We reached sunny San Sebastián in record time, excited for our first stint in Spain, and where better to start than in the European Capital of Culture for 2016. We kicked off with a bang by headlining with the Membus in the Olatu Talka festival, proudly representing Memrise for the event celebrating “Languages in their diversity”.
While a band of Catalonian accordion players serenaded the square, we welcomed the crowds of curious visitors onto the bus. Alongside the kids competing to be our next driver, we had an array of international fans, such as Carmen, an Italian Memrise user and one of our kickstarter backers, who had travelled all the way from Milan to visit us!
The festivities ended with some impressive human pyramid shows, at which point we convened on the upper deck for the best seats in the house.
We were also very excited to have some new team-members on board, including Klamer, a local filmmaker who turned out to be the best person to know in San Sebastián. As well as taking us to all the hippest spots off the beaten track, she provided the Membus with its very random emergency kit: a surfboard, a fast car, and a silicon pistol (don’t ask).
It was great as well to have Ana from the Memrise office join us, who, incidentally, is now famous in the region, after featuring in an article in the local paper promoting the Membus, or “El Membusito”, as we have been endearingly calling it in Spanish.
Having thought that parking in the central plaza was to be the toughest driving of the day, it was on our route home where we learnt what “El Membusito” is really made of. The GPS decided to take us along the mountainous road back to the campsite (it hasn’t quite yet grasped that the bus hails from 1978). Too late and, well, impossible, to turn back, we had to make our slow and steady way through a series of hairpin turns, including one spine-tingling standstill upon a cliff edge, with the bus facing down the precipice, and the reverse refusing to kick into gear. ¡Madre mía!
That night, having survived our near-death experience no°1, we were put to test against another geographical element of the Basque country. Let’s just say that we now know that the bus isn’t rainproof.
The next morning, as the showers cleared and the bright white sunshine broke out against the devilish grey clouds, we went to have lunch at the house of Ana’s uncle, Javier. He offered us a warming plate of arroz caldoso con almejas (clam risotto) and then donned his Sunday best, including a typical txapela (a Basque beret) to feature in our video dictionary.
After an afternoon of filming along the beach, Klamer took us to meet her friends at a terraced bar tucked high up in the mountains. We watched the sunset sink hazily over the curving coastline below and learnt the precise technique of pouring the local sidra (cider) from the experts (from as high as your arm can reach FYI).
Three of Klamer’s closest friends and colleagues, Mario, Edgar and Iñaki, were so eager to see the Membusito with their own eyes that they offered to follow us to Salamanca the next day, as long as we promised to host a bus party for them (a condition we willingly accepted).
After a night out dancing at Salamanca’s finest student discoteca, we had breakfast served by an Elvis-obsessed señora at the campsite. We then spent the day filming in the town centre, and what with its stunning architecture and very friendly crowds, we were longing to stay for another day.
That evening, we decked out the Membusito for its inaugural party. Los chicos arrived with food, drink and a speaker big enough to scare away all of our geriatric neighbours. Mario, founder and CEO of Creando Cocina (check out the link here) set up the alfresco kitchen. Edgar, post-man and wedding DJ, of course took control of the music. Iñaki helped us to achieve the discoteca vibe we’d been striving for with his unusual dance-mat powered disco lights. What a perfect way for the squad to bid farewell to Spain.
The next morning marked our journey to Porto and 2 weeks on the Membus tour without a hitch. So we weren’t surprised to wake up to the news that we had a major oil leak, preventing us from driving anywhere except the nearest garage. Our dream to stay a little longer seemed to have been granted…
This led to some panicked phonecalls back home and a good deal of complex technical jargon to be translated for the local mechanics. Despite the mild hysteria that set in – Marie and Miranda still in dressing gowns at midday, not knowing whether to laugh or cry – the Membusito and its crew pulled through as ever, and has now made it to Porto, ready to brave whatever Portugal holds in store!