Posted on May 12, 2020
Watch Episode One here or skip to sections which interest you marked below.
A lot of us are getting through sheltering at home by meeting online with old friends. I thank God for technology that bashes through borders during a pandemic. Looking back at how we’ve navigated change in the past can transform how we handle new norms in the present and future. Being grounded for many has been grounding–even if what we know about an invisible enemy seems to shift every hour. In Nashville we’ve been saturated with spring storms and power outages. Worldwide we’re assaulted with staggering statistics of death tolls and unemployment. So I’m wondering…
How are we doing? Reassessing life’s meaning? Seeking a new job or career? A new life? Needing to reinvent ourselves again?
I’d planned to start a podcast this summer but decided to first launch as a YOUTUBE series since we’re home on computers more than commuting to work or traveling. Welcome to this first episode where we’ll travel to Spain and meet my friend, Monica Fernandez Chantada, master of reinvention and growth, who shows us how she and her country are dealing with months of pandemic lockdown, social distancing, and unemployment. Her journey from a Corporate Human Resources position to International Teacher to Camino de Santiago Tour Guide to Life Coach will inspire you as she shares coping tips, travel go-to places, and the beauty of her backyard. She explains how saying “Yes!” changes challenges into adventures and offers to teach you Spanish online.
Moni will walk us through her province of Galicia, Bucket List worthy for its mountains, coast, Celtic ruins, wine, and wonderful people. Through here pilgrims since the 9th century have traveled to the Cathedral in Santiago on the Camino or St. James’ Way–backdrop for the Martin Sheen movie (trailer below). We’ve walked three continents together and I’m still inspired by her journey and spirit. I think you will be, too.
If you’re planning a getaway for when the coast is clear and up for a Camino or stay in Galicia, check out options at Moni’s company, Spanish Steps, and/or stay in her home in Vigo where she’s a Superhost here.
0.00-3.30 “Travel People” Series Intro. “Come Run Away with Me” by Carole Edwards https://www.reverbnation.com/caroleed… Photography https://cindymccain.photoshelter.com/… and courtesy of Monica Fernandez Chantada
4:15 Meet Moni in beautiful Vigo and learn how Spaniards do Lockdown (started March 14)
6:20 Memories of Madrid: Attention chocolate lovers!
7:05 How Moni and I met in Nashville, Tennessee
9:30 Moni’s US Teaching and Traveling; Alaska, Peru, Mexico, Jamaica, and the Bahamas
11:00 The Wanderer Returns Home to Vigo
11:30 How to Reinvent a Life (Again) From Journalism to Working in Corporate Human Resources Job to Teaching Spanish is the US to Camino de Santiago Guide “I always say ‘Yes!’ Every challenge, I take it!”–Moni
13:30 Effect of Pandemic on 2020 Camino Tourism
14:00 Moni’s Call to Another Life, Spanish Financial Crisis, Realizing in India what she really wanted
15:30 Moni’s Mom’s Advice
17:20 Pandemic Effects on Finances and Family
20:00 How Emergency State in Spain differs from US Lockdown
22:30 Dealing with Solitary Confinement after divorce
25:43 Beautiful Vigo–My visit with Moni and Ale on St. John’sEve/Summer Solstice
26:28 Meeting Moni in Porto, Portugal
27:28 Cies Islands–one of my favorite travel experiences ever
28:30 Spain Photos from Other Journeys
29:37 Eating and Socializing in Spain
32:15 Toledo –Day trip from Madrid
34:40 Camino options based on distance, routes, fitness, purpose
40:08 Photos of Coastal Camino through Galicia; Pilgrims; Goals
45:40 My journeys with Moni: Morocco and Andalusia, Spain
49:22 Moni’s Other Travels for Growth ; Backpacking at 37 in India
50:20 Travel Deals Now
52:30 Moni’s Call; Nashville, Kenya, Japan, New Zealand. What’s on her Bucket List now Moni: “I’m rich because I have freedom.”
