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Archive for June, 2011

La Fiesta de San Juan (aka, Summer Solstice Party, or “Everyone build a fire on the beach”)

Last night a huge beach party went down all along the coast of Almeria to celebrate La fiesta de San Juan.

San Juan is a couple days after the summer solstice, but it celebrates the longest day of the year anyway, along with San Juan, or Saint John. I don’t know what he’s the saint of…

People in Almería celebrate by gathering friends, firewood, and food, congregating on the beach, and passing by the hours of the evening into the night with full bellies and general merriment. At midnight, they light the huge bonfires they have built and run to the ocean to either wash their faces or jump in entirely to get rid of all the negative things and negative energy from the past year.

San Juan in Retamar

San Juan in Retamar

Love in San Juan

Love in San Juan

We ordered some pinchos, or sish-kabobs from a bar and some grilled sardines (YUM!) and trekked down to the beach with a blanket and beers to watch the festivities. We definitely participated, washing our faces in the ocean and laughing at the monstrous bonfires and crazy yungins. It was a nice time of reflection on the past year in the midst of such a setting and thinking of the negative things that I didn’t want to be a part of this coming year. I was so fortunate to be spending it with people whom I consider part of my family 🙂

Feliz San Juan and may the coming year be filled with positive energy, love and light for you!


“It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.” -Paulo Coelho

Soul Sista

The above picture perfectly portrays my dream for the past 6 months:
To reunite with my dearest friend, Beth, in Spain.

I’ve been hanging out with her in Almería, where she’s been living for the past year, for almost a week now and can’t think of a better place, moment, or season to be chilling with my soul friend. Reunion is so sweet a thing! Here’s a tribute to my pal, and a cheers for many more moments to come of silliness, seriousness, advnenture, tranquility, music snobbery, singing with the windows down, understanding, dancing, dressing room sagas, just plain fun, and most importantly: love.

Love ya, ole Betul 🙂

Saltando...

Saltando...

...así, así!!

...así, así!!


Almería del alma mía

Whelp. Spain has done it once again. She has wooed me another time with her charms and beauty. Above is a picture of Almería, a region in the south of Spain. It honestly is one of the most beautiful places I’ve visited. The capital city of the same name leaves something to be desired. If I had stayed there I would not have much to write. However, the surrounding towns are as charming as can be, quiet and free of hordes of tourists. Being here seems like I’ve stumbled upon one of Spain’s best kept secrets.

Almeria is a desert type landscape with dramatic coast lines and lovely beaches. The June weather has been delightful so far- hot during the day and cool enough at night to require a jacket (my favorite type of weather!).

I’m staying with the marvelous Beth, my dear friend and flatmate when we lived in Sevilla, and her main squeeze, Miguel. We have had such a great time so far hanging out and exploring the neighboring towns such as the cute Rodalquilar and the quaint little beach town, Las Negras. There is a charming (but very DAnGeROuS) boutique with the best clothes! We got caught in there for about an hour and walked out with some new additions for the wardrobe. And we got some deals! Always a plus. Toma ya!

Lookout at Amatista

I have to mention this because I just can’t stop thinking about it: I had the most delicious tapa in Las Negras. The special of the day was pulpo a la marraná. This is octopus for you anglophones in a tomato based stew with some potatoes and other veggies. Such a spectacular flavor and the setting was perfect- sitting on a patio overlooking the boardwalk and the ocean. We were maybe 2 of about 20 people in the beach area at that hour.

(By the way, when you order a drink here you get a free tapa, or small plate. They can run from 1.50€ to a little over 2€. So awesome!)

Beth took me to a beach dubbed “El Dedo” because of a large rock protruding out from the water that looked like a finger. I think the proper name was Cabo Rajá or something. To get to this place, we first had to drive on a one lane road around mountains that had a huge drop. It was quite scary! Then we had to walk down a steep climb to get to the beach, cross the hot sand (the hottest I’ve ever felt) and finally arrive at our resting place. It was more than worth it! There were hardly any people on the bay-like beach, and the water was wondrous. Just proves that the best things in life take a little more effort!

Cabo Rajá

Cabo Rajá

One lane road around Cabo de Gata

Another beach we visited was called Los Genoveses out by the town of San Josè. There were more people here, but that can only be expected with the Pirates of the Caribbean like setting, shallow, clear blue, warmish Mediterranean water, and beautiful hikes on the two mountains guarding the entry to the bay. Definitely worth the rocky road on the drive out there. If nothing else, it provides spectacular views of some of the best landscape Almería has to offer.

