Tuesday, September 8, 2009

one last adventure

Partly inspired by Nico's Jack Kerouac/Christopher McCandless-esque adventuring and partly by my urge to do something semi-exciting before I left Spain, I decided to visit Cadaqués and more importantly a beach called Platja de Sant Luis, in the natural park of Cap de Creus. I had read about this 'hidden beach' and was enchanted by the prospect of swimming in the "clear blue water", the "clothing optional" was going to do little to deter me.

The night before I looked into what needed to be done to get this show on the road. I had to wake up at five am and catch the metro to the train station, to catch a six o' clock train. This is no easy feat when you are used to going to bed at six in the morning (yes I am a midnight raver, yes a disco dancer).

So I packed my bag the night before. Lunch, suncream, and a towel. Oh, and a big old bottle of water, but we'll come back to that, it's not important yet.

I set my alarm and woke up, which is positive, its unusual for me to nail that combination.

I was actually going to do this. Well I almost wasn't. But for whatever reason I did. I grabbed my bag, took a swig of my fresh orange juice (not from concentrate) and jumped on the metro.

Two stops later I arrived at Passeig de Gracia, from here I slumped myself on the renfe train service to Figueres. I tried hard to sleep on this train, cradling a backpack in my arms. However, when I am sleepy I find it terribly difficult to establish whether I have been drifting in and out of sleep or just been sleepily awake, so I really don't know the truth. Only the old Spanish man sitting down from me will ever know the answer. I should have asked him. Towards the end of the train ride the sun started rising over all these small Mediterranean towns that we passed and it looked like the kind of stuff that postcards are made out of.

I arrived at Figueres with blurry visuals in front of me, stumbling out of the station I asked a local 'hombre' for directions to the bus station. It was right in front of us. I have gotten used to this sort of thing over the years.

Then I went to the bus station and bought an 'ida y vuelta' (return ticket) to Cadaqués.

Again I tried to sleep on the bus, but this time I am fairly sure that nothing of the sort happened. Instead I looked out the windows, here are some of the things I saw:

On two occasions (within a five minute span), I saw the scariest over-sized children's slides I have ever seen. The first was a massive gorilla with a slide coming out of its chest, like some kind of deformed and flaccid King Kong. The second was an over-sized scary clown slide, it was so freaky that I have successfully erased what it actually looked like from my mind. They were both about thirteen feet tall and should never have existed, they are definitely the source of all nightmares in the local area.

Then we went through a town that I can only compare to Venice. That is because half the roads were made with water and half the cars were made of boats. Apparently it looks much nicer from above, but I was in the thick of it, on the streets and it looked a bit weird. We were driving on a road through the town but when you looked out of either window all the other roads were made of water and had boats docking outside the houses. The water roads/canals eventually link up to the ocean. The town is called Empuriabrava.

For a long time in the distance, on top of a mountain, I could see an observatory that is used for looking at the stars. I am a big fan of looking at stars and was quite eager to go up there and check it out, I didn't, because it was day time. The observatory was blanketed in mist and it looked good. Then we ascended the mountain and my vertigo was put to the test, which was not very enjoyable.

Eventually we arrived in Cadaqués. My destination was only a forty-five minitue hike away.

Cadaqués is a beautiful little town by the sea, it houses a peachy church and some expensive restaurants. Perhaps its biggest draw is that it is only a miles walk from Port Lligat, most famous for Casa Dali. A house where Salvidor Dali resided for more than fifty odd years.

I doubt you will be surprised to hear that before setting out on this mission, I didn't take the time to write down directions or print out a map. I had a brief glance at a googlemap and thought that would be sufficient. Needless to say it wasn't.

Walking out of the car park/bus drop-off point it dawned on me that I was lost.
How would I get there? To this mystical beach? In my mind I opened up google maps and imagined myself as an all-seeing satellite, that was a waste of time, I couldn't envisage anything. So instead, I went to the nearest big road I could find and saw a sign pointing to Cap De Creus. Surely this was the way.

