Short blog post from Madrid's bus

This post was inspired by “Short blog post from Madrid’s hotel room” from my colleague Frédéric Wang. You should really check his post instead! To Fred: thanks for the feedback and review here. I’m in for football in the next Summit, alright? :-)

This week, I finally went to A Coruña for the Web Engines Hackfest and internal company meetings. These were my first on-site events since the COVID-19 pandemic. After two years of non-super-exciting virtual conferences I was so glad to finally be able to meet with colleagues and other people from the Web.

I finally got to know all the people from Igalia in person. Obviously, some people were still not able to travel despite the effort we put into establishing strong sanitary measures. Nevertheless, our infrastructure has also improved a lot and we were able to provide remote communication during these events, in order to give people a chance to attend and participate!

Work on the Madrid–Galicia high-speed rail line finally completed last December, meaning one can now supposedly could travel with fast trains between Paris - Barcelona - Madrid - A Coruña. “Supposedly” because the one I got had to stop due to the wildfires in Sierra de la Culebra, in Zamora.

That was Saturday, Jun 18, around 15:30 and it all started with a notification in the train internal radio mentioning about the wildfire in the region. Our train stopped and then after about 1 hour went back to the tiny station of A Gudiña. The ~300 passengers were informed to stay outside the station while Renfe – the company operating the train – would provide buses to cross Zamora region and after that a train somewhere to continue the trip. That never actually happened though. After about 2 hours Renfe informed us that for safety reasons, and especially due the extreme heat, we ought to go back to the train. At this point, there was not much food and beverages available for selling inside, and a Renfe worker walked serving (free of charge) water for the passengers, explicitly telling everyone that the bottle he was carrying was the only bottle of water available in the train and if we had already water in our personal belongings then we should gently reject his offer. I think that was the time everyone started to panic out. At least 5 hours had already gone and people really started to freak out about missing connection trains, weddings somewhere and international flights. Oh well. Then after waiting a little longer, the train went back to Ourense.


Ourense was “chapter 2” of this adventure: big queuing lines to understand what would happen next, whether Renfe would provide us a hotel, food or maybe buses, but no one actually knew anything. Renfe refunded my one-way ticket to Madrid and practically forced me to buy another ticket to when the next train would become available again – which was on Monday afternoon only. That was terrible, especially because there was no accommodation available in Ourense either.

So around 22:30 I met Monica. She was a very gentle Canadian lady, maybe 50-something years old, coming back from a 16 days journey from Camino de Santiago, and who “needed a break from the lovely husband and two children after the pandemic”. Monica said she called 12 hotels in the Ourense region and none had available rooms for that night – yes, you read it right: she called twelve! I got tense and started to walk from one side to the other of the station trying to find out anything, while outside it was getting dark and also starting to rain. After a few minutes I found Monica again and she pantingly asked if I wanted to go to Madrid by bus. I obviously answered “yes”, without thinking much. So she said to run together with her. Out of the sudden, there were six of us facing this Renfe person where Monica said “here we are, the six of us! Where’s the bus?!”. The Renfe person pointed to the bus stop direction inside A Gudiña station and told us to run there immediately. I asked if I could go to the toilet and the person said “yes. You have 1 minute”.

Chapter 3. Sigh. I suddenly saw myself inside a pretty old bus, very crowded, sitting in the back seat (meaning no reclining seat) and on top of the engine, which was weirdly heating up the floor. Fast belts were not working either and the ventilation was just okay – everyone was wearing COVID-19 masks though. But the “fun” really started when the bus was driving through the sierras, and the torrential rains outside caught us with big scarry lightings also. Then, after approximately one hour of driving, the bus had to stop in the middle of nowhere. Unbelievably! The bus driver went outside in the rain, a few macho senior men went down there as well, and they opened the trunk, did something (!), and after a few minutes started the engine again and continued to drive. I have no idea what happened! Myself, Monica and another friend we made, Marco, were nervously laughing about the situation. (Marco was from Italy, living in Lugano, Switzerland, working on IT – bank stuff, ofc. He had just walked for 28 days through the Camino, about 30 km per day). After a while, trying to get myself some sleep, I finally realized that the whole trip would be 500 kilometers to get to Madrid. Or about 7 hours inside this spooky bus. One stop ahead, and a few really bad naps away, I suddenly woke up in Madrid Chamartín station. It wasn’t a fast ride. Not at all! I then shared a taxi with Monica and Marco towards the city center, where I gladly headed to my hotel.

Arriving at the hotel, the gentleman at the front desk said that he needed to actually check if my room was available due the “no-show” policy, because I was late for several hours. Really? I couldn’t believe that there would be a next chapter on all of this but also, I was too tired to explain anything to him – and probably he wouldn’t believe what just happened anyway. So I just waited for a bit and somehow he handed the room card to me: this felt like getting the paradise key or something like that.

Anyhow. I am immensely sorry for the many seniors on this train. Most of them were getting ready for their well-deserved holidays, wearing chill hats with cool t-shirts, but instead had to face this unfortunate situation. Just like Monica and Marco, some people from this train were coming back to “real life” after they had spiritually walked through and contemplated wholesomely the Camino de Santiago. Imagine how weird it was to face such brutal reality. So yes, I definitely have a different opinion about Renfe now. To be honest, for me it was not that bad because I was about to leave for a three-days of a short and unplanned vacation in Madrid. So no big deal really.

Iran soared up to a scorching 52.2°C yesterday, which US StormWatch says is the hottest temperature recorded on Earth this year and one of the highest “pre-solstice” temperatures ever recorded. Yes, we all know that wildfires will be increasing more and more overtime unless we react. There are ways we can do to avoid these climate changes and CO2 emissions. We can always start from somewhere.

But in no way I will remember this trip solely for the 3-chapters adventure I just told here. I will remember this by meeting my beloved colleagues and other friends as well (moikka Dom!), learning about the many techno-social aspects with Igalians during this week, getting to know Galicia, the beautiful A Coruña and celebrating the 20th anniversary of Igalia. Seriously, what a trip!