To write this article about an international memory while being locked here in the Netherlands almost 3 years after this trip and while the Covid-19 restrictions are in place makes me restless and helpless (insert dramatic emoji here… but seriously). On one hand, I think the lockdowns have eventually pushed me to resume into blogging but on the other hand, it gave me so much time to browse into older photos and just makes me realize how badly I want to roam around the World again. At the time of this writing, the last international travel I did was through Spain and Andorra in August 2020. It actually comes full circle to resume writing about the places I visited by starting off with Spain.
I went to Barcelona in summer 2018 to attend the concert to support Latin superstar Shakira’s 2016 album, El Dorado. It was a perfect opportunity for me to finally meet one of the musical icons which have shaped my teenage and 20s years with the compositions which she made that mirrored a number of my life experiences. I always thought of going at least to one of my favorite artist’s concerts and here I was, being able to realize that one artist at a time with Shaki. Also, it was a great opportunity to revisit Barcelona. I’ve been realizing this a lot of times and I must have said this to a lot of people and maybe even wrote about this somewhere in my blog, but Barcelona was my favorite city since the 2000s until 2018 (and it could still be as of this writing, though I have not thought so deeply about this question recently). And just like committing myself to visit at least one concert of my favorite artists, I also committed to visiting Barcelona annually one way or another.
One of the things I loved about the place is its gastronomy. It’s like that always going back to your hometown – you just have a list of cravings you wanna satisfy. In this case, I had a list of taking a small box of churros con chocolate as well as taking a diner and finishing it off with crema catalana (crema cremada or burned cream, which is identical to crème brûlée but has a burnt caramel top). Of course, wouldn’t you wanna take a bite of one of these while parading through the Las Ramblas? haha, I did! And oh, it always feels so awesome! It’s like just parading through my hometown street.
Finally, it was time to watch the concert at the Palau Sant Jordi. The familiar architecture starting from the impressive roundabout where the Plaça d’Espanya, towards the columns of the Fira up to the Font Magica de Barcelona and further up the site where most of the ceremonies of the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics was held; the familiar sound of people speaking both Castellano and Catalan; the seemingly familiar spirit of togetherness and youthfulness; and finally, the familiar background music running through Shakira’s catalog. Almost 3 years later, writing this blog and reminiscing everything during that weekend feels so fresh and vivid in my mind. Starting her intro with “Estoy Aquí” (“I Am Here”) and through 20 more numbers later to the finale “Bicicleta” (“Bicycle”), it was a night full of magic – running down memorable moments of my early years in one night; channeling my inner Latino; and lip-synching my way whether through some of the outrageous choruses of “Whenever, Wherever”, “Chantaje” (“Blackmail”), and “La Tortura” (“The Torture”) or through the serenading lyrics of “Tú” (“You”), “Amarillo” (“Yellow”), or “Nada” (“Nothing”).
Finally, Shakira ended her tour with of course, nothing short than the legendary soundtrack of the World Cup in which Spain won its first football cup in 2010 – “Waka Waka”. Sung interchangeably in both Spanish and English, singing the whole song through with new-found friends. By the way, I went to the concert on my own as I usually just wanna get lost with only myself as a witness but eventually, I left the Palau with a handful of young professionals who we will forever cherish the moments captured in our phones. It was an awesome night, that even in a place where you went on your own, as long as you have the people’s soul, you will be one with them. They just grabbed me in, welcoming me into their circle while we lip-synched through the song while we all took selfie videos to remember that night.
In the end, the night lived up to the whole spirit of Barcelona – the memories, the magic, the food, revisiting the place – it will always be golden… el dorado para siempre!
At last, summer has arrived! Having lived most of my life in a tropical country, I never got so excited for my first travel to an island in a long time. I’m sure that I’m fond of summer and going to the beach (sometimes), but with Mediterranean waters still cooler than the beaches we had in the Philippines, I have come to terms into going to the beach less frequently than before. Perhaps it was being exposed to the colder seasons for long which eventually drove me to plan for my first summer getaway this year. Shall I go and take a pill once again in Ibiza? Will I revisit the historical forts and turquoise waters on the coves of Menorca? Is it a cool idea to relax while listening to the sound of waves smashing on the coastal rocks of Sardinia? Shall I spend a weekend of paradise on any of the Greek islands? Well, I decided to go a little off-path – I chose to spend quality time in the Cíes islands.
