I had been enamored with my place in Estepona and was really sad to be leaving it. As I poured over maps of western Spain, my spirits dropped as I saw that the landscape that I had come to love in Estepona would be long gone as I ventured north, away from the Malaga region.
Being a native Californian, I just adore the dense, stubby shrubs that crowd the hills that fall into the sea in places like Malibu. The Malaga region of Andalucia is defined by these same rolling hills that tumble along the Mediterranean Sea, lending richness and the sense of a hearty ruggedness to the water’s warm elegance. To me, it is very beautiful and it inspires me to run long, ascending those glorious red hills until I am breathless and spent.
In preparation for the next leg of my journey, I sat for hours contemplating the kind of experience I desired. Did I want to stay in the region so that I could be near Mother Nature? This would mean having to keep a rented car for a week or two because these areas are rather remote. At an additional $300 per week, that was not appealing. So I opted for a city experience where I could always have what I needed at my fingertips. Madrid? Toledo? Sevilla? The thought of moving to a bustling, noisy city seemed too much of a shock after the peaceful quiet of Denia and Estepona. What did I want from this next leg of my journey? When I got truly honest with myself,
- I wanted to be comfortable in one spot for two solid weeks
- I wanted to be able to take loooooong walks, preferably in nature
- I wanted to be surprised by Spirit’s promptings
- I wanted to experience Spanish culture
- I wanted to like the apartment in which I was living
- I wanted to love the city in which I was living.
With a strange and accidental Google misstep, I ended up stumbling across Jerez de la Frontera. I had heard the name before, but I couldn’t recall from where, and because I was tired of sitting in front of my computer and becoming wildly frustrated, I did a quick search for places on Airbnb and found a two bedroom apartment for less than $400 for two weeks. That was mindblowingly cheap! I thought that with that kind of savings, I could actually splurge and take some fun little side trips. From Jerez, places like Vejer de la Frontera, Cadiz, Sevilla and even Cordoba were an easy train ride away. With the tiniest bit of research, I discovered that Jerez considers itself to be the cradle of Flamenco song. This, combined with a few photos I found of the city center (alright, these combined with my fatigue and dissatisfaction with my other choices) made me book myself into the apartment.
A few days later, I was on my way, waving a fond goodbye to Forest Hills, my lovely white time share in Estepona, and looking forward with great trepidation to Jerez de la Frontera. When I started leaving the Malaga region, I was greeted by a terrain that grew more hearty, green and vibrant. My spirits lifted as I thought that I had scored the motherload of hiking and trail running, but as I sunk into the lower region of Sevilla, the landscape became flatter and drained of color as the land of oak and choya turned to farm country. Farm land doesn’t usually give me the blues, but on this day in my state of growing resistance and disgruntlement, its dry fields of long grasses seemed desolate and lonely– a too accurate mirror of how I was feeling inside.
Up ahead I could see the city that would become my home for the next two weeks, and my heart sunk even more deeply as I spied what looked like tenement housing and a distinct absence of parks and trees. UGH! So much for Mother Nature. I was so disappointed! Even my driving became a disdainful reflection of my broken heart as I missed turn after turn under the usually accurate guidance of my Google Map. It took me an hour to find the apartment and when I did, I did not want to believe it. To my eyes, on the outside, it was a dumpy place on a dumpy street, and I started concocting my excuses to get me the fuck out of this contract and into the nearest Ritz.
I met with the neighbor who was waiting to let me in and she was as nice as pie with a sweet little dog, which helped my grumpy disposition. But then, of course, I realized that I had arrived into town on a Sunday and everything was closed, which meant that my plan to use my rental car to stock up my essential and heavy groceries was not going to happen as I had to take the car to the airport after I dropped off my bags. I returned the car to Avis at the Jerez airport and took the train back ‘home’ and began the ritual of unpacking my bags. As I settled into the house, I was able to get more intimate with my grumpy disposition and most importantly, the sinister feelings that lay beneath it. What I found was a familiar friend named Loneliness. Loneliness, while not a constant companion, is never very far away from me. Our relationship began in childhood when I longed for playmates, like many only children do; but found no one available to meet that longing. Even though I had learned to tolerate Loneliness, and live a happy-ish life in spite of it, it is only recently that I have learned how to nurture my relationship with it. Part of nurturing our relationship involves listening to myself when I am in it. In Estepona, I found so much comfort and support in the hills surrounding my home that my sense of completion and connection left no room for Loneliness. It wasn’t until I was confronted with change (changing home, changing city, changing mind) that there came a sense of disconnection, which inevitably lead to an awakening of Loneliness inside me. For me, packing up my home (no matter how temporary or short the stay) requires tremendous focus and resolve to insure my safety and efficiency (I am healthily tentative about driving in Spain still. I have to be well-rested and focused to navigate successfully. And it isn’t helpful to leave a charger or pajamas in a hotel room. In fact, it sucks big time. Packing and repacking efficiently requires presence of mind. ) Sometimes, when I am making changes like this, I find myself wishing desperately that I had a traveling partner to keep me company while we navigate new environments and new mores… TOGETHER. It would be wonderful to know that there’s another person checking behind me to make sure that I’ve not left something vital (or even not so vital) in a drawer. When it is time to move I feel alone.
