Saturday, June 1, 2013

Caminante no hay camino


The past couple of weeks have been incredibly busy, I've been packing, planning, taking finals and traveling so there hasn't been any chance for bloggage.  I'm going to have to do some retroactive blogging now, but just for a minute I have to bring it to the present for a little bit of reflection.

This is my last night in Cádiz and I just said, "Hasta mañana," to my host parents for the last time.  Rewind four and a half months to my first night here, after hours and hours of travel (and my first tortilla española) when I said goodnight to them for the very first time.  I can't help but think of all that has happened in those months, how much I have changed and grown, the invaluable friendships I've made and experiences I've had.  I feel so very grateful to have had this opportunity and to have shared it with wonderful people. 

That first night I went to bed incredibly overwhelmed and feeling like crying, mostly due to exhaustion, but also probably because I was a little terrified of my uncertain future--I had no idea what to expect from the coming months.  Now here I am, suddenly at that day four and a half months later, feeling like crying again, but this time for happiness and in awe of all of the wonderful things that I've been able to experience.

I'm not saying it's been all rainbows and butterflies, there have been a good deal of challenges and obstacles to maneuver, but overall this has been an absolutely, unimaginably wonderful experience and I cannot believe that it's coming to an end.  Tomorrow I'll take get on the night bus to Madrid and say adios to Cádiz, but none of it feels real yet.  From Madrid, I'm off to Berlin, when I start the month-long European travel extravaganza! 

Life, man.  Life.

Entonces ya está.  Ya me tengo que ir y seguir con la vida.  Me parece que las palabras de Antonio Machado son muy adecuadas en este momento de mi vida, "Caminante no hay camino, se hace camino al andar."  Somos todos caminantes, haciendonos nuestros caminos cada día, y ahora cambia la ruta de mi camino.  No puedo quedarme aquí, ni lo querría, porque hay que seguir caminando.

¡Así que brindemos a nuestros caminos y a la extraordinaria cosa que nos llama la vida! ¡Salud!

Carly, la viajera

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Last Excursion: La Doñana


Last weekend we took our last program excursion to La Doñana, a National Park about 3 hours from Cádiz.  On Friday we boarded our beloved Mercedes-Benz charter bus (affectionately referred to as "Benny") for the last time and drove west.

Someone was a little excited about the bus ride

Passing the time on the way there

I don't know if it was the pollen or the sandy ground, but I started sneezing pretty much on arrival and my eyes were so itchy I wanted to rip them right out of their sockets.  Despite the allergies, it was really nice to spend some a day outside of the city and log some solid nature-time.

Bird watching

Fisherman's houses like this are all over the beach. They live there year-round.

We took a 3-hour guided tour around the park in a jeep-like all-terrain vehicle, drove along the beach, through sand dunes, saw birds, flamingos, deer, and some jabalís (wild boars.)

A forest growing in between dunes.

The trip was a little exhausting for some people

The obligatory jumping photo...and the random lady in the background

Being flamingos (there are flamingos in the water back there)


The next morning we spent some time at the hotel's pool, then headed back to Cádiz.  It was a short little trip, but a nice break from narrow cobblestone streets and schoolwork.  At the same time though, it made me a bit homesick for the pacific northwest, I can't wait to get back to pine trees and snow-capped mountains.

Anyway, here's to nature, in all it's forms!



Thursday, May 16, 2013

La Feria de Jerez

¡Hola y'all!

So I've got a bit of catching up to do, blog-wise.  It's been a busy, test-filled couple of weeks since London, but lots of stuff worth blogging about has been happening.  Firstly, we have la Feria de Jerez.

For those of you unfamiliar with "Feria", I think the closest equivalent in the US would be a county fair, although that term definitely cheapens the event.  Feria consists of a collection of "casetas", which translates to "little house", which are basically temporary restaurant/bars with tables and dance floors.  In Jerez, entry into the casetas is free, unlike "la Feria de Abril" in Sevilla, where you typically need to have some kind of inside hook-up in order to go inside (you gotta know people.)  The casetas are set up in rows on a large lot, and people meander from one caseta to another, dancing, eating and sipping "rebujito", a mix of sherry and sprite.  Meanwhile, horse-drawn carriages pull paying customers around the fair--la Feria de Jerez is also often called la Feria del Caballo (Horse).

