06.04.2009 - 20.04.2009
The title of this blog post will make at least a little more sense by the end of this entry, I promise.
I managed to escape Barcelona with all my money, ID and vital organs, and took the five hour train south to Valencia. The two cities couldn't be more different! Whereas Barca has the big, bustling city feel, Valencia has the relaxed, bohemian vibe that just makes it really easy to feel at home away from home. I spent the first half-day wandering the arts/science district, which is a series of buildings and parkland that makes you feel like you took one left-hand-turn too early and ended up on The Moon in twenty years time. I spent the rest of my stay in Valencia being rather lazy, really - taking the tourist bus everywhere instead of walking, eating Payella (kind of like a seafood risotto, but not so wet), and meeting randoms in the hostel, as per usual.
It seems meeting randoms is what makes a trip really memorable. In the case of Valencia:
- Having a one-hour conversation with a Brazillian guy where neither of us had a common language, which meant the conversation was really a one hour long game of charades, with each of us trying to get our point across with expansive, over-the top acting and hand gestures. Nevertheless, we exchanged some music CDs, and he showed me how to play his Quica. Turns out he works for Brazillian TV and was in town to work on a docco.
- I tried to inflict Vegemite upon every foreigner who appeared half-willing, and relished the look of utter disgust that inevitably followed. In return, I was made to eat snails that had been warmed up in the microwave. Fair enough.
- Attempting to find food and drink at 3pm with a fellow hosteller, only to be reminded that the Spanish go on siesta from about 2pm 'til 5pm. We were rescued by a friendly French guy who was just packing up his stall in the market. We helped him pack up, and he guided us to a handily open supermarket down a side-alley. Saved!
However, the most important instance of chance profoundly affecting my travels was to occur whilst I was washing the dishes in the hostel. I happened to get talking to Aly, an american girl who was also travelling by herself. We hung out for a while, and happened to run into two Canadian guys, Ryley and Keegan, while having a quiet beer in the hostel. We headed out for an informal game of football in the park, and whilst passing the ball around it became apparent that we all harboured intentions to go driving around Spain in order to see all of it's nooks and crannies, but we each lacked the funds indivually. No prizes for what happened next - by late that afternoon we'd all decided to book a car and set off the next day on a completely unplanned adventure, to last the rest of the week. Why not, eh?
The four of us set off to pick up the car, only to find the van we'd booked wasn't available. Bummer. Nevermind, they upgraded us to an Audi, and then to an even larger Peugot. Hardly bumming around in a van, eh? Stylish. We piled in and set off with only two vague guidelines for travel:
1) "Head vaguely south and clockwise, and if we could make it to Portugal, that would be awesome!"
2) No stopping at any town in bold on the map. We might look like tourists, but we could at least get away from the other tourists and pretend we weren't.
The first day was to set the tone for the rest of the week - sleeping on a sunny beach, taking random detours down small roads, going on walks around majestic cliffs and rocky coastlines, and camping on a beach with nothing but a campfire and each other for company. Well, except for the crazy spanish guys we partied with on our first night. Language barriers be damned!
Of course, this whole road trip being random from the outset, I was totally underprepared. The Canadians in our party had sleeping bags, tents, and camping equipment. Typical. Aly, the American, at least had a sleeping bag and a pillow. I had none of these things, of course. Nor had I thought to buy anything. So for the entire week I slept either in the back of the car or on the beach by the fire, wearing nearly every item of clothing that I had, using the remainder of my clothing for a mattress, my coat as a pillow, and a sleeping sheet for a sleeping bag. It was less than ten degrees most nights. How's that for giving a good account for Aussies everywhere?
Not that it was hard to justify roughing it, when every night I was sleeping on the sand under the stars, and waking to the most beautiful sunsets I've ever seen. Totally worth the big toe I lost to frostbite. It was also worth the rudimentary meals that we nevertheless thoroughly enjoyed - breakfast was (only!) coffee, lunch was bread and cheese (and salami if we were lucky) and dinner was a can of beans warmed over the campfire and shared between four. Gourmet, eh? Despite the basic nature of the food, there's something so deeply rewarding about cooking food over a fire you worked and sweated to get started, and also incredibly bonding to be sharing what little food we had between us and making do.
That's not to say that I didn't enjoy the seafood brunch we had on our first stop in Portugal. Mmm...squid. Yup, we made it all the way down the west coast of Spain, and after short-cutting through Granada and the mountains of central Spain, we arrived on day four to the south coast of Portugal. Two countries for the price of one! Well, not really. More like two countries for a little more than double the price, what with the petrol and...er...parking tickets, but I digress!
It's hard to adequately get across the point that this past week has undoubtedly been the best week of my life. It's amazing to think that idle conversation while washing dishes can be the critical point that turns what would have been another week lounging in Valencia into an unbelievable, unpredictable, life-changing adventure with people who are now firm friends.
Aly, Keegan and Ryley - thanks for being part of the most amazing week of my life, and for leaving me with a hybrid American/Canadian accent that is proving very difficult to shake indeed.
And if you hadn't guessed (and I'd be impressed if you did!) - "Poncho Smuggler" was the name of our ride. C'mon, it was obvious.
Next stop, Turkey! Time to learn another language, methinks.