I have a new script for any movie producer who wants to pick it up. The main characters are…well, the author of this blog and his wife, and it’s called ‘Roasting in Valencia’. In the story, our hero and heroine travel to the south of Spain for 2 weeks at the hottest time of the year to take care of a Valencian villa (replete with a beautiful pool, olive and orange trees, water features, etc.) and the house pets – which include a dog, 2 cats, and, of course, a turtle.
I was taught that every story has a plot and characters; well, in this story the plot may be thin but the characters are definitely not (talking about myself and one of the cats here – I’ll let you be the judge on which one).
Picture this: relentless sun baking the Earth – I’m talking 35-40 degrees Celsius every day (roughly 100 F) with a brisk wind that feels like you just stuck your arm in the oven and singed your hairs. The ‘conflict’ in this story is a very simple one; someone dug into the cat food bag and spilled cat food. I was determined to find the culprit (and curious about how they were all keeping cool).
Our story begins precisely at 16:30 (4:30pm) local Spanish time on Wednesday, August 2nd. It was a cool day by Valencian standards, although this only means I was not running around slipping on my own sweat. By 4:30, however, the sun was angry that the clouds shielded it throughout the day, and it decided it was time to out in full force. So who spilled the cat food, and how did each of the critters deal with the oppressive heat? I went on a fact finding mission to find out.
Motto: I’m so sweet and happy, please give me some loves
Likelihood of Guilt: 5% – It may be an act but he appears to be the sweet one of the bunch.
Favorite Way to Keep Cool: Belly up in the shade, looking for attention from anyone in the vicinity.
Motto: I could eat you for breakfast if I wanted to
Likelihood of Guilt: 25% – While I won’t put anything past him, I’m going to say he’s a secondary suspect only because the ‘booty’ in question was some hard cat food, the one and only edible item that he’s probably not that interested in.
Favorite Way to Keep Cool: Chilling on the terrace under our work desk, or lapping up some fresh pool water when he overheats.
Motto: I’m definitely smarter than you
Likelihood of Guilt: 60% (or, by process of elimination we’re pretty sure it’s him)
Favorite Way to Keep Cool: Chill by the olive tree, always on the lookout for an unsuspecting gecko to pounce on
Motto: I only eat red things, so don’t try to feed me carrots (he actually only eats red things…huh? Check out this video for proof)
Likelihood of Guilt: less than 1% – I hesitate to give him 0% because 1) he has lived 25 years, 2) he was once run over by a lawnmower, shell cut in two, and somehow healed with almost no visible sign, and 3) he is ‘in shape’ for a turtle (he does 25 laps around the house every day – one for each year).
Favorite Way to Keep Cool: Stay hidden and away from the lawnmower
Why does this not equal 100%? Well there are humans in the mix, and while I don’t think any of us have a hankering for cat food, I guess we’ll never know. Oh, and there was a gecko in the house last night, so there’s that.
Speaking of those humans, let’s back up a bit and introduce where we at Joy Adventuring find ourselves, and who we’ve been connecting with.
Settling in to the Valencian Life
If you’ve read our previous blogs I may seem like a broken record, but here goes again: we are astounded by the generosity of the people we meet and honored by the amount of trust bestowed upon us in our house sitting endeavors. We knew this time would be no different from the moment we arrived at Estació del Nord train station, where we were met by our host, Wolfgang. He met us with the sign below…(‘Nate the Great’ is an easy one, but it took me a few minutes to make the Earth = Terra connection.)
Waiting for us at the house were the following cast of characters: Wolfgang’s wife Agata, her cousin Pawel, and his wife, also named Agata (the latter couple happened to be visiting). My question is this: how else other than house sitting would an American couple get to know an Austrian/Polish couple and their Polish cousins in their Spanish villa?!?
From the moment we stepped inside Wolfgang and Agata made us feel comfortable and welcome, from cooking us meals to taking us to the local Carrefour (which was quite the experience in its own right). We were only able to spend a couple of days with Wolfgang and Agata before they embarked on their vacation to Poland, but their enthusiasm for life is apparent, and Wolfgang is the one of the best storytellers we’ve ever been around.
As an added bonus, Pawel and Agata continued to enjoy their vacation after Wolfgang and Agata left (they told me Agata was not a popular Polish name but so far 2 of the 2 Polish women I know are named Agata!). Over the next several days we spent a lot of time with Pawel and Agata – by the pool, walking the dog together, going out for some tapas, and laughing together. I also learned a lot about Poland (did you know wild boars roam through part of Warsaw??).
So what do we do on a daily basis? Well, as you can see from the title (‘All Characters and no Plot’), our time has really been defined by the people we have connected with. The daily story (the plot) is pretty simple: it consists of figuring out the right combination of showers and pool time to stay cool, making sure the animals are well fed, and taking Pascal on lengthy walks in the morning and evening.
Walking Pascal requires its own set of skills, including quickly identifying whether the oncoming dog is male or female and acting accordingly. But over the course of several mornings/evenings I have to admit that I’m starting to really like our walks. There is something about the austere beauty of the Spanish countryside especially as the sun goes down.
Before I close, allow me to leave you with a set of observations from our first several days in our Spanish villa.
- “Horchata por favor” – I’ve tried to order horchata 3 times. The first time the waiter ran away, annoyed. The second time the waiter couldn’t understand, then Agata said the word exactly as I did, and the waiter understood her perfectly. The third time they tried to give me a measuring spoon. #horchatafail
- Spanish drivers – On almost any road (including fairly major roads) it’s completely acceptable to stop, put the flashers on, and abandon the car to run errands or casually stand and talk to people in the middle of traffic. It’s like flashers completely vindicate the driver from any wrongdoing. Oh, they also go the same speed whether it is highway, side street, or parking lot.
- Driving here takes an adjustment – On top of dealing with the drivers that hop in and out at every whim, there are two other specific things that a driver used to the US needs to contend with: 1) lanes that appear (or disappear) seemingly out of nowhere, and 2) roundabouts are a complete free-for-all. Thanks to Terra for driving this week! (Unfortunately I only drive automatic which is not ideal in Europe.)
- Carrefour is the place where life happens – The closest US equivalent to Carrefour is Super WalMart, but it has a different vibe. People dress up and bring the entire family to go to the Carrefour. You wouldn’t be caught dead with sweatpants there.
- Gazpacho in a wine glass – ’nuff said.
- Paella does not come in a ‘small’ size – Paella, which Valencia is famous for, is so difficult to cook that it’s not worth it for them to make a small portion. So…well, see the picture below. (This does not, however, mean that any of it went unfinished.)
It’s been so hot that it took us a week to play tourist in Valencia. Hopefully things will cool down in the next few days. Until then, I’ll continue to enjoy vistas like the one below. There are some pre-Roman ruins around here (next to the Carrefour of all places), and there is evidence that farmers of that time obtained water from the mountains via irrigation systems that are very similar to today’s. While I stopped to admire the beauty, my main thought when snapping this picture was “Pascal, you’d better not jump in because I’m not dragging your butt out of there!”