Photo by Anisa Jackson

On Wednesday, the fair's "Día de la mujer" (Women's Day), seven of us girls hopped on a bus with 35 other gaditana women, decked out in their flamenco dresses, complete with the iconic flower atop their heads.  About five minutes into the drive they all started singing songs and clapping and stomping along, including this one:

And this one: 

I've found that, generally speaking, the Spaniards have got serious rhythm.  I'm telling you, those flamenco clapping patterns are not simple, half an hour on the bus and I still felt like that kid in band that never could get on beat.

Photo by Merry Chris Sison

Once we arrived at Jerez, it was clear that these ladies would not be out of place, the vast majority of the ladies, whether young or old, were dressed up in their gitana garb.  I can't blame them, those dresses are flattering to every shape, talk about hugging your curves in all the right places.  Needless to say I really want a flamenco dress now.

We americanas split up from the rest of the ladies, who surely went to go dance the night away.  We drank a rebujito or two...

This gem captured by Krissa Johnson

Rode on the scariest ride there...

Photo by Anisa Jackson

Close-up of above. It was scary okay?

The "after" shot. Thanks Merry Chris for the photo.
Ate some churros con chocolate...

Photo by Merry Chris Sison

And saw the lights turn on when it got dark.  Pretty magical if you ask me, it definitely had a kind of Disneyland-vibe, but a lot less gimmicky.
Photo by Anisa Jackson

I'll admit that Feria was nothing like what I had expected.  Having been to Jerez once before for the espectáculo de caballos, I was just expecting a little rinky-dink kind of exhibition, but I was pleasantly surprised.  It felt very authentic, the people were all friendly, and it was clear that they took this very seriously.  One of my favorite parts was just standing outside the packed casetas and watching people dance la sevillana.
We were standing in line for the bathroom in one of the casetas and a man and woman nearby spontaneously started dancing together; they just exuded such pride and grace, and it was clear by the way they were grinning from ear to ear that they were having a ball.  The best part was that none of these people were professionals, they were just ordinary jerezanos that embraced their culture and tradition wholeheartedly.

Photo by Merry Chris Sison

So despite my uncertainty, la Feria de Jerez turned out to be one of my favorite experiences in Spain, I had a really enjoyable afternoon and evening there, I only wish we could have stayed and danced a little longer.

I also need to mention that the photos in this post are courtesy of my lovely program-mates, due to the fact that I decided to leave my camera at home for this little trip.  I realized that sometimes I get stuck behind the lens, and I just wanted to experience the moment without focusing on the documentation of every little thing.

Photo by Anisa Jackson

So here's to pleasant surprises and living in the moment!



Thursday, May 9, 2013

Part III: Left my heart in London

The final installment in the London series...

After the absolute madness of the previous day, it's safe to say that none of us expected much out of our last day in London, I mean, how do you top Dope Day?

Considering the fact that we went to bed around 8 am, I think it's pretty impressive that we were up and out of the door by 2pm.  We decided to find some breakfast near the hostel and ended up at a little café outside the tube station.  I'm using the term breakfast very loosely here, because it was well past any respectable breakfast-time.  Now, I know the English aren't really famous for their food, but up until this point all the food I had eaten was nothing less than incredible (Indian, coffee, crumpets.)  Well, we went from incredible to inedible.

The only way to explain it is that it was the most impressively bland food I have ever tasted.  I feel a little bad saying that because the people there were really nice to us, but the food was just plain bad.  While we reluctantly ate our tasteless breakfast, we planned out the day, or what was left of it.

