Happy Trails

April 9th, 2018. Saleres, Andalucia

It comes round quickly enough. I tell myself that at the start of any holiday. If you're there a week, by Tuesday you can feel time slipping away. Thursday, it's all but over.

I was standing on the roof terrace of my dad's home in Andalucia. I would wonder up there and just stare at the world before me. God's splendour, a more religious person might have it. Directly across from my vantage point on the terrace there is a hillside. It has an atoll on top. I liked to take the burro track up to the road that ran along the top of it, and walk the long way back down. Sometimes it was just to break my days up, but I also enjoyed the solitude of it. So far on this trip, I had not been up there, and on my last day I was determined to take the walk. It had become my habit on previous visits, selling myself some bullshit about how it would offset the thousands of calories I'd been merrily consuming in beer and tapas.

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This time, something strange would happen.

The track up the hill feels similar to a fire escape staircase, a steep track with serpentine bends. I don't know how high the climb measures, but it puts you well above the village, and entirely out of breath.

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Thirteen years earlier I walked it every day and by the end of the first week could do it without stopping. It's not that high, but in 38C heat any exertion is tough. April is much cooler.

As I approach the top, the trail becomes crudely poured concrete, which the farmers apparently like to do here, and in just a few metres I'm up on the road. I looked back towards the village and the hills beyond, and that's when it happened: I burst into tears. Time tumbled backwards, and suddenly I was back in April 2005. it all looked the same, and for a brief thunderclap, I thought it was the same, that I had gone back in time. I was transported back to a week in this very spot, the first time I walked this hill. I was also utterly consumed with the notion that I wanted to stay there. In Spain. My life, my family, the last decade, had all momentarily vanished and all I wanted to do was stand on that road on that hill. It was completely irrational, and yet felt totally real. Had I over-exerted myself going up the hill? Induced a little lightheadedness? Maybe. I think it was my reaction to the feeling of running out of time. It was an unusual thing, I am not remotely spiritual but it's the closest I've come to what I think is that sort of experience, being so completely present that there is an illusion of timelessness.

I remember being a little shaken as I started down the road back to the village, then as soon as it arrived, the feeling vanished. My head was back in a world of flight times and what I'd be doing at work next week.

There is a dense emotional mass in that spot. My mother's resting place is the cemetary on the opposite hill, and I would walk around there to be alone with my thoughts in the visits after she died. It was quiet up there, nothing but the wind and the ubiquitous barking dog, and you'd feel like there was nobody else in the world.

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Clearly my thoughts were not finished with me.

Time marches, and the hour arrives. It's time to go. I have already packed, it's a 90 minute drive to the airport. I say my goodbyes and take the road out. Before I leave I run up to the roof, feel the cool morning breeze on my face, bathe in the blue light. A dog barks somewhere in the distance, the sound carries on the breeze up the darkened valley.

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I want to come back, but I don't know when that will be. A full day in aeroplanes awaits me, and at the setting of that same sun, I'll already be in Boston, waiting for my connecting flight home, and what would turn out to be the most testing two years of my life.

I still haven't been back.

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