Galicia, Day Eight: End Notes and Reflections

What I said in the last post about Albarino wine? Scratch that. Although Galician wine cooperates with my system a little bit better than anything I’ve tried in the U.S. over the past year or so (when my body started rejecting alcohol), I didn’t get away scott-free. I woke up on June 5, my last full day in the Pontevedra area, feeling especially cruddy – a subtle reminder of why I pretty much stopped drinking last October.

For my final morning run, I ventured down the hill toward my tiny supermarket (note that these amenities are mine now) turned right up a side street and wound up on a quiet country road, past more vineyards, more gardens and more sheep. I could not grow tired of this scenery. Older women walked, alone and in tandem, along the shoulderless, hilly road. Eventually the paved path ended at a busier, wider road, so I opted to head back the way I came, across A-308 and up another mysterious road that led me up, up, up until it ended at my “usual” route to Campelo (note that I have a “usual” route now).  I continued toward Campelo to say goodbye to the river of sludge, where I passed by a healthy grey horse.

Now that my trip was coming to a close, I finally got brave enough to explore more of the side streets around Poio. On Wednesday morning’s bike ride, I rode down A-308 to Combarro, turned right up a side street and found myself on a shaded, rural road that climbed up and past a school, a cemetery and a few small houses. On the way back, I passed a woman walking her goat. The woman in her spandex Team Oakland kit on her flashy bike and the woman in a housedress working outside exchanged “Holas.” I haven’t seen many women on this trip that weren’t in some sort of domestic role: tending a garden, working in a hotel kitchen, or serving food. During the lunch with Wolf, Jim and Mike, I was the only woman in the restaurant during peak lunch hour. (Wolf later said he saw one other woman at a table in another room.) Are the roles more traditional here?

Post run, I took my time getting ready (again) and began organizing for the trip home. I packed the bike and after some struggle, managed to fit the case into the rental car, which is about the size of a Mini. I sorted my travel kitchen to separate food for the morning, food for the flight home and food that could go in the checked bag (There was very little of that). A combination of end-of-trip blues and tiredness left me without the motivation to hop in the car and jet off for another sightseeing excursion. So I figured out how to use the vacuum and the self-serve car wash at the gas station next door to spruce up the rental and lounged around until a locally acceptable dinner hour, when I trudged down the hill in the rain to order some French fries (because I am on vacation.)

My short stay in Galicia was magical. I am enchanted by the friendly people, the green surroundings and the simple, “unplugged” way of life. In Oakland, everyone is glued to their smart phones, more concerned with a text on their electronic device than with the people around them. It’s nearly impossible to strike up a conversation with someone because they are either too busy using their thumbs or have headphones stuck in their ears. They are disconnected with their environment. In the small slice of Galicia that I visited, I saw very few gadgets. In the coffee shops, people sipped coffee and talked with one another. In the coffee shops in and around Oakland, every seat is occupied by someone sucked into their computer, usually with headphones in their ears. Why even leave the house?

It was very easy for this gluten-intolerant soul to eat in Spain. I can’t speak for the entire country, but in Galicia, potatoes were the main starch. Restaurants often served a basket of bread with meals, but it’s easy enough to say “sin pan.” The dishes are mostly prepared with olive oil and maybe paprika and with none of the wheat-containing fillers or mystery sauces that pose a threat in the U.S. I didn’t get sick once.

Aside from the sense of accomplishment that comes from competing well in a high-level race, this trip has given me a deeper appreciation for other countries, other cultures and other customs, as well as a desire to experience more of the world while I am in it. The U.S. has plenty to offer, from lucrative jobs to an abundance of fruit and vegetables to beautiful spots such as Lake Tahoe, the Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon. But there is no reason to live in a bubble. There are lucrative jobs in London, there is (I know now) an abundance of incredible seafood in Northwestern Spain and beautiful spots around the world. Why not pay them a visit?

By learning about other cultures, I learn about myself. I can expand my view of the world. I can challenge myself by learning how to navigate in a completely different environment where I don’t speak the language. I can remember how little I really need to get by, because I brought very little of it with me. I can understand that people are friendly and helpful most of the time, wherever you go. Even when we don’t understand what the other is saying, we can communicate what we need. An intuitive mind, body language and a positive attitude go a long way!

That said, I was so happy to see Soleil, my cat, when I got home, very happy to be back in my own apartment, and back in Oakland, and as excited as a kid in front of 31 flavors when I arrived here the following morning:

Where I start most of my trail runs in Joaquin Miller/Redwood Park, Oakland
Where I start most of my trail runs in Joaquin Miller/Redwood Park, Oakland

To paraphrase Shalane Flanagan from her 60 Minutes interview, this is the door to my “Church of the Sunday Long Run” and I’m going to dance in the aisles!


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