Surprises in Spain
5 Pages: You may want to copy and paste this into a small document and print it out on scrap paper in draft mode for some bedside or bathroom reading. It's more like a chapter of a book than an update ;)
Greetings from Mammoth Lakes, California! I'm happy to report that Stage 2, an epic journey through 22 African and 26 European countries, was finally completed after about 2.5 years of adventuring. I'm chilling with the family and friends before heading off to Brazil next year to start the thrid and final stage of the expedition. Thanks for all your love and support to date!
Back to Spain...
One thing about travel that is certain is that there are no certainties. Every time I expect a travel experience to be a certain way it always comes out different and that’s what I love about it. But sometimes the difference between what we expect and what happens comes in the way of adversity and, to be honest, that’s not my favorite part of travel but always seems to bring nuggets of learning and growth that usually can only be truly appreciated after the pain and frustration has been experienced. You’ll get what I mean as you read this journal and hopefully we’ll all learn that adversity is a good thing and to embrace it and not resist it when it arrives—and it always will, right?
So the day before I rode from the Basque Country in France to San Sebastian, Spain I had spent several hours looking for guest riders to pedal with me. I asked at least half dozen people but had no luck. I remember feeling a bit bummed out but tried to brush those feelings of rejection under the carpet (not a good thing, really). In addition to these feelings, I was also a bit bummed out that all the 10 Couchsurf requests I sent out to hosts in San Sebastian came back either not available or unanswered. So I was not only going to ride solo but have to stay solo in San Sebastian too. This is not such a terrible thing but I had grown accustomed to having local hosts to connect with and it was the favorite part of arriving in a new community.
The next day I cranked the Ipod and pedals over 100km through some of the most striking scenery I’ve ever ridden. I left well before sunrise and when it did come out I was blessed with the most amazing natural light show bouncing off the red mountains that I’ve ever seen. The French Basque Country is not to be missed and I will no doubt be back. But the moment I crossed into Spain my quiet back road was replaced by a busy main road loaded with speeding cars and busses—sort of a rude welcome to Spain but I remained optimistic.
Fortunately, the surf forecast was for massive waves and favorable winds so my original plan was to call San Sebastian home for the weekend and recruit some riders to pedal onwards to Galicia. I had heard great things about the town and surf so I was excited as ever when I finally rolled in totally exhausted from the hilly 100km ride.
I was ready to get into the water for my first surf when the Peace Pedalers Rainbow sent me a messenger who was just getting out of the surf himself. He told me the surf was mostly closeouts (bad waves) and would only get worse as the swell increased. He said the best place to be now for this massive surf was a place called Mundaka I had heard about and was considering going to instead of San Sebastian. I knew this place had one of the longest left breaking waves in the world and, since I’m a goofy footer (I like left waves), I changed my plans just like that. But I still had this uneasy and closed feeling in my stomach and being but was hoping a few nice surf sessions would clear my head and get my Jamie Mojo back.
Before I left San Sebastian I was eager to reconnect with a close friend Isabel who I had not seen since 1994. Isabel was my girlfriend for 6 months way back when I lived in Madrid at age 21 and she had since been married and had two lovely daughters she wanted me to meet too. I spent the afternoon catching up with Isa eating typical tapas in a small San Sebastian cafe, soaking up some rays, playing with the kids and chatting away.
I arrived in Mendoza at sunset and it was a sight I’ll not soon forget. The small village is perched right on the ocean and surrounded by steep cliffs, an old adorable church occupies the prime real estate and huge waves rolled around the point with smiling surfers riding massive waves 500 meters or more. I got my board and wetsuit rented for the next morning’s session and found a cheap hostel to stay for the night. I was excited for a great few days of surf and went to be early for a first light session.
Unfortunately the waves and good weather came on a weekend and every top surfer from Spain, France and Portugal seemed to be in the water. At one time we counted over 120 people going for one wave in various sections. I’m a good surfer, but the talent out in the water was truly world class and I ended up getting more frustration than waves out in the chaos over the next few days. But it was still epic to be at a world class spot with perfect conditions.
I continued to observe myself in my grouchy mood that was with me well before I arrived to the overcrowded surf scene in Mendoza. In San Sebastian I was also not feeling like connecting with the people—even though I could since I speak fluent Spanish. I think, looking back on it, that I closed up and got negative after asking lots of people in France to come ride with me that last day and they all refused. Not only did they refuse, but a few even laughed and balked at the idea. I usually don’t take things so personal, but I might have been a bit tender and got hurt by those events. I’m a bit sensitive and between this and not getting any positive responses to host me in San Sebastian cut a bit deeper than I thought. So I got into a closed mood—and that’s the worst mood I can ever be in for traveling, and especially Peace Pedaling.
