The city of San Sebastian, Spain is an all encompassing, eclectic destination that I recently had the pleasure of visiting. Justin and I traveled there to take part in the annual San Sebastian Film Festival and though we were there to show our work, it felt like a romantically rich vacation -long overdue for both of us. And we surrendered to being unexpectedly swept into the most joyous whirlwind of pure delight. Here are some of the moments that made our trip.
Stuck in Frankfurt, Germany. Missed our flight to Spain. BooBut instead of letting that get us down, we embraced the moment with Hefeweizens and Frankfurts. One of the best parts of traveling is playing the hand you’re dealt and simply making the most of it. It’s not an adventure until something goes wrong! Prost!!! (cheers in German)
Trust is everything. After a long and extremely delayed flight followed by a sleepy midnight cab ride, we made it to San Sebastian in time to see the sunrise. Starving and exhausted, we sat down at a lovely bistro by the beach to have a delightful breakfast and much needed café con leche. When time to pay the bill however, we quickly discovered that our credit cards were frozen because both of us managed to forget telling our bank that we’d be gone again. We also hadn’t had a chance to exchange any money yet. “Yikes, our first experience here is pissing people off, as the lame tourists who came unprepared,” I thought, as I watched our waitress run card after card, only to see them all get rejected , all while hearing Justin struggling with some form of self-made Spanish and sign language trying to explain that we have no cash. Instead of getting frustrated, she just smiled and slapped our bill gently right back into our hands and said “It’s ok! Just come back and pay later, when you have money!” We smiled with gratitude and looked at one another astonished. We like it here already.
Boobies Everywhere! After we paid back our new friends at the restaurant, we went to the beach to play in the ocean and bodysurf and after a quick glimpse around, I ecstatically squealed at Justin (who already looked just as excited), “Boobies!!!” I had forgotten that we were in a land and culture where it’s totally normal for women to go topless at the beach, just like the men do. My joy might seem silly, but I was filled with a sense of freedom. It was in the air. Nothing felt wrong or inappropriate or even sexual. Empowered beauty surrounded us, and I felt proud to be a woman.
A Very Warm Welcome. After a long day of fun in the sun, we got ready for the opening night of the film festival, held at the local Patagonia store, featuring our very own homemade film, The Story of an Island. Justin and I had taken a trip to Chile earlier this year because we were invited to Robinson Crusoe Island of the Juan Fernandez archipelago. It was a very special trip to help a wonderful and courageous community who pulled together to create change within their island. They asked us to help tell their story and we tried our very best to do justice to the time we spent there and the memories made. This project is close to our hearts and the film can be watched in the “video” section of this website. Justin and I were nervous but proud to show our piece and when we arrived to see a full house, overflowing with people, it made all of our hard work and time invested turn into sentimental, choked up emotion of pure gratitude. Thank you for the support.
Wandering the streets of Old Town. The entire week-long festival was a film crawl, where we walked from venue to venue in San Sebastian to watch films and hear discussions. It was a great way to explore this town and be immersed in the culture of old and new. Cobblestone roads, rustic architecture, gray haired men and women, all mixed in with a new city culture of young surfers and artists blending in harmony together. In June, the sun sets at 10pm, and people stay up late. Sleeping in is the norm and the afternoon siesta is still embraced by the local people and businesses. It’s the perfect place to allow yourself to get lost and explore.
THE FOOD: PINTXOS! Why even beat around the bush? You can’t possibly write about San Sebastian or The Basque Country in general without having to emphasize how damn good the food is here. It’s amazing. It’s done so right and I will forever be in awe of the culinary experience we shared here. I truly understand the meaning of pintxos. It’s not just an appetizer nor a small plate. These wonderful little bites of goodness are a culture all of their own. Pintxos or tapas are the very heart of this place. They say “Come in! Come socialize! Relax and have a drink and bite! Ok, now get out there! Keep going! Go enjoy!” Or at least that’s what they say to me. Rather than having to commit to one sit down situation for a meal, the culture here revolves around a variety of tiny personalized dishes. These mini-meals glisten like gems in a treasure chest, arranged with care on the counter tops of noisy bars and open restaurant windows, allowing you to stop in and just have a bite with a beer or a glass of wine and then move on to the next hole in the wall to sample whatever they are serving as their specialty. The prices and sizes are both small but the flavors and quality of ingredients will blow you away. A town full of tapas is an outdoor party, flowing and weaving and encouraging you to stay lively and enjoy every bite.
Surf Everyday! Like I said the norm here is to sleep in. If you wake up at 8am, you will have a hard time finding anything open. No breakfast, no espresso, nada. So Justin and I took advantage of this and rented boards for a week, knowing that we could have the beach to ourselves as long as we were up and at ’em by 9am. It was a great way to start everyday.
Nature surrounds this city. My favorite part of the layout of this city is how nature is on every edge of it. The ocean is beautiful and there are nearby hill and mountains that you can simply hike and feel so far away, in the rural beauty of the woods. We would walk right out of old town buzzing with noise and fun and wine and within minutes be all on our own surrounded by wild flowers, apple trees, figs and castles from the past. It is adventure friendly and so convenient to get a dose of the outdoors without going far.
