The Rain in Spain [DOES NOT] Stay Mainly on the Plain
sobremesa n. (Spanish) The period of time after a meal when you have food induced conversations with the people you have shared a meal with.
My mother and I often joke about how a dark rain cloud follows us around. When you’ve been through as much in life as we have, you learn to make light of it through jokes such as that. Yet never we did take our words as having literal value… Until this trip. While the weather in Seville had toyed with us, sprinkling here and there just enough to be an annoyance, it held off for the most part. Yet no sooner did our train pull into Malaga when the rain began. The walk from the train station to the hostel was thus not made by two human females but rather two blue and purple blobs of raincoats, which essentially became our permanent outfits for the next three days. I especially looked runway stellar with my sky blue rain coat rigged around my backpack to protect my extremely expensive lightweight down sleeping bag strapped to the outside of it instead of my body. Skin dries, down doesn’t. And so, looking like something of a cross between Quasimodo meets Blue Man Group, I set off into the heart of Malaga, a city entirely new to me.
When we reached a place called the Pink House, our home for the next three days, we entered the pink (imagine that) building happy to be out of the rain. After checking in, we were pleased to find only a couple other girls staying in our bunkrooom, two of whom happened to be permanent residents as they essentially ran the place. One of the girls was Dutch and turned out to be quite the little spitfire, as we discovered when she jumped at another guest for taking up the entire power strip in the kitchen so that I couldn’t even boil water for tea. A bit later, we couldn’t help but overhear a not-so-subtle argument she had with her boyfriend (I think?) over the phone where she yelled about how she hated him with the fire of a thousand suns. Naturally, I liked her. Shortly after first arriving, however, she informed us that Malaga rarely ever rained. It was famous for its perpetually beautiful weather. In fact, in the eight months she had been working there, she said it rained maybe ten times. It would rain four days straight while we were there. Of course.
I regret not being able to see Malaga in its true glory. Our hostel even had a retractable roof over the communal kitchen that usually stayed open during the days. For our stay, it was ugly white plastic overhead instead of blue skies. At least the rest of the kitchen was interesting to look at, covered wall to wall in various doodles and scribbles by those who had once temporarily called the Pink House home. The walls themselves were a canvas of art and literature, permanent proof left by those who exist in impermanent states. For the perpetual wanderer, it’s nice to have a place on which you can leave proof of your existence. Before my mother and I left, we made sure to follow suit and leave important pieces of ourselves behind for the next wayward traveller to find: a piece of Butte from my mother and the words of Chris McCandless from me. Thus I continue my tradition of spreading his philosophy wherever I go.
One thing about my mother and I is that we never let a little rain deter us, either literally or metaphorically. Our strength has always been in our ability to weather the worst storms, even if only by hunkering down and clinging to each other. This trip has been no exception. Despite the rain clouds darkening the city my mother and I have attempted to get out and make the most of this rare experience anyway. Thus, after settling into our hostel, we set off to do some late night exploring in the city, because that always seems to work so well for us. Thankfully, Malaga is infinitely easier to understand and in fact the street design is so intuitive that our map was hardly necessary, unlike the Seville one we became utterly and entirely dependent upon. Even better, there were restaurants everywhere so hangry Amber need not make an appearance. Now, our method of restaurant selection is odd to say the least. We are perhaps the most picky, non-picky people in existence. Both indecisive without any clear aim of what we want, our decisions are often driven by instinct and impulse, which probably explains a lot of the dumb and reckless things we tend to do. When it comes to making simple decisions, it can leave us wandering for hours, both claiming we don’t care where we eat but then making unsubtle “meh”s of disapproval at each passing establishment. Thankfully, in Malaga, the number of restaurants was so great that even our indecision couldn’t keep us from food for very long.
Our first night, we settled on a little (I keep describing these places as little because that is a rare quality to be desired in America but here it is the norm- every place is small) restaurant right down the street from the hostel where we immediately ordered a couple tapas and main dishes to share, and two large red wine lemonades. I might note that each of these were 3€ for at least double the amount you would get in the states for twice as much money. Our first tapa came right away and we dug in, starving as we have gotten into the habit of only really eating breakfast and dinner. This is a huge shift for someone such as myself used to eating a variety of small snacks throughout the day as opposed to any one large meal. Yet after the first dish was delivered, everything went downhill. Fifteen minutes passed and still no sign of our other dishes. Fifteen minutes turned into thirty and we had seen neither hide nor hair of our server and we started to wonder what was wrong. So here’s the thing about the Spanish: they are incredibly nice people, which is probably what makes Spain one of my favorite places I have ever visited. The entire country is like small-town Montana and I adore it. However, they are SLOW and I mean slower than me as a distance runner slow. Their attitude is so laid back that a single dining experience can take hours. At the end of the meal, you can sit for hours before they bring you the check. I’ve gotten much less shy about asking for “la cuenta”. Coming from a country where everything is rushed, expedited, immediate, that can be quite the culture shock. Even look at fast food restaurants. America is full of them but here you’ll only catch the occasion McChoke and Puke. Despite the fact that I am a very high strong and impatient person, I can still handle waiting. It’s not something I’m wholly unused to, having lived with my mother for 18 years, but The last three years of living on my own and answering to no one have spoiled me in that regard. The most difficult aspect of this very slow dining atmosphere, however, is the impossibility in gauging the difference between when you are actually forgotten and when they are just being slow, which is why my mother and I ended up waiting about an hour, progressively getting more and more annoyed and considering just leaving, before our server finally reappeared and we got the nerve to ask, “Donde nos comidas?” As he found out we had yet to receive any of our other food, he started yelling back at the other servers confirming that someone had messed up and we were indeed forgotten. Fortunately, the rest of our food came in short order, unfortunately, we did not receive any complimentary glass of wine to make up for the inconvenience. C’est la vie.
