Posts by Country

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Los Mayos



On Saturday, April 30th, the festival of Los Mayos began. Los Mayos - a festival celebrating the start of Spring - is basically a chance for locals to walk around eating and singing for a couple of days. After visiting with some locals in my pueblo, I headed off to Pedro Munoz to join Julio and the others for the main event.



We have the 30th                             I will paint your legs
of April finished                               your tiny feet
tomorrow May begins                      with many charms
beautiful and flowery.                      you are a sorceress.

Waiting we are                                 Sorceress you are
the light of the morning                   here's the lady
to see the sky open                           that (the name of the lady) is called
the sun on your face.                        from this aurora house.

Beautiful face painting                     Goodbye wallflower
a number to do                                  goodbye lily
to paint                                              farewell fleur de lis ("flower of the lily" - French royalty)          
don't bring brushes.                           goodbye beautiful rose.

Brushes or feathers                           We say goodbye
and one of yours                                but we're not leaving
you have to give to the beautiful       our hearts here we leave.
Imperial Eagle.

Imperial Eagle                                   If you are not satisfied
in sleep you rest                                 with this May you have been given
wake up if you sleep                          take the bottle... (original: "and have a drink")
and hear the couplet.                          and the Jamón serrano (cured Spanish ham)

... yeah, translating this was not easy! The singers in the video sang a different version but, if you listen real closely, you may be able to hear the crowds singing this version. By reading the lyrics you can actually get a feel for some of the major themes in Spanish festival culture: excitement, singing, community involvement, nostalgia and, maybe the most important, food!

 
It was a big night out with lots of chanting in the streets and eating tapas everywhere we went. Still, we got back at 3 am - which is pretty early by Spanish standards. The next day we went to a big show where dancers from all over Spain came to show off their local cultures' dancing styles. The dance styles were very lively and the clothing very colorful. It all makes for a rather entertaining atmosphere to say the least!



Friday, April 29, 2016

Parque de Attracciones



On Friday, April 8th, I rode up to Madrid again to stay at Preston's and the next day a bunch of us went to the local amusement park - el Parque de Attraciones. We spent a bit of time at the gates there trying to get a group discount and, after convincing a few random strangers to join our group, we got in for a few dollars less. We then went straight to the biggest roller coaster and waited in line. Well, it wasn't a super long line but I wasn't overly impressed with the thrill factor either. After having a go at the main attraction, we went on a few other rides - all of which had much shorter lines. All in all, I'd say that none of the rides really got me all that excited but, nevertheless, it was a nice, fun day and the wait times were pretty reasonable.



Over the next few weeks I went back and forth between Madrid and Belmonte a couple times for the meetings and some board game nights with friends in another neighborhood. Back in Belmonte I started swimming at the local pool in Las Pedroneras and spent some time getting to know my locality a bit better... and maybe too well - some local jokers put a dead bird in my bike!


Thursday, April 7, 2016

POP!



On Sunday, March 27th, the journey home continued from Madrid. It had been a reasonably safe journey with a low rate of serious problems... until now. I was about 13 kilometers from home when I heard a loud "POP!" and came to a stop. Not surprisingly, the sound had come from the back tire popping - I guess it was a good thing we decided to turn back when we did!


I continued riding along on the straightaway, and was even able to get up to 70 kph without any problems... until the last two kilometers. I had to make one turn before the final stretch into town and the flat tire didn't handle it well. For the last few minutes I found myself swerving all over the road... but still making progress at 50 kph! As I pulled into town some guys sitting out front of one of the bars started laughing and then stood up in surprise pointing excitedly at my back tire. I nodded in response, shrugged and continued on my way to my mechanic amigo - Luis. Luis took one look at the tire and shook his head disapprovingly - it was, of course, completely bald.



Over the next couple weeks I worked and recovered from the predominately successful journey around Spain while Luis worked on replacing the tire.


Saturday, March 26, 2016

Logroño!



On Friday, March 25th, we made our way over to Logroño - the wine capital of Spain. It just so happened that a friend of Preston's, who he knew from Texas but hadn't seen for a while, was visiting that very same day and we ran into him in the street! That friend had a local friend in Logroño who was happy to show us his favorite areas including one in particular that locals tend to frequent:



We had some good tapas and ice cream then tried to find a mechanic so we could salvage the rest of our trip... no luck. Well, that did it - we decided to cancel our travels through the Basque country in the north of Spain which, as it later turned out, would prove to be a very, very good call! Thankfully what happened next didn't change our new plan: we were heading back to Arnedillo for the night when I realized something very interesting - both of the brakes were working again! I later learned that the problem had likely been caused by overheating and that the fluids had simply had to re-condense. After the fluids regained pressure it was just a matter of applying the breaks and 'voilà' - back in action!