The Great Food Debate. I was asked to be a part of a food debate. I really had no desire to debate with anyone, especially local chefs about the future of our food but when the community asks me to do something, I grudgingly try to leave my comfort zone and do it. It ended up being great. I sat in a panel with chefs and fish mongers and we discussed our opinions and visions of sustainability. The crowd joined in on our debate, giving their feedback and challenging some of our ideas. It was wonderful. There was nothing angry or uncomfortable about this debate. It was simply a group of people coming together to share and challenge different opinions and insights. The last statement I made that night, was when a crowd member told us that choosing sustainable food was too expensive to afford. I responded by giving an analogy of the water bottles that were in front of me on the table. I put my reusable steel water bottle right next to a single use plastic bottle and I said “The best way I can explain it is with this example.” I pointed to my bottle, “This bottle is more expensive and that’ s not just it. It also takes a lot more work and effort. I need to fill it up myself every time I drink out of it. I need to remember to carry it with me, wherever I go. I need to clean it.” Then I pointed to the other bottle. “This bottle is cheap! -and it’s so easy. I just drink out of it and throw it away and I can always afford to buy another. But the point is that I know this bottle is not good for the earth, whereas this one is. It might cost more at first to make the right decision and it definitely takes more effort. But that effort and the reason behind it, it adds value to my life. ” Pointing at the reusable bottle, I said “If I lose this bottle, I will feel sad. I will feel the loss. Does anyone feel the loss when they lose a disposable bottle?”
I finished what I was saying and immediately questioned whether any of it made any sense. But everyone seemed to get it and really resonate with that last statement. Chef Aitor Arregi who was on the debate panel came up to me immediately afterwards and told me that my final statement was the one that the crowd understood the most out of the whole discussion and that he could see something hit home in their eyes as I spoke. He told me that he loved every point I had made during the debate and that he’d like me to be his guest at his world renowned restaurant, Elkano. I had heard of Elkano and seen it through the eyes of Anthony Bourdain and everyone standing close enough to overhear the chef’s invite looked at me and shouted “Go!” So the next day, Justin and I decided to take a bus out of San Sebastian and make our way to Getaria so that we could have a true Elkano experience
Stuck on the bus. We left our hotel feeling like the lucky chosen ones of the day! We were going to Elkano, invited by the chef owner, himself!!! We knew it was an hour bus ride and we didn’t speak Spanish but we left early to give it our best try. We got lost, couldn’t find the right station and then got lucky and wound up right at a bus stop that would take us where we needed to go. Unfortunately, 15 minutes into our ride, a car accident happened and we got stuck. Stuck in a hot bus for hours. We had no phone and our reservation for the restaurant came and went. There was no escaping, no turning around (we were on a hairpin turn) and we had no way of canceling our plans to be polite. I was bummed. Justin tapped out and fell asleep and I couldn’t help but pout to myself and ask why this had to happen. Then I thought about the people who were actually in the car accident and how bad their day must be. I tried to look at the bright side of my situation and in the hot crowded bus, decided to make some friends. I did my best to chat with the people around me who were all extremely overdressed for a bus ride and in a surprisingly great mood for being stuck. The hours went by faster and then the traffic started moving again!
I anxiously squirmed in my seat, looking for Getaria at every stop, when my new found fancy friends said “Getaria? That’s where we are going! We will show you which stop. Follow us! Getaria has the best seafood in the country!” “That’s why I’m going!” I told them. And naturally, as fate would have it, we all got off the bus at Getaria and it turned out they too were headed to Elkano, so we all walked together.
Once we got there I understood why they were dressed so nicely. Everyone standing in line for their reservation was. I felt stares and maybe even glares we walked with our backpacks and sweaty clothes to the hostess and told them that we had a reservation but it was 3 hours ago and we didn’t have a chance to change it. The hostess did not look very pleased or ready to accommodate us, but before I could apologize and turn away, I heard my name. “Kimi! Thank you so much for coming! I thought you weren’t coming but I am so happy to see you!” Aitor exclaimed as he walked through the bustling restaurant straight towards us. “I’m so sorry, we got stuck and..” He interrupted me sharply, “Do not apologize please! You are in my house! Thank you for coming to my house, now please be my guest! My mother will seat you!” We turned to see a stout and stern elderly Spanish lady looking us up and down and seeming a bit dissatisfied with our timing and looks but bluntly turned around and sat us anyway.
Aitor catered to us and served us 6 courses. Each of which depicted a point I made at the debate. Everything from eating low on the foodchain, to eating all parts of the fish and being resourceful with whatever is fresh and in season, was served to us and explained in detail by the chef himself. He treated us to the most exquisite restaurant meal, complete with wine and dessert and a full tour and I found myself shifting uncomfortably at times because of how much every diner stared at us in envy and tried to listen in to Aitor’s every word. Everyone, that is, except for our new found bus friends, who ended up being accomplished chefs themselves. They joined our table from time to time to partake in the fun and the whole experience was a gift that I will never forget.
Our whole trip to the Basque Country was nothing short of enchanting and we would really like to thank the Surf Film Festival and Patagonia for putting on such an amazing event filled with great messages, wonderful people and such delicious food. This was honestly the most quality time Justin and I got to spend with one another all year and it was the the first trip where we had no high pressure to preform and get work done. It felt like a lovely vacation that filled our hearts and bellies with contentment to last us a lifetime. We will be back.