Archive for the 'Spain' Category

Into Spain


Plaza de la Constitución

San Sebastian, Spain – I’ve been here before, for a combined city break/surf trip that became more about the pintxos and drinking after the surf ran dry.

This time around I thought I knew it all and walked into a bar on the main square to ask for the local sangria, a blend of coca cola and red wine served over ice. But I got it wrong and was served two glasses of luke warm white wine.

Determined to get the red as well, I walked out of the bar with three glasses for two people and ended up drinking most of them. The end result was that the afternoon I spent walking through the narrow streets of the Old Town was a fuzzy but very pleasant affair.

Notes from Spain (Part Five)


The author tasting Luarca’s finest plonk

Luarca, Spain – I’ve given up on the waves, now its time to focus on Asturias’ strengths: eating and drinking. tells me the swell is small, small, small and will stay that way until after I’ve returned to London. So there’s not much point wasting all my time looking for non-existent surf when I can just stay local and make a glutton of myself.

I mentioned before the native blend of cider, or sidre, they do here. It’s a low alcohol, flat brew that is poured from a great height to introduce some bubbles into the mix.

Most Asturian males, while seated, simply hold the green sidre bottles high over their heads with one hand, their tumbler glass low to the ground with the other, and pour. It generally splashes all over the floor, their hands, feet and the feet of anyone near them.

What does make it into the glass is drunk straight away in one gulp and the dregs thrown onto the ground (which by now is awash with cider).

I calculated that out of every 750mL bottle of cider, you’d be lucky to actually drink about a third. Good thing it only goes for about 3 euros a pop.

Notes from Spain (Part Four)


Surfing in Asturias: beautiful landscapes. Small waves.

Somewhere near Luarca, Spain – I finally got some waves this morning. Small, glassy and kinda fun.

Unfortunately, it was also bloody freezing. I only have a 3/2 wetsuit, good enough down to about 18C. I suspect its colder because in between sets I was laying on my board with my hands and feet up out of the water like a sky diver, trying to stop them going numb.

It worked, sort of. I could almost feel my surfboard under my feet when I stood up.

I also packed both my surfboard and Mum (she got the front seat) into the car and headed all the way west to Tapia de Casariego, Asturias’ surf city. They have a WQS surfing contest here each Autumn so I thought if anywhere was going to have waves, it would be here.

Unfortunately, it didn’t. Neither did the beach further west near Villadun. But it had potential. And they were both very pretty parts of the world.

Notes from Spain (Part Three)

Asturias-1394Waiting for the fog to clear

Luarca, Spain – After arriving in Luarca, I lapped the town’s  one way roads four times before finally finding the narrow street the fishing house is on.

It’s so narrow it requires a three point turn at each switchback. God forbid if a car comes the opposite way. I hope your reversing skills are up to scratch. Mine are (now).

I had to do it all again after dumping my stuff and heading back out onto the road to find some waves. It was 6pm, but in this part of the world it doesn’t get dark until after 10pm, so I had a few hours up my sleeve.

Either side of the motorway the landscape is flat and agricultural. The smell of cow shit drifts on the breeze. Low-roofed sidrerias serve the golden-hued local cider (more on that later). The small churches that make up this part of the Camino Santiago pilgrim trail stand tall and proud. All of it set to a backdrop of the baize-green mountains that stretch away into the clouds.

Turn down one of the many roads to the coast and things get interesting. Pine trees line the very edge of the cliffs. Almost every beach has a rivermouth of some sort, carrying the run-off from the rain-drenched mountains. The sunlight filters weakly through the thick sea fog. Deep gullies are filled with gum trees. Sometimes it feels like I’m back home in Western Australia.

It’s also this fog that is making my search for surf pretty difficult. On that first afternoon I wasn’t able to see beyond the shorebreak, let alone make out any surfable waves.

Since then, I’ve checked a couple different beaches to the west of Luarca. It might be sunny and warm on the highway, but down on the beaches among the cliffs and valleys, visibility is down to metres.

Unwilling to spend hours smoking joints and waiting for it to clear, like the band of surfers in the maroon hatchback at one beach, I usually push on and do some sightseeing inland instead, vowing to strike for the beach as soon as the fog lifts.

