After two days of hiking the Cami di Ronda, Jess had had enough. For her, it was time for the beach. For me, it proved an opportunity to find something to do that she had no interest in doing.
I decided to search through experiences offered by locals. These postings – many of them on major travel sites – were new to me and offered an array of ways to spend time and money. There were the expensive and extravagant: food tastings with chefs, trips to vineyards, coastal cruises and cocktails on boats.
And, there were the bizarre. An opportunity to pay $27 to pet someone’s huskies. For fourteen bucks, you can pay to walk a couple’s dogs. Both come with a free drink! Nude Life drawing classes for beginners. Sunny photo shoots with influencer photographer for perfect Instagram images (note: not offered by the same person as the Nude Life classes). One of my favorite was this one, titled simply “Unique Experience”:
I’m not quite certain what $79 gets you here. I mean, there’s a scarecrow (and I had to zoom in to double check that it was, indeed, a scarecrow, and not just a Spaniard dressed in farmer garb with his arms in takeoff position). People on the periphery (a safe distance from the scarecrow) are drinking wine. So, like the dog walking opportunities, drinks are likely included with the experience. The man in the photo seemed like he could be an interesting guy – maybe even an influencer, I mean a scarecrow glam shot could send anyone trending – but for $79? He may have caught my attention with the title and scarecrow, but I decided to scroll on.
That’s when I found it. Tucked near the end of the list, reviewed by only a single person, possibly the host himself, lay the promise of hiking along little-known routes, freshly cut through the hillsides by the local nuisance and culinary delicacy: wild boar, or senglar. Together, the post invited, we would follow the “extremely challenging” path of the tusked beasts to the mountain tops and take in “spectacular” mountain views. Was I ready to join the “elite Club Senglar,” the post asked? The adventure came with lunch and a free t-shirt.
Free t-shirt? I signed up.
Mark, my guide for the day, reached out in advance of our adventure. His name and his English seemed out-of-place for a local guide in rural Catalonia. Online translators are pretty good these days, I figured, and maybe the name was one to make tourists feel more at home. In our second communication, Mark let me know that it would be only the two of us for the hike. Apparently, the path of the Senglar was not attractive enough to other hikers to pursue it. Maybe Mark should have said he was an influencer photographer in addition to a mountain guide, or that he possessed a scarecrow, or offered loving touches to street dogs. Perhaps it was the lack of reviews on his site – I know many people who steer clear of restaurants, hotels, or even Amazon purchases with only a single review. Or as a Spanish local, he could have promoted himself as Marco, not Mark, to add to brand authenticity. Regardless, on Wednesday morning, Marco and I would track wild boar in the early morning sun of the Costa Brava. Maybe, he said, we’d even have time for a swim at the end. Bring your trunks. So I did. However, my wild boar hike was seemed of increasingly questionable judgment.
This was one of those moments where the narrative plays out in your mind. “Half-naked tourist emerges from Mountain brush, says he paid a guy to take him alone on remote mountain trail. Unable to purchase replacement pants without his credit card – that, too, had been stolen – he was forced to immerse himself in the Mediterranean until his wife could come pick him up.” Or something worse could happen. Was I being foolish in pursuit of something uniquely exciting? Should I just be on the beach sipping Aeperol Spritz’s and eating fried seafood? Maybe I was foolish, but I’m pretty fast and can scream like an old lady. At worst, that combination could buy me some time as I ran from my pursuers, Marco, boar, or both.
“Just stay in touch so I know that Marco didn’t run off with the credit card and your board shorts,” Jess said the morning of the hike.She thought I was crazy, and she headed to the beach. I was on my way to meet Marco.
With some hesitation, I turned the final corner to where Marco had said to meet that morning. And there he was: definitely a Mark, not a Marco. As it turned out, Mark was from Bucks County, PA, not more than 30 minutes from where I grew up. He is an American expat living life on the Costa Brava, trying to build a small business taking tourists on off-the-beaten path experiences that help them get a better sense of this place he loves and has called home for about a decade.
