ALMOND BLOSSOM SEASON IN ANDALUCÍA


Notes from the road to learning a language, healing a heart, and outgrowing a winter: Springtime 2018

*

Also let it be known that I adore France and Italy, and their inhabitants.
One needs all varieties of Aunties, just as one needs all varieties of lovers.

 

I know what Laurie Lee means when he writes* that Spain is an island. I’ve heard the country described as your warm - and slightly rounded - Auntie. In comparison to the stern and inflexible French Auntie, or the flamboyantly hysterical (and thereby demanding) Italian Auntie, Spain is that Auntie who welcomes you into her home with a hug and warm meal, even though the place is a mess and she clearly wasn’t really geared for company at this hour. That Auntie who listens patiently to your tales of woe and confusion, while she mops the kitchen floor and beats the dust out of the rug, all the while nodding and making you feel like everything’s okay (even though she would never be this sad or confused about such silly things). 

She’ll make sure you eat well, play well, and sleep well.

I’ve always been overcome by that hard-to-define joy and contentment when roaming the Spanish “isle.” I have been well taken care of by that Auntie, and I’ve loved her for it. But I don’t want to over-romanticize the country, or reduce my impression to stereotypes. Yes, there are fine foods, and delectable wines. Yes, the olive groves are pretty as a postcard, and the cobbled streets evocative and marinated in mystique. But there is also an abundance of commercial outlets, sprawling supermarkets, “cookie-cutter” apartment blocks, overflow of trash in public (and once pretty) areas, perennial dog poop on sidewalks, and those vast, half-bulldozed, empty spaces that look as though they were destined for some grand idea but have now been left suspended in an awkward and unappreciated state. 

And I guess it’s the same with most places we roam: there are usually two sides (at least) to the coin, and the extent to which we’re willing to experience both is ultimately what enriches our understanding of where we are.

When I packed up my van and headed south from England, I wasn’t specifically seeking either side of that coin. The truth is that I was broken-hearted, uninspired, and in need of some forward motion. I had been vaguely attempting to learn Spanish for a few years, but my level of fluency (or lack thereof) was a good indication of how little time I had actively dedicated to that pursuit. In search of a good teacher, immersion in the language and culture, and potentially a warmer climate, I drove (with the help of a good friend) towards Andalucía, Spain’s equivalent “sunshine state.”

The following comprises notes scribbled throughout the journey.

February 2nd.

The beginning. France. Haze hangs over the hills; mottled, mauve, mushroom-puffs of cloud. We drive past bare, young, winter trees. There is a cottage on the corner with mustard-yellow shutters - it looks warm against the icy backdrop. Smatterings of rain flick the windscreen. We’ll be staying in Paris a couple of days.

 

February 4th.

The world suddenly feels silent. We leave cities behind and drive through the middle of empty countryside. Parked in a lay-by under a tree, it’s raining still but we can see some stars. Whatever happened to Walter Benjamin’s lost manuscript? He claimed it was more important than his life. Before overdosing on morphine…

 

February 5th.

Trying to get to Andorra to stock up on cheap booze, we’re caught in an unforeseen blizzard coming up the mountain (although, given the season, it could have been entirely foreseeable). After a couple of skidding tyres we deduce that it’s not worth it and cautiously turn to descend back to safety. As the snow - a little gentler at this lower altitude - continues to drift down around us, we set up camp in a carpark in Foix. The mountainside has a gradient that drifts from rust to green to evergreen to slate white, like dusting on a cake. At the foot of it all, snowdrops are in bloom.

 

February 6th.

This morning I sat on a dingy, cold, steel, public toilet seat. There were no windows, so it was dark save for a drainpipe hole in the ceiling that let in a powerful shaft of light, and every now and then, a soft, unhurried, gentle, curious, friendly snowflake. 

From here we are driving into warmer days. Heading east to Perpignan (maybe the sea air will reduce the risk of undriveable roads), the winding slopes turn to open straights with blustery scrubland and softer, rolling, mountains either side of us. We spy the first powdery cherry blossom. Blue sky ahead, and even sunshine! The landscape already feels more indicative of the Mediterranean, with wind-shaped olive trees, cypress, ramshackle stone walls, and empty rail tracks.

Border town sex shops and “rapid” snacks. The toll road runs alongside our route and is swarming with semis - we feel smug on our pot-holed, poor man’s trail. Grass and bark hold the same iridescent, weimaraner-silver hue. The mountains are blue. The mist surrounding them gives off the effect that they are melting into the sky. It’s a strangely nostalgic farewell to winter in the rearview mirror. It really was a cocoon for transition this year, but I am nonetheless quite happy to shed that cosy skin.

