Features 14.5: España: Mucha Fiesta y Bastante Siesta

When you think of Spain, the first things that probably come to mind are the running of the bulls in Pamplona (or bullfights in general), siestas, maybe flamenco music and dancing, and partying all night-or morning-for days straight. However, there’s a lot more to Spain than meets the eye, and believe me when I tell you, it’s a country you don’t want to miss out on. If you ever get the opportunity to travel to this diverse place (i.e., study abroad), do it. It is in a class of its own, overflowing with culture, tradition, breathtaking landscape, and exquisite cuisine-not to mention great surf and snowboarding. The people of Spain are some of the most friendly and sincere I’ve ever met, and they know how to live life to its fullest. Spaniards value their relationships most-with family, friends, and loved ones. They are extremely social and place much importance on getting together throughout the day to hang out. In fact, from about 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., everything shuts down for siesta, which allows everyone time to get outside, eat lunch, get together with friends, or rest, enabling Spaniards to enjoy the best part of the day. Business resumes throughout the latter part of the afternoon, and then dinner is usually served around 10:00 p.m. Those who like to go out to party do so around midnight and return home close to sunrise.

San Sebastián: La Perla de España
It’s pouring rain, and I have just landed in Bilbao, Spain. A sudden rush of excitement overwhelms me. In a traveling daze, I walk off the plane into the small, dingy, smoke-filled airport and immediately take notice of a taller man standing in the distance, hair somewhat long and wavy, wearing a big puffy jacket-exactly what I would expect one of Spain’s top snowboarders to look like. I walk up to him and ask, “Iker Fernández?” as if my board bag hadn’t already given me away. Moments later we are driving along the narrow, wet road, winding through the rolling hills and small villages of the Basque Country, headed toward San Sebastián, Iker’s hometown and where I once lived for six months.

When we reach town, Iker drops me off at the Hotel Niza, where I briefly settle into my room overlooking the beach, boardwalk, and steel-gray waters of the Bay of Biscay. I freshen up and then walk in the cool, damp drizzle to Parte Vieja-a section of San Sebastián full of bars, restaurants, and shops placed along cobblestone roads where cars cannot drive. I meet Iker, his girlfriend Brenda, and some friends at a bar on Calle Fermín Kabelton, known as the street in all of Europe with the most bars on it. There’s an internationally known challenge to drink a zurito (couple swallows of beer) at every bar. It doesn’t sound like much, but by the time you’re at the opposite end from where you started, you’ll most likely be ready to pass out on the beach and let the cold waters of the high tide eventually sober you up. We decide not to take on that challenge, but we do manage to tie quite a buzz on before calling it a night.

The next morning, I delightedly cruise around the familiar streets of my old neighborhood and drink the first of countless cafés con leche (espresso with steamed milk)-so much for kicking my caffeine addiction. There’s just something about Spain’s café con leche … the taste is beyond words. Before I know it, it’s time to meet up with Iker and Brenda again to drive to his house, where his mom has prepared a savory meal for us. We converse in Spanish while pleasing our palates with delicious homemade lentil soup, fried fish, and of course, pan (bread)-a typical Spanish meal. After lunch, we meet some of Iker’s friends at a local bar, drink a caña (draught beer) in the sun while looking at snow mags, and soon take off for the Val d’Aran, where Baqueira Beret, our final destination, is located.

Baqueira Beret: La Perla de los Pirineos
I’m very excited to get to Baqueira Beret and settle in, althou many details aren’t completely taken care of just yet-lodging, lift tickets, specific riders, and all of a sudden I have no photographer. I wonder what I’m going to do for the next few days, but whatever. I feel certain things will work themselves out, as they always do.

After staying the night at Iker’s friend Conrad’s piso (apartment), we hit the slopes. The more I become familiar with it, the more impressed I am with Baqueira Beret. The terrain includes a bit of everything, from chutes, cliffs, and kickers to long, spread-out steeps and a halfpipe-the place is huge! I can easily imagine how insane it is with fresh powder and bluebird skies. But for the time being, we have bulletproof conditions with no snow in the forecast. We keep our fingers crossed.

Food, Friends, and Fiesta
The first evening begins with a gigantic dinner for an extended group of friends, including Iker and myself, at the piso of Joseba, Javi, Charanga, and Cesar. They make paella vegetariana (rice with vegetables), pollo asado con papas (rotisserie chicken with potatoes), and a traditional ensalada mixta consisting of lettuce, tomato, canned white asparagus, hard-boiled egg, green olives, and canned tuna in olive oil, all topped with more olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. And, of course, there’s plenty of pan, vino tinto (red wine), cerveza (beer), and porros (a hand-rolled Spanish tobacco treat) to go around. This is living the Spanish lifestyle firsthand.

It’s around midnight when we finally finish eating. After cleaning everything up, the porros continue to be rolled and chupitos (shots) go around. By the time we motivate to go out, Iker’s photographer friend Andoni Epelde (a.k.a. Antxón) shows up. Not only do Iker and I adopt him as our designated driver for the night, but he also decides to stay with us at the Hostal El Ciervo and becomes our trip’s photographer. We go to a couple of different bars throughout the night, where we drink our fair share of kalimotxos (vino tinto and Coca-Cola-a Basque favorite), bosca naranja (vodka and orange soda), and cerveza. We finally end up at Tiffany’s, the local discoteca in Baqueira, and dance until dawn.

