Dear Readers, as many of you know we arrived home a little while ago in Montreal after 10 months abroad. We are usually a little behind on publishing, but this is ridiculous… so here’s a bit of an update. After a week apart with our dear friends in Czech Republic, Latvia, Croatia and Italy, we flew back to Madrid, rented a car and hit the road for what would be a whole month of traveling around the Iberian Peninsula.
As Madrid is conveniently situated in the middle of it all, we decided to go about it clockwise, starting in the northeast. It would take us a few days to reach our next destination, and we were going to savour every minute of it. While winding our way across the beautiful fields of Aragon full of castle crested mountain tops, we visited countless pueblitos with meter wide roads, old stone houses, and bullet riddled cathedrals showing the scars of the Civil war nearly 80 years past.
We sprinted through the beautiful cities of Zaragoza and Huesca before hitting the striking castle of Loarre. Standing at the foot of the Pyrenees, at the wall of this 11th century castle while looking over the endless wheat fields, it was clearly visible how this beautiful country was founded as an alliance of kingdoms more than a central force, which remains a sensitive topic to this day.
If you get a chance and are heading this way, we would recommend taking the rustic road to Ancho and Echo,probably one of the most spectacular pieces of road we’ve ever seen (so much so that we failed to take a single picture). In Echo you can also find one of the best “steak frites” restaurants ever, where your lunch probably grazed within a few kilometers of your plate… most probably in France.
Continuing east, we crossed over into Cataluña and were greeted by rolling green mountains, fantastic food, and what would come to be a heartwarming first-time experience of living completely off-grid. The location for our next stop would be Cadaques to visit our friend Josep who we met earlier on the trip. Named after the juniper trees that dot the stepped mountains, the picturesque white city lies on the Mediterranean just south of France and is famous for hosting the summer home of Salvador Dali. The city offers an impression of a movie set from the 1950’s and it is safe to say that it hasn’t lost its appeal.
When we met Josep in Komodo, he invited us to stay with him on his friend’s land just out of town. Arriving to town without the faintest idea where to go and with only a phone number (which wasn’t working), we somehow landed at a bar where everyone knew Josep and could show us how to get to ‘Ivan’s place’. Driving up the mountain in our Hyundai would prove a fun experience (also one that would leave me thankful there was no damage to the car) as we drove on narrow horse trails over boulders and sharp shale roads. After a few minutes, we decided to ditch the car and hike a kilometer or two with our bags, a bottle of wine, and delicious Fuet (Catalan cured meat) in hand. Ivan’s place is spectacular and not your typical house. This man has remodeled an old brick / plaster work shed in the back hills of Cadaques into a highly functional year-round one room house. It is stunning and completely off grid through the use of a wood heater, solar panels, small stove, and some basic gardening.
We would spend the next 4-5 days travelling into town during the day (partly to steal showers from the local hotel swimming pool), camping on the land at night, and taking in the Catalan hospitality of our excellent hosts. One memorable night, we had the privilege of being invited to a traditional paella at the neighbour’s house. Made in a 2 meter wide pan (6 foot for our dear American readers), we were treated to the best paella of our lives roasted over a massive wood grill spitting fire in all directions. Although the paella was miraculous (as though “a little angle peed on our tongues” as our Dutch friends would say), the experience was even better. Sitting in the hills overlooking olive plantations, drinking wine and watching the sun go down with 16 locals, we would spend the night full of good conversations learning more about the history and struggles of Cataluña… and of course more food and red wine. As the wee hours of the morning approached, we polished off the last bits of the paella pan by dipping our heels of bread in it, and called it a night.
Squatting off grid, even for a week, was a stunning experience and something so very different from what we’re used to. It is interesting to meet people who have chosen this way of life and to see how rich their lives are when focus is placed on what is important, and how much joy can be taken from basic interactions like a little good food with friends. Western society could probably learn something from this.
To make our stay even more memorable, Josep took us diving in the frozen Mediterranean (14 degrees Celsius!) to gaze at some of the most spectacular flabelinas in the world. We left Cadaques heading south with full stomachs and full hearts. We cannot say thank you enough to our wonderful Catalan hosts.