July Wrap Up: 3 countries, 500 tents, and a whole load of sangria

I'm not sure why it has taken me this long to install a regular column of sorts here on the old blog... actually, I know exactly why. It is because I'm lazy.

Every time I promise to make more of a concerted effort to write here, I get sidetracked and deterred by the sheer amount of travel blogs and I talk myself out of even the remote possibility that I might have something unique to share. I now realise that this is my inner self-doubt gremlin holding me back from all of my hopes and dreams.

I have already pre warned Mama West of the debauchery, shenanigans and just outright sex that will probably make its way into this segment of my blog, but hey, it's a nice break from all of my more serious writing, and a time to let my witty writing prowess out loud and proud.

July began in the best possible way.

I was in a bikini, or more accurately, a piece of cloth that covered the least amount of my parts as possible, on a beach in Northern Spain working.

For those of you who have been living under a rock (or just don't follow me on Instagram) I have been travelling with my clients/friends/crazy/awesome people Stoke Travel this summer capturing everything from campsites to festivals and the odd nudie run.

Note: there are affiliate links in this blog because apparently I'm that kind of travel blogger now, but also c'mon a girl has to eat.

We were perched up in the tiny mountain town in Aia in the Basque Country. Stoke have a surf house nestled somewhere between rolling hills and the middle of butt-fuck nowhere and let me tell you it's heaven. Vegetarian meals cooked three times a day, yoga and surf lessons, fresh air, and unlimited beer on tap. Who said our bodies are temples?

Looking down towards Zarautz beach

Here’s a fun video I made for the Stoke Instagram account.

The view from the surf house balcony

The first scans off my new Hasselblad!

After the 40 degree weather we endured camping for the San Vino Wine Fight (more on this in another blog post), the house was a really nice, cool welcome. Think converted 4-storey Spanish barn with inside swings (not for sex, sadly), and outside hammocks (could be for sex, but I didn't try them out).

We threw a mid-week house party, because what else are you going to do when your neighbours are literally goats. Five talented bands ranging from sweaty old-school rock to the sweet guitar licks of surfer pop descended on the house for a night of music and sangria that, as it turns out, makes me extremely emotional.

Band pre gig pep talk

Henry on the inside-not-for-sex-swing will always be an iconic look.

Earlier in the day, I took a walk around the village of Aia. It is hard to write about such a place, because, in truth, it's the most peaceful and beautiful village I have visited so far. Across ridge lines of rolling hills and over looking the valley down to Zarautz, a 500 year-old church towers above the village. Big heavy bluestones cement its omnipotence, and as I walked through the cloisters, goosebumps appeared on my arms.

Across the courtyard, houses are speckled down the mountainside, the terracotta roof tiles and beige facades reminding you that you're in Spain and not a foreign fantasy land. I looked out across the lush landscape to see a stark white cemetery with high walls perched on the next ridge over. I begin my descent through the town, each house now a different colour from the next, and up the ridge (and the many stairs that come with it) to the cemetery.

Two men cutting grass just outside of Aia.

I'm weary of taking photographs in a resting place. Truth be told, it is somewhat rude, and I probably shouldn't do it. However, I felt an immense pull to preserve this strange place through photographs.

I very much believe in spirits and energies. Before I entered the rusted gates, I thanked the cemetery for allowing me to come in and take photos. Thank God I was alone, or else someone probably would have thought I was batshit crazy (spoiler alert, I am).

I pushed open the gates and tread carefully along each path. Large epitaphs, marble markers, and gated plots that were ten family members deep. These people cared deeply for their departed. In the corner, a green bin with dried out wreaths and flowers. I knelt down and took some photos and felt the wind brush the back of my neck.

To celebrate July 4, we held a big dance party in San Sebastian. There is obviously no better way to celebrate an American holiday than with a big old bash in Spain, with seven busloads of drunk Aussies.

Vincent, Stoke’s famed videographer, and myself headed into town a little earlier to check out the pintxo scene. For those not in the know, a pintxo is a small snack eaten prior to dinner in Northern Spain. At around 8pm, snacks stacked on top of baguettes line the bar ready for tourists and flies to flock. You grab a plate, load it up with questionable but delicious looking delicacies, enjoy, and weep later when you get the bill. Turns out eating 10 pintxo costs a lot…

Sweet mother of Spanish food… hold me!

Sidra is another popular delicacy in Northern Spain. Think cider but without all the sugar and best served poured from an obscenely pretentious height (see below). We took some down the to pier where we bartered with some locals who were definitely about 14 years old. The deal was to jump over our group of 5, off the pier and into the water in exchange for half a cup of sidra. Here’s how it went down…

Sidra pouring is a fine art

Unfortunately, we did have to leave the surf house, and we made our way to Pamplona for the San Fermin festival. Better known to the world, and vegan activists on Facebook, as the Running of the Bulls. Ethically, I don’t agree with this aspect of the festival, but San Fermin is a two week long celebration that extends far beyond the infamous bull fights and runs.

It is definitely a unique, and often confusing, celebration that involves a lot of trash in the streets, partying all night, water being thrown from balconies, and everyone wearing white. Oh, and it has something to do with a saint.

Not eager to run with the bulls myself for aforementioned reasons, I decided to chaperone a small group into the city on the first day at 4am to capture the nerves and adrenaline.

