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Posts from the ‘Spain’ Category

Madrid to Mingo

Oh yeah, babe…I pull the beards from fresh mussels that I purchase at the small market in San Jose, on the southern coast of Spain. I boil some water,with some white wine, and a splash of olive oil to open the shell and expose the tender creatures. Mare and I feast in the comfort of our apartment, dunking mussels into melted garlic-butter, sipping wine, and looking out over the Mediterranean. Each evening I cook a fresh meal. Each day we hike the mountainous shore. We finally find a way to live within our daily budget, alas, a little too late. Money runs low. The reality of ending our adventure one month early closes in on our thoughts and forces us to change plans once again. While we love the endless, delectable food, and dramatic sea and mountain landscapes, we cannot afford Spain for much longer.  

Our balcony in San Jose

            We reminisce about some highlights of the adventure. The travel in West Africa, more fascinating then we initially imagine, seems like two years ago. Riding on the back of scooters while wearing stuffed backpacks, attending a live Voodoo ceremony, and walking the slave route will stay in our memory. The fatigue of relentless heat and public transport is worth the prize. The people we meet enrich our lives in so many ways, and hopefully we do the same. Worms dropping from the ceiling continues to make us laugh, and we still can’t believe that we were in a bar fight in Spain.

            Morocco makes us appreciate the freedoms of our homeland and the value of a woman’s presence. From being chased by drug dealers to riding camels into the Sahara, every day offers a lesson in culture, nature and humanity. Even the sneers of the larger cities teach us tolerance. The beautiful beach in Essaouria, the victory of finding some beer in a Muslim country, and the exposure to a different way of life serves to enhance our curiosity.

          We will never forget the warmth and friendliness of the Berbers in Morocco, the citizens of Ghana and those kind Spaniards who tended to an injured Mare. Warm, loving relationships tie all of us together. Most people in the world want the same things. If there is one thing our travels teach us, it is that people are not as different as we may think.

Ron and Abu

          We wish we could have made it to Tombouctou, and further, to the “Festival in the Desert,” but we decide to heed the warnings of the U. S. State Department and stay out of Mali at this time. The threat of terror, this time from Al Qaeda kidnapping Westerners, keeps our world small and hampers opportunities, like this festival – a chance for a poor country to prosper jujst a little. In fact, the festival is being moved closer to Tombouctou, in an attempt to ease fears and sell more tickets.

          Our final splurge brings us back to Mingo Junction, Ohio…my hometown, in the Appalachian foothills of Southeastern Ohio. We sit in yet another rental car in the darkness outside of my parents’ house, on Christmas Eve, sharing some cheer, while waiting for them to come home from evening mass. Once Ma and Pa enter the house, we knock on the front door. My mom’s scream of surprise scares us, and we scream also. Then we hug with a joyful tear. My folks find this to be the best Christmas present they could get. So do Mare and I.

Happy Holidays from the Mitchells

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Traveling to Trevelez

Granada does not grab us. Happy to finally find our way out of the city’s seemingly endless traffic detours, we venture onto the winding, mountain roads of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. We prefer driving through the largest national park in Spain more so than the inner city. Once we escape the city, the disease of continuation invades our psyches, and we simply keep on moving. Hungry, thirsty, needing a bathroom, none of those things matter, as we are twisting around “S” curves during our climb with serious determination. We are lost. I am determined to find the town of Trevelez, which Ray and Allen (Friends we made in Tarifa) recommend to us. Visions of lamb stew dance in my head, remembering the meal that they had described.

On the road to Trevelez

The scenic views from mountaintops reveal whitewashed towns, dispersed throughout massive valleys and hillsides. We pass through numerous small villages, ask for directions, and pick up a few new Spanish words along the way. All of these towns smell like smoked ham, making our mouths water. It seems that each place produces a special ham, or at least one that wears the town’s patch on its side like a tattoo.

As the darkness descends, cold rain dots our windshield and snow remains a looming unspeakable. At a crossroads, neither turnoff indicates the way to Trevelez. We take a guess and turn right, only to enter another small town. A man speaks some broken English, and we think that he sets us on to the right direction.

          “Izquierda! Izquierda!” he repeats.

          “Okay, Buenos. Gracias,” I respond.

          “Do you know what he said?” Mare asks, already thinking that I don’t.

          “He says stay left,” I say with false confidence. “Keep twisting left.”

You know how I love ham!

Wella! An hour later we search for a motel in the darkness, but at least have found our town. Every shop looks closed. We walk in the cold and look into several lighted windows. All we see are hanging hams, their hoofs attached to hooks dangling from the ceiling.  