Luckily I did meet some very cool Spanish guys in Mendoza after my first frustrated day of surf that saw through my grouchy vibe and warmed me up. The first guy is a local surf nut name Xabi who, just out of the blue, bought me a beer, gave me a smile and he and his girlfriend struck up a conversation with me. From there he proceeded to loan me his surfboard and wetsuit since the surfshop had closed early and I was out of luck to get a board for the next day’s session. He did not even know me but somehow trusted me with his precious equipment. This act of kindness started to melt my ice a bit and warmed me up right away.
And, on the same Sunday night Xabi loaned me his board, as I was melding into the local community, I met two cool cats from Venezuela living in Mendoza named Gregory and Marcial. I met them a few times casually out surfing and walking around but now it was time to really chat. We got along like brothers right from the first moments and my mood was getting better and better. However, by the time I met these guys I had already made plans to escape the north of Spain to warmer and drier climates in southern Spain. I sent a dozen Couchsurf requests I Seville and was confident at least one would host me. The reason I did this was because there was a nasty cold front coming in Monday with freezing rain and wind for the entire week and I discovered that southern Spain and Portugal was sunny and warm. One thing I did not want at that moment was nasty weather to deepen my funky mood.
It was hard to leave Mendoza by the time Monday night came along but something was drawing me south. I took a train to Bilbao where I was hoping to take an overnight bus to Sevilla. But when I arrived the bus was sold out and my only option was to take a 1:30AM bus to Madrid then transfer over to the fast AVE train to Sevilla. So I had about 5 hours to kill and went to one of Bilbao’s many bars where I worked on the computer a bit and sipped some Spanish wine. Within a few minutes I ended up befriending the owner of the bar Jon and his buddy Pedro. Like Gregory and Marcial up in Mendoza, I loved these two guys right from the moment we met and the feeling was mutual. We ended up spending 4 hours together talking, laughing, drinking wine and sharing endless stories. We are still in touch now and we’ll meet up again for sure one day!
By the time I left these boys I was even invited to stay with Pedro and have dinner the next day at their neighborhood restaurant. But it was dumping rain by then and I was being called to the south on my 1:30AM bus to Madrid then down to Sevilla where I’d finally start my ride in Spain and Portugal. Sadly, the dozen Couchsurfing requests to people in Sevilla found nobody available. So I decided to go solo again and finally rode out of Sevilla at about 3PM as the sun was shining and I was in relatively good spirits but feeling quite tired and drained for some reason.
Getting out of Sevilla was a nightmare and it did not help getting advice from the local police that almost put me to tears. They sent me on hellish adventure where I ended up on a dirt road that had just been hit with rain, which created a thick mud that engulfed my bike completely so the wheels could not even turn. Imagine pushing a 220+ pound bicycle in the mud when the wheels can’t turn—I was in a sour state. On top of this, I noticed even more at this point that I did not seem to have much energy. Even when I finally hit the pavement towards Huelva the bike seemed very heavy and my average speeds were very slow for how hard I was pushing myself.
That night I was optimistic about meeting some locals, finding a rider for the next day and maybe even someone to host me. I had offers to stay at people’s house several times in Bilbao and in Mendoza so I figured the Spanish were open and up for hosting a traveler. I was in a small Andalusian village outside of Sevilla and unfortunately nobody stepped up to either host me or ride with the next day. I was a bit bummed, but more than anything, I was feeling a bit sick in my stomach and very drained of energy. I decided to hit the sheets early in a cheap hostel and start fresh the next day.
My sleep was rudely interrupted at about 2AM when I woke up with nasty stomach cramps and mean diarrhea. After twisting and turning for a few hours I finally ended up vomiting violently and sitting on the toilet for about an hour after. Luckily I fell right to sleep afterwards but obviously missed my 7AM wakeup. But after some rest I woke up the next morning feeling almost human, so I thought, and decided to do my best to make the 75km ride to Huelva where I would meet Aviva, the only Couchsurfer in Spain that was available to host me.
