Madrid is freaking awesome. Despite once again wandering for an hour before finding my damn hostel, my time here was far less stressful.
From the airport I arrived in the famous Plaza de la Sol in the center of the city and was immediately in love. In Spain, things are calm, laid back, sunny and easygoing. People congregate on open squares enjoying ice cream, tapas (appetizers) and cañas (those cute little miniature beers). From the architecture to the style and feel, Madrid is a beautiful place to be.
Fabrizzio’s Hostel was also up there with the best this year. A good-size apartment home converted into space for up to 10 or 12 guests, hosts Khrystian and Goñi live on-site with their gorgeous little daughter and welcome their tenants as family guests. My room opened up to a beautiful patio overlooking Plaza Mayor, while a cool breeze blew the curtains back calmly.
During my first venture out I found a little cantina I was keen on but there were no seats on the patio. I asked a guy and a gal if I could join there table, and after a brief moment of surprise Carla invited me to join. After three buckets of cañas and four tapas we were great friends and I was off to a great start on my Spanish.
I stayed in Madrid only two nights, as much to my relief I was invited for a workaway in Granada, in the southern region of Andalucia. Jerome contacted me with an opportunity to work on his unfinished property in the countryside. I was thrilled to finally have this lined up and accepted immediately, planning to head straight from Madrid.
I managed to meet up once again with my favorite Canadian gals, Candice, Chelsea, Kelsey and Lisa. We’d initially met in Australia on Fraser Island – same trip as AJ – then met up again in Bangkok several months later. They were sadly in their last few weeks of their seven-month world tour, visiting a college friend living in Madrid. We only spent a few hours together walking through the city and a beautiful park, trading stories and comparing our adventures. I thought a lot about how different it must be traveling in a group of four friends. I think it would be great and a lot of fun, less stressful and much much easier. But, as I reflect now writing this….there is just nothing like traveling alone. Nothing like it.
It was funny that I kept thinking to myself, wow, they have been traveling since I met them in Australia and again saw them in Thailand, holy crap! How many adventures and cities and sights and mishaps and hostels and foods and people and trains and buses and flights and packing bags and moving again they’ve been through since I last saw them!
And then, I realized…..wait….I’ve been doing that too. It almost doesn’t even feel like it; it’s been so long, it just seems like normal life now.
My second and last night I spent with Khrystian and Goñi and Dmitry, an American traveler born in Belarus, talking for hours about the USA, American politics and foreign policy, capitalism, the role of the US and the perceptions of the world. It became quite intense, while always respectful and good-spirited. But wow, yet another experience in what the world thinks about us.
I somewhat reluctantly left Madrid earlier than I would have liked; although I soon learned I would get to stay a bit longer after all, since I bought my bus ticket for 1:30…that’s 01:30, not 13:30, and therefore missed my bus by about 11 hours. No problem, just buy another bus ticket at the premium rate for three hours later.
Little mistakes….they won’t usually kill you….but they’ll cost you.
A comfortable four-hour ride brought me into Andalucia and finally Granada. Here I was picked up by my workaway host, Jerome, a 40-year old French man living in Spain for 11 years – and for the past three on a large property in a very small countryside town between Granada and Alcala.
The first thing we did was go to the grocery story where Jerome told me to pick out whatever I liked to eat. This was going to be good.
I spent two weeks with Jerome and his two small daughters, and how splendid it was to spend some time in one place, unpack my bags and catch up on some things. I made it simple: I was there to exercise, write, and practice Spanish, as well as work for Jerome and eat as much as possible. I did all of those.
During this time I conducted the human body experiment: I worked out for 14 straight days while eating five meals a day and working five hours of hard labor in the hot sun.
It was an intense daily routine while I was there; it was great to be in a set schedule, to have working responsiblity, and to have time to focus on a few important things. As for the work: simply put, I was moving earth. Jerome has a beautiful but very unfinished property where he’s building walls, grading out terraces, and generally transforming a wild hillside into a beautiful landscape suitable for family or office retreats. We even filled up his new pool into which I executed the ceremonial first gainer.
I got to know and become good friends with Jerome as well. We talked about all sorts of things from politics and relationships to why people keep weird stuff they find around their house “just in case” they might need it someday, which they never will. I learned a lot from him and really enjoyed the time, not to mention the beautiful surroundings.
While there I also met Fergus, a lively Scot who had been Jerome’s previous slave…err workawayer. I met him one night when Jerome had a little party at his house and we instantly became friends, and he even did a savage Your Gym workout with me. Being his first Your Gym exercise and one of the toughest in the program I was impressed that he was able to keep up. Having worked for Jerome a few weeks before me, by this time he was actually living down in Granada in a flat with mostly university students, where he invited me to stay for a couple of nights before I moved on.
So, shocked that two weeks had passed so quickly, I said my goodbyes to Jerome and his daughters, taking with me the going away pictures both of the girls drew for me in crayon the day I left. Jerome dropped me off with Fergus in Granada, where I’d spend my last two nights before moving on to Tarifa.
These two days were a blast; Fergus and I spent a lot of time talking about business, nutrition, Spain and Scotland. He’s quite an entrepreneur, aiming to learn Spanish so he can start his business plans in Spain. I hope we might get a chance to work together someday.
While there I took a day to explore Granada, including The Alhambra, a spectacular ancient Arabic Palace.
Saying goodbye to new friends once again, I jumped on my bus to Tarifa, this time with no mishaps, setbacks, or additional tickets to purchase.
And so I made it to Tarifa and the southernmost point in Europe, arriving at the bus station and finding my hostel easily within a few minutes. Hostal Facundo was a nice hostel in itself, but a pretty crappy place to stay seeing as they are trying to stick it to you in every possible way. I even returned one afternoon and the lockers where I had all of my things had been rolled out into the hallway, inducing a red alarm in my head.
Pretty quickly in my room I met Jurgen, a young Austrian guy who was toward the end of his 2.5 month trip around Europe. Previously he’d lived for a YEAR in India, so we had plenty to talk about. We ended up spending a couple of days together and having a great time, and I learned a lot from him in our conversations.
Tarifa is an awesome beach town that reminded me a little bit of California. Thousands of people were out on the beach playing volleyball, paddleball and skim boarding, while further into town there are plenty of restaurants and beach bars and tourist shops, as well as the beautiful rustic old town with it’s narrow cobbled lanes, small plazas and whitewashed Spanish architecture with Moroccan influence. People from all over Europe are walking around, listening to music in the plazas and enjoying tapas and tinto de verano (red wine with soda, a local specialty).
One day Jurgen and I walked around on the beach and exploring the small city, finding ourselves eventually at the southernmost tip of Europe and the divide between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, with the coast of northern Africa clearly visible just 30 kilometers across the straight. We made sure to take a dip in both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, and we both had a distinct feeling that we were in a special place.
I bought my ferry ticket to Tangier, Morocco for the next day, to be my fifth continent this year.
I also met Ricardo and Marchello from northern Italy, Jakob from Berlin, and we all went out for dinner and some tinto de verano one night.
I loved Spain and could’ve stayed much longer, although my Spanish did not come along nearly as much as I’d hoped. With the exception of Madrid I spent all of my time in Andalusia, and there is so much more in Spain that I’d love to see. Yet another place where I’ll need to return someday.
On the Africa.