South of Barcelona, just as we are getting tired and in need of somewhere to sleep, we see an unexpected sign for Miami and - remembering how much fun we used to have dancing in Alex’s old estate to Will Smith’s tune and ALL its remixes - pull off the highway. It’s a town built for the summer onslaught but thankfully one restaurant still open: Pinky Pizza. We are the only patrons. The owner and a few tenuous family members seem to be enjoying the fact that they can peacefully eat dinner in their own restaurant. The men stay seated the entire time we are there, occasionally calling to the women when they want something. The women serve us, and man (what a curious expression in this case) the kitchen. Their pizza and wine is delicious. I almost pass out at the table, but in a nice way. It’s a half moon tonight.

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February 7th.

Parked right next to the beach, we wake up to a very Floridian sunrise and blustery palms. Donning a comic jumble of scant running shorts and many layers of woollen winter jumpers and scarves or coats, we decide to embody what we think ageing Floridians would do (sorry Spain, we’ve convinced ourselves we’re in America, for now) and go for a run along the promenade. The wind is cold but the sun is promising. We feel invigorated and alive, and like we’re finally locating some of that youthful energy we’re supposed to carry in large amounts.

 

February 8th.

Rose-hued salt lakes at Torrevieja. Crunchy bushland underfoot - calcified with crystals - as we make our way to the water’s edge. In spite of traffic on the looping roads surrounding the lakes, it is restful. The swoosh of distant passing cars sounds more like the soughing of waves against a peaceful shoreline.

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February 10th.

Travelling south to the badlands of Almeria. An unsettling, pre-apocalyptic expanse of vinyl-covered farmland that stretches as far as the eye can see amongst otherwise pretty and soulful hillsides. 

We stop in Nijar, a hidden town that must have seen its fair share of siege, and enjoy the distinctly adult feeling of shopping for ceramics and textiles crafted by locals. (I picked up a ceramic-topped wine cork and said “this would be such a waste of money, when would you ever need an extra cork when you can just use the one that came with the bottle?” and then regretfully had to eat my words that very same night when the cork of our evening red crumbled in my hands and we had nothing to plug the bottle with for the next day’s bumpy drive.) 

It is also in Nijar that we happen to walk past a handful of old farmers working a small street streetside plot. They have an alarming assortment of voodoo dolls and teddies hanging from the trees and fencing, and are listening to Metallica very, very loud on a crackling radio whilst determinedly harvesting potatoes. I say determinedly. They also seem very relaxed. Like there is nothing unusual (or even amusing) about this scene. We continue walking and I spy some sad tomatoes on the ground near the pavement. They look so edible.

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February 11th.

We’re in a hidden cape. Cabo de Gata. You only have to drive down a dirt track to get here but it feels miles from civilisation. The landscape was formed by volcanic activity and I feel wonderfully irrelevant in its cradle. You can clamber in between rivets of rock on the beach and look out towards sea framed by dark overhangs and jagged mountain silhouettes. 

I find a large piece of time-battered driftwood - almost a whole tree - sitting alone on untouched sand that looks like a prehistoric bone. 

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Late one night a fox comes up to the open door of our van. It is silent, and it silences me too. 

We see shooting stars at night, and wake before dawn to climb the sand dune in time for sunrise. 

One afternoon, we both fall asleep on beach where there are no other people and the wind sweeps grains of sand into the depths of our eyelashes (I will still be retrieving them days later). 

I learn about the strange birthing process of Agave plants, and I learn about volcanic activity.

 

February 12th.

We drive to a high cliff near Nerja; a halcyon spot where the fencing has fallen away just in front of our door, gifting us an unimpeded view of a small pine tree that houses a bird’s nest, and beyond that the sparkling horizon that would eventually meld into Morocco. 

Sipping on Alhambras, we tiptoe barefoot down to the beach for sunset and look at Henry Moore rocks shaped by time and sea and the sirocco. I’ve never seen so many egg-moon pebbles in one place. I want to take them all home. Hidden in the reeds there is a shallow lagoon and a fresh-water “shower”. If you time it just right, you can bathe as the sun sets and casts its warmth right into that cosy nook to sets everything everything alight.

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February 13th.

As soon as I climb out of bed this morning, I hear a rustle from the cusp of the cliff path and see a tiny deer crest over the heathery grasses. It looks at me and we both freeze, then it scampers along a bit and disappears again over the hillside.

