Ninety-five minutes to Horseshoe.

The Mediterranean Sea’s coast provides a series of small cities and many small fishing towns, vacation and tourist resort towns, and a few larger cities. Taking day trips from the small city of Almunecar (means: surrounded by mountains), where I live, to visit other places is a once a month adventure for Kim and I. The destination for today is the town of La Herradura (means: horseshoe).

The city of Almunecar

The local bus station is a 2.9 kilometers from the apartment, and it takes about 35 minutes for me to walk there. Granted there is a local city bus that runs past the apartment once per hour, but we prefer to walk. We are both determined to stay in good physical condition for as long as our body can endure. I worked for 46 years before retiring and all those years of corporate life added a lot of excess weight to this frame I’m using. My weight peaked in late 2016 when I hit the scale at 245 pounds. That’s a mega 85 pounds over my preferred weight. Kimber isn’t at all happy with her weight either. I’m not allowed to expound further on her weight.

We diet in seven week sprints, and then take a week off. Our technique includes fasting twice a week and a lot of walking and yoga. I use a calorie counter too. You can read more about the app in my article I’m Losing It. We worked our way up to log just over 40 kilometers (25 miles) a week these days. Sunday dinner is usually over around 20:00 when we begin the first fast day for the week. We don’t eat again until 10:00 Tuesday morning. That’s about 38 hours, plus or minus 30 minutes, with no food. We can have as much coffee, tea, and water as desired. 

Never hungry

Monday is not just fasting it’s also our “big walk” day, as we call it. We walk the entire coast line from our apartment all the way from east to west as far as you can go, and back again. It’s just over 15.8 kilometers or 9.7 miles. Our legs are a bit stiff on Tuesdays following the big walk, so we’ll typically do yoga to give our legs a recovery day. Not this week though, we’re going to La Herradura and it’s on a Tuesday.

The walk to town was a lot less of a struggle than what I had expected. My hips were a little sore and tight, but after a kilometer or so the effort eased up. We arrived in town to find the bus depot is busy at 10:00 and the smell of food from nearby restaurants is in the air. I broke the fast before leaving the apartment. A toasted baguette and two eggs. 

Staying in Shape All Day

Staying in shape isn’t easy to state the obvious. At age 52, I had plantar fasciitis in my left foot. It took nearly 3 months to heal well enough for me to get back to my usual daily jog. A few months later, when I had just worked my fitness levels back to doing 3 miles a day, my right foot took a turn with plantar fasciitis. At age 56, my left calf seized up while I was out jogging. The cramp lasted nearly an hour and my left leg has never been quite right ever since. Today I suffer from drop foot on my left leg.

While most of my life I did practice at staying physically fit, I imagine that had it been otherwise this drop-foot condition would have me housebound today. My weight and health would not be very good at all either. It’s likely I would be on prescription medications as well. I’m fortunate to have only a very few physical problems. Keeping the body fit and physically able to stay active doesn’t just happen when I’m at the gym, or out for a run. Staying fit is a practice that carries on — everyday, all day. 

When I’m not out for a run, for example, I still have to be mindful of what I’m eating. The nutritional needs for jogging and marathons are crucial to the bodies ability to perform. This includes getting adequate water throughout the day so the blood can be clean and of adequate quantity to fuel the muscles. Getting enough sound sleep is necessary so that my lungs and heart can properly function in and out of the gym. Through the day, in and out of the gym, on and off of the track, the lifestyle requires constant focus.

There’s a point I’m making for maintaining a lifestyle of physical activity requires dedication. There is no difference to physical conditioning the body and conditioning to perfect the mind. I cannot expect to perfect mindfulness if I only practice while I’m sitting on the meditation pillow. Training the mind requires an all day awareness, healthy life choices, and learning how to stay mindful everywhere. 

All Aboard

We have our boarding passes in our cell phones and I’m looking at the pass while we stand and wait for the bus. Kimber is telling me there are two buses that go to La Herradura at this time of day. The first one makes several stops on the way over and takes about 1 and a half hours to get there. The second bus is direct and takes just 15 or 20 minutes. Our boarding passes are designated for the second bus. Just as she was telling me this a bus pulls into the station. 

