by Gabriel Lopez Kafati
Since I was matched with my first guide dog, Posh, in July of 2013, we have embarked on multiple travel adventures together, from conventions to the opera, business trips to cruises, from sandy beaches to a few feet of snow. Everywhere we have been has given me an opportunity to explore with independence; to enjoy my adventures with a funny companion; and to learn how to negotiate with a furry partner who, sometimes, may have an agenda of her own. My travels to Honduras have been countless and love-filled. While planning our trips to my parents’, I have received calls from nieces and nephews inquiring: “Is Posh coming for Christmas?” I have dealt with my elderly aunts who are convinced that I am starving my poor, always-hungry guide dog and decide to share a cookie or two. Then, to feel sorrow when all we leave behind are beautiful memories, the scent of my cologne, and a trail of blond doggie hairs.
In March 2017 we embarked on a different kind of international travel. I decided to spend my birthday with one of my dearest childhood friends who had moved to Europe shortly after we finished high school, and was now living in Barcelona with her spouse. I was full of anticipation. This was my first trip to Europe after losing my eyesight; it was also my first trans-Atlantic adventure with Posh! Airfare happened to be surprisingly affordable, so I sought the opportunity of using some miles to upgrade. I planned a suitable spring wardrobe that would leave enough suitcase space to bring back some Cava, chocolates, cheeses, and Jamón Ibérico; my math indicated that I would have the equivalent number of pounds worth of dog food to replenish with such delicacies on the way back. Then there were all the permits for my furry companion. We discovered that Posh’s microchip was not the one required by the European Union, so she got another one implanted. A couple of days prior to my birthday, we were ready to go!
I know for many people, air travel is a nuisance. For me, air travel is one of the essential parts of traveling. Posh had dinner and a limited supply of water, plenty of time to get busy, and lots of encouragement leading to us boarding an American Airlines Boeing 777. Once aboard, I showed Posh our private little pod in the air for the following nine hours. As we took off, I realized that I didn’t need to see in order to tell that we were flying directly east, over the Atlantic. After indulging in a five-course meal and sampling different wines, it was time to relax and sleep. I shared ice chips with Posh. We walked around for a bit; Posh made friends with passengers and crew, especially with those crew members at the galley, where she expected to find bits and crumbs. I figured out how to flatten my seat to create an improvised cubby for Posh. Sunrise came too soon for me. Though breakfast smelled nice, it also meant that we were a few hours from landing.
A beautiful spring morning welcomed us in Barcelona! Navigating the airport was such a breeze; Spain is well-known for its public awareness toward people with visual impairments. As I was clearing customs and immigration, I had Posh’s file ready for it to be examined. The agent looked down at her, then asked me, “Lazarillo?” (which means guide dog). I said yes; the agent thanked me and we were on our way. As soon as we were outside, Posh got a chance to take care of her business. As soon as we were at my friends’ flat, she got breakfast. Barcelona has lots of dogs, but not many grassy areas in the city, so we took a walk to identify good walking routes. As we grabbed a small table in the outdoor terrace of a cute bar, I re-discovered how much I could enjoy the smells, the sounds, and, of course, the tastes of an afternoon “Clara,” which is a cocktail made with local beer and a clear soda, paired with a plate of local cheeses, meats, and olives.
Our first evening consisted of the birthday present my friend had for me. Before I could immerse myself in a night of food, music, and wine, I made sure Posh was well-fed. Then, we set out to Casa Fuster, the iconic hotel where Woody Allen’s romantic comedy Vicky Cristina Barcelona was filmed. There, we enjoyed a famous international jazz band performing live, while we paired local delicacies with different wines, and ended the evening with a beautiful dark-chocolate dessert in the shape of a grand piano. Thinking that Posh and I were quickly adjusting to the jetlag, we went to bed close to midnight local time. After a few minutes in bed, I was awakened by a very demanding wet nose. Thinking that Posh was alerting me of an imperative need to go out, I panicked, bundled up, and took her out. Once there, she sniffed, looked around and wagged her tail as she stared at the door to go back indoors. When we got back inside, I noticed that Posh planted herself next to her designated feeding station. That’s when it hit me — Posh was expressing her jetlag in food terms! Her tummy was telling her that it was five o’clock Miami time, her normal dinner time. I tried snacks, but she wanted the real deal. We worked out an amicable solution — half a portion at Miami time, and the other half at Barcelona time.
My birthday was a dream come true. My friend had booked reservations at a restaurant called Mond Vinic, which is Catalan for World of Wine. We had a private dining room where we were surrounded by modern bookshelves stacked with wine encyclopedias. In trying to decipher how to pair our eight-course meal with the corresponding wines, we encountered a wine list in the form of an iPad. We figured that we could come up with our pairing menu by applying filters to our search. Oh, how wrong we were! Each filter yielded at least 2,000 different wines, which were all guaranteed to be available on site. This overwhelming sensation was a clear indication that we would go with the sommelier-recommended pairings. The following days were full of walks, visits to local markets, restaurants and bars, and even a couple of walks to some parks where Posh mingled with local canines. We experienced beautiful spring activities, as well as long walks full of bustling sounds and floral smells which both Posh and I enjoyed.
Barcelona happens to be very close to Spain’s Cava-producing region. Cava is the denomination of origin for sparkling wine from Spain. There it was — we were on our way to the wineries of Sant Sadurni d’Anoia! This is where Posh proved that her report card had all A-pluses in extracurricular activities. During a visit to a prestigious family-owned winery, we stopped by the de-corking station, where wine bottles are de-corked after the first fermentation to remove any residual sugar in the form of carbonation. This process causes an overflow of the sparkling content, which is captured in big receptacles. The smell that escapes from that room is absolutely enticing. No one from the public is allowed into that room due to sanitation regulations. As the group veered in the opposite direction, Posh decided to follow her nose and guided me into the de-corking room. The laughter of everyone at the winery was almost as bubbly as the Cava itself. Later, Posh would target each corner and proudly show me what she found there. I reached down to feel what she kept showing me, and discovered that in each corner was a knee-high stump in the shape of an oversized sparkling wine cork!
Our Barcelona experience is now captured in a very special part of my heart and memory. I still remember the sounds of the Boeing 777 as we crossed the Atlantic Ocean. I can still feel the red velvet on the couches at Casa Fuster and the vibrations of the jazz band all around us. I can savor each cheese; each slice of serrano; each drop of olive oil; each pastry, each chocolate. The sounds of corks popping and wine being poured are vivid in my mind. I can still hear the diversity of voices and accents, between Spanish and Catalan, between different parts of the Mediterranean and other regions of Spain. The nose and the sip from each glass of Cava, each glass of wine are still present… Well, for some reason, those are fading a bit; I may need a refresher. Everything came together in the way in which Spain embraces people with visual impairments and the way in which each public venue respects guiding teams. What a good birthday trip that was. I think I already know where I want to go for my coming-of-age birthday. Cheers!