Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A birthday in Spain, trip up The Rock, and wayward travelers.

So here we are again,

Life so far has been just carrying me along.  Its hard to believe that I haven't written a post in almost two weeks.  I have a lot of stuff to catch you guys up on, so here we go!

The first thing was my 22nd birthday in Spain.  When I woke up this is what I found in the kitchen:

And yes, as you might have guessed, this is in fact a shoulder of jamón. My roommates are very sweet and this was an unexpected gift from two vegetarians.  Jamón is a type of cured ham that can come from the shoulder or the leg of an Iberian hog.  It is a staple of Spanish cuisine, and they are obsessed with it.   There are schools where one can learn how to cut and serve jamón.  Needless to say I was incredibly excited at the prospect of carving up my own ham and spent the next three or four hours experimenting. 

Here I am, posed and all, in front of the shoulder with a jamón-specific fillet knife. 

Once the outer skin and fat has been removed, the jamón is served as thin almost transparent slices called lonchas.  Here's my first attempt at slicing.  They came out a little thicker than I had hoped, but oh well.  Practice, practice, practice.

The rest of my birthday was very nice and very relaxing.  We went over to a friend's apartment for tapas and drinks, then out to a few bars.  I don't have too much to tell from the night.  Just an easy night in Spain with great wine and great people.  The jamón was truly the highlight and made the day.

After my birthday celebrations, we decided to finally head over to Gibraltar and make a Sunday trip up the old rock.

The Rock of Gibraltar is a little different from what you would expect.  Part of the city is built around the base of the rock.  The upper, steeper parts are reserved for tourism.  When you walk up towards the top, you walk on streets and pass by houses that run right up to the gates of reserve. It was a little surprising, but we did get some nice pictures out of it.

This first one is overlooking the lower part of the town.

This is a glimpse of the Dark Continent and several ships coming into port.

Once you reach the gates of the reserve you have to pay a fee depending on what you want to do.  The cheapest was a walking pass for 50 pence.  After that it costs more for a car, guided tour, or a pass for the war tunnels and St. Michael's cave.  The tunnels and caves pass was pretty expensive, so we just opted for the walking pass.

Here's some touristy stuff that you see right as you walk into the reserve.  I couldn't get a good picture of it so the bottom part is a little cut off.  Perdóname. 

Once you pass by the main tourist candy, the footpath up the rock becomes much more wild and wonderful.
I felt like I was walking into the jungle.

The way up was a bit rocky and in the spirit of Europe; at your own risk.  

The path eventually turned into some steep steps.  Here is Rose on such steps, the first of our wayward travelers.  

 The path up the back side of the rocks ends in the Mediterranean Steps, which pass through to the other side of the mountain.  The guy here is Nate- a fellow English teacher.  

Gibraltar is home to many plants that are unique to the rock's environment.  Here are some wild olives, which aren't unique, just a rare sight in other places.  

Following the Steps ever higher leads to the rock's summit and some truly breathtaking, and windy, views.

The clouds over La Línea and Algeciras. 

We kept looking out over the bay and eventually the clouds started to break.

The clouds broke over the ocean, but stayed over Spain.  From where we were it looked like the peaks of the Rock had split them in two.

 Oh and yeah, the apes.  They didn't interest me that much so I only got one good shot of them. They would climb on people if you put your arm down, but you couldn't touch them or they would bite you.  Like nature pacified.  It was a weird thing.  The whole situation felt really odd to me, so I just preferred to stick to the views and the trees. 


And that's really about all I can say for Gibraltar.  It has certain special moments but, in general, its just a weird place.  The cultural mix of British, Spanish, and African is something that you just have to see for yourself. 

The other breaking news I have for you is that our apartment is slowing turning into a traveler's hostel.  We have had a friend of the family, Rose, stay with us for the past two weeks.  She has been hitch-hiking across Europe for almost two years and is planning to head into Africa before returning home to Arkansas.  Two other travelers, Dominic and Amylin, came in last night and are staying with us until tomorrow.  And on top of all this, we have plans to host three Polish girls in December via  It sounds a little crazy, but it has and continues to be a fantastic learning experience.  Rose, Dominic, and Amylin all travel virtually exclusively by hitch-hiking.  Hearing their stories and how they live has enlightened me to a whole new possibility of travel.  I mean, who wouldn't want to travel across Europe for little to no money?  Not only that, but the opportunities to meet interesting people are endless.  Amylin and Rose have both hitched as lone women, so its not incredibly dangerous.  They have had a few rough encounters, but most of them have been in poor countries.  

