raquel_title

June 2019
Rome, Italy

From her desire to explore the world to having intimate conversations with strangers, from crossing the ocean on a boat to finding peace in the uknown, Raquel Espunyes knows how to live life to the fullest. Our in-depth conversation contains what it means to be a traveller today, but underneath the surface, this piece is an homage to Raquel's incomparable, undeniable and unbeatable love for food.

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"I love the piece," my friend Raquel tells me after listening to the finished product of our recorded conversation in Rome (she is the subject for my latest episode). I can't help but sense a "but" coming, and I am not wrong.

"I just regret not telling you about taking a 40-hour-bus ride in Vietnam because someone told me there was a great bakery in a place in the mountains."

Okay, I can see why she is upset, but, really, none of her stories lack adventures. On the contrary, they are dreamy.

Seated by a window in a side street of Rome’s Trastevere, Raquel tells me what it comes down to in life. That moment in Trastevere is one of them. It’s her favourite part of the city that she’s visited four times and will never stop exploring.

"That’s where you feel the life of the people," she tells me.  It’s true. The smells and sounds are overwhelming: freshly baked pies, cheese filled focaccia and the clinking of cutlery at every street corner are hard to ignore. And yet, Trastevere is quitter than the rest of the city. It has an identity of its own, with the Romans refusing to succumb to the undeniable commercialisation of Italy's capital. The locals follow their daily routines, seemingly unbothered by the confused faces of the tourists trotting down the cobbled alleways. I must admit, I find this attitude quite refreshing.

On the other side of the river, masses of people are standing in line to the Colosseum, waiting patiently in the burning heat to enter Italy’s most famous landmark. But we do not. Raquel likes to experience the unknown, get lost in places behind the obvious, outside of her comfort zone. And yet, Rome is almost her safe space. It is a place reuniting all her pleasures in life, and with that, I mean Raquel's obsession with good food. "Fresh products, amazing pizzas, amazing pastas," she laughs, her eyes lighting up at the thought of it. "The people are welcoming and smiling, the weather is nice. For travelling, Italy and, Rome, especially, is one of the best destinations."

I don't question her bold statement, because, undeniably, she knows what she is talking about. Needless to say, she loves to travel. Raquel spends half of the year working as a manager in her father’s ski shop in Andorra, and the second half of the year globetrotting, sharing meals and drinking wine with strangers, hiking mountains, crossing the sea on a boat. As I write this, she is enjoying the last day of the Peruvian capital, before flying to Canada to visit a friend.

"When I was younger, I didn't understand things so well. Your parents explain you the places, the situation of the [country], but you can't understand. I've evolved through the years, and I have "new" eyes, a new vision. And I want to go [to those places] because of that."

"When I was younger, I didn't understand things so well. Your parents explain you the places, the situation of the [country], but you can't understand. I've evolved through the years, and I have "new" eyes, a new vision. And I want to go [to those places] because of that."

The curiousty for the world has been passed on to her by her parents. When Raquel was a child, her parents regularly explored different parts of the globe, and kept piles of books about travel in the house. Her father (half Spanish, half Andorran) was an alpinist, climbing mountains all over the world, while her mother, a French teacher, grew up in the South of France and is passionate about the sea.

For any ordinary kid stuck in their room for the holidays, Raquel's summers sound like every child's dream. "I would leave school early, and we would spend a month in the Unites States or South America. We always went backpacking, slept in tents, [and spent time] really learning the local culture. I've always had the image of my parents as adventurers."

In fact, she's done the journey she is about to embark on, but anticipates it will be different this time.

"I know the [route], but when I was younger, I didn't understand things so well. Your parents explain you the places, the situation of the [country], but you can't understand. I've evolved through the years, it's been more than 15 years, and I have "new" eyes, a new vision. And I want to go back because of that."

There is one thing she looks forward to the most, and I would lie if I said I was surprised. "If I say alfajores, is it too much food again?" she laughs. Alfajores are two Argentinian cookies with a thick layer of dulce de leche glued between them. I've never tried them, but immediately make a mental note reminding me to google the recipe when I'm home.

For a daughter of an Andorran and a French, speaking two languages fluently is a fact of life. When Raquel was a toddler and first learning how to speak, she preferred the Catalan language over French. "That's weird, because my mum speaks way more than my dad." Everyone in Andorra, she says, grows up learning three languages. "For us it's normal to grow up like this. You realise it's not normal when you go abroad."

As a polyglot myself, I have noticed over the years the tendency of my brain to "switch personalities" according to the cultural influence of the language I am using. "When I speak Southern languages, I will have a friendlier approach," she tells me, confirming my assumption. "When I speak French, I'm a bit colder. I'm always quite cold, I am not a very warm person," she says.

Inarguably, growing up surrounded by cultural diversity and mastering several languages is  a privilege, but Raquel admits that being a teenager in Andorra wasn't always plain sailing.

"Andorra is a very small country. Growing up in Andorra, I always wanted to get out of there. There are mountains everywhere, so it's all closed down. There is one road, and that's the road you follow every day. You go to school every day through the same road, see the same landscapes. I liked it there, because we had the freedom to go to the mountains, we were outside all the time. But after a while, when I became a teenager, it was like prison for me being there. I was always in the same city, with the same people. Now, when I come back, I am happy to be there, but I always wanted to go away."

