A Letter From the Road

Komo en Kasa... my favorite café in Barcelona
Komo en Kasa… my favorite café in Barcelona

 

Hey Ma,

I’ve been trying to call, but I think heaven has a crappy wifi connection.

I think you can hear me, but your voice is mostly muffled.

Sometimes I get lucky and the signal is strong and I can hear you so clearly it’s as if you’re all around me.

Those are the best days, but they don’t come often.

So I figured I’d write you a letter.

My journey has been amazing so far. Spain is beautiful. Did you know tortillas are something completely different out here? They’re like a potato omelet with eggs and onion. I ordered some tortillas at a restaurant and when the camarero brought out this thing that looked like an egg pie, I was so confused. But they’re pretty good, I think you’d like them.

Do you remember that Rage Against the Machine shirt you used to wear with Che Guevara on the front? I need to buy that shirt. Anyways, Che used to write his ma from the road too. While traveling across South America he wrote,

Querida viejita,

What do we leave behind when we cross a frontier? Everything seems split in two. Melancholy for what is left behind, and the excitement of entering a new land.

I can relate to the dichotomy, and it made me think of you. I experience things out here and the only person that would be excited to hear them is you. The road can be lonely. But so can life.

Travelling is very much like life. I anticipate the unknown with enthusiasm, the crisp unwritten page of a new day. But my soul also yearns for the comfort and familiarity of yesterday. I cling to sweet memories of days I can never relive. Days when I could pick up the phone and hear your voice. When I could tell you about my day or take you out for coffee. Remember when that waiter thought we were a couple? You were so happy because he thought you were my age. I thought it was pretty weird.

I travel through space and time as I travel the world. My mind lives in the present, my heart beats in the past. A modern day Doc Brown, without the DeLorean. The closest thing we had was your strawberry Dodge Neon that you used to let me and my brothers drive. The radiator was shot and it would overheat in the Arizona sun, so we could only drive it at night. The Night Rider. I don’t think she could hit 88, not even on her best day.

I love my new surroundings. The sounds, the tastes, the people. I walk the Spanish streets with eyes wide open and a smile on my face. I found a cool little café that I know you’d love. I sit on the window sill and write in the afternoon sun.

There is so much to see in Barcelona, but when the rush of fresh stimuli subsides, my gaze always drifts to the West.

Home calls.

And sometimes I wonder…where is home? When was home?

Home is in the past. No Neon or DeLorean can take me there. So I’ll stay on the road for a while longer.

My Spanish is getting better Ma, and I’ve been making it to mass every Sunday. I think you’d be proud.

I’ve also been thinking that you would have wanted me to go to Mexico and visit the Basilica de La Virgencita. I’ll try my best. I saw a stained glass window of her in an old Spanish cathedral the other day. The rays of the setting sun illuminated her cloak and she was beautiful.

Well, it’s time to run Ma. I’m off to meet some friends for tapas.

Love you,

Aaron

 

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Barcelona or Bust

Forca Barca!
Forca Barca!

 

Barcelona.

This is the city.

The catalyst. The motivating force that pushed me through moments of doubt and fear as I plotted my escape from my comfortable office job.

No other word encapsulates the romantic notions that my subconscious mind associates with the Spanish culture more than “Barcelona.”

Say it with me.

Lisp that “c” if you’re really into it. “Barth-elona.”

There you go.

After a spontaneous pit stop in California to surprise a certain gal for the holidays (smooth right?), I made it back to Europe, happy and five pounds heavier after two weeks of stuffing my face with tamales and prime rib. Seriously, I think that’s all I ate the entire time I was back home. And tacos. There is always room for tacos.

Tacos.

Now it’s back to Spain where I have assumed a role working in the Public Relations department for a prominent hostel near the University of Barcelona.

Translation: Me and three other lucky bastards get to live in a great city for free and meet cool people and basically all we have to do is get the party started every night. We work from 9 to 12, five nights a week and arrange activities for the guests. Last night, for example, was karaoke night. The PR team facilitates and socializes, all while trying to sign up guests for our “party bus” to the touristy beach clubs of the Barcenoleta. Once we get the guests on the bus, we are free once again until 9pm the following evening. Not a bad gig right? The schedule is perfect, leaving us the entire day to explore the city.

So far I’m two for two with the Workaway experiences.

Over the past month I’ve received messages from a few people who read my posts and have become inspired to make some changes in their life.

“Seeing the stuff you post makes me want to quit my job and travel. Really inspiring stuff.”

or

“I’ve been at my job for eight years and I fuckin’ hate it bro. I think about quitting everyday… Any suggestions?”

Their souls itch to break the chains of monotony. To make the jump and risk failing miserably.  I cannot express the feelings of gratitude and humility that overwhelm me when I receive those kind of messages. I haven’t done much. I was just fortunate enough to realize that if I didn’t make a move my life was going to pass me by in an instant. So I jumped. But we all know what it feels like to freeze. To look over the edge and start the countdown… three… two…. one… never mind.

