I could go to a warm country right now. The cold rain leaves no mercy for a sweet spring. Summer seems so far away and yet it’s already July.
Bah. Let me take you down memory lane… Beats Amsterdam weather.
Last summer my boyfriend took me to Galicia, the most northwestern region of Spain. And although his native upbringing is in Portugal, his heart bursts with joy once he sets foot in Galicia.
“What is this Galicia, you speak of?” I smirk. “That doesn’t sound so Spanish, like Barcelonaaa.” I lisp my lips in attempt to speak Catalonian. “You’ll see, Kate. They have a very special culture. It’s nothing like the other parts of Spain” as he throws a towel in the backseat. We’re on our way to a handful of villages along the coast including, Bueu, Baixona, Santiago, A Coruña and Tui. This was my first time in Galicia, let alone Spain.
He hurls a hefty container into the trunk, filled with sandy wet suits, fins, weights, and diving masks. He starts the engine and the rolls down the windows. Sad and nostalgic Fado (traditional Portuguese soul music) blasts from the radio. Vamos!
Driving through Portugal can be both amusing and painful. After a coffee with his Mom, Márcio starts to pull the car out, but the poorly designed parking lot traps us into a microscopic lane where we’re forced to do multiple back ins and outs, cutting the wheel ad nauseam. What a talented landscape designer! I think.
Trying to exit the neighborhood, we’re ready to make a left turn. But a car speeds up with a hyper, thirty-something mother, who slams her breaks behind us. She pulls down her window and screams something to Márcio.
“INSERT ANGRY PORTUGUESE WORDS” the woman chastises.
“BLLAHAHHABHADA BAA…” Márcio huffs and throws his arms in the air.
“What was that?”
“She told me I didn’t put my blinker on, early enough...pfhaahh... that woman needs a tranquilizer.”
We swerve around the bending roads. Empty beaches sprawl out to my left while the lush Miño valley stretches on the right.
Sometimes we pass vacant villages that “once flourished”, Márcio tells me. Now what’s left are the old residents, since most of the youth has left Portugal. They’re in hopes of finding better work and opportunity in the northern countries. Old stone houses sit lopsided on the slopes. I can imagine his grandmother fetching her water by the mountain spring and tending to her rabbits.
Our first stop is Bueu, meaning blue in Latin. Unlike the raw and exposed Portuguese coastline, the Galician coastline contorts tortuously into a series of peninsulas and rivers flowing into the Atlantic.
The natural coves create a calmer state in the water. Bueu’s water reflects a stunning turquoise color. The shallow surface reveals the burnt gold sand beneath. By the time we arrive, half the day is gone. This can be a typical, lazy summer day with Márcio. He’s from a warm country, remember?
When we pull into a lot perched above the beach, an elderly man approaches our car. As soon as he sees Márcio, he chitchats away for about 15 minutes. He’s a local, of course and gets a kick out of Márcio’s Spanish, which is quite good along with his Americana girlfriend, who’s lost in translation. Man, I should have taken a crash course in Spanish.
Márcio pulls out the bucket of equipment. My heart beats fast. I’m nervous. I’ve never dived before. Going underwater, holding my breath and going into the deep freaks me out. I’m a Pisces and have a love for the sea, but the thought of drowning is well, overwhelming.
Pre-dive: Márcio quickly goes over a few breathing techniques with me. He sucks in his lungs until his rib cage pops out. Looks like a crazy yoga exercise. Doesn’t seem to raise my confidence level still. Go with the flow, I think. The water is too beautiful to not jump in.
The first challenge: Getting the equipment on.
Ha! Get ready for the tightest garment you’ll ever wear. There is no way you can pull the wetsuit on without water. So sit your little butt in the water and pull. Pull like you’ve never pulled in your dear life! Yes, you will feel like the suit will suck the life out of you.
Doesn’t stop there. You have to put on the weights. Yes, weights.
“Márcio, I don’t want to drown. Why are you putting those weights on me?!”
He straps on a belt with rock weights attached.