This road was made for cars. It didn't take that long for me to realise the error of my ways. It was probably around the time I saw it leading over a bit of a mountain that I decided to turn back to town. I devised a new plan, a better plan, a safer plan. I would walk along the coast until I hit the beach. A foolish plan.

After about forty minutes I realised that following the cost was a silly idea, it had already taken me around one cape and there seemed to about three more or so, which would take a lifetime. So I thought I would cut across over to Port Lligat, only that I ended up back in Cadaqués. I knew it was about time I looked at a map. So I found one. After that I was a bit more confident. I set off for Port Lligat.

I got there fairly easily. On my way I passed a fat little church and a couple of dog walkers. I couldn't see Dali's house and saw little reason to waste more time, so after a brief 360 I carried on my way. At this point I think I should point out that I had now looked at three separate maps, none of which detailed the position of the beach I was after. Whilst this added to the mystery, it wasn't helping with the quest. So I carried on walking.

Paranoia set-in. Where the fuck was I? This road is heading in the opposite direction of the water. I turned around, I saw one of the dog walkers I had passed by the church about twenty minutes ago. Am I really as slow as her aging dog? That's not very good at all. I got over my speed issues and forced out my best Spanish. She pointed me in some direction and said something about stairs, the rest was inaudible. I went off in said direction. I decided to prove that I was healthy so I sped up, about two hundred metres later I came to a fork in the road. I turned around and gestured the two roads to the female dog walker behind me (who for the record I had made considerable distance on). She pointed me down the right road and I continued.

Time was passing, where were these stairs? I began to wonder if she had said stairs at all. After all, I had horribly failed my AS-Level Spanish listening (surprisingly, I failed everything but one speaking test, but thats not really important).

I decided to revert back to Plan A. Walk along the coast. I felt that I was much closer at this point and as long as I could get on the coast, it shouldn't be too long or too difficult to find my destination.

So in true Nico fashion, I found an unused path off the side of the road and followed it down. I hit the coast. It was rocky, but beautiful. I paused for a moment and took it all in; the water, the plants, and the small beach where a woman was putting on her pants. I ventured down that way, obviously not to lay down sexual groundwork, but because it was the only place I could go.

We crossed paths, she was with her boyfriend. I casually gave them an "hola", they gave me a smiley one back.

I continued on my way. Shortly after continuing, I came to a place where I could no longer go forward. Unless I wanted to dive in and swim the rest of the way, which I did not.

Defeated again by geography, I headed back towards the small beach where I had previously seen the couple. They had no idea about the location of the beach either, but were deeply impressed with my linguistics. I rained verbs on those guys. And adjectives. They were from Barcelona, it turned out we lived about five minutes away from each other. Eventually they pointed me in the direction of the road. After she complemented me on my Spanish, I made a massive grammatical mistake and left them to it.

Suddenly I found myself ascending some stairs, actually quite a lot of stairs made of stones. Could these be the stairs mentioned by the dog walker? Did she actually mention stairs anyway? Did she even have a dog? I stopped and pondered for a moment. I continued the climb. Even if she had mentioned the stairs, and these were them, I had no idea what she actually said about them, she could have said to avoid them, maybe the were poisonous. I sped up.

I hit the road. Jack. And later on, I came back.

I carried on down the road for a short while, until I came to another trail on my right. Adventure beckoned me in, like one of those children into the gingerbread house. No sooner had I entered, then I made an assessment. I was in an arid climate. Don't snakes live in arid climates? Is this a good idea? I had no phone on me and if I was poisoned by a snake then it wasn't going to be a positive thing by any means. But I was pretty sure I knew what Tom Sawyer would do. So I marched on. My legs were constantly being gouged by some Spanish bramble type bush, and every time I heard the noise of my legs brushing against the plants I was sure it was an evil snake speaking to me in Slytherin.

I walked past these empty little stone huts and thought about how nice it would be to homeless and stumble across this place. I followed the path through a patch of cactus and thought about how Nico would probably be able to make lunch out of one. The cactus were a massive and a real deep green, with flowers in bloom. I finally hit the coast again.

