I look out the window and see the familiar mountain sitting alone to the east of the runway. The engines decelerate and the humming turbines slow as the captain prepares for landing. It was strange but somehow amusing to be landing at the same airport again, It's rare for me to ever return to the same place twice. I can remember almost as it was yesterday the last time I touched down in Malaga Spain, nearly 5 years prior whilst chasing a romance I had on two Swedish girls around Europe. I'm amused to no end thinking that I was chasing the idea of falling in love with a Swedish girl more than the reality of it, truth is I didn't know which one of them I liked more, but it was a great idea!
Only a few weeks earlier I had quit my job in Canada, speeding it across the country to catch the last flight to Ireland for the flight season. Only days after quitting my job I emailed my friend Nick from England. Nick's reply was brief but direct. "Yo Bro. I am near a place called Orgiva called Cigerones. Fly to Malaga or Granada. Its totally great here. I'm living in some ancient ruins. There is a room for you too. Building started this week. Alls all go matey. Also had the first combat school session this week. Meet my mum at the Malaga airport 2 pm, November 3rd. Get on down"
Lesson # 1 Nick is a special breed.
I had the pleasure of meeting Nick while working for a tree removal company in Australia. My first impressions were he was laid back, had a receding hairline, was a lazy Englishmen, and way too old at 28 years to be without a stable career. This was the first of many inaccurate judgments I made about this English Gentleman of a special breed. I got to hang out with Nick a couple times for beers after work during that short stint working as an aborist before I got fired and spun up dirt in my boss's driveway with my 1988 1.6 liter Toyota Corolla. Nick was laid back, but smart as whip. Super friendly and had a couple of university degrees. One of his distinguishing features as you will come to find out in a moment is that he loved his marijuana, he would smoke it and read books and think about some crazy psychedelic shit, not what I was into but he did it with such grace I couldn't help but to respect him for it. Only a week before I got fired from that shitty job I had told nick that I was just saving up a bit of money before hiking 1000km's over 2 months across Australia's south west. I can still remember his ear to ear grin with a subtle head nod 'Cool man, that sounds like a right great trip' and that was the last I spoke to him before being fired and leaving in a hurry. I had no email, no facebook, no means of getting in touch with him again, just another transient relationship.. So I thought..
Two weeks into the two month hike across the south west, I arrive at the campsite mid afternoon, tired, weak, and in need of a rest. As I approach the campsite, I can see someone standing on the top of the picnic table, arms crossed and looking away towards the forest in a ratty sweater, ratty shorts, and a full brimmed hat. As I get nearly to the hut, the guy turns around, he has a corn pipe in one hand of his crossed arms that's full to the brim with smoldering weed. "Oi mate, I finally caught you!" There was Nick, with that unmistakable ear to ear grin looking down at me. Turns out he liked the idea of going for a hike so much he quit the same job only a week later to join me, he got his housemate to drive him to the start of the trail and picked up all his supplies on the way there in about 30 minutes and spent the past week chasing me down and trying to catch me on the trail. What a cool guy. I remember seeing his crappy gear, lentils, noodles and a few clothes wrapped up in black plastic garbage bags. I had spent over a month preparing for the this trip and acquiring all my high tech gear, which obviously made me more capable right? Wrong... The second time I would judge Nick would be that night when I told him he would never make it to the end of the trail... Lesson #2 Never underestimate nick, he's a breed of a special kind
That message was the last communication I had with him three weeks prior to actually touching down in Malaga Spain, Nick was one of those guys who you just have to trust and feel completely alright with it. So there I was in The airport looking around for Nicks mum, likewise Nicks mum was also looking around for me. I think its just Nicks way keeping the universe simple by not giving either one of us any details or information about the other. And simply enough, as I sat there under an information sign in the arrivals hall, long after everyone else had found their family or chauffeurs, I saw a middle aged woman looking around for someone, she likewise saw me looking around also, low and behold I was the scruffy ginger guy named Joe (what the hell Nick? Really?) and she was Nicks mom on her way to visit nick in Cigerones as she hadn't seen him in over a year. She was a lovely lady, I can see where nick gets his kind manners and her boyfriend Phil was a prude and a bit of a dick. As we drove from Malaga to Cigerones in a hired car, it was clear that neither one of us knew what to expect, this whole Cigerones thing was very vague, in fact so vague it wasn't listed on google maps or any information about it online at all. But it was Nick, Nick could convince a herd of cows to swim to America if he so pleased. So there I was on my way to see Nick for the first time in three years to train Martial arts in the Spanish mountains in a secret place of ancient ruins called Cigerones.. Holy shit was I wrong!