“Kate, you’ll be fine. Trust me. You need the weights. The suit keeps you afloat”
Wrapping the suction-cup-like hood over my head and plopping on my fins, Márcio throws me a pair of snorkels. Then he ties a string around my waist attached with a yellow floaty. It’s a diver’s buoy. “What’s this for?”
“So the boats can see you” he drawls the string tighter.
“Man, this feels worse than ballerina tights” I say feeling my circulation get cut off.
“Get used to it” Márcio winks.
Now challenge #2: Let yourself go.
At first, I frantically flap my fins in the water as we begin to wade out. I’m trying to catch my breath. The nose plug blocks my breath and all I want to do is panic. Breathing through my mouth isn’t so natural. Márcio tells me to relax, but I’m over-thinking, thinking that the weights will pull me down.
“Look! Watch me. I’m just floating,” Márcio exclaims. He’s on his back looking up to the sky. He pulls out the snorkel mouth guard and spits out water.
“Ahh...I’m just not used to this,” I murmur. The buoy entangles around my legs as the water ripples.
“Ok let me show you the first round. Just put your head under the water and watch me” he smiles. Taking a deep gulp, he dives and sinks to the bottom. I look underwater and watch him glide underwater deeper into the dark. Giant boulders underneath covered with algae and glued seashells; barnacles floating and shimmery silver fish pass by. It’s pretty mesmerizing.
So I dive in.
Let me tell you, it was hard to sink. With all my effort and might, I flapped my arms and fins to swim deeper. Márcio gives me a thumbs up underwater. He picks up a shell from a boulder and a dangling rope along a rock. The water gets colder as we descend deeper. I’m still nervous, but when I look up and see the sunlight hitting the surface, I’m relieved.
Free diving is awesome. It really surprised me... for the better.
When we emerge to the surface, I throw off my mask, gasp and take in a little air, I cheer, I did it! What was all the fuss about anyway?
After some hours of exploring, I tell Márcio that I want to sunbath. So I pass him my yellow floaty. In my heart, I was still a bit nervous to leave him alone. Just my motherly instinct, no?
Climbing on a boulder where the hill dips into the sea, I throw off my belt to the side. I take off the fins, snorkels, gloves, and hood. Here comes the hard part. The suit. At best, one should be in the water while doing it. So submerging my head halfway under the surface, I pull and tug. But it is so airtight, glued to my arms, it barley moves. I start to worry thinking it’s stuck. The tide pulls in and out. Is this for real? Am I going to drown? One arm is stuck. If only someone could see how ridiculous I look.
Finally with both arms, I wiggle out. The fresh breeze hits my skin. Free at last.
Carrying the gear up the hill, spiky shrubs scratch my exposed skin. It’s muddy and rough for my bare feet, but once I reach the peak, I take in the mouth. Below is the small cove, where we parked our belongings.
After a few hours of relaxing, the sun begins to dip lower. I start to wonder where Márcio could be. As I scan the sea, I finally catch a yellow floaty, drifting in the waves. I wade out to sea and approach it. But he isn’t there.
Now I’m officially panicking.
Swimming back to shore felt like a nightmare. Without much thinking, I ran up the hill, leaving behind my shoes. The thought of losing him scared the shit out of me. He must be out there.
When I reached the top, I looked down to the same spot where I unloaded the equipment on the same rocks. I scanned the water, but still no sight of him. I felt engulfed by the Bueu Sea as I looked out to the abyss. I stood there motionless. Do I cry and panic? Do I think?
On my left, the cove blocks my view from seeing the other side. Then it hit me. He must have swum on the other side. It’s a blind corner, I realize.
So trekking to the other side, I cut through the thick brush. I reach an even smaller cove where a naked woman lounges on her beach chair while reading a magazine. Two of her children splash in the water. And Márcio is wading in the shallow surface and like a kid he’s searching for barnacles and seashells.
“Oh thank god!” I exclaim running to the water.
“Hey!” he picks up his head flashing a big smile.
“I couldn’t find you! There was a buoy just like yours floating, but you weren’t there...” I’m shaking my head.
“Aww my Kate, I’ve been here for a while. You worry too much” he throws his arm around me.
Moral of the story: Don’t panic. Just dive. And remember, your buoy isn’t the only one in the sea.