I am now at the stage of my trip where I summon up the energy to pore through the sixteen hundred or so photographs that I took, to see which of them are worth keeping, and then, laboriously, begin the editing process; I also try to pick up the various roles I inhabit in my life here, and see how they feel. Landing back in San Francisco on a Friday meant that I had a mostly unscheduled weekend to try to correct my sense of time and adjust my sleep, and renew a sense of forward momentum after the disruptions of travel.
Last year’s few days in Sagres were so restorative that I had it in mind to do something similar this time. Beach time was involved again, only a different coast – the Costa de Luz in south-western Spain. Lying on the sand on Tuesday afternoon and watching a spectacular Atlantic sunset, thirty-six hours after running along the Thames on Monday morning, I reflected that there had been eighteen months of planning to get to that point – not to mention twenty years of memories.
In 1999 I had visited a friend who had escaped London and gone to Seville, with a boyfriend who her parents disapproved of (I think for his relative youth more than anything else, as I thought he was a nice chap). We had taken a road trip down to Tarifa, and then stayed a couple of nights on the coast. How did we find such a place in those days? I don’t really remember. We rented rooms in a farmhouse, probably just by asking, a few blocks back from the sea, and I mainly recall the long expanse of gorgeous beach, where people seemed to be entirely relaxed and happy, and where it was warm enough to stay out late into the evening.
Eighteen months ago, Nancy was driving me back from Green Gulch where we had attended the shuso ceremony (which I don’t seem to have written about here), and confiding her plans to take a break from her work and Zen Center to go to Seville, where she had lived earlier in her life. When I heard that she had equally fond memories of the same stretch of coastline, I said I would come and visit.
And so it was that she picked me up at the airport in Seville on Monday afternoon. There were some potential hitches: the friend’s place that she had planned for us to stay at was not available, and when we went to pick up the rental car, she had not thought to bring her passport, so, after a call or two, the booking was modified to be in my name, with my passport and credit card – even though she was going to be keeping it for longer than my stay.
Once those hurdles were navigated, we had a splendid time. She had been staying at an apartment in the city for a few weeks already, with her college-bound daughter and friend with her as well for most of that time. It turned out that Barbara, who is based in Berlin, but whom both of us know from her visits to Tassajara and Green Gulch was also in town with her eighty-one year old sister (when I mentioned this to Bev in Glastonbury, she told me that she and Barbara had shared a cabin in 2003), and so we had an evening of tapas and small glasses of beer, continuing long past my usual bedtime…
The following morning we left the city, having secured rooms at a hostal that Nancy remembered and had called ahead to. We were the only guests, and we arrived on the day when the place was closed, but the owner handed us the keys before she went to pick her daughter up from school.
We spent much of the next forty-eight hours on the beach, even though, by local standards, it wasn’t necessarily beach weather. There were also incredibly high tides, with the new moon, that left lagoons and powerful streams running across the plentiful sand. On Tuesday afternoon, after a quick dip and some lunch, we walked a long way south to find the best spots, which is more or less where I remember being, though I was somewhat hazy on the details, and then we drove a little further along the next day to spend the bulk of the day by the water, although it clouded over and started to spot with rain by the end of the afternoon, which encouraged us to go back to clean up before having a wonderful dinner in the little hill town inland from where we were, Vejer de la Frontera.
On Wednesday morning, still completely dark at seven, I tried running along the beach. Since the way north looked rather uncertain between the inland water and the ocean (even though I was fairly sure the tide was still going out), I retraced our steps from the previous afternoon, navigating the shifting slopes and textures, unsure of how deep and fast the water on the beach might be flowing. When I got past where the streetlights ended, it felt even more trippy. There was just the quick-slow-slow sweep of the light house at Cape Trafalgar (a name more steeped in history than actual geography as far as I was concerned) to orient myself by. Even after forty minutes or so of running, there was barely a glimmer of light, beyond the orange-purple glow of the streetlights.
On Thursday I began the long journey back – thirty-six hours from a view of the beach to the welcome sunshine of San Francisco. There were trains and tubes and buses on the way back to London and my sister’s house (which was all fine except for several delays with Ryanair), and then the long flight west; I spent more time than usual staring out of the window – at Greenland, and then the astounding landscape of Oregon and California. From one home to another.
The view from the apartment in Seville, evening and morning light.
A very high tide on the beach.
Horses were a regular sight on the beach.
There were many surfers, but not much surf. A glorious sunset, however.
Views from the roof of the hostal at different times.
A glimpse of Greenland from the plane.
The salt flats of the South Bay.