True to my word, I didn’t write much (ok at all) after “moving” to Spain. Although I wanted to capture this journey both to look back on myself and share with the world, I was ready for a break from documenting every day, and I also anticipated a more stable life with not as much to say. To an extent that was true, a blog about going to the office everyday would probably lose an audience pretty quick, but there was still so much to share about the life I was living. So here goes…
My return to Spain did not entail jumping straight into work, and instead I had almost two weeks of staying in the countryside under the Picos de Europa mountains, including 5 days of trekking between mountain Refugios. This trip was courtesy of Mr Perfect Spaniard Skiier as discussed in Spain pt 1. It was a stunning trek, but nowhere near “perfect”. This was only really the second period of time we’d spent together, and in so many ways it was really great. There was a change of plans in that his boss at the refugio got into a horrible bicycle crash (perhaps after a consuming bottle of wine or two, but I digress) so we ended up working at the Refugio for the weekend before setting out on our own trek. It was there where a couple things came to my attention about Mr. Perfect Spaniard Skiier, things verging on uncomfortable, like his need to clean a house or cook a meal just so, without accepting other ideas or input. I didn’t take it all too personally, this was his job afterall, but I took note. Also, even though we spent almost two weeks together, there were days where I was craving more interaction with him, specifically if he was hiking far ahead of me (he was a former professional “football” player and in excelled at all things athletic, but in thrse moments actually spending the time with me didn’t seem like a priority). My head was still literally and figuratively in the clouds of where this could go, especially when he would say things like “if I had a ring I would give it to you”… but I was aware of the things that just didn’t feel quite right. That being said, the trip was beautiful, showcasing fall in the Picos at its finest. We were accompanied by Ribeco the whole way, an incredibly agile animal similar to a shorter, stalky antelope, typically high in the mountains in the summer but relocating to lower elevations for the fall and winter. They would bound up and down cliffs effortlessly, and one time we watched a pack of hundreds cross a rugged bowl. Although most of our journey was above treeline, at one point we were immersed in a spectrum of autumn leaves upon approaching our last night’s refugio. The most memorable moment for me was without a doubt our crossing of a 200-yard icefield. Rather than take a much longer way around, we tried our luck that a particular mountain pass would be free from last season’s ice, and it was – mostly. The ice field we encountered wasn’t really that long, but in was inclined just enough to slide you right off the edge. The perimeter of said icefield dropped off abruptly ~10 feet or more on all sides, leaving a crevasse between the ice and the rock that would surely swallow either of us whole. Neither of us had crampons, I had hiking poles, and Dani had his trusty walking stick. And what happened next made me want to marry that man on the spot. Being that he was tall, he was able to step one foot onto the ice field with one foot still on the rock beside it, and actually chisel a step into the ice with his (wooden) walking stick. After making two steps, he would step on these and repeat the process just beyond him, keeping in mind that my steps were far smaller than his and distancing them appropriately. It was a slow process, but it worked, and I absolutely loved his perseverance and ingenuity. Two days later our trek ended perfectly, with stunning sunset over the ocean beyond and a harvest moon rising above… We said our goodbyes at the airport, anticipating seeing each other in the not too distant future, even though he was heading to Scotland for the winter and I to my tiny town in Catalonia. It would only be about 5 weeks until we did see each other again, but that’s another story…
I flew to Spain with my all too-much stuff, spent a quick day in Barcelona as introduction, then met my new boss Meritxell to drive to L’Ampolla and get settled in my new home. I was about a block from the beach and had a whopping TWO BEDROOM apartment, more space then I’d had to myself in about a decade (even when I owned a house I shared it with roommates). I hadn’t even had a “home” in a year. And I nested – HARD. I did a lot of yoga, a lot of running (especially after finding a beautiful trail that ran along the coast just steps from my door) and consumed myself with my work. I also started Catalan classes with the thought that in weeks I would be joining the daily banter with my coworkers. THAT was a wake-up call! Even with my two classes a week and homework, I just didn’t feel like I was making much progress. It wouldn’t be until months later, reading a blog about needing to spend 5 hours a day to become conversational in a language in 3 months – that I realized that my expectations for language progress were WAY overestimated. Also, I was never fully committed to learning, being that I didn’t see myself in Catalonia in the long term, even if I did end up continuing work with the company, and Catalan is only beneficial in Catalonia. I just happened to be in a small town where Catalan was what was spoken out and about, and although everyone knew “Castilian” Spanish, it was only spoken if spoken to them in such. Add to the fact that this was the “off” season for L’Ampolla and there really weren’t many people “out and about”, and this time of nesting became downright isolating overall. Everyone was nice enough for sure, my coworkers were kind and my bosses invited me to join them around town regularly, but the language barrier is REAL – hence why I’m now focusing hard on learning Spanish to pull at least a few bricks out of that wall.
A handful of sunrise shots… because when the Mediterranean is only 2 blocks away and sunrise is at 7:30… you go watch!
