The six of us stood on the upper part of the busy highway bridge in Bilbao, Spain, looking down with confusion at the world-famous Guggenheim museum and the slow-moving river below us.
“This isn’t the way we came,” Alexandra reiterated, looking over Zoe’s shoulder at the map and back down at the museum. “We were on the same level as the museum.”
“So how’d we get here?” I asked, pulling at the edge of the map to get a better look at it. Zoe, the group leader, tugged back, refusing to give up her view of it even a bit.
â–º QUARTER FINALIST 2012 TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
“I don’t know,” she insisted, brow finally furrowing to match the rest of ours.
“We should just go that way,” Colin repeated, indicating the way opposite the one we’d come.
“That leads to a highway. There’s no way to get back down to the city from there,” Alex finally spoke up, hands jammed into his pockets as he awaited some sort of decision. Zoe just jostled the map again in frustration.
“Hola.” The word came from behind us suddenly, and we all turned, startled. An elderly man stood before us, his eyes crinkled behind his thick glasses in greeting, a small black hat covering a balding head.
“Um, hola,” Sasha answered in her heavily accented Spanish.
“Are you lost?” he asked us in Spanish, looking at the young group before him.
“No, no, we’re okay,” Zoe turned him down politely, throwing in a “thank you” at the end.
“Where do you need to go?” He ignored her denial, raising his eyebrows.
“El funicular,” Colin stepped in, knowing Zoe would continue to deny that we needed help.
“Vale. Nos vamos.” Okay. We go. He began limping ahead of us, a bit slowly but surprisingly efficiently. The six of us exchanged glances, wondering if he was seriously going to walk us there. He led us to an elevator about halfway down the bridge, which took us to the first level. But he didn’t stop there. Take us to the funicular he did, pointing out small restaurants we might like to eat at and historical sites that weren’t in our packet.
Finally, about 4 or 5 miles later, we arrived at the funicular. Fran stopped before it, smiling at us and shaking each of our hands. Colin tried to slip a tip into the old man’s hands, but he shook his head and grew serious.
“No, no. I want you to take this with you. When you see someone where you live with a map, even if you’re on the other side of the street, go to them, ask them where they need to go. And don’t just tell them, bring them, no matter how close or far. Vale?”
We all nodded in agreement, and I couldn’t help but to ask, “What’s your name?”
He smiled again. “My name is Francisco. Fran. But do not forget what I have just told you.” With those final words, he left us there, knowing they would have a lasting impact on us, which they certainly have and always will.
Visiting the funicular also made us realize sticking to the itinerary isn’t always the best way to go. It wasn’t on the list of mandatory sites for the school trip; a hotel worker recommended it. Quite simply, it was amazing. The view of the whole city, vast and imposing, took our breaths away, even the always-stoic Colin. We learned the best way to know where to go is to ask locals, and the best way to get to know a country is through its people.
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