When hungry, eat fear

Stop two and three of my solo sojourn in Spain have been in the Basque country and the Asturias. And it’s everything that San Sebastian was not.
You see, San Sebastian is a beautiful European city that’s full of arts, history and culture. It’s very friendly, open and relaxing. You walk by yourself all you want. Sit wherever you want. Eat in any place you favour. For a city dweller, living here comes easily.

But the moment you step out of the city, you’re all alone with nature. The Basque country is dotted with charming little towns along the coast. But a hidden treasure is Zumaia and its Flysch. And I’m proud to have found it in my research. The Geoparkea, which runs tours in the area, had a 3-hour hiking and boat tour at 10.30 in the morning. Now the only problem was, the tour was only available for the 26th, which ate into a day in the Picos de Europa–another little gem, this time, a suggestion of a friend.

Had sanity prevailed, I would have given up Zumaia and headed straight to the Picos, which in itself wasn’t a straightforward route. I had to change buses and then catch a cab to cover the remaining 30-40 minutes of the journey.

But, the very fact that I’m writing this should indicate that sanity did not prevail. 

Headstrong I was. My heart was set on the Flysch. And on I went, deciding to reach the Picos late in the night. Fear point 1. Or so I thought.

That morning, I woke a little early by vacation standards—at 8. Quickly packed and left by 9. The train station was only 5-10 minutes away. So I thought, hey, I have enough time to reach by 10.30. It was just about 35 minutes away, after all.

What I didn’t check was the train schedule. I missed the train at 8.50. Instead, I had to catch the one at 9.45! I prayed hard that I don’t miss the tour. Even practically scrambled from the train station through the circular and confusing streets. Gmaps, wrong as often is, suggested taking the highway! But, as you can expect, I ended up missing the tour.

Of course, when you travel, missed connections are often good. Turns out, it was a Spanish tour and my payment did not go through. Plus, the lady at the tourist centre was kind enough to explain the whole tour, and enabled me with three-four maps so I could do the whole thing myself. I explained about my tight schedule and she even helped work a way around it. Yay! Happily, I set off.

First, I armed myself with knowledge at the museum so I don’t look dumb at the actual site. Then I set off to the Flysch. 

Now, this post is not about the Flysch and its geological phenomenon. But here’s a quick look at the site. 

The real story begins on the top of these hills near the small church. Here:

See the ridge that extends towards the ocean? Now, that’s a small hike. It’s fairly flat and easy. 

But, here’s the thing. I realised I am a little bit prone to Vertigo, especially considering how I have two left feet while walking. Plus, it was a narrow ridge, which frankly, made me rethink if I should go. Also, it didn’t help that I wasn’t dressed correctly, and was alone and physically unfit for any hiking excursions. Fear point 2. (Or 1, if you want to follow the correct chronology)

But, as it turns out, this was just a trailer. And the trailer ended here:

This was the easy part.

Again, I realised I overshot my time. Ran back some how to the train station to miss my express bus by 2 minutes. This meant, I would reach just 15 minutes before my first bus to the Picos. Oh boy! Never before have I tried to run so fast carrying my large, heavy haversack! Unfortunately, even though I reached on time, I had to wait in a long queue to book my tickets. Aaannnnnd the bus left. Fear point 2!

Then, I did a little bit of research (yay, internet!) and found that my second bus from Bilbao originated in San Sebastian! And that was about an hour or so later. So quickly, I booked a ticket, got the same seats and lo behold, was on my way there.

Now wasn’t that seamless! 

The tricky part came at the end of that long bus ride, that ended at 21.30—there were no taxis! How do I go from Llanes to the mountain town of Arenas de Cabrales, I wondered. I knew there weren’t any buses too. Fear point 3!

Thankfully, there was a sweet boy at the station who was originally from Mexico. He asked the locals for taxi stands and offered to walk me there. Boy, am I glad to have accepted his offer as the taxi operator was shut. We moved around a bit, asked a few more locals, until finally a lady offered to call a cabbie friend who happened to be going in the same direction. Muchas gracias, senorita!