It is such a revolutionary thing to hear all these stories from people only a few years older than I am.  Every time we talk, the world gets larger and larger, and I want to see more and more of it.  

What to do?  What to do?  Too many possibilities.  

Until next time,


Friday, November 12, 2010

Weekend in Ronda and La Roda

Hello again everyone,

Welcome to another later-than-usual post.  I think this Spanish lifestyle thing is really getting to me.  I'm taking time just to take time.  Its pretty hard work.  Anyway, on to my excursion from the previous weekend.
This last weekend the three of us decided to rent a car again and take a trip to visit our friend Bianca in La Roda.  The town she lives in is a pueblito of about 1500 people.  Its around a two and a half hour drive from our town and the best part is that a town called Ronda is on the way there.  Ronda is this great historical town that we kept hearing about.  We would ask Spaniards about places to go, or about their favorite places to go, and Ronda was almost always in the list.  

That's all the spoilers you're going to get.  Now on to the pictures!

This first one is of our new fiesta-green chariot.  They gave us another Ford, but this one was miles above our previous car. It was a lot smaller, got better fuel mileage, and it was a diesel! When I first started it up, I thought it was a little loud, but I put it off as just being some weird Spanish thing.  I didn't realize it was a diesel until I stopped to get gas, and I was really surprised.  It had good acceleration and it was pretty quiet.  Another great thing is that diesel fuel is about 20 cents cheaper than regular gas. So yeah! Here is it:

We drove up to La Roda Friday afternoon and went into Ronda on Saturday.  There are two ways to get to La Roda from our town and we decided to take the scenic route on the way there.  One quick word on the drive.  Crazy.  Madness. Insanity.  Another synonym of crazy.  That's all I'm going to say.  No, but seriously, you hear of all those wild Europeans that fly around steep mountain curves with virtually no speed limit.  That was the drive to Ronda.  It was almost constantly uphill with really sharp curves.  I take curves faster than most people and I was taking them at 50 km/hr, which felt fast, but the speed limit was 80!  I don't know how those people do it.

Anyway, once we got through those mountains we drove into Ronda.

From here we ditched the car and decided to walk around and explore.

Here are some shots of the park:

And some peacocks in a cage:

A little meditative stone circle:

And a shot of the boardwalk with a taste of the view to come

And the view from Ronda! The town is on a cliff and looks out over the landscape for kilometers and kilometers.  This one is with two of my travel companions:

And the lovely Bianca looking out:
Just a straight view of the mountains:

Here is a nice sideways image of the Plaza de Toros entrance.  I'm not sure why it came out sideways.  It was taken this way, then I rotated it, and even saved it as a new file.  Something apparently gets lost in translation in the hard-drive to blog path.  If this causes any neck pain it should make you feel better to know that this plaza is one of the oldest operational plazas in Spain.  See?  Now the pain is gone.  On to the next picture.

A little farther into the city we found another plateau with an equally breathtaking view of the landscape at just a slightly different angle.

To the right and over the rail:

We were lucky enough to be serenaded by this flamenco guitarist while enjoying the view.

Here is a look at the older part of the city:

The Puente Nuevo is this fantastic stone bridge that spans the gorge and connects the two sides of Ronda.

Here's another of those annoying sideways shots.  This one is of the bridge.  If anyone has an idea of how to fix this, don't hesitate. 

This next shot was taken from the bridge overlooking the city.  

This next picture was taken by an older student of Meg's that met up with us.  She was a really fun lady and showed us around the town.  We found this excellent leather shop, where Meg and Bianca each bought a backpack for around 40 euros.  They had some excellent looking jackets and I think if I find myself with some excess change I might go pick one up.  Almost all of their products were handmade in Ronda.  Anyhow, The Ronda Traveling Crew:

This last shot of Ronda was taken from the bridge overlooking the other side of the city.