So packing my bags in Estepona, making the long drive to Jerez and arriving, not in the city center, but in the outskirts made me sink deeper into loneliness and isolation. I remember becoming overwhelmed by the spiders in the apartment, the gnats, and the smell of mildew in the laundry room. I climbed up the three flights of stairs to the roof and stared with my disappointment that the hills surrounding Jerez were dry and unwelcoming. Farm land. Bah humbug! I really wanted to put my clothing in drawers, but all I had were shelves. Oh, this burdened my mind so! GOD, looking back, I just want to shake myself as I reflect on my memory! Wake up, GIRL, I am thinking! Count your blessings, you fool!
But actually, this is not fair. It is easy to be on the outside looking in and to be judgmental and critical of myself. But when we are in the throes of deep pain, it’s the shallow stuff, the stuff on the surface that helps us express our pain, that gets it outside to be observed, instead of inside to fester. I was feeling that pain so that I could heal the deep emotional wounding underneath. It wasn’t about the house or the spiders or even the countryside. It was about being lonely and feeling like I needed to deny that feeling so that I could be courageous and get from point A to point B. Because of my internal defenses were breaking down, I perceived the house as an enemy and I was on the lookout for affirmation of this. I could only see the darkness, even though it had received glowing reviews on Airbnb. My mind is always strong and will bend reality to its will. When it wants to see fucked-upness, it will. To prove it, the hot water heater broke down as did the wifi. HA! By the way, it is because of the deep understanding that I achieve that I choose to travel far and wide. Although I simply love it, and have found a way to do it cost-effectively, I also understand that I am not a woman who has come to Earth to be rooted. My work here is to find my stability in my natural element: Air, which represents movement, intellect and communication. What is important for me is not what makes most people comfortable. Ah! But that is a different story. Let me finish this one.
I had decided to go for a walk, determined to find the city center and in doing so, hopefully find redemption for myself. I followed a walking path up to the top of a hill and wandered across a large street and ducked into a narrow alleyway, which I followed for a few blocks. I found myself at the Alcazar de Jerez, a magnificent fortress with a pretty park of jacaranda trees and bandstand.
Walking across the park, I noticed thick clumps of people lining the street watching of all things, a Corpus Christi procession! Although the procession was somber, it felt like a fortuitous omen signifying my own resurrection– my return to life. During Corpus Christi, Catholics celebrate the body and blood of Christ as being made real in bread and wine, as was done during the Last Supper. I walked along the procession path, seeing the city with all of its inhabitants turned out in respectful observation. It was helpful to see the families and the groups of friends enjoying the spectacle. It helped me sink deeper into Loneliness, which is where I needed to be. When Loneliness is present, my job is to be present with her. Attempts to escape are fruitless. The pavement had been decorated with the banners of all the local churches drawn with colored sand. I couldn’t get photos because people were always standing on them, obscuring my view and I was a little too weary to take photos that day, anyway. It was definitely a day for me to be quiet and internal. I started to feel better as I navigated old Jerez. I found it to be lovely with small boutiques, lots of bars and cafes and an overall good vibe.
Two hours later, I made my way back home and saw that the street on which I lived was actually not rundown, but was actually quite clean and filled with children playing, couples cuddling, and the smell of something garlicky and delicious. I climbed up the stairs and was surprised by how lovely the apartment was. And when I finally crawled into bed, I found it soft and absolutely perfect.
I awoke the next morning after a loooong and satisfying slumber to face the world with a new outlook and a new lease on life.