Finally, at 10.30 in the night, I reached my hotel, tired but very much entertained by Salsa, Bachata and Kizomba music on the way.

The next day, I got ready for the mountains after lazying in the cold bed, warm bathtub, and over a hot coffee. The sweet lady at the hotel helped me narrow my list of hikes/trails that suited my time limits and fitness levels; booked me a taxi to reach the starting point, and bid me Buenos dias. I conveniently chose one that wasn’t too long or too hard. 

Or so I thought. 

The kind cab driver (whom I shall meet again, btw) explained that there’s a view point separate from the trail. And it’s ‘just’ about 1 kilometer. So I decided to start there. 

It seemed easy. It was not. Turns out, I can walk 23,000 steps seamlessly. But I can’t walk even one kilometer if it involved fighting gravity! 

It was beautiful, though. And after yesterday’s scares and consequent victory, I pushed myself to slowly climb the six zig-zag curves. One break at a time. One curve at a time. 

I think I managed about four U-bends before my mind started playing games. “What if you go back? Can you really make it? Your lungs are killing you. Please give up,” it kept whispering to me. 

And then entered my biker knight. He saw me slowly walking on and stopped to offer a lift. I look at his Ducati and my heart soared! How perfect. I really missed biking along mountain slopes and so I gladly hoped on. Within 5 minutes, we reached. 

To be honest, though, it was a little bit of a bummer. There wasn’t much of a view that I didn’t get already. So, we went back. I asked him if I could tag along with him, my heart greedy for more motorcycle ride, and less walking. He was happy with how good a pillion I was (puhlease! I am experienced enough. Pffff) and agreed. 
After a certain point, we reached the start of the trail. 

Let’s now introduce fear point 4!

Let me tell you something. I have never gone trekking. Nor did I think I’m fit enough to go on one. Especially after the climb earlier. I huff and puff even on one flight of stairs. Forget about what looked like a steep hike. It was nowhere close to the easy walk I expected!

Thankfully, J, my biker saviour, decided to go on the same route. I swallowed my fear and told myself, “you can do this!” It helped that he expected more flatter surfaces further ahead.

And finally we set on, with lovely camaraderie and intelligent conversation. What followed is history. I’ll let the pictures tell you the rest of the story. 

And here’s the Ducati I climbed on as well as it’s rider. 

(BTW, can you find the goat in the background? It may not be easy!)  

———– x ———–

When I started writing this piece, I had finished the trail and was grabbing a break at a nearby hotel. I needed sustenance before I began my return journey, safe in the knowledge that I’ll get a cab back home. Guess what happened next? 

Nope, no taxis around! 

I waited for a bit. But there was barely a soul around. So I started walking back to my hotel—about 4-8kms away. 

To be honest, I was more scared of this than any of the previous experiences. Imagine waking on a highway-like road, alone, without a path to walk on! There were a few blind bends. And a car driving past may not have seen me in time to veer away. But I had no choice. 

So I walk on, initially trying to rewire my brain into thinking of it as an adventure. 

And then, I remembered the countless movies where bagpackers point their thumbs backwards, asking for a lift. Hitchhiking! 

Never done it before. Never needed to. Until I had to. 

Few cars went by. One car offered a finger. Two scooters said sorry. Then, one couple was kind enough to stop. It was barely a fifteen minute ride. And then, thankfully, I reached the hotel. Got a cab booked for the bus stop. And met my old cabbie again. This time, he was warmer and stopped at various places to let me click pictures. He also jabbered on a bit about fields and farming. Then, he realised I haven’t seen Llanes and it’s beautiful beach. So, he took me on a mini tour free of charge to the look around in Llanes.

Here’s my now-favourite taxi driver:

In all my life, I’ve seen my parents accept fear a handful of times. And even on those few occasions, I’ve seen them eat their fear, light a fire in their bellies, and move on. Come what may, they’ve not cowered. So all I did was tear a page from their book. 

I realised today, courage is not about a lack of fear. It’s about what you do with it that counts. 

