As I write this, the February sun is streaming through my little window, promising a warmer day than it really is, showcasing this beautiful city as it bathes the streets in pure, white light.
but I still don’t want to go outside.
Now, I realize that many of my readers (if there are any others besides my parents) will be perusing this from somewhere along the east coast, USA, and will already be shaking their fists at the screen, or at least shaking their heads, in disapproval; current temperature in Charlottesville, VA: 19° F.
Anyway, now for the explanation of why it is so hard to get up and do ANYTHING: I left my heart in the huerto. This weekend we (me, P., and our newly found friends) whisked ourselves away to the Valencian countryside, where we stayed with our Spanish friends (and strangers) in R.’s “country home”, a villa set smack dab in the middle of the family orange orchard (huerto). We arrived by train in time for supper, a gourmet meal (prepared for us by someone who was already staying at the house) of sausage, tortilla española, salad, tofu and tomato sauce. We spent the rest of the evening touring the house (a beautiful, nineteenth century home with three stories, what felt like a bajillion beds, and eclectic decor acquired in Morocco, India, Japan) and warming ourselves by the fire, talking and singing and unwinding from the stress of the week.
The next morning we were kicked out of bed at the ungodly hour of 12:30pm, given the daily ration of cafe con leche and magdalenas (the most dinky excuse for a muffin I’ve ever seen) and plopped into the cars that would take us to the mountain we were scheduled to climb that day. When I heard that the weekend included a hike I was of course elated, having missed so much the Blue Ridge mountains I’ve grown up with.
So the day started in high spirits, the sun shining, fresh oranges in our bellies and hands (the amount of citrus I consumed is a staggering figure) as we walked to the start of the trail. I probably should have known something was up when the equivalent of a park ranger came out and asked us all for names and cell phone numbers, “si acaso os perdáis o algo…” (“in case y’all get lost or something”, followed inevitably by the phrase “¡no te precupes!”). Before the excursion really took off even, we stopped for a photoshoot at the monastery in ruins, the deciding it was the perfect moment to do some impromptu yoga, led by V., a multi-national, multi-lingual, multi-talented friend we met at the house. With a fresh set of endorphins flowing through us, we started the trail. It was a simple gravel path winding up the mountain, like any other unsuspecting hike, but the incline was for sure a challenge for this out-of-“practice” (read: out-of-shape), self-proclaimed mountain woman. I don’t remember the moment when I knew there was much suffering ahead, but at some point this fact became very clear to me. We were suddenly on the side of the mountain, with no lovely gravel path in sight, just a mountainside covered with thorn bushes and an occasional fern. Shortly after starting this portion of the hike, the lovely boulders painted with trail markings disappeared as well. With the Spanish boys up ahead shouting to the American girls puffing behind (“c’mon pilates! let’s stop whining and start hiking!), you can imagine the tension that was slowly crystallizing. To make a long story short (I think we spent an hour and a half traipsing through the non-trail, hacking at gnarly branches and trying not to trip on rocks), we finally reached the summit of the mountain (called Creu del Cardenal, located at 1700ft, a distance of 3km from the starting point) to take in the view: a panorama of the gorgeous Valencian countryside; the valley down below us to the left, and the Mediterranean ocean lapping gently against the coast to our right. Legs “temblando como un flan” (literally: “shaking like a flan”, the Spanish equivalent to “shaking like a leaf”), we refueled with more muffins and ensamaidas (the point of this description is to remind you that we had eaten nothing but coffee and carbs some 4 hours before), and I tried to hold back tears caused by the beauty of the place, the love I felt for these people I was with, and the fears that were gnawing at this happiness, asking me what I would be doing with my life in 4 months. I also just wanted to know how the hell we were going to get down from up there.
The slide down the mountain (I call it a “slide” and not a descent because I think I did more falling, tripping and slipping than actual walking) was relatively uneventful, since we managed to follow the trail the whole time. But here is where you get an explanation for the lack of images in this post: I dropped my camera. My beautiful, month-old, “sexy” black camera was eaten by the Creu del Cardenal trail. And after being wildly upset with myself and with everyone in the world, I started giggling with the thought that when I received it in August, I had no idea it would end up abandoned on the side of a mountain in eastern Spain, after a five hour day in the mountains. But please, rest assured, I’m still horribly upset.
That evening was spent with more (new) friends (like C., the guy they kept referring to as “the surgeon”, with a tone of wonder and gravity that suggested he performed all his operations on the moon) cooking and creating (we ate in the in-house art studio, where after dinner we painted a massive collage) and most importantly: RELAXING. I haven’t felt so at ease in months.
Which is why the return home was so brutal; the past few days I’ve wandered around my barrio half-asleep, seeing but not processing, looking but not appreciating, wishing myself back in the huerto. But with the sun finally back to stay, and the knowledge of what I’d be doing at home right now, it’s safe to say I’m finding contentment, even in the now old-hat routine of classes, meetings, clubs, etc. Because before I know it, I’m huerto-day, gone tomorrow.