Tuesday, July 26, 2016

- The Tramuntana Way --

Summer decides to hit Dublin with atypical 24 degrees Celsius in the afternoon, the strong sunshine turning the outdated Terminal 1 at Dublin Airport into a steamy greenhouse, whilst the air conditioned system seems to give up to the breath and body heat of hundreds of passengers waiting to embark on holidays around Europe in what I can only describe as a Friday evening frenzy.
A group of Irish lads choke down cold pints of cider whilst their flight to Faro is on its last call and a bunch of obnoxious Spanish students loudly play 'Pokemon Go' and kick a ball as if the waiting area was their own private football pitch.
The delay of over an hour and the sensation of deodorant failing through my shirt after a day in the office are forgotten shortly after my flight leaves the greenery of Dublin, soaring over Wicklow and aiming towards continental Europe. The dimmed sunshine refusing to give up to the freshness of the Northern night, as if was aiming to remind us of its presence, at least for a couple of days a year.

A final approach along the Mediterranean Sea coast accentuate the magic of Barcelona, appearing through our windows like a set of grid-laid lights floating in a murky volume of water and anchored to the steep slopes of Mount Tibidabo and its castle.

It is midnight by the time I clear the numerous escalators, corridors and hallways of El Prat, and almost 1:00am when I step on the bustling Placa Catalunya and meet my friends. Familiar perhaps, boring? Never.
My energies succumb to fatigue as my head rest in soft pillows laid on a sofa bed. The half-open door letting a light summer breeze to penetrate the room and flood the air with distant sounds of neighbours chatting at a nearby balcony under a pale yellow light.

In the morning, I decide to take the day off and walk through the streets surrounding the Urquinaona metro station in between tourists and locals alike sipping on espressos and having brunch in tables laid on the broad sidewalks, white tablecloths shining at the reflection of the morning sunshine, kept together with colorful plates.
A walk continuing down memory lane, across places seen on my last time in the Catalonian capital and quenched by three glasses of fresh fruit juice, whilst the pungent aroma of freshly cooked seafood blends with the smell of recently diced watermelons, and loud merchants sell live octopuses amidst stalls coloured by hanging saffron strings and Moroccan spices, I am once again at the Mercat de la Boqueria.

I feel relieved of having previously visited the city. No agenda needs to be met at this stage. No visits to the Sagrada Familia or walks in Parc Guell required but instead, I surrender to an evening indulging in an assortment of tapas, sangria and crisp sunshine, whilst the light sea breeze blows through the streets of El Born.
Naps come later, and so does the best burger I have ever tasted at La Barceloneta, minutes before midnight, when the full moon hides behind the 'D-shaped' W Hotel.

The early morning is a blur. A walk under Arc do Triomph whilst locals and tourists alike are sleeping, creating the illusion of a city immersed in a deep state of morning meditation shortly before dipping into a caffeine rush.
The weak sunshine caresses my skin and the strong air conditioned on the train to Sabadell freezes a yawn or two. Barcelona is left behind and the hot and dry plains of Sabadell are reached. Although tricked by the sight of the distant karst walls of the Pyrenees, a walk to the swimming pool is already scorching.

Warm up is done, stretching here, leg up there, shoulder rotations, jumps. The time gets closer and my heart races faster. At midday, my event is finally called, the cold air touches my skin and climbs up my spine and rushing adrenaline levels to the roof. Once again, the whistle is blown, followed by the cryptic seconds of absolute silence and a loud start.
The body automatically jumps and the thermal shock of cold water is felt. 'Time to do what you came here to do' reverberates through my head, and a long and painful 400 meters of Individual Medley are swam.
A medal is added to the collection, so is a new time and a satisfactory result. Perhaps more importantly, a small and new step of confidence is regained, a motivation to keep pushing forward, to continue to show up at training after long days in the office, breaking the rules of age and routine.

