Improv Stops in Galicia

So, I decided to give couch surfing a try. Before you say anything, let me endorse your sketchy suspicions with my own and then contradict them by telling you what I found. Contrary to terrifying assumptions, couch surfing is simply an amazing, secret, underground society of travelers helping travelers for the sake of karma, that they might be helped along their journey later down the line. And for experiences, because they simply love to travel and love meeting people who share this passion. It’s a different world in this society … no hotels, not even hostels, just locals; and let me tell you, I never would have seen Galicia the way I got to see it without couch surfing with a born and bred local Galician.

Cambados wasn’t in my plans. In fact, it wasn’t even on my radar, but those, I’ve found, are the absolute best stops in travel. However, as fate would have it, Adrian reached out to me on Couch Surfers and told me he had a room open should I wish to visit a town about 45 minutes from Santiago de Compostela, where I was currently residing. Well, it was now or never, so I decided to get it well over and done with so that the fear would be gone.

After getting off the wrong stop on the bus and wandering around with a non-English speaking, 90 year old, Galician man trying to help, Adrian met me at a local bar. I had told him I was at the bar, Estrella Galicia -only to find out later that that was actually the name of the local beer. Talk about foreigner. Adrian was a punk rock / rasta / musician looking type with unkempt facial hair and a slight mullet. He looked like he possibly sported a rat-tail for the better part of his youth.

Adrian is everything that the gypsy part of my soul longs to be. He hitch hikes through Poland and France, learns English while living with Italians in Ireland, travels around in a van for weeks in search of peaceful beaches, and plans trips to Portugal only to get onto an impulsive plane to Germany as soon as he arrives. But he always comes back to Cambados. He bleeds Galician. He was born and raised here and he will die here. He was my traveling gypsy kindred spirit and I thought about bringing him with me down through Portugal. Unfortunately, Adrian had more of a Romeo and Juliet duo in mind rather than Louis and Clark and thus the duo eventually parted ways.

Cambados is a small fishing village on the west coast of Spain above Portugal, known for Albarino and seafood. Adrian says that people come from all over the world just to have lunch here (and after lunch, I absolutely believe him.) Here being a place that wasn’t known to me for anything and had not been on my list until yesterday. An impromptu stop that I would become increasingly grateful for with each passing hour. One night turned into three and it wasn't even twenty-four hours before I had canceled all of my planned trains and hostels for the next three stops. 

Back at his house, Adrian cooked lunched for us. A plate of mussels fresh from the dock down the street, where he knew the fishermen by name and they often gave him mussels for free because they were harvested in such abundance here that people didn’t know what to do with them. He steamed them in a pot without water because he said the salt water inside the shells was the only flavor you needed. We ate them with our hands. He picked some herbs from his garden, sliced some tomatoes and other vegetables, threw them in a pot with more mussels, rice and Berberchose – tiny clam like creatures and my new favorite word. (Pronounced “barry barry truce”, I later said it constantly, with or without reason, adding it into any sentence that I could or just attaching it onto the end of phrases.) After lunch, we had fruit digestives made in his friend’s grandfather’s basement out of various fruits and grappa. It tasted like cold medicine and jet fuel had a baby, but it didn’t take long for me to grow accustomed to the flavor (and the buzz).

The sun was shining and the wind was dancing off the sea. Adrian took me all over the town, showing me only local things that I never would have discovered on my own. We walked along the sea at low tide, which was more like no tide, leaving vast expanses of green algae covered ocean floors and boats beached along them with their anchors still in the ground. Adrian said the sea changed every 45 minutes. Sometimes the water would be level with the road for a week and then be miles of beach for the next.

I’m like a child, skipping around like a curious 5 year old, asking every question that pops into my head on any given moment. “What’s that?” “Do you eat these?” “How do you say this?” “When do you eat this?” “But what are they?” “What’s this plant called?” “What is growing on this rock?” “What do you call algae?” “Why is there so much green here?” “Does the algae get tangled on you when you swim? I hate that.” “Do you swim?” “When does it get hot here?” “Does it ever snow?” “Do young people vote?” “What exactly does the King do?” Adrian seemed to find this amusing and answered every question patiently with a delighted grin.

We walked to the ruins of a look out tower and climbed up, sitting on the rocks of what used to be a wall with the water splashing up against the stones below, while a man fished beside us. Walking through the town, we pass houses covered in shells (an old Galician architecture meant to protect the buildings from the coast’s weather conditions), and through a beautiful, old cemetery. It was covered in tiger lilies and after telling Adrian they were my favorite flower, he plucked one straight off a grave and put it in my hair. Certain that we were now going to some sort of doomed after life for that, I ran out. We climbed up a hill covered in a pinecone forest, which reminded me of home, up to a look out at the top. With Adrian’s help, I climbed to the top of the boulders and sat up there for awhile, out of breath and awe struck, overlooking the seaside town. The wind danced through my hair peacefully and I wondered how I could have come through Spain never knowing that this little town existed.

Once down on level ground again, we walked to a small winery. Albarino vines covered the Galician landscape like ivy roof tops, standing straight up, taller than me, and arching over one another to form a canopy above our heads. There were grassy floors dusted with flower petals and ponds covered in lily pads. An old man rolled an ancient looking, open barrel six times the size of him into one of the ponds to wash it, sending the lily pads soaring out on the waves. It had to be without a doubt, the most romantic setting that I had ever come across and I wanted to bottle it so that I could take it out for the perfect moment.