The motel we seek is closed. Never fear, Pepe Alvarez lets us in to his hotel/restaurant! After a minute in the room, we have a cold drink at his bar, where he serves us tapas of sliced ham and cheese. Another round brings another serving of ham and cheese. Finally, we order dinner, and ask for the special of the house. We are excited, anticipating lamb stew, or something of that sort. Then, here comes a huge platter of…you guessed it…ham and cheese. The ham has Pepe’s name branded onto it. So do packets of sugar, salt, and ashtrays, as well as the tablecloth.

          “Are you Pepe?” I ask, pointing at a pack of sugar with his name on it.

          He smiles proudly and extends his hand. “Yes…Welcome!”

          We only wish that he would throw another log on the dwindling fire. 

The Spanish Sierra Nevada

The next morning, we head for the southern coast. We need to get out of the mountains before the predicted snow storm hits; besides, we cannot recreate Ray and Allen’s experience in Travelez. A very long, twisty drive later, through dramatic mountain scenery, we find a special jewel.

A view with a room

We practically have the little beach town of San Jose to ourselves. Our one-bedroom apartment is only $75US per night, and we purchase supplies at the one grocery store in town that is open. That night, we finish the ham and cheese that we have been living on since re-entering Spain. The view from our living room brags a panoramic look over the beach and Mediterranean coastline. In the morning we hike around the mountains along the sea. Back at the casa we watch International CNN in English. Wow, what nice stories International CNN produces, not just bad news like the sister station in the States, but inspirational biographies about people around the world.

Hiking along the Mediterranean

We feel as if getting back to normal. I am cooking and Mare is hiking. We are engaging in familiar activities. Surprisingly, this feeling satisfies us. We decide to stay here for several days for a welcome rest.

John and Yoko Marry in Gilbraltar

While Mare’s stomach heals for one more day in Tarifa, I walk the streets. The fresh sea breeze delights me and I wonder why I feel so good. Quickly, I realize that my favorite experience in Morocco, camel-camping in the desert, and staying at the Merzouga Guest house, derives its pleasure from the warmth, love, and genuine friendliness that the Berber culture offer us in that area of the country. Then, I remember that…even there, in the convivial atmosphere, the women are invisible.

Men

Driving the roads around the country, I recall images of men crowding the streets of small towns. I watch a man kick a small child to the ground while the woman (rare sight) continues walking, her head covered. The child, who is no more than three or four-years old, wails and tries to catch up to her. She does not turn around. She is not allowed. Further down the road, she beats a mule with a stick, for no apparent reason.     

            I sit in a café over a drink and realize that my favorite experience in Morocco also saddens me…because it comes from only a handful of men, and not the invisible women. In my “western-tainted” view, Moroccan culture misses out on not only the love and tenderness of a woman, but the talent and sparkle that she would add to the general good. Imagine how the culture could blossom even more, if only women were free. This is why I feel better in Spain. Here I can see a woman smile.

Monkey knows best

I guess that in the end…the love you take is equal to the love you make.   

The Rock of Gibralter

After two days in Tarifa, Mare feels well enough to hop a bus. Imagine traveling the southern coast of Spain from Tarifa to the town of La Linea de la Concepcion, and then needing to show your passport to enter an English Colony. Best known for its big rock, we learn that John Lennon and Yoko Ono married here in Gibraltar. They did not stay for long, leaving after just one song.

            After we hop off the bus and stroll through immigration to the city of Gibraltar. British accents abound, while pubs line the streets and lure us with offers of Shepherd Pie and Fish and Chips. Different Ales rule day and night. Shoppers pay typical, inflated tourist prices for goods of all sorts in this bustling destination town.

            Mare cannot finish her steak and kidney pie, as her stomach still mends from a bout of food poisoning. So we take a mellow evening, during a rainy downpour. The rain in Spain falls not only on the plain. The Brits complain about the cold, with a sense of humor.             

Inside the rock

 In the morning, we take a tour of the rock. Alex, our guide, drives us up the Rock of Gibraltar for views of Morocco, and Spain’s southern coast. We duck through caves that open into small concert halls. Rule of this rock has changed hands numerous times throughout history, but it still remains a rock. We hang with the Barbary apes. Actually, they hang on us.

Got a monkey on your back?

About 300 of these apes represent the only wild primates in Europe (which could be disputed with the presence of Mare and I) and enjoy protection in this preserve.

No, on my head

After we walk the man-mined tunnels that the British constructed in the 1700’s as military strategy, we get close to the top. The very peak is off limits, as Alex, our guide, explains to us that apes will jump onto pedestrians and throw them off balance. Also, the British military controls it.

            We have no need to see the machined-tunnels the British constructed during WWII, so Alex drives us to the airport. We rent a car, our apartment on wheels, and the driving proves so much easier in Spain than Morocco. Everything is much easier.

