On my way to Valencia’s city centre for the Fallas festivities, I got talking with a Spaniard from Asturias in the north of Spain. Hailing from the mountain countryside, surely he could tell me a thing or two about escaping the city on the only spare day I had. La Albufera, he said, es muy bonita. I was sold.
By the time I got on the bus that would take me to the south of Valencia, it was almost lunch time. I feasted on glimpses of the charming countryside from the window. The rice paddies had just been harvested, and shone a golden brown. A small river meandered through farms of potato. Men and women strolled through their fields, some watering them, others basking in the warm afternoon sun. Small thatched huts reminded me of villages in India. A paved road ran alongside the fields, and cars raced past in striking contrast to the casual pace of life here.
The bus stopped at El Saler, indicated on the map in blue. Across the road, I found myself in a pine forest with a thin trail. Within minutes, the whizz of cars was replaced by the sweet humming of birds. The breeze became cooler as the forest became more dense. I stopped the only person who crossed my path, and asked ¿agua?, forgetting the spanish word for sea. Confused, he inferred from my hand actions, laughed, and told me to keep going. The trail winded through the forest a little longer, and gradually opened into a sparkling white beach, gently caressed by turquoise waters. I relished this slice of paradise with a beer from the only beach shack, then walked along the pebbly shore, spotting beautiful striped seashells at every step.
By early evening, I was ready to head further south to the lake of Albufera, which, as I would later read, is the largest lake in Spain. As luck would have it, I missed the onward bus by minutes, and would miss sunset on the lake by the time the next bus arrived. The kind man whose shop I stopped by to ask for alternatives, recommended renting a bicycle, but that would mean having to cycle back in the dark. Hiking or hitchhiking seemed more feasible.
I took his directions and set out on a walkway on the periphery of the forest, along which ran a busy road, and across which, a meandering river kept me company. The sounds of the forest and the occasional rustle kept me alert, and 5 kilometers later, the river which was now a trickle united with a huge expanse of freshwater. Fishing nets lined the shallow edges and birds sat atop them. Wild grass grew along the edges, swaying in the breeze. A fisherman’s boat swayed in the water. Three wooden decks extended into the lake; one occupied by a couple, and one by a young girl with a drawing book. I walked to the edge of the third, and remained there till the sun turned red and sank into the horizon, thanking the road for leading me to moments like these.