Adventures in Barcelona

So, let’s talk vacation.  I’m going to start at the end of my two weeks off and tell you, Dear Reader(s), about our last day in Barcelona.

As you know we went to Barcelona so we could attend Primavera Sound (which was awesome), what you may not know is that while we were there we were staying with 10 other friends in a flat in town.  It was an alright flat.  Kind of grubby, the AC wasn’t totally functional, but the place was spacious and had a nice patio.  It was close to the metro and near a nice market and lots of bars and cafes.  So, you know, good enough.

On our last full day in Spain, we were taking it easy.  No more loud concerts, no sight-seeing, nothing.  We slept till 2 in the afternoon, went out for food and then came home in the evening to take a nap (because naps are an important part of vacation).  So we’d just laid down and were starting to fall asleep when we heard the doorbell to our flat ringing, followed by a loud banging on the door.  Jeremy groggily got up to put on some trousers and see what the hell was going on.  As he was leaving our room we heard the door open.

This is never good.

He left the room to find a large-ish Chinese man standing in the foyer.  A large-ish Chinese man who absolutely did not belong in our foyer.  They established that the intruder spoke no English and that Jeremy spoke no Spanish Jeremy tried to indicate that the intruder should leave.  The intruder, did not leave.  Instead he went further into the flat and began to mime punching himself in the face and pointed up saying, “Por favor, por favor.”  Jeremy finally got him to leave and closed and dead bolted the door.

I was out of the room by this point and was all, “What the hell?” And Jeremy was all, “I don’t fucking know.”  So we called the cops.  We looked up the Spanish version of 911 and he let them know that he didn’t exactly have an emergency situation but he certainly had a not normal or good situation.  Meanwhile we could hear this character on the floors above us pounding on other doors.

My friend H woke up and came out of her room at the other end of the flat (where street noise had muffled all the goings on so far) and we told her what had happened.  Her boyfriend A came out as well and we all sat in the foyer and waited for ten long minutes before the cops showed up.  The cops, understandably, spoke very little English, and Jeremy, as established, speaks almost no Spanish.  They wanted to know where the thief was.  Jeremy kept saying “There is no thief, but something is wrong, someone needs help!” And he described the situation again.  They went upstairs to check things out and we waited with the door to the flat open as lots of noise started to happen upstairs.

Now let me describe the foyer.  It has a weird interior stained glass window in it that opens onto a utility closet.  We didn’t realise there was no roof to said utility closet, that it, in fact, only had half roofs all the way up to the sky.  We discovered this fact when H and I heard a crash from behind the window.  I think we shouted and can’t remember who opened the window, but when we did open it there was a Chinese woman on the water heater holding her finger to her lips in a shhh motion.  Above her were the legs of another woman.  We didn’t have a chance to shhh or not because the main cop was already back in the flat jumping over the coffee table and chasing the women back up.

It was like being in an action movie, except not at all.

We stayed where we were and then the cop came down and explained in broken English that on the floor above us there was an illegal brothel full of undocumented Chinese prostitutes.  Seriously.  One of them had been beaten up and the guy who broke into our place was apparently trying to get help.  The police officer also helpfully pointed out the camera used by the Chinese mafia to monitor the comings and goings of clients and suggested we be careful.  Yeah, thanks Spanish cop we totally appreciate your safety advice NOW.  Jeremy called the owner of the flat and let him know what was up.  The owner ranted about property laws in Spain and how they’ve known something was up but it’s impossible to get anyone evicted, oh, and don’t talk to the cops, they’re all assholes.  Jeremy let him know it was a little late in the day for that but really he just wanted to let the owner know what was up, also that any damage caused was not our fault but rather the fault of hookers falling through the ceiling.  And honestly, how often is that a plausible excuse?  It’s really a once in a lifetime kind of thing.

Ultimately we decided that being careful entailed collecting all our needed items (passports, cash, phones, plane tickets, etc) and going out for dinner and drinking Spanish beer until 3 am.  We let our fellow travelers know what was up via text and when we got home that night ended up retelling the story a few times and singing a rousing version of It’s Raining Whores at some point.  Recently jokes about ho-downs have also been made, humour being the easiest way to deal with finding yourself in the middle of an illegal prostitution bust.

All said, it was possibly the weirdest and most absurd situation I’ve ever found myself involved in.  At times very frightening and at other times strangely hilarious.  And as the landlord told Jeremy at the end of their phone call, “At least you have stories.”

But it’s more than stories.  Despite the absurdity and stupid jokes, it’s all really serious actually.  The women those police took away are unlikely to be going anywhere better or good.  Chances are they didn’t choose to end up in a brothel in Barcelona and they aren’t likely to be given a whole lot of choices in the future either.  One of them was hurt just a floor up from us.  It was all pretty messed up and sad.

Human Trafficking is an interesting  and informative website if you want to learn more.  I’ve also recently bought the book by the Half the Sky Foundation to try to learn some more.  I’d like this to be more than just a bonkers story from my holiday in Spain, more than just a series of off colour jokes and status updates on Facebook (although it is all of those things as well).

In the meantime I’ve learned an important lesson about booking holiday flats for the future.  Google the address.  If websites like and sexomercadobcn come up, maybe you should try another place.  Also I’m more than a little frightened of the search terms that will bring people here.  So if you came here looking for hooker reccomendations, shame on you!


1 Comment

Filed under cackle of rads, the travails of living abroad, travel

One response to “Adventures in Barcelona

  1. WOW. Just…wow. What a scary, tragic, sad, and bizarre situation to find yourselves in. So glad you did not have a run-in with an enraged Chinese pimp!

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