That Summer: Mending a broken heart in Salou in 2010

The holiday was planned before the man I loved took my heart, hurled it to the ground, and jumped up and down on it until its beats were weak and shallow.

Just a simple girls’ trip – me, my sister and our joint best friend – to Salou, a bog-standard resort town in Spain, somewhere on the coast between Barcelona and Valencia. I vaguely remember having been worried that I would miss my boyfriend on the week-long trip, especially as he wasn’t the best at being in touch while I was away (red flag, much?).

But I was 23 and I was in love – and, although I wouldn’t have admitted it at the time, I was in a deeply flawed relationship with someone who made me feel insecure every second we weren’t together. I’d spent a year slowly going insane; in my head it made sense to feel anxious about spending a week apart.

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Luckily for me (ha), he broke up with me a month or so before the holiday, so that was one less thing to worry about. But the big, stinking mess of grief that left me completely gutted out and on my knees probably made up the shortfall.

I had never experienced pain like it. I woke every day at 5am, my anguish acting as some kind of cruel alarm clock, with only a few blissful moments of peace before I remembered – he’s gone. It’s over. Perhaps it sounds melodramatic, but young love is melodramatic: you haven’t built up any kind of scar tissue or armour, so each emotion is deep and raw and unchecked by risk management or defence mechanisms.

I wondered whether I should even bother going, but the budget flights were paid for and wasting that kind of money was unthinkable in my early twenties (and still is in my early thirties, come to that). So I dragged my pale, miserable ass to the Costa Daurada on the north-east coast of Spain, thinking that at least mourning my lost love in a sunny location might mean I experienced my heartbreak with a side of tan.

Reader, it rained. Not every day, but close to it. Buckets of water were upturned over our heads as we chased around the streets for a restaurant or bar to hole up in.

I continued to wake up early, long before my companions, and before the storm clouds gathered for the day. I would shuffle myself, zombie-like, onto our balcony and silently weep as the sun came up. It was beautiful, the light glimmering off the blue-green majesty of the Balearic Sea, but I felt nothing but steeped in melancholy. (Also, it was pretty blurry, what with all the tears.)

The whole thing was a bust; I didn’t know why I’d bothered to come. Misery doesn’t really love company, after all. Misery loves nothing, as it turns out. But then, one afternoon, things took a turn.

I found myself alone in our little basic apartment. My friend was in the bath, I think, my sister out buying snacks. The sun suddenly burst through the clouds and I could see the shimmering haze of ocean in the distance. It may sound a little – even a lot – corny, but in that moment I felt the strongest urge to dance. I love dancing – the feeling of connectedness to your body, when the cerebral part of you temporarily shuts down and nothing else matters but music and movement. I shoved in the earbuds of my iPod shuffle, cranked up the volume, and started to move with the beat. I was entirely in the moment, limbs sprawling this way and that, stretching, twisting, diving, leaping. I probably looked like I was having some kind of fit. But it didn’t matter in the slightest. For 15 glorious minutes, I forgot about my bruised and battered little heart and just encompassed the physical. There was no pain. There were no thoughts or recriminations. There was only deep, abiding joy.

Things got better after that. We laughed our way through the rain as we scrambled around town; we paused often for cheap jugs of sangria and plates brimming with overly-salted calamari and chips; we talked and talked and talked some more about love and broken hearts and what I would do when we got home. We even stayed for the “entertainment” in the hotel one night, some old crooner doing cheesy covers on the keyboard which we tried and failed not to giggle at.

But the highlight was local theme park Portaventura, Salou’s answer to Disneyland. In all honesty, it turned out to be the town’s best asset. We strolled there through the grey drizzle, singing a made-up jingle with only one line – “To the port of adventure!” – over and over as we went.

Once there, we had our pick of the rides – not that many people want to spend a rainy day in Spain outdoors, for some reason – and regressed to being children again, skipping hither and thither between our favourites. It’s not quite Alton Towers, but there are a good number of decent rollercoasters and, most thrillingly, the Hurakan Condor: a 100m-long free fall.

It was so quiet that, immediately after our first drop, the ride attendant asked if we’d like to go again. We said yes. Again? Yes. Again? HELL YES! All in all, I think I did the Hurakan Condor five times in a row. And every time, the swoop and soar in my stomach replaced the dull ache of loss; every time, the adrenaline made my heart pump fast and strong, reminding me what it was like before some guy had jumped up and down on it; every time, there was one moment – the moment just before you fall – when I felt completely unencumbered.

The experience was so good, in fact, we returned the next day to do it all over again.

Of course, the feeling didn’t last: I returned to London with a smattering of freckles and just as much emotional baggage as when I left. But that trip taught me a valuable lesson about travel’s ability to offer solace and healing, even when you’re not venturing anywhere even remotely exotic. Wherever you go, there you are – but so are fresh experiences, limitless potential and, if you’re lucky, overly-salted chips and sangria.

This has been published as part of The Independent’s That Summer series of personal essays cataloguing the intense, daunting and joy-filled holidays that changed our lives for the better.

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