Sunday, January 23, 2011

Jerez de la Frontera

Slipping into the lukewarm water, instrumental Moroccan music fills my ears, the faint scent of jasmine incense wafts past, and I glance around at the people. I have just entered one of the pools of Jerez de la Frontera's Arab Baths. There are three pools of water: lukewarm, hot, and cold; they are divided by archways with intricate carvings and drapes. Bathers are intended to rotate throughout the pools, spending ten minutes each in the warm and hot pools, and a few seconds (as long as one can manage) in the cold pool. The cycle continues for about an hour and a half, each person rotating until called for his or her massage.

I'm skeptical about the relaxation these pools of water are purported to provide. Sitting in pools of different temperatures for a little while? Sure, that sounds vaguely interesting... but I'm here nonetheless. I feel a need to do everything in Spain immediately, because I might never be able to do it again. So Alexia and I have trekked to Jerez de la Frontera to visit the Arab Baths and 'experience the culture' of another Andalucian city. My thoughts are racing, and the giggling of the young couple in the corner doesn't help me concentrate on thinking more slowly. I consider glancing pointedly at them, but decide against it because a) that seems to contradict the purpose of a relaxing spa and b) that kind of glance has never worked before in Spain, it likely will not work now either. They move on to the next pool. I am not relaxed. Have ten minutes passed? Is it time for me to move on to the next pool, too? I check to make sure Alexia is still in the warm pool with me. She looks perfectly serene. Ok, I will try harder to relax. Alexia migrates to the next pool. I follow dutifully.

I try to imitate the people floating in this pool; they also look rather serene. It's hard to breathe. I'm not very good at floating, not to mention swimming. Luckily the pools are only three feet deep. Finally, it's time for the cold pool.

I walk to the stairs entering the pool. This pool is much smaller than the others. I wonder why. I dip a toe into the water. It is frigid. I watch Alexia. She's standing to the side of the pool, mentally preparing herself to enter the water. Suddenly, she jumps over the side and into the water! She emits a series of gasps, visibly in pain. It's now or never, I think. I can only make it in up to my waist before my body starts to tremble and I immediately exit. I only succeeded at spending about ten seconds in the cold water, Alexia at least three times as much. I vow to do better during the next rotation.

The warm pool is pleasant after the feeling of frozen needles attacking my lower body in the cold pool. I position myself near a candle inside a carved wooden holder. The movements of the candle are entrancing. Finally, I am relaxed. My thoughts wander to the 'sangre encebollada' we tried last night. It appeared on three menus before Alexia had the guts to order it. Roughly translated as 'blood with onion', it wasn't nearly as red as I had imagined. Dark brown and cut into cubes, the sangre encebollada had a texture I have never before experienced: crumbly wax. I ate a piece the size of a nickel, that was enough. It smelled like meat, it just didn't taste like it. The Sherry wine from Jerez, however, was amazing! Jerez is known for it's Sherry, and rightly so. I'm not a Sherry connoisseur, but I particularly liked a thick, dark variety that was sweet and smelled strongly of raisins -- called Jerez Dulce, or Sweet Sherry.

After exploring the city, wandering through plazas and past churches, we end up consuming four meals: lunch, 'merienda' (afternoon snack), evening tapas, and dinner.

plaza del arenal

a church


the cathedral

Now it's time for a bar. Our chosen spot, the Buda Bar with a British East India Company theme, has a discotheque hidden upstairs. We enter, and the DJ is playing one of the standard Top 40 hits. It's a normal Spanish discotheque scene: guys with shiny hair and shoes, girls with skirts, high heels, and eyeliner. Suddenly, the music changes. Instead of your average club hit like Lady Gaga, it's a pop style Flamenco song. The crowd cheers. Girls start tapping their heels and clapping. Everyone knows the words. The DJ plays a 'nuevo Flamenco' song again. And again. Groups of girls are doing 'Sevillanas' dance steps, a type of Flamenco step that the average southern Spaniard knows. And then, as quickly as it started, it's over. The DJ moves on to Reggaeton, and then back to Lady Gaga. Spain still surprises me sometimes.