Notes from Spain (Part two)

Asturias-1428Heading west on the A-8

Luarca, Spain – My arrival was easy enough. Touch down at Asturias airport. Stuff my bags and surfboard into an electric blue Peugeot hire car and tentatively pull out onto the A-8 motorway.

I got lost pretty much straight away, which is a given when you’re driving on the wrong side of the road and navigating with a map on your lap at the same time. But it did mean I got to check out the sights of San Juan, a cosy little fishing village.

Its estuary seemed to be boiling and billowing in the afternoon light as a thick bank of sea fog rolled in, turning the sunny afternoon grey and moody in minutes.

Back on the A-8 and heading west I duelled with the Spanish drivers. The speed limit was a generous 120kph but even then I was being buffeted by the sonic booms of every Seat or Peaugot that roared past. And these were little hatchbacks! Imagine if the Spanish had proper cars?

The reason they can go so fast, it seems, is that the motorway is absolutely first class. Smooth, well sign posted and with enormous viaducts stretching  way out over deep valleys. It was like driving in the sky.

Millions must have been spent on the stretch of road between Aviles and Luarca – all for the handful of people (relatively speaking) that live in this region.

Notes from Spain (Part One)

Asturias-1359Parking for your boat is at a premium in Luarca.

Asturias, Spain – This place must be the forgotten region in Spain. Everyone has been to Madrid or Barcelona, the Balaeric or Canary Isles, Andulucia even. But who’s heard of Asturias? And who knew you could surf here?

I’m in Asturias for a week. The official line is that I’m here to meet my mum, who will finish a whirlwind three week bus tour through western Europe tomorrow.

We’ve rented a fisherman’s house high on the hill in Luarca, a village of a 15,000 or so. Not very rock star, I know, but it suits the Hemingway phase I am going through. (not the holidaying with my Mum part, but the heavy-drinking blogger in an isolated-house-on-the-hill part).

Unofficially, I’m using this mother-son bonding holiday to scout around for waves. There’s not a lot of information on the usual surfing websites about this region. But with miles of beaches and headlands – all facing the north Atlantic – its got to have some potential.

48 hours in Mallorca – Part 3


Palma back street

Palma, Mallorca – 9.30am: Gah! I wake with a start. My tongue is stuck to the roof of my mouth. Palma, shit, I’m still only in Palma… (apologies to Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now).

9.45am: I figure I’ve only got a couple more hours in this bat shit crazy town before I fly. I might as well make the most of it. I grab my camera and lurch through the narrow cobbled lanes behind Ben’s apartment. There’s some cool stuff to see here. Apartments painted in faded yellow or pink-washed walls. Stray cats. Art galleries. Laundry hanging from lines high above me. But there’s no one about. It’s a public holiday and I’m stuffed if I know where everyone is. I need just one person walking past one of those shopfronts to frame an interesting shot. But I don’t see anyone.

10.14am: There are few finer pleasures in life than relaxing at an outside cafe table in Europe. I find one opposite the square at Paseo de Bom and sit down. Within seconds a waiter is at my table taking my order. Fast, efficient, professional. He’s done up in black and whites, hair slick backed, waistcoat – the works. I’m impressed. None of this surly shit service you get in London. A minute later a cafe con leche is delivered to my table. It quells my pounding headache a little. I wrote furiously in my journal, fuelled on by caffeine. When I slow I order another. It’s almost too much. I have to walk. I go jerking off down the road to Ben’s apartment to see what they’re up to.

11.30am: The gang is only just stirring. Ben’s flatmate James complains of coming down with tonsillitis. He takes a couple of vitamin pills to stave it off, washing it down with a can of San Miguel beer. Outrageous. And that seems to sum up my weekend in Palma. 48 hours of excess. I was unprepared for it. I spent most of the time like a younger brother to the streetwise Ben and James, trying to keep up as they downed beers at myriads bars, in between pointing out the sights of Palma while we walked to the next boozer. It was sightseeing at a fast and furious pace, slightly addled by too much beer (Ben would say not enough beer) and the strange Nerverland world the yacht crew live in. Can’t wait to go back next year.

Check out the Mallorca Flickr album here.

48 hours in Mallorca – Part 2


The author and new friend, Cala Major

Palma, Mallorca – 8.30am: The alarm goes off. It feels like my head hit the pillow just seconds ago. I reluctantly get up and get ready for a day’s sightseeing in our hire car.