After that, we took the tube up to Camden Market and spent a few hours there meandering through the stalls.  It reminded me a little bit of Pike Place, in the sense that it was a big open-air market where locals and tourists mix, but with more of a bohemian vibe.  Victoria and Sinead picked up a few scarves from a booth selling vintage clothes, and I bought a sweatshirt that I had seen when we stopped by there on the first day.  It was a gray sweatshirt with the word "Dope" written in bold black cursive across the front.  When I saw it the first day I didn't buy it, but it did prompt a sharp increase in our usage of the adjective "dope" throughout the next three days (hence, "Dope Day.")  So of course, when we went back to Camden, I had to buy it to commemorate our trip.

We finished up Camden with some market food; I had Thai, Sinead had Indian, and Victoria opted for the calzone.  Around that time, in true London fashion, it started to rain.  And I'm not talking about the drizzly Seattle rain, I'm talking about a real London downpour.  So in order to avoid it, we ducked into an ice cream shop that was advertising glögg.  I planned on trying some of the Swedish specialty, but then I realized that they sold homemade ice cream, frozen with liquid nitrogen right before it was served.  I decided on the vanilla bean ice cream topped with heather honeycomb, a decision that I did not regret one bit, even being the chocoholic that I am.

Market Food


Vanilla bean with heather honeycomb

Satisfied with our purchases, we hopped back on the tube bound for King's Cross, in hopes of finding Platform 9 3/4.  We wandered around for a few minutes before Sinead valiantly approached one of the security guards and asked, "Where is Platform 9 3/4?"  We fully expected the response to be, "Fink ya bein' funny do ya?" (If you don't get the reference, see the video below.)

The answer was actually, "Over there, you'll see bunch of people queued up." (Oh, so British, I love it.)  We found the line within a minute and waited behind some little Italian kids.  It dawned on us that we were probably around their age when we started reading Harry Potter, which kind of blew our minds.  We took our obligatory photos at the platform, then geeked out for a bit at the Harry Potter store next door.

The muggle in the back just doesn't get it.

Dueling, obviously.

"The wand picks the wizard, Mr. Potter."
Our final stop was The Bree Louise, a pub recommended to us by Sinead's friend who had studied abroad in London.  It was pretty crowded when we arrived, but after a few minutes a table of about ten people cleared out and we took the seats on the end.  It seemed appropriate to finish off the trip at a traditional English pub with a tall glass of cider, rehashing the events of the past three days.  Eventually some nice young British chaps sat down at our table and we all chatted over another glass of beer before we had to be on our way.  It was the best way to end the trip--laid back, authentic, and non-touristy.

At the pub

So there ended day three, although the story isn't quite over yet.  We went to bed around 2am, and were going to get up at 4:15 due to the fact that it would take around 3 hours to get to London-Stansted for our morning flight.  But I didn't quite make it to 4am, and woke up at 3 with my first ever bout of food poisoning--damn Thai food.  By the time we left I was alright, but completely worn out.  Since it was too early to take the tube, we rode a double-decker bus into the city just as the sun leaked onto the Western sky above the London rooftops.  Despite the lurching of the bus and my total exhaustion, there was an odd element of serenity to that bus ride, and a good deal of that "is this really my life?" feeling that I've become so familiar with over these past few months.

Bus ride. (I stole this photo from Sinead)

The one thing that I had been waiting for all trip was for someone to casually refer to me as "love", and when we got to the airport I realized it hadn't happened.  "Well, looks like I'll just have to come back," I said.  We boarded the plane, another disorganized and jam-packed (but on-time!) Ryanair flight where everyone rushes to find room for their luggage in the overhead bins.  I had to go four or five rows away from our seats to find a spot for my backpack, and when I sat back down an elderly British man sitting where I had just put my backpack turned around and asked me, "Is this your jacket, love?"  Seriously?  London just kept on delivering.

And just like that, we were on our way back "home" to Spain. The verdict?  I LOVE LONDON.  All three of us agreed that it was the first city we had been to that we could actually see ourselves living in for an extended period of time.  I don't know what it is, there's all this history and tradition, and yet it feels so modern and just really freaking HIP.  I guess it also helps that the city is choc-full of well-dressed attractive fellas with British accents.  It felt like we just barely scratched the surface of London in our three days there, despite the fact that those three days were jam-packed with awesomeness.

