Northern Spain- The promise land
Northern Spain has a grasp on me that will never quite let go... we spent most of our summer there, thank goodness.
So lush and hidden, so untouched and truly enchanted. Deep down, I think I hoped all along that we would find our way back when we began this trip; think I hoped to plant my roots in those foggy hills. There are not many well known communities in Northern Spain though, but one cannot simply accept something like that without looking to make sure. We made our way there with a group of volunteers from Arterra for a little weekend van trip, then continued on our own from there.
Cantabria: A small region rugged and dramatic, where giant mountains crash down into the sea at places with names like "Ojo de Diablo" (the eye of the Devil) and where thunderous storms appear moments after bright and sunny skies. Surfers can often be seen running towards the swelling waves to catch them before the tides change again abruptly. I spent a few weeks here before moving to Germany in 2019 taking a workshop with alternative architects, whom we visited again briefly. There was a heatwave and a drought this time, though. The wildflowers along the coast were dead far too early in the season.
We walked one day on the Camino del Norte from Santillana del Mar to Comillas, and we finally made it to Cueva del Castillo to see one of the oldest surviving paintings in human history. Handprints from our ancestors over 40,000 years old cover the ceiling– likely belonging to some of the first anatomically modern humans to arrive to Europe. We were here. Our guide continuously whacked her malfunctioning flashlight that kept turning off, leaving us momentarily in total darkness like the people of the past. How to even fathom all that has changed. What would they think of us now?
Comillas was delightful. Our camper spot overlooked the university fit for a fairy tale, and we could see the Picos de Europa in the distance. We were enchanted by it all. The moss-covered rocks by the sea and the dappled light on the forest floors. We went back to a campground tucked away in the peaks that I visited in 2020. No intentional communities anywhere in sight... We perused the properties for sale, dreaming of a day in the future where we could maybe make one ourselves...
We had some dental problems around this time, and poor Ben had to loop back to Bilbao more than once to have a replacement ceramic tooth filling put in. Things like dentists appointments are hard to manage when you're constantly on the move...
Next stop was San Sebastian in the País Vasquo for the day of San Juan, which is traditionally celebrated across the Iberian Peninsula June 23 or 24th with giant fires on the beach. It was quite obvious to us that this was some leftover Pagan event celebrating the summer solstice (June 21) rebranded as a Catholic tradition. Rumor has it if you jump over these fires at night, you will be purified and all your problems will burn away. What we found instead was massive, communal fires in the city where kids burned all their homework from the year before, rebelliously liberating themselves of all the bullshit. It was fun to watch.
I wished I could burn away all my bullshit too, as this was the day we got the news the Supreme Court voted to take away women's rights in the United States and voted to RESTRICT the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency's to mandate Carbon Emission Reductions of corporations... What a disgrace.
The town hall of San Sebastian is still covered in bullet holes from a clash in the civil war back in the 30s. Photos outside proudly display the loyalists, refusing to comply with their fascist oppressors, defending what they thought was right till the death.
More Celtic than Spanish, more fantasy than reality, Galicia evokes images of Hogwarts and Middle Earth and I've been longing to go back since I moved away in 2019.
The trip across the country to get there was brutal. Spain, like much of Europe, was experiencing extreme heatwaves and we were suffering in the camper with nowhere to escape. The days were marked by temperatures around 105ºF (41ºC) and left us exhausted and frantic and cranky. We swam as often as we could, but as soon as you left the water, it hit you again, exhaustion and panic. It didn't matter if you were in the sun or the shade, it felt impossible to work and impossible to enjoy anything until hours after sunset when it finally cooled off a bit. I started to really understand the necessity of siesta.
Galicia was our only salvation, kept pleasantly temperate by the Gulf Stream of the Atlantic. A delightful phenomenon currently threatened by rising ocean temperatures. We fled as fast as we could, but even in Galicia it was hotter than usual and plagued with wildfires. So it is. It will only get worse. I mention this because I feel it's important not to glaze over it and paint it out like our lives are nothing but magic. If you look with the right eyes, you will see that our planet is collapsing. It's important not to look away.
We stayed with some friends for a week in their pleasantly cool mountain home and helped them plant beans and build fences and collect water from the spring. They had a blind chicken that didn't lay eggs and a healthy vegetable garden where they were fighting off mold from too much rain. You could see the milky way. We met a dog named Sparky Gizmo and drank wine from bowls like the Romans did.
We retraced our steps back to all our favorite spots: hidden beaches you have all to yourself and sweet forest springs with steady streams of pure fresh water gurgling out of ancient taps. We went to a permaculture festival and realized the type of people that like permaculture in Galicia are also the type of people who truly believe in witches and goblins and gong baths. Not our scene, unfortunately, but we did learn to do some basket weaving and met some fellow fermentation enthusiasts. We got to hear the Gaita and hug old friends, Ben finally saw his first dolphin. We played a lot and it felt good to really feel like we were on vacation.
We visited Isla de Ons and enjoyed freezing Caribbean-colored waters and Atlantic snorkeling. We saw sea urchins and starfish and kelp forests. Two members of the WWF were monitoring seabird behavior on the island, trying to figure out why exactly their populations are currently plummeting... we had some guesses.
We revisited my old beloved city of Pontevedra, and spent several days on O Grove, a near-island attached by a thin land bridge. Being directly on the ocean or high in the mountains were the only two options for my first summer in Spain – everything else was sweltering. I finally got to go to a legendary music venue called el Nautico, where they had secret guests playing every evening and crisp Albariño wine made down the road. There might be nothing better.
But still, no communities. The search continued, but first it was finally time to cross the ocean and get married, after two and a half long years of waiting.