Our entrance had caused quite a scene on the surface. Even though it was about 2 am and the middle of the week, we were in the heart of the city and there were still quite a lot of people around. I’m never quite sure if I have the same opinion on the goings on in the city as the usual person. Considering the activities detailed on this site I would probably view such a scene as humorous were I an outsider. As it transpires, the world does not find a group of six people descending into a small hole in the ground as normal and naturally some of them had one or two questions.
Luckily for me, not speaking the local language all that well, I was already in the hole with my compadres as Nasty Steve fielded questions from people with that stupid look on their face. The one where they don’t quite know what to ask the young gentleman who is half in/half out of a grid in the middle of the street. Maybe it was our lack of official looking equipment, the fact we didn’t look even a little bit suspicious wearing black and gloves, carrying backpacks and camera equipment. Maybe it was Steve’s as usual sterling outfit that didn’t quite gel with their vision of a TMB maintenance worker. Whatever it was, they wanted to know what was going on. Dropped keys was an easy excuse. Obviously, if you’re walking through town and happen to drop the keys to your life down a grid you’re going to go and get them, and your mates are going to help you out. So he closed the lid, said goodbye and climbed down to the group, who were also now stood wondering what was going on.
As he filled us in on his white lie or three, he also suggested he climb back up the access ladder and turn on the light so we could see the particular bit of tunnel we now found ourselves in. By the looks of it the space was pretty unusual for Barcelona, and being the types to want to see it in all it’s glory we agreed to his idea. As he was climbing the ladder I leaned to Charles as we simultaneously heard an almost familiar noise above us. There are some certain sounds that you get acquainted with when conducting the type of nocturnal activities I’m writing about. Trains, men shouting and the sound of car doors closing in that oh so familiar way that suggests that someone is about to turn up that is going to be asking some pretty cutting questions.
As Steve was about to reach the switch two figures appeared as silhouettes against the sky. Mossos. Now, there are three types of people (well actually more than three, but for the sake of simplicity, three) that you don’t want to run into when you’re accidentally running around in metro tunnels. In ascending order: last on the list of bad naturally, security workers for whichever transit authority’s land you’re accidentally inside/on (delete as applicable). Guardia Urbana, the local city police force and the Mossos D’Esquadra, the Catalan police force whose fine officers are the ones often photographed decked out in gear that looks like it would take through a nuclear holocaust beating innocent women and children at protests outside primary schools and nursing homes.
Steve hastily retreated to the darkness as the two figures talked on the radio and to bystanders who had obviously told someone about the group of misfits they’d seen climbing into the floor next to a family restaurant.
We had two choices, and both of them were about as bad as each other. Climb up the ladder and apologise profusely to the local constabulary, waving keys and our empty excuses they that would more than likely see straight through given our groups natural demeanour. We’d likely end up in the cells, with maybe a fine or something potentially worse. OR we could go into the tunnels, run through some stations hoping that TMB weren’t on speaking terms with the police on this particular evening and hope to find a way out that wasn’t covered in cameras and alarms and retreat to the nearest bar for some pintxos and a nice cold cerveza. Being the adventurous folk we are, we decided that we probably didn’t want to talk to the police quite as much as they probably now wanted to speak to us and so we ran and crawled until we found ourselves stood on the ballast.
We weren’t particularly familiar with the line we were now very much in. This being our first outing to the place, we had no idea where the next exit was, or even if there was one. Added was the pressure of finding workers and/or trains, and also the added hazard of the Mossos being determined to find us. We made a snap decision to not cross the station, since there were likely some people at a desk somewhere now trying to find a glimpse of us on the cameras to see if they could find out where we were headed.
After some walking the tunnel had changed it’s angle which meant we didn’t have a clear view in either direction. We had to pass this section quickly and get to a point where we had a clear enough view behind us to know if someone was coming. The same out front. We stuck together, each a little too concerned to talk. Aside the odd ‘don’t worry’ from our seasoned veteran we were utterly silent, except for the odd kick of a stone which was promptly followed by some hushes and whispers to shut the fuck up.
Inevitably, we arrived to a station approach. The whole group slowed together while we listened out for any tell-tale noises of people waiting in the wings on the platform. Slowly we each raised our hood, picked up a handful of ballast and held our breath. As we moved silently through the station, heads dipped enough to hide our faces from the CCTV but raised enough to see our periphery, you could almost cut the tension in the atmosphere. There are few occasions where walking the tunnels causes the type of group reaction we were now feeling. This was certainly a justified one. We passed through the station in about thirty seconds, although it felt like about five minutes and as we crossed back out of the station void we all exhaled, dropped our shoulders a little and began to relax a touch. Even though our main challenge was likely now over, we still had to find a way out, the police still knew we were down here, and with each minute that went past the chances of whichever exit we were going to find being watched grew exponentially.
We could hear the rush of a fan in front of us. Thank fuck for that. Now, the lights in the tunnels can make it difficult to see where exactly the opening is, but we could hear from the volume that it must be no more than 100m or so in front. As we expected, we reached a ladder and climbed. As the air got cooler, we could almost taste the flavour of victory. Alas, this time it was not to be and the vent shaft we’d climbed stopped dead and went no further. We descended and continued.
As we reached a second vent a comforting array of tags told us that this one was likely open. With this Steve sat down and someone took out a cigarette as he told us all to chill out and not worry. The worst wasn’t quite over, but he was determined we’d be alright. Maybe I should learn to listen to him instead of imagining the three hundred scenarios where we all get arrested in moments such as these. After we had smoked and ‘relaxed’ (none of us had really done any relaxing), we climbed up to the surface vent housing and were greeted by the cool night air rushing in. We made sure our bags were packed up, opened the hatch and climbed out. RIGHT OUTSIDE A
In the same way our venture into the system had started, it ended. Bewildered onlookers asking us what the fuck was going, as we ignored them and headed off to find some beer. On the way we recounted a story from earlier that day that will at some time find it’s way on to these pages, if I can ever think of the appropriate words and sentences to convey it that people will even believe.