These are really big commercial buses,not just the local city bus size, but the cross country tall and long tour buses. I’m awed at the driver’s skill as they pull these large buses into the small city bus depot here. The drivers pull into the depot and then have to back these mega sized buses into the designated and very narrow loading zone. A placard in the front window of each bus shows the list of towns the bus travels to. The bus backs into the loading zone, I look at the placard and see this bus services: Granada, Nerja, Granada. That’s not our bus.

A few minutes go past and the second bus arrives and is backing into the loading zone. This bus is apparently a more popular bus as the crowd of people at the depot began to swarm into its loading zone. I took a quick look at the placard and I see La Herradura on the list. Climbing the few steps up I’m met by the driver. I’m showing him my boarding pass but he hardly seems interested. He’s saying something to everyone as we enter. He’s speaking Spanish. I make out the words — La Herradura, going, and the word return. I quickly decide he must be telling everyone this is a bus to and from La Herradura and yes we have return tickets so I reply Si, and then head toward the back of the bus to find a seat.

With everyone on the bus the driver starts down the road. When we get to the small two-lane coastal highway, about 1 minute into the journey, the driver turns to go east. That’s odd, I’m thinking, because La Herradura is to the west. It takes me less than 10 seconds to analyse and then to realize this was the second bus into the depot, but it’s the first bus for La Herradura. We’re on the wrong bus. 

Making Mistakes: Life’s Opportunities

We are supposed to have boarded the second La Herradura bus. We’re taking the long way to our destination. I’m wondering next, how long it will be before Kimber realizes we are on the wrong bus? After thinking about it, and considering a few different ways to tease her, I eventually decide it’s better to just tell her. “We are on the way to Motril, Kim.”

Kimber and I have a serious conversation about how certain I am that we are going to Motril. Once I convince her that we are certainly heading to Motril, a moment of silence passes. We then have a more serious conversation about why we are not paying better attention and must be more careful. 

The bus arrives at the Motril (means: it’s just Motril no meaning) depot and the driver leaves the bus. He’s heading into the station. I decided to get off the bus and stratech my legs. I walk to the front of the bus to get a better look at the placard. It reads — Motril, La Herradura, Motril. Ten minutes later the driver is coming back to the bus with several people following behind. Shortly thereafter everyone is aboard and down the road we go. 

The Sickness of My Mind

Consequences of being born or the human condition isn’t the cause of our inherent mental sickness. Existence is limited by just five senses or the five aggregates as I learned to call them. The sickness of my mind isn’t the aggregates themselves, but the way the mind chases after the senses. Day to day life can mask the illness and disguise it. The many different labels for the untrained mind such as “I’m just stressed out,” make it seem as if it was just a passing phase and a normal part of living. Thinking isn’t a passing phase. Left unchecked the mind untrained becomes addicted to endless varieties of craving. 

The sense of smell for example: when I smell the cypress smoke from the sardine smokers where they burn the logs throughout the day at some of the restaurants. My mind immediately runs after the smell. Labels the smell — sardine smoker. Defines the label — cypress wood burning. The mind won’t stop there though. Now the creative powers of the untrained mind will give rise to an entire ten or thirty minute dialogue and make believe world triggered by this single instance of just a smell. 

The mind rambles on — I’m not in favor of the smoke smell and it pollutes our planet, needlessly destroys otherwise beneficial vegetation, and they burn dozens of logs everyday in each of thirty or more restaurants in just this small city alone. For what? Maybe three or four people a day will order espetos (smoked sardines).

The untrained mind continuously creates these imaginary worlds around us. Thinking is a magical power which provide humans with amazing creative ability, and drive us to be incessant explorers. Humans are constant problem solvers and by the very nature of this human condition, the karma of birth — we crave, desire, want. The mind chases after whatever the sense detect, and when left unchecked or unbalanced a person can seldom discern between the imaginary world the mind has thought up and the real world where we actually exist. The karma of thinking give rise to greed, lust, fear, anger, and delusion.