1:03:00 Healthcare in Spain
1:05:00 What Moni would tell a 20something daughter or her 20something self
1:06:00 Join Spain’s 8 PM Lockdown Celebration of Solidarity and Spirit
Posted on March 31, 2020
First and foremost, I pray for those fighting the Coronavirus around the world, families grieving loved ones, and all feeling global angst and loss. I pray for protection for those on the front lines, like my daughter and sister in patient care, first responders, and grocery store employees who are caring and kind. I pray for wisdom for researchers seeking a vaccine, leaders around the world, all of us facing something so frightening, evasive, new.
COVID-19 has stolen income. It has postponed or cancelled lifelong dreams. Instead of graduation and milestone birthday celebrations with families… honeymoon dinners in piazzas… spring break escapes overlooking azure seas, we are on lockdown–many in solitary seclusion– practicing social distancing. We never dreamed going to the grocery (for those of us able) would be our only “getaway” where we hold our breath, swerve to miss other shoppers, and shake our heads at empty shelves.
March 2020 proved a 19th century proverb wrong–the one that says if the month comes in like a lion it will go out like a lamb. Tornados ripped through Nashville March 3 and made global headline news. Since then COVID-19 has ravaged much of the US and the world.
I started the month trying three times to outrun the outbreak. When my travel blogging conference in Sicily was cancelled last minute (thankfully, given the crisis that hit full force a week later), I considered using my connecting flight to New York City and spending spring break there. When the Coronavirus was reported there, I booked a flight to Florida but canceled within 24 hours because they were being hit, too. For most of us, there’s nowhere else to run and home is the only place to hide.
The university classes I teach have gone remote for the rest of the year, and with no more commuting, I have more time and technology to be in touch with those I love. I’ve traveled via books and movies which I suggested here, and I’ve discovered some new music that sweeps me away.
I’ve remembered teaching English in a small village in Italy one summer and my own childhood where families ate hot lunches together in the middle of the day. I’ve been cooking more and through food, music, and memories returning to some of my favorite places. It started when I cancelled birthday reservations at an Irish pub and made my first corned beef brisket at home.
For almost three weeks I’ve gone nowhere except to buy groceries and my birthday present– plants for my patio — knowing it would become my home office and world. Spring rains have made everything I see Ireland-green grass and pink blooming trees. As the bulbs push through soil in Italy-blue pots around me, and the natural world comes back to life again, I’m reminded daily to trust God who sees what I can’t… knows what I don’t.
But this I do know. Neighbors I’d never seen before have come out of their homes. They are walking and playing as families six-feet away. They smile, wave, and nod at Ella (my yellow lab mix) and me. The world–once a blur of motion– has slowed down for many and the value of health, relationships, connection has come sharper into focus.
Several of these ingredients are used in more than one dish. I shop multiple groceries–especially now when some shelves are bare–but have linked to Whole Foods and Amazon Fresh organic products for health and convenience. Those with Amazon Prime can get groceries delivered free–important to many during self-quarantine but also a reason why they may be out of some of these products periodically and locations/terms of delivery may change.
Disclosure: SouthernGirlGoneGlobal has an affiliate relationship with Amazon. If you make a purchase from an Amazon link in this post, I will receive a small commission which does not affect your cost but helps a bit to keep this blog going.
One more thing…I’m also a big believer in improvisation. While living in Morocco without a car and some ingredients I needed for recipes, I learned to substitute or do without. When I wanted to make clam chowder, one of my go-to comfort foods, I couldn’t find clams. No worries–I used shrimp which were plentiful and inexpensive. Thankfully my grandmother taught me that cooking isn’t an exact science. It’s “a little of this, a little of that.”
With the right music while cooking… a dance in the kitchen… and a pretty place setting (pun intended), we can exhale calm. We can taste escape… and hope.
