Ok--here it is--the final installment of my great Iberian experience--long delayed. I think if you'll scroll down, you'll see why it took me so long. But I do apologise. It should have been done sooner. But I'm back, I swear, and things will go back to normal. I just felt guilty writing anything else until I'd done this. Hope it's not too disjointed. And for any new people, don't judge my style by this post--it's strictly get-it-down-on-paper style. Enough ado, here you go...
From Nazare I headed off to Faro. I did some complicated calculations to figure out how I could get everywhere I wanted to get with the days I had remaining. I really wanted to see the Algarve, in Portugal, which I'd heard was fabulous beaches and gorgeous water and rocks and cool cities. I picked Faro, the closest big Algarve city to Spain, so that it wouldn't take me too long to get to Sevilla. I gave myself one day, two nights, in Faro. I would get one good beaching day in before going back to Spain.
I took my first long-term bus from Nazare. It was just an hour to Lisbon, then I changed buses and it took another 4 to Faro. I was amused and happy to find myself on a two-decker bus, up top; with a bus equivalent of a stewardess selling beer, sodas, and snacks; and an in-bus movie--Tomb Raider. The bus trip went fine and relatively quickly.
I arrived in Faro to a very persistent little old lady following me around trying to get me to take a room from her. Unfortunately, Faro is one of the cities my Let's Go decided annoyingly not to give even a small map for so I had no idea where my hostal was. I wandered past the little old lady several times, each time with her trying to talk me into a room, before I finally found my way with help from several different people who spoke just enough Spanish/English to help me find my way. I'd developed by this point a system for asking directions. I asked older people, usually women but sometimes men, who were always extremely sweet even if they didn't know where the place was I was looking for. I had a older man at a shop asking passersby if they knew where my hostal was at one point.
I found the place and got my room, which oddly had a window facing a laundry room. Once I dumped my stuff and left the room again, I discovered it was too late to see any sights or go to the tourist office--which I needed to do to get a map--or go to any internet cafes. Everything was starting to close earlier now, after September 15th which was, I suppose, the official end of the summer tourist season. I wandered a bit, sat on the dock and watched the sunset, then found myself a place for dinner. I ate at an unsatisfying tourist place with a terrace; I had bacalao a bras again, which didn't measure up to my first experience. But I had some nice wine and felt pleasantly tipsy when I went back to the hostal.
I got up early the next morning to go to the TI to get my map and find out information on the ferry service to Farol. I'd decided my one beach day would be on an island off the coast of Faro called Farol which is about 45 minutes away from Olhao (pronounced Oh-yahn for reasons I still haven't discovered) which is a town about 10 minutes from Faro. I found out at the TI that the next train left in about 30 minutes and the next ferry was in 1 hour--the next wouldn't be for several hours so I rushed back to the hostal.
I quickly stripped and put on my bathing suit; emptied my purse and stuffed it with towels, a book, and sunscreen; then rushed to the train. I wore my rain jacket because it was raining very lightly. I assumed it would clear up in an hour or two as it had down the last few days.
I made the train with only seconds to spare. I managed to find the dock in Olhao and got my ticket with a few minutes to spare. Finally I relaxed. I sat in the front of the boat outside and watched the water go by. I ate a pastry I'd bought with my minutes to spare.
The boat was funny, little more than a glorified fishing boat, nothing touristy about it. As we wove through the water we passed fishermen and the occasional speed boat. We stopped at the two islands closer in to Faro, each stop thinning out the group, then headed out to Farol. It started to rain a little heavier. The other people outside with me headed inside.
My dad and I have a policy, from my days of living up near Seattle, of staying outside on ferries, regardless of the cold, wind, or rain. It's actually a policy that has stood me in good stead--when I took the hydrofoil from Scotland to Ireland, a notoriously bumpy trip which was expecially bumpy the trip I took, I was the only one of the 3 friends who went who didn't get seasick. I stood outside been windblown and loving every minute of it.
So I stayed outside on the ferry. It wasn't raining terribly hard so I wasn't too uncomfortable. When we arrived at Farol it was still raining. There were maybe 10 of us on the boat and several people were wrapped in towels, no one had umbrellas, and we all sort of hurried along the walk from the dock. At a split in the sidewalk, half the people went one way and the rest of us went straight into a restaurant. It was raining pretty good now. I decided I could have some lunch since I'd only eaten half my pastry and I didn't really care to sit on the beach in the rain. It was a little early--11:30. The restaurant wasn't quite ready to start serving, but they seemed to understand our rain issues.
I asked to see a menu but there was no menu. They asked if I liked fish, to which I responded yes, and they offered me sardines or some very large fish that was really meant for several people. I went with the sardines.
The sardines were great. They'd been grilled with sea salt and they gave me about 3 times as many as I would have chosen to eat plus a little salad and potatoes. I ate at least part of each sardine, feeling it might be rude not to. I'd been scarred by my visit to Scotland when I was 25 and the woman who hosted my home visit explained that in Scotland it was rude not to eat everything on your plate.
I was stuffed by the end of the meal and sat as long as I felt I could. But around 1 or so I decided, rain or no rain, I needed to get out and see the beach and walk around. It was my one day on the island and I damn sure wasn't going to spend the whole day in a restaurant brooding. So I wandered out into the rain, oh-so-grateful for my rain jacket.
I walked down a promontory toward a lighthouse. I walked along, past big stones, singing to myself to distract me from how increasingly cold and wet I was getting. I tried to sing myself songs about sun, trying to confuse myself. It's not really so easy to find songs about sun. At least in my repertoire. I sang "Brand New Day" by Eurythmics which has a line "big old sun is rising up so elegant and thin..." I sang "Looking At the World Through Rose Colored Glasses" and "I've Got the World On a String" (Peggy Lee versions)--"I've got a song that I sing, I can make the rain go, anytime I move my finger..." I tried moving my finger a lot with no luck. Eventually I degraded to "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" by Burt Bacharach, "Here Comes the Rain Again" by Eurythmics, and ultimately "Like the Weather" by 10,000 Maniacs which is definitely not a positive song about overcoming the effects of inclement weather.
When I got back from my lighthouse visit, I was absolutely soaked. I was wet under my jacket, my skirt was dripping, my sandals were so went my feet were slipping in them. I was on the verge of miserable but trying to hold back from crossing the line. I determinedly walked down to the beach. I walked along, picking up rocks and feeling the water around my ankles. It sort of felt good to be purposely wet somewhere. Actually, the waves felt slightly warmer than the rain.
I crossed over to a second beach, still forcing myself to think I could be enjoying my walk in the rain. This one was covered in grasslike seaweed, which as I walked along curled around my ankles. I saw a mostly sunken ship just out a bit from the beach, thoroughly rusted. I started singing "Verdi Cries" by 10,000 Maniacs which is a song about a wonderful beach vacation someone had. Again, trying to fool my sad, wet brain. For the hell of it I drew a jackal-headed woman in the sand as I sang, an homage to Natalie Merchant. Ultimately my positive attitude waned sufficiently for me to turn back and start heading towards a shack I'd seen with an overhang I could stand under and be dry.
As I was heading back, still walking in the waves, I saw the largest jellyfish I've ever seen. It was pretty close to me, maybe 10 feet out from me in the water. Make a circle in front of you with your arms and that was about how big this thing was. At that moment it occurred to me that maybe it was good that I hadn't been swimming then. I'm not sure how I felt about swimming somewhere where that sort of thing could reach out and touch me.
I got to the shack and stood under the overhang. I think on a good day it would have been selling refreshments. I took off my jacket and hung it on a hinge, letting it blow in the wind in hopes of it drying out a bit. I gathered my skirt up in sections and wrung it out, water seeming to pour from it. My shirt, too, though it somehow managed to still be dry here and there.
Eventually I put my only slightly less wet jacket on and headed toward the dock. It was a good 45 minutes or so until the next ferry arrived, but I had to go anyway. I figured I couldn't be more miserable anywhere else.
I stood at the dock, in one of a very few spots that managed to stay dry with the wind blowing rain everywhere, and waited impatiently. Finally the ferry arrived and I got on--inside. There was no question of my outside policy. It didn't hold water suddenly but I certainly did.
I arrived back in Olhao finally and made haste to the train station. My haste didn't do me much good as I then had to wait about an hour for the next train to a city that was only 10 minutes away. Somewhat crankily, I sat outside on a bench, as I was dripping water everywhere, and read my soggy paperback. Eventually the train came, I got back to Faro, and I rushed to my hostal with nothing but visions of a hot shower in my head.
Luckily I was in a hostal that had hot water and I stripped, literally this time, the clothes had to be peeled from my body. My bathing suit was as wet as if I had gone swimming. A hot shower and some dry clothes later I felt 100% better. Sadly, my feelings had dropped 200% while on the island so I still had a ways to go to get back to normal.
And yet, my spirit persevered. I struck out once again (it had stopped raining sometime during the train ride back to Faro) and wandered into the old town of Faro. I knew everything would be closed--I had sacrificed sightseeing, too, to go to the island. But I could at least see the buildings and churches from the outside. I followed signs to the se (cathedral) in the old town and took some pictures. It was very large. I was amused by the weathervane of a chicken on the top of the belltower. Somehow it seemed out of place on a church.
I was surprised to see people going into the se, so I followed them. I discovered a lone guard letting people up into the belltower for a euro. I paid up and started up the stairs.
I thanked the weather/fates/whatever for the gift I got at the top of the belltower, a reward for my miserable day. The sunset was gorgeous. Just stunning. The sky was orange and reflecting on the estuary below which looked like it had pockets of molten lava running through it.
