Chapter 2: The Craggy Coast
Tuesday, May 9th
I’m always anxious when I have an appointment, anything that requires I be at place X at whatever O’Clock and furthermore if it’s an appointment arrangement. When you’re unfamiliar with a country, anxiety is how we deal with uncertainty. Some of us tend to avoid it, me, I wake up unnecessarily early. I’m a stickler to schedule when I have to catch any sort of transportation with a set time I have to be there. I have this fear of missing my boat, plane or bus and being stuck in a place I don’t want to be in. If I like the place, I’ll forget to check when my train leaves the next morning and gladly stress for a short while until I accommodate staying another night as I did with my then girlfriend in Savannah after their wild weekend long St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. That oopsy ended up costing us a sum of money but the extra day of unplanned vacation was priceless.
I did not want to stay in A Coruña. There was more to see. I awoke an hour early, even though it only takes ten minutes to pack up and be out the door. I did not know how the buses work, do I need to get a prepaid ticket to enter a bus terminal, or will I blank out when the bus driver asks me where I’m going so that he can tell me how much I owe, all while I’m holding up a line of impatient grandmas trying to worm past so they can get the window seats? It’s always worse how you imagine it then it really is. The man at the reception was accurate enough with the directions. And patient, I ran up and down from my room to the reception on repeated occasions pelting him with, what must have seemed, banal questions.
I left the hotel in a cool morning breeze. The sun was still on the rise towards its pre-scorching rampage. Every day was sunny here, it only made the cool mornings enviable. The bus stop was just a little up city from where I lunched the day before on the park bench. To my relief, the bus was punctual within a couple of minutes. We’ll see if that’s the case with the rest of Spain that I see.
The bus was modern. What I’d expect from a first world city. Besides, it was only the villages and farms that I passed along the way in Portugal and here in Spain which felt second world to me. The fifteen-minute ride through the busy morning workday ecosystem of A Coruña was no different from those I recall in Germany or the United States. The further I got from the city center towards the bus station, the less memorable the experience was…
I arrived at the bus station with close to an hour to spare. I found the stall for Arriva bus line and I was relieved to learn that their online bus schedule is in synch with their actual bus schedule (not always the case I’ve learned). I bought my ticket and afterward, I was more than happy to spend that time trying to make sense of the Galician novel I picked up at a bookstore the prior night.
Less than an hour passed until I found myself on the bus driving through the asphalt blood veins of Spanish Galicia. The bus I was on had the commonplace blue felt seats with enough leg space. My window looked upon the Ría de Betanzos, an inlet into the miniature fjord-like crevices all over the Galician coast. Right now it was low tide, as could be seen by the lack of water over the blue patches that Google Maps promised me was water. If it weren’t for the bloated highway I was on, I might be able to say that it was beautiful.
The birth place of the Spanish General and dictator Francisco Franco, Ferrol is, and has been for most of its history, in the shipbuilding industry. In the 17th century, Ferrol was the most important arsenal in Europe.
Once I got into Ferrol, I had close to an hour and a half to find where the only bus to Vila de Area, 11 kilometers north of here, would leave from. The only directions I had were that it was some bus leaving at 12:42 somewhere near downtown. I made my way off the bus, up the stairs to the bus station and towards the first suspecting prey, a middle-aged man sitting at a ticket counter behind a glass screen. I asked him about this bus and almost immediately an old woman sitting on a bench behind me pipes in with some bus along Avenida do Rei (Avenue of Kings) from where I’ll find this bus. The ticket man also hands me a slip of paper with the bus times, further reinforcing what I already know, and I exit the station to uncover more specific information.
The next man I encounter on my walk towards the city center told me to walk down Vigo Avenue. I looked at my map to make sense of these contradictory facts only to learn that Vigo Avenue turns into Avenida do Rei. The man had nothing more to share. I was confused, but at the very least I had some time. I decided to find these avenues while seeing as much of the city as feasible while still finding my bus. Downtown Ferrol from what I saw was typical nice, by that I mean that common place western looking clean down town area with outdoor cafes, restaurants, and boutique shops that you see in every big city. Though Ferrol may have a few stores, parks and squares unique to Ferrol, it felt like a typically nice city (from as much as I could see in less than an hour).
I ended up missing the Avenue I was looking for and wandering further down the gridded center and then crossing down a street that had buses going past. I stopped at a coffee shop to ask the clientele if they could point me in the right direction. The barista and one of the men end up pointed in a direction past these buildings, somewhat towards where I was coming from, and off I went. I found the next street, the one they must have been talking about, and I walk until I see a bus sign and I ask the first people that come by for directions. They’re a couple in their 30’s and though they live here, I quickly realize they don’t know and they’re thinking up an answer to try to be helpful. They point in a direction while explaining something along the lines of “We saw some people go there, we dono…” I happen upon another similar conversation until I learn of a tourism center in the park I passed by on the way here.
I find my way to the tourism center where encounter well-informed people who get paid to inform uninformed stragglers like me to my destination. They hand me a large paper map with the whole area on it and they clearly mark where I have to go. Note to self, next time I get lost, find the tourism center, that’s what they’re there for…
I wish I could say it was a breeze find exactly where I was supposed to wait. They were only 90% certain of which street I had to wait on. Was it this street swarming with buses coming in and out, or the next street, the empty one? Three pedestrians and two bus drivers later I learn that I must wait on the empty street. I had a book to pass the remaining 20 minutes and two restless eyes looking at every bus-like vehicle turning onto the street. I did not want to walk those 11 kilometers to the hostel!