Playlist: Music to wake you up and want to dance on Amazon
My first trip to Europe was with my students in the early 90s, a Grand Tour of England, France, Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. Standing on my balcony in the Swiss Alps between snow-capped peaks and Lake Lucerne, I drew in a long breath of cool, clean air to the jingle of cowbells. I wondered later as I climbed under the crisp, white down duvet if I’d stay warm enough–it was so lightweight!–but I did and have slept under nothing since. I met the group in the regal dining room the next morning where sunlight streamed through large windows spotlighting a sumptuous spread. We’d been told we’d have only “continental breakfasts” on our tour so not to expect eggs, bacon and biscuits, staples in the southern US. In London we’d had dinner rolls every morning, in Paris croissants served with butter and jam. But in Switzerland at a hotel/hospitality training school, waiters in white served fresh fruit, marmalade, and plates of delicious cheeses and cold meats– sausages, salami, hams. It was the beginning of a love affair I still have with charcuterie served anytime of day.
Spanish Guitar and Pablo Segovia Gardel on Amazon Music and Soundtrack of Vicky Cristina Barcelona on Spotify
Above: Sangria with lunch here
If you have shifted to a later sleeping/waking schedule, you can imagine you are in Spain. There breakfast starts around 10 AM, lunch at 2 PM, tapas (appetizers) and drinks late afternoon/early evening, and dinner at 10 PM. I love the food culture, climate, people from Vigo to Madrid , across Andalusia and Catalonia … everything about Spain.
Cut brussel sprouts in half and place on a roasting pan. Sprinkle with minced garlic (3-4 cloves), salt, and paprika, then drizzle with olive oil. Back at 400 degrees about 20 minutes or until tender. Pair. with Spanish wine or sangria (recipe below).
Playlist: Morocco, Traditional Music Around the World and Berber Musicians of Morocco on Spotify
In Morocco, I taught at the American School of Marrakesh which had no cafeteria. Students’ hot lunches were delivered by drivers or they packed cold ones as I did. All produce was organic and sold in the grocery markets, hanuts (Moroccan form of minute markets) and on fruit and vegetable carts. Fresh produce coupled with having no car and walking everywhere made me feel more fit than ever. Lunches were salads and clementines ( peeled and eaten like candy or sliced and sprinkled with cinnamon). Oranges, lemons, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and mint for tea (or for expats, mojitos 🙂 were available year-round.
(Left) Strawberries in season, avocado, and balsamic vinegar
(Right) Sliced Tomatoes, Green Peppers, and Cucumbers with Vinegar and Olive Oil.
These guys are ubiquitous in Morocco, found in bowls on restaurant tables beside loaves of bread. At school, the elementary teachers loved the shade of the olive trees at recess but had to keep watch over students tempted to pelt each other with olives. I’ve thought a lot lately about a Thanksgiving spent at Peacock Pavillions when Maryam Montague decorated the table with olive branches, symbols of simplicity and peace. She spoke about another global crisis–that of refugees and displaced people groups.
A tagine is a traditional dish named for the the clay pot in which vegetables, fruits, and meats are cooked on a stovetop or open fire. It is loved for its savory-sweetness in modest homes, restaurants, and palaces throughout the country. I ate lamb, chicken, and vegetarian tagines with friends from Marrakesh (where our favorite waiter at Chez Joel and favorite manager at Riad Mur Akush uncovered the dish with ceremonious flair) to the Sahara desert gathered on the ground family-style in a Berber tent.
While living in Marrakesh I made only one tagine because my housekeeper, Sayida, made the dish for me often. I did enjoy the lesson at the La Maison Arabe Cooking School, and when a former student and friend visited me, they enjoyed learning from the ladies at the Amal Center. Last week I craved comfort, so I made my first tagine unsupervised. Sayida would probably roll her eyes at me with a grin, but I spiced it up and loved it.
Spray or rub lightly the inside of the crockpot with olive oil. Layer vegetables in the bottom of the crockpot. Place meat (optional) and prunes on top. Mix seasonings with garlic, tomato paste, and broth, then pour over all.
The best couscous I’ve ever had was at Riad Hikaya. Making it like they do is on my Cooking Bucket List.
Playlist: French and Italian Cooking Music (one of my favorites of all time) on Sptofiy
Boil the pasta. Saute the anchovy paste and garlic in hot, melted butter and oil in a saute pan. Cook for 2 minutes and add 2 Tablespoons of pasta water. Add tomatoes and cook until they pop. Drain pasta and mix with other ingredients in a saute pan. Add shrimp and red pepper flakes (if desired) and parsley until all is heated through.
