San Justo talks of waves, plural, but also of “the wave”, singular, and “our wave”, possessive. His hometown is renowned for a particular swell pattern that recurs right below us, where the Oka River flows out through the Urdaibai Estuary and into the Bay of Biscay. Current, tide, and prevailing winds converge upon a sand bar just beyond the harbour wall, often forming the kind of barrel wave more common to Indonesian coral islands than gusty North Atlantic shorelines. Surfers call it “the longest left in Europe”, and they can ride it for a good 90 seconds, perhaps 10 of those spent gliding through the “tube” itself.
IT is customary for many citizens of Madrid to get the hell out of town this time of year, to flee the demented heat of August for some breezier redoubt on the coast. But there is an opposing tradition among those who stay put: practically mandatory attendance at a trio of street parties, thrown for a trinity of patron saints, in three adjoining neighbourhoods just south of the city centre.
Driving his sheep and goats between Mediterranean pines in the backwoods of the park, Garzón said that he esteemed shepherds in general as stewards of the Earth. By his count, he said, “There are two billion of us. One quarter of the global population, conserving 100% of the territory that our animals graze across. Reindeer in Siberia, llamas and alpacas in the Andes, camels in the deserts. There would be no life without shepherds.”
We sit with a village elder she calls King Toto, who is carving a bamboo drum with cracked fingers while smoking powerful ganja. He also brews “rum-rot”, an alcoholic herbal medicine that he claims has “made many babies”, including some of his own. And it seems his kingly perogative to give only the most gnomic answers to questions about his life and worldview. “I put everything in the fire,” he tells me. “I burn everything corrupt.”
THE first bear, or its ghostly heat signature, appears through the thermal binoculars about five minutes after we start looking. Without that expensive piece of kit – worth €6000, I’m told by field guide José García Gonzalez – we would never be able to see it in the dark before dawn, having just pulled up to the crash barrier at the edge of a high and lonely road above the Xunceras river valley. There it is, as rendered by the high-tech lenses: a brown bear showing white against the black of the opposite slope. A spirit animal moving across a near-vertical void.
ALMOST 3000 years ago, Ibiza was believed to be blessed by the ancient god of good things. His name was Bes: enemy of evil spirits, defender of women and children, enthusiastic strangler of venomous serpents. And this island was first named after him – Ibosim – by his Phoenician worshippers, who found the place most hospitably free of snakes. “Bes loved wine, food, music, dancing, and sex!” my guide Martina Greef shouts to me across the choppy water as we kayak out of Port Brut. “And he had a body like yours!”
GENERALISSIMO Francisco Franco had been dead for a while before those he repressed felt brave enough to celebrate in public. The old man’s four-decade dictatorship of Spain did not neatly expire with him in 1975, and the country was still effectively run by soldiers and priests when a ragged lineup of young punks staged a free concert at Madrid Polytechnic on February 9, 1980. Forty years on, that night is remembered as the inciting event of La Movida Madrileña, the countercultural eruption of this city during the fragile and volatile “transition” to democracy.
THE city of Madrid is no less essential to the films of Pedro Almodóvar than kinky sex, crimes of passion, eye-popping primary colours or gasp-inducing plot twists. Though born out in Castilla-La Mancha – Don Quixote country – Almodóvar made his punkish early movies here in the capital, where the death of General Franco gave rise to a buckwild creative scene.
A BOGGLE-EYED pagan god feasts on the headless carcass of his own son. A humanoid billygoat in a monkish cassock bleats a satanic sermon to a gasping congregation of witches. A desperately expressive little dog appears to plead for rescue, submerged up to its neck in a mud-coloured mire beneath a gloomy, void-like firmament of negative space.
FIRST, a tour of the bare-brick cells and torture chambers of S-21 prison, now known as the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. Straight after that, a buffet brunch at Raffles Hotel Le Royal, with oysters, lobster, wagyu beef tartar and espresso martinis. This is luxury travel in 21st-century Cambodia, where every visiting pleasure-seeker pays a kind of psychic tourist tax by looking at the country’s livid war wounds.