The hedonism of Cádiz carnival had left me dazzled, but in the whirl of crazy parties I haven’t really had the time to see the city and what else it has to offer. And so, a week later I decided to revisit this place on my own and explore its streets of cobblestone.
I wanted to use the entire Sunday to enjoy my time alone in Cádiz, so I got up in the morning to prepare my bag and get ready. The train was late again, since it was the last day of Carnival. This time I sat in peace with myself right next to the window, absorbing the landscapes on the way, with the headphones in my ears playing a great playlist of Bonobo, Chet Faker and Nicholas Jaar introduced to me through the excellent music taste of my friend Vjeko back home in Osijek.
I arrive to Cádiz around 10:30 and follow the same road as before to get to the Old Town Hall at the Plaza de San Juan de Dios. Although I have my little list of places I want to visit prepared in my mobile phone, I decide to just stroll around the Old Town for a while and enjoy the local architecture.
Like in Jerez, the streets make it easy for a tourist to get lost quickly. I allow myself to get seduced by their lovely charm and they take me around the center capriciously. There are wide boulevards, charming squares, and tiny alleys making their way between the tall houses. The center is mostly empty for the moment and I can have a much clearer picture of the city’s beauty than the one I made the weekend before, during the rainy carnival night.
After a while, I check my map to find my way towards the Cathedral. The streets are slowly becoming packed with people having drinks, eating, walking around, waiting to see the carnival, and gypsy men selling colorful jewelry. The walls of the Cathedral are splendid, but for some reason I decide to postpone my visit and check out the view of the ocean just behind the cathedral first.
I approach the short wall that protects the city’s southwest side from the strong ocean waves. Some people are standing around, but the view of the never-ending sea is so impressive that I decide to sit on the wall and admire it in silence for a while.
And this is when my plans for the day change direction.
As I sit on the wall, I notice an older man passing behind me and stopping to enjoy the view of the ocean just a few meters away. He is the only solitary passenger around, except for me, so as I am taking the photo of the view, I decide to include him in the composition. I am contemplating how to take the picture of myself in the same spot, when I hear him say in Spanish: “I think you would like to have a photo here, wouldn’t you?” I smile at him and let him take a photo of me with my own camera. How often do you get to have a photo of the exact moment when you met somebody? Well, I have two!
We start a regular stranger-to-stranger chitchat. He tells me his name is Javier and that he comes from the north of Spain. I mention my last year’s visit to Santiago, he asks me if I ever walked the pilgrimage Camino de Santiago, and this is where we hit it off. He invites me to take a walk with him around Cádiz and I accept.
Together we wander around for a while and he tells me about his experience with Camino de Santiago. The man walked this pilgrimage seven or eight times, on different routes, and apart from that has spent quite a significant part of his travels walking, sleeping outside, or with people who offered shelter. He is over 50 years old now, and the last walking route he had done was during the last summer, from Spain all the way to Rome. I share my intentions of doing the Camino myself this year or the next, and he advises me to do it before I get into a steady job.
“And do it alone,” he says. “It really is so important that do you do it alone, and on foot – no bikes, nothing. It’s pretty amazing what you can see, hear, or feel when you just spend enough time within your own head, walking, without interventions from the outside. Sure, you’ll meet people, and that’s good, but you are more open to contact, more likely to meet the right kind of people, the people that you need to meet, if you walk the Camino alone.”
Right about this time, we approach the Cathedral and inside we separate for a while to experience it each on our own. This mostly Baroque-style sight was built in the place of an older one, which was burned down in the 16th century. The reconstruction begun during the late 18th century, and the project was carried out by the various architects over a period of 116 years.
The churches and cathedrals always evoke contradictory feelings in me. Although I am not religious – I don’t consider myself as a part of any organized religion – I nevertheless feel humble upon entering any temple-like edifice. The high ceilings, massive walls and statues, stain-glassed windows… I enjoy marveling the architecture from times long past. Even if I don’t go there to pray, I feel like decades and centuries of all the prayers ever whispered within those walls are somehow stuck in here, accumulating all the energy of the thought in prayer in the same place.
