Basque in the Glow
words and photos by Michael Kazimierczuk
If you’ve ever traveled out the country, you probably know all about how sacred Wi-Fi becomes during your vacation or trip while abroad. This is probably the most relatable thing all 21st century travels have in common, especially with these days of heavy-meme lurking and right swiping. Unfortunately for us, the Wi-Fi gods were not on our sides. The struggle for a perfect connection was real.
Alongside looking for free Wi-Fi signals in cafés and metro stations, we had no real intentions but to explore the smaller cities Spain had to offer. Most of the guys hadn’t heard of any of the towns before. With no set cities or travel dates, we went off word-of-mouth and our own senses on where to stay and for how long. We soon found out that might not have not been the best idea.
It’s hard not to get trapped into the vortex of a skate trip. Skating and drinking all day, day after day, naturally becomes a normal way of life. Most of the guys knew the drill and intentions were set on enjoying the Spanish culture and time away from the dreadful snow. A month-long trip travelling with the same group of dudes, sharing cozy Airbnbs, can really push the limits. So things were kept light to save the sanity of everyone involved. As we ventured from city to city, we’d skate one day and spend the next exploring the glorious pleasures Spain had to offer.
Barcelona, as we all know by now, has been a skateboarder’s paradise for many years. But at this point no one’s interested in reading about how the marble ground was flawless, weather was perfect, and the wine and beer was cheap and cold. We feel the same way, so Barcelona was home for only a short period time.
Losing Jake Cormier an hour outside of Barcelona came as nearly no surprise. Moving around with a group of skaters can be a real hassle. One left to go buy some beers, another to take a piss, and a third rolling a joint. Keeping track of everyone’s needs and wants is next to impossible. So, as we arrived at the train station and noticed Jake was nowhere in sight, we waited and searched, but with no luck and the final trains calling it for the night. We headed out of Sabadell unsure of where our friend could be. Arriving home to a somehow cool and calm Jake relaxing on the couch as if he was there for hours, we didn’t bother to ask many questions.
ET on the other hand had no worries at all. Doing his own thing throughout the trip, you’d never have to question the whereabouts of this kid. Always knowing he’d manage to get himself home or to meet up with the crew later on. He was living life on his own schedule. So when he caught wind of a beach party an hour west of Barcelona in Vilanova, you know he was on the last train heading west and catching the first train heading back to Barcelona at 7 a.m. Talk about livin’ la vida loca.
Nightly chats and attempts at booking our next train ticket and apartment were a constant topic as our stay in each city came to an end. Quickly realizing we might be enjoying the cheap booze a little too much to deal with credit cards and making solid commitments, the topic naturally changed to where the party was that evening and we’ll figure out the next leg of the trip at the local café the following morning. Which never happened. The broken record kept on going, ‘til it was almost too late. Airbnb’s got booked a day before leaving and transportation shortly after. Never learning our lesson, city to city we’d do the same, to the point of where it become a recurring joke each night.
We had no solid schedule holding us down in any city we visited. So after hearing some talk about this city on our route to Bilbao, a brief stop to check out Zaragoza was in plan since we might not have this opportunity ever again.
Standing out like sore thumbs while pushing down the streets, we turned the heads of the local residents as if we were from the future, something they’d never seen before.
At first sight, Zaragoza seemed like a promised land we hadn’t heard of before. A few hours into cruising around, exploring the beautiful marble architecture along the Ebro river, the conversation about extending our stay naturally came up. Fortunately, the beverages were cheaper and icier in Zaragoza so subjects quickly shifted. However, we quickly realized things aren’t always as they seem.
It is safe to say that the Zaragoza polícia are the most unfriendly group of people I have ever crossed paths with in all my travels. We were just starting off our day enjoying some espressos at a local café, warming up at a virtually empty marble square in the city. Within seconds, the police popped up the curb, took our IDs and stripped us of our jackets and bags. Vigorously searching through all our belongings to find any sort of criminalizing item they could use to their advantage. Surprisingly with no luck, it somehow made things worse. Switching from speaking almost perfect English to only speaking Spanish to intimidate and scare us, they got back in their vehicle to make a phone call as we stood and wondered what the hell was going on.