I looked down. I was literally metres away from the couple I had met earlier, they were now sat eating. Again, I felt the fool. Where previously, I could not see a path down to my location, I could now obviously see one up to it. Oh well. Perseverance.

I took a swig of my water. The night before I had filled an empty milk bottle with water and stored it in the fridge over night. I had failed to properly rinse out the bottle. What this meant that I was drinking milky water that tasted really bad. So good at preparation. So good.

After walking around the coast for another decent chunk of time I knew I had to sit down and admire my surroundings. It was gorgeous and apparently unlike any other region in Spain (says Juan). Hearing some rustling in a bush, I thought it best to carry on.

After some more chance encounters with vertigo, it wasn't long before I could see the beach of dreams sitting quaintly below the cliff edge I was perched on. There was no sign stating the beaches name, but in my heart of hearts I knew it was the place. The abundance of mature naked people was enough confirmation for me.

The sky was free of clouds and there was a naked pensioner slowly gliding through the blue water. The Mediterranean tide was gently rocking up against this pebbly cove. I stopped and appreciated the view from up high, then I assesed my options for a descent.

It seemed simple, walk across the clifftop a bit more and climb down. Everything was going well until I was confronted by a canine mercenary. I don't know much about dogs, I have no idea what breed this dog was, and although it looked a lot closer to a poodle than a rottweiler, it was the most malicious beast I've laid my eyes on for a while. I tried to advance but he was wise to my tactics. He started barking at me, so I just stood there, clueless. I looked down at the beach, surely the owner was going to come and retrieve their dog? I waited, nobody came.

The dog was barking a lot louder now and everybody down on the beach was looking up at me. I was disturbing the peace. I looked down at them, with my eyes screaming "come and get your fucking dog". Still nobody came.

I decided to wait for the right moment and make a move. That moment came when the devil dog walked up the cliff a bit and out of my sight. No sooner had I moved forward than I turned to see the beast hurtling down towards me with bad intentions. Fuck. I am generally not good in high pressure situations, so in my fearful state, I turned and faced him. Man vs Dog. He wasn't slowing down, so I did the only thing I could think of and held out my backpack as if it was some kind of weapon. I don't know what he thought my bag was capable of, but it was obviously something pretty crazy. The dog came to a halt and snarled at me. I sketchily made my way down to the beach, backwards.

After reverse-stumbling down to the beach, I passed a sign. The Spanish equivalent of "Private Property. Do not cross." That would explain the dog then. I had just entered a beach through private property and if I had been munched by a dog, it probably would have been legal. Take the road next time yeah? Yeah.

Upon entering the beach I received a few strange glances (and rightly so, I suppose). It would have been easy for me to be embarrassed by the spectacle I had created and disappear off to one of the sides of the beach, but I went and sat right in the middle of the beach. Power to the people and all that jazz.

I sat peacefully, ate my packed lunch and drank my milky water. Things were quietening down and I was receiving less dodgy looks from the bronzed collective. I sensually massaged suncream into my chest and then slept for a while.

I awoke in a mini-sweat, it was about that time. You know the time. Time for a swim. I needed to cool down.

I hopped across the hot pebbles into the sea. With one foot in the ocean, I began slipping around, these stones were a mossy bunch. I lost the battle with gravity and friction, but luckily by that point was in deep enough to be able to swim without looking like a complete fool. That was still to come.

The water was much clearer than that of Barcelona miles down south. I had the water all to myself, so I just swam and thought about nothing. Suddenly I had a massive urge to be completely naked. It dawned on me that I had never been skinny dipping in the daylight or whilst sober. I slipped out of my little shorts and felt liberated. After a while some other people entered the water, with snorkels. What do do? I tried to stay out of their sight, but after a while I wanted to get back on dry land. This meant putting back on my shorts. This was complicated.

I put one foot through and struggled for a long while, splashing around, looking like the fool that I often seem to be. This went on for a while. People on the beach started to look slightly concerned either it looked like I was drowning or trying to sly out an aquatic poo. Finally I was back in my shorts and order was restored. I went back to my towel.

