How I tried to be curious over judgmental across Asturias and Cantabria
It's been longer than anticipated since I last posted. This was mostly due to my socializing while social distancing over the last few days. I feel like I crossed all the mountains of northern Spain, even though in reality I barely scratched its hilly surface.
After I reached Asturias from the rugged and remote Galicia, I found the most wonderful spot near Playa Tauran on top of a cliff overlooking sunset and sunrise. Mixed with a lot of wind and torrential rainfalls, I felt more like inside a baroque painting than the romantic impressionist one I was hoping for. My next morning began late due to the rain (actually not unusual on the best of days either) and had a second breakfast at the nice campsite cafe (where I chatted with a young couple from Germany who had quit their jobs to travel the world, and also had not brought any warm clothes as they thought everything south of Germany must be warm - and people say I was brave!).
Riding along the coastline in the rain felt like driving across Nicaragua (which I once did for a couple of days), or being back on the Australian Great Ocean Road near a place called 'Forest' during autumn. There are Eucalyptus trees everywhere, and the humidity makes it seem like a lush rain forest and brings out some amazing smells. (For anyone who wants to travel to Australia right now, you can also travel to Asturias for starters. How amazed I am every day by the diversity and beauty of the northern Spanish coast - in case you haven't noticed yet!)
I was getting cold in the rain and stopped for a pilgrim lunch at one of the albergues. They always offer (usually simple) menus for the pilgrims that are not expensive and fill you up.
The host seemed a bit grumpy to start with, but once I complemented him about the soup and told him I had sent a picture to my mum because it was so delicious (it was a broth with noodles, and beyond delicious), he lit up and I discovered his pride in growing his own food. I loved hearing that everything the restaurant produces for guests comes from their own backyard and was satisfied to have spent my Euros at this place. The next part of the day I started thinking about whether eating more nutrition-rich foods that are grown seasonal and in proximity to where we live, in combination with an active lifestyle and a healthy mind (which is a huge chapter on its own) is the real long-term solution to health threats such as the one we are experiencing right now. I also realized that I would have not thought about this topic, had I been judgmental and avoided speaking to the man, simply thinking he would be grumpy, and the restaurant just another way to make money. Be curious and flexible rather than judgmental, and it can open your mind to new ways of thinking as well as learn interesting facts about other people.
A friend asked me if the ride was challenging and I said it's pretty easy and straightforward, thanks to the navigation app I am using. Then I had to get off the bike again to push up a seemingly 22% inclination. Then it started raining again. Then my phone switched off, I forgot the pin, and had neither the app, nor a map, or a very good idea of where I was going and got lost straight away (interesting achievement when following a coastline). So let's say, there is probably at least one mini-challenge I am facing every day. I just have to take them as they come and keep calm. There is always a solution to most things (in that case, I actually asked for directions, and stopped at the next campsite along the way. I also managed to unblock my phone and the world order was restored. It did make me wonder how we survived without them back in the days..)
I cycled through a few rather industrial looking towns that did not seem as idyllic as I was used to by now. Around Aviles, a sad looking horse (my imagination) had escaped its owner and was wondering about the streets. When I asked a man peering out of his doorway whether I should catch it, he said it was probably hungry and had had enough of where he was. Looking at his ribs and bones I thought fair enough, and left him to find his promised land of lush mountain meadows and many mares to play with.
So far, there have been a couple of places where I wished I could have stayed longer, and the campsite at Playa Espana was one of them. A steep drop to reach the beach, there was only the campsite, a few houses, a bar and a little kiosk where locals hang out after their days' surf. I got myself a bottle of Sidra (seems like the drink of Asturias, judging from all the 'Sidrerias' around, apple orchards everywhere and people generally sitting in bars with the bottles in front of them), watched the pretty sunset while listening to free music from the bar. The campsites are quite empty now, and most are about to close for the season, so it is almost as if you are camping out the wild, just with the comfort of having your toilet and shower and power to charge things, while not worrying over someone coming to your tent at night (I assume the Asturian bear or fox also are not too keen on hanging out on campsites) - I still prefer that.
Komoot took me straight back into the forest and up and down near vertical country roads the next day (I now have learnt it is sometimes better to pick the bigger roads, they often don't have those ridiculously rectangular inclinations). I was starting to get a bit frustrated, even after a pit stop with orange cake, tuna pie and a friendly banter with the lady at the bakery in Villaviciosa - there just never seemed to be an end to the constant up and down, no flat road for even 1km, ever. Once I was thinking this very strongly, rolling my eyes to myself so hard so they nearly got stuck, I turned a corner and came across a herd of super cute donkeys. They all stopped doing nothing and came checking me out straight away. Thinking of my friend Tizou on Robin's land (I still don't miss picking up his shit every morning or shooing him out of the chicken stable where he eats all their food, but do like to hang out with him!), it was so nice to have a cheeky donkey moment, which got me going again for another while, and I suddenly appreciated the super beautiful mountain scenes, apple orchards and fresh air I was cycling through again. The universe really must be listening rather closely to me during this trip.