I immediately have a plane to catch and a whole city to get across through. From Sabadell to El Prat, the sequence requires a walk ,a train, another walk and a bus, boarding the aircraft at the right time only to sit on the tarmac for three hours due to air traffic control issues.
Usually a 35-minute hop across the sea, a flight to Palma de Mallorca turns into a nearly 5-hour ordeal. Nonetheless, spirits remain up with novelty free onboard wifi and a flight rich in scenery owed to an U-turn over the rugged Northern tip of the isle and a final approach over endless orange trees dotting the dusty landscape.

The airport confirms my worst holiday destination nightmare as I try to make my way through long corridors packed with passengers carrying heavy pieces of luggage and girls wearing a bit too much make up and a bit too little clothes.
I am sweaty, tired and my stomach feels like it's carrying a pile of bricks full of acid. Thermometers mark 28 degrees despite being almost 10:00pm, time in which public transport out of Palma is soon to cease for the day.
A bus takes me into Palma and its busy and rather unattractive city centre, I walk for moments and succumbing to my state of frustration and delay, I decide to take a taxi to Marratxi, where I have booked a place for the night.

Mallorca might be small, but due to its size, dramatic transitions are part of its identity. Fifteen minutes later, the lights of the capitals are seen in the distance and I am transported to rural Spain, to clusters of houses topped by crimson ceramic tiles and sheltered from the weather by thick walls painted in dirty terracotta tones.
I am checked into the hotel by a friendly large man, his strong accent accentuated by his thick beard and dominant traditional mannerisms. He shortly lets me know the hotel is in fact a converted convent and fixes me a salmon salad, served al fresco in the main terrace, under fairy lights that seem to blend with both the lively street lamps of the city in the distance and the stars embedded in the sterile Mediterranean night.
Three types of homemade bread and an equal amount of jams are served at breakfast in the terrace, the daylight revealing a mostly flat landscape only challenged by the Serra da Tramuntana, a sight perhaps too attractive to resist.

The next minute, I find myself riding a scooter through a narrow pathway to the town of Santa Maria del Cami, where I catch a very modern train to Palma central station, leave my bag and ride a bus North.

As expected and within minutes, the bus climbs through a sinuous and steep mountain road and the town of Valdemossa is reached, as well as the town of Deia, and a landscape that the mind seems to be unable to process due to the drastic change.
Villages clinging atop the Tramuntana, at times challenging the laws of gravity whilst gracefully displaying countless levels of colourful rooftops, balconies and large windows, perhaps as a naked and transparent testimony of the life led by its inhabitants, like a naughty girl trying to briefly show you what lies beneath without losing her touch.
This is the Mallorca I longed to see as read on 'The Pillars of Hercules'. The Mallorca that enchants everyone with its quietness worlds away from vomit central down in Magaluf.

With only a few hours left, pace is set for a hike from Deia to Port de Soller. A trail of over 10 kilometers through the mountains, which at times follows the main busy road, improvises its way behind holiday homes where children splash in small blue pools, or even cuts through dry farms populated by only a few skinny goats.

The blue water of the Mediterranean is omnipresent. So is the sunshine slowly burning my bare skin, turning my arrival into the pristine Port de Soller into some sort of hard earned and precious mirage of cold refreshing water, also providing closure to this short break before returning to Palma to collect my bag and take yet another bus to the airport to catch my flight.

Ryanair 9593 departs on time, rocketing over the busy port of Palma before sharply turning North over Barcelona and flying over the plain and dull landscape of Central Spain, numbing most passengers who seem to fall asleep during the two-hour journey over France.
On final descent, the captain announces an exceptionally warm temperature at Liverpool, smiles are drawn and the plane touches down just short of Merseyside.
I wait for a couple of hours before finally catching my last flight of the day, a short hop across the Irish Sea and over the Isle of Man, landing in the capital of Ireland shortly before midnight, with the summer sunshine still dyeing the 'warmest evening of the year' with crisps orange tones.