The islands are located southwest off the coast of the Spanish region of Galicia. Although planning a trip there requires more planning than usual (i.e. application of permits from the Galician council, reserving slots to ride the ferries from Pontevedra province and back, travel time), it’s a fulfilling getaway especially for travelers like me who take it up one more notch to enjoy biodiversity and mini-trekking all while enjoying time in the beach. The islands are considered a national park due to its isolated location and because it houses arguably the largest colony of seagulls in the world. Due to this status, entry to the islands are highly regulated and this meant a less crowded, relaxing and peaceful atmosphere for me and my compañero.
Towards the western sections of the 2 main islands, Monteagudo and do Faro, we managed to do a relaxed pace of hiking to 2 ends – towards the lighthouse of Cíes and to the Alto de Principe (Prince’s Peak) on the other end. What consumed most of our time was us just chatting all the way to the peaks that we even didn’t recognize that we already spent a lot of energy as well as performing documentation on the magnificent views, wildlife and trippy poses we did along the way. This was certainly the reason why we ended up running, excessively sweating and panting all the way to the port to catch our trip back to Vigo. Jaja.
And finally, a getaway to the islands would not be complete without time spent on the beach. The sandbar connecting the islands of Monteagudo and do Faro stretches for several kilometers and are one, if not the most beautiful beaches that I ever went to. With fine golden and soft sands extending towards the dark blue Atlantic waters, one manages to see stretches of turquoise water from the shore until the shade of blue water turns darker further to the sea. The sandbar is curved inwards to the 2 islands, thereby naturally protecting it from the Atlantic currents. Although the water was still cold even if it’s already June (at least it was very cold to me), we managed to enjoy our chilly dip while we bask under the heat of the sun. It was reminiscent of those times when I used to go to the beaches when I lived in Cebu. My place was just a 5 minute drive to the coast and it was always a pleasant time to spend at least a day inside a cottage and spending time with family and friends while eating and swimming in the warm waters.
I would definitely want to go back to those islands and perhaps spend a longer time to just chill and relax – just like how it used to be in the tropics.
There’s definitely a lot of things to be grateful for in the past thirty years. The mere opportunity to have lived here on earth with what I have is already a blessing. To have a loving and accepting family; real, enduring and supportive friends; having lived through the trials and success; and all the fond memories that I had in the past thirty years were worth celebrating.
A personal promise
Ever since I moved to Europe two years ago, I have made a promise to myself that if I’m not in the Philippines, I will spend my birthdays in Spain. Spain has always been very close to my heart – the history, the people who I’ve crossed paths with, the language and culture, the food… and we all have that feeling of affinity to a place, where we feel just comfortable and at peace. And for me, what a way to celebrate my past thirty years of existence and welcome the next chapter of my life in this place – the place which I call home away from home.
…a home away from home…
It’s always a great feeling when you go to a place you love and you reconnect with people who you have made great memories with. When I was in Argentina last year, I met a couple from Valencia who were very warm and patient with my Spanish. In just one day, we all got along so well (along with our other Argentine and Brazilian friends who we met during our trip at Perrito Moreno) and eventually, we stayed in touch via social media. Who would have thought that we would have another chance to meet each other? Finally, we managed to meet again in Valencia, where we ate and drank the night out Argentine style (it was awesome to relive our first encounter during that night!). It would be lovely to do more adventures with their warmth and hospitality in the future. ¡Eso espero!
Next stop, I managed to reconnect with my beloved Barcelona. This city always calms my heart and my mind – reminiscing the beautiful experiences I had in the city in the past, reconnecting with people I’ve been close to and just taking time to casually stroll through the some of the districts (I’d never get tired crisscrossing the narrow alleys of the Gothic quarter especially when it gives me that melancholic, dreamy vibe to it in the afternoon). I just can’t get enough of this beauty and can’t wait to be there in two months!
Of course, for a lover of cityscapes, Madrid is an essential itinerary. One might notice how I gravitate towards going to busy cities. But the thing is, I always consider myself as an introvert who lives in an extroverted world. In the midst of the hustle and bustle, as much as I’d like walking through the narrow alleys and the bristling walkways, I have a contentment in solitude among the crowd – it humbles me, that in spite of the self-consciousness and self-gratification we have for ourselves, we are just but miniatures in this universe.
Madrileños also have this distinct balance of being overtly warm and cautiously cool. Every time I visit Madrid, I just need that dose of belongingness with 2 of my closest friends. Forget any language barriers! No matter how deep English or Castilian could be, we manage to meet in between and have a preposterous but therapeutic laugh about ourselves and silly ideas. I hope when our hairs turn grey (actually mine have already started to turn grey since I was 16 jaja), we would still end up on one the terrazas along Gran Vía, overlooking the sunset and just drinking our cervezas or jugos.
