It’s almost been a year since beginning this story about my time in one of my favorite regions in Spain, Asturias. Located in the North, it feels like a secret green oasis unbeknownst to many tourists. A trip I planned with an adventurous, like-minded woman who traded California’s hip food scene for diving head first into Iberian peninsula’s gastronomic eats. She writes all about it too at Sobremesa in Spain I didn’t know her in person but I felt like I had known her for years just from our few emails and trip planning Skype conversations.
The type of feeling where you wonder, Is this possible? We have so many mutual interest but just how will meeting in person be? I rely on my intuition for everything I do; big and small and traveling with someone for 9 days isn’t something I take lightly or just agree to easily.
I was reminded how things aren’t always what they are when I arrived in Vitoria-Gasteiz eager to meet other auxiliars whom I had corresponded with via Facebook. One gal seemed like we’d be instant friends with our common interests in food policy, farmers markets and cooking but soon realized what sounded like a match didn’t transition in real life. At all. We were courteous with each other but I always felt odd in her company and realized we didn’t have the same views on some food issues that are close to my heart.
I knew when I met Lauren there were two possibilities:
We’d hit it off or we wouldn’t.
Always following my instincts I had an overwhelming feeling we’d get on. Really well. I’m not one to travel with just anyone, let alone someone I’ve never met. I much prefer my own company than bad company. Reading emails from her, I felt words she wrote could have been written by me and a few times I double checked to see who said what.
The way we expressed ourselves almost seemed to be one and the same. Maybe where we are in our lives explained a part of it. But I had an inkling there was more… On the 6 hour bus ride, I swapped between reading a new book, whats-apping with friends and staring out the window admiring the change in landscape from snow covered peaks to white powder along the highway embankments to lush, green pastures, but unfortunately, still grey skies. The joys of living and traveling in the North of a country!
When I hoped off the bus in Aviles, a charming yet industrial city that seemed to have it’s hey day a decade or two before, Lauren awaited me in the shared bus and train station, sparsely filled with people and information. Broken lockers added decoration to the dismal station, more to deceive us than add a nice touch. We greeted each other with a big, warm hug, happy to finally meet in person.
We gave a nod to the broken lockers and laughed off our idea to be extra adventurous by leaving our bags behind, while exploring the city to figure out where to call home for the night. That’s not going to work.
Lauren arrived a few hours before me, giving her the opportunity to inquire at the tourist office about where to stay, graciously providing a list of pensiones and prices. We began talking and walking as if we hadn’t seen each other in years and figured may as well knock on the first place on the list, that just so happen to be across from the dilapidated station. Walking by, you’d never guess it’s a place for travelers but our list indicated otherwise. A sassy, curly haired abuelita opened the door and stared at us with an expression of:
“What the hell do you want? “Ah, This is such and such hotel, right? we asked.
Nod of the head.
I leaved it to Lauren as she just jumped in (as my mind went blank) and haggled after 3 months of adventuring through SouthEast Asia, negotiating prices seemed normal. And with not many tourists insight, we erroneously assumed some money to fill a room would be better than none.
The stubborn lady preferred turning away guests than earning some extra cash for the evening as she talked with us through the door slightly ajar, as if to hide the happenings that happened in the guest house.
Onto the next place…
We roamed the cobblestoned streets in search of a crashing pad. In the midst of conversation, I see Lauren lose her step and tumble to the ground in slow motion. Attempts to catch herself went unfilled. Onlookers smiled and laughed under their breath and Lauren, graciously curtsied to acknowledge her audience, backpack still attached as she carefully stood up.
l knew within those 20 minutes of meeting, we’d get along great. attempts to catch herself and I knew we’d get along great when Lauren slipped, fell and gracefully curtsied to onlookers enjoying their afternoon merienda. Now this is my type of gal. One who doesn’t take herself so seriously and can laugh at herself.
Lauren and I chatted like lost friends while navigating the location of the next hotel on the list but our conversations distracted us. We crisscrossed streets, backtracked and paused to admire the Cathedral in the center of town. Hmmm. Could we pass for peregrinos on the Camino de Santiago at one of the alburgues, or hostels. But alas, We we’re to clean nor dressed in the gear one would wear to traverse many kilometers in a day. And we’re honest.
Mobile phones. Technology! We can just call the places on the list…
Oh yeah, about that…
We checked into the hotel room with 3 beds, plenty of noise from the street and a heater that was more for decoration than functional. Eager to set out and see this small under-regarded town, we plopped on the beds and got lost in conversation, chatting like teenagers. A few hours later, we locked the door behind us in search of some good food but later ended up in a local Northern Spanish based chain tapas bar, with modern furnishings, white and pink decor and cheap grub. The town was preparing for a festival and greeted us with live music in the plaza and kids dressed up in costume as they ran around freely, often with parents deep in conversation with their friends.
A foreshadowing of our trip.
We seemed to be stuck like glue with never ending conversation the only thing to shut us up: food and sleep. The type of friendship where you never run out of things to talk about and quickly adapt to the others ways, a sixth sense when they need their space or feel like being quiet for a moment.
We also weren’t in any rush to scratch off a list of sights, in fact our goals were, to chat, eat, meet locals.
Our third morning, when hail bounced off the rooftops, we stayed cozy in the apartment of our kind Couchsurfer, sipping tea, making breakfast and conversing. Never mind it was almost 2pm when we finally walked out the door, wearing leg warmers, doubling up on socks and many layers ready to brave the cold weather as we waddled to the bus stop feeling like penguins, cursing the frigid weather.
We’d cozy up in a coffee shop the following day, a place you’d find in Oakland, Portland or New York and feel like we had a taste of home. We shared more personal ancedtoes about our lifes until we had to walk to the local train station to catch a train ride to visit an organice Huerta, Lauren had carefully planned. Both of us were cautious about giving ourselves enough time, except the maps we had indicated the old location of the train station that had us racing across town to the newer location ( a place we had been a few days prior) but hadn’t connected the dots when planning our route. Oops. When she was ready to throw in the towel, assuming we wouldnt’ make it, I encouraged her.
I don’t give up.
Sometimes my short coming, I always believe everything is possible. Yet I was only half certain we could convince our walking legs to become sprinters, just for the moment. In her moment of doubt, I knew I had to be the cheerleader for both of us. Besides, we already had some miscommunication with this family- we had to show up!
I was secretly happy neither of us were good runners and both needed little breaks to catch our breath as we glanced at our watch, calculating our legs against time.
We made it with enough time to throw our money into the ticket machine that thankfully cooperated (we didn’t have a moment to spare) and then had 2 minutes aboard to spare. We looked at each other in awe and high-fived.
The farm visit was well-worth it and was grateful we didn’t leave them in the lurch.
Now a year later, we’re both semi- settled back in the USA trudging along and adapting to life after time outside our own country. I don’t think either of us is where we thought we’d be but we’ve been enjoying sharing our respective journeys with each other. I’m grateful to have her in my life and having someone to share reminisce about travels and our experience of life abroad that those who haven’t done it just quite know what it means. Even though, for the moment, it’s just a phone call or texts as she’s living in another state.
I often reflect how crazy life is, and connections or opportunities that have come my way from meeting her.
Read Lauren’s short version of how the trip was for her