Abuelita


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August 29th 2009
Published: September 30th 2017
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The sandwich was made with some awesomely crisp and chewy bread, comparable to anything you can get in France. Stuffed with chicken breast, lettuce, tomato, and mayo, it was a very tasty and filling breakfast. I had a Pascual juice to go along with it, a new "Verano" (summer) flavour. Kinda blah - the tropical version still seems to be the best.
Geo: 43.3231, -1.98137

Ahh ... Julia ... such a kind little old lady. I said goodbye last night, and was quite sad to do so, because I knew I'd be leaving early this morning, without a chance to see her. She asked me to wake her up before leaving, but I told her I wouldn't, because it was too early. But blast those stupid creaky stairs, because she heard me and came out to say goodbye ... but honestly, I didn't mind those creaky stairs, because deep down I was hoping she'd be awake when I left ...

I suspect she was waiting around for me to leave, so that she could say goodbye. I told Julia that she was "mi abuelita Espanola", which means little Spanish grandma. She responded “Ahh, mon petit!”, as she doesn't speak any English, but does speak French. I'll miss Pension Luisito because it's a quaint, homey little place, but I'll miss it more because of Julia. When I first arrived, I asked Julia who Luisito was (it means “little Luis”😉, and she told me it was named after her husband. He doesn't appear to be around anymore, and just by the way she briefly spoke of him,
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I later ate the ham/cheese croissant during the ride to San Sebastian ...
she obviously loved and cared for him very much. She takes a lot of pride in her humble little place, and maybe she takes such good care of her guests because it's a way of honouring his memory.

It was a cool, quiet morning, with only the surfers and the odd jogger out. I took a bus to the centre, and tried to grab breakfast at the Mercado del Este, but it was closed. Nooooo!!! Instead, I picked up some food to go from the Croissanteria, a little bakery in the bus station. Santander can be an expensive town, especially in El Sardinero, and this place offered wicked value – I paid just under 6 euros for a sandwich, drink, and ham/cheese croissant.

The bus arrived in San Sebastian much earlier than I thought; figuring it was a bit too early to check in, I stopped for a cafe con leche along the way. Chatting with the bartender/owner (him and his wife run the place), I found out that he's originally from Burgos. An even more interesting tidbit was that his daughter was about to move to Canada, to work in Quebec for several months. Why can't Spain send its daughters to
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... dry and pretty blah, with the cheese inside looking suspiciously like earwax ...
Calgary for work???? Haven't they heard of our once-booming economy, and over-abundance of single men, some of which who think Spanish senoritas are the most beautiful women that walk the face of the Earth??? Perhaps a visit to Quebec needs to happen in the near future ...

The people are proud here, and they like to hear about travelers like myself always returning because San Sebastian is so amazing. I made a comment that I love it here, but I wish the water was a bit warmer, to which the bartender jokingly replied “Buddy, it's not the Mediterranean, what do you expect?” Yes, it's not – and I don't come here to bathe in the warm ocean, I come to bask in all other things Spanish and beautiful 😊

Over to the hostel – San Sebastian has this great vibe to it, and even a simple walk here is a very enjoyable experience. I stayed at David Quinn's last year, and came back because he's a great guy, it's got a good atmosphere and an even better location, it's clean, has a good breakfast that you cook yourself, and amenities like free internet and laundry. It also seems to attract a good
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Playa la Concha, in San Sebastian - the sand, the water, and two lush, green hills on either side of the bay.
bunch of people http://blog.travelpod.com/travel-blog-entries/pwong/6/1214356920/tpod.html#pbrowser/pwong/6/1214356920/filename=img_0093.jpg

David got some help this year, Alex, a young girl from California who was in Spain doing the Camino de Santiago, and popped over to San Sebastian and stayed, because she loved it so much here. As usual, there were a ton of Aussies at David's, because San Sebastian has become a very popular place for them. I killed some time, using the internet while doing some laundry – it should have only taken 40 minutes, but I used the wrong setting, so it ended up taking hours. I waited patiently until I got too hungry, and went to get lunch. There's a great supermarket just a few blocks away and in fact, I shopped there several times last year. I could say it was for the convenient location, the great selection, or the wonderful bakery, and all would be valid reasons – but yup, you guessed it - I kept going back there because of an uber-cute cashier (see blog entry entitled "Special delivery" http://www.travelpod.com/travel-blog-entries/pwong/6/1214356920/tpod.html ). But sadly, she was not there this time 😞

I went a bit wild on the groceries, picking up some Activia kiwi yogurt (which turned out to be crappy), Serrano ham,
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Picture perfect.
cheese, and some very delicious poppy seed bread. It ended up being a very tasty, though simple lunch. After lunch, my laundry still wasn't done, so I used the internet some more. After that, my laundry STILL wasn't done, so I went for a quick walk. After that, my laundry FINALLY was done, so I was off to the beach. I think it ended up taking almost 3 hours to complete one wash cycle.

My first three times in San Sebastian, the weather was never that great for the beach, or I simply never had the chance to go. Today, the weather was gorgeous – sunny, but not too hot; in fact, a few more degrees would have been a nice thing. A few hours was enough, and it was back to the hostel for a shower.

