Saturday, November 30, 2013

La Adventura de las Setas (The Mushroom Adventure)

Each fall and spring in different mountain pueblos (villages/towns) there are gatherings of people, who've all got one thing on their mind -- mushrooms. Now, before all my psychedelic supporters get all juiced, I'm not talking about something like the annual collection of psychedelic shrooms in Golden Gate. What I am talking about, are people who go into these villages, with the sole intention of scouring the hills for mushrooms to study and/or eat. My roommate has gone three years before to different pueblos to "coger setas" (pick mushrooms), and this year, upon hearing his plan to "go pick mushrooms in the mountains," I decided to join him!

We decided we would go to Constantina, a pueblo an hour and half from Sevilla, but still within the province of Sevilla. We would take the train on Saturday morning with our bikes, arrive to the station, and then bike to the city center. Then we would explore Constantina, stay the night, and then wake up on Sunday morning to go into the hills with an organized and guided group to pick mushrooms. I couldn't have been more excited for the experience! In my mind, I saw us having a casual, relaxing, natural time. I saw us biking around the town with big smiles on our faces, and baskets full of yummy mushrooms! What could possibly happen that wouldn't leave me smiling and feeling completely relaxed and refreshed for the coming week? Right??

Well, I'm sure, that if you know me, my life, the way things go, the way things happen, and just life in general, you can probably tell from that little intro that the experience wasn't exactly the relaxing nature weekend I had in mind. And, as a matter of fact, it actually turned out the be the physically hardest thing I've done since I went 136km around a kayak.

First off, we didn't really make any sort of a plan. We didn't have train tickets, we didn't have a place booked to stay, nor did we know where we were going apart from the name of the village. The only thing we knew, was that on Sunday morning at 9 o'clock we were signed up to be part of a group going to pick mushrooms. The rest, we left unplanned and open.

Now, I'm normally really okay with this type of plan. In fact, I prefer it. I am not big on over-planning, and I love to just let the travel plans sort themselves out by the grace of God. But, I have had some experiences that have left me a little changed (soon there will be a link here where you can read about my experience in Cesky Krumlov), and therefore, I do like to have a little bit of a plan, especially when planning a trip with a bike, and most-especially, when it's during seasons of cold weather. And when we woke up at 8:35am on Saturday morning, for a train that we didn't have tickets for, and was set to leave at 9:30am, I was definitely wishing that we had planned a little bit more.

We arrived to the station less than 10 minutes before the train was supposed to leave, and the time stamp on the tickets told us we had exactly four minutes till it left. So after biking at a high speed about about 20-25 minutes, we then had to run, with our bikes, to the train. Oh, and did I mention that I had stupidly decided to do a one-day fast the day before? Or that because we woke up with less than 20 minutes to get our stuff together and get out the door, we didn't have breakfast before the bike race and sprint sesh? So I am, dying, not having eaten in well over 30 hours, exercising. But we made it on the train.

And then we were off! The ride was amazing.. I really do love traveling by train. It is more comfortable than a car, bus, or plane, and it goes fast, but you get to see everything! So we were passing by countless run-down and deserted factories, mines, and buildings, as well as lakes, and endless trees. I could feel my breaths were fresher and infused with new life!

And then, we arrived! The train took us to a station that is shared by two villages, Cazalla and Constantina. At the station, there is a little cantina where you can have a tapa or a drink, so we popped in to have some breakfast before we went to the village. The cantina is a charming, artistic place. The owner is a zany painter, and the place screams woodland charm and art. It was a great vibe-y way to start our big weekend of adventure and time in nature.


So after some conversation and coffee, we gathered ourselves up, and got ready to head into town! Now, when my roommate first petitioned the idea to me, he quite casually said, "We'll go by train, and take the bikes. Then when we get there, we can just bike from the train station to the city center." I was so instantly down with the idea, that I didn't really think much about it until after I was committed and mentally prepped. I did think about the fact we were going to the mountains, and therefore would likely be facing some hill-age with the bikes, but figured I could handle it, no big deal.

Well, what my roommate failed to mention, or rather, we failed to look up, was the distance from the station to the city center. So when we arrived and were in the cantina, we got a map and some directions, and were told we were 11km from the town. But considering that we had just taken a train for an hour and half, there was no way I was backing out of this one. Even if I did decide to bring a fold-up bike to use for the journey. And do a fast the day before.

