Sunday, August 30, 2009

Siguenza to other Waters

These past 10 days or so have been full of aquatic activity. It all started after the last day of the fiestas de Siguenza. I woke up at around noon after having gone to bed with the sunrise, and strolled down the hill from Pablo’s house to the pool. Swimming felt great, or at least felt much better than trying to keep my balance on land. I had spent the past two weeks going to the pool in Siguenza at least once a day, and came to know so many people around the pool. The lifeguards, many of the kids, the familias, and the beautiful girls that always sat at the edge of the pool with their feet in the water. Knowing that it was my last day, I began to say goodbye to all the people around the pool deck. It was really heart warming to realize that I would miss these people, and that they would miss me, and that we had all come to know each other from our time shared around the pool. Everybody wished me suerte con el Estrecho de Gibraltar, and I left feeling like a home, or at least a transient community, had been created.

Next I went to Pablo’s office and checked my MCAT score. YES. I started to scream at the top of my lungs, and even had a few tears that strolled down my face. Oh my god, gods, gosh, mother earth, ocean, sun, yes, fuck yes and sweet ripe figs, I wont have to take that exam again. I was prepared for the worst because I felt destroyed coming out of the exam, and even though I had studied all summer long, I didn’t feel confident about the test. I think that I didn’t want a bad score to taint this Watson year. But now, with a good score, I can think yes to the relax of life and my project and these next two years before medical school. All is good, and I thank everything and everybody for this, everyday and all the time.

So. At that first swimming competition that I went to during my first few days in Spain, the 2.5km Travesia de Palmaces, I met a ton of great people that invited me to spend some time with them in various parts of Spain and engage in various swimming activities. The first of them was Angelon, and I am actually writing from his home in Guadalajara. Angelon is an amazing human being who has gone out of his way to help me by introducing me to a great group of Spanish lifeguards and by showing me various parts of Spain (and even France). The other group of swimmers are from Madrid, and all swim on a predominantly gay swim team called Halegatos. They are super fun and funny and we have all gone on a few trips together outside of Madrid, as well as in Madrid. This group includes: Margarita, Javier, David and Gonzalo.

I left Siguenza in a funky state of hang-over/extreme MCAT happiness with a friend, Pilar, who I met during the fiestas de Siguenza and at the pool. She gave me a ride to Guadalajara where Angelon picked me up with his friend David, and we left for the French side of the Spanish/French border to connect with a group of Spanish lifeguards from the center of Spain (the Castilla-La Mancha region). I basically slept the whole way to France, and Angelon woke me up to say that we had arrived at the camp site. I met the crew the following morning as they returned famished from their morning workout at the pool. It took me a few days to figure out exactly how they all ended up here, in France, together, but it all made sense as soon as I put the various pieces together. They were all selected to represent the Castilla-La Mancha region of Spain in the Spanish Lifeguard Championships, and if you look at a map of Spain, you will easily see that Castilla-La Mancha is in the dead center of Spain and has no coastline at all, and so they came to the coast to catch some waves. The lifeguard competitions, or the international lifeguard competitions for that matter, include a series of ocean events that I am familiar with as well as a series of pool events which I had never seen before. So the crew was cogiendo olas, or catching some waves, on the French coast, but bascially doing some heavy training to get ready for their national competition the following week . I was happy and grateful to train with them for a few days, to catch some waves, swim in the pool, and just hang for a few days with a great group of people. I learned all about the various pool events, which include dragging water filled plastic manequins across the pool, and was exposed to the scene of international lifeguard competitions. This crew has been all over the world to compete, from South Africa to Argentina, and all over Europe. I’ve invited them to California, it would be awesome for them to do some sort of training or simple pay a visit with the L.A. County Lifeguards.

