I have learned a really hard lesson here about my Spanish. My desire to learn it has been a Catch-22. Meaning, learning more makes me want to learn more. Knowing nothing makes me shy about it. I have never really sat and made it the number one priority in my life. When in grad school, i was always running, working and in Mexico. NOT using my Spanish. When I lived in Guatemala, I had my job, of course, and was volunteering. And I saw it would take massive effort, if ever, to get to a point where I could have the kind of conversation I wanted. And my brain worked at one speed with those ideas and my Spanish mouth was slow. I didn’t have the “time”. It is the same way with the guitar but I can put that down for weeks and be okay.
When I left from Cadiz with this shitty infection that continues to block my hearing, I rented a camper van for my 14 day quest to wander the north of Spain. I had the desire to learn more about the culture and have some of those “moments” I have collected over the years through my travels.
Well forced “moments” rarely happen and its certainly hard when you are driving a ton and spending the night, camping alone, on remote beaches. It is when you don’t force them they come to you. And it might just be an incredible sunset over the North Atlantic after days of rain or a short conversation with a Spanish Air BNB host that is not hurried. Especially when understood by both parties!
Leaving Cadiz, I drove hard and straight thru the north of Portugal to get to Galicia, in the remote northwest. One thing that is obvious here, is not only are the accents and words in Spanish different in each region, but most regions also have their own separate language! Change regions and the street signs change. Catalonia, Galicia, Basque.
Galicia is gorgeous and home to Santiago de La Compostela. For those that don’t know, it is basically the end of El Camino. The Way. A pilgrimage of hikers that walk across Spain or Portugal and sometime France to get there. Paying homage to the Patron Saint of Catholicism, Apostle Saint James. Thousands of people walk either part or all of the trail, staying mainly in towns and can actually come from many directions. It is not really my scene, and I have heard both good and bad things about it. Anyway, I can tell you with absolute certainty that the dozen or so “pilgrims” I saw on their way a few hours past Santiago, trying to get to Fisterra, gained my respect. The lighthouse at Fisterra is the real end of the trail and having walked hundreds of miles, dammit, they are going to the lighthouse to close the deal! I shit you not the wind gusts were near 50 mph as I drove past these people, walking in sideways lashing rain, trying to get to the lighthouse. Man. I jumped out of my van for just two minutes for photos. One of the worst storms I have seen wind and rain wise on the coast.
I wandered up through Galecia, spending some gorgeously quiet nights just pulling off the road, camping for free, and feeling safe. I would cook in my combination Ford/Westphalia (can you believe it?) and attempt to beat my infection by sleeping 9 hours a night. Simple. Easy. Stunning.
The small villages perched on cliffs were dreamy places that you can only wish you lived. I mean, what would you do? They are mainly farming communities.
Unfortunately, as in most beautiful places, the environment is being destroyed by people cutting down trees, building houses from outside money, only spending summers there, and wreaking havoc on the economy.
This is my first real trip to Europe. I am astonished at the amount of drinking, eating and shopping in the big cities. It seems its all that people do. And this is low season. Either you have cash and are hitting the touristy spots or you don’t and you’re 25. I know that is a generalization. And I am somewhere between. Well, I am not loaded, and not 25.
Europe is just one whole country, it seems, and everyone is competing for the rich tourist. Everyone. And i would say the only larger town that didn’t make me feel strange is San-Sebastian. Basque Country. It seems just a little more normal.
The Basque people, of course, ALSO have their own language (street signs included) but speak Spanish too. They are visually the most stunning of the groups I have seen in Spain. Naturally striking with dark hair and dark eyes. Friendly. Engaging. San Sebastian is the same latitude as central Oregon and warm and green. It is this city of about 180k people right on the Atlantic with mild temperatures. 500 to 1000 foot rolling hills behind the town. There is a fairly large beach here (and a good surf spot) and some rocky outcrops. I stayed 10 min away from Old Town so it feels mellower. There are still shit tons of people here though. I like it here and would maybe pick this place to study Spanish in Spain. But not right now. It is closer to what I am used to. It also like 20 miles from France.
The drive along the coast was pretty incredible with jaw-dropping sunrises and sunsets and few people.
Lots of tour buses and a few travelers. I hiked a canyon trail in the Picos de Europa and the snowy peaks are visible from the ocean. I could spend a few months here exploring but maybe in September? Longer days. Less chance of rain.