Los Genoveses

Alas, today is my last day in this magical place. We rounded off my little vacay with massages at a nearby spa, lunch at La Goleta in Cabo de Gata, naps, and we’re having a patio barbacoa tonight before Beth and Miguel move to Córdoba next week.

La Goleta

Tomorrow: heading to the town of Brenes to hang with the PAR brothers, José and Manu, and then a visit to my old home, Sevilla!


¡Vaya pepinaco!

My last day in the Spanish capital as Felipe’s sidekick was a lovely one. We went around on the moto to various places in the center of Madrid. First we stopped at a building, the Centro Cultural located on the Gran Via. We rode the elevator to the top to look out onto all of Madrid. What a fabulous view and a great way to orient yourself in the city.

View of Madrid from the top of the Centro Cultural

View of Madrid from the top of the Centro Cultural

We then went to the bustling, international neighborhood called Lavapies. Lots of different types of restaurants and foreigners who had come to Spain to try and make a life there. We ate at a little Indian restaurant and, I am kicking myself now wondering why I didn’t take a photo of the colorful rice we ordered, I’d never seen such a thing! Rainbow colored rice. It was as delicious as it was beautiful 🙂 We got a couple of dishes, Matar paneer and chicken tikka masala, and I ordered a mango lassi as there is nothing better that accompanies Indian food.

We spent some time walking around Chueca, the hip neighborhood that has been completely renovated due to regentrification and the arrival of some people with very good tastes.

The last night was delightfully spent with Laura and Ramon on the roof of an old university in Madrid. The space is awesome and has been converted into Gaudeamus, a restaurant so hip that you are only allotted a certain amount of time before you have to leave to make room for others. We were there from 8-10pm, but that was hardly enough time to enjoy the amazing food.

View of the terraza of Guadeamus

View of the terraza of Guadeamus

The word of the day today was “Pepinaco”. Felipe and I tried to alternate between English and Spanish he could practice. Anyway, we were on the moto and passed this amazing Ducati. If was a beast! So awesome. So, Pipe tells me that when you see something like that, you say “Vaya pepinaco de moto!” For those word-nerds out there like me, I’ll break it down for you: pepinaco comes from ‘pepino’. Taking off the ‘o’ and adding the ending ‘-aco’ to the end changes the meaning to imply something is awesome.

Que pepinaco de moto!

Que pepinaco de moto!


Sinagogas y Mezquitas

This past year I had the privilege to teach a class that was based on whatever I wanted it to be. Naturally, I chose Spanish culture as my starting point. We went through the history of spain from pretty much the beginning, stopping at interesting sections of the history to do projects and spend a little more time with the subject matter.

I stumbled upon this great documentary called Cities of Light which dealt with Medieval Spain. From 711-1492 the Moors (Muslims from North Africa in that time) ruled Spain. It was a very bright time in Spain’s history in which much of the beautiful architecture you’ll see on your visit was constructed. Lots of advances were made in translation and medicine during this epoch, and some people consider this period of time Spain’s “Golden Age.”

Not only Muslims inhabited the area, but Jews that had migrated over with the Romans and made homes for themselves along with Christians. I would say the best place to see this clash of religions would be Toledo. Two of the buildings that were on the top of my list to visit were the Synagogue of Santa Maria la Blanca and the Mosque of Cristo de la Luz. These were and are stunning works of architecture that took my breath away to think about the antiquity of the stones still working as their foundation and structure.

Inside la Sinagoga de Santa Maria la Blanca

Inside la Sinagoga de Santa Maria la Blanca

Santa Maria la Blanca

Santa Maria la Blanca

The wonderfully interesting thing about these edifices is that each one, depending on who was in power at the time, was inhabited by a religious group that did not construct it. For example, when the Christians took back control of Spain in the 15th century, they turned Cristo de la Luz into a church to serve their needs. They also converted another mosque into a cathedral. The minaret is still standing, much like the Giralda in Sevilla.

Inside view of the Mezquita Cristo de la Luz

Inside Viw of the Mezquita Cristo de la Luz

Muslim and Christian Paintings

Muslim and Christian Paintings

 Puerta musulmana a la ciudad

Puerta musulmana a la ciudad

If you’re ever in Toledo, I would highly recommend crossing the river to go to the Parador. The view from there is spectacular and you can chill on the terrace overlooking the city while sipping on a cafe con leche, or as I preferred, cafe solo con hielo. The summer, as I’m quickly finding out, is hot! But as my mom and friends say: better to be hot in Spain than hot in NC 🙂

Vista de Toledo del Parador

Vista de Toledo desde el Parador Conde Orgaz


España, you’re beautiful.