I scramble down to the sea to swim naked in breathtaking teal water, and feel my body waking up from the slump of winter. 

We make an overambitious tortilla for breakfast, and sip brandy from the bottle while we wait for it to slowly cook. 

Now we can see the swallows coming back from Africa.

I am in a little sun hammock, and it is bliss.

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February 14th.

The wildflowers are particularly fragrant this morning. Alex is flying home to London today, now that most of the driving is done. I will drop him at the airport in Malaga (heading into skyscraper territory after the paradise that is Nerja is jolting and far too sudden a shift for those untethered parts of our senses to calibrate) and head on to Ronda.

When I arrive at my new host’s apartment, there are open wine bottles everywhere, stacks of unwashed dishes, and a holographic fruit poster on the wall. Most of the shutters are closed, even though it is a vibrant day outside. Pointing at a Dalí print, she says (in Spanish) “my family!” And then laughs maniacally for a little while. Nerja feels very far away. 

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After unpacking, I go for a little walk to familiarise myself with my new neighbourhood. Amidst quiet and darkened streets, I catch a sudden glimpse of children weightlifting amidst raucous cheers in a brightly lit café. It is some sort of competition and they all look happy. 

Once again an outsider looking in, I am reminded of how I’ve always found solace in this anonymity. 

 

February 17th.

I have arrived in town a few days before my Spanish classes begin. I drive the van out towards some mountains. At one point as I am approaching a hill, I notice a Harley in my rear-view. Knowing how much the van struggles with inclines, and noticing a rare lay-by, I quickly pull in to let the rider pass. And thank. God. An entire army of Harleys, at least a hundred, suddenly swarm round the corner and pass at great speed and with great ceremony. They all wave in gratitude for me pulling over and all I can think is “what if I hadn’t? What if this troupe of freewheeling go-getters out to enjoy a wild ride on a sunshine-y day had got stuck behind me at five miles an hour for the next ten miles?”

I pull into a birdwatching spot not long after that and climb a mountainside in regular shoes and find myself in places that only goats should be able to access. It’s invigorating though. No one else knows I am here.

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February 18th.

I find a turquoise lagoon near Benaoján and go swimming in it. It’s probably too early in the year for that sort of thing, but the sun is out and it feels reminiscent of summer. The water has a sort of religious quality to it that I’ve only ever experienced once before, in the cenotes of Quintana Roo. It is heart-stoppingly freezing too.

Nestled into some overgrown tree roots by the waters edge, I start to notice an abundance of birds and bug life all around. Papery-thin butterflies in various shades of yellow, green, and in-between float by without even flapping their wings. 

I start to ramble, and unintentionally find myself on a three hour hike (throughout which I only cross paths with two other people) alongside the River Guadiaro. The birdsong is varied and vibrant. The river flows noisily. It is Almond blossom season in Andalucía. Little iris are springing up all over the trail, but traces of winter have not quite disappeared. Eventually I cross some train tracks and arrive in the town of Jimera de Líbar. I have missed the last train back to Benaoján by five minutes, and it’s too close to sundown to retrace my steps on the riverside trail. 

It is a beautifully kept little station, though. Empty, with orange archways, wooden sheltering, and dainty trees on the platform itself. Just opposite I can hear incongruously loud rock music coming from a bar, so I head over and haltingly enquire as to to my chances with an autobus or taxi. The sweet English barman informs me there is no bus, no taxi, but that his wife will drive me for a small fee, if I don’t mind waiting about forty-five minutes for her to return from her current delivery (apparently this happens a lot so they have become this area’s unofficial taxi service). I order a beer and sit on a bench outside listening to Bruce Springsteen in the sun. 

 

February 19th.

The main reason I’ve come here is to learn Spanish. Half my family have either been raised trilingual (French-Spanish-English), or have married Spaniards, and many of the cultures I’m preparing to explore across the globe are hispanic. After a few attempts of teaching myself at home, and an overwhelming sense of constriction throughout England’s winter months, I was gunning for a getaway and spontaneously researched “best schools for learning Spanish.” You can do tests online to find out which one would best suit your needs. Apparently there’s one in Argentina that is perfect for me. But budgetary reasons encouraged me to look a little closer to home. That’s when I found out about Escuela Entrelenguas; an unaffected cultural hub nestled in Ronda. As soon as I walked in, it felt like a home.