Runners giving money pouches and mobile phones to a friend for safe keeping.

Shop keepers boarding up the front before the first run.

People dance in the streets to a marching band.

A group of Spanish tourists sing in the main square.

I asked a few of my newfound friends why they wanted to participate, one told me, ‘It’s going to be one hell of a rush and that’s what I live for.’

It’s deafeningly quiet. The chime of the bell ticking over to 8am lingers in the heavy humid air as the first cannon sounds. The bulls are let loose. Another fire of gun powder indicates the steers. Bells echo through the narrow streets as the animals get closer. Like a flock of birds, people in white and red fly past, toppling over each other.

I thought the hooves beating the pavement as the bulls ran past would be thunderous, deafening almost. But instead it was quiet. Heart wrenching, heavy breathing, quiet.

The crowd watches as the bulls run past.

Ambulances wait behind the narrow city streets for injuries or deaths.

A man reads the newspaper as the race commences.

After being on the road around Spain for three weeks, we headed back to Barcelona. A welcome change where I would have a bed, I could be sober for maybe more than one day at a time, and sit down to finally edit the 20,000+ images I had taken over the course of the trip.

No.

My lungs decided on my last day in Pamplona to give up on all life and play host to an infection. An unwanted guest, I can assure you. The only fun thing about shaking in a tent with a violent fever while it is 40 degrees out side is… wait, there’s no fun thing, it’s hell.

I woke up every morning in a pool of my own sweat and limbs feeling like 50kg weights every time I tried to take a step. Perhaps the only (mildly) fun thing was to see all the boys I had kissed over the weekend when I was looking like the plague and saying to them, ‘Just wait, this will be you soon, you sucker.’

Don’t get me wrong, I did edit all my photos and had some time to unwind, but I was stuck sleeping on the couch because I couldn’t stop coughing. You know, the kind of cough where you feel like maybe the abs that are now hiding under several folds of skin and bad decisions might actually make an appearance in the morning?

So I was relegated to the vinyl couch. In fact, one evening I even slept on the floor of a hostel I was not a guest at - classy lady right here - after drinking about 6 bottles of home made vermouth with my friends Laura and Rob.

Pretending to be influencers with Ben and Yams one night on the back of a sunset catamaran tour.

Casa Vincens - the first house Gaudi designed in the 1880s.

All of this food for 25 euro.

The only way to improve chorizo is to set it on fire.

Swimming in The Med for the first time!

Soon it was time to say hasta la vista bitches to Spain and catch a flight back to London. If you have had the pleasure of knowing me over the last 3 years that I’ve been on this wild ride I’m addicted to, you’ll be well versed with how I feel about returning to anywhere I label as home in my Google Maps.

Most notably, that time I cried for 11 hours straight when I left Hawaii in 2017. But Mum, I can’t instant message the island…

London, at the moment, serves two purposes in my life. The first is that I get to meet with my clients in person (a real treat, I can assure you), and second allows me to do a few shoots, get paid a silly amount of money, and go back on my way out into the wide, wide world.

Approximately 6 days later I was taking a 9 hour bus ride to Paris. Why would I endure such torture? Because the ticket was a tenner and the prices of the Eurostar are criminally high. I arrived an agonising 50 minutes early. I say agonising because really what good is it arrive so painfully early for a bus when you have no intention to get that guilty pleasure Starbucks with more sugar in it than Grandma’s pavlova?

It was surprisingly busy for before 7 in the morning on a Wednesday. I had romantic ideas of reclining seats, power plugs and usb ports so that I could world the 9 hours away in peace. My strategy was to sit down, catch my breath for 10, read another opinion article about Boris Johnson and make my way over my gate a cool 15 minutes before departure. 

Half an hour later I was still waiting to board my bus. In fact the 8am bus has already left. It was then I realised that this ride was not going to be as smooth as I was hoping.

I was second last on the bus and chose to sit next two a friendly looking man in a death metal tee shirt and long luscious locks because he looked friendlier than the man who was eyeing off my ass earlier in the queue.

Thankfully, Tom (with two bus emojis next to his name in my phone) from Bordeaux became my solace and translator for the journey. He was returning home after seeing Parcels (great taste in music) play at Sommerset House. After falling asleep on the Piccadilly line (not sure how this is even humanly possible) and missing his flight, he now had a 26 hour journey ahead of him. What a sucker.

But thank God this long-haired friendly man was next to me on the bus because the subsequent 12 hours that unfolded (remember it was supposed to only be a 9 hour bus…) included checking the bus multiple times for illegal immigrants and our bus driver getting almost arrested in Lille.

At 8pm, I checked into my hostel, showered and felt resurrected and ready to party.

Luckily Henry (see earlier pictures on the not-for-sex-swing in San Sebastian) was in town and he had a bunch of cool Parisian friends who happened to be having a picnic on a rooftop near Republique. My life is really difficult sometimes.

On the 31st, I welcomed August in with open arms by chaperoning about 20 people from my hostel to the Eiffel Tower. We did that annoying touristy thing where we all sit there drinking overpriced wine at midnight and all gasp in awe as the tower sparkles before us.

I drank a little too much wine, I hit my head on a fence somewhere near Pont Alexander III and eventually, a Canadian PHD student got tired of our antics through the streets of Vendome and paid for our Uber back to Montmartre.

A group of people I’ll never see again.