"My parents tell me, 'Why do you [travel] alone, are you not scared?' And I say, 'It's your fault! All my life you have taught me to travel'".

"My parents tell me, 'Why do you [travel] alone, are you not scared?' And I say, 'It's your fault! All my life you have taught me to travel'".

Raquel's parents may relate to her urge to explore, but they are also parents, and parents worry. A lot. "They always tell me, 'Why do you travel alone, are you not scared?' And I say, 'It's your fault! All my life you have taught me to travel!' Maybe it's not the right time, maybe I have to build a career, but I want to [travel] now, because it's now that I have the possibility, the money and no family." Inarguably, she is right, but she also has zero interest in following any societal norms.

"Do you actually need stability in life? Do we need to be always balanced? It's important to find the balance within yourself, it's important to appreciate yourself, to love yourself. But do you need stability in your life to do that? I'm not sure."

Raquel assumes that her idea of stability is spending half of the year working and the other half travelling, but she is not bothered to find the perfect definition. "Maybe it's that, maybe it's something else. I haven't found it yet. I think, I will find it little by little. Or not. I might be on my death bed and not know where my stability is. I think I fear it! I fear to wake up one day and think, for the last five years I've been in the same place doing the same thing. That I don't know the person by my side - how did I even meet that person? I'm scared to wake up and see that I haven't done anything with my life."

I think I fear [stability]. I fear to wake up one day and think, for the last five years I've been in the same place doing the same thing. That I don't know the person by my side - how did I even meet that person? I'm scared to wake up and see that I haven't done anything with my life."

I think I fear [stability]. I fear to wake up one day and think, for the last five years I've been in the same place doing the same thing. That I don't know the person by my side - how did I even meet that person? I'm scared to wake up and see that I haven't done anything with my life."

She might be worried about finding herself in a place or situation that she is unable to escape from, but I highly doubt this scenario will ever occur. Her personality is too carefree and open-minded to be trapped in predetermined societal norms. Following a rigid plan is never part of Raquel's agenda. In fact, when it comes to travelling, she prefers to go with the flow and follow her instinct.

"It's about listening to what people tell you. When you organise a trip, you [tend to] have a route, and you really stick to it, and don't listen to what people tell you."

Going with the flow exludes the basics, such as the geographic distance between two destinations, or the political situation of the country, but means that she will always follow a local's suggestion. "Sometimes I cancel flights or trains, and go in the opposite direction."

Raquel likes to discover, and she likes doing that through the lens of her camera. Her photography is beautiful, touching and explores the emotional value of colour. It evokes something in you that makes you miss the place that she captures, even if you’ve never seen it before. "My mum loved photography and I took this over," she says, crediting her mother for introducing her to the world behind the lens. "I've always had my own camera since I was very small, and with time, I became more interested in the works of famous photographers.

"There is nothing like photography. It's just incredible that in a certain moment you can capture everything, or you can also capture things that you don't want to show."

Another thing you won't find in her pictures is people, who she tends to avoid in her work, unless the momentary situation allows it.

"In each trip I have moments where it's special. There are moments when I close my eyes, and I take a picture in my head, [and] don't care about taking out my camera."

"In each trip I have moments where it's special. There are moments when I close my eyes, and I take a picture in my head, [and] don't care about taking out my camera."

There is something else that she describes as "momentary" and that is her idea of home. "I think the notion of home changes all the time. I like to change homes," she says.

"You arrive at a place where you find good food, good people, and you feel like home in those moments. I felt home in a lot of places, maybe that's what I'm looking for, a home."

"Home is a place where you can exchange, where you can eat. Communication has always been a problem in my house, so when I find people I can talk to, it's there that I feel this should be home, that this should be where I belong."

People, human connection, good food. I sense a theme in what she says.

"It's like when you meet someone, and you feel like this person knows you. I don't talk about falling in love with someone, but people who can be friends, or 60 years older than you, who you can share a meal with and maybe not see them again. It's meeting this person where you feel you can exchange and you're secure, well, that's what you need in life."

Raquel longs for raw moments in life, where you are connected on a human level and not defined but a clicked "like" button on social media.

"Technology has changed the way people interact with each other. Finding people who you can have a real conversation with, sitting down and exchanging thoughts without being scared of saying what you think - I think it's beautiful. That's what the world is about."

I asked her what she would say to those who are reluctant or scared to travel, and in true Raquel fashion, here's what she said: " If you're scared, fight the fear. If you're scared to travel, travel. If you're scared of the sea, go to the sea. If you're scared of the mountains, climb the Everest."

Or spend 40 hours on a bus to Southern Vietman to find a hidden bakery in the middle of the mountains because some bloke told you to?

"Well, the blueberry pie was worth it."

 "If you are scared, fight the fear. If you're scared to travel, travel. If you're scared of the sea, go to the sea. If you're scared of the mountains, climb the Everest."

 "If you are scared, fight the fear. If you're scared to travel, travel. If you're scared of the sea, go to the sea. If you're scared of the mountains, climb the Everest."

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What You Call Home is an audio series, exploring the meaning of home through personal memoirs of people like you and me.

What You Call Home is an audio series, exploring the meaning of home through personal memoirs of people like you and me.