I did get the opportunity to take many weekend “daycations” around the area… The region was stunning with dramatic mountains, buttes and rock formations providing many great day hikes. The towns were straight out of centuries past and sometimes millennia – the nearby city of Tarragona had an incredibly preserved Roman Coliseum and apparently was the first Roman settlement on the Iberian Peninsula. An old train line had been repurposed into a bike trail spanning 35 miles in total, all the way to the Catalonian border, passing through (lighted!) tunnels, over canyons and past vineyards which I took as sign to stop for a wine tasting to get the full experience (the rest of the way was downhill anyways). I spent a long weekend in Barcelona which was SO cool – Gaudi deserves every ounce of his notoriety. These trips were beautiful, but almost always alone. I’m an only child and can handle and even revel in my alone time, but spending the majority of 6 months alone was a little much for me.
And to be honest, it wasn’t even 6 months – I spent 2 weeks in Scotland with Dani over Christmas & New Years (by this time we’d decided we’d exist in a kind of more than friends but not “dating” grey area) which was SO great. The highlands of Scotland are somehow rugged and inviting all at the same time. He played tour guide and we lived out of his campervan on 2 4-day stints in between his working days at the ski shop. We hiked and explored by day and he played guitar and I sang by night. It was magical – even though we both knew it was temporary. And I’d gladly go back to Scotland in a second.
I also spent 3 weeks in New Zealand with my parents, joining them on the trip they’d been planning for years. We trekked for 3 days through lush mountainous landscapes with the ocean not far out of view, spent a night on a boat in a tranquil sound, and a number of days at a retreat on the coastline. The trip was amazing, but I’d say sharing it with them was what I really enjoyed.
Sidenote – Don’t all mountains start looking the same? Never. That’s what’s so great about mountains. The forces that create them, their composition and the way that they weather is never exactly the same, even within the same range. Their surroundings, their flora and fauna, even the weather creates a landscape truly unique to every area. I’ve now spent significant time in mountains of every continent with the only exceptions of Africa and Antarctica, and it NEVER gets old or repetitive. There may be things that remind me of other areas or experiences, like Peru and Nepal for example, both regions where to this day the lives of the indigenous people are intertwined with their mountain homes. But one look around reveals either the Peruvian Andes, round, monolithic and covered in a blanked of green, or the dominating jagged summits of the Himalayas. I stand in awe of them all.
I was wrapping up my projects at Econia, but still had a few places I wanted to visit in Spain while I was there. Perfect timing – I had not one but two sets of friends coming to country to share the explorations with! First Erin came to town and we had the perfect combination of historical, cultural, gastronomic and straight up fun. We toured (apparently) 6000 year old cave paintings, then spent the weekend in a beachside town taking in the cultural spectacle of Setmana Santa (Easter). They take their Easter SERIOUSLY in most towns outside of Catalonia, and Peniscola was the closest city where we could experience an Easter procession in all it’s glory. Everyone in town comes out multiple times Easter to watch or participate in the parade, either playing instruments, singing, or carrying the full-sized crucified Jesus or virgin Mary statue. What’s perhaps even more impressive is that the thousands of onlookers are dead silent – a feat for a culture that loves using their words. The setting was also perfect – the procession exited through the main gate of a millennia-old Moorish castle. We would spend the next day exploring said castle, perched atop a point and prevailing over the coastline. After that we would spend a full day touring vineyards, caves and cellars of local wineries, visiting & going out in the adorable seaside town of Sitges, and eating all of the seafood we could get our little hands on. Great success.
Once my apartment was packed up, I ventured south, now solo, and spent just over a day in Valencia. Gosh was this city beautiful! It’s as if the whole city was perfectly preserved from it’s 1400’s heyday. Gorgeous, intricate architecture everywhere you looked… even including the gigantic Mercado. I made sure to get my authentic Valencian Paella while I was there and a few of the craft beers the area is gaining notoriety for now.
Then it was southbound to meet up with Nate and Laura for our Andalucian road trip! They were kind enough to let me tag along for their babymoon as we explored Southern Spain, starting in the quaint coastal city of Cadiz, then down to Tarifa to ogle the epic windsurfers, down to Gibraltar to visit the monkeys and walk around “the rock”. From there we headed up to the cliffside pueblo of Ronda which was the perfect combination of historical presence, modern authenticity and sheer beauty. Our last destination together was Granada, perhaps my favorite stop of our journey. It’s a bigger city and as such has a more prevalent tourist presence, but it really has it all. The Alhambra towers over the metropolis, with only the neighboring (and still snowcapped) Sierra Nevada mountains sharing the skyline. I booked us a Flamenco show and we were all blown away by the performance – I for one am ready to start taking Flamenco classes as soon as I get back to Gunnison. They must exist, right?
After 1 more churro and chocolate, we parted ways, I headed to Madrid for the night where I’d be catching my flight out in the morning and said my ‘dios to Spain. I won’t be calling it “home” again any time soon but was an incredible experience I’m so appreciative to have had.
Babymoon with Nate and Laura – Cadiz
Babymoon with Nate and Laura – Tarifa
Babymoon with Nate and Laura – Gibraltar and Ronda
Babymoon with Nate and Laura – Granada