I looked out at the buildings behind me, the view of the city. On top of a building nearby was a huge nest with two large black and white birds in it. I thought it was fake, the birds didn't move and seemed perfectly posed. Then I saw their feathers ruffle. And one of them moved. I just grinned and watched them. They seemed unreal.
I stayed up there until I felt my day slip away. I eventually headed back down the narrow steps and back out into the old town. I wandered around a bit, looking at statues and the azulejo signs at the arched entrances to the old town. Finally I decided to get some dinner.
As I walked back in the general direction of food, I felt a few raindrops. I swear to you, it was through sheer force of my will that it didn't then rain. Believe me, I have serious will and I used all of it to keep the rain away.
I was feeling exhausted. It's amazing how tiring being wet and cold all day can be. I decided to call the day a wash, get the early bus the next morning to Sevilla, and just get a sandwich and go home for the night. I got a very nice sandwich and went to bed.
I ate my sandwich while watching American sitcoms. I almost died laughing when I turned on the TV and saw "Green Acres". Then there were a couple of mediocre WB sitcoms. Shortly thereafter, a Portuguese show came on, my sandwich was gone, and I passed out. I was hoping for better things and better weather the next day.
I was on the 8 a.m. bus to Sevilla. I was sad that I hadn't gotten more out of the Algarve but I was happy to be returning to Spain. I was looking forward to being able to sort of understand and communicate with people. And I hoped for sun.
Once again the bus was fine, arriving in Sevilla around noon. I went to the phones immediately to try to find a place to stay and found myself happily comfortable asking for rooms in Spanish. I had to make 6 or 7 calls to find a place that had availability and didn't ask once if the person on the other end spoke English. Rather than 10 days in Portugal making me rusty with the Spanish, it had made me more eager to do so.
I found a place finally which was very near the bus station. I was unhappy with the location but it was all I could find and it was cheap.
My room was oddly shaped with a window that looked out on a stairwell. The landlord showed me that there were men's clothes in the armoire and explained that a man had taken the room then disappeared. I found it more strange than worrisome. I thought it unlikely that I would be next.
My room turned out to be only about a 15 minute walk from the main part of Sevilla, and I actually enjoyed my walk in the heat and sun. I had sworn after Faro that I wouldn't complain about heat in Spain ever again. I was luckily able to keep this positive attitude, because it was indeed very hot. I walked along the river and thought how nice it would be to go out on one of the tourist boats onto the river.
I walked around looking at sights and thinking about lunch. I was still thinking about lunch while trying to find the I when I stumbled on the Cathedral.
Sevilla is known largely for its Cathedral. Largely is right--it's in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the largest Cathedral in the world. It is very large.
I decided I would go in the Cathedral as soon as I had lunch. It was unthinkable that I would enter the largest cathedral in the world with low blood sugar. Unfortunately, the low blood sugar had already started to affect me. I couldn't make a decision on lunch, nothing and nowhere seemed right. I gave up and headed to the cathedral.
As I was going to the entrance, a woman tried to hand me some little branches, saying something I didn't understand in Spanish. I shook my head at her, knowing she must want money. She kept saying it was for good luck at the cathedral, as if it was something beneficent she was doing and I couldn't refuse. I took the little branches. Then she grabbed my palm and started reading it. I listened closely to her fast Spanish, catching long life, closeness and love of family, lots of love, and two children. My mom would be happy to hear that. Personally I think even one child is a bit of a stretch.
Eventually she read both palms and then asked for money, as expected. I offered her 1 euro. She didn't want it. I tried to give the branches back but she wouldn't take them. I offered her the Euro again but she opened her purse and said papel, meaning she wanted paper money. I shook my head and handed her the Euro. She took it but asked for another. I dug for another and so gave her 2. She seemed far less spiritual having gotten less than she wanted. I walked into the cathedral, admittedly happy to have gotten a cheap Spanish palm reading and some good luck branches. I later saw a bush growing near the cathedral that seemed to have the same branches on it. I was unsurprised that my good luck was to come from weeds.
The Cathedral was much like other cathedrals inside. Lots of altars to various saints, paintings, ornaments. I explored, looking at everything. At one end was Christopher Columbus's tomb (Cristobol Colon). Or so they claimed. Apparently there are 4 towns who all claim to have his body. Apparently Sevilla is one of the least likely to actually have it. It was a cool tomb, though.
One of my favorite things about Cathedrals and churches in Spain is their ceilings. It's possible they're just as impressive in other places in Europe, but they really are fantastic in Spain. Often with paintings, sometimes with tiles, and almost always ornate; they're often more beautiful than the walls. This was true of the rooms that you could go in off of the main Cathedral room.
Eventually I found a sign for La Giralda, the bell tower. I knew it would be a bit of a climb on an empty stomach but unfortunately Cathedrals don't have concession stands. Seems like a natural money-maker to me.
For a change, this bell tower didn't have stairs but inclines. It was square and each side had a sort of ramp that you walked up, then it would even out, then it would incline again. Periodically there were little displays of bells or the equipment used to build the cathedral, that sort of thing, along the way to look at. And there were signs telling you how many floors up you were. There were 35 ramps you had to climb. I was grateful for no stairs, let me tell you.
I got to the top and saw the obligatory impressive view. I was starting to get slightly jaded about these great views from up high, I'd done them so often now. I liked getting the view from above of the Cathedral itself, though. It had a very gothic feel to it.
When I got back down, I wandered out into the courtyard, the entrance to which was significant for the alligator or possible crocodile hanging from the ceiling. It was dead, naturally, and hanging from ropes, completely unmarked. I pondered it for some minutes but couldn't figure out how to ask in Spanish what its significance was. I still wonder...
I left the Cathedral and immediately got some helado. It was about 5 p.m. which is an awkward time to eat in Spain. It's roughly the equivalent of 3 p.m. here--really too late for lunch but much too early for dinner. The helado did the trick of putting something in my stomach and fulfilling my daily ice cream quota.
I found the TI and got a crappy map--it was the busiest TI I'd been in yet. They were giving out photocopied maps that didn't show all the streets. I asked about a festival that was supposed to be happening in Sevilla for the next few nights and the woman circled where it was on the map. I decided I'd walk over there later.
From there I went to an Internet cafe to let my parents know I was ok. I hadn't been able to email since Coimbra as all the small Portuguese towns I'd been in were email deficient. I spent about an hour then headed off to find the festival.
It was on the less touristy side of the river and I found myself walking through a much more urban feeling city. There were the large modern buildings, pricier stores, business people getting off work, and dirty residential neighborhoods with a slight creepy feeling to them. I unfortunately had to walk through the creepy neighborhoods to get to the festival. The closer I got to where the woman had circled on the map, the less certain I felt about the woman knowing what she was talking about. I saw no sign of anything festivalish, no crowds, no one seeming to have the festival look about them. I also didn't see any buildings or areas sufficiently large for a festival. And no bright lights. When I finally got to the intersection she had circled, there was nothing there. I'd walked for nearly an hour and there was nothing there. I was very angry.
I turned around and headed back, after exploring a few blocks in each direction to see if I was somehow missing it. I wasn't. I walked back across the river, my feet hurting, a little bit sweaty, and very tired.
Once I got back to the touristy area I knew, it was nearly 10 p.m. I found the first restaurant that didn't look horribly expensive and sounded vaguely interesting and sat down. I ordered a plato del dia, which I later found out was a mistake well known and mentioned in my guidebook. It was paella that wasn't very good. I ate it anyway. Halfway into the meal, a 3 or 4 year old boy at the table behind me started to scream. He screamed for the remainder of the meal. With a headache and a determination never to have the 2 children my gypsy had prophesied, I headed home in a taxi. The only good thing about dinner had been that I'd sat right next to the Cathedral.
I was berated by my taxi driver as well as my landlord when I got home for going to bed so early. They both said that it was unthinkable to go to bed before 5 a.m., that I should sleep during the day. I explained that I'd been up since 6 a.m. and I could be out all night tomorrow. They seemed somewhat pacified. I felt a weird opposite-of-my-parents effect--instead of getting a lecture about being out all night, I'd been lectured for not. I didn't really like it any more that way.
The next day I got up as late as I could--about 10:30--so that I could stay up late. I left my hostel and went to the Museu de Bellas Artes which was within two blocks of my hostal. It was in an old nunnery that had been converted to a museum. The art was mostly religious and Spanish, but I found it very pleasant. The building was Moorish with courtyards with fountains in the he middle of it and lots of azulejos.
There was one room in particular that was truly fabulous. It had originally been the chapel and the room itself was fantastic with gorgeous ceilings. Then it had huge religious paintings along all the walls. It was beautiful.
I finished exploring and headed back out into pretty serious sun. I revelled in the sun beating on my skin and even raised my face to feel the rays. I walked off in search of sustenance.
I found a sort of shopping district and in that a nice tapas place. Apparently fried fish is a specialty in Sevilla so I had Bacalao Frito (fried salt cod) and another specialty, Espinacas a la Crema (creamed spinach). I also had Queso de Castuera which came in slices with potato chips. And last of all, I finally had gazpacho. When I think of Spain, I think of gazpacho for some reason--I guess it's a Spanish food that we had even in the Midwest so I'd always known about it. When I'd been in Spain in '95, I had gotten gazpacho once, but from a chain restaurant. I figured that didn't really count. This time it was good and came in a glass--on the menu as Vaso de Gazpacho (glass of gazpacho). Oh, and of course, the final touch, a glass of cerveza. It was a lovely lunch and cost less than the previous night's horrible dinner.
After that, I wandered around a bit looking at shops and sidewalk sellers. I was looking for a kind of belt I'd seen that I really wanted to buy for my friend Angie. All the fashionable young women in Spain were wearing these thick belts that sort of slung around their waists and tied with long leather strands that then hung down along their thighs. I thought it looked great and thought she would look great in one. But to find the perfect one...