I can honestly say there is no greater way to see a place than on a moto. The invigorating speed and the sights whizzing by; its a lovely a experience- definitely makes me feel giddy like a kid! On Wednesday, we went to a cute little town across the Sierra calles San Ildefonso to visit the gardens of La Granja. It’s surrounded by serrated mountains peppered with cyclists riding up and down the steep climbs. As I chilled on the back of the motorbike on the way up, I couldnt help but think that I was glad not to be one of them. 🙂

Lookout from a Puerto on Sierra Guadarrama

Lookout from a Puerto on Sierra Guadarrama

We ate a delicious lunch of judiones, pisto, and cordero and proceeded to walk to the palace, La Granja, to see the gardens and the fountains. They have a special schedule for the fountains in the garden and they only turn them on between the hour of 5:30 and 6:30. Tourists had packed the place to see the fountain show, among them lots of school groups. We got to the last fountain that ended up being huge. The geyser that exploded from the middle of it caught the wind and sprinkled all the spectators standing to one side. Then, whoever was manning the fountain, I imagine a little man behind a curtain kind of like the wizard of Oz, really turned on the water and shot even higher. When the wind caught it, it brought downpours of water onto the sidewalk soaking whoever was lucky enough to be standing in it’s way.  Now, think about this equation: hot summer day + cold water coming down from the sky from a fountain + about 100 schoolchildren, what could possibly be the outcome? Well, at one point, as the kids were screaming and running through the water, Felipe turned to me and said, “Was this a theme park or La Granja?”

Water Park La Granja

Water Park La Granja

It’s been quite surreal, this being back here. At times I cant get over it and other times I get so happy that I’m finally here after so much time. I had a really intense moment of complete bliss and gratitude as we crossed the Sierra on the way back toward Madrid. We rode through this beautiful forest, breathing in the fresh, green air and the sunlight peeking through the trees. All I could think was, “I’m finally here! I finally made it back. Spain, you’re beautiful.”


Shew! It’s been a while.

I’m always fascinated by the sense of smell; how with one whiff of an aroma you can be transported to another time. This happened to me a few days ago when I arrived in Madrid. It smelled exactly as I remembered when I visited my relatives in 2001. As we drove through the city at about 7:40am on Tuesday, I knew right away that somewhere nearby they were making churros and my memory of being with my aunt and cousin, listening to Elton John in the car and making a stop to grab some churros came back vividly.

It’s been 10 years since that visit. But it’s been (seemingly long) 2 years since I left this beloved place I used to call home to move back to my original home in NC. While I was away, everything related to the years I spent here seemed distant, like much time had passed since those precious memories were created. Yet, as I rode around Madrid on a moto with my dear friend Felipe, it felt like it was only yesterday that I was gallivanting across the Iberian Peninsula, in love with the land and everything it offered me from the food to the people.

I’ve made the trip with the sole motive of being in Spain.  The second motive is to complete the first part of my Masters of Teaching Spanish as a Foreign Language at the Universidad de Granada in the south of Spain.  It’s a two year program, so it’s set in stone that I’ll be back next year.  I can’t think of anything else I would want as definitive as a return trip to Spain.. Ahhh!

Anyhoots, the day I arrived in Madrid was wonderfully spent catching up on lost time with Felipe, getting some much needed sleep, eating lunch on the terrace of Felipe’s house that looks out on the Sierra Guadarrama to the north of Madrid, and in the afternoon we went to run with Pablo, who has cerebral palsy, and Gonzalo, who has Downs syndrome. Such interesting guys who find ways to do some type of sport in spite of their handicaps.  Pablo runs and cycles, and ran his first 10K recently, while Gonzalo rides horses.  It was a really impacting experience that I will not soon forget.

Vista de la Sierra Guadarrama desde el piso de Felipe

Vista de la Sierra Guadarrama desde el piso de Felipe

One of the things I love about visiting friends is meeting the people that are special to them. I was fortunate to get the opportunity to meet Felipe’s lovely sister, Laura, and her charming husband, Ramón. We spent quite a bit of time with them and they have left a sweet impression on my heart already. I absolutely can’t wait for the next time I get to see them.  Hooray for new friendships!