Lesson #3 When dealing with Nick, NEVER assume anything.
We finally wind our way up into the mountains of southern Spain to the base of a small town named Orgiva. Nick told his mom he would meet them at the bar at the bottom of the hill just across the bridge at 6pm. By 8pm we're still waiting in the darkening evening for Nick to appear, from where, no one knew. Nick always had a way of being places when he wanted to be. Phil was a quick temper, boiling up in frustration that his girlfriends son wasn't a punctual kind of guy, obviously the type of guy who cares way too much about things that matter too little.
Lesson #4 When dealing with Nick, never expect anything to be conventional.
To the east there was a road, to the west there was a road, there was even a smaller dirt road that snaked its way down the mountain among the olive trees. Each of us staring down a separate in hopes of catch glimpse of something that might resemble our host. But this is nick we're talking about and just as the last available light was available to see without needing a light, there comes nick and his girl friend crawling his way up onto the road from under the bridge like a bloody pair of trolls embarking on an evening stroll. Filthy Nick, clothes riddled with holes and solid stain of dirt covered his exposed skin only darkening worse at his hands and feet. No matter the filth on his body, that distinctive ear to ear smile pierced the grime and his white teeth seemed to illuminate his face. That was Nick alright. Lesson #5 A special breed of Nick, not overly punctual but reliable as ever.
It's all so vague still, all of us loaded into the small rental car continuing on up the valley further into the mountains to this mythical place called Cigerones, Nick has a way of convincing you to do anything without giving away any details about what it is. I can smell him and his girlfriend, they're pressed tight against me in the back of the car, a very distinguished and clearly settled smell of body odour overpowers all other fragrance available in the air of that small European Skoda. I get a closer look at his state and can see the dark, heavily packed dirt under his fingernails, I notice his fingernails because he's chewing a long open wound running down the entire length of his thumb. The conversations went back and forth between Nick and his mom catching up on the little things, but he took a repose to look over at me and said with his convincing little grin "mate, you're gonna love it here, you'll fit right in" saying it in a little chuckle, overly amused about the fact that I hadn't the slightest idea of what the fuck I he was getting me into. Damn you Nick, I blindly booked flights to the other side of the world on a whim and you're chuckling at my feeble ignorance of what the next three months of my life are going to be like. Damn you Nick. I feel like cows swimming across the Atlantic. Lesson#6 Always trust Nick, even if he makes you feel like a cow.