After our Ronda excursion we went back to Bianca's town, La Roda, and took a walk out towards the olive groves.

Her town is nestled in a valley surrounded by beautiful mountain ranges.

That is the end of my latest trip.  I hope you guys enjoyed the photos.  I'm beginning to get used to the whole camera thing and each trip it seems like I come back with more and more photos.  Ronda was inexplicably beautiful and I hope that these view shots can at least give you a hint of what it was like to be there.  The experience of sitting on a terrace, while being serenaded by a flamenco guitar, and looking out over the valley was transcendent.  We sat out there for around 30 minutes and I'm sure I could have been there for hours.  It truly made me appreciate what an opportunity this has been.  

Many thanks to all those who helped me get here,

Until next time,


Friday, November 5, 2010

First month (and two weeks) in Spain!

Hello and welcome,

Here we are again and I have to start with wow.  Just wow.  It’s hard to believe that I’ve been in Spain for over a month.  As you might have noticed, this post finds me at a little over a month and two weeks in foreign lands.  This entry is so late because I honestly did not realize how long it has been.  I began thinking about my time here after my last post and I was so surprised I had to count the days twice.  Forty-six! And again, forty-six! What can I say about a country after forty-six days?  Well here it is:

Spain is fantastic.  I know it’s surprising, but I love it here.  Spain is without doubt different from the States, and the difference is in the details.  These sorts of distinctions are difficult to describe, but I’ll do my best.   In a word, life in Spain is concentrated.  Everything here feels more vivid, intense, and real then what I knew in the States.  Life in the States is not bad. The difference is akin to drinking one glass of orange juice from a carton then drinking a second glass that was squeezed right in front of you.  You are still drinking orange juice, but the second glass is different.   It’s real, fresh, unpreserved, and tamper-free.  Life in Spain is the second glass.

To start with, the food here is the easiest difference to notice.  I’m a food person, so trying the local fare has always been a huge part of any travel experience.  Food here is easy to define but difficult to explain.  Simply put, it is raw.  The most important thing in Spanish cuisine is the ingredients.  They prefer to make dishes that focus on the natural flavors of the components with less emphasis on spices.  Farmer’s markets, as we would call them, are rampant here.  Virtually every town has some sort of place where you can buy local goods.  Coming from a place with limited access to open markets, I find this amazing.  The market in La Línea is open Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.  I buy almost all of my food from the market and it is probably my favorite thing about Spain.  Needless to say, the produce I used to get from Walmart and Kroger (and even from Whole Foods) doesn’t compare.  The opportunity to meet the people who grow your food and develop relationships with them is priceless.  Even outside of the market, it’s easy to notice the differences.  Canned goods and such in the supermarkets all contain fewer ingredients and fewer preservatives than similar foods in the States.  Processed foods not only barely exist, but are more expensive than their raw counterparts. 

As far as culture, society, and politics are concerned; the situation here is mercurial.  On one hand Spaniards take a to-each-his-own approach and on the other hand they are louder and more given to passions then Americans.  Americans hold to a puritanesque type of social interaction.  We live privately; stepping lightly in conversation and politics as not to offend anyone, and have a hard time accepting people who stray from our social norms.   In contrast, Spaniards live and talk very publicly.  They are loud and open with their opinions, but at the same time allow people to live their own life.  People here aren’t concerned about hurting your feelings because you shouldn’t take it personal.  As a Spaniard told us in orientation, the most popular sport here is conversation.  You are expected to voice your opinion, defend it, but not take any opposition to heart. 

Away from America, I feel liberated.  In the States everyone is so touchy and sensitive and worried about being politically correct.  We are so worried about offending each of the thousands of social groups that no one can do anything.  We are confined by our overly-mutated sensibilities.  I feel that in Spain I can just be.  I can be alive, I can be open-minded, I can live in the moment, I can do whatever I want within my own home, and no one cares.  It’s fantastic. 

This first month (and two weeks) has been enlightening and I have high hopes for the rest of my stay here.

Until next time,