I’m on yet another 12-hour overnight bus ride heading back to the north of Spain. I still haven’t figured out why I insist on torturing myself with the cheapest form of transportation possible at such an ungodly hour, but it does save me from having to find a room in between. I’m also wondering how I thought a bag of salted popcorn and half a packet of crusted sweet bread would suffice as food for the journey. I’m already three quarters of the way through the popcorn and I still have eleven hours to go.
I spent a lot longer in Gandia than I first anticipated. My one-to-two week visit turned into an entire month after I agreed to house sit my friend’s place and her five-year-old Alaskan Husky Yogi, who became my best friend and worst enemy during the two lonely weeks we spent together. Technically the dog speaks French as my friend Kelly is from Quebec and brought Yogi up speaking Québécois. But I think even if I did speak French, he would have ignored my desperate attempts to keep him from chasing dogs, rabbits, birds, and invisible cats on our daily meanders around Gandia.
Without human interaction for two weeks, I lost some of the little Spanish I had picked up in August; but more importantly, I started to completely lose my mind. After a month surrounded by hundreds of people each and every day in August, I experienced the polar opposite during September, with no one but Yogi to speak my broken Spanish to.
After years of wanting a dog I’m starting to rethink the idea. People say having a dog is like having a child, except that it’s actually more limiting to have a dog; especially when they’re seven times the size of the little fluff balls that prance around the streets here. I couldn’t go into any stores, and when we did go for coffee together, he uprooted the table as a small dog walked past, sending my coffee cup and hopes for a repeated outing straight into the air.
In a city where there’s more dogs than people, I built my days around finding three hours with the least amount of dogs on the street; early in the morning, in the afternoon when people took their siestas, or late at night (which is after 11pm for dog walkers). After about a week I became stuck in some kind of Groundhog Day scenario where everyday seemed like a repeat of the last. I had no idea what day of the week it was, only that each day was the same (except for Saturdays when there’s more dogs out, and Sundays when everything’s shut).
I began to notice small nuances like when the woman I passed at 7:20am would carry her handbag on the opposite shoulder, or if the man with the black and white pug dog was running late depending on where I passed him. For some reason, which I attribute mainly to being lazy, I also began eating the same food each day. I’m not much of a cook, so I would make up a large bowl of pasta salad that would serve as lunch and dinner on most days (except for the one night I cooked a BBQ for Yogi and I, and the one occasion we went out for the most revolting hamburger I’ve ever consumed).
There were times when I actually felt like I was back on the trail with the amount of walking I was doing, bland, repetitive food I was eating, and the desperate feelings of loneliness I was experiencing. I even wore the same clothes most days, didn’t always shower, watched the sun rise and set each day, talked to myself a lot, and sat on the ground outside to enjoy my daily cup of coffee.
But the big difference was, I had a beautiful view of the mountains with no real way of getting to them. I grew incredibly tired of the concrete pathways that were the only trails I had to explore; and on the day after I discovered a hole in the fence that had locked me out of the most beautiful track along the river to the port, they fixed the hole and locked me out again. I don’t know why the most beautiful part of the city is fenced off, but I’ve simply added it to my growing list of things in this country that I simply don’t understand.
Today as I was packing my things back into my backpack, I reflected that it was two years ago that I decided I was going to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Two years since I imagined wandering the world with nothing but a backpack. As I walked to the bus station this evening with exactly that (well actually my accumulated items now spill into a front and side pack too), I realised I’m still fulfilling that dream I had on the cliff tops on the island of Gozo in Malta. Back then I wished I had a dog by my side, but I think the last two weeks have helped me get that longing out of my system for a little while.
I certainly haven’t done as much hiking as I’d hoped to since I arrived here, but I guess there’s still time. Only I may be whisked away for work soon, so my priority now is to get back amongst the people for some healthy social interaction and some much needed Spanish practise!