We turn off the main road and enter into a small kind of run down village, jeesh I thought to myself, he might be so dirty from working in one of these farm houses. Oh no, not Nick. He Navigates for Phil directing him down past the village where the pavement finally runs out, Phil is outraged because its pitch black now and he can't see anything, furthermore he's cursing the entire situation because the rental company claims that damages to the car wont be covered on dirt roads. Nick chuckles and soothes Phil's growing frustration that its all going to be all right. In all fairness it was the middle of the night and we were literally driving up the center of a massive river bed in some unknown valley headed towards a place called Cigerones not mentioned on any maps or signs anywhere. Ten minutes of rough rocky and pitch dark driving Nick points off to the right and we drive up a steep little hump of dirt out of the rocky riverbed and into what's lefts of riverbed that hasn't yet been eroded by the spring time floods. The very first thing we see is what seems to be the remains of an old caravan, or a rubbish dump that had been blown up with a few sticks of TNT, it was hard to tell in the night. All around in the brief attention of light from the cars headlights were old broken cars, caravans, small piles of debris, and every now and then there would be a half finished cinderblock structure that had at least ten times more effort and time put into the artwork and paintings on its exterior than what went into the initial construction of the .... Whatever it was..... Nick was ecstatic, chuffed at his own accomplishments of organizing this all three weeks prior with a single message. We hear an old fashioned fire bell being cranked by hand in the nearby distance, it was dinner time. Nick led us flawlessly in the pitch black, barefoot, dodging the broken bottles and random overturned rakes deliberately and instinctively as if this were his garden of a laborious love. We emerged from a thicket of canya bushes into a medium sized clearing of a mix between patches of grass and dirt. Off to the far right corner was a large circular structure appropriately named the dome. It was a framework of steel draped in layer after layer of blankets, old rugs, and a waterproof membrane to finish it off. Dim light could be seen from within the dome via its translucent side fabric. It was what seemed the only light in the entire surrounding acreage apart from the very seldom head torch seen coming and going, but mostly, just like Nick, barefoot people appeared and disappeared through the one opening in the dome with no aid of light at all. We remove our shoes, the only clean and fully assembled ones to be seen at the entrance. We enter the dome and packed full of roughly 18 people, men women, young and old, bodies where scattered between musical instruments and half a dozen burning candles. My first impression was that everyone was dressed in clothes cast for the inhabitants of Zion from the Matrix trilogy, not all though, some had smart shirts and the youth looked like they had recently returned from school, I can say thought that there were more dread locks in one place that I'd ever experienced before. There was a mixed smell of herbs, marijuana, wood smoke and Body odour, a little intoxicating for the newcomers, but no one else seemed to know there was any smell at all. The food came in three large saucepans, couscous, rice, fried veggies, and a tomato type of paste. Everyone broke from their silent strumming of instruments, group massages, and tokes from their pipes to indulge in the feast. There weren't enough plates for the 18 people and washing dishes seemed to be a sore spot for the communal census so it was suggested to eat it African style with only fingers and the thought was quickly swallowed up as the plentiful hands went into the dish from all 360 degrees. Trying to hide my discomfort, I joined in on the frenzy of feast, but after only my first handful, almost instantly the image of nicks oozing thumb and dirty fingernails came into my mind. Needless to say my appetite vanished.
The night continued a way in which could have been on another planet as far as my first impressions were concerned. Convulsive dancing, deep throaty noises, mixed with drum beats radiating from any surface that could be pummeled with a palm. It was all too overwhelming, it was a big leap from only a few weeks prior being a site supervisor on two big projects, living in a bedroom community in a house with a big backyard to siting cross legged in a candle lit fabric hut witnessing dance moves that mimicked and exorcism. Nick finally guided me through a maze of footpaths away from the dome to an old dilapidated caravan that had thick black spray paint covering the side, window and door saying "FUCK THE POLICE" Nick told me everyone referred to this caravan as the 'fuck off caravan', or as I found out later on, the place where people go to have sex during a party. The caravan had a sideways piece of plywood as a door, a roof hatch that was permanently open to the elements and a broken window. There was a foam mattress and a couple sleeping bags scattered about covering some stains in the bed sheets. On either side of the bed were roaches from joints and fully expired candles melted flat into the wood. Nick gave me a pat on the back and headed off up into the mountains to his alleged ancient ruin he was living in, which at that point, sounded like a 5 star resort. As I lay down to sleep that night in my own sleeping bag, perfectly straight like a log, terrified to roll over in either direction in fear there might be a syringe hidden in the foam mattress somewhere, I learned my last and final lesson from Nick Lesson #7 Don't let first impressions rule you, especially when dealing with a special breed named Nick