house of happy

Life adventures in prose and verse. Explorations of places, people and words. Stories and fun.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Holiday in Galicia

Beginning of September: one week of holidays left, after a month in Scotland and a month on the land. We are exhausted, but one week of sleep is too much to ask. A holiday, especially our particular brand (no planning, no destination, pure chaos, something between the frantic and the sublime) sounds so much like hard work... Still, since change could be great and chaos might be instructive, we pack all Monday and drive off into the sunset.

We have a vague starting point half way up the Galician coast, where some friends of friends happen to live and where there may be WAVES. We are off, listening to Lian Hearn's beautiful Otori trilogy, eating cream cheese and smoked salmon, stopping every five miles to pay more road tolls. As you do in Spain.

The friends of friends had been informed of our visit. Being half-Sicilian, half-Galician and incredibly welcoming, they do not bat an eyelid at being invaded by an unknown family of four. Instead, they buy a bucketful of mussels, wax their surfboards, uncork the wine and wait. And wait. And then wait just a little more. Having invited ourselves for lunch, we arrive just before nightfall and call the awaiting feast late supper. No time for surf, but time for a walk to the famed beach and a quick swim. Marinated mussels don't mind.

The sea is warmer here, but the coastline makes you groan. On the map a sinuous line of deep bays, vast beaches and tongues of dark blue sea. Get any closer and you find dry and lifeless geography. It features those squat cubes of cement we are taught to call home. It is criss-crossed by lines of dark grey proudly labelled motorways. It is powdered with soot. There are fish farms in every estuary, and noxious looking workshops on street corners. We pass a small port where every square inch is covered in mounds of coal and every building is black.

The local youth drives about in quad bikes. Kids find green beetles on walls and squash them with glee. Am I being too harsh? Is there another side I fail to see?

Oh yes. We hear of a famous waterfall, the only in Europe that dives directly into the sea from a mind-blowing height. Post script: the waterfall is only open on Sundays from 2pm. At all other times it flows straight into pipes that “channel and harness the energy of the water”. You look at the cliff and see scars of black plastic, lashes of grey tubing all the way down. No waterfall. It's only Monday.

For the next three days we play out the adapted story of Goldilocks and the three Waves. The first wave is too small. We camp between a hill and a hotel and play Settlers into the night. The wind almost takes the tent for a trip to Oz. The second wave is too big. We watch Moona paddle out and pray for him to be heaved back onto the beach in one piece. Eventually, a wave spits him out and he staggers back to the van muttering crazy stuff and leaking sea water.

The third wave has to be just right. The story says so, and why not? We drive about until we find it. What follows is an afternoon of such perfection – there at the very edge of summer, all warm sand and playful ocean and a soft, glowing sunset... No wonder we leave all reason behind and casually adopt a kitten from a litter spotted under a surfer's camper van. We later discover it's a tom, and name it after the surfer, Charlie.

We spend the night on the beach, wrapped in our blankets, and I wake up a hundred times. As always when camping, it's the lower back that wakes me, but tonight it's the stars that keep me awake. I spend the whole night gazing at a skyful of exuberant planets, feeling the wind circle the tip of my nose and a few exposed toes. Every now and again a deep sigh and another small nap.

Then it's daylight and the last day of this holiday. We go back to the beach-of-legend. Another dizzy session, and guess what? For symmetry's sake (and perhaps to prove that we are consistently insane), we drive home with Charlie AND his little sister. She looks like a grey-and-yellow tigress with black-rimmed glasses. We call her Lira. On the way home, we coo hysterically and squash the cats into cardigan sleeves and spare socks. They miaow for food like a couple of public mourners, then purr like industrial generators, and finally pee everywhere.

Of course, at this stage I wouldn't mind for the holiday to stretch on into next week, next month, next decade. It happens like this every time. Is it the magic of our journeys? The dread of unpacking? The certainty of hard work ahead? A first shiver of winter?

Your guess.


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