Luckily, the Spanish girl she was sitting with looked a lot more amiable. She had big brown eyes, a friendly smile and a round face with a bit too much blush on her cheeks. She was probably mid-twenties or older and from the slightly desperate sheen to her eyes, I could tell she really wanted to talk to us. It took me half a second to realize it was because of her bespeckled seatmate.
In the Cliffnotes version of our conversation, the Spanish girl ended up being Claudia, who worked in advertising in Madrid, was jonesing for the bus to stop so she could have a cigarette, loved Jared Leto and Thirty Seconds to Mars, was single but had a cat called Rocco, and laughed a lot.
In contrast, her seatmate was named Lauren, who was studying to be a film critic at NYU’s film program, wrote for the university paper picking apart what was wrong with today’s films, lived with her roommate in the Village, was an only child and a vegan. She was also against American Apparel. I learned this because at one point during our conversation she was eyeing my shirt (I kept pulling it up to make sure I wasn’t flashing too much boob) and asked me point blank what I was wearing.
I exchanged a quick look with Claudia, who looked wide-eyed and helpless, and said, “I don’t know. I think I got it at American Apparel.”
Which, was true. I totally stocked up on the basics there before I came.
The look of disgust on Lauren’s face was like I just told her I eat dirty diapers for breakfast. “American Apparel is a horrible company that demeans women by making their employees pose in overtly sexualized ways.”
“Well,” I said slowly, noticing that a vein on her left temple was throbbing, “I gathered that from their ads. But hey, at least they aren’t exploiting children in China.”
She narrowed her eyes. “There have been many sexual harassment cases. I don’t understand how any woman could support a company that perpetrates rape culture.”
I frowned, totally lost at her train of reasoning. “I’m sorry?”
“I must interrupt,” Mateo spoke up innocently. “I think the shirt looks very nice on her.”
Lauren’s beady eyes darted to his wedding ring. “You shouldn’t.”
I felt a flush of embarrassment but Mateo shrugged and said, “No? Is that an English rule, it is bad to compliment another?” Though the look in his eyes was completely innocent, I caught an edge to his tone. I could imagine him as a businessman, trying to be polite but ruthless at the same time.
Lauren’s eyes were now snake-like slits. She slowly took them off of us and turned around in the chair in a huff.
Jeez, what was up her ass? I looked at Mateo and raised my brows. He gave me a similar look back. Lauren definitely wasn’t a fan of us. Fortunately, Claudia turned out to be more than cool and the three of us chatted about movies for the rest of the ride. I kept talking about what a genius Michael Bay was, which was a total lie, of course, but it was fun to see Lauren get worked up. Finally she stuck in earbuds and listened to her music, tuning us out.
After we had a quick pit stop at a gas station, where we all descended on refrigerated sandwiches like vultures and Claudia was able to smoke her brains out, it was a short hop to the town of Acantilado.
According to Mateo, Acantilado meant “Cliff” in Spanish, although I couldn’t figure out if he meant like a sharp rock face or the name of some dude who was always at a bar. Soon, though, I got the meaning. We descended into a small valley in Sierra de Francia, where rugged rusty and grey cliffsides rose out of green foliage. The village of Acantilado was very small and very quaint, like something from a storybook. I wanted to take out my digital SLR camera and capture every detail but the scenery moved too fast and I knew the blurry photos would do nothing to convey what I was experiencing.