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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Facing Fears and Finding Joy and Gratitude on the Road to Ronda

On my last day in Seville, I felt less of the usual uneasiness when packing up and moving to a newplace.  I felt ready to start the next chapter.  Ready to say goodbye to Seville.  I wouldn’t have Stacy along to split a taxi fare, so I agonized about saving money and taking the bus. I could walk 8 minutes to the bus stop and pay 1.40 Euro and or walk nowhere and pay 12 Euro for a taxi. I previewed the route in my mind; the  warrens of narrow, cobbled streets girdled with sidewalks varying from 3 feet to 2 inches wide depending on how close the street pressed up against the building it traced. Then I recalled other bus rides:

  • Spending an eternity squinting at signs to puzzle out which corner to stand on and which number to get me there and feeling judged by the locals. 
  • Bad tempered bus drivers scowling at me for not knowing the fare amount, not having exact change and not knowing which coins represent what. 
  • Waiting 30 minutes past the scheduled bus arrival time, giving up and walking 3 minutes then seeing the bus speed past.
  • Giving up entirely and facing blisters over embarrassment of choosing incorrectly. 
  • Ending up in a deserted parking lot miles from anywhere in the middle of the night in Hungary. 
  • Being proud of myself for finding the right bus with ease, only to find that it was packed to the gills with loud school children loathe to make room for us and our bags.

Taxi it is then!  Screw the few Euros I would be saving.  Money's just like doritos, right?  Don't worry, I'll make more?  Somehow. Hopefully. Someday after I figure out what I want to be when I grow up!

My brother found an awesome route for our Oregon trip so I asked him for suggestions on a scenic route from Seville to Ronda.  He replied, "LMGTFY" (Let Me Google That For You 😏) A TripAdvisor forum suggested a route. I mapped it out and downloaded offline google maps of the area.  Yeah, I can hear you now, "But you worked for Garmin! Why didn't you bring a Garmin?" Well, not long before I left home, I accidentally left my car unlocked in my driveway overnight and someone stole my Garmin. Money and suitcase space were both in high demand so a new Garmin wasn't in the cards.

Once inside the brand new (no pressure!) Fiat 500, I looked at the gear shifter.  There was an N and an R which seemed pretty straightforward, but couldn't find Drive or Park! I googled something dumb like "What letters for Drive and Park Spanish cars".  No joy there, but a guide to driving in Spain came up so I figured I should read that. I noted that there are unmarked speed cameras which can ticket you by mail.  Ok, no driving the customary 9 miles above the speed limit then. I elected to err on the side of looking like a dumbass over having an accident in the rental parking lot and proving it. I asked an employee for clarification. He did a great job of not letting it show that he thought I was an idiot and showed me how it worked.

Next, I channeled the spirit of Marcie who doesn't lose her cool even when driving in central Paris, with its tangle of clogged, one way streets in a tiny BMW with our moms crammed in the backseat with luggage up to the ceiling and a GPS uselessly searching for satellites while I navigated using the rental agency map. The calm she exuded was contagious. Soon the cries from the backseat changed from, "Marcie? Do you know what you're doing? Do you know where we're going? Are we going the wrong way? Were we supposed to turn there?" to, "Ooh! Look at that!  It's the sister to the Statue of Liberty!  Look, Notre Dame!  There's the Eiffel Tower!" Intentions to pick up the car on the outskirts and heading directly to the coast, morphed into an impromptu driving tour of Paris that we couldn't have planned better and a good story to laugh about later.

The drive to Ronda turned out to be so much more amazing than I'd dared hope for. For the most part, the roads were nice and wide (200 times wider than roads in England, plus these have shoulders).  Driving was a joy.  The medians were brimming over with brilliant mafuchsia (you know, a cross between magenta and fuchsia) oleander bushes tall enough to block the view of oncoming traffic.  Then came the fields of sunflowers.  I saw this many sunflowers driving through Nebraska once, but let me tell you, seeing field after field of sunflowers on the sumptuous Andalusian hills with bright red bursts of poppies sprinkled in took it to a new level.  The sunflower’s heads all brightly gazed toward the sun and stood in neat rows blanketing the hills until the hills grew to hazy blue mountains in the distance.

Also spotted on the drive: three castles (two towering over quaint, white villages); a huge herd of goats; olive, chestnut, and cork tree groves; a shepherd herding his sheep; stately blue mountains; and vast mounds of wildflowers in yellows and reds and whites and fuchsia, blue and purple decorating every nook and cranny. The air with so full their sweet scents that I could even smell it over the new car smell with the windows up.

Many times, the view would be so intense that I couldn't help but squeal with delight. I wished there was someone else along to appreciate, photograph or share it, but my longing for companionship never overshadowed the joy, wonder, profound sense of gratitude and I suppose pride that this is my life.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

New Beginnings and Learning to be So-lone!

Recently, A friend posted a very touching and candid video of her preparing to go on a solo journey.  It reminded me that I'm not traveling simply for the sake of traveling. For me, this isn't just a vacation. I am searching for something. I'm not exactly sure what; hopefully I will recognize it when I find it.  Part of my quest is to find a better version of me. I  have learned a lot about myself in the last two months and have no doubt that there are numerous lessons and fears to face in the days ahead.

As I revealed in my last blog post, things haven't always been as great as they appear on social media. Without a doubt, I have experienced more beauty and awesomeness than anyone could ask for, but it has not been without its stresses. Stacy decided that she needed a vacation from her vacation and flew home a week ago. While I have my moments of homesickness as well, I feel that to go home now, even for a short while, could derail my momentum and invite all those questions I put to bed to come rushing back in.  Besides, I don't have a home to go back to now.  Of course I could stay with Stacy (don't worry, we're still best of friends!) or my mom, but it wouldn't be the same as going home for me. It was clear to me that I must carry on.

Fun fact, in Spain they dub most of their movies in Spanish and only select theaters in large cities offer "VO" (Version Original) - English with Spanish subtitles.  Rumor has it that this started when dictator Franco was in power - dubbing made it easier to censor. Anyway! One of the last things we did before Stacy flew home was to see the new Star Wars Solo movie.  Fun flick!

Our original plan was to suck the fun out of Spain, rent a car and take a leisurely drive up through Southern France on into Italy for the month of June. That much driving on my own didn't sound like the grand adventure I had imagined.  I felt overwhelmed, sad, disappointed, and bewildered and that I needed to reevaluate everything.  I spent pretty much two solid days moping and working on a new plan.

We had planned to revisit Ronda, the "cloud city" in Spain, which had enchanted and inspired us the prior year. This was the place where we dreamed of having a villa.  This town captured our imagination and inspired us to dream. I'm not positive, but I think that this was the moment our adventure was born. We stood upon the Puente Nuevo Bridge, dizzy from looking down the plunging ocher cliffs, marveling at the stark contrast to the lush green hills and blue mountains in the distance. The spark was born. However, by the time Ronda fit into our schedule, Stacy had already purchased a ticket home and logistically it just didn't make sense to squeeze in before her departure.

As my turbulent thoughts struggled to become clear, Ronda kept resurfacing.  Aside from the fact that Ronda is pretty much magically beautiful, another reason was I needed a new purse! My beautiful Spanish leather purse (red and black of course!) was starting to show that I had used it non-stop since buying it there the prior year.

Sooner or later, I was going to need to bite the bullet and drive in Europe.  Might as well do it on a route that I'd ridden before and knew to be beautiful. Plus they drive on the right side of the road, just like at home.

I found an adorable Airbnb with an amazing view at a great price and decided to pull the trigger on the next stage of my journey.