The unexpected swim

Serendipity, that’s the way things happen – good and bad.

Monday morning. Rafa my jeweller friend from the Plaza bumbles in to the office -“Hey James – what do you think about crossing the Strait?”. I look up from some seriously boring sales statistics. “Really?”.

“Of course – you, me and a friend from Granada”.

“Granada – that’s a long way from the sea amigo, and you’re from Cordoba, at least you’ve got a decent river” I reply.

“Ha ha, I like your style, and Vejer’s on top of a hill”.

“Yup, but at least we can see the sea from here” I quip. “Seriously dude, why me?”. I could already feel that sinking sensation before Rafa answered. I knew I’d accept just as I’d have accepted if he’d said come on let’s bike from here to Timbuctu next summer. Rafa instinctively knows a man that likes a challenge, as an ex-triathlete, he’s had a few himself. We’ve never ridden together let alone swum together. We’ve shared a few beers in the Plaza under a hot sun in the shade of an orange tree. That’s not the most exacting of sports.

Rafa Ponce in his jewellery shop ‘Miró’ in the Plaza de España, Vejer.

“Let me think about it, give me two days. That’s a whole year of training I need to even have a small chance” I said.

“James”, replied Rafa with a big grin, “If there’s anybody I know that can do it in Vejer, you can”. My pride swelled but then a thought ocurred to me.

“Rafa, when did you last have a long swim?”.

“Me? Oh I haven’t swum at all for about 3 years. Look -” he said patting his large belly, “I’ve put on so much weight I can’t even get in to my Speedos!”.

Monday night. My friend Iñaki from Bilbao comes to the Califa with his girlfriend. I haven’t seen him for a while, Iñaki’s a great surfer. We chat about the waves, the summer, work, life. Completely out of the blue he says to me come on there’s no surf let’s go for a swim tomorrow. A swim? You’re the second guy today that’s asked me to go for a swim. And I tell him about Rafa’s craaazy idea.

James & Iñaki Guezuraga in the courtyard of the Madreselva, Los Caños de Meca after the swim.

“Well come with me tomorrow and you can give it a go. It’s all in the mind remember, you just have to be fit enough that’s all!” he laughs. So it isn’t all in the mind at all, that’s just the point – you also have to be able to swim super far, non-stop with whales, sharks and your own grisly pride pursuing you across the black waters of a trans-continental body of water. Mad!!

Wednesday afternoon. My first distance swim ever. Little did I realise we’d be swimming so far – 3,7km. A far cry from the 40 lengths of my 16m. pool at home. We swum from the beach in front of the Madreselva to the Playa de las Cortinas. Iñaki miles ahead of me but then he swims distances regularly and came fully prepared. His kit list included; Orca wetsuit no arms, gloves to put the Orca wetsuit on (doesn’t want to ruin the neoprene with his nails, ‘un poco freaky’ he admits he said while changing), super goggles, anti -fog liquid for the glasses, swimming bouy which you can fill with phone, clothes etc. and is pulled behind you, Suunto 9 watch.

I enjoyed it, the water was warm, we were never more than 200m. off shore, I could almost hear the guy in the chiringuito pouring a ‘tinto de verano’. We stopped occasionally and admired the high sandstone cliffs and wheeling gulls, dark green umbrella pines poking their heads over the edge. The water was clear and shoals of little boquerones coursed along below us throwing shimmering shadows across the seabed.

Much much later I reflected that I would have none of these passive moments of reflection when in the middle of the channel, I came to the conclusion that the pleasure of the journey was going to be in the preparation and the months of training ahead, not in the crossing itself.

So I’ve learnt the absolute basics of what it takes to be a distance swimmer.

Thursday morning. A coffee in the Plaza with Rafa. “Amigo I’m with you, but just so you know we’re doing this together, all the training, all the suffering”.

Rafa gives out a broad grin, his huge shoulders wrapping around me in a bear hug. “There’s one thing you should know though”, I say with a warning tone, “Don’t lose too much weight because if the Orca’s are going to eat anybody I want it to be you”.

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