Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Siguenza, Spain

Meet Pablo Ignacio Franco Matamala, otherwise known as Nacho. Nacho and I met in Sana'a, Yemen in the spring of 2008. We were both studying Arabic, but more importantly had a similar group of friends that we always hung out with to chew qat, chill, and talk. We all kicked it in a small room above one of the public bath-houses in the center of the old quarter of Sana'a (and if anybody goes to Sana'a, stay away from the new part of the city at all costs). When I told him that I was coming to Spain, he gave me the warm welcome that felt similar to how we were both welcomed in Yemen. After my two red-eye flights from L.A, Nacho picked me up from the Madrid airport in the morning and took me back to his apartment where I left me bags, showered, and then we took off to see the city. Nacho is not actually from Madrid, but from a small town called Siguenza about 120km to the north-east of the city. He works as the journalist for a small newspaper produced in Siguenza, with information and stories from the region. So after one night in Madrid, we left the following day for his small town. Now, I've been in Siguenza for about a week and am swimming everyday, meeting lots of other swimmers, eating well, drinking at many different bars, and organizing the rest of my time in Spain. I even swam in a 2.5km swim competition in a lake within the first few days of my arrival. So all in all, I am having a great start to this year...or just a continuation of the good life, it is hard to tell.

Siguenza es tierra del girasol. I've always thought that the sunflower is the most beautiful flower to exist. To me, it is beautiful because it has the most distinct human qualities of any flower that I've ever seen. Both in size, shape, and aura, a sunflower seems like a shinning, smiling person. And when there are fields of sunflowers all around, the world appears to be full of happy people, which I am sure is true, but sometimes forget. All around Siguenza are fields of sunflowers the surround small towns and old castles, rolling hills and patches of pines. The countryside of Castilla-La Mancha, this particular province of Spain, is extremely beautiful.

Siguenza reminds both Pablo and I of Sana'a for a few very particular reasons. The first is that it seems like everybody in both Sana'a and Siguenza knows each other and is somehow related. The second is that with a limited possibility of things to do, people in both cities resort to a simple mixture of mild intoxication and conversation as their daily activity. In Yemen it is qat, and in Siguenza it is beer at the bars (there are 51 bars in this town of only 4,000 people). The third is that both cities hold a rich history. And just as I fell in love with Sana'a, so am I enjoying Siguenza. I enjoy the fact that after only a week, I recognize many people, and many people know who I am and what I am doing- mainly training to swim across the Strait of Gibraltar. It's great to share my goal with the people around as it gives me a sense of identity other than that of a simple traveler. It also makes it easier for me to refuse drinks by saying "No, I can't drink that much today. Tomorrow I have to train because I plan to swim across the Strait of Gibraltar in a month". The pool in town is also amazing, an Olympic distance pool with no heat or lane-lines- just a big concrete bathtub with some chlorine. But it is surrounded by rolling fields and patches of...sunflowers. The pool in town is a place where people go as a family or group of friends to hang out for the day, and if you want to swim laps, you have to get there when the pool opens at 11am before the crowds of people arrive. Most people just splash around, or jump in and out of the water, kids play games, and sometimes the lifeguards give lessons. I swim laps with a few other people in the morning, and have been averaging 4 to 7km a day. I had the thought today that I could maybe collect enough kilometers of swimming this year to equal the circumference of the globe. Then I found out that it is 40,000km, which would mean me swimming about 105km a day...

And a few words about the Travesia de Palmaces, a 2.5km swim competition in a lake that I completed on Saturday August 8th. There was a huge paella party after the competition in the plaza of a small town near the lake that included free beer and desert. I finished 11th out of 100 competitors, had an awesome time, and met tons of other swimmers. I'm all set to go with a few of them to another 2.5km lake competition next weekend, followed by a 10km ocean swimming marathon in the south of Spain on the Mediterranean coast. I'm curious to see how this 10km swim goes...but then again, the Strait of Gibraltar will be about 20km. All in good fun, training, travel, and experience.

1 comment:

  1. Dude Im loving that Huge amount of food looks like my kind of place