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Our Next Big Adventure!

There were days toward the end of South America that brought me to tears, as I heaved my bike up and over the Andes at elevation, shuffling each and every step up, up, up to seemingly no peak. I would push my 70 lb load with my entire body, blisters forming on my heels, wanting only to toss it all over the closest ledge.

Suffice it to say, I was in need of  break. After spending two years on the road, cycling across Europe and South America with Sora, I needed a place to call home. To keep my belongings, where my toiletries could live in a drawer, not in zippered pockets. While nomadic living was indeed romantic and full of adventure, I felt desperate for some stability and familiarity in terms of place and people.  

Coming Back Home

In April 2017, we returned back home to our beloved Pacific Northwest and continued our adventures more locally. What I remember most about coming back was how quiet the city was. We spent our first month pet-sitting off a major road in Portland, and it was practically silent, compared to the constant noise and chaos of Latin American cities.

My first and longest love is trail running, so I signed up for several races including an upcoming marathon. We lived back and forth between Washington and Oregon and explored the place I grew up (Seattle-area). I never really got to know it’s true beauty as a child so we spent time hiking, backpacking, and of course, cycle touring all throughout the west and into Canada.

As you can see, that travel bug never left us, and it’s time I let you all in on our next plans, as they’re approaching fast. In the next week actually.

We had only planned to remain in the US for a few months, but couldn’t agree on what to do next. I wasn’t ready to pack up and move again, while Dave was itching to leave the country.

Why Leave?

While I love the Pacific Northwest dearly and think it is one of the most beautiful places in the world, it’s not the right place for us at this time. For starters, the political climate is not in line with our values, and not just the current abomination of an administration, but also various political and social issues that have surfaced over the years. With both of us getting started on our freelancing careers, it is an expensive place to do so, even living with Mom and Dad as we have been over the past several months. Health care options are unaffordable for us, where other countries offer free healthcare, or at least inexpensive care and/or pharmacies where we can go and get what we need at very low cost. Veterinary care in the US is exorbitantly expensive, and with Sora’s cancer and her senior age, we can find excellent treatment at more affordable costs. Healthy, organic foods sell for a premium here, whereas we can find our hippie vegan foods for a fraction of the cost elsewhere.

Sooo, What’s Next?

Dozens of thoughts crossed our minds as to where to head next.

Mexico.

Germany.

Japan.

Thailand.

South Africa.

South Korea.

None of them seemed quite right or didn’t work out as we had planned.

Ultimately, we landed on Germany. We booked tickets for an October departure, planning to live in the ecotopia of Freiburg, where Dave had done a summer study abroad during university. But we couldn’t find housing in the notoriously difficult town in which to find accommodation. As October loomed in the near future, I felt unprepared and uncertain of this next step.

Around the same time, I had learned that because my grandfather had a Spanish passport that it made me eligible for one as well. We just had to live in Spain for a year, then I can start the slow (2 to 3 year) process. Several places in Europe attracted us during our bicycle tour, but given the Schengen Visa only allows US citizens 90 days in the zone, a passport would enable us to travel as slowly as we liked through Europe.

A Love Hate Relationship with Spain

Though not on my list of top places to live, the opportunity to procure a passport is rather attractive. I have a bit of a love hate relationship with Spain. It’s the country of my family’s heritage (though I really consider myself more Cuban, which is where my parents were born. And my grandparents. And most of my great-grandparents).  I studied abroad in Madrid for a semester in 2004 and admittedly, it’s not my favorite place in the world. I didn’t find the people friendly, nor did I feel welcome, to be honest.  

I also didn’t feel like I fit in well with the culture. I’m a morning person and like to be in bed by 10, when the Spaniards are just starting their dinner. I started my vegetarian journey after legs of jamón dangled above me in restaurants, covering every square inch of ceiling space. I vowed to never eat ham again once I returned from that trip (and I haven’t!). The country doesn’t regard animals in the same way I do, and an event which celebrates the death of an animal is the national sport.  I love the outdoors and the Spanish tend to be city dwellers, which is where I think we’ll fit in best.

My dad, who went to high school in Madrid (as did my mother) remembers an ad celebrating the fact that Spain is “the second most mountainous country in Europe after Switzerland,” and while that declaration is debatable, what is factual is that Spain has no shortage of mountain ranges and treks.

Trail Running

Much to my delight, it seems that trail running is quite popular in Spain, likely thanks in part to famed mega athlete Kilian Jornet. Fortunately, Spain is a mecca for trail running and hosts nearly 300 marathons and ultramarathons annually. From the Pyrenees, to the Picos de Europa, to the Sierra Nevadas in southern Andalucia, there will be plenty of training grounds for us! I’ve already got my eye on one particular 50k in September.

Hiking

Everyone has heard of the Camino de Santiago, but Spain has over 100 Grandes Recorridos, or great treks, the longest spanning more than 1,300 kilometers spanning all across the country. While we are still uncertain where exactly in Spain we’ll end up, our requirements include access to mountains. Thus, we are looking at towns in the Pyrenees (where Kilian himself trains) and the Sierra Nevadas in the south.

Cycling

Spain has converted over 7,600 kilometers of old railway route to Vías Verdes, or Greenways. These non-motorized paths wind all throughout the country and service those wanting to cycle, hike, or recreate without worry about traffic. The 100+ routes take nature lovers to hidden corners of the country, over relatively moderate terrain.

Bringing Sora

Since we began our bicycle journey in Europe, traveling to Spain with Sora will be a fairly easy process. We outlined the process for bringing a dog to the European Union in a blog post, so we’re familiar with the process.

Plus….we’re planning to find Sora a brother or sister once we’ve settled!

So there you have our next adventure! Somewhere in Spain! We take off on the 26th of February and will embark on a road trip to find our next home shortly after we arrive.

Do you have any city recommendations for us to check out?
Do you know anyone in Spain who might want to be our friends or show us around?
Jen Sotolongo

Jen is the Chief Storyteller and Photographer for the Long Haul Trekkers. Born with the travel bug, she has lived in Spain, Chile, and New Zealand. When she’s not galavanting around the world by bicycle, she is running long distances in the woods, exploring nature, or whipping up delicious vegan meals. She is always planning her next adventure.

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