Unsolicited Pleasures

It was my last week in Spain and I was in the midst of visiting all those places I had put off seeing since arriving there. Let me tell you that condensing fun into a tight and efficient schedule is the furthest thing from fun. When you live somewhere you don’t visit the local sights, you perennially put them off for a later date. Then, when a relative or friend comes to visit and inquires about a certain landmark you casually mention that it´s nice while offering vague insights so not to reveal your lack of knowledge. You use words like “breathtaking” and “enjoyable” and under no circumstances do you let the conversation continue further because that might lead to the discovery that you’ve lived in Ottawa for 22 years and not once have you been to Parliament, you fraud.

The reason I was visiting all these points of interest was that my friend had flown in from Canada, and insisted that we make the most of our trip. I was content with spending our time on the couch watching Spanish television but evidently, he was not. So that´s how I found myself trudging up a seaside mountain in the South of Spain on this fine day.

The hike traversed up a stony mountain and gave way to a beautiful vista over the Mediterranean Sea. Now because we had stumbled across the hike purely by accident, we were by no means well-equipped for the journey.  We had been indulging in a stroll along the beach when suddenly the trail emerged, almost ominously. There were no signs foreboding us of what was to come so we ambled on, without too much thought.

Well, the placid trail gradually gave way to a laborious and downright difficult climb. So as we tramped forward in our flip flops, we weren’t surprised to meet other flustered climbers, who had also been beguiled into thinking the hike was a leisurely seaside stroll.

We exchanged sympathetic glances with one man who made the dire mistake of assuming the path would be a nice place to walk his dog. He held a full-grown Labrador underneath one arm, with the other death-gripped onto a rope that was put in place to act as a railing of sorts. We came across anxious parents with carefree children playing dangerously close to the unguarded edges. One hapless couple even had a stroller with them, which they were lugging around the way two people might maneuver a picnic table. The whole thing was comically dangerous.

Fortunately, the lofty view from the summit was incredible. If you inched your way to the edge of the cliff, a sudden drop of a few hundred feet gave way to the most remarkable of ocean views. Even more entertaining was the fact that the rock on which we were perched was remarkably feeble. You could pick off the strata with your fingers and fling it over the cliff’s edge, where, a gust of wind would claim it, subjecting it to a few dozen flips and turns before smashing it onto the protruding rock below. All of this was great fun but nowhere near as diverting as what we happened upon next.

Throughout the mountain there exist a series of profound wells that tap into the sea far below. Being atop a mountain, we figured these wells to be spectacularly deep. So, curiously we ambled over to one and availed ourselves to a peek. It was a void, a black hole that appeared to continue on forever.

As you would expect, this large well caught our interest, so we searched for some stones to throw down, as a test. We looked around, but all the stones had been cleared of the area, evidently by people, no less interested than us, in the profundity of this enigmatic well. We agreed to disperse and collect foreign objects and rendezvous in five minutes with the clear understanding that under no circumstances was anyone to throw something down the hole without the others being there.

I returned first with an armful of stones, and since no one else was there, I decided to christen our new found well. I grabbed a moderately large stone from my supply and meticulously placed it in the air so it would fall straight down. I waited a few moments without so much as a sound, when, suddenly my friend Cole reappeared.

“You haven’t thrown anything yet have you?”

I was just about to lie when a huge noise came from the well, answering for me. Evidently, my stone had hit the bottom. With an echoing splash, we both hustled over and peered in. Then Cole threw a rock. Full seconds passed before we heard an enormous noise as the stone impacted with the water. We turned to each other and smiled as if we were both taking part in something rather special. Then Gus arrived, with a load of enormous rocks, boulders you might even call them.

“You guys haven’t thrown anything have you?”

“No” we pronounced simultaneously.  

Then Gus shuffled on over with the biggest of his surfeit of stones and hoisted it aloft. He gave us a look that suggested that something spectacular was about to take place then shot-putted it in. Again, full seconds passed before a rapturous splash boomed through the cylinder. We all shared a genuine smile.

We passed a short eternity like this, tossing stones of different shapes and sizes into the abyss and awaiting their impact. It was a grand way to spend an afternoon. I can honestly say I’ve never had so much well-induced fun.

At one point, Gus, who, let me just say is the smartest of us three, picked up two stones, one large and one small in comparison. He hoisted them over the well, turned to Cole and me and asked which one would hit the bottom first.

“The big one” I shouted, feeling proud to know such an easy answer.

Cole then turned to me and shook his head sagely.

“They’re going to fall at the same speed due to the acceleration of gravity ratio, it’s physics Ben.”

I was a little perplexed at what Cole had just told me so I turned to Gus for confirmation. At which point he simultaneously dropped the two stones and they fell in perfect unison the entire way down, before making one big splash. Physics.

So not only was this big hole providing me with diversion, it was educating me. How marvelous.