*For another easy, super-fast pasta dish, mix a jar of pesto and 8 ounces of pasta. Eat hot or cold.
Heat 1 T olive oil over medium-high heat. Cook onion until soft for about 2 minutes. Add carrots and celery, then garlic. Add a splash of wine if desired. Cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add beans, tomatoes, and stock. Simmer, covered, until vegetables are tender (about 10- 15 minutes).
If the only recipe or ritual you take from this post is to peel an orange and let its juicy goodness run down your wrist while sitting in a spot of sunlight… mission accomplished. From Elizabeth Gilbert, a woman who inspired me to make the leap and live abroad… a word on the art of cooking and eating from her Eat, Pray, Love…
There’s another wonderful Italian expression: l’arte d’arrangiarsi—the art of making something out of nothing. The art of turning a few simple ingredients into a feast, or a few gathered friends into a festival. Anyone with a talent for happiness can do this, not only the rich…
I walked home to my apartment and soft-boiled a pair of fresh brown eggs for my lunch. I peeled the eggs and arranged them on a plate beside the seven stalks of the asparagus (which were so slim and snappy they didn’t need to be cooked at all). I put some olives on the plate, too, and the four knobs of goat cheese I’d picked up yesterday from the formaggeria down the street, and two slices of pink, oily salmon. For dessert—a lovely peach, which the woman at the market had given to me for free and which was still warm from the Roman sunlight. For the longest time I couldn’t even touch this food because it was such a masterpiece of lunch, a true expression of the art of making something out of nothing. Finally, when I had fully absorbed the prettiness of my meal, I went and sat in a patch of sunbeam on my clean wooden floor and ate every bite of it, with my fingers, while reading my daily newspaper article in Italian. Happiness inhabited my every molecule.
And as Easter, time of rebirth, nears, my prayer for us all is…
May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope!–Romans 15:13
Posted on June 5, 2018
Madrid is a proud city—from colossal buildings of monumental magnificence to curious culinary corners where locals gather. While living in The Dominican Republic, I quickly noticed the neighborhood’s most precious food imports were from Spain, sangria was sipped in cafes daily, and the local families I knew traveled to the Mothership often—a rite of passage of a hallowed heritage.
Though I’ve enjoyed eating in Madrid on previous solo trips, this time I went with the pros—Devour Madrid —and am so glad I did. As promised, on the Tapas, Taverns, & History Tour I learned more about the capital’s history, ate my weight in four family-run- century-old tapas bars, and walked and talked it off with an amazing guide, Eduardo Munoz, and some very nice people.
At 6:30 we met at Plaza de la Villa– Medieval landmark/former seat of Madrid’s city government and site of The Casa de Cisneros, built in 1537 by the nephew of Cardinal Cisneros, advisor to Queen Isabel. By the time we parted four hours later, I’d met new friends—a couple from Arizona, another from outside London, a mom and son from North Carolina, and a woman from Washington, DC who also enjoys solo travel.
At our first stop, we enjoyed jamón ibérico de bellota and cured meats from several Spanish regions. As a southern girl who lived two years in Morocco with almost no pork available, I was in “country ham” heaven. We also enjoyed cava (similar to France’s Champagne) and award-winning organic olive oils.
We each had to try drinking wine the traditional way. The no-spill secret was to pour into the mouth without hesitation, then extend the arm fully to allow a steady stream.
On we walked to the Royal Palace (above) and Plaza Mayor (below).
Posted on June 15, 2017
In seven days this Southern Girl Gone Global Goes Home. After living in Morocco and The Dominican Republic for the last three years, I’m excited to return to Nashville–a city I love–where StyleBlueprint is bringing women together locally and globally. Recently I described in the article above my adventure in Gorgeous Galicia with old friends, Moni and Ale, who I met in Music City years ago. Today they teach English, host an Airbnb, and are El Camino de Santiago guides. Below are additional photos of our time together in Portugal and Spain.
If you are interested in seeing this area for yourself, meeting new people, and doing the Camino with us in 2018, email me at email@example.com for more details.