After about six, grueling, uphill kilometers, my roommate got a sense that we should stop and ask for some directions. So we popped into this natural reserve where people go to learn, explore caves, and spend time in the natural park, and asked how far we were from the town, and how about we should go to get there. And it should come as no surprise that we were informed that we actually were currently heading towards Cazalla, not Constantina. But not just we were not going towards the right town, we were going the completely wrong direction. Simply put: I had been sweating and heavy breathing uphill for six kilometers, just to have to turn around and go back to the train station and push the restart button. Now, THANK GOD that since we had done the way up on the way there, we were able to go downhill and use minimal effort on the way back, but my gosh!

For a moment, I thought about killing him. But the moment passed as soon as it came, and I literally could do nothing but give him a hug, and laugh. Especially after how comical the whole trip uphill had been, it would have been so senseless to get angry now. And even more especially after we decided to stop and visit the monastery we'd passed on the way up, and found it to be a highly magical place. And Roberto now knows where he wants to get married, and from which towns he needs to find his wife (good news all around!).

 Walking the drive-way (??) to the monastery

After exploring the monastery inside and out, we decided it was time to return to our bikes, and get back on the road again. Back down we went, six kilometers, to the train station. Rober went into the cantina to verify our direction, and then we crossed the river and were finally, really, on our way!

Now here's the thing about things you tend to get really excited about.. the more you picture and imagine something, like an adventure, the less likely it is that it is going to be that way. Unless of course you are using the powers of manifestation, in which case it will be, but if you're just doing some childlike daydreaming and playing out scenes in your mind, you can pretty much kiss all those ideas goodbye. As was the case in this situation, when after 11 kilometers, NINE of them climbing, we finally, finally, fiiiinally saw the sign telling us we had reached Constantina!!!

Yes, that's right, after doing 12km with a fold-up bike the day after a fast, I then had to climb for about another 9 out of 11 kilometers. And man, let me tell you, when I saw that sign that said we had reached Constantina, adrenaline struck me like the Hulk, and I was hollering with joy!

Constantina itself has about 6,000 residents. It's a "pueblo de verdad" (for real village). It's charming, it's small, it's in the mountains. It was a beautiful place to explore, and the people were all very friendly. After eating, we found a youth hostel, got a room, ditched our stuff, and headed out to the mushroom exhibition that they have. There were probably three long folding tables lined up in two rows, absolutely COVERED with mushrooms. I didn't know there were so many kinds. It was beautiful, exciting, and I was into it in an instant. Later that night we went out with a friend of my roommate, and then were up the next morning early to meet our mushroom-picking group and head into the hills!

Unfortunately, the area they took us to pick mushrooms didn't have such a wide variety, and the variety it did have were mostly inedible or toxic. But that didn't keep me from singing to the trees and gathering up all the little shroomies I could find! Here's a picture of my day's take...
And one of the amazing chocolate truffle that I got in the tapas bar we had lunch in upon our arrival into Constantina... and then again the next day when we passed by... And yes, the cup that it comes in, that's chocolate too ^_^
After we picked mushrooms, we went back to the exhibition of mushrooms, then met up with a massive group that had come from Sevilla, and went on a gastro-tour to eat mushroom dishes. Here in this photo below, we have a dish that is made from the type of mushroom that is most common in Constantina. I'm going to go ahead and say that you have to grow up eating this in order to fully appreciate the flavor. And maybe it's better if you're not a bit weird about textures... I've never eaten snails before, but I am pretty sure after this dish, I never need to.

Overall, the weekend was a blast. The way back to the station, we went flying so fast, even on the sections we had to push it uphill. We got back with time enough to go down by the river, and pop back into the cantina for a final beer and decaf coffee. It certainly is a weekend I will never forget, and one I will consider repeating, no doubt! (But with a different, more suitable bike for uphill rides.)

If you're ever in Andalucia, I recommend you check out the mountain towns. They are a pretty special way to get to know this region!

And now, I will go finish making the Thanksgiving dinner I am hosting tonight! Check back later for a post about "How To: Have Thanksgiving in Spain." Also quite special, since it's my first time ever making the meal! (Can I say that I'm a "real American woman" now? I think so...:)

Abundant blessings, love & light to all! :-* 

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