I left France and the crew of Spanish Lifeguards with Jessica, one of the Spanish crew, and her family who came to pick her up. They live in Guadalajara, a town about an hour outside of Madrid, and so dropped me off at the train station in Guadalajara where I took the train back to Madrid. The next day I left with Margarita and her crew of swimmers for Alocen, a town on the border of a huge water reservoir about 120 km north-east of Madrid. We went to compete in another 2.5km swim, which was the last in a series of three 2.5km swims in various bodies of water around central Spain. I had competed in the second, in Palmaces, which was where I met all these amazing people, and arrived eleventh. This time, however, after weeks of training in the pool of Siguenza, the fiestas de Siguenza, and with the Spanish lifeguards in France, I came in fifth, dropped three minutes off of my time, and won 50 euros. I wasn’t sure what to do with the 50 euros, or even if accepting money was against some Watson rule, so I decided to just give the money to my friend Margarita for gas, because after the awards ceremony and paella, we left with the friends Gonzalo, David and Javier for the south coast of Spain, the Mediterranean Sea.

I didn’t sleep at all the night before the 10km jellyfish swim. We arrived in Cullera, a town on the coast near Valencia, around 11pm. The organizer of the swim let us set up tents on the rugby field of this sports complex outside of town. But by the time we got our tents set up, had dinner, and chilled out for a second, it was 1am or so and we had to get up at 5am to check-in for the swim at 6am to start the swim at 7am, and I was so excited that I couldn’t even sleep.

From the beginning it was so fucking awesome. As we were checking in at 6am, there were swarms of people leaving the night clubs, still dancing and singing to the distant music of the clubs. And they all had a field day with us, about 80 people in swim suits, putting Vaseline under our arms and around our necks, eating weird jell foods, and getting ready for a 10km swim. After we checked in, they herded us into a public bus. It was cramped and smelled like bananas and Gatorade. We attempted to cruise through the city streets but the bus was too wide and the other cars were not parked all that well, and so we actually couldn’t fit through the first few streets. We were stuck in the bus, and couldn’t move forwards or backwards, and the only thing left to do was…pick up the cars in front of the bus and move them out of the way. So groups of swimmers exited the bus and together, simply, and at times not so simply, picked up the cars that were in the way and moved them over towards the sidewalk. This whole time the organizer was trying to explain the course for the swim, and it was all so confusing. Nobody really knew what was going on, but basically I pieced together, with my friends, that it would all become clear during the swim, and it did, more or less.

The first 5km were a straight shot from the beach, across a bay and around a point in the distant horizon. It was beautiful. I felt like I was flying. It was early and the sun was rising over the water as a fire stricken peach, red and deep orange and good morning. Simple, just swim towards that point in the distance, which at first looked so far away, but we all eventually arrived there. After that point things got a bit tricky. Buoys and jellyfish appeared, and I had to be a bit more focused on the details of my swimming direction. There were so many jellyfish. Swarms, oceans, fields, herds of jellyfish. It was at first scary, and then annoying, and at times beautiful. Swimming over a huge white jellyfish with long purple tentacles on a background of Mediterranean turquoise. The most bizarre sensation was when I wouldn’t see the jellyfish ahead of me, and would run directly into the head of the jellyfish and simply stop dead in my swimming tracks. Holy shit, it was crazy, but I love intense experiences. But the greatest part about the swim was that even after a 2.5km competition the day before, and on no sleep, at the end of the 10km I wanted to keep swimming. I still felt great.

Well, that is enough for now. After the competition in Cullera I returned to Madrid and spent most of the week there, swimming and getting to know the city. I went on a few great side trips, one to Toledo where I stayed with Navalon and David (El Moron) from the Spanish lifeguarding crew, and another trip to a small lake in the mountains outside of Madrid with Margarita, Gonzalon, David and Javier. Such beautiful and amazingly kind people. Gonzalo prepared this delicious picnic that was so abundant that we even had enough for dinner. We also stopped in Segovia on the way back from the mountains. Gonzalo also has a catering service, and needed some help, so one night I found myself working as a waiter, serving food at a super posh night club in Madrid. It was a modeling event, with a runway and all. Crazy. Now I am in Guadalajara, staying with friends. Angelon got me to come out here to go to the big reservoir and swim and play around, and now I’m staying with Pilar at her house. Yes to it all, and mostly THANKS to all these great people!

1 comment:

  1. Max! It seems like you're having such an amazing time. I saw and talked with Willy yesterday, and he updated me on your trip! Congratulations on your swims and on your MCAT score!! I cannot imagine the insane amount of celebrating you must have done, after recieving your score =) I'm still waiting for my score, but I'm supposed to get it around sept. 21.

    Continue having an awesome time!

    Lots of love from the Maine Coast!