So if you haven’t noticed, I took a bit of a hiatus from writing about my adventure in Spain this past summer. It has taken a while to digest everything from my time there and get to a place where I want to write again (on top of the fact that I jumped straight back into my full time job and am training for a race!). So, as the other things are a’cookin’ in this head of mine, here is a little “best of”- my Letters to the World, Spain Edition.
-Dear Gazpacho, I love your cool, tomato-ey thickness on a hot day, especially eaten on a terrace and accompanied by a crispy cold Cruzcampo beer.
-Dear Cruzcampo, I love that moment when someone gave me a glass of you, and after not having tasted your inconsistent flavor for so long, I could still tell that it was you. I missed you and admire your chameleon- like attributes and resistance to stick to the norms.
– Dear Pistachio and Dark Chocolate Gelato,
It doesn’t matter if I don’t want sweets, I will always make an excuse to incorporate you into my day.
– Dear Barmen in Sevilla,
Thank you for letting me exercise my independence by allowing me to come up to the bar to order (whenever I want!) and for remembering what I choose, unlike the barmen in Granada who look at me strangely for not staying seated to order. I like that you let me decide when I get served, like letting me take part in the whole dining experience apart from eating 🙂 [Ok, I know I’m going to get some opposition on this one, mainly from Cojones!]
-Dear Barmen in Granada,
I appreciate you, too! Mainly because you give me yummy treats free of charge (más o menos) when I order a drink.
– Dear Montes of Málaga,
I will never tire of traversing your wavy topography only to see the sea on the other side. You are beautiful.
– Dear Doñana,
There are no words to describe your breathtaking beauty and the precious memories you hold in your sands. You are my happy place.
– Dear Flamenco Dancer,
Thank you for awing me with your sharp yet graceful movements and your proud strength. Wherever you are in your head, I want to go to there.
– Dear Flamenco guitarist on the terrace overlooking the Alhambra,
Your nostalgic tunes along with the delicious scent of the flowers, the babbling brook, and the vista of that lovely palace romanced my heart and made me fall in love. However, I do not think I could stand that everyday- too much romance! But you were just enough whenever you came round 🙂
– Dear Sun in Spain,
I love that you give more light to that country and the days last longer so as to enjoy completely all that land has to offer.
Many more letters could I write. So many that I might have to do a follow up! Next edition will be Carolina Edition, though (of course!). Get ready!
Do you have any “letters to the world” you could write today?
We were shivering from the cold, huddled together under one of the sleeping bags we had brought and looking down hundreds of feet at the rocky landscape from our little ledge at the peak of El Veleta. The sun was a slice of watermelon in the distance. As it crested over the mountains, it looked like someone was beaming a red laser at a spot just above the peaks. We were a already a bit tired, hungry, freezing, and only about a quarter of the way to our final destination…
Flash back to a few weeks prior: dear José PAR (crazy man!) talked me into climbing up the two tallest peaks of Spain, El Veleta and the Mulhacén in the Sierra Nevada right outside of Granada. I traveled to Spain with only a (large) backpack for the 2 months I was going to be there, and in the packing process I had not included provisions for hiking a mountain, much less for temperatures bordering freezing. I mean, it’s the middle of summer in southern Spain; why would I need anything other than shorts, sandals, swimsuits and dresses? ☺ Luckily, this sweet man packed me all the things I needed to not suffer too much, at least from the cold.
José and his crew, Biciaventura, left Brenes (a town north of Sevilla) at around midnight on Friday, swung by Granada at 2:30am to pick me up at an intersection, and onward we continued to a ski station. At 4am Saturday we were running (at least that’s how it seemed to me!) by moonlight up the face of a steep mountain to reach our destination for the sunrise. After 3 hours of grueling hiking, we finally made it!
And. It. Was. MAGICAL! Absolutely one of the most rewarding moments: watching the sunrise over snow-capped peaks in the middle of July in Spain after a long hike. That will be ingrained in my memory forever.
We “rested” for a bit, then began the trek down to have breakfast and start the second leg of our excursion. This is where it got tricky- there were still snow patches hanging around on the ledges, and many times we had to walk on the slippery, melting snow that was covering the paths. It was a bit unnerving, I must say… Not to mention the fact that somewhere along the first part of the hike I had injured a little muscle at the top of my left leg which disabled me from lifting it past my right leg to climb… It became quite unbearable after a while, and although my mind was strong and determined, I could not make my leg function like I wanted it to. Frustration quickly set in, and I doubted whether I was going to be able to make it to our destination.
I was so lucky to be in the company of such a friend as José, who was patient and supportive the whole way. We made it to the refugio where we rested only for a bit before the others were ready to hike the tallest beast, the Mulhacen. I wanted to go with all my heart, but wasn’t sure it was the best idea given the status of my leg. I decided to tag along and if it became too painful, to turn back. It can’t hurt to try, right?
Well, on the way up, José had lots of little tricks up his sleeve to help me when the going got tough. We tried tying a rope around my waist and his, and him tugging me. We tried him pushing me. Me holding on to his backpack. But the best method was just using little hiking poles to support my weight. Oh the pain, though! But as I said, I was quite determined and did not want to give in.
