Notes From the Road:
Lovingly Lost in Catalonia
Dusk was approaching as I realized I’d taken a wrong turn.
I stopped at a pub during the typical hour of tapas to ask for directions, and although I had spent six years acclimatizing myself to Spanish, perched with one elbow on the bar I found myself floundering like a beginner while the locals debated my predicament—in Catalan.
The first language of Catalonians, Catalan is similar to Spanish, but also dabbles in French and Italian, with a toe dipped in Portuguese just for good measure. Despite civil war, dictatorship and globalization, this ancient Latin-rooted tongue remains reflective of the people who live in this semi-autonomous region of Spain: unwavering and passionate.
Catalonia’s ever-changing landscapes are, like its inhabitants, both enduring and endearing. The scattered peaks of the Pyrénées guard lush valleys that curl down to the Costa Brava, a coastline of sea-smashed cliffs. In the villages, enchantment spills into the streets from doors and windows. Flower pots proudly occupy windowsills, fighting the fresh linen for the attention of a Mediterranean sun, and in the cafés, you’re never short for company and conversation—if you can understand it.
But back to my predicament in the pub. I was searching for the village of Santa Pau, nestled in the lush hills of the Garrotxa region. I had been told that there, existed a place called Cal Sastre—the perfect place to start our journey through Catalonia, not to mention the perfect spot in which to store our bicycles before the start of a trip! Thanking the crowd for their help and for switching languages to do so, I continued on with a clearer image of where I was headed.
But as I navigated a tiny mountain road, the sun dipped below the horizon, exiting a crimson sky. The sight was unlike anything I could have imagined. I found Can Borrell and met the wonderful characters who own it; we sat down to have a chat in front of the fire place as the sunset played out the day’s finale. Had I not gotten lost, I would probably have been back at my hotel, eyes glued to my laptop instead of that incredible sunset.
Perhaps you too will take a detour in search of a mid-ride ice cream or cerveza. You may find yourself in a labyrinth of cobblestone corridors, your index finger pointing to route note #34 and asking the locals (in your very best Spanglish), “Donde esta… uhhh, here?”
Just remember that getting lost is an art: it requires grace and creativity to find your way out of such moments, but it’s all worth it when you get to where you never realized you were going.