9.19am: Ben and I stop for a much needed coffee at Cala Major, the next beach over from Palma. While we wait for Ben’s friends Jeremy and Claudia to meet us we’re accosted by a middle aged woman who at first glance I assume is a lady of the night. She joins us or coffee and we learn her name is Charlotte, she is from England and she is still awake from partying the night before. Which explains the high heels and dress she is wearing under her coat. She tells me “you remind me of my 21 year old son”. Given that I’m 29 but presently feel about 49, I wonder just how rough looking her son is. We escape once we get enough caffeine into us.

9.45am: We roar up the motorway away from Palma, heading to the north coast of the island. I had assumed Mallorca would be a quaint, sparsely populated island in the off season. But there’s little at first to distinguish it from the Spanish mainland: heavy traffic, miles of motorways and industrial parks.

10.02am: Away from Palma the landscape turns to dusty farms, olive groves and classic Mallorcan multi-spoke windmills.

10.48am: Our first stop is on the way out to Cap Formentor, the most northerly point of Mallorca. We peer over the edge of dramatic cliffs to the sea hundreds of metres below. Jeez I’m tired. I need a coffee.

Ben, Claudia and Jeremy strolling through Pollença

11.28am: We follow an impossibly narrow and winding road along the cliff edge to the lighthouse at Cap Formentor. Jeremy remembers there being a cafe on site. It turns out to be closed. No coffee.

12.13pm: We pull into Piedra beach which has a self service cafeteria. I rush to the coffee machine at the back and try to figure out how to use it. As I’m reading the Spanish instructions a staff member walks up and affixes a sign to its front: “not in service”. I think I might have let out a scream.

12.14pm: Turns out there is actually a barista on site. I pay €11.20 for four coffees for the gang. Feeling a little better.

1.01pm: We stop at Pollença for lunch. This is the sort of place to inspire Van Gough. Under a bright sun and a blue sky is this picturesque town, its buildings washed in yellow and pink and terracotta hues. We break for lunch at a sun drenched table outside a smoky taverna. There’s only so much that coffee can do for me so I follow my new friends’ lead and order a clara, a beer and fanta shandy.

3:26pm: We bomb through the twisting mountains of the west coast on our way back to Palma. A thick blanket of smoke hangs over the valley. A bushfire? No, we drive past a park and half of Mallorca has turned out for family barbecues.

Bloody Marys at Porto Xol

4:52pm: We stop at Portittxol, a pleasant little fishing town just east of Palma’s sprawl. It’s decided a round of Bloody Mary’s is the best way to watch the sunset.

5:50pm: We drop Jeremy and Claudia back at their Cala Major apartment. It’s decided another round of Bloody Marys is the best way to toast the twilight. Who am I to argue?

6:52pm: Bloody Marys back at Ben’s apartment. We run out of things toast. It doesn’t seem to matter.

7:30pm: For something different Ben and I go to the Corner Bar for a couple of beers before dinner. It’s like walking into the set of Cheers or something. Everyone turns to say hello to Ben when he enters. I suspect some of the customers may not have left their bar stools for some time. Days perhaps.

9.15pm: With the bar sporting a very favourable ratio of more girls than boys, Ben seems to have lost interest in plans for dinner. I split with Jeremy and Claudia for a traditional English Sunday roast. It’s their last meal before heading to Thailand for three months the next day. I’m totally jealous.

11.23pm: I’m done. The meal felt more like it was a drinking session accompanied by a roast than a dinner in itself. I wave the white flag and stumble back to Ben’s apartment. The last I see of Ben is as he pushes his way into Agua, a bar so smoky that even the regular smokers complain about the air quality.

48 hours in Mallorca – Part 1


Near Avenue Argentina, Palma

Palma, Mallorca - 11.50am: I clear immigration and stride out into Mallorca’s mild winter sunshine. Six hours earlier I was standing at London bus stop in the dark shivering against the 5C morning temperature. It’s now a balmy 17C and I strip off down to my t shirt and dust off my sunglasses for the bus ride into town.

