Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Pico Huma Hike

We’re well into the new year, the $%&@#!! cast is off my arm, and all is right with the world. I still don’t have full mobility in my left wrist, but it’s getting better day by day. I decided it was time to go on one of the famous Llega Como Puedas hikes. Last Sunday we went down to Pico Huma, in Malaga province. The forecast was 80% probability of rain…or, if you’re optimistic, 20% probability of no rain. We got lucky. There wasn’t a drop of rain all day, but it was obvious that it had been raining heavily not long before. I’d slog up the soggy hillsides until the weight of the mud threatened to pull my shoes off, then scrape it off against a convenient rock or tree. It got a bit tricky to clamber over the rocks with only one good hand, but I managed not to break any more bones. The views were lovely; take a look at the pictures:

It ended up being a much longer than expected day; I started walking to the bus just after 7:00 in the morning, and didn’t get home until 11:30 that night. This was directly caused by the number of new members that we had on the trip. A lot of the new members are youngsters (OK, in their 20’s). This ended up being a good news / bad news situation. Good, in that we get new blood for the club. Bad, in that some of them were over-confident in their abilities. One of them managed to twist her knee as we were approaching the peak, at a point where it would be no easier to turn back than to just continue on to the end. Short of calling in the Guardia Civil, there was nothing she could do but tough it out. And she did. These things happen; it’s nobody’s fault; but it meant that the whole group was moving much slower. A number of us were getting nervous as the day wore on. Nobody wanted to be caught on the mountainside after dark. We made it down about 7:00, just as it was getting truly dark.

That’s when we were caught with the second dilemma. Some of the other 20-somethings had given up on the initial ascent, and returned to the starting point in the Valle de Abdalajís. This meant that the bus had to return there to pick them up. There had been a landslide at some point, and the normal road back was closed. As far as I can tell, the bus driver got lost taking the alternate route. It took us an hour and a half to get there….the straight-line distance was only 15km. And after that was the two-hour ride to Córdoba. And after that was the mile walk from the bus stop back home. Quite a day.

Whenever you get a group of “n” Spanish people together, and a decision must be made, you’ll get “n” different opinions….each of them being shouted loudly. Since the hikes are generally cross-country, there are decision points for the route. This bothered me on the first excursion or two, but I soon reached the conclusion that you just wait for the ruteros (the route leaders) to reach a decision, and then the group would continue on. Of course, I often wondered what would happen if they couldn’t reach an agreement. Would the group split? Surely such a thing would never happen. Well….this time, it happened. I was faced with the nasty decision of which group to follow. There had been no rain during the day, but there was a danger that it could start at any time. I think that parts of the route would have simply been impossible with rain falling. I finally followed the group with more people, figuring that if we were going to have to be rescued by emergency crews, that was the better place to be. It all came out fine; the groups re-joined at the bottom of the mountain after an hour. That was the sort of adventure that I’d happily do without.

As I look back over what I’ve written, it sounds as if I am complaining. I’m really not. It was a good, strenuous hike with beautiful views. I had a really good time….seasoned with a few more adventures than I’d expected. Just another Spanish experience.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

In the Quest for a Simpler Life

There were a number of reasons that influenced our decision to take an extended sabbatical. Among them was the desire to simplify and escape the “Hurry, Hurry, Ding, Ding” that permeated our lives. So after a little over a year, I find myself reflecting on this grand adventure.

In many ways, moving to Spain was like stepping back into the 1950’s. This came with its own set of joys, frustrations, and some interesting insights. So let’s suppose for a moment that you have a basic home (running water, basic kitchen appliances, and basic climate control, circa 1950 USA), food and medical insurance. What else do you require to be happy? What are you willing to live without in order to have a quieter life? Or perhaps, the better question is: What is really important to you?

Of course, what is important is different for everyone. For Scott, it is his piano. For me, the list is a little longer… the availability of entertainment (books and an occasional movie) in my native language, a washing machine and a clothes dryer. I would add that this adventure would be almost impossible without a computer and DSL connection – only because I use them manage our finances while we are abroad and to stay connected to friends and family back home. In the states, I am sure that I would find the lack of a computer liberating on many levels. I miss my glass studio, but faced with the choice between “playing with glass” or a vacation, the vacation wins without a second thought. So add vacations to my list as well. My response left me stunned. I had expected to miss having a car. But I find that I enjoy the walking, and the weight loss that comes with it. The missing dishwasher doesn’t faze me at all… Scott does the dishes!

Last February, my brother and sister-in law kindly drove to Portland and packed up all our household belongings and put everything into storage. This event gave our sabbatical in Spain a finality that it had not had before. Suddenly, we were completely cut off from the majority of our stuff. But at the same time, this was strangely liberating. Things are nice, but often owning them steals your time, money and in many ways, your life. You end up working longer hours, not to support your family, but to support your stuff. It is really kind of sad.

After 15 months without our things, and not really missing them, intelligent people would toss the boxes without even opening them… Yeah… Easier said than done.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy 2010

I apologize to everyone for going so long without any blog entries. I blame it on the broken wrist; this one-handed typing is deucedly awkward. With luck, the cast will be coming off on January 11.

The new year finds us still in Spain, mentally preparing for a return to the USA in June. I find myself reflecting on the risks we take in life; what is acceptable, and what is not? What is important to you? Tonya and I have taken a huge risk by coming to Europe. Some would call it crazy…and yes, more than one person has said that to my face. What is important enough to you that you’d be willing to turn your life upside-down to do it?

Being an engineer, I was very methodical as we weighed life choices a few years ago. Unfortunately, a conventional cost-versus-benefit analysis doesn’t work well in this situation. There are hundreds of good, solid, sober reasons not to do something like this, and the benefit is a nebulous “because I really want to do it.” No, you can’t look for a left-brain solution here.

That’s not to say that I recommend abandoning reason altogether. You just have to be careful not to make life decisions based on fear. Let’s face it; most fears are imaginary. For instance, there’s the fear of not being able to find work when we return. I’d call that an imaginary fear, because I simply don’t know what will happen. Staying in a job doesn’t guarantee safety either; any one of us could be laid off tomorrow. The price of playing it “safe” would have been that we never got this grand adventure.

Be careful also about waiting for “the right moment.” I’ve talked to several older people who tell me that they’d worked hard all their lives with some dream in mind (whatever it might be). By the time that they retired, or were financially comfortable, they no longer had the energy or the health to make their dream a reality. Tragic? It makes me want to cry.

I hope that all of your dreams become realities in 2010.