There are some places you travel and feel at home almost instantly. This feeling seemingly holds no tangible cause, as it suggests a complete comfort with the unfamiliar. Regardless, this notion follows you always, coloring your experiences for the whole of your stay. San Sebastian, Spain, I found to be one of these cities that welcomes its visitors as a mother to a child, but found that I desire more from traveling than a sense of well-being.
I was fortunate in terms of accommodation yet again. I stayed with a college friend, Brian, who’s been teaching English in San Sebastian for the past year. We were been put up in his spacious four-bedroom apartment. It’s a ten-minute walk to the beach and even less to the city center. A great location.
We’re also lucky that Brian, like both Jake and myself, is unemployed, which meant he has all day every day to hang out and show us around town.
He brought us the world famous Playa de la Concha, a horseshoe-shaped beach that stretches for miles, met by mountains at its ends and cool, blue ocean at its shores. Beachgoers are tourists and locals alike and can be seen lounging (often nude) beneath striped umbrellas, while children scurry about the sand or splash in the water. I took a swim out to one of the small waterslide rafts that float some distance away from the shore and splayed myself on the deck under the hot white sun for what felt like an hour. I remember the taste of salt water in my mouth and its sting in my eyes and found the whole experience impossibly bright and surreal.
He also brought us to Pintxo Pote, a weekly event in San Sebastian and in other Spanish cities as well. Every Tuesday, every bar in the city has a deal in which you can buy a glass of beer or wine and one pintxo (usually consisting of meat and a cut of cheese atop a slice of baguette, similar to tapas in America) for only two euro. We ate seafood salad pintxos on the curb outside a small bar at the edge of town, socializing with Brian’s friends and other locals, most of whom spoke at least some English, and many of whom were interested in us due to our friendship with Brian and our (unfortunately) apparent “American-ness.”
So it seems that, through Brian, I was handed an authentic lens through which to view the city. Immediately on arrival, I knew what bars had cheap drinks and on what nights, I was granted access into a pre-established friend group, I knew the right places to eat and buy groceries and could even rely on people that spoke fluent Spanish. It makes perfect sense that I’d feel a sense of ease and comfort in a place like San Sebastian, mainly because it was given to me through someone who already held a sense of familiarity with the city from the start.
The only problem is, when traveling, I only enjoy comfort for a short time. Not to make it seem like I’m not grateful for the wealth of experiences I’ve shared thus far, I most certainly am, but something inevitably turns on me, something internal, when I’m placed into such a situation.
For example, for the last three nights of my stay I couldn’t sleep. I’m not sure what set it off, but I experienced a huge bout of insomnia that nearly drove me insane. Each night, I lay on the pull out mattress in the living room until sunrise, tossing and turning, then listening to music, then reading, then tossing and turning, then almost falling asleep and waking again with a start, then tossing and turning, and so on. Looking back on the experience (thank God it’s over) I feel it had something to do with the fact that I was beginning to feel settled, I was beginning to feel too comfortable in San Sebastian, so that my mind and body were confused whether to remain in a state of travel, or perpetual transition, or accept the surroundings as something more permanent.
Yes, I agree that my mind habits are masochistic when it comes to issues surrounding comfort, but in some way, I need to validate my tendencies by raising the question: is too much comfort really a good thing when traveling?
I’d have to say no, it’s not. I feel travel is often meant to be an uncomfortable, alienating experience. It’s meant to place in one in new situations, with new people, languages, foods, cultures, etc. Travel is meant to be the search for home, and not the experience of it. Sisyphean perhaps, but I feel the alternative leads to a state of being static, of not growing internally, of being bored.
So, on the whole, San Sebastian was both an overwhelmingly positive experience as well as one without much challenge. I grew close with a culture and a city so fast and in such a way that I felt at home almost immediately. On the other hand, this feeling of ease led to restlessness, agitation, and insomnia. Home then, for me it seems, it something that must be worked for, never given.