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I’ve wondered for some time how best to approach this… You see so much of the story that gave rise to this leg of the journey is not mine to tell and it certainly has no place here. For those who know me best, you can ask, of course. For everyone else, well… as I said it is not my story to tell. Suffice to say I am one of five children and whether half or full doesn’t matter, not one whit… as the saying goes, ‘blood is thicker than water.’

We leave France and get the usual piss-taking route from our GPS. It is as if Siri has the intent of visiting areas she’d like to see or placing us in precarious situations and judging the outcome, kind of like the candid camera version of Skynet. For this part of the journey, it results in me staring headlong into a bus and then a short time later at two smaller vehicles followed by loud swearing, me breaking out in a panicked sweat and visiting inside the wall of Avignon not once but twice. Both times, unnecessarily. Despite our deranged GPS best attempts, we get to Spain, specifically Tossa Del Mar on Costa Brava (yes the word Tossa is funny, not clever but certainly funny).

Day 10 – Arrival in Spain, greetings and meetings.

The Spanish seem even more multilingual then the French, so I’m spared even the poorest attempts at Spanish – checking into or hotel is a breeze. I’m contacted by Paul and Monica, my older cousins. I know they will read this so it’s tempting to kick the boot in but that would be unfair. Paul and Monica are in many way surrogates, they looked after me when I went to the UK on my first trip and their son Andy, is like a brother. We became family not by virtue of blood alone but also friendship, respect and character.

Now, we are not travelling deep into unknowns and nor are we wandering or lost and though we have occasionally glimpsed despairing situations, our journey thus far has been more or less blessed. Still, when meeting with family and embracing the familiar there is undoubtedly a sense of comfort and joy. You become a tribe and there is safety in numbers.

Paul and Mon have started early and we’re invited to join them at the bar, two mojitos in and Sandi is on her way, we head to the Old Town for Tapas and Sangria and make with the merry. I’m contacted by my brother Jamie and they too are on their way, we decide to meet them at the hotel. Walking back to the hotel we are poignantly aware of fireworks going off. Not the elaborate Australian affairs which are under the strict and almost jealous guard of ‘professionals’ but a wild and sporadic array or cracks and bangs that happen almost underfoot during our descent from Old Town. Shortly out of Old Town we find ourselves moving among a throng of others and as dusk settles in we became aware that we have joined a festival. Later we discover, that by inadvertent chance the festival will last the duration of our stay. Three days of celebration that seems serendipitous.

Sitting back at the hotel I learned swiftly that ‘Grande’ is Spanish for big/large… I knew this as I’ve drunk coffee before and have also put two and two together, I guess it just never really clicked. It’s clicked now as Paul and I have ordered three ‘Grande’ water bottles and we will soon be at the bladder splitting point of hydration and still surrounded by the oversized bottles that we accidentally ordered at the hotel bar and had too much pride to admit that perhaps ‘yes we did mean the smaller ones’. It’s at this moment that my brother Jamie, my sister Heidi and my nieces Jasmine and Scarlett arrive. I also meet Heidi’s partner Lee and Jamie’s fiancé Tess and her son Ollie. Willow plays with both Scarlett and Ollie with the reckless abandon that is only known to children and drunks at this hour. The greeting is short lived, it’s been a long day, we are all safe, we are all here and we all must sleep.

Day 11 – Mad dogs and a Perfect Night

It’s hot, we wake in our own time and take our fill of the Hotel’s buffet. I’m impressed by the offering. It’s decided that today will be a beach day, with the sun shining and the mercury soaring it’s a no brainer. 

There is old Noel Coward song “Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun” in this case it’s true.  As Aussies we are taught to avoid the midday sun, failure to comply results in third degree burns and a lifetime dose of Vitamin D administered in a nanosecond. In Australia we like our sun but in-between 10 am and 2 pm we find ourselves in the shade. Europeans haven’t gotten the gist of this and in the interest of company we join our family for some ‘sun’.

On the beach I note an island in the distance, I put it at just shy of 1 km. Naturally, I throw down the gauntlet and let it be known that I will swim to the island. It’s all bravado of course. At about the 800 metre mark I start wondering if there has been any shark attacks in Spain, despite the beautiful turquoise of the water I’m out pretty far and not feeling at all brave or even particularly clever. I’m also beginning to suspect that the island looked a lot closer from the beach. Feeling like I’m representing Australia in some sort of commonwealth competition and reminding myself that I am the president of the VA swim team (consisting of only myself, until 3 weeks ago when Wayne joined) I battle on. Despite the Jaws theme reverberating through my skull I make it to the island in one piece and feel pretty chuffed – C’mon Aussie, she’ll be right eh? No worries!