After what feels like hours moving through the pools of water, we are called for our massages. Next, we sip sweet Moroccan mint tea in a room near the pools. I feel as though I'm floating. I don't feel the pressure of my limbs, or the usual tension in my shoulders. Only my tongue is in pain, due to my excitement to drink the very hot sweet tea.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Estepona vs. Cádiz

Although a regular football (read: soccer) viewer here in Spain, I've never actually been to a real, live game. Until Sunday, that is.

As we headed towards the stadium here in Estepona, Carlos explained that the Cádiz supporters were sometimes a bit 'strange' and that I should not worry, no matter how many communist symbols I saw. I assured him that communist symbols would not frighten me.

We entered a sea of yellow and red and maneuvered our way towards the gate. Carlos is a Cádiz supporter, so we followed the yellow Cádiz crowd. Never having been to a football game here in Spain, I didn't know much about the norms. At the gate, the police searched my bag. My plastic water bottle was contraband.

"She won't throw it at anyone," Carlos tries to assure them. "It's the bottle cap that's the problem," the policeman responds. Apparently water bottles can be used as projectiles to injure players at sporting events. "What if I empty the water out, can I bring the empty bottle in?" I ask. "Yes.. but then you could just fill it up in the bathroom. Fine, just take it inside with you." And we continue. I am momentarily pleased that Spanish police are so malleable. I would have been very sad to throw away my Nalgene.

We find seats near Carlos' Cádiz-supporting friends, and I settle in to absorb the football culture. The first thing I absorb, however, is a cloud of smoke. It is not cigarette smoke. Groups of people all around us are smoking joints. I am surprised, not least because it is noon on Sunday at a public small-town event. Carlos explains that Cádiz supporters are a bit notorious for their smoking habits, but that this is a common occurrence at football games. The police stride past, making no comment. Marijuana is not legal in Spain. But, the police seem uninterested in pursuing the issue.

Luckily, we're seated in an exceptionally interesting section of the crowd. Just in front of us, a group of intense Cádiz supporters begins to amass. For me, it's nearly cultural overload. I'm constantly glancing around, attempting to take only a few photos, and trying not to stare too intently at the man wearing a very politically controversial shirt just in front of us:

check out this guy's shirt

It's a Basque nationalist flag, over a map of the Basque country (a northern region of Spain). His banner includes a hammer and sickle. Many other supporters in this group wear shirts including the words 'anti-fascist'. At the very least, the average enthusiastic supporter has a scarf like this one, with a red star:

red star!

During halftime, Carlos and I explore the Estepona stadium:


The 'intense' Cádiz supporters in front of us have many interesting chants, the most amusing of which emerges during the final minutes of the game. Suddenly, a scuffle appears at the far end of the stadium. Three police officers have converged on an Estepona supporter (identifiable by his red shirt), and other law enforcement officials are hurrying towards the scene. The attention of the entire crowd shifts from the game, which Cádiz is winning 2-0, to the situation in the stands. The group just in front of us begins catcalling the police, which I captured in video format on my camera:

Carlos interprets the chant - from hard to understand Spanish to easy to understand Spanish - near the end of the video. The chant says: 'there is a disease that will not be cured, it's the police!' The entire crowd joins. Cádiz wins, 2-0.

I am now a Cádiz supporter.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Small World

After sixteen hours of travel, I emerged from the Madrid metro at the Estación Sur de Autobuses -- the Madrid bus station. I was an hour and a half later than I had expected to be, so the chances of catching my preferred bus were slim. I needed to get a seven hour bus to Estepona. Only two direct buses depart from Madrid, one in the morning and one at night. On the off chance that tickets for the morning bus, departing in 40 minutes, were still available, I dragged my luggage to the ticket window. (I literally mean that I 'dragged' my luggage - I chose to bring a suitcase with a broken wheel because it still rolled sufficiently in my Wenatchee living room. Another wheel broke during transit and it no longer rolled so well.)

I shuffled up to the window and spoke the phrase I had practiced, ''A qué hora sale el primero para Estepona?'' It seemed to work well. She understood. I was still able to speak Spanish. AND there were still a few seats left on the bus!