Tony Bennett may have left his heart in San Francisco, but I'm pretty sure I left mine in London.

So here's to Dope day, London, and (although I highly doubt any other trip will compare) many more trips like this one!



Tuesday, May 7, 2013

London Part II: Dope Day

A continuation of the London story, as promised....

Based on our initial plans, day two in London was expected to be the most exciting, but we never anticipated it would turn out to be as incredible as it was.

The plan was to get up early and be at Caravan by 10am for the famous crumpets that we missed the day before, but we got a bit of a late start and ended up 45 minutes behind schedule.  I'm not sure if I can fully explain the kind of joy that our soy lattes and fresh crumpets brought us, but just trust me when I say that if the food was all we had received at Caravan that morning, we would have left more than content.  However fate had other plans, and we were about to get much, much more than food.

Sinead got up from the table to use the restroom, as Victoria and I sipped on the remainder of our lattes and chatted across the table.  After a few minutes, Sinead returned to her seat in between us.  As soon as she sat down, she took a death grip on each of our shoulders, gasped and stared directly ahead. "Sinead, what? What's going on?" I was afraid to turn my head to the right and look at whatever she was staring at, I thought maybe something was going on outside, I didn't know whether to be scared or what.  Then, with her gaze stilled locked straight ahead, she said, "EMMA. WATSON. Is in front of me."

I turned to my right and saw, not fifteen feet away, a girl in a simple black top sitting across from an older man at a table by the window, casually chatting, smiling and nodding.  For a split-second I thought, "Wow, that girl really does look like Emma Watson."  And then I heard her voice, and I have no words to explain the kind of emotions that swept over me in that moment.  The three of us just looked at each other like, "Holy crap, guys that's really her.  Emma Watson is sitting right there.  What do we do?  WHAT DO WE DO!?"

We sat there for probably half an hour trying to regain control of our emotions and deciding if it would be better to just leave her alone or if it would be rude to try to talk to her.  The waitress that we met the day before came by to fill up our water glasses, and when we asked if she knew Emma Watson was sitting right there she said, "Yeah, I had to go downstairs and cry for a bit. This is my second day of work, and I went over to serve her and I was like, 'I can't do it, I can't do it.'"  After she told us that, we felt a little less ridiculous for reacting the way did, or at least that it was warranted.

After MUCH deliberation, we came to the conclusion that Sinead should go ask her if she would mind taking a photo with us.  The conversation went something like this, "But we should say, 'So sorry to interrupt' and 'We totally understand if you don't want to' and 'We're huge fans' And it should only be one of us so it's not a big scene. Should we wait until she's done talking to him? We don't have time! Maybe we should just go. We can't just go without doing anything!"

So eventually, Sinead walked over and asked, she told her she was trying to keep a low-profile and offered to sign something for us instead.  As we searched our purses for paper and a pen, I remembered that I still had the pen that I paid 1.50 euro for at the Vatican when I went to the post office there and they had no pens to fill out the postcards.  I never thought I would be glad that I spent almost two US dollars on a single pen, but it turned out to be worth every penny.  Sinead brought over our receipt and Emma Watson used my Vatican pen to sign three autographs, one for each of us.  As we left, all I could say was, "Thanks so much!" and she just smiled and said it was no problem.

They say you should never meet your heroes, but 'they' were definitely wrong.  She was every bit as classy, and gracious as you would imagine.  It was a really strange sensation, meeting someone who has been a role model since I saw the Sorcerer's Stone when I was nine years old.  I definitely had trouble wrapping my head around the fact that we ended up in a random coffee shop in London on the same day, at the same time as Emma Watson, that our lives had crossed paths for an hour.  Seriously, what were the chances?  Life, man.

Once we were about a block away, we had a mini-freakout, group hugged, shed some tears, and then attempted to continue with our day, not to mention our lives.  We were fully prepared for the rest of the trip to be downhill from there, I mean, can you really top that?  But if anything, it was just an indication of how awesome the rest of the day would be.