Antxón, Iker, and I drive back to the hotel just before sunrise, and as we’re pulling in to park, los mosos (the police) pull up behind us. They proceed to check every inch of Iker’s car (for hash, I suppose), and search both Antxón and Iker. All the while, I sit in the car and pretend not to speak or understand Spanish. Eventually los mosos make me get out, and one of the officers escorts me up to my room in order to get my passport. Then, after almost an hour, we’re good to go. It’s a sketchy ending to the first night in town, but we pull it-and go to bed.

Fiesta Del Sol
Spain’s Volcom and Reef teams show up for a quarterpipe demonstration on what turns out to be one of the best, most chill days at Baqueira. The sun’s shining, not a single cloud permeates the deep-blue sky, and everyone’s psyched to be hanging out. A DJ busts reggae and hip-hop tunes throughout the demo as the crowd sits around drinking beers, watching rider after rider hit the quarterpipe with as much speed and style as possible.

Photographers cruise around, strategically placing themselves on and around the quarterpipe to get the best shot without being nailed by some out-of-control rider. Chuletas (some sort of practically raw meat) are devoured at lunchtime, and as the landing of the quarterpipe metamorphoses from snow to dirt, the crowd disperses until later that night. The party eventually reunites at a bar in Vielha, a small town down the road, where the same DJ is mixing music, and drinks are being consumed faster than the bartenders can pour. After who knows how many hours there, we shut the bar down in rare form. Everyone pours out into the drizzly night, trying to figure out where to go next-and that’s when I call it a night, for my own good. Thank god, because I don’t wake up the next morning until well into the afternoon-y qué resaca!

La Pura Vida
All in all, being in Baqueira Beret has been fantastic. I’ve realized how incredible the circumstances truly are. The fact that I’ve been here alone is by far the best thing that could’ve happened. I have no one else to take care of, I speak Spanish well enough to hang without anyone having to worry about me, and being that it has been just me, I’m easy to accommodate and slipped right in with the group of Spanish friends. I instantly felt a part of this Spanish snowboarding culture, which I imagine is something that’s not easily done with snowboarding in the States.

Although the weather could’ve been better (only four of the ten days were sunny and decent enough to ride), the downtime provided loads of fun. I was able to get a real feel for the lives of the locals: we chilled at a bunch of people’s pisos, ate quite a few amazing home-cooked meals, checked out different bars, and went out to some traditional gourmet restaurants in the various little surrounding towns. Everyone I met was great to hang out with and made me feel more than welcome and comfortable.

Muchísimas gracias a mis amigos Iker y Brenda, Conrad, Joseba, Igor y Nuria, Nelson, Keko, Cesar, Charanga, Javi, Tritón, Davíd, Kermán, y especialmente Antxón-mi fotógrafo y salvador. Eraís la ostia! También, hola a Xavi y Andrés de Argentina. Y gracias a Javier y Mirian, Anna Díaz, Roberto Buill, Carmen Magariños, y la familia del Hostal El Ciervo. For more information on the Val d’Aran, contact the Office of Tourism at 34-973-642-077, send a fax to 34-973-643-060, or e-mail torisme@aran.org. For more information on the Hostal El Ciervo in Vielha, call 34-973-640-165, send a fax to 34-973-642-077, or e-mail elciervo@arrakis.es.p the next morning until well into the afternoon-y qué resaca!

La Pura Vida
All in all, being in Baqueira Beret has been fantastic. I’ve realized how incredible the circumstances truly are. The fact that I’ve been here alone is by far the best thing that could’ve happened. I have no one else to take care of, I speak Spanish well enough to hang without anyone having to worry about me, and being that it has been just me, I’m easy to accommodate and slipped right in with the group of Spanish friends. I instantly felt a part of this Spanish snowboarding culture, which I imagine is something that’s not easily done with snowboarding in the States.

Although the weather could’ve been better (only four of the ten days were sunny and decent enough to ride), the downtime provided loads of fun. I was able to get a real feel for the lives of the locals: we chilled at a bunch of people’s pisos, ate quite a few amazing home-cooked meals, checked out different bars, and went out to some traditional gourmet restaurants in the various little surrounding towns. Everyone I met was great to hang out with and made me feel more than welcome and comfortable.

Muchísimas gracias a mis amigos Iker y Brenda, Conrad, Joseba, Igor y Nuria, Nelson, Keko, Cesar, Charanga, Javi, Tritón, Davíd, Kermán, y especialmente Antxón-mi fotógrafo y salvador. Eraís la ostia! También, hola a Xavi y Andrés de Argentina. Y gracias a Javier y Mirian, Anna Díaz, Roberto Buill, Carmen Magariños, y la familia del Hostal El Ciervo. For more information on the Val d’Aran, contact the Office of Tourism at 34-973-642-077, send a fax to 34-973-643-060, or e-mail torisme@aran.org. For more information on the Hostal El Ciervo in Vielha, call 34-973-640-165, send a fax to 34-973-642-077, or e-mail elciervo@arrakis.es.