The Spanish people feel more like a conglomeration of countries instead of one. That might seem obvious but it is what it feels like. This is really the first “western” country I have traveled in and its an adjustment. There is a vibrant middle class and very few homeless. People have dogs. And they are small. They sit on beaches a lot. They don’t get up really early it seems. I feel really safe here. People don’t seem uptight and they speak a lot less English than I thought they would. But since there are LOTS of tourists the people really don’t give a shit where you are from etc. on the main route. Not super engaging generally. The Spaniards don’t move around as much and are fiercely connected with their place of birth.
Everyone raves about the food. It is just okay. Until San Sebastian. Normally, the food is bland in my opinion. Like in the UK, ketchup and mayonaise are spices!
But its healthy. Rarely am i ever served processed foods. And they serve you olives for appetizers and only oil and vinegar for salad dressings.
But the pinxchos in San Sebastian. Wow. They say this the best place for food. Imagine every possible way to make a tiny half sandwich on homemade bread.
You walk into a bar/restaurant/coffee shop and there are tons to choose from. As a sandwich fanatic I’m in heaven. Oh, maybe that one with salmon? Mushrooms? Goat cheese? Only sausage and cheese? Ummm. Okay. Good stuff. Maybe even a pepper in there to spice it up. And you order and eat and drink and just pay when you leave. Feels pretty awesome and friendly.
I can say with certainty, that other than a few folks at the surf/yoga retreat, I haven’t had that in-depth conversation with a Spaniard I crave. History. Current events. The lifestyle here. I wanna know the real deal. It seems I get the best info at hostels. They are all local people working at my hostel here and I have learned a bit.
After spending time with Dave, I went solo for awhile. I had been keeping in touch with my good friends from Bellingham, Derek and Laura. They were traveling down from the UK and Ireland with their friend’s car. As we slowly starting moving in the same direction, BAM! Meet up in San Sebastian!
The next five days were awesome. We shared Air BnBs and hostels, we drank, played music, and my hearing loss allowed me to share a room with a snoring Derek! We cruised along the base of the Pyrennees and the southern French Border, hiking and catching up.
Quite the treat. We got to experience an incredible day hike, fell for our Air BnB host and slowly drove through the beautiful fall foliage in the hills and mountains on the way back to Barcelona.
Our last night before Barcelona, we stayed in a small town north of Barcelona with my Argentinian friend Bruno. Bruno stayed with me couchsurfing when he was at the tail- end of an epic 2 year motorcycle trip from Patagonia to Alaska 18 months ago. A really cool guy I connected with and got to cross paths again. If only for one night!
Imagine me, Laura and Derek Duffy hanging out with two Argentinian guys that play guitar and have traveled a bunch. We made dinner and had lots of laughs. It so happens Bruno’s friend is heading back to Argentina, speaks good English, and guides in the mountains. What luck for me! Lots of fun. It made for a great last week here.
I really like Spain. It is like many different countries in one. Some of the landscape is just stunning. Though there is little wildlife here and it feels as though you can’t really get lost. Capitalism also has it in its grasp. Even though people want their independence in some areas, they are captive to the buck.
I will return here. I would buy a camper and spend time only in the north. With better Spanish. It has been a different trip for me for sure. Challenging in many ways. But I am glad I saw what I saw. I have a good grasp on the cultural and geographic diversity. Not sure I could live here. But I could keep coming back. And I am trying to raise Spanish higher up the priority scale.
Election: At least we have a sense of some checks and balances on this guy we call President. Folks. The guy isn’t stupid. He smartly tapped into three groups in our country. Those that have money and having more is the number one priority, those that make anti-abortion their number one priority and those that will buy into whatever shit you serve them that makes them feel not as ignorant or disempowered as they really are. And they have been able to suppress enough voters to make a difference. I thought I saw it all. Remember. If you want to know what the guy (Senor Trump) is going to do, ask yourself what he needs to do to benefit him. Always.
It has never really been easy for me to be an American. Right now it is really, really hard. And we are viewed very, very differently in this world. And not in a good way. I always like to have a conversation about it with people who think differently. I have learned to soften my rhetoric and tone ever since my opposition to all things patriotic after 9/11. Yet, I still have not been able to have a conversation with any friends or acquaintances that support this guy that is based in reality. No matter what common ground I seek (and strangely i do agree on some things he does but for different reasons. See NAFTA), it always devolves into either disinformation, emotion, or they just “believe” something different. Usually facts. Or it is justified with the stockmarket. Our willingness to compromise our values for the almighty dollar has never been more evident.
Adios por ahora. Leaving for Johannesburg!