(Speaking of mountain scenes, sometimes, when my mind is travelling and I am deep in thought, I really forget where I am. It could be anywhere from Switzerland to Nicaragua, Australia to New Zealand. If the northern coast was New Zealand in fact, Galicia would be the south island, and Asturias and Cantabria the north.)
I was hugging the coastline for a while, and rolled into Oyambre beach. With a campsite right next to the sand, I practiced trusting my decisions and my assertiveness and promptly stopped here for the night, definitely discovering another favorite spots. I had a beer with a fellow cyclist who worked at the beach for the season instead of cycling the world. The wind dropped just as I pitched my tent overlooking the long sandy beach. I woke up in the morning and was literally able to watch the sun rise over the coastline (and my drying laundry) out of my sleeping bag.
The only thing that made it OK to leave this awesome place straight away was the prospect of visiting Cecilia, one of the Urban Adventures people, in Santander. When we last saw each other, we were still living our old lives, conferencing in Athens, me about to start a new job travelling the world and her commuting between Madrid and Venice, running successful businesses. We had a lot to talk about, over many wines and delicious seafood.
As a traveler, one of the things most special to me is to be welcomed into someones home. When I was younger, we often had exchange students or some other guests staying with us, which was always a highlight for me, and must have set some seed in being curious and open to accept other people's hospitality to make a connection and peek into their lives for a split second. Seeing how other people live opens to me the many and limitless options to shape the way to live a life. There is no 'normal', as there are so many circumstances that shape everyone's individual normality. Realizing this, it opens my horizon and helps me to have a flexible mindset and avoid being judgmental. Cecilia and her family took me in so naturally and I was grateful to share some of her daily life; I even visited her grandma, met some cousins and aunties (with the most precarious social distancing and face masks of course) and played with their dog for a moment.
My time in Cantabria ended with a slight backtrack of 15km. Even though I had the intention to never go back the same route on this trip, meeting an old friend was well worth the exception. I have not seen Matze (my best friend Tina's best friend) for almost 10 years, and it was really nice to hang out with him for a night at one of the surf hot spots outside Santander, among his German and Austrian road crew. They even offered me my own campervan to sleep in, and even though I did not join to go for a surf, I felt like a part of the little travelling group for the night.
Keen to get more km in and to reach the French border sooner rather than later, I made my way into the Basque Country (Euskadi) the next day (I was going to write morning, but then realized that as so often, I did not leave the spot before midday). I will tell more about this in my next post, the last one on my adventure through Spain.
As I mentioned before, there are many lessons that I learn every day of me cycling by myself from Portugal to Germany. I could write endless novels about it. What I noticed most during these last few days was how much one can benefit from not being judgmental without knowing a lot of background of a person or situation. I read in a book about belonging and building communities once that the opposite of judgment is curiosity, and there are actually quite simple steps we can take to not be judgmental. I have a very vivid imagination and often create stories in my head about people, animals, things or situations. This can be very fun for me (and often confusing for others). It can also serve to set my expectations in a way that I can then get disappointed, or even unfair towards others if they act differently than how I imagined. As a very simple example, on this trip I have caught myself rolling my eyes when there was another hill popping up. I thought - 'please, not another one. That's going to be so hard'. Why did I not think - 'I wonder what is going to be around that corner?' In most cases, it was actually something like a bunch of cute donkeys, a breathtaking view over the Picos de Europa, a restaurant with the soup I am still salivating of now, a wonderful evening with my friend Cecilia, a chat with an interesting man about using sea water to cook to stay healthy... granted, all of this with me bathed in sweat and a pulse of 150, but us humans are resilient, we often forget the pain and keep the positive memories that will stay with us and potentially help us grow for much longer.
Being judgmental must have been a natural reaction to protect ourselves from harm back in the days. It is good to use your instincts to avoid dodgy situations. But as we get older (ie. wiser), we can also often trust situations better (as I wrote in my last post), and should be able to be curious and open to new experiences. I think, or hope that most of us can say that we experience eye opening situations more often than something negative and disappointing if we practice curiosity over judgment - talking to a stranger, learning a little snippet of their lives. Most of the time, it makes the other person feel appreciated and valued, and gives them some recognition, which is something a lot of us are always yearning for. I would be interested to hear if you ever had a situation where you practiced curiosity over judgment? What was it like, and did you regret it, or learn something out of it? I would love to hear from you.
Although I am already a little further along my journey an currently chilling at Mundaka between Bilbao and San Sebastian, I will leave my Basque Country (Euskadi) mountain experience to the last episode of cycling across Spain, and will tell you about it later this week, or whenever I reach the border!
Until then, stay safe, and thank you everyone for following and supporting me from near and far!