And ohhh! Am I glad I didn’t! After about 1.5/2 hours of climbing, we finally reached the top of the Mulhacén. It was a breathtaking view! One of the most incredible feelings was standing on that peak considering how difficult it had been for me to get up there- it was an amazing accomplishment for me. The best part- one of my favorite signs- was the hundreds of butterflies fluttering around the peak, in and out of the crevices, riding the wind. I have no idea why there were so many butterflies there, but it was spectacular! Another amazing thing was doing this side by side with one of my favorite people in the world.
We went back down the Mulhacén, having conquered the monstrous mountain, ate lunch and took a mega-nap. After 10 hours of hiking we deserved it! Later, as I didn’t want to have a lot of soreness in my muscles, I walked down to a little lagoon/pond that was the most beautiful blue, still water. The melting snow creates them in the summer. I knew it was going to be cold, but again, I was determined to gut through it and try to recuperate my muscles. I waded in a few times, and the last time, some Guardia Civil (the national police of Spain) were walking by and yelled at me (!!). They said I was going to ruin the aquatic environment with my humanness! HA! I understand that we track things that are foreign to those environments, but geez.. you don’t have to be a jerk about it.
The rest of the day was spent just hanging around and resting. Oh, and doing yoga at the foot of the tallest mountain with yours truly as the leader of the Biciaventura crew!
After spending the night in the refugio with about 15 other people, among them a snorer and a cell phone alarm that went off every 5 minutes around 5:00am, we packed up our things and started the trek back to the car, feeling proud and at peace in such company as the majestic Sierra Nevada of southern Spain, and feeling closer to each other. I love experiences that bring people together, and even more so when they include nature 🙂
Day 2 in Sevilla started very early as we prepared to drive out west from Sevilla to the little cowboyish town of El Rocío. There are not enough words to describe all that transpires here, and if I could, it would be better for you to just visit it. Inexplicable, it is.
We arrived in El Rocío mid morning to visitors and residents bustling about getting ready to see the “saca de las yeguas.” This is one of those fascinating festivals for which Spain is so infamous. The purpose of this event is to round up the mares and the colts/foals that have been in the marshlands since the last saca. Men, some boys, and a few ladies from surrounding towns ride their horses to round up the group and stampede them through the streets of El Rocío. It’s a lovely thing, watching the horses run with the long legged and often awkward babies glued to their mothers’ sides.
The craziest thing was the following: I had not seen anyone in Sevilla besides the PAR brothers. Years ago I had visited the house of a colleague of mine from school, who was very much like an adopted grandfather for me. I thought to myself upon arriving this time, “if I see Manolo I am going to go crazy.” Well, as we were waiting between the groups of horses, there went Manolo and his wife, walking right in front of me! It was THE most bizarre thing I’ve ever experienced. The sheer fact that I would know someone at El Rocío and actually see him at this event was so strange, yet so wonderful! It’s like going to some random town like Locust or Rutherfordton, NC, going to a rodeo or something of the sort, and seeing someone you know and hadn’t seen for years.
Continuing, we ate lunch with the PAR family in Matalascañas, a beach town nearby, then went back to the PAR residence at Doñana National Park, took mega naps, and left with Papa PAR to take a tour of the area. We stopped at a pretty much secluded beach, no people for miles and miles! Not even a footstep was found except my own. We then went into the park for a spectacular sunset tour to see the dunes, marsh, and wildlife.
Pepe, the head of the PAR family, is a published photographer (48 books) and works at this national park. He has the largest camera I’ve ever seen. I asked him how he got started and his answer really captivated me. He said, “Antes cazaba, pero ahora para mi la fotografía es un tipo de cazar.” (“I used to hunt a while back, but photography is a type of “hunting” for me now.”)
“Uff… You don’t want to go to Sevilla this weekend. You’d be better off staying here in Almería. This weekend it is going to be hot there.” These words were the ones that sent me on my way to Sevilla from sunny, breezy Almería with cool water at about a minute’s walk from the door of Beth’s house. Oh, how I wish I had heeded the advice of the flight attendant! (Actually I don’t, no regrets, but I wasn’t prepared for what I was about to encounter..)
Sevilla was hot. Like a frying pan. Or more like the fire below the frying pan. You can’t do anything from 1pm- 9pm because it’s too hot to be in the streets. It’s frustrating and makes you lazy. The opening topic for every single conversation (no lie!!) is the unbearable heat. However, I find it so curious that so few houses here have adapted to this ‘phenomenon’ and installed air conditioning. And even when there is air, the majority of the time it isn’t used!
Anyhoots- I arrived to searing Sevilla early in the morning to be greeted by my beloved Spanish brothers, José and Manu. I hardly had time to breathe as we raced home to drop off my bag and eat a napolitana (croissant with chocolate- myam!) before promptly leaving for the Cerro del Hierro to go rock climbing for the day with their friend José Luis.
This little mountain chain to the north of Sevilla was the place of iron mines years ago which have created a very ominous and impressive site for hiking and climbing. The serrated rocks have left great little holds for wandering hands trying to pull their owners up the face of a rock.
We spent most of the day trying different climbs and cheering each other on, listening to our voices and laughter echo through the desolate landscape. We were the only people there for most of the time. After our appendages were nice and sore and raw, we went for a dip in the COLDEST mountain water I’ve ever felt. Truly, nothing helps tired muscles like a swim in a mountain spring!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 🙂