The swim to the next beach is nowhere near as long. I come out of the ocean doing my best Daniel Craig impersonation – I think I’m nailing it until espy an abundance of exposed breasts. Out of decency I note the particular coarse sand that is endemic to this area and become expertly interested in how it sticks to my feet taking only occasional glimpses to make sure I don’t wander into any aforementioned breasts. On one of my glimpses and among all the tanned skyward pointing areola I see Paul and Mon sitting on the far wall and make a b-line towards them. I let them know where the rest of us are and we start the walk back. Paul is suitably impressed by my swimming efforts and advises that ‘floaties’ might make a great addition for my next heroic aquatic adventure. Mon, however is feeling a little worse for wear with last nights revelling calling the bill due. It’s decided that she’ll get some rest and Paul can catch up soon.

We chat amicably, we catch up on family that can’t be here, when the sun gets too hot we cool off in the ocean and we apply ourselves to reapply.

It’s mid-afternoon, my skin has turned an alarming red and lunch is overdue. We sit down and order lunch, Jamie impressively orders in perfect Spanish and I learn what a Spanish omelette actually is.

Later I go for a run with my niece Jasmine. Finishing school she’s on her way to law school and I have no doubt she will make a fine lawyer. During the run the conversation switches from pleasantries to more meaningful and deeper topics. We touch on Carl Jung’s archetypes, the displacement of modern man, the future of AI and more. I forget I’m chatting with an 18 year old. She tells me that she gets that a lot.

It’s Saturday night and the festival is reaching its crescendo. We eat, head to the beach, there are fireworks, live music and mojitos. The light reflects off the walls of old town in the distance, the music bounces across the beach accompanied by the smell of fireworks and street food. There are rides nearby and their tinkling music entwines with the greater piece happening on the nearby stage adding to the festival air. It is warm, there’s a cold drink in my hand, there is easy conversation and I’m surrounded by family. It is a perfect night.

Day 12 – The Old Town, Paul Feeds the Fish, Dinner and the first farewell…

The days starts well. I stopped early the previous night and switched to water so I’m more or less good to go. The weather has turned for the worse so we all decide to explore ‘old town’ and see what it’s about. It was walled centuries ago to stop pirates from North Africa invading and as a testament to their resolve, it still stands today. We wander and saunter taking in the history of the place, letting it wash over us.

Scarlett my niece is a small bundle of energy and charisma spurting out whatever comes into her mind. She’s somewhere between a cute bunny rabbit and rabid football hooligan after a big night out with the winning team. Shortly she has all in stitches.

We’ve opted to take a boat trip today and see more of the coastline, it’s touristy but hey… we’re tourists :).

Not long into our trip the boats natural rocking motion puts those who got merry last night ill at ease… it’s not long before Paul turns green. It’s said that words speak a thousand words, so I’ll let the images do the talking. The long and short of it is that Paul fed the fish.

After the boat trip we organise a family farewell dinner and we all opt to do our own thing in the meantime; pool, rest or wander.

Over dinner we all chat amongst ourselves, I catch up with Heidi. The table is abuzz with conversation, we’re all delighting in the company of our clan, of our tribe. We are many and the concerns of tomorrow pale and fade to the present moment and the company… but it ends.

Paul and Mon have an early flight home, the children are getting tired. So, despite the long days of the European summer, we say our good-byes, we call it a night, we promise to catch up soon. We thank each other and jest, but a chapter is closing and as the last hint of daylight leaves the eastern sky we know tomorrow is a day of good-byes.

Day 13 – Parting and till next time

We’re down two, we have checked out and we wait by the pool. The forthcoming farewells hang in the air like a miasma – thick, heavy, unavoidable. Despite this we talk, I get some ‘bro’ time with Jamie. Then we wander the shops. The march of time is inevitable and the hour is approaching, reluctantly we head back to the hotel and claim our luggage and pack our car. The ordered taxi arrives and we spill our hasty goodbyes.

They pile into the taxi and it drives off… then silence. The air once abuzz with conversation, well wishing and promises becomes eerily still. I feel their absence keenly. That comforting sense of tribe and the familiar rapidly dissipates. There are cracks appearing in the veneer of my confidence. We are again alone and making our own way… just we three, it doesn’t seem enough. I think of my family at home.

The drive to Barcelona is long and filled with weighty silences occasionally punctuated by the previous days’ highlights. When we arrive at our night hotel I slowly drift off to sleep staring at the ceiling, my thoughts awash with all that could be said, all that hasn’t, all that should be…