Day 16: I’m Wrapped in Blankets and They’re Surfing

by Eli Hodapp

Growing up in the Chicago area and calling a drafty poorly insulated farm house with wood heating my home for the better part of 20 years, I’d say I have a higher cold tolerance than most. I’m the kind of idiot who wears short sleeve shirts until the weather simply requires a coat. A lot of my friends in the Chicago area are the same way. Our bitter winters totally make a sunny 50° day t-shirt appropriate. So, when I say the last few days in Barcelona have been cold, I want you to appreciate the gravity of me using that adjective to describe the weather.

I woke up this morning, not excited at all to exit my pile of blankets, but figured I should go out and do something instead of just laying around all day. I got in the shower, got dressed, and went for a walk on the beach thinking that it’d be totally deserted. Only, instead, I walked out there to find dozens of surfers in the water. It seems the poor weather has brought some uncharacteristically tall waves with it, and Spanish surfers weren’t going to let them go to waste.

I stood there watching from the beach for close to an hour, hopping up and down to stay warm, and these guys were just totally fine hanging out in the Mediterranean waiting for the next big wave. Watching how they all move in a pack as everyone eyes the next big wave is incredible, especially since I’ve never been able to figure out what they’re looking for to determine whether or not the next wave is “surfable,” or whatever the correct word is. But, everyone in the water seems to know which waves to ignore, and which waves to paddle towards.

Learning to surf is definitely somewhere on my to do list.

I’ve mentioned it before, but it seems that only very new or very high end buildings in Barcelona actually have central heat.  Most of the year you just don’t need it, and instead people just use space heaters. Where I’m staying, we have butane space heaters which as I understand it are the most common type of heater to use in Barcelona. The way the whole butane heater system works is absolutely fascinating.

The tanks look like a cross between a propane tank you’d use in a grill, but of the shape and size of those five gallon water jugs that water coolers take. They go inside of these huge space heaters that are about four feet tall and maybe one and a half to two feet across. A full tank will last about a week of constant use, or much longer than that if used sparingly. Refilling them costs around €20,00.

How you get them refilled is another crazy wrinkle in this whole heating ecosystem. Very few people here have cars, so it’s not like you can toss the tank in your trunk and get it refilled at the local hardware store like we would back in the USA with propane tanks. Instead, a network of Pakistanis roam around the city in trucks filled with these butane tanks, with a guy in the back banging on one which creates this very distinctive pinging sound that can be heard for insane distances.

If you need your tank swapped, you just yell out your window. The whole process really is as scientific as that. They’ll pull around, trade you your empty tanks for their full tanks, and the whole exchange is finished. It seems simple, but it sort of seems like these working-class Pakistani people are powering Spain.

Maybe the reason no one ever gives the rose sellers and €1,00 beer guys a hard time is because of the whole “We guard you while you sleep” thing. If the theories about the rose sellers, the beer guys, the corner store owners, the butane dudes, and everyone else being interconnected are true, it’d make so much more sense why everyone just politely declines buying a rose and why the police don’t care that you can buy beer on every street corner at night.

It’s amazing how much of a difference having both of these heaters going makes. Compared to the last two nights, tonight was actually quite comfortable. It’s still ridiculously cold outside. I want to go to the Barça soccer game this Saturday,  but with a forecasted low under 30°, there’s no way I’m that hardcore. There’s always the next weekend, and watching the game from the tapas bar downstairs was incredibly fun, so whatever.

If the weather is to believed, there’s a 70% chance of snow tonight. In Barcelona. How crazy is that? I’m curious to see what things are like tomorrow, as I really have no idea if a dusting of snow totally ruins Barcelona like it does when some southern states in the US gets snow, or if no one cares.

I guess we’ll see.