I, however, am I firm believer in finding positive lessons in negative experiences and from that night, I realized just how important good service is. Sometimes as a waitress, you can’t help but question what you’re doing with your life and the fact that the rest of society seems to use your job as a criterion to make the same judgment doesn’t help. In all truth, I really like waitressing and realistically for one who wants to be a travel writer, I know I’ll have to do a lot of it in my life. That’s okay with me. It neither demeans my education nor my accomplishments and that is something I have spent the last few years learning. Yet nights like this particular one really affirm that service is important to the dining experience. That night, we were treated rudely and utterly forgotten about, which ruined a portion of our evening and I take comfort in knowing I have never (rightfully) been the reason a person has left a restaurant angrily. That seems pretty egoistical of me but I pride myself on my ability to always smile and act cheerfully at my tables, no matter how terribly they treat me, because I know that I am at least doing everything in my power to make their night better. The rest is up to them.
Rant over and back to our story. Despite our ridiculous dining experience, the night was far from a total waste. After paying our check, we wandered around the dark damp streets of Malaga, reveling in the orange street lamps reflecting off wet cobblestone and the luminescent churches that stood out like beacons against the black sky. Sometime amid our aimless wanderings, we were approached by a man in a suit standing outside a hopping little bar and pulled inside by the promise of a free flamenco show. It turns out, it wasn’t a full flamenco show but rather a performance of flamenco music (so we were not entirely lied to). The music was provided by two Spanish men, both incredible guitar players, who looked about as opposite as Jasper and Horace in 101 Dalmatians. The main singer was a large man with a powerful voice and the backup guitarist was a short little guy whom I couldn’t look at without thinking, “Billy Ramon got his mullet back.” Despite our initial reservations, the night ended up being incredibly fun, as almost everyone inside the cramped bar got involved in the music, whether it be through dancing, singing along, you name it. I love music because you don’t need to understand the words to enjoy it. Music is a language all its own and so even though we couldn’t understand much more than the occasional word, my mother and I were swaying along as if we were regulars. One day I can see myself being one.
The next started out pretty terribly, as our hopes at seeing the solar eclipse were quite literally dampened by the dark rain clouds overhanging the city. Still we made an effort to enjoy ourselves and ventured into the rain to explore. We made it about as far as the covered market, a vast sprawl of odd booths filled with fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, spices, nuts, and cheeses. Our breakfast that morning simply considered of various fruits we bought and tried from these booths. Yet the minute we went to leave the market, we entered a torrent of rain that soaked even through our raincoats within five minutes. Wet, cold, and miserable, we returned to the hostel to dry out. The rest of our afternoon was spent in solitude on our bunks, both grumpy about the weather and the fact that we were very far behind in our blogging and journaling.
By mid afternoon, I was going stir crazy and decided I wanted a tattoo because nothing says boredom like permanent ink. The decision was not entirely random, however. It was my intention to get another on this trip in general and what better day to spend inside having needles stabbed into your skin than a day like this. My mother, being the incredibly cool mom that she is, agreed and off we went to a tattoo parlor down the street. When we got there, however, we found it closed for a couple hours for the traditional Spanish siesta. Since the rain had momentarily ceased, we kept wandering to kill time until they reopened and eventually found ourselves at an old outdoor Roman theater. As things go, one thing led to another and exploring the theater led us to new churches, new shops, and new streets. Before we knew it, night had fallen and our stomachs told us it was time for dinner. After a bit of deliberation, we settled on a restaurant that promised us a free bottle of wine with a 22€ dish of paella (rice, vegetables, and some sort of meat which ended up being shellfish in our case) for two. They had us a “free wine”. One bottle of white wine, a free appetizer, and a giant pan of paella later, we practically rolled out the door and back to our hostel for the night. Alas, I never ended up getting my tattoo, but tattoo parlors are constant and much the same wherever you go. Another day.