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The teachers are young and laid back, the student mix is eclectic, and dogs are welcome. Pongo the Dalmatian pads around the classroom during lessons and I find stroking his ears to be a good diffusion of any nerves one might have when trying to speak a new language in front of strangers. 

Over the next three weeks I will take part in a combination of group classes and one-to-ones. Group classes are typically followed by a saunter down to the corner bar for tortilla or tostadas and a glass of wine in the 11AM sun. I like hearing the stories of my classmates; mostly older than me, but most definitely living adventurous and autonomous lives. These are the people I never knew about in school days. But I think the conversations we’re having now would have been especially helpful back then.

This camaraderie is one of the reasons the school is referred to more as a “hub” than an educational centre. Their ability to teach Spanish effectively is not in question, but they way they do it is so entwined with a natural way of living that it never feels like “learning” in the dreary or formulaic sense that a lot of teaching methods subscribe to. Entrelenguas is particularly committed to the slow tourism movement, and liaises with local businesses and talents to ensure their students enjoy an immersive experience no matter the duration of their stay in Ronda. They’ll take you on hikes, introduce you to local eateries, and make you feel like part of a family. I was eating pizza and watching movies at my teacher’s house before I’d even seen the Puente Nuevo

Most importantly, they get you speaking Spanish. Casual ambience or not, these guys know what they’re doing. And they do it brilliantly. 

My three weeks will fly by, and I’ll find myself wanting to stay when it’s time to go.

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February 23rd.

For now, I have three days off and take a beautiful route down towards Cadiz to visit friends in Vejer de la Frontera; a cool white town perched atop a steep hill, impossibly sweet and stylish. 

The townscape gives off an almost blinding glare in the brightness of the morning sun. The cockerel crows. A local man’s birds swoop over the rooftops (underwings dotted with colourful paint so we know who they belong to).

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I am on a rooftop in the middle of Calle de la Fuente. It’s a hotchpotch of terracotta tiles and sweeping A-frame rooftops. The belltower curves are smooth and un-fussy. 

Variations on a laundry line.

Assortment of plants. 

Little stick figures appear and disappear as the town wakes up. Shop fronts open, streets are swept, friends greeted, neighbours are spied upon, a man’s white fluffy dog stands on its hind legs and paws at the moan demanding to know what has stolen his master’s attention. The man eventually lifts him up to show him the view. You could sit here all day and watch it unfold, but it’s time for coffee. 

Aaaaand I’m locked on the roof. 

Oh well! Coffee will wait. I have the laundry-hanging citizens of Vejer to keep me company. 

A smiling toothless man calls up to a neighbouring roof-topper and they have a conversation about bread. Old ladies in house smocks and slippers shuffle up the street, presumably to the bakery. It’s all about bread.

There is Southern Spain to my left: green fields and bunched up pines that look like giant broccoli heads. To the right: the coast of northern Africa rises mysteriously out from the water in a blue haze that separates mountain from sea. Its mystique is stunning and awakens the adventurer inside of me. 

 

February 24th.

Red and pink hibiscus have exploded everywhere. I get lost in the narrow alleyways of maze-like Vejer and decide I want to know more about the Moors. These intricate little towns, so full of secrets. The doors that open on to streets only to reveal a prettily-tiled atrium, potted plants, another heavily textured wooden door, and wrought iron bars covering the windows. Mystery and secrecy built into their architecture as well as their traditions.

A French family on holiday assumes me Spanish and asks me to take their photo. I hope I gave them a good impression of Spaniards.

Orange trees line the plaza. I am informed the oranges are only good for marmalade. Grey clouds are pending. There is a lottery ticket kiosk on the corner of the main square. Middle-aged men that are jaunty and up to no good are gathered there to make mischief involving anyone who passes by. 

Later, in the marketplace at Barbate, it feels more like Morocco than Spain. There is a raw and well-oiled vibe. The conversations - more guttural. Even the style of architecture is less celebratory, more functional. It has a harshness to it, a sense of struggle, without the warmth offered by the Islamic influence in Morocco. I buy some dates wrapped in a newspaper cone and move on to the coast which is overflowing with delicately fragrant white blossom bushes. The perfume combination here is probably my favourite, blending blossom, pine, heat, rosemary, sage, lavender and sea salt. The sea itself is calm and glittering today, and although content on my little rock imprinted with fossilised leaves, I could quite happily sail to Africa. 

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February 25th.