Posted on February 13, 2016
When in doubt, just take the next small step.
–Paulo Coelho, The Pilgrimage
Whether wanting to explore Spain (and other countries’ roads that lead there), pursue a personal dream, ponder in peace, practice wellness through hiking or yoga, learn language, hear stories from travelers around the world, Spanish Steps leads the way in offering options. I fell in love with Spain last year, and experiencing that gorgeous country with Spanish Steps is now high on my Bucket List.
After hiking with Mònica Fernàndez, a talented Spanish and English teacher, through her native region of Galicia, in Southern Spain, and in the Sahara, I am excited to learn she will co-lead tours below with other dedicated members of Owner Judy Colaneri’s Spanish Steps staff including co-guiding with her husband, Alessandro Martinez, October 12-19.
All Camino tour dates in Spain, France, and Italy can be found here. Tours fill up fast so if interested take the step that leads to more here.
May 12-19, September 4-11, October 12-19 Camino 100
May 29-June 5 Camino Portuguese
June 6-12 Camino Finisterre
June 25-July 2 Walk & Talk at Fuentes de Lucía
Posted on August 20, 2015
For more on the beauty of Girona and the Costa Brava Coast, see my 5-Part Series (links below) and go here for more information.
Discovering Costa Brava: Spain’s Medieval Coast, Part I
Discovering Costa Brava’s Medes Islands, Part II
Discovering Costa Brava’s Bounty, Part III
Cycling Through Costa Brava’s Medieval Villages, Part IV
Discovering Costa Brava, Part V
Posted on June 25, 2015
He will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair.–Isaiah 61:3
Trust your heart if the seas catch fire; live by love though the stars walk backward.—E. E. Cummings
Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
When I met my friend, Monica, in Nashville many years ago, she invited me to her hometown, Vigo, Spain. She visited me last fall in Morocco, and I met Alessandro and her in Tarifa in March, but I saved my visit to their city for this week. I wanted to be here on June 23 for La Noche de San Juan (St. John’s Eve). This year it finally happened. As we picnicked in the sand before bonfires blazing, flames dancing to the tide’s tempo, I joined a celebration observed throughout Spain and in much of Europe and Latin America– a night to remember and release what we need to forget.
St. John’s Eve and Day June 24 commemorates the birth of John the Baptist, born six months before Jesus that first Christmas. John said he baptized Christ with water but his cousin would baptize believers with fire and the Holy Spirit. The event of water and fire coincides with Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year, which begins my favorite season—summer—a time of freedom. In Italy celebration for Saint John, patron saint of Genoa, Florence and Turin, lasts from July 21-24. Likewise, last Saturday when Monica and I met in Porto, Portugal, the city was starting what some say is the world’s biggest celebration with live music echoing through the hills surrounding the Douro River.
Posted on May 29, 2015
The best thing for being sad…is to learn something…That’s the only thing that never fails… That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting…Learn why the world wags and what wags it…Look what a lot of things there are to learn.― Merlyn to Arthur, T. H. White, The Once and Future King
Plunge boldly into the thick of life, and seize it where you will; it is always interesting.— Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
A secret buried beneath the floor, a scene from Ghost (though first it felt more Lucille Ball than Demi Moore),dungeons and dragons, and a magical meal. I expected beauty and adventure from Costa Brava but was surprised by Catalonia’s hidden treasures, creativity and community.
When exactly St. John of Bellcaire (Sant Joan) was built is a mystery given the Roman exterior but nave’s architecture which dates earlier. For the whole story on churches and history in the area, free lance expert Nik Duserm (below) is the guide to get.
Beneath its floor lies the remains of a Roman temple built before Christian missionaries came to Spain. We were invited to explore the ancient base in the earth’s belly.
The parking lot outside was built on a former cemetery. Though the remains were supposed to have been moved, it is thought that human bones are mixed in the gravel.
Around the corner and up the hill is the 13th century Bellcaire Castle. Within are government offices and the Parish Church.