On our second and last full day in Malaga we awoke to (you guessed it) rain! After taking our time getting ready, hoping it would give the rain a chance to let up, we eventually gave up and wandered out into it in search of food. Funny how food will drive a man into even the most undesirable conditions. On the way, my mother and I did what we do best: get distract by shopping. Naturally we each bought a couple cheap items despite the fact that we barely had the room to carry what we already had. Granted, my new sweater was practical, a purchase driven sheerly by the fact that I had spent the last three days cold and wet with not nearly enough warm clothes. Unfortunately, practicality and justifications don’t count as negative pounds. Our packs were steadily growing like the monster of capitalism and like both, I’m becoming crushed beneath the weight on my back. Yet directly after a breakfast of simple but delicious tostadas, something that had become a staple in our diet here, we immediately returned to the hostel wet and cold yet again where I immediately donned my new sweater.
Luckily enough, the afternoon brought a break in the rain and, dare I believe my eyes, blue sky! Seizing the opportunity, we left the hostel in the direction of the beach. On the way, I couldn’t help but notice how odd of a city Malaga is. Generally, after spending some time exploring a city, you get a feel for the vibe of it, if you will. Each city has a certain feel, a certain aesthetic. Malaga destroys all notions of conformity and consistency, as different from one street to the next as Glenside is to Cheltenham. Our hostel itself seemed to sit in a focal point between a polished and busy shopping district, a quaint historic sector, and a shady trash heap, in which my mom and I are quite sure we witness a drug deal. As one approaches the beach, only about 20 minutes from the hostel, the city once again transforms into a very ritzy resort town, walled with high rise condos and five star hotels on one side, and piers of yachts bigger than my house on the other. Being low season, however, we were happy to find this area and the beach rather unpopulated.
Thus for the next two hours, we wandered the beach, poking along and collecting a vast array of seashells. Both my mother and I collected rocks when we were younger and it seems as though the habit is hard to break. In fact, our collecting became problematic when our pockets were bulging and shells were still piled in our hands, leading us on a desperate search for a plastic bag. Fortunately for us, unfortunately for the environment, plastic bags are not exactly rare finds on beaches and soon my mother had a brand new plastic bag to fill with heavy shells. I managed to keep my collection of pearlescent oyster shells and bright pink fan shells to my now sulphur scented pockets alone. Eventually I forced myself to quit, knowing I didn’t have any spare room to collect more shells. Hell, I didn’t have spare rooms for the ones I had already collected. Still, looking at mother’s rapidly growing plastic bag of large heavy shells from which she hoped to make wind chimes, I felt infinitely better. In such cases, I’m glad crafting talent is one of the few things I did not inherit from her. As I quit collecting, I instead took up the hobby of watching my mother instead, head down, butt up, happy as a clam. Occasionally, the shells would lead her blindly too close to the shore and I received the pleasure of watching her attempt to escape the tide crashing up to her. For some reason, she refused to remove her shoes. Mine were gone within the first minute of stepping foot onto sand. There are few feelings I love more than that of sand between my toes. When I wasn’t watching my mother, I was watching the various dogs and their owners along the beach, barking at the waves and timidly prancing in the surf. One thing I’ve noticed in my time here is that this country loves dogs and therefore I love this country. Dogs are everywhere, never on leashes, and yet so well behaved. You’d think after seeing enough of something we have at home I’d stop yelling “Dog!” every time I pass one on the street but nope.
The hours passed like minutes on the beach but eventually our good luck of nice weather vanished as dark clouds once again approached and drove us toward home, but not before we stopped and had a beer along their pier, watching the rare nubile sun sink below the horizon of palm trees and cathedral towers. It was after these beers we realized we hadn’t eaten all day, and, giggling, wobbled ever so slightly toward home and a dinner of salmon and spaghetti, seashells rattling the entire way. While the rain eventually returned and remained for our walk to the train station the next morning, we were grateful for the near perfect beach break it granted us, which allowed us to leave Malaga feeling as though we had still made the most of our time despite the elements working against us. My mother holds strong in that respect, just as we must now physically do with the added pounds of seashells in our packs. I can’t help but wonder what completely unnecessary but impulsive thing we’ll gain next.
In other news, my cold is coming back… You know, the one that hung on for like a month anyway. Not that it’s any big shock considering how I’ve basically been existing a state of perpetual dampness. While it’s annoying, I can at least handle it without letting it affect me. The problem is my mother is worried no matter how much I try to reassure her I’m fine considering she knows how she can be when it comes to illness and how that stubbornness devastatingly put her in the hospital once when she was younger. But in true mother daughter fashion, I’ll roll my eyes, murmur some form of agreement, all the while thinking that won’t happen to me. Some things never change even as we get older. We’re off to El Chorro next, the site of the infamous Caminito del Rey, a once crazy hike only for the most extreme adrenaline junkies that has recently been revamped to be slightly safer. I would have done it either way. Of all aspects of this trip, I have been looking forward to this the most so through rain and sickness I’ll hike that canyon wall if it kills me.