Mark isn’t much older than I am, and we hit it off right away. As we climbed the trail, scaled rock faces, and made our way to the ridge line, we talked about the food and culture of Catalonia, his incredible story of giving up a steady job in the US to build a life and community in Costa Brava, the things he loves most about the life and business he’s building, and those things about Spain that drive him crazy (read: siesta, for one). Along the way, he taught me about cork trees (Costa Brava cork, it turns out, is considered some of the finest in the world, and is sought out by the highest label champagnes and wines), life during the failed Catalonian independence movement of 2019, and what about Catalan culture he finds to be so special and alluring.
Oh, and the wild boars. After all, this was a wild boar hike. We followed the trails made by boar wandering the mountainside. These senglares in Costa Brava are endemic and a nuisance. Growing to 1000 lbs, the boar tear up large chunks of earth in search of food or something to do, and without any natural predators, have overrun the hillsides. During the pandemic, with people all locked inside, the boar moved into cities, digging into trash and growing in numbers. Mark’s garden has been shredded by boar again and again. “They’re like tanks, man,” he responded when I asked if fences stop them, “they just go through anything.” Just last month, a 67-year-old woman was attacked by a wild boar while sunbathing on a Spanish beach. The Senglar, which sent panic across the beach had been swimming and was apparently too slippery to be caught. Honestly, though, did the man with the floatyreally think trying to grab a wet and wild beast was a good idea?
“So, should we be nervous about wandering the paths of these massive pigs with foot-long tusks? I mean I keep thinking we’re going to round a corner and surprise one while it’s eating, sleeping, or telling its friends stories about how it terrorized sunbathers last week. ” I asked.
“You definitely don’t want to surprise them, that’s for sure. If you wake them up, they’ll be really aggressive and nasty. They can do a lot of damage to a person.”
I looked over the side of the mountain. There really was little room for error. If we startled a boar, I’d have to sacrifice Mark. The distraction would provide me with a window to escape.
“We could sing,” Mark suggested. “Some locals say that only singing can save you from startling the boar while they are sleeping.”
I was not up for singing. Plus, my singing might enrage rather than alert a hog at rest. I would proceed with caution and my secret escape plan at the ready.
The weather was cool, the views were spectacular, and the conversation nonstop. What was billed as a three hour hike turned out to be six, an unexpected extension which left Jess genuinely concerned that Marco had made off with the credit card, swim trunks, and maybe more.
For the most part, our hiking path was clear: wild boar in dry, Mediterranean climes cut a clear path as they tromp around the forest, apparently. At hour five, we began our descent. There, Mark seemed to track a very small boar, as the trail grew thick with wild rosemary and thyme bushes and, of course, plenty of nasty thorns. Slipping and ripping our way down the mountain, we eventually emerged onto a fire access road, our faces and clothes covered with dirt and rosemary leaves. It was as if the final gift of tracking wild boar twas leaving with the Scent de Senglar, a full body marinade of salt and rosemary, like the kind I had used on pork loin many times.
Jess was happy to see that I wasn’t dead. Mark was excited to have shared his world with a fellow Pennsylvanian. I was energized and exhausted by an incredible day on the mountain.
As we walked towards where the car park, Mark shared how much he missed cheesesteaks and hoagies. “With all of this incredible food here, you still can’t get a good roll. Or cheap cheese. I’d love to make a good cheesesteak for my friends.”
That night, I looked into getting Cheese Wiz delivered to the Costa Brava. I imagined a group of Catalans gathered around Mark’s table, tentatively biting into a Philly Cheesesteak for first time. The amazement and maybe the disgust of this alien flavor and texture, immediately followed by swigs of cava and white wine to clear the palette.
According to the Google, it would cost me $59.99 to get Cheese Whiz delivered to Mark, about as much as I had paid him for the wild boar hike.
While the Whiz was too rich for my blood, I could give Mark something else he wanted: a five star review on the booking platform for the Wild Boar hike. That would increase his reviews by 100% and maybe encourage more thrill-seeking tourists to look beyond their fears for personal safety and the temptation of paying to walk dogs to join Club Senglar on the Costa Brava.
Oh, and I got my free t-shirt. It still smells of rosemary.