Always remember, it’s simply not an adventure worth telling if there aren’t any dragons.--Sarah Ban Breathnach
War, famine, and floods once plagued the area, but proud of their survival, locals now share stories of their ancestors’ tenacity.
Above, behind the houses of Bellcaire under fog is the Montgri castle (below). Feudal lords from both castles kept an eye on the sea and each other for attacks.
At La Bisbal, capital of Emporda, Girona bishops lived and ruled. Touring the castle of a Medieval Square, tourists learn history and see education in action–children’s artwork displayed.
During the Spanish Civil War, the castle was a prison. Above is the dungeon. A region known for wine, below is where wine was made within the castle.
Where I create, there I am true. —Rainer Maria Rilke
At the School of Ceramics of La Bisbal we were shown how to take a spin on a potter’s wheel.
A man practices the art of adventure when he breaks the chain of routine and renews his life through reading new books, traveling to new places, making new friends, taking up new hobbies and adopting new viewpoints. — Wilfred Peterson
Our amazing trip culminated with our last night together at Mas Masaller, a 13th century farmhouse owned by Joan and Marta, veterans in the restaurant industry. They offer half-board (European for breakfast, bed, and dinner) and picnic lunches on order. A decade ago I fell in love with agriturismos in Italy and escaped yearly, my first solo travel experiences, to a B and B called The Edgeworth Inn in Monteagle, Tennessee. The iron bed and quilts reminded me of their and my home. Being at Mas Masaller with a group was fun; we watched soccer in the living room, then laughed around the huge table at dinner.
After a delicious salad, Cocina de la Tierra, greens picked from the garden that day and cooked with sausage (what we call “country sausage” in Kentucky and Tennessee), was served. Seasoned and smoky, it was the best vegetable dish I’ve had since moving abroad last August.
It was so good we assumed it was the main course. When Marta (below) brought out a huge kettle of chicken and we told her, she said of her husband, Chef Joan, “Not in this house! We have to have plenty of food.”
Joan also showed us how to drink the local wine properly.
So Nick tried.
And then there were four…desserts. A fitting end to a sweet trip!
The closest airports to Costa Brava are Girona (GRO) or, farther south, Barcelona (BCN).
If you missed Parts I-IV of this series, check them out for more details on what Girona has to offer at links below:
Thank you to Catalunya, Costa Brava Pirineu de Girona, and El Consell Comarcal del Baix Empordà for an amazing stay and introduction to all Costa Brava offers! Note to readers: the opinions on this 5-Part series are all my own. I recommend only travel experiences, destinations, services, accommodations, and restaurants I personally enjoy and would love to revisit.
Posted on May 28, 2015
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”—St. Augustine
No history text or virtual tour can compare to cycling through Medieval hill towns in a land where BC structures and prehistoric cave paintings remain. Nor can a classroom feel like wind tangling my hair, smell like lavender abuzz with bees, or taste like fresh bread in an olive grove. Such was my escape to Emporda, Spain.
Each time I leave the classroom to travel–to breathe history, literature, life–I return a better teacher.
I”ll never forget finally touching the wall William the Conqueror built in 1066, commencing the Medieval age of castles, chivalry, and courtly love. Homer and Sophocles were beside me when I climbed a hill in Athens to the Parthenon and roamed the Coliseum in Rome. As a teen I’d studied about partygod Bacchus and Christian Paul. But blushing at pornographic paintings in Pompeii VS standing in an amphitheater in Ephesus where the latter preached faith over religion made what I know to be true feel even more real.
Last month while in Catalonian countryside, I saw a wall older than all but one of the ancient edifices I’ve experienced. Built only one century after Delphi’s Temple of Apollo, Ullastret was the first Iberian establishment raised in 6th century BC in Girona.
In the following centuries, as Romans, Visogoths, and Muslims invaded, more walls, castles and towers would be raised for protection from attack.
Sentries watched for pirates, but even when the coast was clear, in the wetlands below marshes bred malaria which claimed lives. Today, Costa Brava still isn’t tame though locals no longer fight to survive. It is a place of adventure and natural beauty. Here one can thrive and feel alive.