I finally found it as I wandered, a brown suede with embroidered flowers. I got it for her. I also found some reasonably affordable mantillas (the scarves that flamenco dancers wear, as well as a large part of the female population who don't dance) and bought one for myself and for a couple of friends. It was getting toward the end of my trip and the need to buy souvenirs and gifts had hit me.
I went back to my room after my shopping to drop off my bags. After a brief rest, I went straight back out and headed back down along the river. I decided as it was still sunny and warm that I would take one of the tourist boats I'd noticed the day before. It was a little pricey, but I liked the idea of being out on the river.
I got on and found a seat up top. The ride was not exciting, but pleasant. Sevilla has a thing for bridges and the highlight of the trip was seeing all the different ones along the river. There was one designed by a man who'd designed one in Paris, one that has the world record for being the longest bridge with no supports in the middle, etc, etc. It was fun seeing the city from the river and it was relaxing and cool out there.
I got off the boat and went back for some emailing to kill a little time. Then I headed toward the festival. I'd asked my landlord where the festival (Feria de San Miguel was it's actual name) was really located and he gave me a good map and good directions. It was at least as far as I'd walked the night before, but wouldn't be quite as dark and scary I thought along more main roads. I thought about taking a cab, but ultimately ended up walking the whole way again.
I found it; from a distance I saw the ferris wheel and lights of a carnival midway and started to get excited. I love a carnival. I was expecting something more Spanish, but I was just happy there was a festival there. I went in and walked through lots of brightly colored lit-up rides, feeling like a kid at the Iowa State Fair. I practically skipped around, ending up at the concessions where I bought a churro relleno filled with chocolate. Mmm.
From there I started to feel less Iowa and more Spain. I walked over to a fenced in area where the caballeros were performing. It was women first, two women on white horses doing tricks, dressed up in matador hats and such. Then a little boy who couldn't have been more than 6 doing similar tricks, making the horse prance to the beat of music, rearing up, etc. I thought it was pretty cool--though if they had been American and dressed as cowboys I probably would have been bored.
From there I went to a woman dressed like a flamenco dancer at the Tourist Information booth and asked her about the flamenco performance that night. She told me how much it cost and where it would be. Unfortunately, she didn't mention that I would have had to have bought tickets that morning, which I found out after standing in line for a few minutes seeing everyone else holding tickets.
Sad to have missed the flamenco, I walked over and got on the ferris wheel. I deserved a ride and I love the ferris wheel. It was especially big and brightly lit in green. I was the only one on it. The Spanish wheel runners seemed a little put out to have to work just for one customer, but I didn't care. I spun above Sevilla, looking out at the lights on both sides of the river, the lights of the carnival, the music and laughter on the midway. It was great.
Once off, I headed toward the one area of the festival I hadn't explored. There were booths full of people eating, drinking, listening to music, live music, and dancing. I couldn't figure out if they were open to the public or if they were people who were working the festival or what. So I wandered by them, stopping occasionally to listen to some music. At one tent a couple had started to flamenco dance spontaneously next to their table, spurred on by the people they were eating with.
Outside another booth was a group of young girls, teenagers probably, who were flamenco dancing in unison. It was like a Spanish linedance, all of them doing the same moves at the same time. It was wonderful. I watched them for awhile, then looked inside the tent and there were more girls doing the same thing in front of the band. There were 3 boys who were dancing along, not nearly as well, having a good time. I loved it. I got a little flamenco after all.
Having exhausted the entertainment I could glean from the Feria, I headed back to my side of the river. Again, I fully expected to grab either the bus or a cab, but ended up walking all the way back. It was around midnight--so far so good on staying out later. It was later than last night already.
Determined to give the out all night thing a try, I went to a bar next to the Cathedral. I felt awkward and like everyone was staring. I hadn't gone to a bar alone in a long time and even then I was usually meeting someone there.
I boldly went up to the bar and asked for a cerveza. He gave me a big pint-full and I was startled. Should have specified. It didn't cost much, though, and getting somewhat drunk was all part of my plan. I sat and drank, surveying the crowd.
There were lots of people, but none seemed inclined to strike up a conversation. I sat and drank and got bored and finished. I left, following some people up a street hoping they would lead to more bars.
I came upon a little bar where, oddly, there were some wandering minstrels drinking. They were three guys dressed in velvet, tights, big silly hats, and holding instruments. They were just drinking. A woman was trying to convince them to play. I waited a bit to see if they would then walked up the street some more.
Finding nothing exciting, I walked back the way I'd come and the minstrels had started to play. I watched them for awhile as they sang and played their guitars (and guitar-like instruments). Eventually they finished up and it seemed clear to methey were done. I started walking backdown the street again.
As I walked, I realized the minstrels had popped up behind me. They were playing their instruments as they walked. I felt like I had walking music--as if I was in a movie.
Eventually I went up a street and they didn't follow me. I was sad to lose them, but it would have happened eventually. Though it would have been nice if they'd followed me home and sung me to sleep.
I wandered around looking at other bars. I got a beer at one then left to hang out outside another busier one. I watched a couple fight; I watched a woman get picked up; I watched people drinking and chatting. I got bored again.
I eventually went back to the bar I'd started at and got another cerveza. Nothing much had changed. There was a young asian man sitting at a bar stool behind me, against the wall, who seemed to be doing what I was--he was all alone and just looking around, seemingly feeling like he needed to be out but not being very successful at enjoying it. I was about to go up and introduce myself, but when I turned around, he had left.
Finally at about 3 I decided I was ready to call it a night. I left the bar and looked for a taxi. I didn't see one so started walking.
It wasn't the smartest thing I ever did--walking home at 3 a.m. in a strange city while drunk. Still, it went fine. I walked my usual route by the river. I walked past what seemed to be the gay hangout in town which was a large open space in front of a closed Pizza Hut. I was attracted by the music, but continued my way home.
I got back around 3:30 and the landlord's son or hired help answered the door and let me in. I hoped he would report my arrival time to the landlord. I went to bed.
I got up the next morning late, around 10, and packed up. I needed to get the bus to Jerez de la Frontera, my next destination, and it turned out to be at a different bus station--not the one I was 2 minutes from, sadly.
Once again, as I headed across town, my backpack heavy on my back, I thought I might catch a bus or cab. Once again, I walked the whole way. I stopped and got a bocadillo on the way to enjoy on the trip. As a result, I missed the bus by about 3 minutes. Once again, the woman at the TI had screwed me. I thought I still had half an hour, from the schedule she had given me.
I had to wait for the next bus, which left in about 2 hours. So I sat, and sat, and sat in the bus station. It wasn't enough time to really go out and enjoy myself--and it's hard to enjoy yourself with a heavy backpack on--so I just sat. I read, called and got a room in Jerez, ate my bocadillo, bought some ice cream, went to the restroom...anything to kill time.
Finally the bus came and I got on. Unfortunately, I'd discovered in my waiting period that by the time I got to Jerez, everything I wanted to do would be closed.
Jerez is where sherry comes from. In fact, Jerez is the Spanish word for sherry. I was looking forward to visiting some of the sherry houses like I had done with port in Porto.
I was leaving Sevilla on a Saturday and would arrive around 5 p.m. All the sherry houses closed before 5. And the next day was Sunday and none of them were open on Sunday. So my main reason for going to Jerez was what I wasn't going to do. If I'd realized, I would have skipped Jerez altogether, or come back to it later.
I decided to make the best of it, since I'd bought the ticket. I got into Jerez and started walking toward my hostal. Or I thought I was. Unfortunately, Jerez is incredibly confusing. My Let's Go had a small map that was really not sufficient and the TI was closed so I couldn't get a better one. So I floundered. I got completely lost. And it was HOT in Jerez.
I finally broke down and asked an older woman I saw on the street for directions. She had to take out her glasses, and I apologised profusely, but she got her glasses out, looked at the address, and ultimately, told me to walk with her. I spoke to her in Spanish, telling her she didn't have to walk with me, but she told me she was going that way anyway. She took me several blocks then went into a bar to ask for directions.
A woman came out with her to point out the way to go, explained to me as clearly as possible landmarks to look for, and sent me on my way. I thanked my friend excessively for her help then went off. I thought I'd gone wrong again at one point, but found my way. My hostal just a couple of blocks away.
It was like an oasis. I went in and the woman showed me to my room. It was on one side of a courtyard completely filled with plants and flowers. My little room had red pepper plants growing all over the window. It was wonderful.
I walked out looking for a TI my guidebook said would be open. I walked through a fairly boring part of town, ending up across from one of the closed sherry houses where the TI was supposed to be. It wasn't there.
I headed back to the main part of the town and wandered around looking at shops. I sat and watched for a bit while some little boys, probably no more than 10 yrs old but I'm terrible with ages, played soccer. The youngest one, who might have been 5 or 6, was relegated to the job of goalie which mostly seemed to mean running all over the plaza chasing the ball when the other boys' kicks inevitably went wild.
After window shopping and soccer watching, I headed back to the hostal for a lie-down. I hadn't quite recovered from the previous night. When I got up, I made my plan for the evening. I put on cute clothes (well, as cute as clothes that had been handwashed for 3 weeks could be) and headed out for tapas, sherry, and flamenco.
I found a tapas place in a plaza and had a seat. It was a nice night, warm, and a lot of people were sitting outside. It was a little earlier than I usually ate in Spain, but I had somewhere to be at 10.
I ordered a couple of tapas to start--salmon queso fresco (a sort of salmon sandwich), pulpo relleno (octopus stuffed with octopus), and bandevilla olivas ancoas (olives with anchovies). I also foolishly ordered cerveza without thinking. I'd meant to get sherry.