Aside from Albarino, there was another wine Cambados was known for … an underground, unproduced, unsold wine – Black wine. It was never labeled and it technically did not exist. Home made and home served, it was only served out of people’s garages. A piece of fennel in somebody’s doorpost meant that they had wine and to come on in. We sat in one such garage, complete with folding tables, and the man of the house grilled up spicy peppers for us in garlic and olive oil- complimentary with your massive mug of black wine. It was for all intensive purposes similar to a very dry, harsh, red wine but it was deep, deep purple – almost black – hence the name. It stained your mouth purple for days and if you got it under your fingernails, your fingertips would be stained for weeks. Local old men played cards at the long plastic fold out table we sat at and it was just another regular afternoon in Galicia.

Later, we met some of Adrian’s friends at an outdoor café in a square full of aggressive youngsters playing football. We drank a café liquor and I was becoming increasingly hazy at this point after all of this intense Galician alcohol. Adrian’s friends were interesting to say the least. There was Goyo, who was by all intensive purposes black inside, obsessed with American rap and NBA. Nebraska looked American but he was Galician through and through. The only English he knew came from video games so he would say things like “Destruction!” or “Carnage!“ I am told he was the town badass that used to have long blonde wavy hair down his back and hold the wildest parties known, but he is clean cut now and sporting a Nebraska sweatshirt which I thought a very odd American state to make it’s way here out of all the rest. And thus, I deemed him Nebraska. Adrian played guitar and sang in his low growl of a voice and we all laughed and sang for hours.

The next day it was raining. It rains everyday in Galicia, but in Galicia, they say that rain is art. If you haven’t seen Santiago in the rain, then you haven’t really seen it. All of the colors change. Personally, I preferred the colors in the sunshine, but I was down for the artistic view.

We go across the sea to the Island, which Adrian pronounces “Iceland,” (the silent s is not a concept yet accepted here.) We ate Pulpo (octopus) in a small corner street bar that up until 30 years ago had been the island doctor’s office. The people here still refer to the place as the “Consulta.” It is the best octopus in Spain (Galica hoards all the best seafood in the world and only exports out the crap) and I am told that the creatures have to be punched and beaten in order to soften them before cooking. You used to see all of the local fishermen smacking the live pulpa against the ground and docks after they came in for the day, but now a week in the fridge achieves the same job. Still, you must scare the octopus right before cooking it to ensure the utmost tenderness. Cooks torture the creature by dipping it in and out of the boiling water several times before submersing it. It all seems very cruel, but the pepporcini and oil covered sea creature is so delicately delicious that I cannot protest.

We eat calamari too (unlike any I have ever had), drink Albarino - unlabeled like all wine in Galicia, it just comes in a naked wine bottle, and watch the Spanish news on TV. The King has decided that he no longer wishes to rule- bored with his current responsibilities, so he has left the throne open and hopefully claimed by his son. The news station flashes to a clip of Obama, whom they call the most powerful man in the world, doing pushups in a suit on a basketball court and sinking lay ups. I am instantly embarrassed to be associated with this nation. It looks like we do absolutely nothing. Not even the President has any worries.

That night 2 American couch surfers, currently teaching English in the south of Spain are joining us and I am so excited to have comrades. Trevor from Wisconsin is outrageous and fluent in Galician. Tall and blonde and skinny, he eats more than the three of us combined and remains rail thin. Fallen, also super thin, is beautiful. She is Trevor’s roommate and originally from Texas. Dark hair and dark skin, she could easily be Spanish herself.

Trevor falls with a wicked flu of some sort or food poising, but it’s impossible to tell from what since he’s eaten everything. Fallen, Adrian and I go to a music festival called “Green Corn” full of dauntless looking individuals. Anarchist hippies with dread locks, and piercings everywhere, all in dark browns and army greens. In Spain, they call hippies “para floutas,” translating to dog flutes because they are always with flutes and dogs, which I find hilariously brilliant. No one neuters their dogs here, so they are everywhere- some with overfull utters that drag on the ground. We dress up in Panda suits – full head to toe, ears and all, panda suits – because I guess that’s a thing here and stay up all night with the music.

Aside from the actual performer’s on stage, back at the tents – all of Adrian’s friends sit cross-legged in circles and lay sprawled out in the grass as they play a various symphony of instruments and sing songs all night long. I fall in love with a Spanish girl’s voice who plays guitar and harmonica and has my dream singing voice. She is by all visual appearances, a homely looking, 14 year old, American girl who has been homeschooled her entire life, but she is nothing like that at all. She can’t speak English but she can sing it, so when she does attempt to speak, she only speaks in beautiful, poetic words.

The sky is splattered with stars everywhere, like the artist standing in front of a blank canvas dipping his brushes into paint and swinging them side to side sending paint flying across the whiteness before him; they keep appearing more rapidly than the moment before. After all the singing and dancing that my little Panda self can take, I finally crawl into the tent around 6am and fall asleep instantly. (Side note: it is not a rough morning until you wake up sweating, face down in a tent on top of rocks as a dirt covered Panda.) Everyone is still drinking, banging on cans and sticks and playing guitar, singing in the rising sun. And since we have about 5 more hours here, there is nothing to do but join in.

 Note: I am NOT a morning person.

Note: I am NOT a morning person.

Adrian and Fallen drop me off drunk at the bus station and help me find my bus. With an address written on my hand, a dead phone and mud-ridden ankles, I attempt to make my way to nowhere in Particular.