A short time passed until I realised something political was going down. To my right, everybody was wearing their bathing suits and to my left, nudity reined supreme. I had to choose a side. To stay with the conformity of the right or bask in the freedom of the left. What would Obama do? Obviously get naked, but then knowing Obama, he no doubt has a horse's penis. What to do? All the other young people were clothed.

Lying on my back, I pulled down my shorts, slightly. My white cheeks lay against the towel whilst my shorts just covered my dignity. I was in two minds. I was lost. I remained in this physical purgatory for the best part of half an hour. Then when everyone seemed to be turned the other way, I whipped those bad boys off. Free.

I sunbathed on my front for a while, then did a rotation. Reading Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War by Che Guevara, I felt so much more in tune with my guerilla brethren than I had only the day before whilst reading the book eating a Big Mac. I fell asleep and my cheeks got some rouge. Whilst the strangeness of going to a nudist beach alone, as a twenty-three year old male, is not lost on me, I was also strangely proud of the feat.

It came to four o'clock in the afternoon and I knew I would have to start making my way back to Cadaqués soon, if the length of my first journey was anything to go by. I packed my bag and said goodbye to the beach in my head.

The journey back was less than an hour and much easier.

I went to the supermarket and bought a litre of lemon sorbet, I killed about half of it waiting for the bus back. Then I felt a bit sick. The journey back was much less frantic than the one I had begun over twelve hours earlier.

I arrived back at home and fell asleep.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

and so the penny drops

This is my last week of what has been a seven month stint, and so I will attempt to make this my penultimate post. I want to write a final, deep, thought-provoking blog post (something about those last four words grouped together doesn't seem right), but fear not, this is not that post.

No, this post is actually about someone we have already met.

Nico the chef.

You might remember him as the lad who did some shagging on a balcony. Last time we spoke he was heading off to Cadiz. Well yesterday he came back and he has already gone again. This time his face was full of facial hair and his skin darker than the night sky. But he left me with some stories, I told him to write them down, but he doesn't fancy himself as much of a writer, so I'll just do it for him. I am certain I don't know the majority of the places he went to by name, but I'll try my hardest to know what I'm talking about. And all of this information was gathered from conversations in Spanish, so some details are a bit hazy. Here is a re-cap of his interesting journey.

When our friend arrived in Cadiz he spent his first three nights in a hostel. Now I don't know if what I am about to write happened at this moment in Cadiz or later on, but for the purpose of the story it fits better at this point. All I know is that it definitely happened in Cadiz.

Nico cried. Loneliness was the cause. He told me he felt so lonely that he could not help but cry. When he told me that I felt sad and we did a little hug.

After three nights in the hostel, Nico spent a night on the beach with some homeless people. Drinking beer and playing the guitar. In what would prove a smart move, the next day he went back to the hostel. That night a new friend sleeping on the beach had his backpack stolen from under his sleeping nose. That would be Nico's last night in paid accommodation, the following morning Nico found his friends bag and the majority of its contents down an alleyway. A few nights on the beach passed by, asleep and cradling his backpack.

During one of those typically burning hot days in Cadiz he had a chance encounter with a disabled man, this is more or less how it went:

"Hey Boy come over here"
Nico went over to this gent sat in the wheelchair and offered his help. After a while the man who turns out to be slightly crazy offered Nico a bed for fifteen euros a night. Nico was not going to pay for a bed, so instead he offered Nico a bed in exchange for some help. For three days Nico took this paraplegic from one bar to the next and they had some fun. It turns out this man used to be a famous flamenco dancer, was in even in a film, and I'm sure after the tragic loss of his leg's functionality he became a one-man waste mission. How sad.

After Cadiz he ventured for a bit more through the province of Andalucia, seeing a side much different from that which I had seen three months ago. We both saw Granada and Sevilla, but when he went he slept in the streets, in school yards, and under bridges. He walked in symmetry with people who have been homeless for six years, with the children of prostitutes, and people with even less luck than that. I slept in a hostel, ate fine food and watched football.

