, and even more so I was angry at myself for being angry in the peace museum. 

Turns out, I wasn’t the only one who had built up anger. 

Upon exiting, Pitbull went to go fill up the parking meter. Walking back toward us, his twitching and scowl gave away his perturbation. 

He showed us a parking ticket he had gotten and explained that he tried to talk to a parking attendant, but they wouldn’t listen. 

I suddenly felt horrible. This man was taking us everywhere, helping us with everything, and even got a ticket and there I was annoyed with him.

While Kimberly and I went a few blocks down the road to the Basque Cultural Museum, he decided to “cool down” and sit outside.

From the second floor, Kimberly and I caught him sitting on the bench outside in front of the museum. A few seconds later we glanced back and saw his hands up in the air as he argued with another parking attendant. Then, he stood up and got closer to engage in what we can only imagine was a badly defended argument. 

We felt bad. As “International Love” played on the radio, we looked at Pitbull’s sullen face in the rear view mirror and wondered if we had been too harsh. 

The next day, we found out that we hadn’t. Kimberly overheard him telling his cousin about the incident. 

After going over the meter an entire hour past what he paid for, Pitbull got a ticket.

For how much?

FOR SIX EUROS. 

(At least) Two arguments, half hour cool down time, and silent car ride home (with the exception of the Pitbull tunes on the radio) were caused by a €6 parking ticket. 

It’s in these reflections that one truly must ask: what is it worth to have a tour guide and a local while traveling? 

When do you remove yourself from the situation?

What have your experiences been? What have you done?

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