Thursday, March 28, 2013

Sale el Sol

After literally a month of rain, the sun came out. I mean actually came was almost hot! Despite the fact that over 6 pasos have been canceled this week, Thursday (thusfar) has granted us with beautiful sunshine. To celebrate the day, I walked out to Plaza de España, which is rapidly become one of my favorite places to sit. The Plaza was packed with tourists from all over the world, vendors selling fans and castanets, and the trusty flamenco guitarist, whose music echoes through the cavernous halls of the building. I settled down on one of the benches in front of the Huelva plaque and pulled out my notebook to catch up on some well-needed journaling.
About forty five minutes after I arrived, a family of four settled down on the bench beside me. I looked up for a moment and realized that the little girl was standing beside me, staring inquisitively at my notebook paper filled with strange English words. She wandered away. I switched from writing to drawing, and started to draw the Torre Sur of the Plaza's grand building. The girl returned and asked what I was doing. I explained I was drawing the tower, but it was a little difficult. Her tow-headed brother came over to check out the action and soon I had a little audience.
"You draw very well," she told me. I was flattered. When I finished, she took off running, jumping off the benches with her brother, whose name I discovered was Nico, because his grandparents kept calling for him to come back.
"She loves to draw," they told me about the little girl. "When she is at home, all she does is draw."
So I asked, "Could you draw me something?"
She smiled and agreed and began to draw the square of azulejos that were on the ground.
The tower is mine and her azulejos are on the right

When she was finished, her brother came over, pointed to the multitude of carriages parading around the Plaza and started to yell "There are a lot of horses! There are lot of horses!"
The girl turned me to me and explained, "My brother is crazy."
"I have a brother too," I said. "He's crazy as well."
I thanked her for the drawing and soon afterward her grandparents told the children that it was time to go. 
But before leaving, the adults gave me a quick lesson about the Plaza. The two towers that are attached to the end of the great U-shaped building are called (appropriately) the North and South tower. These towers were added later and were not included in the original design! It's funny because they have become such a presence in the Sevillan skyline. Additionally, when the Plaza was built, there was going to be much more of a structure, but they ran out of time and had to stop, leaving the building as it is now. And at the very end of the Plaza is a sculpture of the architect, Aníbal González, staring contentedly at a job well done. 
The family said goodbye and walked away, leaving me with a smile on my face. These little moments are what makes this whole experience special; these things you can't plan. 
I walked away from the Plaza, my skin warmed from the sunshine and my heart warmed from the innocent curiosity of child that brightened my day more than the weather. 


A bit of a creeper shot, but there they are!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Puerta Jerez

In quiet moments like these, we can eat ice cream and relax, and let the sun shine through.
One of my friends working in her sketchbook, outside in Puerta Jerez.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Survival Guide to Klepto Monkeys and Extreme Bus Catching

Gibraltar is a bizarre place. It is referred to as a "British Overseas Territory," because "colony" just doesn't the same ring to it. Gibraltar sits at the very tip of Europe, a lone English rock in the midst of the Spanish sea (and the Mediterranean sea).
To get to this Anglo-Saxon oasis you must take a bus first to Algeciras, a port city on the edge of Spain, and then take another bus to La Linea, the town adjacent to Gibraltar. After passing through immigration (where our passports were NOT stamped!) and crossing a live air field, we walked into the famous territory.
The city is composed of a hodgepog of quaint British architecture, practical concrete blocks, and ancient stone tunnels and walls. We were quickly disappointed at the lack of accent we heard from the people around us. Everyone was speaking in Spanish! Wasn't this supposed to be a part of Britain?
Our worries vanished, however, when we heard a woman yelling in a wonderful British accent at her English bulldog as she tried to drag him down the street, "Nelson! You're being lazy!" Hail Britannia!
We continued our march to the cable car station at the center of the city (wow, alliteration) and were assailed by a man who assured us that he worked for the tourist office. He explained to us that it cost 20 for a round trip ticket up the rock, and then another 14 to enter into the nature preserve when you got there. To combat these ridiculous prices and give us the best tour of Gibraltar, he offered a tour via mini-bus for just 25! It would take us through....and we stopped listening. We decided to us walk to the station and take a look at the prices for ourselves; good decision, because the ticket only cost 13!
We rode the rickety and somewhat terrifying cable car up the side of the rock of Gibraltar, watching the land fall out from beneath us and open up into an incredible vista of ports, blue mountains, and colorful rooftops.

When we reached the top, someone spotted an infamous Barbary macaque, a breed of monkey unique to only the rock of Gibraltar. It sat, nestled in the boughs of a tree, its beige fur waving majestically in the perpetual wind that buffets the top of the mountain. Even from a distance, I could see that it was pure evil.
The cable car erupted in excitement as everyone clamored to take a picture of the trip's first monkey.

But the eagerness was quelled when the cable car man paused before unlocking the doors.
"Be careful of the monkeys," he said wisely. "I'm not trying to scare you, but they're still wild. And dangerous." He didn't have to tell me twice.

