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Back In Spain...For Now

We are resting our heels in Granada for a few days, having finished the African portion of our trip.

Coming back from Chefchaouen couldn´t have been easier. We had been expecting a hectic, difficult day of travel on Monday, since it just so happened to be Eid, the end of Ramadan. We arrived at the bus station anticipating crowds of people as well as a bus trip similar to the one that we had experienced en route to Chefchaouen, where the bus was jammed with people, and sweltered in the hot afternoon with no AC for relief. Instead, the bus was nearly empty. Once we reached the bus station in Tangier, we found that it too was nearly empty of travelers, and we shared a taxi with an Aussie couple we´d met on the bus to the port. There, another astonishment: a ferry was heading across the strait to the city of Algeciras within fifteen minutes; we bought tickets and hustled ourselves aboard. 

All was going swell to reach our desired destination of Granada, except that I had forgotten to take into account the two hour difference between Spain and Morocco; instead of arriving in Algeciras at 3 pm, we arrived at 5 pm, after the last train to Granada had left. Algeciras has what is likely a poor reputation as a seedy port city, so we really wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. We walked the Aussies to the bus station and bid them farewell (we never did make introductions, though) and continued on to the train station, where fortunately a train was leaving in the hour for a little town called Ronda, about halfway between Algeciras and Granada. We jumped at the chance to go there; I called the first hotel in the Lonely Planet guide, which had availabilities, and off we went.

The ride there, which took about two hours, was quite amazing; we saw a part of Spain that we hadn´t expected or known about. The landscape outside changed from the developed areas of Algeciras to a wild and woolly landscape of steep hillsides, plunging gorges, and thick trees and shrubbery. It turns out the route had the train clinging to the side of a gorge in the Sierra de Grazelema Natural Park, a wild area of Spain that looked as wild as parks in the US and Canada.  The sun was setting behind the train, and orange light bathed the hillsides. Eventually, the wildness gave way to little whitewashed villages and long expanses of brushland and farms. We talked about how nice it must be to live in such an area, a place far from the bustling cities, a place of peace and quiet.

As we neared Ronda, the sun finally set over the hills opposite of us. The jagged peaks turned a complete black, while the sky was an astonishing dark orange, almost red, and seemed so vivid that one could imagine that it wasn´t real, a sheet of velvet painted across the horizon. It was a terrific sunset, one of the best I´ve seen in a long time. Once we reached Ronda, Jess and I found our hotel, dropped our bags, and headed out for dinner. We wandered until we found a street with outdoor cafes; there we dined on gazpacho soup, a cold soup of tomatos, onions, and delicious spices, as well as a plate of seafood that was just the right amount of food. Sadly, it was dark, and our train left at nine the next morning, so exploration of the scenic town of Ronda wasn´t possible.

Granada, at first glance, seemed disappointing. We´d heard several other travelers talk about how much they loved Granada, and so we imagined the same for ourselves. Yet, walking in the center, a busy area of traffic, pedestrians, and the kind of grandiose buildings and churches hiding around corners you expect from most European cities, we found that we weren´t all that impressed. Also, Granada is said to be the Moroccan city of Spain; coming directly from Morocco left us a little cynical about what we found, like going to a Chinese restaurant after visiting China itself. We did like our hostel, and opted to stay, but we talked to one of the employees, who told us about a little town about a half hour bus ride away, where we could get a little hiking in; that was our plan for today.

Last night, though, we met an Australian couple, as well as an American fellow. The Aussies are finishing up a 18-month journey; the American is en route to Casablanca to teach English and study Arabic for more than a year in a bid to start a career in the State Department. We went out on the town with them, and found that there is a particularly grand tradition here in Granada: for every drink that you buy, you also receive a free tapa (small portion of food). These tapas are actually quite a good portion, and after several portions of paella and sandwiches, downed with inexpensive beer, we were completely stuffed. That helped improve our attitudes about Granada.

Then, this morning, as we were enjoying our free breakfast here at the hostel, we found that there was a free walking tour around Granada. We decided to go on the day trip tomorrow, and to explore a more interesting part of Granada today. The tour took us up above the city, giving great views for pictures. It also took us through a very interesting section of town--the inhabited caves. There are hills on the north side of town, where for centuries people have been using natural caves or digging their own as homes. Some of these caves are just a hole in the side of the hill, covered with a blanket or tarp; others are as complex as having walls and outer rooms, even solar panels. What these caves have in common is a perplexing contradiction: most of the inhabitants seem to be of the solitary hermit types, looking to escape the crowd, only they form a whole community of solitary types. There are also apparently a lot of Gypsies, Euro-hippies (a particularly grungy brand of hippies, often with hair styles that usually are a wicked combination of mullets, dreads, mohawks, shaved parts, or all of the above, and often in clothes you´d expect on a Gypsy), and even wealthy, eclectic types. For me, I´m glad to not live in a hole in the ground, but different strokes for different folks. It seems like these people are related to another European phenomenon in several European cities, the Squatters, and the subsequent Squatter Rights Laws that are being tossed around these days; that´s a whole different entry.

Speaking of European phenomenons, we noticed a huge number of European girls in Morocco wearing what I´ve seen described as cheese-cloth parachute pants. Essentially, these lower garments are what appears to be a long dress, but halfway down the shins, it becomes a pair of pants. Again, it´s kind of the Gypsy style, and agonizingly ugly. We figured that it was the European effort to fit into a place like Morocco, though quite unsuccessful. Anyhow, we looked for them upon arriving in Granada, and lo and behold, girls wear them here as well; however, this is Spain´s Morocco, so maybe elsewhere...?

Anyhow, we feel much better about Granada. It turns out the city is quite nice after all. We are staying in the section of town considered the old Muslim district, with narrow, windy passageways, loads of restaurants and cafes, and plenty of interesting characters roaming the streets. Perhaps Granada isn´t our favorite European city, but it has a laid back charm that we have really enjoyed today. I´m glad we made it part of our itinerary, on our way to Barcelona and then Poland.

Even if they do wear those ridiculous parachute pants here.

Until next time, be safe.



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