I don’t know what I was thinking that morning trying since I puked out all my nutrients and had no appetite to eat that morning. But I stubbornly pedaled away in my weak state just to make it only 20km before my body gave out and I tipped the bike over on the side of the road. I was done, nada mas, finished. I had no appetite, major diarrhea was back and I could barely move. I decided to sit on the side of the road and hitch a ride to Huelva and to get some rest, water and nurturing down there. But after almost two hours of hitching, even with my most cute puppy dog eyes on, nobody would stop to pick me up—for the first time on my entire expedition I struck out hitching! I had to put all the bags back on the bike, each one feeling like 100 pounds, and pedal my sorry self to the next town where luckily there was a bus that finally came.
After a full day of physical suffering I finally made it to the town of Punta Umbria where I was greeted at the bus station by three fellow American travelers. The first was my host, a cheerful dreadlocked woman named Aviva who is teaching English in this town. Collin was another Couchsurfer and Mackenzie a friend of Aviva who was also in Spain for a teaching career. Somehow I immediately felt better in their company and knew these three were just the kind of people I needed to be in with my current state. I confirmed this later when I discovered that both Aviva and Collin BOTH have the same birthday as me! How crazy is that? 3 people randomly in southern Spain with February 10 birthdays!
We walked my bike to Aviva’s storage garage and I took the bare minimal gear up to her place. A fellow Couchsurfer Carlos from Sevilla had donated this penthouse pad on the 4th floor overlooking the marina to Aviva and it was like walking into a resort. There is a huge balcony with views in every direction down the river, to the sea and over the city. I felt so grateful to have landed in such a comfortable crib with very positive energy from travelers from around the globe staying there on a regular basis.
For the next few days I was nursed back to health in this little oasis by this little family of mine and I felt so thankful for all their energy and support. Collin was the chef, cooking up amazing meals with whatever we could find in the kitchen. Aviva made sure I was always comfortable with nice head rubs too boot. And Mackenzie was so chill and easy going I was proud to know such an epic group of Americans (now, with Obama choosen by the people the pride is even more, might I add…). I was able to stretch and totally chill as we all watched movies (Happy Feet—what a winner film!), laughed, slept, listened to music and each other until my strength slowly came back.
The day before Halloween we all went out shopping for costumes in all the various Chinese run bazaars that are springing up all over due to the “crisis” going on and so dreaded by everyone in Portugal. The two Feb 10 boys were both “Love Angels” and the Feb 10 Aviva a butterfly—gotta love us Aquarians! By Halloween eve I was almost back at 100% but by that time my schedule was calling me to move on towards Portugal. I was a bit sad that I would get so little riding done in Spain. Luckily I was least able to recruit my crew to come out riding with me on Halloween day on the way to Portugal so that brought a smile to all of our faces.
Halloween day 2008 was a classic day that I’ll never forget. I had a Couchsurfing host named Ricardo waiting for me in Faro, a one day ride from Punta Umbria, so I invited Mackenzie and Aviva to ride with me on the way to Huelva on a private bike path. From there the plan was to pick up Collin and he’d ride to the Portuguese border then take a bus back to Sevilla where they were all celebrating Halloween down in Cadiz. For some reason the morning did not go as planned but I did manage to get a ride in with both Aviva and Mackenzie, me in my Love Angel wings and Aviva in her orange butterfly outfit, while doing some filming, laughing and having a blast together.
By the time I said goodbye to this crew I felt like family with them. I’ll never forget that feeling of community that I so miss being with soulful American folks, especially this crew. I had so many expectations for Spain to be an “outstanding” country of Peace Pedaling since I speak Spanish and had built it up the mecca for me. But it turns out that Spain was the first country where I did not ride with or at least stay with some local folks. Quite a surprise! But at this moment I realize that it was all meant to be. I met some friends for life and, since they are Americans (I’m proud to be American again, I might add once again, FINALLY!), I’ll be able to see them again and hopefully continue to build our friendships. And, of course, all celebrate our February 10 birthdays together!
Spain was not at all what I expected. But that’s the beauty of travel—learning, growing, discovering, observing, evolving, being surprised in every way. I know now for sure that I’ll never REALLY stop traveling, although the style will change as my life moves and grooves onward through various stages.
I made it to Faro, Portugal just in time to hit the town for a wild Halloween party with a surprise couchsurfer and fellow cycle touring chap Gregory from Germany and my two Portuguese hosts Ricardo and Marcio who have since become my brothers from another mother in the Algarve! More on these three gifts of human beings in the next journal on Portugal.
Live Big. Give Big. Love Big. (oh, a personal note on this philosophy as it’s evoloving. The “give big” does not and should not be “measured” or “doing focused”…but rather an intention and value. Action follows the intention and values naturally. Love Big—well, just do it and watch the magic follow…)
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