My van is at home but feeling very unoriginal amongst a throng of other van people camped along the shorefront at El Palmar. It’s California-cool (I don’t understand where my tendency to relate all places to America comes from?) and I am not. But I am very happy to be sleeping by the sea again. I decide to celebrate my solitude with a restaurant meal, and walk into one that looks like it has a deck right on the sand. I request a table for one and the waiter, potentially the most handsome man I have ever seen in real life, asks incredulously “why are you alone?” Good question. 

I don’t even read my book. I sit quietly and sip on beer and then wine, whilst watching the sun make its exquisite descent. There is a lovely moment as it fizzles into the sea where everyone on deck quietly emits that involuntary ‘ahhh’ sound and a few people even clap.

But now it’s cold, so I order a lavish dish of rich ox cheeks in stew on creamy mash with another hearty class of red. 

The wait staff treat me kindly as I am their only solo diner (all other groups are large and vivacious, Spaniards don’t like to dine alone) and they probably think that makes me sad and wistful. They are only half right.

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February 26th.

I’ve got to get back to Ronda for a midday class. I wake up early, enjoy a little foot-dipping in the surf, and hit the road. This is the day I first discovered that the best breakfasts in Spain are available at petrol stations. More on this later.

Another week of classes. I move out of holographic-fruit-poster apartment and back into the van. It feels nicer. 

 

February 27th.

I wake up feeling extra cold this morning and go to take a sip of water from the glass near my bed. Nothing comes out, and I realise it’s a frozen block of ice. I pull back the curtains and see that the van is covered in a thin layer of ice. It is actually quite hard to get the door open. But the field just outside is breathtaking (artistically, as well as physically), the grass all covered in delicate frost. I make some porridge and drink a coffee whilst still in the coat I wore to sleep in, wrapped in many blankets. I can’t bear the thought of getting undressed and wonder if I can justify wearing pyjamas to class but by 10AM the sun has risen fully over the mountains, melting what was left of the wintery morning, and it’s now warm enough to walk to school in a t-shirt. I don’t think anyone will believe my glass of ice story now…

After the frost comes the rain. Lots of it. The river overflows and I have been camping in the valley, so I quickly move towards higher ground. But I don’t really know where to go - it’s hard to drive in the torrential downpours too. At night I hear unsettling, booming crashes - I don’t know what they are, but when I do try driving again in daylight, I round a corner and find whole parts of the mountain sitting in the middle of the road. Boulders and broken pieces of rock that I have to skirt around. The mountains are falling apart. 

They start closing down parts of certain routes. There are mudslides. It is not the greatest time to be living in van. I don’t have any electricity in there, and I don’t have a smartphone. Mostly I drink inordinate amounts of brandy and play ukulele to myself by candlelight. I think I’ve created some pretty evocative soundtracks, but I have no witnesses to confirm or deny that notion.

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March 3rd.

When the rain finally pauses for a morning, I leap into the front seat and drive to Júzcar. Hidden amongst winding mountain roads and savage landscapes, it is one of the most surreal and charming places I have been to. (I’m sure I am also slightly giddy from rain-induced van/cabin fever and the prolonged absence of human interaction). Set against the subdued greys of a post-storm sky, the bright blue hues of the house fronts seem especially vibrant, and the giant sculptures of papa smurf; trippy. I have to continuously stop myself from laughing as I wander the streets, not wanting anyone who lives there to feel offended. I am laughing at my own life anyway, not the town.

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After ducking into a tavern to grab some food, I imagine for a moment that I am a food & travel advisor and make these notes:

On a rainy day (if the rain stops, because - although obviously recently resurfaced - those mountain roads are not really made for two-way traffic), head to Júzcar: originally one of the pueblos blancos, but since painted blue to appease the desires of the smurf film makers. Its inhabitants were apparently so grateful for the subsequent tourism that they requested it not be painted back to white once filming was wrapped. 

After walking the Molinos loop trail through the valley, breathing in the scent of untamed Andalucian undergrowth, forging the odd stream, and taking in the full view of this weird and wonderful mountainside town, you can head back up to the west side and enjoy a standing caña from La Tienda. It’s a little shop, rather than a bar, but after you’ve chosen your drink from the fridge and paid for it, they’ll offer you a glass and you can perch around their wooden barrel tables on the terrace and listen to the throaty chatter of local men (where are the women? I wonder) and glimpse the occasional, quintessential old man in farm gear carrying a plastic bucket shuffling up the hill. 

