Whenever I have to plan a trip that involves more than a one-way flight home, I get anxious. I’m like that hobbit (dwarf? Troll?) who doesn’t want to leave New Zealand (this might actually be an incorrect metaphor; I never saw the movie). A better metaphor is that my life aspiration is to be a crotchety old grandpa. I love that I get to travel as much as I do and have these awesome adventures, but I am also really looking forward to the day when I can settle down and yell at kids to keep off of my lawn and read things like Nanotechnology for Dummies ’cause I got nothin’ but time.
Sometimes, my mind gets the better of me. It’s like when you go grocery shopping on an empty stomach and your eyes are bigger than your belly and you land up spending $300 on candy and ham and fresh-baked bread, only I’m doing my grocery shopping on Skyscanner, Renfe, and Alsa. I’ll be tumblrin’ along when I’ll come across a post-card quality photo of fog on a lake in the mountain of northern Italy and think, ‘Man, it’d sure be swell if I could go there.’ Some shoddily down research and a Skype call home to Mama (“Ma, I’m going to Italy? I think? I mean, is that crazy?”) later and I have a 30 € plane ticket to Milan and I’m familiarizing myself with Trenitalia’s website.
And then, two days before I depart for Ireland or England or Italy or Portugal, I start to think about all of the work it’s going to take to get there–a bus to Almeria, a different bus to Malaga, a train to the airport, a plane to my destination country, another bus from that airport into the city, a metro from the bus stop to the hostel–and I think, ‘Wouldn’t it just be better if I stay home?’
(The answer is, obviously, of course not, but, for the sake of the story, let’s pretend like this is an actual struggle and I really am contemplating giving up a week in Dublin to just stay home.)
Cabo de Gata coastline.
So you guys know by now that I don’t run. Despite the language barrier at my new gimnasio, I’m sure to let my instructor know how I feel about the more bouncy of our activities in Bodypump, like running in place or jumping jacks, by either making a really gross face in the mirror or just by not doing it. I’m not about that up-and-down, lots of fast-paced movement life BUT, put me on a treadmill set to a high incline and a low speed, and I can walk for days. This weekend I got to put that theory to test.
I live in, undoubtedly, one of the prettiest parts of Spain. Situated along the Mediterranean coast, we’ve got mountains, we’ve got beaches, we’ve got Moorish culture; it’s sort of like the Florida of Europe for those of you well-versed in the American culture of geriatric snowbirds. Andalucía is divided into 8 provinces and I live in the province of Almeria in a pueblo at the easternmost part of the easternmost province. The south of the province abuts the Mediterranean and houses the capital of the province, Almeria City, as well as Cabo de Gata National Park (traveler tip: it is not Cabo de Gato National Park as a gato is a cat and a gata, whatever it is, is not that).
My friend Kristen, blogger/marketing/tech-and-travel-savvy guru that she is, found the blog of a fellow Southern Spain adventurer where he regales his audience with the tale of the hike through Cabo de Gata.
(Before we get too deep into this, I’d like to make it clear that Cabo de Gata refers to three things: it is a pueblo, it is a beach, and it is also the name of the national park. All clear? Story time re-commence.)
Anyways, Kristen finds this blog post and expresses interest in hiking along the majestic coastline of Andalucía. As her fellow auxiliars, always up for new experiences, particularly ones off the beaten path, we are likewise intrigued by this opportunity to do some recreational hiking.
“It’s 4 miles,” Kristen tells us. “Easy peasy.” (She might not have said ‘easy peasy.’ When I retell stories I like to use super-hip slang like ‘swell,’ ‘hella fresh,’ and ‘easy peasy’ for dramatic, storytelling effect. Sorry for putting out-of-date, cheesy words in your mouth, Kris.)
She pulls out a map and points to the bus stop in Cabo de Gata, then wiggles her finger along the coastline. It is, on the map, a hop, skip, and a jump from Cabo de Gata (the city) to Cabo de Gata (the beach) and then straight through Cabo de Gata (the park) to reach San Jose. We’re set to arrive in Cabo de Gata by noon and to reach San Jose by 3 or 4.