Give it All The Time it Needs. We Will Get There.

Five more stops. That’s right, the bus makes five stops here and there as it criss crosses and travels through the small city. The last stop is just outside of the hospital. The hospital in Motril is the only major medical facility for this region along the Mediterranean. It’s a large hospital and the bus nearly empties out. I can see the driver in the large rearview mirror and he’s staring at me for several moments. He got up after a few moments and he walks back to me and Kimber. He asks, where are you going? He’s obviously confused why we are still on the bus since he’s made all of the stops. 

I tell him we’re going to La Herradura. “LA HERRADURA!” he exclaims. He’s speaking in Spanish but much more clearly and slowly now than he was when we first came onboard. I tell him, in Spanish, “Yes. La Herradura. I have two tickets for La Herradura.” I begin to pull up the boarding passes on my cell phone. “You have to be more concerned with what you are doing.” He says to me. I’m maintaining eye contact with him as he speaks. It’s respectful, and I want to be certain of what he is saying to me. His furrowed brow and steady eyes never once blinking conveys he is perhaps a bit miffed. “I might be going all the way to Madrid for all you know.” As he finishes scolding, he turns to go back to the head of the bus. 

Kimber and I sat there quietly for several minutes. To break the silence I told her, “If we could get to Madrid on a pair of tickets for three euros  I’d have gone for sure.” We laugh a bit and settle back to enjoy the scenery of Mortil and the return to Almunecar. 

It’s Not Pillow Talk

Though it seems like most people have a parenting drive, it never rose in me. Most people seem to have a need to lecture anyone about how they should live or the choices they make. Perhaps because my mind is aware of my own flaws and the sickness that plague me, I’ve never felt as if I had the answers to fix anyone. The more time in meditation the more I have come to understand that telling everyone else how to fix themselves as a cure for the world is highly in error. Truth is, the more time people spend telling everyone else how to live their lives and complaining about the way others are living is the problem with the world.

While the bus driver stood their trying to scold me, thinking himself as the victim of my being on his bus, he should have been looking in the mirror. Everyone comes on the bus and before taking a seat his job is to make sure they are on the right bus, paid the fare for the ride today. Yes, I’m sure most people would not have sat quietly listening to the lecture. I’ve learned we are all suffering and we are all the same. The driver, like me, is a holy sacred-being, worthy of my love.

Meditation makes me aware that there is only one way that humans can make the world a place of peace, love, and understanding. There is just one thing that needs to be fixed. While it may seem easy that there is just one thing that needs to be fixed in order to solve the abortion debate, the wars with all the needless killings, the hate crimes, bigotry, government/mafia, taxes, woman rights, the escalation of the war on white people, and on, and on, the list is endless. The truth is there is only one thing that I, and everyone else needs to do to instantly solve all of the world’s problems. Just this: fix your own mind. Learn the Kung-Fu perfection of healing your own suffering inwardly.

Papa Bertand would say, “it is better to suffer in silence than to blame others for the ills of the world.”

Surrounded by Mountains Once More

We pull into the depot back in Almunecar and everyone gets off the bus, except, of course for the two of us. I catch the driver looking at me once again in his mirror. I’m sure he’s somehow keenly determined I’m a Ph.D with a double master’s and an undergraduate in aeronautical engineering. As we drive to the small coastal highway, we turn to the west. Again, I catch the driver looking back at me in his mirror. Yes, for sure he’s realized I am a genius.

Fifteen minutes later we pull around the roundabout entrance to La Herradura and the bus pulls up to a sidewalk bus stop. There is a crowd of people gathered around two small benches. It’s the bus stop for La Herradura. Apparently the town of 4,000 people is too small for a dedicated bus depot.

Every article I have read about La Herradura over the last two years have made me believe this place must be beautiful and a bit pricey. I’ve been made to believe the rich and the famous come to this area to enjoy quiet seclusion in the best setting and the finest accommodations. Additionally, my research uncovered the location of what is supposed to be an amazing hamburger restaurant, and another highly rated restaurant which features Mexican cuisine. I’m nearly running down the steps to get off the bus to go get a burger.