Ticket in hand, I lugged my belongings downstairs to the bus terminal. After my many hours of travel, very little sleep, and stressful travel through Madrid metro due to the broken wheel, the sight of my bus was comforting. Finally, I was in Spain again, speaking Spanish, and all of my belongings were still with me. But, to my surprise, an even more comforting sight appeared. Dani ('el roquero'), a British friend from Estepona, was waiting to get on the same bus! In Madrid, a city where I know barely a soul, a familiar face appeared. We commiserated over being dreadfully tired and shared stories of our summers. Upon arrival in Estepona, Dani accompanied me all the way to my new apartment to help with my luggage -- we aren't even close friends, but that's Spanish hospitality.

The rest of my return to Spain has been similar: surprisingly welcoming and pleasantly comfortable.

Sunday, August 29, 2010



A few days ago, I walked into my bedroom at my parents' house, only to find a fluffy cat sleeping upon my pillow. The cat, named Lily, initially belonged to my sister, but she began to reside in East Wenatchee when my sister moved in with her boyfriend a few years ago. Back to the point, Lily had never chosen to sleep on my pillow. I'd almost never even seen her enter my room. She roams the rest of the house like a queen in her kingdom, jumping on the table or the kitchen counter whenever she pleases (much to the displeasure of my mother), but my bedroom has mysteriously remained outside of her domain. So, I might add, have I. Not because I dislike her, or because I dislike cats; I rather like cats, and cats rather like me. But, no matter how diligently I tried to earn her affection, it was always fruitless.

Ever since I arrived in June, I would regularly pet her, pick her up, meow at her, or just generally try to interact with her. When I attempted to pet her, she would walk away. Pick her up? She squeakily meowed like there was no tomorrow, until I released her. Meow at her? (This usually works with other cats.) She would wander away, unamused.

But, somehow, after two and a half months, I have gained Lily's trust. I can only assume that my diligence has paid off. And now I am leaving. Will she remember me in a few months? What about in a year? Was all of my effort for nothing, only to enjoy Lily's affection for the next two weeks until I return to a faraway land? It was worth it, I think.

... I think.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

June Wanderings

I woke up on June 4 in a sleepy daze, the kind that comes after a night of much too little sleep, and glanced at my cell phone. It felt a little warm in the room, evidence that the sun had risen more than expected for my 7:30am wake-up time, but I wasn't too worried as I glanced at the clock on my cell phone. And then, suddenly, I was worried. It was 9:20am. I was going to miss my bus to the airport! Well, more specifically, I was going to miss the first of two (both necessary) buses that would transport me to the airport before my flight to Bilbao. After breathing heavily and frantically considering all of my options for a few minutes, I hurriedly packed all of my things and ran out the door to the bus station. I had certainly already missed my bus, but there was a chance, just a chance, that another bus would be driving the same route, even though it wasn't posted.

I arrived at the station and explained my situation to the lady at the counter. She looked skeptically at me, but found (to my incredible delight!) a bus that would take me to Marbella, where I could catch my second bus to the airport. Thus, my travels around the Iberian Peninsula began.

Bilbao, Basque Country

San Sebastian, Basque Country

San Sebastian, Basque Country

Oviedo Cathedral



Santiago de Compostela

Porto Street

Porto Street

Alfama District

Alfama District


Sintra, Portugal

(1)Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Basque Country, Spain
(2)Door on Juan de Bilbao Street, San Sebastian, Basque Country, Spain
(3)La Concha Bay, San Sebastian, Spain
(4)Oviedo Cathedral, Spain
(5)Bagpipes, Santiago de Compostela, Spain
(6)Botafumeiro, Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, Spain
(7)Santiago de Compostela, Spain
(8, 9, 10)Porto, Portugal
(11)Alfama District, Lisbon, Portugal
(12)Lisbon, Portugal
(13)Sintra, Portugal

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Dwindling Skills

I've been back in the USA for a week and I've already forgotten how to convert Fahrenheit to Celsius. If I think about it for a few minutes, I can make a rough conversion, but I used to be able to do so in a matter of seconds. The fact that it's only taken me a week to forget a skill I used regularly in Spain worries me about my beloved Spanish language skills.. now begins my effort to maintain a skill that I will use rarely for the next few months.