Towards the end of Andalucia he met a girl. For the moment her name eludes me. They traveled to Portugal and saw plenty of the country, finally staying at her house in Coimbra. One time she was so upset with him that she locked him out for four days. For four days he lived and slept in the same clothes and did not shower, until she finally opened up on the fifth day.

Nico went back down south towards Almería. Here he stayed in a place that was completely self-sufficient, powered by the sun. A North-German family exchanged accommodation and food for labour. Although it took some time, Nico managed to describe to me how the family would cook their food reflecting the sunlight with a mirror and using magnification devices to heat it. They grew there own vegetables and had their own water supply, it sounded a bit like Al Gore's wet dream, I mock it now, but I too was impressed on hearing of their habits, perhaps what impressed me most though was how passionately Nico spoke about these things.

Then Nico did something stupid. He spent a day walking through the Almerian desert on his own. Nico took a bottle of water, the bottle broke and leaked all over his clothes in his bag. This resulted in Nico wringing out his clothes into his mouth as his only supply of hydration. A whole day through the desert with nothing to drink, not good.

I can't remember if a girl picked him up in a car or he made t all the way by foot, but I know eventually he ended up in Carboneras at a nudist colony on the beach. For three days he lived without clothes and without inhibitions, living in clay homes, far from anyone else. The people ranged from thirty until fifty years old.

Following the nudist colony Nico spent some time with an eighty-two year old shamanic woman. Healthier than him, she awoke every morning for her rituals and was a master of all things herbal. She ate cactus.

Then Nico ventured into the wilderness and found himself spending a night in a cave. The cave was right on the coast, with a beautiful sea view. He moved on.

He spent a month on a farm. With more Germans, these being from the south. There were tarantulas and he was left in serious pain after a chance encounter with a scorpion. On the farm he shepherded goats on the mountains high. He made his own staff. The goats had names, some German and some English. One called 'White Goat' was particularly fond of Nico. Nico left the farm with bracelets of friendship and a homemade didgeridoo.

Finally he had to make it from Almería to Barcelona. To come and collect a suitcase from me.

A fifty year-old Moroccan pervert picked him up. Nico proceeded to drive the over 500 miles, twelve hours through the night without sleep. The Moroccan tried putting his hand on Nico's thigh a few times, on the third and final time Nico got out of the car on the motorway outside Barcelona. He then walked into Barcelona and arrived at seven in the morning.

Nico is not a poor boy. He is from a bourgeoisie family, before coming to Spain he saved over two thousand euros, and that money remains in his bank still. He won't tell his family how he traveled, he can't tell them about the people he met, because they will disown him.

Nico learned plenty of things from playing the guitar and the harmonica to making houses out of clay and rock, not to mention plenty of new culinary skills. He met people from all walks of life, from all over the world, he lived cut-off from society, he spent days by himself, but the only time he cried from loneliness was one of the few times he was actually in a city. He has always professed to me that he was not made for the city, he was built for the country.

Nico has ambitions to live a self sufficient, minimalistic lifestyle that I can only admire. He wants to travel the world and take something useful from every corner. When he is ready he wants to settle and build an igloo from sand, cement and rock. I think that is lovely.

Plenty of us say we go 'traveling', but we sleep in hostels and surround ourselves with people just like us. What Nico has done and it seems will keep doing is something I can only dream I had the courage to do. He truly immerses himself and is not afraid to do so. He is willing to speak to anybody like a friend and his smile remains forever.

He arrived here in Barcelona just yesterday and after a tour of my neighborhood, we made some simple food and talked about things we deem important. Once we had realised our mutual admiration for Leonard Cohen, we just sat and listened to words for a while.

This afternoon we had the final meal. He left for the port. To catch a ferry. He might go to France he might go to Rome, nothing is certain. My only hope is that it was not the last meal we share together.

Nico the Chef has transformed into Nico the Vagabond.