That evening we had another look at the hot pools (though they were a bit... nasty, so I don't think we went in) and then, the next day, we headed on to Madrid!


Thursday, March 24, 2016

Girona!



On Wednesday, March 23rd, we got the new battery in and continued on our way to Girona - the northernmost point of Catalonia - on the French border. We arrived at the home of Jose Félix and his family and he gave us the grand tour of Girona!


We had some pizza, visited with the church in Girona and climbed the wall overlooking the city. Then we went to some really unique shops and ate at a nice restaurant in the Jewish quarter or "Juderia" with some visiting ones from churches in other cities.


The next day we rode for over 10 hours to get to Arnedillo... it was quite dark when we arrived. Of course, we still had to find our camping spot so we rode around a bit until we found a mountain road. Unfortunately, this road was not for maxi scooters - it was rough. Moreover, it didn't have any areas tucked away and appeared to be a scenic walk that people would be up on early in the morning. So we headed back down the mountain and that's when my brakes went out. Well, one did but then other kept working long enough for us to get to the bottom.

We then took a track along the river (turned out it was more of a footpath) and ended up in a tunnel under the pueblo - this was pretty cool. Nevertheless, we were super tired and just wanted to find a spot to camp before the other brake went out. We went to the edge of town where we found a promising bushy area on a river but, alas, it was not satisfactory. We then went up another mountain, paved this time, but no dice. Finally, we got back on the main road heading out of town and, just like that, we found it. A pull off had a small path heading down to the river and, in the trees - under the cover of a cliff side - was a campsite previously used by other freedom campers - a beautiful and welcome sight to behold!


We quickly set up camp and went back into town to find the hot pools or "aguas termales". We talked to some locals at a bar where a friendly local gave us some advice and history on the pools - apparently they can get quite hot! Fortunately we were there when it hadn't rained too much (or too little?) so the water was a pretty comfortable temperature... if only a little crowded.



Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Barcelona!


On Sunday, March 20th, Preston and I hit the road on my little maxi scooter loaded down with all of our gear. We soon made our way up into the mountains and arrived at a small pueblo nestled in the hills called Montanejos. The steep drive was probably not the best thing for my little recently rebuilt moto but still well worth it.... hot springs.



Not ordinary springs - these are the "eternal youth" variety... or, at least, that's what the Arabic king Abu-Ceit thought. In the 13th century he built the springs for his favorite wives so that they could “forever maintain their youth and beauty” by way of the nutrients in the waters.



That night we camped out up the hill on one of the many random side roads that branch off into the hillside. This was Preston's first acampada libre or "wild camping" experience and it turned out to be a good one - open enough for setting up a good campsite yet hidden enough by the landscape and trees to insure that we wouldn't be stumbled upon by random passersby. The next day we had another go at the springs then got back on the bike for a ride up to Peniscola (pronounced "penny-scola").



That night we camped out in at another random spot up in the hills. Preston made a magnificent stew with our camping stove and I fashioned a trip cam  mount on the bike windscreen using duct tape!



We continued up to Barcelona where we ate some good Botifarra and then saw the Sagrada Familia and Park Güell - both designed by one of my favorite architects: Antoni Gaudí.



That evening we hit a bit of a snag... our battery died. At first the bike wouldn't start but we managed to roll charge / start it and get on our way out of the city center... at which point the lights started to dim and brighten. Just happy to be on our way, we didn't think much of it until the speedometer started jumping all over the place. Still, it was getting late and I wasn't about to risk what daylight we had left on a potentially complex problem... then it happened. As we were pulling into a small pueblo we lost power and the bike was dead. Now, as incredible as it may sound, we were just a block away from the only bike shop in, not just that pueblo, but any pueblo within 50 kilometers! Unfortunately, they were closing, but they were friendly (and they liked my custom cardboard "Acerbis" hand guards and trip cam mount) and, after showing us around town a bit, they directed us to a campground for the night.



Saturday, March 19, 2016

Las Falles



On Friday, March 18th, I rode over to Valencia to meet with Preston for our big trip around Spain - starting with Las Falles! We stayed the night at Oscar's and, the next day, we spent some time at the beach.