Earlier, Alex had mentioned that her, David, and some other friends were going out to a sidreria – tonight was a bit of a special occasion, and she extended the invite to everybody in the hostel. And what was the special occasion? A wake. Yup, that's right – a wake. Thinking nothing of it, I said “Sure!”

It really should've dawned on me that
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Still picture perfect.
this was something I shouldn't be attending, but Alex made it seem like such a casual thing, that I thought nothing of it. Almost everybody else in the hostel went out to a place for paella, and only myself and a guy named Danny went to the sidreria.

It really didn't click in my mind that this could be very awkward, until we started walking over. Things were quite awkward when we arrived, but not for the reasons you might think – there was a big kids party taking place, with a clown, and overly-loud music. Ok ... there was also a big group of youths that were probably barely of legal drinking age. The sidreria is all you can drink, so a relatively cheap, all-inclusive night out would be attractive for a young group like that.

As we all sat down, I asked Alex if Danny and I should stay, given that it looked like we'd be short of seats if many more people came. Alex said that it was no big deal, that it'd be great if we stayed, but if we felt awkward, it'd be cool if we preferred leaving. Feeling very awkward at this point, we still
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Nothing special about this restaurant, just that I remember having an afternoon snack of tapas here 3 years ago.
decided to stay. Now this is where you expect things to become even more awkward ... but they didn't. In fact, this is where the story takes a bit of a turn and for me, becomes something rather incredible.

Initially, I had expectations that, as people showed up, there might be some hostility, that there may be glances that said “Who are these guys?” and “Why are they here?” Were we even wanted here? Were we even welcome? But ... as people showed up, it was the complete opposite. People seemed quite curious about who we were, and why we were here, but not in any negative way.

It's only appropriate that, before I get too deep into the story, I speak a little of Frank, the man whose memory was the reason we were all here tonight - to honour both him, and his life. I won't pretend to know anything about this man; I can only say that he had a group of friends that cared deeply for him. I know he was German, and had visited San Sebastian, obviously loved it, and wound up living here for a while. I vaguely remember someone saying that he had gone back to Germany, and had come back to San Sebastian again, and was about to get his Spanish passport. Sometimes my Spanish fails me, so I hope I got that right. There isn't much else I can say, other than from what I could gather, Frank's passing was quite sudden, and quite a shock to everyone.

We finished up dinner at the sidreria, and headed over to a bar called Hollywood, one of Frank's favourites, as was the sidreria. As we got to know each other a little better, I got the sense that those in attendance who knew Frank, felt honoured that two random travelers had taken time out of their vacation to be here tonight. But in actuality, it was I who felt completely honoured and touched that, as a traveling vagabond, I had the incredibly good fortune to meet such warm and caring people, and be given the opportunity to share in such a profound moment in their lives.

Never once was I made to feel like an outsider tonight; it actually felt like I was part of a tight-knit little family. I do enjoy the solitude of traveling solo, of being alone with my thoughts, and of knowing that temporarily, there's nobody to rely on but myself. This evening, I felt like I was part of something bigger, which is a concept that at times, is lost on me. The desire for solitude and self-reliance sometimes makes me forget how important, and necessary it is to experience that feeling of unity. It's almost a bit strange that, during a backpacking trip, something that should be a time of the greatest solitude, that I encountered something like that.

In the past, I've talked of transcendent moments, those epiphanies one can have that effect great change in your life, that forever remain in your memory, and perhaps identify the proper path to take in life. Transcendent moments are like fate speaking to you, but the message isn't always immediately clear - you need to figure out the message for yourself, later on. That realization could take moments, days, months ... or perhaps it never even happens. Sometimes the message is only to start looking, but exactly for what, you never know ... all this traveling I've done the past few years has all been the result of a couple of transcendent moments I experienced during my first time in Spain.

I still can't say I fully comprehend why I can't stop traveling, in fact, I'm far from reaching that point. In many ways, none of it makes sense to me, but it somehow feels like it's the right thing to do. Though sometimes I wonder, because constantly disappearing every five months in many ways holds me back, and prevents me from putting down any real roots, even though I've lived in Calgary my entire life. All these transcendent moments I've had along the way seem to be a little piece of the puzzle that will eventually lead me to the greater understanding of why I keep doing this.

Many times these moments take place in the unlikeliest of places, such as San Sebastian. And those transcendent moments I mentioned above that took place in Spain? One of them took place right here in San Sebastian, on Playa La Concha. San Sebastian and I have had a strange relationship ... I'd say that every time I have been here, I had been searching for something, and I've always managed to either find it here, or figure out the next stop on the journey to discovering it.

It really makes you wonder how other people perceive these moments and situations. What did Danny think of everything? Of course, not speaking a lick of Spanish, how could he even come close to finding any message, if indeed there was one? I guess that's how you know these moments are transcendent - if two people can be in the exact same situation, and only one of them finds any meaning in it, then it truly was a message from fate, at least for one of them.