Humans generally don’t like change, change is scary. Most of us thrive off of routine and the familiar. Our minds try and avoid it all costs, instinctively firing off self justifications and rationalizations like Bill Cosby throws out the Roofies. And Cosby don’t miss. So if you’re thinking about making some big changes in your life and don’t have a ‘Barcelona’… get one. Visualize your goal. Whether it’s you welcoming your first guest at that restaurant you’ve been dreaming about opening, or hiking your final mile on the Pacific Crest Trail. Keep your eyes on the prize. And let me tell ya, it feels pretty damn good to get there.

Our PR team is so outdoorsy. (we definitely got lost on this 2 mile hike)
Our PR team is so outdoorsy. (we definitely got lost on this 2 mile hike)

DCIM101GOPRO

 

 

Pomegranate Paradise

 

Holy shit.

I joined a gym in Spain.

The act in itself is not very impressive, anyone with twenty euros can join my crappy little gym. However, that orange I.D. card with my overly-excited face on the front signifies something pretty cool.

It means that, for at least a month (I’ll be here much longer but was too cheap to spring for the three month sign up special), Spain will be my home. After such a whirlwind kickoff to my trip, it feels great to settle down and begin a bit of a routine.

I arrived in Granada two weeks ago, the Spanish word for “pomegranate” and a beautiful city in southern Spain with a rich history. As evidenced by its beautiful architecture, Granada has a heavy Moorish influence and was the last foothold of Islam in Western Europe. In 1492, Christian forces led by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand expelled the Moors from Granada and completed the 700 year Reconquista of the Iberian Peninsula. In the same year, Columbus came to Santa Fe, a small village a few miles from the center of town, to meet with the Catholic Kings and solidify the terms of his infamous voyage across the Atlantic. Like I said… a rich history.

Alhambra
Alhambra means “the red one,” it’s easy to see why.
Alhambra Garden.png
The gardens of La Alhambra are vast and breathtaking.

 

Resting in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, Granada has an arid climate that fluctuates drastically. If you’re on the sunny side of the street(there is ALWAYS a sunny side) during the day, it’s quite nice. But as the sun dips below the horizon the warm air leaves as quickly as it came and the nighttime temps flirt with the freezing line. For this guy from coastal Southern California, it’s pretty damn cold. Begrudgingly, I had to take advantage of the Black Friday sales and buy a new coat. Tracking down a whole turkey to roast for Thanksgiving was impossible here, but I couldn’t walk half a block without seeing a huge Black Friday sale sign in a storefront window. I guess our consumerist holidays are more profitable to import.

And yes, they have Sierra Nevada mountains here too, no Yosemite or Half Dome though. But they do have tapas, and the best part is… they’re free! You just have to order a beer, or in my case, a soda, and voila, all-you-can-eat appetizers. Drinks cost less than two euro and you don’t even have to tip. Did I mention that you can rent out a one bedroom apartment for less than 300 euro a month? This place has Aaron written all over it.

So here I am in Granada, freezing my ass off while spending almost no money and settling into my first Workaway experience. I’m working and living in a hostel slash English school slash yoga studio called Itinere. The hostel is owned and operated by a sister-brother duo, Sayano and Takashi, who are half Japanese, half Spanish, and some of the nicest people I´ve met on my journey thus far. Their business definitely has an intimate and much welcomed family feel. I work about 20 hours a week teaching English, working in the reception area and sharing cleaning duties with my fellow Workawayers. In two weeks I´ve managed to get assigned just one cleaning shift and have yet to touch a toilet brush, ha! So much for Scrubbing Toilets and Stamping Passports. Annnnnnd now I’ve most certainly jinxed myself and will be cleaning rooms all week, damn it. (Update: obviously,  I got scheduled three cleaning shifts next week).

Cleaning aside, it has been an amazing experience forming bonds with the other Workawayers that I live with. Our dormitory is like a United Nations committee with representatives hailing from South Korea, the Netherlands, New Zealand, England and of course the great state of California. Isolation from our respective homes, families, friends and familiarities has brought us together in a very short period of time. My Itinere family even chipped in and helped me cook a proper Thanksgiving dinner! Like I said, there were no turkeys to be had, so we settled for two roasted chickens.

Chicken
Master of ceremonies: Carving the scrawny birds

Above all, I have enjoyed teaching English. I’ve learned so much about the people and culture of Andalucía by simply chopping it up with my students. They tell me about their lives and their families and the food they eat, they ask a million questions about California and they make fun of my Mexican Spanish. They explained how the economic troubles in Spain have driven many to pursue higher education while the economy sorts itself out. The public University of Granada, a well respected and very affordable school, is bursting at the seams with over 80,000 students enrolled in its various colleges. Most of my students work part time jobs, take classes all day and come to learn English in the evenings of their own volition. Talk about a long day. They earn those siestas, trust me. My students’ hunger to educate themselves and improve their lives is both admirable and contagious.

When planning my trip, I nearly bypassed Granada entirely, preferring to head straight for Barcelona, a city I already knew and loved. But sometimes our journey seems to plan itself, favoring the path less traveled, and I’m learning that it’s usually best to let it evolve as it pleases. It can be a little scary rolling the dice on an unknown place, but the juice is often worth the squeeze. And this pomegranate juice is really sweet.

Pomegranate
Granada is the Spanish word for pomegranate. The trees are everywhere you look in the beautiful city.