Rather than a trusty steed, I powered through stone villages and past poppy fields on a burricleta, an electric bicycle named for its burro-like benefit of providing horsepower to handle high altitudes.
We began our journey (see our route here) in Gualta.
First stop was a famous bridge, rutted from wagon wheels.
We pedaled our way through Fontclara, Sant Feliu de Boada, Peratallada, and other towns. Five hours later we parked for lunch in Pals.
Posted on May 23, 2015
Posted on May 21, 2015
I’ve been asked how I had the courage to move to an African country I’d never seen. The short answer is, “It felt right.” Putting on a scuba mask, however, never has. Dodging cobras in the square while being chased by henna hustlers is my new norm. Breathing through a tube still isn’t. I’d snorkeled in Florida and Honolulu, and though the mask made me feel smothered, I knew if I panicked, my flippers could plant firmly in the sand. Not so this time.
The air temperature was 65 degrees and I knew the water would be cold.
After stuffing, then zipping myself into my wetsuit and posing for pics,
the girl who slowly lowers herself into pools in 108 degree weather in Morocco dreaded plunging into the freezing sea.
“Hold your mask, count, and on 3, step off,” I was instructed. I was a kid again on my neighbor’s diving board trying to get the nerve to jump. Almost every time, I’d climb down, walk to the ladder, and lower myself into the pool. But I’d come too far–not because we’d driven from Lloret–but because living abroad started with a solo trip to Costa Rica. I’d called it my No Fear tour. I’d learned over the last nine months that the real No Fear tour isn’t a trip; it’s a long journey called life.
One, two, go.
As water rushed into my sleeves and up my arms, members of the group shared support, body heat, and a floating ring if needed. I’d spent the last ten months keeping my head above water, a fish out of water, a mermaid in Marrakesh. In Puerto Viejo I’d finally floated on my back without my feet sinking… by relaxing. Face up, I’d smiled at the sun. This time, if I wanted to see beauty, I had to relax, but with my head down, submerged in a world where I can’t breathe.
I stopped fighting the waves with my fins. I depended on the mouthpiece, the tube, and my arms to keep me afloat. I relaxed, listened to my breath, and I looked. I released the ring, knowing I could swim. I could breathe. A school of grouper and a meadow of sea grass waved me on.
Check out the fabulous blogs by my expat friends living in the UK and the Netherlands: Shobha, of Just Go Places, and Rachel, of Rachel’s Ruminations.
Posted on May 16, 2015
Adventure, beauty, relationship…basic human desires. All were met recently exploring Spain’s Costa Brava (Wild Coast). Between Barcelona and Jimmy Buffett’s Coast of Marseilles, I snorkeled in open waters, biked through Medieval hill towns, and laughed over meals and a pottery wheel with bloggers from Canada, the US, and Europe.
I’m a romantic. I’ve always loved the Middle Ages and the sea. My first fling in Spain in 2009 made me a Gaudi Girl, but this spring I fell in love with the country’s beaches. I also value independence, freedom. So when I received an invitation to “Discover the Medieval Coast,” a sponsored trip to familiarize travel writers with Catalonia, Spain’s autonomous community, this castle-craving pirate princess was on the boat ready to ride.
Day One began with feeling all Game of Thrones on a walking tour of Lloret de Mar. The former fishing town with Iberian and Roman ruins was transformed by fortunes made in Spanish-ruled Cuba and was site of the 2015 European TBEX held days earlier. We followed the seaside promenade to 11th century Castle of Sant Joan, defense against sea attacks. Though all but the tower was destroyed in 1805 by the British navy battling Spain and France, I climbed along the wall, each turn a new view of waves crashing into coves and crags below.
Once perched at the peak, I remembered Madeleine L’Engle’s words about artists–fitting since Catalonia is the land of free spirits Dali, Picasso, and Gaudi. But since all of us are creations and creators of our own lives, they speak to moments when we face powerful forces. For this expat writer they are so true:
Artists have always been drawn to the wild, wide elements they cannot control or understand–the sea, the mountains, fire. To be an artist means to approach the light, and that means to let go our control, to allow our whole selves to be placed with absolute faith in what which is greater than we are.