I sat and read my book and watched the people around me. The food was good. I ordered another tapa--Mojama de Barbate (salted air dried tuna from "Barbate") and some sherry this time, to go with them. I ordered a fino, which is dry sherry. I think I'd only really had sweet sherry before.
It turned out I didn't really like dry sherry. I drank it in small sips between bites of tuna, and it went pretty well with it, but there was a taste I didn't like. I started feeling less regretful about missing the sherry houses and their free tastings.
Once done, I headed off to my show. I started by trying to walk to it. I had my sad little map and thought it wouldn't be too far and would be pretty easy to find. I think I was wrong, but I didn't really get that far.
I was walking along one side of a square and a spanish man attached himself to me. He was not particularly attractive, though not repulsive. He was older and for some reason really liked me. He started walking with me, talking to me. I told him I didn't speak Spanish so he faltered with slight english, trying to carry on the conversation. This was my usual strategy--I was often approached by men who were not the least bit interesting to me and I always claimed I didn't know Spanish. They usually didn't know enough English to get too far.
We got about 3 blocks when he finally asked if he could go with me to the show I was going to. I told him no. He said he really liked me and wanted to be my "friend". Considering all he knew about me was my monosyllabic answers as to where I was going and what my name was, I doubted he knew enough to really like me. I told him I wasn't interested. Finally he left me alone. I walked another block or two in the increasing darkness before realizing I was getting nowhere fast. I turned around and found a cab stand. I hopped in and took a taxi.
My Rick Steves book had said there was a place in Jerez that had shows of flamenco. You just had to pay. I decided I wanted to see flamenco badly enough to pay for it since I wasn't having a lot of luck finding it for free in bars. Sounds a bit like I'm explaining why I went to a hooker--I wasn't getting any for free in bars so I decided to pay for it... Sorry, I digress...I never paid for sex but I was paying for flamenco.
I got to the place and went in. It was packed and I was worried about getting a seat. I followed a couple in who I vaguely heard asking a waiter where to sit. I asked the same man where to sit and he told me any table. I had seen "Reservo" signs on the only available tables, so I said "pero reservo?" which is bad spanish, "but reserved?" and he said "si, si, reservo." So I said ok and sat at a table right up in front of the stage. It was empty, so why not?
Two women came and sat at the table with me. One of them had just addressed the crowd who were apparently mostly, if not all, a tour group. I was suspicious about whether I should really be there. But I was determined to stay unless kicked out. The other woman was about my age. We started talking before the show started.
Her name was Kelly and she was from Northern Ireland, Belfast. I told her I thought Northern Ireland was really beautiful and she seemed shocked. Apparently no one who isn't from there thinks it's beautiful. Hard to look past the troubled history/present I guess. I explained that I'd been to Belfast and to the Causeway Coast. She seemed very pleased that I thought it was beautiful.
It turned out that she knew both French and Spanish and had already spent 2 years in Spain. She had taken a job helping to run the tours in Jerez as a way to stay in Spain. She loved it, she said. I was starting to get inspired to become a tour guide myself. Needed to work on my Spanish first.
We chatted until the show started. I hadn't gotten kicked out, so I was happy. On the stage were two men, one with a guitar, the other with wild black hair and a goatee. They were surrounded on either side by 5 women in beautiful costumes. They all sat in chairs lining the stage on 3 sides.
As the show started, the man with the guitar played, the rest of the performers clapped in various rhythms, impressively loudly and in unison. Then the man with the black hair started to sing. It was a voice hard to describe, wild like his hair, with depth and passion. As he sang and they all clapped, one by one the women would get up and dance. Sometimes they would dance for a few minutes, sometimes they would dance for 15, sometimes they would dance two at a time, but always there was this intense focus. And they were fantastic.
One of the women sang, with an impressive veracity, her voice as wild as the man's and loaded with emotion. I had no idea what she was singing about, but I was with her all the way.
The women ranged in age from 16, apparently somewhat young to be performing, to a woman who was probably in her late 60s. They all danced with amazing energy, each having her own style.
I was awed for the whole performance, held in place by them. I was grateful for my spot up front as they were performing just a few feet from me. The rawness of their performance and the nearness of their imposing presence was enthralling.
After the show, I paid and said good-bye to Kelly who had to go back with the tour group to their hotel. I got a cab back to my hotel.
The next day I ran out for a quick tour of the Alcazar, the Moorish palace in the town, which opened in just enough time for me to take a quick look around then go back and catch the bus to Algeciras, my next stop.
What I really wanted to see was the Camera Oscura which was in a room of the Alcazar. Unfortunately it wasn't open for another 45 minutes. I wouldn't make my bus if I stayed. So I did a quick turn around the Alcazar, looked at the gardens and fountains that I was becoming used to seeing. I was understanding the Moorish style to a point that I almost knew what would be around the next corner. I enjoyed seeing the baths, something I hadn't seen in any of the Moorish places so far. There wasn't a lot to see, but there were great ceilings with cutout stars letting light in.
I hurried off from the Alcazar back to my hostal to get my bag. I had a firmer grasp of the geography of the town now, so I thought I could get to the bus station a little quicker than I had found my hostal from the station. I headed off. It took me about 15 minutes,compared to the hour it took me when I came in to town. Ah, well, live and learn.
The bus was a few hours. The land outside had gotten scrubbier, more wild west-ish. I even saw a ranch.
I arrived in Algeciras early afternoon, in front of the Port. Algeciras is where most of the ferries to Africa leave from. I got out and walked into the port to do some investigating. I'd had it in mind that I might go to Morocco, before I left. My friend Teresa told me she saw me in Morocco--could see me walking down the streets. I figured that was as good a sign as any. I'd always wanted to go and had missed it last time I'd been in Europe, due to mooning over someone. I had become determined to go.
I checked out times for the ferries and cost. It would only be about 20 euros and only about 2 hours to Tangier. I got the time table and would buy my ticket in the morning. I went to some pay phones in the port to call a couple of places and find a room for the night. There were Moroccan men at all the phones and they stared as I walked up. All the phones seemed to be broken except one that one of the me was using. I called it 0 for 2 and went off to find more phones.
I found one back where I'd come in and called a couple of places before finding one. I asked at information where it was--as once again I had no map--and it wasn't far. I headed off.
I asked for directions a couple of times--I'd finally gotten to the point where I was less afraid of trying to get directions in Spanish than of getting lost. I found the place pretty easily, and got my room.
It was an odd room--one room with a toilet and a shower. Meaning it was the size of most of the rooms I'd had but at one end was the bed and at the other was a toilet just sitting out in the room and a shower right there as well, with a curtain that didn't quite reach the bottom of the shower basin. Later as I showered, I discovered that water would escape from the gap between the curtain and the basin and flow down the room toward the bed. It was very curious, but I quickly learned not to leave anything on the floor.
I dumped my things and headed off to find the bus station. the nice man at the front desk gave me a business card for the hostel that had a little map on the back. He pointed me in the direction of the station and I hurried off.
When I was planning my trip, I'd been searching the web for pictures of places I thought might be interesting to go to. I'd seen Tarifa in my guide book and thought it sounded cool. They described it as a little Hawaii with windsurfers and beautiful beaches. I looked up pictures on the web and discovered one other thing about it. I knew it was the southernmost point in Spain. It also had a view of Africa. I'd been so excited by this idea I'd put a picture of Tarifa, in which you could also see Africa, on my computer's desktop as wallpaper.
So I was determined to get to Tarifa, if just as a day trip. I t was only about 45 minutes from Algeciras and Algeciras wasn't really very interesting.
I got my bus and arrived in Tarifa mid-afternoon. I walked down a fairly uninteresting street until I arrived at a very beautiful beach.The sand was white and the water was incredibly blue. There were surfers and windsurfers. It was a little cold for swimming, but it here were a few people lying on the beach. I walked along and picked up rocks. I sat on the beach for a long time, the wind at my back. I really noticed the wind once I sat down Mostly because I was being pelted with sand. The wind was impressive. If I'd sat there long enough, I'd have been completely covered in sand like one of those Egyptian cities in various mummy movies. Sand got into every crevice. It was very fine sand, I was wiping it out of ears, nose, crooks of arms, cuffs of pants, everywhere for hours. I kind of enjoyed the wind, though, and actually sat there for sometime.
The windsurfers were great, it was the perfect beach for them and I loved watching them.
After awhile I headed off and found yet another beach where I watched another windsurfer. Then I walked off to find the castle. There was supposed to be a castle there somewhere. There was a tower overlooking the beach which I initially thought was it. But you were supposed to be able to walk around the castle and the tower was closed off.
I walked past various VW buses (the chosen vehicle of surfers even in Spain it seemed) and Bugs and station wagons. I was starting to feel like I was back in SF. I found a promenade where locals seemed to be hanging out and walked down it, watching children play.
Then out of nowhere, there it was, the castle. I don't know how it had managed to hide from me. I went in.
The castle and Tarifa have a primary claim to fame--de Guzman el Bueno. De Guzman was in charge of protecting the castle. The moors came and captured his son and threatened to kill him if de Guzman didn't give up the castle to them. De Guzman refused, even when the moors cut his son's throat in front of him. Renowned for his bravery, the castle is named after him, as is the tower I had seen by the beach and a statue at the end of the promenade.
The castle was mostly a shell, like most of the castles I'd seen. There were some cool touches, like some stones for catapults lying around, and lots of stairs up to the walls which gave beautiful views. As the sun was going down, I was on the wall and looking out at the sunset. I'd been disappointed not to see Africa, after the promise of the pictures I'd seen.
I was looking around, away from the beaches but out toward the port and inland. All of a sudden, there it was. Africa. It was looming up like a mountain out of Lord of the Rings or something. It seemed to be highlighted by the sunset, maybe it hadn't been visible earlier. But I was inclined to think I'd just been looking in the wrong place all this time. It wasn't very distinct--the pictures I took hardly show it--but I could see the outline of Africa very clearly. I was almost giddy.