That night we went out to see more of the burning effigies at one of the most famous festivals in Spain - Las Falles! The crowds were massive and the air filled with various kinds of smoke... most from blowing up the giant artworks around the city. Getting around wasn't easy but we managed to park up just down from the biggest "falla" of them all. In fact, it was the biggest one they'd ever made! The next day we got on the bike to start our journey - destination: SPAIN!


Thursday, March 17, 2016

Moto X!



On Monday, March 7th, I taught a class with Isidro (our principal) and then had lunch on Wednesday at Anna's bodega (winery) with the rest of the faculty. It was a really cool place with a historical feel and lots of nice food and people.



After we ate they gave us a little tour around the silos and then I had to run in order to get to work over in Las Pedroneras on time. I missed out though because they went shooting afterward - something I'd like to have seen considering that everyone had had a few...

On Thursday I went to a cultural museum that my school had on. It showcased the local history and culture which was, as you often see in Spain, quite unique!



Later I had to fight Caja Rural again... this time it was because they blocked my account... I don't know why - probably just to show me how much of a valued client I was. Anyway, I called them up and asked why they were blocking my account and they hung up on me. Sure, I said "block-ay-ado" and I should have said "bl-O-ck-ay-ado" but I still feel it was an attempt by them to avoid doing their job... an experience that is more common in Spain than you'd believe. Also in Hong Kong.

I got the moto back from the shop that evening and, the next day, I took it over to the circuit to check out the local motocross scene... which was really just too cool. Now, I would have liked to have ridden my bike on the circuit but, seeing as I only had a maxi scooter, that wasn't gonna happen. Still, there's never a dull moment with Spanish people. I had a good time watching the stunts, meeting the other riders (and wannabe riders) and, of course, there's always some good food!


The next day we all did a fundraiser for a kid who needed a prosthetic. It was also a fun opportunity to ride - this time over to the next pueblo and back.



The next couple of days, I worked and planned the next big trip! Also, I watched the fruit vendors wake up the whole pueblo for the thousandth time...


Sunday, March 6, 2016

Mascletás


On Friday, March 4th, I dropped my bike off in Pedroneras and met with Maribel for another trip to Valencia. This time - Mascletas! Maribel introduced me to genuine Gallego bread (my new favorite) and we walked around looking at the city gates, festivities and more of the crazy Spanish murals that I've come to expect.


The next day I wandered around Valencia while Maribel was in classes and then, back at the apartment, she made me an awesome chicken lunch with the Gallego bread from the day before.


Finally, on day three, we went to check out the Mascletas! The following is a description of the event:
A mascletá usually consists of four parts:
  • Start: The show begins with both sound and visual effects.
  • Body: During the central part of the mascletà the intensity and volume goes up.
  • Terratrèmol (earthquake): The stronger fireworks, called masclets, burst in unison.
  • Air show: Intense aerial fireworks. They are always visible for spectators and are accompanied by colours.

Well, believe it or not, the description above doesn't really do justice to the intensity of the "earthquake". Rather, I would use the term "shock wave" to describe the sensation seeing as the impact of the pressure waves could literally be felt in the very core of ones being - no exaggeration. It was the most intense fireworks display I have ever seen in my life. 


Saturday, March 5, 2016

Spanishness



On Thursday, the 18th of February, I went on another excursion with my students. This time we went to Madrid to visit Santiago Bernabéu Stadium where the football (soccer) team Real Madrid plays their home games. This was a big deal for my students seeing as soccer is the center of their lives.



After seeing the stadium, my students and I went ice skating and then they went back home. Meanwhile, I stayed in Madrid and spent the next few days with friends from the church. On Sunday Preston and I were on our way to the train station when we stopped at the park. We saw some real authentic looking Spanish dancing and then Preston put on his own show with the swing musicians. After enjoying this unusual meeting of Spanish and American cultures, I got on a train to Guadalajara and met up with Cristina. A couple of days later I was back in Las Mesas watching my students giggle nervously and recoil in fear during an animal workshop with turtles, snakes and scorpions.



The following Thursday I rode over to Cuenca to talk to the Extranjeria about a potential work permit for the summer. Unfortunately, the visit was a waste of time... they had me drive for over an hour to talk to a guy who didn't know anything and he sent me to a lady who promptly sent me back to the guy and, in the end, they told me that they couldn't help me. Still, they had me set up an appointment so that I could come back and be disappointed again at a later date. I later found that they wanted to look at renewing my student visa even though I had been clear that my purpose was solely work related... Nevertheless, the trip wasn't a complete waste of time as I was able to meet up with some friends for a walk around the city and dinner at El Coto - a local favorite.