Post-Emma photo

We took the tube to Buckingham palace, walked through Green Park, and then stopped outside a building where the Queen's Guards were on duty.  Victoria proceeded to perform a significant chunk of the Single Ladies dance, which provoked a smile from one of the guards.  Checking that off the list, we continued to Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, and on to Topshop (famous London store, think Urban Outfitters mixed with Nordstrom.)


Green Park. Dubs up.

Green Park sittin'

Outside of Buckingham, Big Ben peeking out from behind the trees in the background there.

Security wouldn't let me ride the lion. That's my sad face.

Making an important call

It's just so ANGLO!

Piccadilly Circus

On our way there, we joked, "This day couldn't possibly get better. Watch, Topshop will be having a sale! Haha yeah right!"  We turned the corner onto Oxford Street, and a giant pink banner in the window proclaimed, "MIDSEASON SALE."  We looked at each other, "You've gotta be joking, what is going on with this day?!"  Unless my memory fails me, I believe we brought it in for a group hug again before Victoria said she needed to find an ATM.  I looked to the left and there were two ATMs with "Free Cash Withdrawl" signs directly across the street from Topshop.  Literally everything was going our way.

The promised land

Two hours of shopping yielded new outfits for everyone, and a loss of desire to shop at any other store for the rest of our lives (if we had that kind of budget.)  But we had to be on our way back to the hostel to prepare for the night we had planned.  We planned on going to a small concert put on by The Intermission Project, a band Victoria found on youtube, and from there we were going to make our way to Fabric nightclub.

First of all, I have to explain that about a week before we left, this band posted on their Facebook page that they would be playing an acoustic set in London at a little bar not two miles from the club that we already had tickets to that night.  Victoria had sent me their videos before and I had fallen in musical love, so we decided we had to go, it was just too coincidental.  Naturally, we were all really excited to see them perform, because it would be a small show and we would probably be able to talk to them afterwards.

Fast-forward back to that night.  We got back to our hostel, stuffed some food in our mouths, put on our new Topshop outfits, fixed our hair and makeup, and were on the tube by 7:45.  Based on Google's calculations, we were supposed to be there by 8:20, we figured they might be starting a bit late anyway.  But Google was wrong, and as we sat on the tube checking our watches we thought we might catch the very tail-end of the performance.  "Unless they start 45 minutes late! HA! Yeah right."  I thought, "Ah well, it's been a great enough day already, there's no way this crazy streak of luck can continue."

We got off the tube and literally ran through the streets of the Islington borough of London, trying to find "Tolpuddle Road."  A few u-turns later, at 8:59pm, we spotted the bar, walked in, and found another band playing on stage, but I saw the band we had wanted to see sitting at a table listening to the current performance.  We had an hour or two to kill, so we ordered some hard cider and sat down in front of the stage just as the current band finished.

During the show, so much happiness.
The two guys from The Intermission Project got up and picked up their cases, but instead of carrying them out the door, as we fully expected, they opened them up and started plugging in amps and mics.  For the third time that day, we exchanged one of those "no way, you've got to be kidding" looks.  We had arrived a full hour after they were slated to play, and they started an hour and ten minutes late, everything was working out so unbelievably, fantastically, ridiculously well.

There were only about twenty people at the bar, so after their set (which they killed, by the way), we got to talk to them and took a photo.  When we explained that we're from Seattle, studying in Spain, and just in London for the long weekend, they asked, a little perplexed, "How did you hear about us?"  Youtube, man.  The internet is a great thing, isn't it?  They were super friendly and just all-around adorable--props to Victoria for the youtube discovery.

We ended the day at London's famous club, Fabric.  All that needs to be said about that is that there were far too many ridiculous things going on to even begin to explain.  Almost seven hours of drum and bass, cap-sac theft-prevention, Sinead's American charm, an insane French girl, and my personal highlight of the night, a dancing teddy bear.  We hopped on the tube when it opened around 6am, got back to our hostel, and climbed into bed just as our roommates alarm clocks were going off.

There you have it, Dope Day, close to 24 consecutive hours of ridiculously good luck, or karma, or something.  Whatever it was, it was dope.

(Day 3 post coming soon...)