And sometimes, I guess, it also includes asking for help and support. Anything but stop and pull back!

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When the sun stops shining

Can you imagine how tiring it is to shine constantly? To be the beacon of hope; the bringer of life.

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Can you imagine how tiring it is to be the sun? The world may fall asleep, then rise, go about their day’s work, and then sink into bed again. But the sun, no, it never sleeps. It never stops shining. At every given second, there’s one part of the world covered in its golden hues.

But can you imagine how tiring it is to shine constantly? To be the beacon of hope; the bringer of life.

And that’s probably why, sometimes, it dulls down. Otherwise, how could a few clouds manage to dim the great ball of fire; it’s magnificence unparalleled? Neither could a puny moon eclipse the solar god into dusk, right?

No, the sun sometimes gets tired of producing one yellow stream of thought after another; another golden ray that sets another life alight. And so, it lets the monsoon play for a while; or allow the dust winds to gear into action small tornadoes that make everything seem brown. Sometimes, the sun even drapes a shroud of cold, dull smog—a small win for the polluting mankind.

But only for a short time.

Because its very soul is fire; sheer flames with the potential to burn everything down in its path.

So, after a short break, the sun gets up like a dog or cat from its nap; shrugs the dust of comfort and compliance; yawns to shake away the misery of drudgery, and then, trots towards its feisty spirits that wait in patience, slowly gathering pace.

Sometimes, it’s assisted by cheery friends called seasons. They swoop by and supply the necessary dose of energy, bringing with them loud noises that shatters cars’ windowpanes. Other times, they materialise in silence and simply exist in tandem.

And then, just like the sun, your soul breaks from its dull reverie and shines like the fiery spirit it is.

A letter to the lost friend

Dear friend,

How time works its way into our lives. There was a time when we were strangers. Then we became friends. Then best of friends. And then like every empire, which reaches its peak and declines, our friendship too had its downfall.

There was a time when not an hour went by without speaking, sharing, and laughing. There was a time when the days we didn’t meet were rare as a dime. There were days when we were thick, so much that people asked one for the other’s whereabouts. We spoke in the plural. The ‘I’ lost in the ocean of words. We were an open book to each other, a book that wasn’t shared with the world.

Soon, we reached the grey area that separates friendship and love. The place where the platonic and non-platonic meet. We strived to draw boundaries. But who has managed to draw lines in the sand and kept it safe from the waves? The lines had to be blurred. Sometimes I would overstep, sometimes you would. And then we would reassure ourselves that we would make it through, that we wouldn’t let it spoil.

It did, though, didn’t it?

Somewhere along the way, silences took over the words. Distance filled the spaces, which were once masked by hugs and kisses. Eye contact got replaced by far-away looks and hidden glances.

Once, we congratulated ourselves on our maturity to handle life situations. Then, life tested us of our capacities to handle hurt and difference of opinions. And we failed. It is easier to handle hurt inflicted by strangers and those we loved, but remotely so. But hurt caused by our own mirrors? Our own friends, those we considered more important than anyone or anything in the world? That’s the hurt that can undo most. And you were that for me, my friend. And I for you. Probably more.

And so here we are, left with nothing but memories of the laughter; the moments we whiled away with naught a thought of anything material; moments which were an impromptu celebration of life over a small cup of hot tea at the corner of a road; moments where our eyes lit up with love, joy and laughter; innocent moments which now stand like shards of glass in the long road of the past.

Moments, which we cannot touch without drawing blood.

I wish it weren’t so. Yet, here we are, dear friend. Here we are.

Today, we are together only in our shared hurt. That is all that binds us together.

Amazing how love can mutate into anger and hurt so easily. Don’t you think, friend?

And that said, there are days when I almost convince myself all is well. That some day, we can still get back our friendship. Some days, I can manage to spend shuffling through the pages of the past without a heavy heart. Some days, I laugh with the memories without drawing tears.

Today, though, is not that day. Today, I wish my friend were here, creating new memories. Today, I am only accompanied by the hollow space you left in my life.

Today is miles away from your past.