24 October 2012

Hell Bus

Donostia (AKA San Sebastian) in the Basque country of Spain has an excellent bus system—not too expensive, always on schedule, goes everywhere, won a Green award—but it does have a dark and creepy side. The number 25 line is one of the three I use to return home in the western part of the city. Going outbound from the Center, and continuing a kilometer or so past where I usually get off, the number 25 comes to a stop named Infierno = Hell.

Looking at the photo, you’ll see an abandoned building with broken windows in the background of a modern and clean looking bus stop. The rest of the area is also mostly abandoned buildings, although there are the offices of the PESA bus company, and a warehouse for electrical supplies, which are a bit shabby but in somewhat better shape. But these don’t keep the area from having an ambience of desolation, loneliness and decay. It’s not a comfortable place to walk through. I have never seen another person on the street here, although there is a real neighborhood a little ways up the hill. 

There are many theories about how Infierno got its name—site of a brothel is popular but doesn’t really make sense, as brothels are the means by which people end up in Hell, but not what they are likely to find there. I feel more confidence in the story that when the highway that passes alongside Infierno was built, they had to cut a lot of trees. Rather than haul them away, they burned them, and the fires lasted for weeks, giving the site a hellish appearance, hence the name.

Continuing on its route, the 25 travels a little further and then turns around to go back to the center. Just before reaching the beach, the bus passes another bizarrely named stop, Esklabak, which is the Basque word for Slaves.
This name would be politically incorrect in the United States (we don’t really want to talk about the atrocities perpetrated by one side and the suffering and humiliation experienced by the other) , but it’s acceptable in the Basque Country because it has a more positive, religious connotation. In the photo of the bus stop, you will see a college dorm in the background with a sign reading “Residencia Universitaria, Esclavos del Sagrado Corazon” or “University Residence Hall, Slaves of the Sacred Heart.” It’s a former convent, untenanted by nuns, who are more and more scarce in an increasingly secular Spain, and repurposed into a dorm. Nobody bats an eyelash at this, but the foreigner.

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