Sunday, February 7, 2016

Carnaval


























On Thursday, February 4th, I went to Madrid to pick up my British friend Anthony who was visiting for the weekend. That evening we spent the night at Preston's and, the next day, we bought Anthony a helmet for the journey back to my pueblo. After finding Anthony a restaurant that met his particular dietary preferences... and then waiting half an hour for him to figure out a way to position his headphones within his helmet (he's afraid of motorbikes and needed the distraction), we made our way back down to the heart of Castilla La Mancha.



















Before arriving in Belmonte, we made a stop near Saelices to see an old structure that had caught my eye a few times before. The next day we spent the morning grabbing stuff from the shop for breakfast, and visiting the Palacio Infante Don Juan Manuel, before heading over to the castle of Belmonte.























We had a look around inside and then made our way up to the tops of the castle walls for some views of the pueblo. After walking around the castle a bit more, and visiting the dark, forbidding dungeon below, we headed back so that we could make our way over to the other pueblos and take in the festivities of carnaval.

The next day we went to La Almarcha to catch a ride to the airport using Blablacar (ridesharing service) so that Anthony wouldn't have to endure another ride on the motorbike. On the way up to Madrid we enjoyed the company of a particularly cheerful Spaniard and, after a couple hours of traveling with him and his buddies, we managed to secure a ride back for me with another blablacar. So, Anthony finished his journey to the airport while I hurried over to meet the last car going back home.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

La Endiablada


























On Wednesday, February 3rd, I caught a ride with Julio to "La Endiablada" in Almonacid del Marquesado. Over the last month I had mostly been working and had even found a new teaching gig at an academy in Las Pedroneras. I also rebuilt the motor on the bike and opened an account with a new bank. Caja Rural CLM was seriously letting me down - almost four months and still no debit card or "keys" for checking my account online. They were also blocking my account each month so I had to call in for access to my monthly salary. Instead of continuing to play that game, I went and paid 20 euros to open an account with Liberbank and had all my stuff within a week!

Anyway, La Endiablada turned out to be a very interesting cultural experience (way better than dealing with Spanish banks!) and, apparently, it is the oldest tradition of any pueblo in Spain. Referred to as Los Diablos or "the Devils", the participants (all locals of the small pueblo of Almonacid del Marquesado) dress in colorful pajamas, tall hats and harnesses with giant cowbells and walk the streets making as much noise as physically possible. From what I understand, the tradition is based on a fear of demons and the concept that noisy marches around town will ward them off... a bit spooky, no? Certainly must be for those concerned about demons.


Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Andorra




















On  Friday, 1st of January, I arrived back in Madrid and went to Preston's to plan the next trip leaving the following day to a ski resort in Andorra. We booked a rental that night and, the next day, we met up with our British friend, Hannah. We then took the metro to the airport and picked up our surprisingly nice rental car (Renault Megane) which, at 50 bucks a week, was quite a deal. After picking up the fourth member of our group, Mike, we started our seven hour dash through the beautiful Spanish countryside.

























Even though we had only stopped twice (at a lake after entering Andorra and a supermarket in the town before the ski resort), we were a little late and found ourselves frantically searching for the people who were supposed to give us keys to our lodging. Fortunately, the owners were still around... just really difficult to locate. After finding our flat (also not super easy to find), we found some parking up the mountain where we wouldn't have to pay. This would later result in a bit of difficulty but was still worth it to save on daily parking.


























Over the next few days we went skiing every day and made the most of the decidedly budget unfriendly holiday. Granted, it was a deal at less than $500 each for several days of skiing with lodging and gear during the holiday season but, as teaching assistants with moderate income, the price we ultimately paid was still higher than we had hoped. In any case, we enjoyed our time at the beautiful and expansive resort which, being connected to a few other resorts, left us with more to explore than we even had time for.

























Well, as I said, our parking situation ended with something of a challenge as our car was buried under a considerable amount of snow! Now the 6th of January, classes were starting back up the next day and, seeing as it was already evening at this point, we were feeling a bit anxious about our situation. We hadn't even brought our gloves from the flat so we just did our best to sweep the windows clear and began rocking - forward and backward. Eventually, we were able to free ourselves from the snow bank and return to the flat. We quickly loaded up our stuff and hauled arse back to Madrid at speeds that approached 160 kph (100 mph)... a fine from one of the speed cams later arrived at my American address. Needless to say, I had earned it.



Thursday, December 31, 2015

Copenhagen


On Friday, December 25th, I flew from Madrid to Copenhagen, Denmark. Upon my arrival, I met up with my good friend Marcus and we set out to see some sites. First we went to Christiania, also known as "Freetown Christiania", for some backgammon.