By the way, it’s always interesting how I feel like a citizen in this city. While it’s a given (a known fact) that my friends have adopted me already and considered me as a local, it’s so casual how acquaintances don’t even have a clue that I’m traveling or from somewhere else (…well, apart from others thinking I come from Mexico or Colombia… or Peru) but instead, I always have this impression that I just come from there (this better be a great foretelling for me ;).
This year, my birthday fell on the Semana Santa (Holy Week celebration of the Christian faith). And as Spain was a former bastion of Catholicism, the expectation for festivities in the country is really high. I used to celebrate this week with my family back in Cebu and as solemn as it had been (even as solemn as when we were young, we ought not to play outdoors from Good Friday until Easter Sunday as the Lord had died and anyone who gets injured during those days might risk not having their wounds healed… jajaja), until last year when I spent the Semana Santa at my friend’s place in Cartagena, I always expected populous Philippines to celebrate it the grandest. Now, it appears to me that Spain still holds that crown (pun intended).
I actually had slight concerns about spending my Semana Santa in Andalusia. I’ve always heard from friends that the region boasts the biggest, grandest and most flamboyant celebrations of the Holy Week in the whole country. For the most part, I stayed in Seville (and stayed within the Triana – Magdalena triangle) where most of the processions occur. While it’s true that it was really crowded, and already quite warm for spring time, I enjoyed witnessing the solemnity of the celebration. Afterwards, especially after the evening processions, the area near Alameda de Hercules became full of young adults and festivities. For me, that was a perfect way to spend time after the solemnities – tapas and drinks, meeting with friends, meeting new friends, music and dancing (especially loved the traditional and Latin sounds ‘coz they suit the ambiance really well).
For me, overall, the Sevillanos are really the warmest people in Spain. While I love all my people in Spain, there’s a dramatic element to the warmness of these people. I see the way actors in Latin-american telenovelas articulate their words and their feelings with the Sevillanos. My friends here tell me stories like how my friends in Colombia told me theirs. In one of the days, I went to flamenco classes to just be in touch with the basics of playing the cajón (the box-shaped percussion used during flamenco shows) and dancing the flamenco. It was fun how my instructor Eva showed us how to dance and play along the rhythm and just let out that inner “duende” or soul that the Andalusians evoke when they perform flamenco.
During my birthday, I went to the historically important city of Granada. In 1492, the Catholic Monarchs Isabel I of Castilla and Fernando II of Aragon finally completed the Spanish Reconquest of Iberia (sans Portugal) from the Moors by taking Granada. During the same year, Spain also acquired land in the vastly undiscovered New World (courtesy of Christopher Columbus) and thus, the Siglo de Oro (the Spanish Golden Age) began. This has a profound meaning for me, for this visit represented the culmination of my struggles and achieved goals during my first thirty years on earth as well as the unraveling of a hopefully new personal golden age. During this visit, it was impressive to note how a Moorish stronghold five centuries ago was gradually converted into a completely Andalusian city whose cathedrals and forts showcased a fusion of Catholic and Moorish architectural design. While witnessing the holy week procession in Albaicín, I was able to view the Alhambra from the opposite hill with a snow-capped Sierra Nevada on the background. Later on, the crew at Loft restaurant surprised me (like I was shookt that they knew it was my birthday!) by delivering some desserts with a non-extinguishable flaming candle to my table. I felt humbled by the hospitality of the Granadinos. 🙂
And finally, on Good Friday, I went to El Rocío in Huelva province to visit the largest nature park in the southern Iberian peninsula, the Doñana National Park. Together with my Sevillano friends, we did our afternoon horse back riding with Rafael and his team of well-trained Spanish horses. The smoothness of the ride, the calm and slightly-windy weather, the laughter and small chats we had, all while the sun was descending, were a perfect culmination of the past thirty years of my life.
I could only thank the Guy above but it will never be enough for all the learning, the gifts, the blessings, the love and the acceptance that I have received from everyone and everything around me.
And did I just mention above that the journey to the next chapter of my life has already begun? Well, most people feel more empowered and sufficiently confident about their capabilities when they turn 30 – that they are grown men and women, that they have more control in their lives. While I agree to those, and I must say that I feel more empowered, sufficiently trusting (as I’ve always been) to my capabilities, I still believe that I have a lot to improve about myself and learn from this life and the people and things around me. And I’m sure that while I will gradually learn new things especially from my next journeys, the chapters for the future are left unwritten. So as I hold my pen to write these new chapters, would you like to get your own pen and maybe co-write some sections with me? We’ll soon find out…