Which brings me to the survival guide portion of today's post: Klepto Monkeys
Here are some nuggets of advice to assure that your trip to Gibraltar doesn't go horribly wrong!

  • Do NOT, under ANY circumstances, pull out food in front of the monkeys: They will literally attack you. It got to the point in the day when we hadn't eaten since breakfast, and one of my friends was about to pass out. So she whipped out a muffin from her bag to nibble on, and from across the street, the monkey's tactical food-vision sensors went off and before any of us knew what was happening, the monkey sprinted over to my friend, scaled up the side of her body and tried to grab the innocent pastry. Natalie, like a ninja, hurled that muffin into the convenient trash can nearby and the monkey leaped off her and onto the receptacle, screeching. She waited to eat until we had made it down the mountain.
  • Don't look like you have food: They will take your bag. When we stepped off the cable car, just moments after the fateful advice of the worker, we had to walk through a terrace that happened to hold three monkeys. Oh, how cute, one of the baby monkeys was gnawing on the rope from a flag pole...he's probably imagining its your finger. Anyway, there was a man in our lift group who was holding a large green bag with just a corner of another plastic bag showing from within. A monkey skittered across the terrace and leaped into the air at the bag. The man remained impressively calm, and simply moved the bag out of the monkey's trajectory and walked away. The rest of us, on the other hand, stumbled up the stairs to escape the primate.
  • Don't stare at them for too long: These monkeys are celebrities with high-pressure schedules. The looks and the paparazzi occasionally get to them--sometimes they just want to go the grocery store without wearing makeup, alright! When you stare curiously at them, they stare right back, a challenge in their eyes. Shannon vs. Monkey...that's not even a fair fight. 
  • Don't take your children to the Rock of Gibraltar: You will scar them for life. A family in front of us had paused to look at a baby monkey running around in the trees. Its two parents were on the asphalt, snacking on peanuts from the ground. A little girl reached out her arm to the baby monkey in the trees, and the mother monkey suddenly seized the bottom of the little girl's jacket and yanked it. The little girl burst into tears and her father moved like he was about to kick the monkey, but a man behind him yelled at him to stop. If he kicked the monkey, they could throw him in jail. All the father could do was hoist up his terrified child and quickly walk away from the victorious monkey parents. 
  • Exercise extreme vigilance with your passport and credit cards: The monkeys will steal your identity and then go on bank-robbing expeditions and/or wild shopping sprees in Northern Africa and the French Riviera. 

Monkeys aside, the view from the top of the rock is breath-taking. It feels like you can see everything--La Linea, Algeciras, Morocco, La Costa del Sol, the rolling mountains of southern Spain. It makes me think, how must the people have felt, when they first found this towering landform and then reached its summit? Like a ruler of the world.

Me and the Med

The Mediterranean sea rolls out to the east of the peninsula, like a lapis lazuli blanket dotted with cargo ships and sailboats. If you look straight down the harrowing cliff at the beach, you can see even more colors in the water as the sea bed grows shallower. I feel as if I can just stand here for hours, taking in the glorious sight around me. Seagulls float on the strong drafts of wind that sail up the side of the rock, merely shifting their wings to take off into another direction. This is my favorite thing from Gibraltar--the birds. In this moment, I wish I could be a bird, and fly on the salty breezes without a care in the world. 

Instead of taking the cable car all the way down, we spot a precarious set of stone stairs that almost vertically descend the mountain. Who needs transportation? It turned out to be a great idea...the view was amazing and it was good exercise; that is, until, our calves started to ache from the 86 degree slope. We caught the lift at the mid-way station, where we had to wait for five minutes on a petrifying platform that stuck straight off the side of the mountain.

When we made it back down to the town, it was time to catch the early bus back to Sevilla, which brings me to my next advice section: Extreme Bus Catching
Remember when I told you we had to catch 2 busses to make it back home? This is how to catch a bus...the XTREME WAY! 
  • EYE OF THE TIGER: The only thing you need to remember. It was 5:30 and we were at least 20 minutes away from the bus station where we would catch a 40 minute bus back to Algeciras, where our final bus left at 7. It was go time. We hauled across the Gibraltarian border and sprinted to the bus station, only to find that we had another 15 minutes...which meant that now it was 6:15, and we only had 45 minutes for the ride back. It was all good; spirits were high, thoughts optimistic. We got on the bus...and so did everyone else in La Linea. We stopped at every stop on the bus route. Seriously, I think it was every single one. The minute hand on my watch edged slowly closer and closer to the fateful hour of departure. We had all nearly resigned ourselves to missing the bus and getting ice cream, when I decided that hope was not lost. All we needed to do was remember: eye of the tiger. My optimism appeared to be prophetic, because we pulled into the station two minutes late and our bus was still there! We leaped out of our seats and tore over to the bus, and found out that we had to run to the ticket office to get our seats confirmed (whatever that means) and then come back. But we did it, and made it successfully onto the bus. It was extreme.