I cannot believe it. We are walking again!!! I mean real walks, outside in the open, step by bouncy step, arms moving like overeager pendulums, lungs drinking in much-needed change of air and starved eyes rejoicing at the open landscape.
After seven weeks of being confined to our homes while the rest of Europe got their daily dose of fresh air and exercise, it was finally our turn. On May 2nd, the people of Spain were at long last allowed outside in the country’s first step to ease the nationwide lockdown. We couldn’t be more ready. How our legs had longed to stride in the open! In spite of the confinement, I hoped I would still be able to hobble about our hood. I had certainly done my share of in-house walking, but rounds on a 2×2 meter terrace can hardly be defined as ejercicio…
New mobility rules
Long before the anticipated day, people began sharing WhatsApp messages with the official curfew laws, which changed daily, explaining what we would and wouldn’t be allowed to do. Prior to leaving our house, we therefore verified the last laws on public mobility in the myriad of confusing and at times conflicting information.
Our new movement radius was 1 km. Not very much, but if you have been enclosed for weeks, you are grateful for the opportunity to be outside in any way, shape or manner. In fact, one kilometre will seem almost infinite!
The detailed regulations continued – Spaniards could go out once a day for exercise, alone or in company of an individual with whom they cohabit. They were not allowed to displace themselves by car to get in shape again, but had to do it around their home. The assigned hours for adults were 6 am – 10 am and 8 pm to 11 pm. Elderly were given separate time slots, as were children accompanied by an adult. To add to the possible bewilderment, bikers, runners and dog walkers didn’t fall into any of these categories, having a different set of rules. This was how Spain would keep their party-loving population apart, which in principle should work as long as everybody kept their distance and followed the rules, which rarely happens…
What about the social Andalusians?
“You think the rondeños will change? Que va! (As if!),” declares old Mari-KiKi sitting in her walker in her doorway looking out at the crowds heading down to Ronda’s Tajo. One would think there is a race on, as everybody who is a runner, and anyone who has ever thought about running but has never done it, is out and about.
For all the laws of social distancing, I agree with our neighbour. I don’t believe the crisis will change the Andalusians a great deal. Every day we observe locals hanging over fences and leaning out of second-storey windows yapping to interested and not interested parties. Some just talk to themselves, while others keep the radio on for the un-solicited listening pleasure of the entire neighbourhood. The more lonely people feel, the more they turn up the volume.
As soon as the rondeños go outside, they appear to gravitate together, as if pulled by an invisible magnet. Most choose to go out at peak hours, although it is quite possible to go when there are less people about. Few head for the lonesome hills, the majority preferring to walk where they are sure to run into others, be it for a much needed chat or to show off their brand new online-ordered jogging outfit. Every time the clock strikes nine, morning and evening, the streets of Ronda turn into a walking mall. Since we live in a small town, I can just imagine the packed beach promenades on the more densely populated Costa del Sol. Not that one can blame people for missing their friends, but I hope that the increased social proximity won’t jeopardise the earlier weeks we spent containing the dreaded virus.
Expecting that half of Ronda would be out walking at the crack of dawn, we put on an alarm for the first time since the crisis began. We are out the front door before seven, beating the sun, let alone any slumbering neighbours.
Since we live in the outskirts of town, we are lucky to have several country roads within our legally permitted radius.As the day is dawning we are already in the campo, surrounded by a plethora of wild flowers.
Can it be my dull indoor vision, or are they more vibrant than other years? Perhaps they, like the stingrays in Dubai harbour and the wild goats in the streets of the Pueblos Blancos, have taken the opportunity to reclaim part of the planet while the humans have been stuck at home?
I never thought a simple stroll could feel that good. I am gliding ecstatically along, hardly aware of my feet touching the ground. In fact, I am so mesmerized by the gloriousness of nature and the wonderful gift of semi-free movement that I startle when a jogger comes zooming by. So, there is at least one other person who has taken the opportunity to beat the crowds. We greet each other cautiously, keeping more than ample distance apart. I catch myself unconsciously leaning away from the runner, in case the poor guy should start hacking up a lung. He doesn’t.
At this moment in time, I keep wondering how the virus will affect people’s psyche. Will we still peer at each other with suspicion when this is over, as if our fellow humans are carriers of unknown ills? Will we forever see Asian tourists as dangerous, even if we perhaps now should be more worried about contagions from the Wild West. Not that anybody can predict when Spain will have foreign tourists again.
Experts say it will be months before we might return to what we previously considered normal social interaction. What about the southern European kisses? Will we have to greet friends with the awkward leg-touches that were suggested at the beginning of the crisis? With summer coming and these body parts being more exposed, I imagine that even such balance-challenging alternatives will be seen as too risky.
Millions of Spaniards have been affected by sickness, death, loss of income or business closures due to the pandemic. For these reasons alone, permitting something as basic as exercise and fresh air, is not only essential for our health and sanity, but can also be balm for stressed souls. Who knows when our one kilometre will expand to two, ten or have no limit. For now, we ought to cherish every step of limited freedom, as we gradually shred our old knowledge about life, and prepare for new ways and realities to come.
Returning to our barrio, the sun creeps over the horizon. Its low rays hit the tips of some outrageously bright May blooms. I feel as if I have entered a hyper reality. Is this is what they call a ‘natural high’ or have I perhaps overdone my basement yoga practice so my stroboscopic third eye has given me radioactive vision?