One of the great joys of traveling is meeting people, and learning something of who they are. Tonight was an incredible opportunity to meet such a diverse group of people, one that had something very important in common on this unforgettable evening. There's David, an Irishman who has run hostels in San Sebastian for over ten years. I remember having a 2 AM chat with him last year about his future plans for the place, as he expressed a sentiment that he was fed up with many aspects of life in Spain, especially with the fact that in many ways, you are only scraping by, and not really getting ahead in life. I recall thinking “Hmmm ... maybe I can buy his hostel from him ...”

Alex later told me that David's been saying that same thing for the past ten years! Before coming to San Sebastian this year, I was quite happy to see that he was still in business. Hopefully he'll still be here when I return next year! Which brings us to Alex - she's planning on leaving San Sebastian soon, and heading back to the Camino again; Alex seems to have some personal reasons for wanting to do it again, and it's a great thing to see. I have no idea if she's religious or not, but for me it's never been a requisite to be able to have a spiritual, life-changing moment. Epiphanies can happen in many forms, for any type of person, provided they are open to seeing them. I can relate to that search for something with meaning, and I truly hope she finds it.

There was Belle who, from all outward appearances is the quintessential Spanish senorita – the only problem is, she's actually Australian! Her parents are Spanish, but have lived in Australia for many, many years. It was actually quite a trip talking to her, because when you see her, you don't expect her to have a Spanish accent! Like the countless Aussies that came here before her, and I'm sure all those that will come after, she fell in love with San Sebastian. Now she's living here and teaching English.

Belle's boyfriend Raul, is originally from a small town in Andalucia, but has lived in San Sebastian for a number of years. I found his story particularly interesting, as we discussed what his perception of Spanish life was. He loves life in San Sebastian (who wouldn't?), for many reasons that I won't get into – you just need to visit here for yourself to find out! But it sounds like he longs for a life back in small-town Andalucia, because life there is much simpler.

Raul used some terminology that I didn't understand, but he still managed to convey to me the sentiment – for all of San Sebastian's positive attributes, it's still a city driven more by money and the acquisition of possessions. Back in Andalucia, the people have much less, but are so incredibly content just to enjoy what they have, to enjoy life, and to enjoy the company of friends and family. Life in North America is great, with such a high standard of living, but sometimes the whole rat race, and the seemingly ever-present need to get a bigger house, a more luxurious car, and yet another unnecessary toy, becomes very tiresome. The things that Raul spoke of, are things I definitely wonder about myself.

And of course, there was Miguel – an older man who I believe is from San Sebastian and runs a popular hostel in town, who is hilarious, and wildly inappropriate. He made a number of jokes that could be deemed offensive by some, but is so irreverent and such a kind person at heart that you can't help but laugh. I laughed so hard that my stomach hurt when he told me “You can't be Chinese. I've never seen a Chino with skin as dark as yours before!” I found it so funny because truthfully, the only Chino I've ever seen with skin darker than mine, is when I look in the mirror after being in Spain!

Though Miguel is a bit of a character and a constant quipper, he can also be quite the eloquent speaker. When it came time to toast his friend Frank, Miguel had all the words that the other friends of Frank needed to hear. Beautiful and moving words ... it was a very fitting tribute to a fallen friend.

There were others with whom I didn't have as much of a chance to speak with – a couple of German guys now living in San Sebastian, a Russian-Spanish family, and a lady named Elena. Elena has this quiet, unassuming demeanour that is really quite disarming, and instantly makes you feel comfortable. I believe she's originally from San Sebastian.

As a traveler, tonight was a rare instance where everything you hope to gain out of the whole travel experience, but never are sure you will find, somehow comes to fruition. Travel is a profound and personal experience, but one that defies all expectations. You can never guarantee what you will find along the way; the only certainty is that you will find something, and it's generally something both beautiful and meaningful.

To be able to meet such a comprehensive cross section of Spanish life, and to do so in such an intimate and personal setting, is something I'll never forget, and something I'll always cherish. Tonight was a singular experience ... though I've spent much time in Spain over the years, never before has the beauty of this country, of its culture, and of its people, been so apparent. Seeing how something tragic pulled this group of friends together on this evening was a moving and powerful experience, and it provided a unique insight into how people perceive the value of life.

It's somewhat embarrassing to admit, but the only reason I've come to visit San Sebastian the past two years, is to hit up the tapas bars. It's funny how you go somewhere for trivial reasons, but end up finding something deeply meaningful. Times like this make me wish I was actually a writer and not just a silly blogger, because this blog entry has proven extremely difficult to write, which is not due to any lack of inspiration. As much as I try, I lack the words to even begin to describe what this evening was like, and its significance.

Back at the hostel, I drifted off to sleep with a feeling of peace and tranquility. One simple quote remained with me - that it is true, that you can judge a man by his friends. Still knowing nothing about Frank, he must have been an incredibly kind, caring, and compassionate man. I know this for only one simple reason - because I had a chance to meet the company that he kept.

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30th October 2009

Dear Silly Blogger What an excellent post! It is clear that you met some wonderful people that evening. I really appreciate reading the recollections of them. Describing people and what makes them tick is something I should do more of in
my blogs too. Enjoying reading your musings, keep them coming.R/

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