I've always been fascinated by Africa. I'm not sure why. I watched every movie about South Africa I could find when I was in high school. In college I collected some African sculptures and masks. I loved African music and had always wanted to go. To actually see the place was like a miracle to me.
I stayed until the castle started to close. Then I walked back toward the bus station. I still had more than an hour, but I thought I'd find something to eat.
Near the bus station was, I was amused to find, a Tex-Mex restaurant. It seemed wrong, but I just had to try it It was trussed up like an close imitation of a Mexican restaurant but everything seemed sort of off center. There were no chips and salsa on the table. There were no margaritas offered. And there were no condiments on the table. I felt it's authenticity was clearly suspect.
I had a burrito, which was decent but reminded me a bit of Mexican food in Iowa. They tried to do it, but they just didn't have the right ingredients. It tasted decent and I was satisfied. The rice was all wrong.
I got the bus back to Algeciras. I went straight back to my room,. but not before speculating about some people on the corner by my hostal. I thought at first they were a couple out on a date. Then I realized it was a man picking up a hooker. Nice neighborhood I'd moved into.
The next morning I got up bright and early and headed off to the port for the ferry. I was so excited I thought I might burst. To actually step foot in Africa...I mean,not the Africa of the movies I'd watched, but still, Africa, a new continent and one I'd been so eagerly anticipating.
I discovered, when I'd headed toward the port, that in fact Africa was right there. It was larger in Algeciras than in Tarifa--seemed much closer and so very big. I didn't know how I'd missed it yesterday--I seemed to have an African blind eye. Of course, I'd been walking with my back to it for most of yesterday. Today I was heading toward it.
I stayed outside for most of the ferry ride until I couldn't see Africa anymore. I assumed it was actually Ceuta I'd been seeing which was technically Spanish though on the continent of Africa. As we got past that, it was a lot of open water and I decided to go inside.
I got some breakfast from the concessions and sat and wrote in my journal. Eventually I felt we were getting close and I went back outside.
I saw Tangier before us, a big port city. I'd read about Tangier in my guidebooks as a somewhat scary place, Apparently it often turned people off going further into Morocco. Also you had to be careful about what you ate--no raw fruits or vegetables unless they'd been washed in distilled water, no food from food stands, no orange juice because it was often diluted with non-distilled water. And you really weren't supposed to go there as a white girl alone. A mostly Muslim country, I was warned that men would gawk at a white woman with no scarf on her head and no man beside her. I learned my one Arab word from the guidebooks--shuma--which you were supposed to shout if a man started grabbing you. It means "shame".
Well and truly excited and edgy, I arrived in Tangier. The guidebooks had said to know exactly where you were going when leaving the port as that was where people would most try to take advantage of you. I had my map and I strode confidently down the street and out of the port area.
Confident or not, every few feet a man would mutter under his breath to me. Often it was just hello. Sometimes they would try several languages trying to figure out which I spoke. Other times I had no idea what was being said but felt I was probably better off not knowing.
I continued along, realizing soon that I was lost. That was the last thing I wanted to be in Tangier. I also had no local money, just some euros. I needed and ATM and my guidebooks had led me to believe they were somewhat scarce.
I walked uphill, carefully ignoring men who were possibly offering to help me find my way but seemed rather ore suspicious than that. I found myself in an odd sort of businessy district and both men and women were looking at me oddly.
I found an ATM eventually and got some dirhams, the local currency. I was singing to myself "You Can Call Me Al" Paul Simon--
"A man walks down the street
It's a street in a strange world...
He doesn't speak the language
He holds no currency..."
From there I found my way, figuring out which direction seemed most likely to be the way then recognizing street names from my map.
I looked around carefully, trying not to make eye contact with anyone, and surveyed the locals. It was interesting--it wasn't just women in scarves and kaftans, men in those little hats and long beards. There would be a young woman in a scarf walking down the street arm in arm with a bareheaded woman with tight pants and heels. There were plenty of women wearing scarves and kaftans but with make up and tight pants and hip shoes underneath.
I ended up in the Place de France, where I'd been heading, and saw Gran Cafe de Paris, where there were rendezvous between spies in WWII. They were all men in the cafe and I didn't have the guts to go in. Most of the cafes were filled with men, and the looks from men were so oppressive just walking down the street, I couldn't face the idea of dealing with them close up and stationary.
From there I walked down toward the Medina. A man followed me for a couple of blocks, asking if I was every nationality he could think of. "French? Spanish? English? American? Turkish?" etc., etc.... He even asked if I was Moroccan. Finally I got so fed up, just as I was passing a photo shop, I slipped in. Luckily the person at the counter was involved with other customers so I just lurked near the doorway until the man had gone.
I continued walking down to the Grand Socco--the main marketplace. It was made up of a large cement area with lots of booths and carts and tables where veggies, fruit, and random crap was being sold. From there a starburst of little streets spread out filled with stores and overhung with rugs and kaftans and scarves.
There were women at tables piled high with Moroccan breads--big rounds of soft bread you break off. There were stalls with rows of dates and nuts. There were people with blankets on the ground covered with bags of spices. People squeezing oranges for fresh orange juice (diluted with questionable water). Then ceramics, wood inlaid boxes, stuffed camels, wood elephants, kaftans, scarves, shoes, slippers, jewelry, rugs, tile tables, teapots, wood tables. There was a lot of crap, flea market stuff like cheap underwear, tapes, plastic kids' toys, just useless cheap manufactured stuff.
There were lots of pastry shops--Moroccan pastries are heavy on the honey. One pastry shop's display window was completely covered in bees.
I walked up and down streets, ignoring everyone no matter what language they spoke to me, pretending to be deaf or mute in my head. I went into a couple of shops but didn't feel comfortable buying anything. I wasn't ready to bargain.
I followed a sign to "musee" and also "palace". I knew there was a palace in one part of the Medina I'd hoped to to to and also a mosque I'd hoped to peer into. There were no non-Muslims allowed in the mosques, so peering in was all I could hope for.
I climbed a lot of stairs, following what I'd thought was the direction. I had some mini-croissants in my bag which I'd bought from a vending machine. I ate them to fight off low blood sugar and kept plugging on. Tangier is very hilly, a little like San Francisco, but I think even more so. It was also very hot.
I walked up to what turned out to be the Kasbah, which is where I thought I was going, surprisingly. When I got up there, I foolishly pulled out a map. As I was looking at it, a guy said in English, "this is the entry to the Kasbah." I nodded but tried to ignore him. I walked on through the entry, unfortunately the same way he was going.
He kept talking to me as I looked around, pointing out buildings and telling me what they were. There wasn't a palace that was open, unfortunately. I just kept nodding and taking pictures, trying to ignore him.
I started to walk back the way I'd come but he said, "that way is better." I walked in the way he'd indicated, but kept trying to ignore him. He walked with me, telling me what things were. I told him I didn't need a guide. He said that he was a student and they just liked to help tourists. I didn't buy it, but aside from breaking into a run, I didn't know how to shake him.
Ultimately he was interesting. He told me what buildings were, showed me a mosque (from the outside), took me down streets I probably wouldn't have gone down, showed me the weavers of kaftans on the stairs. Then he pointed out that, while the men were still staring, they were leaving me alone now that I was with him. I gave in. I decided I would give him whatever money I felt I could afford and deal with him. I still felt a little uncomfortable--I assumed it was money he was after, but our relationship wasn't quite clear. I was careful not to go into any private place alone with him. He was young and thin and not particularly menacing. I figured I could take him if I had to.
He showed me a beautiful view through a gate in the wall around the Kasbah. He took me up to a cafe that had a good view of Tangier and asked if I wanted a drink. I said no, after looking at the view.
Next he told me he'd take me to what I thought he said was an art school where there were Berber women with tattoos on their faces who did weaving and such. Sounded cool to me. He ended up taking me to a place called "The Art Shop", a store where they sold kaftans and rugs and such. It finally started to dawn on me that he was taking me to places that probably gave him a commission or something. I felt a little better understanding our relationship.
The store owner asked me to sit and have tea. I tried to say no but he said it was traditional and my guide said, "don't be shy" so I sat. I'd been wanting to try the Moroccan tea and had been too afraid to go into cafes, so this was my chance. I made sure it was made with purified water then tried it. Moroccan tea is green tea with mint and sugar. It's so tasty.
Once he brought the tea, they started rolling out rugs in front of me. I was at the end of a long rectangular room whose walls were draped in rugs and they were laying them out in the long space in front of me. I told my guide that I didn't have much money and had no space for rugs. They kept saying just look, no pressure.
They had traditional Moroccan wool rugs, but the rugs they showed me were Berber. The man told me they were made of camel wool from around the neck and silk sometimes, dyed with vegetable dyes. They're made with lots of individual knots--"women's work" he said. The rugs were beautiful--vibrant colors and intricate work. Lots of different patterns and colors. I admired a turquoise one which was made with silk but kept my mouth shut.
There was a second man, who'd been laying out the rugs. I repeated that I had no space to carry a rug--believe me, there was nothing bigger than a shirt going in my backpack at this point. The man said, "They roll very small, like sandwich." I started to laugh, repeating "like sandwich!" and my guide laughed, too, though I'm not sure he got the joke.
Finally I gave in and asked about prices. I asked how much for the smallest. The man told me 1200 dirhams. That's about $120. I said it was too much. I asked about another that turned out to be 1600 dirhams. I really didn't need a rug and I had doubts about the sandwich, so I said no.
