I first arrived from Ireland to the province of Almería by motorbike in October 2019. After a month spent settling into life here, I found my illusive writing rhythm of dawn to dusk, five days a week. But soon after that, I would meet and fall for a man who was based six hundred kilometres up north.
After a few months of very expensive 11-hour commutes by train and buses, in January 2020 I made the move, both geographical and emotional, to Catalonia. Thus began a year of romance and turmoil, house-moves and heatwaves. When it all ended last Christmas I returned to Vera-Playa. But, as Edith Piaf would say, ‘No, je ne regrette rein.’
Once back at my original base, and to ensure that I would find a healthy balance between desk work and exercise, I reached out to the local Facebook groups for an occasional cycling buddy. Up popped Parviz, an Iranian born, British ex-pat. For the past decade Parviz has spent short summers in England and the rest of the year in this part of northern Almería.
Just 70 km from the driest spot in Europe, Cabo de Gata National Park, it is packed with cyclists’ dream routes from high mountains to coastal paths. This area has very interesting and diverse scenery so it makes for a wonderful day out, whatever your level.
In fact, the final leg of the cycling race, the Vuelta a Andalucía or Ruta del Sol, took place here in May. This regional road tour, which began in 1925 and has been held annually since 1955, covers 807 km in five stages, with 17 mountain passes.
In January, my new friend Parviz and I began a three-day per week cycling partnership. We travelled as far as my legs could manage (usually 70 km), and what the winter and spring’s regional lockdowns would allow, exploring coastal roads and mountain tracks. We had picnics on deserted beaches, or tapas in a village bar, depending on that day’s restrictions.
The weather was usually in the high-twenties and sunny, with rain one day per week. Although this novice long-distance cyclist was often physically pushed to the max, I was in heaven, mentally. Every pedal up a steep hill felt like a step away from all of the stresses that 2020 had dumped on the world.
But, to paraphrase Chaucer, all good things must come to an end. And this one did, due to Brexit. Parviz had enjoyed spending the bulk of his life and his savings in Spain but chose not to go through the bureaucratic and expensive process of applying for residency here – the same reason I’m living in long-term limbo, unsure, as yet, if this is where I wish to settle permanently.
In my defence, I came to this country with a one-way ticket 20 months ago, of which 12 have been lived in a pandemic, so I’ll get around to deciding my future when life settles down in the next year. Or two.
So, at the end of March, it was adiós amigos to all our former-European, ex-ex-pats who had to make the mass Brex-odus back to the UK, after years, and in some cases, decades, living the majority of their time in Spain. And to those of you who embraced the local culture, language, cuisine and communities, and for whom Brexit has made you appreciate Europe all the more, I hope you manage to bite the bureaucratic bullet and that you return to live your best lives back here in España, or wherever your heart takes you.
I wrote this poem for all of those who are young at heart: never grow up and act your age!
I’m 15 years old,
Parviz is 16.
We’re cycling to escape
our pandemic situation.
With expensive bikes,
and extensive experience,
he’s pimping up
he’s teaching me wheelies.
I fall off – again,
posing as a pro.
Cool scars are on show,
but my pride will heal, slowly.
I should be studying,
Teacher always said,
I’ve no stickability.
For now, I’m enjoying
being young and free.
And proving to teacher
‘Tis well she knew me.
So, I’ll go on having
the time of my life.
Till I grow up,
be someone’s trouble and strife.
Your place or mine
for poker night?
Vermouth or wine?
No, that doesn’t sound right.
I spot the typos:
I’m actually 51.
Parviz is 61.
Well, sixty and then some.
Cathy Hogan is a writer from Kilkenny, Ireland, living in Vera-Playa on the coast of Almería since 2019. When she isn’t cycling in the sun, she is working on her next play, poems, and her first novel. She has travelled extensively around the world and worked on arts festivals for over two decades. She has won awards for flash fiction and screenwriting, and is a periodic columnist with an Irish newspaper. In 2012 she graduated from NUI Galway with an International BA degree with Creative Writing. You can follow her Facebook blog here and on Twitter @cathyshogan.
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