The Luxury Resort Town of Horseshoe

The streets are narrow and so are the sidewalks. The brickwork of the sidewalk seems blanned and it’s very uneven. We turn down a street so we can get closer to the center of the barrio. The barrio is all residential. There’s no shops, cafes, outdoor bars and restaurants. There are only stacks of apartments and condominiums. We were expecting something similar to what we’ve experienced in the tourist towns and cities we’ve seen elsewhere in Spain. It’s Tuesday and just past noon and there’s hardly a person to be seen.

People in Europe are very much into their dogs. They take them everywhere even when on a vacation they bring their dogs. I like dogs and Kim does too. Before I get to the point for why I mention European’s affinity for the dog, I need to mention another pet peeve of mine; starting sentences with ‘but’ or ‘and.’ Yes, I know it’s acceptable, but I try purposefully to avoid doing so. 

My mother was a major grammar and spelling influence as I grew up. I struggled in school as I found mathematics, science, politics and history to be more important. She likely knew of my struggle from conversations with teachers or maybe from reading my letters. Anyway, I don’t like to start sentences with either of those two coordinating conjunctions. However, be prepared for me to do just that, shortly.

The people of Spain are prolific walkers. They enjoy walking, especially in the evenings. Here too, when out for a walk they bring their dogs with them. There are pet laws in Spain such as no pets on the beach, and pick up the poop when your pup makes a deposit, and sanitize the pee and poop spots. I’ve only seen one person sanitize after their dog pee. I see a lot of dogs on the beach and there are a fair number of people who do not pick up their dog droppings. It’s not like there’s dog piles all over town. A lot of people, the majority of pet owners do bring supplies to cleanup.

If I had to estimate it I would say in Almunecar I can expect to dodge two piles of dog poop for every two kilometers we walk. BUT (butt?) here in La Herradura we’re sidestepping, zig zagging, hopping and leaping over the piles. It’s everywhere! Not only are we having to be watchful of the sunken areas in the brickwork walkways, but the dog crap is clearly out of control. It smells bad too. 

Fixing the World Issues

Kimber and I like to use our walks as a part of our continuing efforts to cure the illness of our mind. Sometimes we pick a particular beach and as we walk across along it we share a blessing with the people we pass by. Sometimes we chant a mantra and focus on accomplishing a boom. Another one of my favorites we practice is — the way of the bodhisattva. This practice is especially helpful at times when I’m struggling to accept the world just as it is. For example, as we are making our way out of the barrio in La Herradura to go down to the beach, I see an elderly woman struggling with her cart.

Wait a minute. Before I continue to explain the way of the bodhisattva and this woman I need to tell you something more about La Herradura. The town of Horseshoe, La Herradura is built on the side of a mountain. When you’re traveling northward, you’re going uphill. If your traveling southbound you’re traveling down hill. Travel east and west and you’re twisting and turning and make small elevation gains and drops. Except when you get down to the beach where everything gets flattened out.

Okay, back to the practice and the woman. As it happens, the elderly woman is heading east and north. I’m guessing she’s 80 years or older and shes pushing her cart, which is full of groceries, and I can hear her saying to herself, “come on — just a little further. Keep going.”  I decided it was a perfect opportunity to practice the way of the bodhisattva.

I walk up to her and offer my help. She hesitates at first but I persist. She finally conceded and allowed me to push her cart for 200 meters before insisting I let her take over. Kimber and I will sometimes practice this when we are out walking, find some way to lend a hand. Not a handout for the beggars, or the homeless, not visiting the sick in a hospital or volunteering at a shelter, etc. Those are too obvious. The real work of the bodhisattva is to find a way to help where people may not even know they need it.

Bambu Restaurant

After making our way out of the barrio we’re walking down the main street along the beaches. I spot the burger restaurant. It’s on the beach side of the street so we cross over. We take a seat outside and order a couple of beers. As we look over the menu a few dogs come over to sniff at my feet as they wander freely around the restaurant. I spot the burger selection on the menu and I order a black angus burger for Kimber and I to split.