I told them I only had 400 dirham (I had 500, but I thought 400 was more than enough to spend on something I didn't need) and that I was a student, it was all I could spend. He said no, he could come down on the price, but not that much. I said it was all I had. He tried to offer me a different rug for 800 dirhams. I said no, I had 400 and that was all. He pushed another rug, but I said no, I liked the turquoise one. He kept trying to bring me up and I kept shaking my head.
I finally came up to 500, then wouldn't budge. He told me he took credit cards, but I said no. He kept saying "what's your highest price" to which I responded 500, over and over again. I'd asked the price of another rug, a red one, that I liked a lot. Finally he picked it up and tried to bring me up in price a little more. I refused. I didn't think there was a chance he'd come down to 500, which was what I wanted because I didn't really want a rug. I was getting caught up in the bargaining madness, though.
He kept saying how I should want a rug as a memento, every time I said I didn't need a rug. I told him I didn't need mementos, I had pictures. My guide was starting to laugh at my stubbornness. Finally the man made a disgusted wave and told the rug roller to give me the red rug for 500. I was taken aback. I watched as the man rolled the rug up much smaller than I would have expected. Not quite sandwich size.
When we left, my guide told me I got a very good price--he seemed genuinely impressed and I think I did a good job.
My guide asked me if I wanted to go to a restaurant to get something to eat. I told him I didn't have any more money, I'd given it all to the rug dealer. He took me to a virtually hidden ATM on one of the Grand Socco streets and I got money. As we walked through the Grand Socco, I saw an enormous sheep with curled horns. It was just grazing in the market, like a dog or a cat just wandering. I said, and I quote, "A sheep!" My guide was bemused. He claimed that families kept domesticated sheep, just like dogs--"not like in the mountains where they are afraid of people."
He took me to a restaurant that was clearly a tourist place, just a few tables filled and all with Americans. It still had an authentic feel to it and I was glad to be going to a restaurant and one where they spoke english. I really wanted to try Moroccan food but wanted to be sure it was safe and hadn't had the guts to go into any restaurants alone. I'd even considered the McDonalds I saw in the distance up the hill.
It was 120 dirhams for a meal, which is about what I would pay when I splurged in Spain. I wasn't sure what to do with my guide, so I asked if he wanted to join me. He shook his head and disappeared fairly quickly. I had a feeling he'd be back.
I told the man, who spoke good english, that I was a vegetarian and he told me he'd bring me a little of everything with no meat. They gave me some of the bread I'd seen sold in the Grand Socco and some very good olives. I ate a lot of them.
The next course was soup called harira, which is a chickpea soup with a sort of tomato-y base and short thin little noodles in it and something green which might have been spinach.
Next was a vegetable salad. I hoped for the best, that they'd been properly cleaned. There were cucumbers, beets, green peppers, luttuce, rice, shredded carrots, and a short of carrot and potato salad that reminded me of mayonaise-y salads from the midwest. The last was actually the best part.
Last was couscous with cabbage and carrots. The couscous were great, the texture was fabulous. The cabbage was surprisingly good as well. It was a tasty meal.
The couple next to me, who were American, had a guide who showed up toward the end of my meal--right at the end of theirs. He was very tall and in a kaftan and fez. He came in in an imperious way, said bonjour to me, then asked them how the food was. I wondered for a moment if he was the owner. He started telling them about all the pictures that were on the walls, about the places depicted in them, places in Morocco. Then he sat down with the couple and I started to realize he was a guide. He was quite a character, far more interesting than my guide. But if that man had come up to me, I would have shoo-ed him off immediately, instead of the uncertainty I'd had with my non-guide looking guide.
My guide came in, possibly afraid the other guide would try to steal me, and asked if I was done. I was and I paid and left. I asked my guide where we were going next. He said "a pharmacy of spices." So he took me there and we went in. The man inside sat me down and told me he would give me a small demonstration--5 minutes. I agreed.
He had me smell various jars--something he called 5 spices which is used a lot, then curry, saffran, the tea they drink. He showed me two different kidns of saffran--yellow that's just used for color and a red powdery saffran that when you add water turns yellow. He put some black stuff in a cloth and told me it was for headaches and also to stop snoring. He held it up and I went to sniff. He reached out and plugged one of my nostrils and had me sniff. I startled when he did. Then he did it with the other nostril and I sniffed a bit but pulled away. I didn't inhale much--it was too weird. He asked if I felt anything and when I said no, he said I hadn't sniffed enough. He started to come at me again but I waved him off. I told him I don't like people touching my nose. Which was true. But I also didn't know what I was inhaling and that makes me nervous.
He showed me a salve made from saffran for chapped lips. He rubbed musk on my arm--said it was used as perfume or in clothing. It was sort of solid and waxy. The put a little orange oil on my hand and said it was used to help you sleep or even in milk before bed. I liked the smells, especially the musk, which he also called amber.
When he was done, he showed me where everything was on the shelves so I could look and buy if I liked. I decided to get the 5 spices for my friend Angie, and the musk and lip salve for myself. I bargained with him a little, though I didn't get quite as good a deal as the rug I think.
I told my guide that he was making me spend more than I'd meant to. He just took me off to another shop where he said I could buy gifts. I happily followed along.
I looked at jewelry in the new store. The owner came over, a man with few teeth named Mustafa, and asked if I liked to see table covers and cushions and rugs. I said I couldn't buy anything else, I'd already bought a rug, but he said "just look, no obligation". Like a sheep I followed him upstairs.
He sat me down and started showing me all these lovely large bedspreads and table cloths and table covers and cushions. They had lots of gold thread and beautiful patterns. I kept saying no. I really had absolutely no use for any of them and absolutely no room. He told me they were Berber, like my rug.
Finally, showing weakness, I asked the price of a small table cover/cusion cover that I liked. He showed me that it rolled up very small and I thought it might make a nice gift for Susan, my co-worker who had just gotten married. It was 1200 or 1400 dirhams. I said no. I said I had 20 euros or 180 dirhams and that was it. The 20 euros I'd been saving for when I got back to Spain. It turned out a lot of the places in Morocco took euros. He kept going down in price and trying to get me to meet him in the middle. He kept trying to get me to combine the euros and dirhams. I refused, saying 20 euros or 180 dirhams. I kept saying I didn't need it; that I'd just be getting it because it was pretty. Stubbornness seems to be a good bargaining strategy for me.
Finally he pulled out another square table cover and said 45 euros. I said no. I kept saying no until he gave it to me for 20 euros. I just laughed. The second thing I hadn't needed but bought anyway. Ultimately I was very glad I bought it--Susan liked it very much and used it at her wedding reception.
Mustafa gave me tea as well, during his hard-sell. I wished I'd bought some from the spice guy. He rolled up the table cover, which did roll up pretty small--small enough to fit in my day bag. I went back downstairs and looked at jewelry.
He tried to get me to buy some jewelry. I offered him a ridiculously low amount for several items (80 dirhams for things he wanted 25 euros for) then left when he wouldn't accept the price. I thought he might come after me, but he didn't. I hadn't been that excited by the things, luckily.
My guide took me back up to the Kasbah then, trying to take me to a cafe where he said they had music. He told me that really only men went to the cafes, but he was taking me there anyway. I looked inside, but it was pretty much empty and there was no music. I didn't really want to sit and drink so I told him I wouldn't stay.
He tried to take me to a house where a woman supposedly had Picassos, but she wasn't there. Then he was going to take me to a museum, but it wasn't open. He seemed a bit lost, like he was out of places to take me. He tried to get me to go back to the cafe or to the jewelry guy, but I said no. He showed me two more views then I said he could just take me back to the port. I was tired of walking up and down hills and I knew I'd exhausted his knowledge. I was ready to go home. I felt I'd gotten the whirlwind idea of Tangier. I'd absorbed enough.
He took me down to the port and I gave him all the dirhams I had left, except for one coin I wanted as a souvenir. It was 150 dirhams--$15 for about 3 hours of work. Not great pay, but I hadn't asked for him and I expected he'd get some commissions. We hadn't established a price, so he was lucky to get anything.
I was actually quite glad for him--who knows if I'd have done anything or gotten any of the things I did if he hadn't been there. I might have eaten at McDonalds, never bought anything, and ended up with 500 dirhams I couldn't exchange back to euros. I might have been so oppressed by the men that I would have left early. Or maybe I would have had a completely different experience but just as good an experience. Who knows. but I certainly never would have found the rug guy, the spice guy, or the table cloth guy. I was grateful to my guide.
At the port I bought my return ticket then went to the ferry. The gentlemen who sold me the ticket were extremely nice, gave me all the instructions I needed, helped me fill otu my customs form, showed me where to get my passport stamped and where the boat was. They were the nicest men I'd met the whole time I'd been there. I was feeling better about Morocco as I left than I had during the first part of the time I'd been there.
I was happy to arrive back in Spain, tired with blisters on my feet, but having accomplished a long desired trip. At the time it was something I was glad to have done, but glad it was over. Now, writing about it, I'm thinking about when I can go back and try again. I walked my weary feet back to my hostal in Algeciras and collapsed.
I packed up the next morning after tossing and turning all night for some reason. My rug was tied up tightly with green string in a purple plastic bag with handles. I ran one of the straps of my backpack through the handles and was barely able to get another strap around the roll of the rug itself, on the outside of the bag. It was surprisingly solid and I was pleased. It would work for my remaining few days.
I walked to port to drop off my backpack. I discovered the addition of the rug made me enough wider that I kept bumping into things. It was a mantra while I walked--"wider, wider"--to remind myself. I put my backpack in a locker, bought a ticket on the nightbus to Alicante--my next destination--then headed off to the bus station.