Two doors down is the Bar Torricheli, a slice of local life for those who want it. It’s warm and bustling, and while you listen to the Macarena on the corner TV, you can enjoy a warm bread tapas topped with Iberian ham and a fried quails egg for €1. They also have Montaditos (tiny sandwiches, with a variety of fillings, also for €1), and today’s beautiful soup of chicken, egg, and croutons. The service is kind and gentle; I feel welcome. And unusually un-guilty about my Englishness. Perhaps it is my increased confidence in Spanish? (Thanks to Escuela Entrelenguas.)  The waitress couldn’t be nicer, or more patient, and I feel very glad for this little spot from within which I can now see the rain again pouring down outside. 

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March 9th.

My schooling has come to an end. I can feel that warmer weather is just around the corner, and that my Spanish is finally improving, and I want to stay! But I feel like I’ve got what I came for, and I vigorously commence the homeward route.

I have now had two best breakfasts in Spain - both the cheapest (€1.90 maximum). Both at gas stations. The first outdoes the second by way of bread quality and ambience (wooden standing bar outside in the morning sun), and the second outdoes the first by way of available half-peeled raw cloves of garlic on the countertop - my favourite. Not just for the flavour but also for the tactile involvement. The strong and simple coffee also does wonders for one’s spirit at the start of a journey. I am a sucker for the hissing of lorry brakes, the stench of diesel, and a wide open, doming, bright blue sky. 

First stop is to return to paradisiacal Nerja. The sun is beating down when I arrive and I am desperate to swim, but I have disturbed two gentle German friends - also in a van - who were probably really happy with their secluded parking spot. Before I arrived. I give them a casual nod, intending to do a swift three point turn on this little corner of the cliff and leave them in peace. But it turns into a sort of panicked, twelve point turn - one that they have to assist me with. I apologise (I’m English), and head further down the road to a wider spot with more vans but also more space. 

I go for a swim in eggshell-coloured (still freezing) sea. I drink beer and dry off in the afternoon sunshine. I organize my notes from all my classes. I contemplate the last three weeks. I assimilate this sojourn.

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In the evening, a local man gently steps past my open doors in the evening light on the path above the sea. He is carrying a bouquet of wild rosemary. I imagine that he is taking it home to cook in a sumptuous dinner. I hope he is not lonely, even if he is alone. 

 

March 10th.

I fling open the rear doors at dawn so I can watch the sun rise from the comfort of my bed. It is hazy and overcast. But there is just enough sunlight to create a double rainbow over the sea’s horizon, and they move slowly closer towards me as the clouds roll landwards. What an ending. 

Once they disappear, the day feels subdued and unremarkable in comparison to its start. But it is a good day for driving. I pack up the van with a light layer of nostalgia, and start the journey north.

 

I think of the waiter who spontaneously cut the price of my breakfast because I didn’t have enough change to pay. 

The scooter driver who bounded over the hill over a cobbled street, unlit cigarette dangling from his lips, the epitome of Mediterranean man. 

The clear starlit skies in the mountain regions. 

The barking dogs at night. 

The cockerel crowing mid-afternoon (unapolagetically late, loyal to cultural norm). 

Each of my teachers at Entrelenguas.

My last conversation in Ronda that took place with a bartender (entirely in Spanish) who shook my hand warmly while congratulating me on my “valour” for undertaking the trip back to England alone, and gathered the other servers to wish me luck on my onward journey.

 

I will pause in Valencia to see family, and celebrate my birthday with an old friend in Barcelona (along with so much cava and chorizo that it takes me three days to recover). I will enjoy a peaceful morning in Cadaquès overlooking an old home of Dalí’s with my feet in the sea and my bum perched on a warm rock. After two miserably grey and rainy days on French backroads I’ll reconnect with an old friend in Paris to enjoy delicious homemade Vietnamese crepes, but the raison d’être for the trip really ended right there. 

 

That’s not to diminish the joys that followed, but more to echo the sentiments of John Steinbeck when he wrote Travels With Charley: 

“We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us. Tour masters, schedules, reservations, brass-bound and inevitable, dash themselves to wreckage on the personality of the trip.”

For practical reasons we have to choose a start and an end date for any travels that involve planes, ferries, or other people’s time frames. But a “trip” always defines itself. 

 

I’m still not sure when this one began. But it had its quiet and moving finale that morning in Nerja, when the last drop of rainbow evaporated into nothing.

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* "Spain is not Europe. It is not even Africa-in-Europe. It is an island cut off by pride and geography, by its indifference to its neighbours and by the presence of its three seas - Biscay, the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. On that island, as on other true islands, everywhere, ancient traditions of custom and character have developed to a point of excess." Laurie Lee in I Can't Stay Long.

 

All photographs are my own.