Almost every restaurant in Spain will bring a small plate of food to the table when you order drinks. Even if it’s a bottle of water, they will bring you a plate of food. In the south of spain along the Mediterranean Sea, where we are, the typical first round plate is sardines. Kimber is enjoying the sardines, and I snack on the lettuce garnish. The burger arrives and it looks impressive. 

This is a generous sized burger and the lettuce tomato and a thick cut of goat cheese all look fresh. We dig in. It’s so good! After five months of living in Spain, I have found a good burger bar. The fries too are fresh and tasty. The food is actually hot which is a bit unusual for European’s who enjoy everything at room temperature or slightly below. We’re both very happy to have had a good burger.

It’s time to go find the Mexican food restaurant. Although we split the burger, we are feeling full but we are determined to make the most of our day trip. Besides, even though the burger was good, it’s not likely we’ll be coming back to La Herradura.

The Red Pepper Restaurant

Our next destination is about 2 kilometers (1 mile) west of Bambu. The Red Pepper restaurant is not on the beach nor is it just across the street. The place is located at the end of the block where there are no views of the beach or the mountains. There are a few tables outside and a large dining area indoors. We get seated outside and order a couple of beers. The tapas is chili with beef and it is delicious. Well, for Spain, it’s delicious Mexican. 

The produce in Spain is very different than what I grew up with. For example, a white onion in the United States is both spicy and has a little heat and a red onion is slightly tart with a lot of heat on the tongue. In Spain the white onion is not spicy at all and slightly sweet while the red onion is slightly tart but very little heat.

Given the available produce it is very difficult to produce Mexican food that tastes like the food you get in Mexico or the southwest corner of the United States. There are no hass avocado, tomatillo, red chilis, habanero peppers, and even the jalapenos here in Spain are slightly sweet and mild. 

I order the beef enchilada plate. It looks pretty good as the waitress puts it on the table in front of me. She has also brought three bottles of hot sauce for the table. The enchiladas are covered in globs of shredded cheese and a chunky mango and anaheim pepper salsa. We dig in to eat. The beef is excellent but barely warm in temperature. The enchiladas needed about 20 minutes in the oven to warm completely, melt the cheese, and soften the tortillas. 

Homemade Ice Cream

There are a few hours left for our visit before we catch the return bus to Alumencar. We’ve left the Mexican restaurant and we’re walking down the beach. We spot an ice cream cafe and take aim for it as we continue to stroll through the beach of La Herradura. The town didn’t leave me with the exquisite impression that internet articles portrayed. Though the burger was impressive and delicious, we may not be back. Then again, maybe we’ve missed something about this place. 

We’re at the ice cream cafe and it’s a nice place. We’re at the start of siesta time and the wait staff is busy preparing for the evening rush. They restock and clean up from 14:00 to 18:00. With a few exceptions, such as restaurants and grocery stores, business shut down across Spain for the afternoon. Usually repening at 17:00 to 18:00 to finish the day. Kimber and I evaluate the ice cream selection for at least 10 minutes before deciding it’s not the right choice. We grab two bottles of beer instead and head for a sidewalk table.

After 41 years of working on my mind, practicing with Kung-Fu perfection to gain control of my thinking self, I’m still suffering as if it were day one. The work never ends as long as the karma remains. 

Perhaps I will never gain control for my overuse of commas when I write. Maybe Kimber and I will get on the wrong bus now and again. I’ll no doubt catch myself judging people for the quantity of dog crap piles left decorating the sidewalks and walkways throughout their town. Occasionally too, I’ll catch myself in a fantasy thought world where the USA is not dropping 100 bombs an hour across the planet. BUT, no matter the impermanence of all those, the practice is accomplished perfectly by knowing how to catch the mind running after the senses. As well as learning how to bring it back when it does. We often use the breath as the place to bring it back to. Come back to just the breathing. Just this.

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