12:42 came around the bus wasn’t here yet. “Hmmm must be running on Spanish time.” Sure enough, less than two minutes later I find myself in the salvation of a bus which will take me to my home for the next night, maybe even two! I disclose my destination to the driver while pointing at a point on the map, who reciprocates with a dubious hand gesture to take my seat as if trying to say “We’ll figure it out.”
Vila da Area
Relieved… All I had to do now was sit back in the large bus, which was empty, save for a few grandmothers returning from whatever it is that grandmother’s do in the city. We drove out of the city, up the intercity roads and up a hill. The more distance we covered, the more delighted I was not having to walk. Halfway through the ride, the view opened up to present a stunning valley with a tall arching bridge connecting the two ridges of the mountain ranges. We were so close to the water, what I couldn’t grasp was how this all geologically possible so close to the ocean. I have seen volcanic islands rising up from the depths of the ocean to great heights, but the elevation was always gradual.
After the bus drops off a pair of elderly, the driver maneuvers over to me to get a better understanding of where I was going. I reply with a burst of keywords, “Hostel–Doniños–furthur further!” until an elderly woman assuredly chimes in with more specific directions to the driver, “The big white house on the hill a kilometer past the lake.” I felt even more confident with my newly acquired ally to help guide the bus driver. In those last few minutes, as we rode through this marvelous display of nature, I couldn’t help but parade my admiration. The woman engaged in small talk with me “You’ll find the nature you’re looking for here.” I revealed to her a glimpse of my journey and she comforted me telling me that if I didn’t find the hostel that she, herself would host me!
I half wish that the hostel never appeared; I would have sacrificed much to get a glimpse into a local’s life in this speck of Galicia. Eventually, the big white house came into view and I got dropped off right in front of the building.
The hostel, Camp Doniños, was a surf school/summer camp within walking distance to two beaches. Rebecca, a woman in her early thirties greeted me at the entrance and invited me in. I quickly learned that, aside from two other guests from Switzerland, I’d be alone in this hostel that housed 30+; apparently early May is still off-season.
The interior was a modern concrete conglomeration of minimalistic white & concrete colored walls. Just past the entrance to the left of the stairs was a halfpipe with an aggregation of black bean bags lying opposite a television and gaming console, tucked away in a corner, alongside a miniature library. Across the halfpipe was the administration room, a large wooden table occupying most of the area and lined up against the walls stood a plethora of surfboards of all widths and sizes. While learning the house rules and filling out the paperwork, I learned I would be able to borrow a surfboard at no added cost! Next, she showed me the cafeteria room opposite the entrance; a room packed with tables and chairs to fit a miniature army. The glass windows looked down and across the valley to the small forested mountain range on the other side of the valley. On the second floor, she showed me to my room, a spacious area with 6 bunk beds which I would have all to myself! At the end of the second floor, beside the bathrooms, they even had an area devoted to cross-fit and other exercises with weights, bars, and other balancing instruments. This place was quiet, I could surf, swim and rest. I would stay here until I could walk normally.
You know when you’re where you are supposed to be; I got the undeniable notion that I was traveling to see these places.
Rebecca had other more important matters to attend to now that I was taken care of. I settled into my temporary home and impatiently went out with my camera to try and capture the essence of this place. I was beaming with glee on my decision not to stay in Ferrol, where it would have been much easier to find a place to stay (and more expensive) because now I was hobbling through the isolated hilltops and grasslands of Vila da Area towards the coast. The pain in my feet was still there, but nothing compared to the trill of seeing that landscape.
I walked past the few houses with vast yards up the hill, past the forest to my left and towards the coast from where the ocean came into view. Fields of yellow flowers blanketed the hill tops for as far as the eye could see. The closer I got, the more resounding the gentle crash of the waves rung in my ears. The skies above me cried rain, in contrast to the partial sun I experienced when I arrived. I sensed a gentle oncoming of calm and curious emotions arise in me as I neared the bite-sized beach tucked away in the small harbor. A terrier shuffled about atop the field overlooking the beach below and I spotted a lone man sitting quietly staring at the fluctuating waves. He noticed me and I wasn’t sure how to approach the situation as I passed by with my camera, eager to seize this mood I was feeling.
“De donde eres?” came the curious inquiry of the man as he beckoned me. He divulged his status as a native when he shared, “I come here to escape. The tourists, when they come, prefer the beaches below whereas I prefer my quiet solitude here. Most people don’t come here.” He was surprised by my Spanish as I related to him that it was still my first week in Spain. He peered at me as if I was an enigma. Even though I had my camera on me, I didn’t look the tourist part, maybe it was my hobble or my melancholy calmness. I asked him what lay atop this peninsula to our left. “There used to be a Celtic fortress up on that hill, now there’s but a memory and shed sized building atop there.” We walked onwards and eventually, he waved goodbye as I turned up the hill and he shepherded his dog towards civilization. Who were these Celts that inhabited these lands long before these people, and how did they live?
Atop the hill and past the spiky bushes of yellow flowers I made my way down the rocky crags and crevices closer towards the water below. The sun showed its dulled foggy light through the layers of clouds in the distance. There were still several hours of light before the sun would completely submerge itself below the oceans and arise anew the next day. This is what I’m here to see…