The area itself, aside from the funky, hippy sort of vibe, has a pretty interesting history. It's a self-proclaimed autonomous neighborhood covering 84 acres regarded by civic authorities as a large commune. Apparently, a special law in 1989 transferred parts of the supervision from the municipality to the state. I guess this made some people unhappy as the area was abandoned temporarily in 2011 while the Danish government was deciding what to do with it.

After a couple games, we went to find a bike. The funny thing about Copenhagen is that there are so many bikes that you can literally find a busted one, fix it up and have a free bike! You just have to look for the yellow tape placed on the back tire by authorities which signifies that the bike has been officially abandoned. Marcus, with his history of bike recovery/repair, and resulting collection of tools, was able to sort me out with a bike in a matter of minutes.
The next day we went grocery shopping with some friends and cooked up a bunch of food for a traditional Christmas day feast. The following day we would be eating: mushroom bake, award winning bacon, meatballs, liver paste, hummus and a shot of intentionally bad snaps every hour. We also played a few games... the one I can mention here being the hidden almond game - a game where you get a prize if you find the almond in your food. The other games were just... creepy.

Over the next couple of days we biked around, made burgers, slept and I went to the Bakken - the oldest operating amusement park in the world. Opened in 1583, the park has a few rides and some things to see, but what I really liked about it was the forest out back. Considering that the park wasn't really open, I went straight back and started looking around for wildlife. It wasn't long before I found a whole herd of deer and, later, even more still.

Up to this point I had been really enjoying my visit to Copenhagen. Of course, we still had New Years Eve to celebrate. Marcus has friends all over the city (he's even moving closer so that he can imitate the cast of the show "Friends") so we had a big night ahead of us. First we went to dinner at Phillip's place, where we watched the queen give a botched speech, and then we went to Thomas' house and watched a traditional NYE special about a butler who gets drunk trying to serve a lady who keeps insisting that he "help" her finish the wine. He makes a solid effort to maintain his professionalism but, in the end, he just can't hold it together.

As the night continued we visited a number of Marcus' friends by bicycle and eventually ended at a nice apartment where we literally jumped into the New Year off of some chairs. The fireworks during this time were going full bore, like I've only seen in a short bursts during a show, but for over an hour! The last house was where I had to leave Marcus, as we were up quite late and he was still going hard, so I took my bike and rode it home on a flat tire and with no map... thankfully I remembered the station near Marcus' place "DR Byer" and was able to arrive back without a problem.


Thursday, December 24, 2015

El Escorial


On Thursday, 17th of December, I joined my colleagues for some paella at Julio's in Pedro Munóz just because. That's one of the great things about life in Spain - people don't need a reason to come together and enjoy good food. Like everyone else, Spaniard's have their special days for being with friends and family (though I reckon they have quite a few more than the rest of us), but they're also just incredibly sociable! I like to talk about the kids as an example. Kids in Spain have their video games and things just like the rest of the world, but they also spend a considerable amount of time just standing out on the street talking with their friends. I mean JUST talking... for hours. They do this so often that you literally see them everywhere you go. I seriously can't think of one time when I've seen kids in America standing on the street just chatting with their friends. I think we just enjoy being on the go so much that we can't stand the idea of just standing around talking. Of course, I suppose either case has its pros and cons.




The next day we went on an excursion with the students to El Escorial (Royal Seat of San Lorenzo de El Escorial), a large complex of royal buildings historically called home by the king of Spain. Completed in 1584, the site has a number of buildings, including a monastery, royal palace, museum, library, school, etc. Unsurprisingly, it took us the better part of a day to see the whole place.

























I spent the next couple days in Madrid and then took the bus back to Belmonte. Now only a couple days away from holidays, I started looking at travel destinations (flights around Europe are generally quite cheap and easy to come by even last minute). I already had a big trip planned for Andorra with friends from Madrid, but that wouldn't start till January 2nd, so I sent a message to my friend Marcus in Denmark about going to visit him in a couple days. Then, back in Las Mesas, the whole school had chocolate and held singing performances by the students.


The next day, having confirmed my trip to Denmark leaving the following day, I stopped in for a short visit with Julio and friends for Noche Buena (Christmas Eve dinner) and had some amazing food - Jamon, baked shrimp, mussels, roast lamb and cheesecake. Well, it was midnight before I finally hopped on the bike for my 3.5 hour ride to Madrid through fog and ice... the things you do to make a flight!