After a brief chat on the phone the officers returned with instructions to head toward our home to retrieve our passports and bring them back in order to get our IDs back. Confused, questioning their reasoning, we got nothing but a stare-down straight from a Clint Eastwood film. Soon they returned to their vehicle once again for another long-winded phone call as we continued to stand there. Returning once again, but without a reason to hold us any longer, they handed back our IDs and gave us a whole-hearted welcoming to Zaragoza as they told us to get out of the city. Safe to say, our brief stay hastily wrapped up thanks to Zaragoza showing no love.
Home is where the Wi-Fi connects automatically. Bilbao really did feel like home, what with the downtown centre having a free automatic Wi-Fi connection all-around. Skating in the core made it feel like we were back home enjoying glorious data. Getting texts and Tinder matches in real time, instead of hours later back at the Airbnb.
Warned about the weather this time of year heading to one of the most northern parts of Spain, we were unsure of what we were getting ourselves into. Checks of the Weather Network days before our arrival in Bilbao was giving us extremely mixed emotions. Nonetheless the five-hour train ride alongside the Basque Mountains alone was worth the risk.
We knew Bilbao had some hidden gems thanks to the mastermind behind most of our trip, Charles Deschamps. Sadly, due to a very bummed knee for nearly the entire trip, he wasn’t able to experience them first hand. He still managed to come out and share the laughs with everyone on each skate session. This trip would have never even happened with Charles. Thanks for everything, buddy!
Skaters are generally a slow-moving group of people. Add in misty wet mornings and you know no one will be up and moving until the afternoon hours. Bilbao’s northern climate weather was upon us each morning, but the guys didn’t mind. Getting their beauty sleep was important after all the late nights. Thankfully, we all managed to leave the grasp of free Wi-Fi and out the doors of our home, because the spots of Bilbao were some of the greatest we crossed paths with. Flawless marble quarter pipes, banks, and street table-top gaps? You can bet we visited them multiple times. Spots you can only dream of existed in this port city.
Enjoying ourselves a little too much, we extended our stay. Bilbao was a refreshing mix of old and new, not what we were used to in the other parts of Spain we visited. The food, art, and culture was too perfect to leave so early. Bonus, the police and residents were much friendlier than our previous home. They offered help and were generally intrigued on what we were doing in their city.
JP Grenier’s time abroad was coming to an end. Bilbao would be his final stop. Being JP’s first notable skate trip outside his home town of Montreal, we spent our final days knocking off spots and lavish lifestyle goals we had planned. We spent our final day on the cliffs and beach of the Northern Atlantic Ocean. Popping bottles of champagne and eating fresh baguettes as we watched the sunset couldn’t have been a more memorable day as we said fair well for now to JP. Sad to see a friend leave the group, yet the excitement was high to get on with the final leg of the trip.
For our final stop on the trip we called Madrid home for week. A hectic city, full of life and way too many humans walking the streets. Refreshed and excited from arriving in a new city, we were ready to see what Madrid had to offer as the trip started to wind down. But weary bodies and drained minds quickly surfaced once again from the month of travelling. The pace of the group and mornings got even slower, which I didn’t think was possible. Late morning starts quickly turned to early afternoon meet-ups. Most days not even getting out to a spot until 3 p.m. became common. Everyone started to branch off on their own, and early morning solo walks and café hangouts at the local plaza became the norm.
Somehow managing to exceed the monthly Wi-Fi limit within the first three days of our stay really put a dent in our system. Who would’ve thought a group of six skaters could have such power? Our Airbnb hostess was not impressed, to say the least.
Being located in the core of the city helped with our struggle. A major bus stop located directly underneath our balcony gave us the benefit of free Wi-Fi each public bus in Madrid offers. “Wi-Fi’s here!” would be heard throughout the house as everyone dropped what they were doing and huddled around the tiny balcony in hopes of potentially receiving an incoming message or a new Tinder match. Most of us weren’t so lucky: those buses travel fast and our Tinder game wasn’t so strong.
The locals in Madrid really made our stay feel that much more welcoming. They always invited us out for dinner with the guys and into the sessions. They truly made us feel as if we were part of the local skate community. The perspective on our final stop in Madrid shifted as our trip was coming to an end. We’d be lucky if we got out to one or two spots someone had in mind that day. The rest of our time was spent doing whatever we deemed fit. Most would venture off into the small cobblestone streets, exploring the many art galleries and the insane Royal Palace of Madrid. It was a sad, weird feeling knowing the trip was coming to an end. After spending a month with the same group of guys, doing the same thing day in and day out, it starts to feel like it’s all you know. The idea of coming home to daily life sounded appealing. But then, of course, a week at home and all you want to do is grab your bags and travel again.