On the other hand, though, I look at all the splendor of those holy buildings, all the gold and silver, all the money invested, and I wonder how many hungry people could’ve been fed with that, how many sick cured. Those of you who are religious might say that these are the temples of God, and faith is both the food and the cure to the soul, which we should all value above the earthly necessities. But still, I can’t help at wonder – if there really is God in some form, is this truly what he wants, what he needs from us?
After the Cathedral, Javier and I wander the streets again, asking strangers for directions to Torre Tavira. It is the tallest remaining watchtower in Cádiz, one of more than 160 towers used my local merchants in the past to observe the sea and spot the merchant ships.
We climb up there and I enjoy the wind as it completely messes up my hair. From up there, you can see the entire city, 360 degrees around. I look at the prevailingly white houses without roofs, and for a moment my mind wanders back home, where all the houses have red roofs and chimneys. Here the roof is used as a terrace, often painted in bright colors. Many a terrace reveals a bunch of clothes drying at the warm mid-day sun, giving charming splashes of color to the white city.
Tore Tavirra is also a home of the first cámara oscura ever built in Spain. It is a room that uses the pinhole camera and a convex lens to project panoramic views of the city onto a concave disc. We decide it’s worth paying a visit to it, and listen to the guide as he explains some important sights in the city and makes jokes about using the magnifier to spy on people when he’s really bored.
The rest of the time we have left to spend together, Javier and I sit in a small square full of people interested in the last carnival breaths, and we drink coffee. We talk and talk, like we have known each other forever, about things in life that I don’t even talk about to some of my friends. He has experience and wisdom, and I have the restless energy of a youthful spirit, so for an hour or two we enjoy exchanging those traits. It’s so wonderful how sometimes you meet a person, and it’s just for a while, just for a few hours, but a single conversation with this stranger is more inspiring to your soul than hours or days of other conversations with some people you’ve known for years.
I notice the pins on Javier’s hat, and ask him where or who from they are. He tells me a traveling story for each of them. The pin in the shape of footprints catches my eye, so he takes it off and hands it out to me as a gift. “Please, don’t lose it”‘, he says, “it means so much to me”. It is around 3pm at this time, so we have to go our separate ways, and we both leave richer by one small but important experience.
After that, I barely fight my way through the carnival crowds of Cádiz. I am not in the mood for stuffed spaces, noise and fiestas. Instead, I head towards the Parque Genovés. The nature is nice there, and the atmosphere calmer, with the families and groups of young people enjoying their siesta time in the sun, away from the carnival.
Still, I crave more solitude and tranquility, and so I stroll toward the Caleta beach, situated between the two castles, San Sebastian and Santa Catalina. I wander the beach slowly, Camino de Santiago on my mind.
Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James, has been stuck in my head for over a year now, ever since my Polish friend Milosz told me about his experience. It is a pilgrimage of several different routes, all leading to the shrine of the apostle St. James in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, Galicia. There are many people from all over the world walking this pilgrimage, for various reasons, such as spiritual growth, search for creativity and innovation, finding their own peace of mind, and so on.
I’d never heard of it before, but ever since Milosz told me about it, I’ve been wanting to do it more and more. I have been bumping into the stories and movies about it, or meeting people who have done it throughout the entire past year. All of this happened very randomly. Well, that is, if you believe that all things happen just randomly. I somehow believe that things happen for a reason, and clearer you can see the signs, the easier it is to follow your own path. So I feel like this new fellow traveler I met earlier during the day pushed me one step closer to actually doing the Camino.
Afterwards, I find a free spot near the ocean, and stay there for a long time. I find serenity and fulfillment in my solitude. As I sit and stare at the ocean waves caressing the sand, I feel content. I don’t miss anybody, I don’t wish for anybody to be there with me. I feel grateful for having learned how to be happy on my own, instead of depending on other people to find happiness. Sometimes you just need to sit with yourself, and talk to yourself, or to the sea, the grass, the trees, the sky. Sometimes there is just no need to feel anything but the kiss of sunlight on your skin, the gentle breeze ruffling your hair. Sometimes there is just you, and you are enough. And you are everything.