Southern Spanish coastline

We drive to Granada, and it’s too cold to tour the Alhambra, so we decide to move on up into the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Home of Spain’s highest peak, we want to visit Travelez, Spain’s highest village.

A Bourdain/Zimmern Thanksgiving

Fried Jelly Fish

Drinking shots with the locals and munching fried jellyfish on Thanksgiving Day reminds us of  Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern from the Travel Channel. Yes, we stumble upon a café/restaurant close to the sea in Tarifa, Spain. Our first bite of fried jellyfish makes us appreciate the light breading, as the “fishy” taste dominates.

While Mare runs to the room to retrieve her camera, I make the friendly mistake of buying shots of Jack Daniels whiskey for two guys at the bar, as well as myself. It seems the cap of Jack has not been opened for quite some time.

Burugotos

Here comes Mare, just in time for a plate of “Burugotos,” courtesy of the waiter/bartender, who shows us how to extricate the small, ahem…, worm-like creatures that we dig out of their tiny shell with a pin. About the size and appearance of a maggot, the only recognizable taste is salt, for which we are grateful.

Boys will be boys

Here come two shots of a caramel-colored brandy, along with a plate octopus ceviche, which is simply delicious. The place is filling up, and the guys at the bar continue to reciprocate my previous round by sending us another round of shots, this time local lemon liquor, Spanish hard stuff. They wave and laugh, and we return the gesture. As we emulate Bourdain’s bibulous behaviors, our courage builds for Zimmern’s zest for the bizarre.

Dinner

Ahh…the main course arrives. The huge squid stares back at us. We enjoy his tender slices, and toast to a Happy Thanksgiving to our family and friends back home.

Happy Thanksgiving!

I Can See Africa From My House

After a fast train drops us in Seville, Spain, I walk past a barber shop. It’s on…that darn song…sticking in my head for the two days we spend here. “I’m the Barber of Seville,” plays repeatedly in my mind, making me nuts…not from the opera, but from Bugs Bunny cartoons back in childhood.

Cathedral of Seville

            We find bargains while traveling in Spain during the off-season. Our clean, marble-floored hostal costs $70(US) down from $120(US) and the balcony overlooks cafes that line the cobblestone roads of Sevilla. Mare spills some beer from our balcony, and makes a waiter below us bellow obscenities and bad wishes our way. At least we cannot understand a word of what he says, but the message seems pretty clear.

Tower of Gold

            Mare walks the city streets, all along the Watchtower of Gold, and finds a “Lonely Planet” travel guidebook for Morocco, the only one in English, for $40(US), while I catch up on some writing. We are getting spoiled…cafés and drinks, but at least we mostly dine from the grocery stores, with the exception of a few dishes like “Solomillo al Whiskey,” a marinated white pork, as well as some fried squid, clams, and seafood soup.

            The people here, as well as most of Spain, continue to be friendly but distant. Most of them smoke cigarettes. All cafés, bars and restaurants fill with cigarette smoke, from the young and elderly, as if immune to the warnings of such behavior. Makes me want to start up again, but too bad smokes are so hard to quit. Many folks here roll their own. By the way, marijuana is legal here, for personal use, and not in public. I don’t even smell it anywhere.  

I can see Africa from my house

After a three-hour bus ride, I can see Africa from my house! No, I’m not Sarah Palin (it’s a continent and is not Russia). We land in the town of Tarifa, the southernmost point of Europe, where the ferries take only one-half hour to cross to Morocco, about nine miles away. We decide to enjoy Tarifa for a few days, before heading out for a different, exotic adventure.

            The people of Tarifa blend many cultures, as this land had been fought over for centuries. Foods range in influences from Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and of course, all delights from the sea.

The view from our terrace

            We stay in Hostal Africa for about $50(US), located in the heart of the historic, walled city. Sipping beers on the rooftop terrace, (Mare is banned from drinking on our small balcony) we gander at a castle, church steeples, antennas on the tops of houses, and of course, a lighthouse that shines where the Mediterranean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean.

            Our first night in town, we manage to stay awake long enough for a nine o’clock dinner. Mare eats seafood pizza, and I the squid and rice, blackened with the ink of squid, very tasty from an iron pot. That evening we encounter our first American tourists, on our rooftop terrace, a couple of nice guys from San Francisco. The strong winds and rain in this town make them feel at home. They share drinks and travel stories with us. We finds it refreshing to conduct a lengthy conversation in English.

All along the Watchtower

 The next day we walk all along the Watchtower, then towards the beach that earns the distinction of being the kite-surfing capital of Spain. Yes, we may stay here for a few days and look at the African Continent.

             Happy Thanksgiving to everybody! We are thankful for our family, friends, good heath and the ability to embark on adventure. Thank you, Abundant Universe!