12.46pm: I get off at Avenue Argentina in the middle of Palma and catch up with Ben, my guide for the weekend. Ben and I studied journalism together in Perth. After a promising start working as a cadet reporter for a country newspaper, he threw it all away to crew a yacht from the Maldives to the Med. He hasn’t looked back since, working as a deckhand on a succession of luxury yachts around the world.


Ben down among the giant boat lifts

1.24pm: My tour of Palma starts at the boat yards, where the boat Ben works on is having a major refit. We walk past sleek racing yachts, tough looking expedition boats and gleaming, multi-level power boats. There’s nothing worth less than a couple of mill. Ben’s boat is something around the euro 35m range. Two tenders, jet skis, jacuzzi, piano, the works. Its enormous.

2.33pm: I’m starting to fade. After a busy week at work pulling a bunch of overtime and the early morning start to catch my flight I beg Ben for a coffee stop. Under the shadow of the enormous Palma Cathedral we sip cafe con leches. It helps, sort of.

3.00pm: We stop by a noodle bar for lunch. A bunch of girls Ben knows are already there. They look and sound worse than I feel. Turns out they were drinking until dawn to celebrate a friend leaving that day. The six girls, most from Australia, are some of the hundreds of stewards, or stews, that serve food and drinks and clean the luxury yachts. It sounds like they get a raw deal. While the boys get to captain the yachts, drive the tenders and work outdoors, its the girls that run around below deck and keep the billionaire owners happy. When the boats cruise past exotic islands they’re likely to be scrubbing toilets. When the deckies knock off at night, they’re getting ready to serve dinner to the guests. It’s enough to drive them to drink, apparently.


Plaza Major,  Palma

6.15pm: Back to Ben’s apartment to get spruced up for the night. He lives in a tiny flat in the narrow lanes of an old Palma neighbourhood yet to be touched up by tourism. He cautions me about the neighbourhood at night and the area’s reputation for muggings – apparently handed out by the local gypsy drug dealers. “If you find yourself walking around here at night, erm, don’t.”

7.20pm: We head down to the Corner Bar, the local hangout for the crew of the luxury yachts. Inside the smoky taverna are South Africans, Swedes, Brazillians, New Zealanders and, of course, Australians. We grab a couple of bottles of Estrellas beer and I try and follow the nautical-themed conversations. The girls from lunch are here. I can’t be sure but I think they’ve been drinking all afternoon. Ben assures me this is normal Palma behaviour.

9.45pm: One of the girls, drunk out of her mind on snakebites (cider, beer and red current syrup served by the pint) yells at the swarthy looking dudes congregating by the narrow lanes. “Stopping mugging people you fucking gypsies, no one likes it!”

11pm-ish: God I’m tired. I’m robotically pouring beer down my throat, the alcohol providing just enough of a buzz to stay one step ahead of the urge to fall asleep on my feet. By now we’re in Soho Bar drinking Quillmes, an Argentinean beer.

Sometime after midnight (I think):
We’re in Cultura Club down by the waterfront. There is a bottle of Sol beer in my hand. How did I get here? I look over to Ben who is drinking cocktails and is holding court in front of a group of girls. He looks even more tired and emotional than me. If this carries on much longer we won’t make it out of bed tomorrow to take the hire car for a lap around the island. I grab Ben and we escape out of there.

The Guggenheim

Jacq and the Guge

Bilbao, Spain – Somehow I got the flight times wrong and we bussed it out of San Sebastian two hours earlier than we needed to.

But it was a positive in disguise as it gave us the chance to spend half an afternoon in Bilbao, where we were flying out from to London.

Having seen the amazing Guggenheim Museum on our way into Bilbao four days previous, we didn’t need to think twice before setting out towards the famous building.

As seen from the river

Unfortunately it was a grey, overcast day in Bilbao so the photos don’t really do it justice. But just being in the vicinity of a structure so bold, adventurous and well, crazy, was a great experience.

From some angles it looked like a giant sailing shipped docked beside the river. From others a bronze Sydney Opera House. Up close it was a mind-bending series of lines and curves.

We spent so much time walking around the outside we had no time left to go inside to look at the art treasures within. We’ll have to do that next year I suppose.


Backpack Storybook is the travel journal of Rhys, a writer, photographer and surfer. He is now based in Western Australia after travelling in Asia, the UK and Europe. Read more. _______________________________

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