On the way, I noticed there was a market going on. I wandered in and explored--the usual sort of thing was being sold; fruits and vegetables, spices, cheeses, meats, big piles of octopus, etc. I was thinking about buying some cheese for my dad, he loves cheese, but decided to wait. I still had a couple of days of travel ahead of me. Better not to risk spoilage and melting in the heat. I got a couple of little honey pastries for breakfast then returned to my plan of the bus station.
My plan for the day was Gibraltar. I'd always wanted to see Gibraltar, though I'm not sure why. I think it interested me for a couple of reasons. One was the idea of an English city in the South of Spain. England owns Gibraltar. It was much contested for something like 25 years. Spain wanted it back and refused to let anyone cross its borders. The only way anyone got in or out was by plane. Another reason was the apes. There are apes living on the Rock of Gibraltar--they're apes native to Morocco and I think they were brought in originally something like 100 years ago. They were in danger of becoming extinct during Churchill's time and he ordered them replenished. They've been doing pretty well ever since.
Mostly I just wanted to walk down the Rock and explore. I was really looking forward to it. It was sprinkling a little bit, but I was hoping for the best.
I got the bus to Gibraltar and arrived in La Linea. La Linea was just on the Spanish side of Gibraltar. You couldn't take the bus straight into Gibraltar from Spain--you had to get off and walk in, going through passport control. It had started to rain a little heavier and I was pretty wet already by the time I got through customs.
Determined, I got on a bus and took Rick Steve's suggested self-guided bus tour of Gibraltar. I saw statues and fountains and buildings, all pointed out by Rick and seen through a rain-dotted window.
I got out at the Cable Car and got my ticket to go up. I was pretty wet now, and starting to accept that I was just going to be wet while there. I took the cable car up the Rock.
The cable car swung from the cables, not like a funicular which is stably on the side of a hill. It was a little disconcerting--like an amusement park ride. I got to the top--which takes you to a restaurant and a shop that are supposed to have fabulous views--and we were deep in fog. I couldn't see a thing. I decided to eat. I paid 14 euros for decent cod and chips and salad. I would have spent less if I'd had pounds.
I sat and ate, admittedly hoping the rain might let up a bit. But I wasn't letting myself be dragged down by the rain. I finally headed out, zipping up my rainjacket, tightening my hood.
I walked down toward the Ape's Den, hoping I might see one despite the rain. I wasn't hopeful. It felt kind of creepy--like Jurassic Park or Alien or something--walking along this road alone in the fog, not seeing more than 20 feet in front of me, knowing there were apes out there but not really knowing what they would look like, how big they were; knowing they jump on cars and onto tourists' heads, wondering when one might pop out at me.
As it turned out, I saw them right at the gate to the Ape's Den. I'd been reading the signs saying don't feed them, keep your distance, they might bite, not responsible for personal items lost (apparently they're kleptomaniacs and will steal things from tourists). When I saw them, it was somewhat anticlimactic. They were rather small, maybe two feet sitting down. There were three adults and a couple of small ones. There was a baby on the back of one of the adults. They were very cute, eating fruit. I kept my distance, taking pictures.
A van pulled up after a minute and a family with a boy and a girl walked up. When the van stopped by the gate, a couple of the apes jumped up on top of it. A guy got out of the van and, in a British accent, asked the family if they wanted a picture with one of the apes on the kids' shoulders. He got a small ape up on both of the kids' shoulders, the kids looking a little uncertain, and the parents got pictures. I kept thinking about the signs saying not to get too close, that they might bite, etc.
The van man then went back to the van and started waving his umbrella at the apes on the roof, trying to get them off. They hung off the side, away from the umbrella. Eventually he got them off, but when he turned around again, they got back on. He had to do it a couple of times, to get them off. He told the family that the apes would steal the mirrors if he let them.
Once done with the apes, I decided to keep walking down. My pants were still dry, that being my guide for how much I was willing to do. If I started getting too wet, I was going to get back on the cable car instead of walking down.
I went into St. Michael's Cave, a cave covered in stalagmites and lit for maximum effect. It was pretty cool--it looked almost fake, plasticky. But it was real. Stalagmites were everywhere.
I decided from there to give the Siege tunnels a shot--they were used as defense tunnels during various battles. I really wanted to see them. So I headed out. My pants were still dry.
It was fine for awhile. I enjoyed that I was walking down the Rock of Gibraltar, it seemed really cool. Then it started to rain harder. My pants started getting wet. It was taking a long time to get there--I wondered if I'd taken the wrong path. I started to think I'd just go back to the cable car. But I couldn't figure out the right road. So I just kept going. The last thing I wanted was to get lost. There was no public transportation except the cable car, so if I got lost, I had no way of getting out except by continuing to walk.
I got wetter as I walked around the rock, I guess there was less protection. It was getting later and I knew I wouldn't make the last cable car even if I found the right path. So I just kept walking. My feet were slipping in my wet sandals as I walked downhill, to the point that my toes were sometimes touching the pavement.
I finally got to the Siege Tunnels and passed them by. I was getting very unhappy and just wanted to get down the Rock. I was soaking wet. I kept going, passing up a little castle as I neared the bottom, just wanting to keep going.
I walked sideways like a crab sometimes, due to my sandal problems, and eventually got to Castle Street, which starts as Castle Steps which is all stairs. I was never so relieved to see stairs. Finally my sandals weren't slipping. I walked down and finally reached flat land. I'd been dreaming of dry clothes, and came very close to buying some, but it was raining still and I knew I'd just be wet again soon.
I walked toward customs, trying to find the street I'd come in on so I could catch the bus. I just kept walking, never finding the bus. I was soaking wet (did I mention that before?) and the rain had turned torrential. It felt like a tropical storm, winds belting me with rain as I walked as quickly as I could toward Spain.
Eventually I got to Spain, got to La Linea, got my bus ticket, and sat dripping waiting for the bus. I kept wringing out my pants but they never seemed to stop wringing. I got on the bus, knowing no one would be able to sit in my seat for hours until it dried. I didn't care.
When I finally got to the port in Algeciras, I was shivvering like crazy, still soaked, and desperate for dry clothes. I got my backpack, went into a restroom, took the handicapped stall, and stripped. I pulled out a towel and dried off, put on dry clothes, and couldn't remember the last time I'd felt so relieved. Oh yeah, when I got back from Farol. How soon I forget...
The night bus was unpleasant, but ultimately painless. The driver kept his window open and played loud Spanish pop music to keep himself awake. Unfortunately, the purpose of a night bus is for the riders to sleep. Also, the seats were almost impossible to get comfortable in. The only reason I was able to sleep was my incredible tiredness from my freezing day and my tossing and turning the night before.
I arrived in Alicante, on the Costa Blanca, at 7 a.m. Alicante was my last ditch effort to get some sun and sand time. I had one day--leaving the next morning for Barcelona. I walked into the bus station and sat down to wait for it to be a little later so I could call some hostals. There were two girls in the seats behind me. One of them asked if I spoke English then told me that a policeman had told them there were 3 men patrolling the station looking to steal bags. The girls had been in the station since 5 a.m. and had watched the men doing suspicious things. They wanted to warn me.
One of the girls was Australian and the other Hungarian. The Australian had been living with the other in Hungary for awhile. She'd been travelling since May, had gone to VietNam and Thailand then Greece with the Hungarian girl and Italy and now Spain. They were going to Morocco next. I chatted with them for awhile, until about 8:30 when the girls decided to head into town. They were tired of waiting in the station. I decided to wait a little longer so I could make my calls. I didn't have the energy to be wandering aimlessly.
I got a room easily and headed off to my hostal. It was a nice place, little room with a terrace. I dumped my things then headed back out. It wasn't quite 10 so I walked around, found a pasteleria and had an espinaca empanadilla which was very tasty. I found the main drag and looked at jewelry stores and such. There was a KFC--first time I'd seen one in Spain.
I went to the TI and got info on trains to Barcelona. I got a map. I headed back in the general direction of my hostal, where there was a modern art museum just up the street a bit. It was mostly Valencian artists--abstracts and lost of sculpture/installations. There were some very nice pieces. They were supposed to have a Dali, but it wasn't on exhibit.
From there I headed to the beach, deciding I'd better see it while it wasn't raining. The sky was looking ominous. I walked along the beach, wading in the water, and it was so warm. I was on the Meditterranean now. I would have swum, rain or no, but the Red Cross raised a flag--I asked what it was and the man told me it meant it was too dangerous to swim. So much for my last beach day.
As I was walking back up the beach, back toward town, I saw sand sculptures. Someone had made all these wonderful sand sculptures--turtles and whales and a man on a bench and a miniature of the castle in Alicante, etc. There was a place where you were meant to give him coins--it was a beach version of street performing.
Up the beach a bit, another guy had made a sand dragon that was actually breathing fire. He'd put little Sterno canisters in the dragon's nose so that fire was coming out. It was very clever.
It was starting to rain and I decided to go back to my room. I'd had nothing but bad sleep the last couple of nights so I took a nap. I'd meant to sleep for about an hour but it turned into 3. I kept snoozing then looking out the window to see it was still raining steadily outside so I figured I wasn't missing much. It was actually really nice.
I got up in the late afternoon and went out looking for a cheap umbrella. It was still raining. I went to a couple of shops, but none of them had umbrellas. It starting pouring rain while I was in one and the nice store owner let me stay in his shop until it stopped, without even trying to sell me anything. I waited until it let up then bought some postcards from him and left. He also gave me directions to the elevator.
My Let's Go said there was an elevator up to the castle above the city on a hill. It said that the entrance was unmarked and difficult to find "at the white crosswalk across from the beach". I'd looked for the entrance earlier, but Let's Go was vaguer than it needed to be. Considering every crosswalk is white and the beach went on for at least a mile, it was kind of hard to locate the entrance. The man in the store told me it was just below the bridge over the road. I found it easily.
