He kept throwing me respectful glances across table at the seaside café as we all drank cañas of beer while the pink sky a lit with the last lingering rays of the Saharan sun. White hair contrasted the tightly pulled brown skin of his defined face enhancing the devious twinkle in his level, bright blue eyes. A thick Scottish accent told stories and cracked sarcastic jokes leaving me insatiably curious about the salty sea dog who had just guided us through Atlantic sea caves not far away. Getting a full story out of him took some coaxing after his being swayed by previous and unimportant questions and topics such as, “Did you meet anyone famous in the Hamptons?” and Paris Hilton’s true purpose. I understood that we needed to play on his level in order to learn anything about him. Finally after two beer stories began to flow with ease, “I could tell ya ’bout storms and sunkings, but my most memorable trip was whin I kayaked across Scotland…”. This man had seen it all and then some: being in the royal navy, jumping out of helicopters, almost beating the time record for crossing the Atlantic (missed it by one day), raising 10,000 euros to help an orphanage in Romania, almost getting caught in a hurricane off the coast of Newfoundland in a row boat. This was one tough, salty sea bastard, and he was the kind who would tell you that himself if you bought him a couple of cervezas. it was funny to think that one of my most adventurous moments so far had happened with him, who probably found it mundane if anything. I loved those few hours that we spent in the sea caves– I have grown up and lived on the coast my entire life and to be land locked for the first time in Granada has definitely changed and heightened my appreciation for what the ocean can do to the human soul. And that is what Las Islas Canarias has done for me; given me a brief and much needed relief to be by the sea. Being able to swim, to be emerged totally in something you can’t control, something truly wild…I’ve always felt comfortable in the water though most of my friends during the sea cave exploration couldn’t say the same. Their reactions compared to mine resulted in the Scott speaking to me in a different and distinct tone: he knew we were on the same level. It made me realize there’s a difference between people who love the beach and t hose who love the ocean. Those who honestly love the ocean understand its wild fever, its uncontrollably and they know that there is enjoyment to be found in going with the flow and keeping cool in situations that can be considered less than smooth sailing. Pure, unbridled adventure with salt sticking to your hair and skin in comparison to sand and tanning oil. The pioneering spirit, letting curious outweigh logic. For me the ocean hold moments equivalent to the astronaut taking off into a black unknown, the rush of adrenaline as an alpine-er reaches the summit, the sheer euphoria of a sailor racing across the Atlantic. As I drove to the airport on my last day the glittering reflection of the early sun peppered the ever restless surface of the water as I began to miss the sea’s presence prematurely. The primitive connection between man and the sea burned into my forehead, perhaps it’s due to the route of evolution, how we emerged from the primordial soup of the sea millions of years ago. Perhaps it’s the romanticized notion of Homer’s seascapes: a constant, overbearing reminder of life’s fragility and loneliness, making us feel small and insignificant, yet at the same time giving us the strength to fight for our right to be present, just to be one drop in the ocean.
One day new hostel friends and I drove along the insanely curvy road in a rented car. Every thirty minutes the terrain changed drastically from high desert, mountains, green valleys and then back to the beach. Tiny towns perched on the walls of rocky canyons, humble and simple emerged in poverty as the wealth of the seaside resorts had not found its way inland. The true locals oppressed by tourism, are denied the right to be able to enjoy what is rightfully theirs. Much like most of Spain the tourist demand has robbed another beautiful place of its genuine charm, raping it until it resembles the southern beaches of the island, resort after resort clinging to the cliffs like leeches in rows of warped Flinstone like buildings. The out wash of the locals by Scandinavian and German tourists will be forever burned into my memory as I watched local boys fishing off of a rocky jetty for dinner as loud German tourists enjoyed a 21 plus euro steak dinner not far off. Half of Gran Canaria is extinct, originality tromped by tourist demand, yet I was fortunate enough to stay in the last pueblo standing, Puerto Mogán. The juxtaposition of tourist and local, rich and poor allowed me to see the reality left disregarded by the typical tourist– Spain’s economy is solely fueled by hosting others. With no other source of income Spain will forever be caught amid a strong current of swirling waters of a modern, globalized economy, and I hope that Spain will be able to hold onto its culture and keep its head above the water.