And so we spent a great deal of our day at the well, encouraging passersby to partake in the fun, which often they did, with youthful exuberance. We didn’t expect to pass our entire day at a national park being fascinated by a hole in the ground but that´s what was so. Sometimes the greatest pleasures in life are the unforeseen ones.

As we turned to make our descent down the mountain I turned to my friends and stated: “Well, we wasted the hole day here.”

The pun flew over both of their heads but Cole gave me a genuine response.

“Hey, I flew halfway across the world to see my buddy, and for some pure, raw experience.”

“And a big well is a raw experience?” asked Gus.

“It is.” responded Cole.

In a way, I knew what he meant. This was the kind of novel diversion that you sought after as a child. It was the kind of fun that could be improvised from any sort of foreign object, and it was the base of our friendship.  But as we age something happens to that youthful enthusiasm, and often it takes a foreign place or object, like a giant hole in the ground, to reinstate it.


Someone’s Gotta Get Stabbed

The cookie in my fingers started to feel a bit feeble. I figured I had a few more seconds, tops, to retrieve the sunken cookie out of my coffee, lest the one in my fingers suffer the same fate as his fallen companion. I was seated at an outdoor cafe in Chiclayo, Peru, and was reading a Condorito (Little Condor) comic book in an attempt to improve my Spanish.

Now usually when my bloodstream is filled with caffeine, and I have an anthropomorphic bird teaching me life lessons, I´m pretty content. In fact, this little routine had become a sort of high point to my mornings. Not today though. No, today I was beginning to feel agitated because the party behind me couldn´t keep quiet. The caffeine was usually good for a quick boost to my serotonin levels but today it only seemed to aggravate me further. Furthermore, I didn’t understand the punch line to the strip I was reading. Something about a nymphomaniac psychiatrist who appeared to have lied about his credentials (the comics were marketed towards children but were astonishingly crude). Either way, I had had enough. I turned around to give them my best “Excuse me, please shut the fuck up” look when something stopped me.

The scene was rather volatile. This I hadn’t deduced from their banter because Spanish is a fairly animated language, to begin with. But now, facing the situation, I could tell it was on the brink of something violent. It must be noted too that this cafe was in a side alley, so the angry party of four had only one spectator, me. There was a young girl, maybe sixteen years of age, doing her paltry best to restrain an older gentleman who was evidently infuriated with a young boy, also of about sixteen years. The young boy was accompanied by an ancient woman who I took to be his grandmother.

Everyone in the party was shouting. I didn’t even bother trying to decipher what was being said and instead just sat back and let the situation unfold.

The man being restrained by the young girl must have taken note that he was being restrained by a young girl, and decided to break free and charge the boy. At this point, the boy reached into his pants and pulled out a machete, no less than a foot in length.

The man spotted the machete but had already gained significant momentum and thus found himself in a bit of a predicament. He was sprinting directly towards a keen blade and since stopping would leave him vulnerable, he gave a quick jab step, like Odell Beckham Jr. might, and bolted past the knife bearing boy and into the open street. The boy dashed after him, bringing the small-stage production to a much grander audience.

The man and his pursuer darted into another alley across the street, and immediately people began to follow, because if there’s one thing the Spanish love more than a siesta it’s the chance of someone getting viciously impaled right in front of them.

Now, this is when I realized I had been in South America far too long because my first instinct was to run and join the crowd, because hey, someone might get viciously impaled right in front of me. Unfortunately, though I hadn’t yet paid my bill nor used the restroom, which was half the reason I chose to get a coffee. In South America, public bathrooms aren’t so much rare as they are non-existent.

I practically threw my money at the waitress and made a beeline sprint to the bathroom. I quickly had a pee, then noticed the bathroom supplied soap. What a luxury. I lathered up, considered stealing the soap, decided against it, and then darted back out into the street. The crowd was there and was significantly larger, but was now accompanied by the police. Oh joy. I got there just in time to witness the whole party being escorted. The policemen were driving a pickup truck which I found to be a bit odd. The girl and the man were escorted into the back seats and the boy and the woman of about eighty were thrown heedlessly into the bed of the truck.

I approached the crowd and dutifully informed a few people that I had, in fact, witnessed the whole fracas unfold. This attracted a bit of interest but once the pedestrians realized I couldn’t offer a single detail as to why it happened or what was said, they willfully puttered off. I crossed the street again, moping and vexing my ineptitude with the Spanish language, then bought another coffee and pulled out Condorito from my backpack.

I recognized that I had just witnessed a once in a lifetime event and because of my inability to speak the language, I had been deprived of some of the situations subtleties. It was still a quintessential spectacle, but I couldn’t help but feel a bit robbed. It was like watching an amazing movie on mute. From that point on I vowed to engross myself in Español. All it took was someone almost getting stabbed to motivate me.