There was a long cement tunnel, which was a little eerie but at least was dry. Toward the end was a ticket machine for the elevator. I figured it out after a few minutes and got my ticket. I walked around and found the elevator and pushed the button. It took a long time, but eventually it showed up and inside was an old Spanish man. He spoke to me in Spanish, explaining when the last elevator was. I understood him so nodded and said ok. He talked a little more, which I sort of understood, about the rain and I muddled through. He didn't indicate that he knew I didn't speak much Spanish.
Up top I came out into the courtyard of the castle and it had stopped raining. I knew the castle housed a modern art collection, but I hadn't realized it was mostly sculpture. As I walked around the castle, sculptures would spring up everywhere. They were as much a part of the scenery as the castle itself. Most of them weren't that exciting, but there were a few that were interesting. Like the one of the woman with multiple breasts.
I loved the views looking out over the walls down toward the city with the sculptures creating an interesting foreground. There were also some small rooms of sculpture protected from the elements. I thought it was a creative twist on both art museums and castles. Not your average tourist spot.
A few minutes before the last elevator was to leave, I was walking in its general direction, checking out the last few sculptures on the way. I looked up and saw the little old Spanish elevator man waving at me to come. I hurried over, glad that he'd kept his eye out for me. I couldn't face the idea of walking down another hill in the rain.
When I got down, I wandered around the town, looking at stores. I was starting to think more about gifts so I was looking a little more seriously. I walked around a large part of the town, discovering Escada and a lot of joyerias with expensive jewelry. Apparently it was a fairly wealthy town. I also discovered that there are fetish shoe stores in Spain (keep an eye on Shoe of the Day).
I found a phone, too, and started calling around in Barcelona for a room for the following night. I wasn't holding out much hope, considering my last experience. I'd also asked the women in the bus station who had just come from Barcelona if it was still as crowded as ever. They'd told me it was, that they'd had a hard time finding a room.
I called at least 10 places, feeling remarkably facile with the language--for this one purpose at least. Finally I called a place just off of Placa Catalunya which is at the top of Las Ramblas and surprisingly they had a room. I would be paying 29 euros again, like my first night in Barcelona, but at least I had a place to stay.
It had started raining pretty steadily again so the terrace nightlife was pretty non-existent. I headed off to an internet cafe to email home about airport arrangements and write my last posting to my site (see last posting to site). I was there for a long time, finally leaving around 10:30 desperate for dinner.
I didn't go far, finding a somewhat touristy cafe nearby, near the beach, that had paella. I got Arroz Negro which is a sort of paella made with squid's ink which makes it black. It had mussels, shrimp, langostino, and tiny bits of crab claws. It wasn't fabulous, but I was happy to have tried it. I had a 1/2 bottle of local Alicante wine, which was tasty.
I walked back to my room, tired and slightly drunk, and went to bed. I had a 9:25 train to catch in the morning.
I got up at 7:30, having to pack up and get out in time to get to the station. As usual I thought I would catch a bus but ended up walking the whole way. I didn't end up leaving my room until 8:45, so it was a stressful fast walk to the station, which was way across town.
I got the station at about 9:10 and got my ticket quickly, a bottle of water, and ran for the train. There were people outside checking tickets and trying to sign people up for Euromed (the name of the fast train I was taking) credit cards and handing out candies from baskets. I got a feeling it was a slightly higher budget mode of transportation than I was used to.
The woman in the seat next to me got up right after the train left the station and never came back, so I had the seats to myself for a lot of the time. They passed out earphones shortly after the trip began. In the pocket of the seatback in front of me was a card explaining all the luxuries of Euromed. There was radio service and they'd be showing a documentary and a movie later. There was a cafe car where I could get a sandwich (which I was oh-so-grateful for since I hadn't gotten breakfast). The train also made fewer stops than normal. It would only take about 4 hours to get to Barcelona.
I got a bocadillo and a Coke and felt much better. I took some pictures out the window of the landscape. There were lots of big rocky mountains and plateaus as well as farmland much of it partially covered in fog.
The documentary was about birds, in Spanish of course. I watched some of it, but didn't understand much. Then the movie came on--"Rat Race" dubbed in Spanish. I had never wanted to see it in English, despite various people telling me how funny it was. In Spanish it fascinated me. Whoopie Goldberg in a higher voice than usual and joking in Spanish was the most startling. Since so much of the movie is sight gags, I figure I understood the movie about as well as I would have in English. Mr. Bean was just as annoying in Spanish as he ever is.
It was sunny and beautiful in Barcelona and while I was sad to be leaving, I was very cheerful all day. The train had been pleasant, the weather was gorgeous, and I could finally shop!
Space being what it was, and being concerned about money, I had been so sparing in my purchases that it sometimes depressed me. I wanted some things so much but just couldn't carry them. Now it was my last day and I didn't have to carry anything any further than the airport. And I had more money left than I expected. I had a few sights to see, but then I was going shopping.
My room in the Residencial Victoria was nice, light and pleasant with a little terrace. The man who ran it was very nice, the place was clean, and there was a kitchen I could use, if I'd wanted to. I thought about what might have happened if I'd found that place when I first arrived in Spain. I might have stayed more than one night, changing the whole tenor of my trip. I was ultimately glad things had happened they way they did--I might not have gotten to Tangier or missed a wonderful day in San Sebastian if I'd done things differently.
I went to the TI to find out if there was some way to get to the airport the next morning in time for my flight--it left at 7 a.m. Turned out there was a shuttle at 5:30 a.m. so I thought I'd try it--it was a lot cheaper than a taxi and I hoped the airport wouldn't be crowded at that hour. I'd lucked out on that as well as the shuttle left from Placa Catalunya, just a couple of blocks from my Residencial.
I headed off toward the Catedral de la Santa Creu then, my main site to see. I'd been fascinated for some reason by the tale of Saint Eulalia, the patron saint of the Cathedral in Barcelona. Eulalia was 13 when she was martyred. She was tortured 13 times for her faith before she died. In her memory, there are always 13 white geese in the courtyard of the Cathedral. They also acted as an alarm system in the old days, alerting the priest on duty when someone tried to break in.
The Cathedral was huge and beautiful. Inside there was a choir singing. I walked around, looking at altars and relics. I saw the geese. My favorite part, though, was the candle vending machine. For some reason it struck me as enormously amusing. But why not? It's a cathedral, people need candles, why not a vending machine?
Ouside the Cathedral as I left was a small jazz group playing for the tourists. They were wonderful. It was a great atmosphere--there was flea market going on, too. So there was this bustling market in the plaza, then a jazz band standing in front of this enormous beautiful Cathedral, lots of happy tourists listening and shopping and enjoying themselves. I watched for awhile then gave the musicians a two euro coin and wandered off.
In the next couple of hours I bought myself a pair of shoes (see today's Shoe of the Day), a pair of shoes for my friend Angie, a purse for my mom, some cheese for my dad, a vase for my friend Andrew who had gotten married while I was in Spain, a couple of flamenco CDs, and an extra bag to carry all my purchases home (including my rug). I had such a ball.
After dropping all of that off at the Residencial, I headed off for one more item. My sister had asked me to trek to a little place she knew that sold authentic Absinthe. You could buy weaker, legal versions in any liquor store, but the real Absinthe was illegal and hard to find. It was like searching for pot in Nob Hill. You have to know where to look.
Suffice to say, after several wrong turns, a couple of extra metro rides, and a long walk in a questionable part of town in which sirens expressed the mood of the neighborhood, I found the place she'd sent me to only to find it was closed. I made my way back to tourist-friendly Barcelona doubletime.
At about 10:30 I made my way to El Qatre Gats, where Picasso used to hang out, hoping to get some dinner. Peering inside, I decided I needed to just get my last bocadillo for the trip and head home. I was exhausted and dinner at the Gats would take me at least until midnight. I should have done it, but I just couldn't. I needed not to sleep through my alarm in the morning. I took a picture of it and left.
I got a bocadillo at Pans & Co., the place where I'd eaten my first night in Barcelona, and a coke. I took them back to my room. I took a quick shower then ate my dinner while packing up. Everything fit neatly in my two bags, with a little room to spare. It was probably about midnight when I went to sleep, my alarm close by, trying to program my body to let itself wake up to the alarm. I've been known to turn my alarm off when I'm tired enough.
I got up on time the next morning, got to the shuttle on time, found no line at the airport, and everything went smoothly. I shopped at duty free, buying my dad a bottle of sherry he'd asked for and a few other items which I can't mention until after Christmas.
I slept a little on the flight to Heathrow, but not again for the rest of the trip. I wrote in my journal, watched a million movies, and watched my ankles swell. I seemed to be about as excited to go home as I had been to leave it.
Of course I had mixed feelings. I was very sad to leave Spain. There was so much more I'd wanted to see; I could easily have stayed another month or more. I was never homesick while there, and I was never eager to have the trip over with.
But there's always something nice about knowing you're going back to your own bed. To knowing your shower will be hot. To having a whole wardrobe to choose from. To seeing friends and family. To going about your usual life. I had felt like I was in a rut before I left on my trip. Now the rut didn't seem quite so rutty--it seemed like my life. And I couldn't wait to give everyone their presents and tell everyone my stories.
I arrived in SF around 5 p.m. PST, so about 2 a.m. Spanish time. I had gotten less than 5 hours sleep the night before, on top of not enough sleep for several nights before that, on top of a month of travelling and generally not enough sleep, on top of a 10 hour plane trip, on top of 17 hours in airports or in the air. So my parents took me to dinner. I was perky and excited, telling them about my trip, enjoying some American comfort food. Then they took me home and I unpacked and checked email and enjoyed my home. I was up until 10 p.m. I think I must have been delirious at that point. But I was clearly happy to be home.