Kristen, Kellie, Colin, Macy, Sarah, and Laurel did an abbreviated version of this hike back in the fall when they traveled (and got lost; honestly, this should have been foreshadowing) from San Jose to Playa de Monsul. Their expertise covered the latter half of the journey and I myself had made the trek from Cabo de Gata (the town), along Cabo de Gata (the beach), and up to the Mirador de las Sirenas in a car with my parents when they visited in December. Together, we covered the first and last third of the journey with some vague notions of what the middle held for us.
I’ll spare you the gory details—the trekking along the beach, the first mountain with the one-lane road and the sheer drop on the other side of a barely-there guardrail, busting out I’ll Make a Man Out of You at the front of the pack with Kellie and Macy, some frolicking around the mirador (breathtaking views)—and cut straight to the Big Climb.
This is the frolicking part of the journey.
Me, frolicking, on the far left about 2/3 up.
There are switchbacks up this mountain and, at the very top, a gap wide enough for a road to pass through and take us to the other side with the promised land of beaches and a downhill slope. We are maybe a quarter of the way up, all of us puzzling what those white specks on that cliff up there might be (MOUNTAIN GOATS!!) and why the hell is this taking so damn long, when Kristen does some fancy tippy-tapping on her iPhone and informs the group that this is not actually a 4-mile hike but a 12-mile hike. We have only gone 6 miles; we have another 7 to go.
At the top of Realization Mountain.
Needless to say, we make it up the mountain. We make it down the mountain. We slay a dragon and fight some trolls and trek through a valley and see the same car full of attractive Spaniards that passed us on our first mountain (“Venga! Venga!”) and consider stopping to die on the side of the road. We make it to San Jose where our friend Christina, the dear, has been waiting for us since 3 p.m.—it is now 6:30—and has called the hostel where we’d planned on staying, which was closed for the winter, and gotten the proprietor to open it up for a group of 8 weary, foot-and-heart sore Americans and one kid from New Zealand (guys! I learned so much about New Zealand on this hike!).
It eventually flattened out so that’s nice, I guess.
And it wouldn’t be an ex-pat backpacking trip if we didn’t find the nearest convenience store and stock up on the essentials like giant bottles of water, shampoo and conditioner for much-needed and not-anticipated showers, and an 8-pack of Heineken each.
Alas, our plans for debauchery and drinking were not to be. Sunburn and surprise 13-mile hikes strike again! After dinner in town, we pulled three extra mattresses into a 6-person room and barely made it through our first beer before drifting off like a pack of babes, all tuckered out by some sun and a few sips of beer.
Tuckered out babes.
At some point in my younger, formative years, I came up with this theory that, if you don’t move, if you hold your breath and do the right thing like go to work and study hard in school and stay at home on Saturday nights, nothing bad can happen to you. Routine is safe, change is scary, and normal is aspirational. I even went through a phase my sophomore year of college where I was literally too scared to leave my dorm room.
But bad things happen everywhere. They happen when you’re standing still and holding your breath, they happen when you’re walking down the street and when you’re exploring new countries. They happen to good people and bad people and scared people and brave people and people who definitely don’t deserve it. Bad things happen every day.
Sometimes the bad thing that happens is standing still and missing out on the potential to push yourself. Ever since that semester of Multiple Phone Calls Home a Day While Crying & Binge Watching Grey’s Anatomy While Knitting (lots of crying, all the Grey’s Anatomy), I push myself. I push myself past what is comfortable and what is familiar because bad things happen. And you can’t hide from that. But when you embrace it, when you charge on regardless, you find that it’s worth it. There is always another mountain. There are always another seven miles.
But there are eight other people on this mountain with me. At the end of the hike, we make it to the beach in San Jose to watch the sunset and collapse on a blanket that Kristen was wise enough to think of bringing. We all throw our goods into a pile in the middle—potato chips, tostadas, strawberries, cheese, oranges and apples and granola bars, chocolate chip cookies—and have a feast. We stay out until the sun is gone and the wind picks up and people are starting to complain of cold. We limp up to the hostel (after a pit stop for necessary goods) and we run around the empty hostel like kids left unsupervised for the first time. And we are happy.
Bad things happen. Good things happen, too. And good things can be scary. Staying still seems safe. If you stay still, nothing can happen, good or bad. I’d like to take my chances with normal, to stand still and enjoy life on a routine, but, at the end of the day, I’m more scared of what happens if I don’t get on that bus/train/plane/horse/scooter/bike/various other modes of transportation, than what happens if I do.
Post-trek, re-fueling exhaustion.