The Tunnels of Guanajuato

As our ongoing search for the perfect retirement location continues, we stumbled upon Guanajuato, Mexico. The initial attractions were:

  • close proximity to the U.S.
  • affordable cost of living
  • mild climate
  • opportunity to stay for six months on a tourist visa

 

San Miguel

We found that the majority of expats tend to lean toward nearby San Miguel de Allende with its shopping and more manicured appearance, not to mention more English-speaking locals. We day tripped up to San Miguel and walked around town for a bit, but scurried back to Guanajuato as it was such a good fit for us. Despite the challenges, we prefer immersing ourselves in the Spanish-speaking culture of places like Guanajuato. We did not find a supermarket chain or a real estate office there; however, San Miguel was teeming with real estate offices anxious to sell and rent properties with typically-inflated gringo prices. The advent of such things tends to bring an end to the cultural purity we so desire.

Guanajuato contains many museums and beautiful buildings of baroque Spanish architecture and is said to be the most beautiful city in Mexico. A theater celebrating Miguel de Cervantes, author of “Don Quixote” (the best selling single-volume book of all time) stands in the centro district. The Don Quixote museum, also in the centro district, contains many paintings and sculptures of the subject by various artists and is chocked full of 19th century pieces. By the way, entrance is free on Tuesdays! The Hidalgo Market is housed in the former train station built in 1910 and designed by Gustave Eiffel. The market offers fresh produce, fresh meat, fish, and quirky household items. Complete with clothing stands, ice cream and other sundried items, it is the Mexican answer to the Walmart Super Center.

Hildago Market
University of Guanajuato

The University of Guanajuato keeps the town very young and vibrant. Many artists and musicians live and work in the city. The vast array of restaurants, from fine dining to simple street food, satisfy every palate and pocketbook depending on your preference. Street vendors sell various items from fine silver to local trinkets at much less than you would pay in the US. I found a coffee shop which I frequented many times with big bags of coffee beans, barrel tables and stools, providing a warm and comfy place to start the day.

We discovered the tunnels that run under the city when we arrived in Guanajuato. As a matter of fact, you have to travel through them to enter this city built in the bowl of the San Miguel mountains. They have become a subway system not unlike those in the large cities of the US, but that isn’t how they began. Silver was first discovered here by the Spanish in 1548 and the digging began.

 

Tunnel
Repurposed mining cart

In 1883 the same technique used for mining was employed to relieve Guanajuato of flooding by channeling the Guanajuato River out of the bowl through one of these tunnels. With the arrival of the automobile, the narrow streets became congested and a new use for the tunnels was born. In 1961, the first car drove through the Lagalarania Tunnel – the first and longest of the many hidden underground arteries to come. This insured the walkability of the lovely colonial town and allowed it to continue with its charming cobblestoned streets, Spanish architecture and old world feel of days gone by. Stairs were added, allowing people to park in the tunnels and enter various parts of the city from below which relieved both congestion and parking issues. No charge, by the way, for the parking.

The warm people of this fair city have a pride so strong that every night they band together and follow the lead of theater students from the University of Guanajuato. Dressed in black velvet conquistador outfits and wielding their stringed instruments, they sing together with gusto their standard cultural yarns of courage, hardship and unity. Swaying arm in arm under the night sky, the followers would serenade an area then were lead to the next plaza and start again. We followed them through several plazas, as we couldn’t seem to tear ourselves away. Nights later, we could hear them singing in the distance.

El Pipila

 

Funicular

The symbol of the city of Guanajuato is “El Pipila” (the nickname for Juan Jose de los Reyes Martínez Amaro), a miner who became famous for an act of heroism near the beginning of the Mexican War of Independence. On September 28, 1810, Spanish soldiers barricaded themselves in a grain warehouse, a fortress with high stone walls and thick wooden doors. These doors proved to be its weak point. With a long flat stone tied to his back to protect him from musket fire, Pipila carried a bucket of tar and a torch to the door of the granary to set it on fire. The insurgents, who far outnumbered the Spanish, were then able to storm through the burnt doors and kill all the soldiers. A monument of a muscular man holding a flaming torch stands high on a hill at the edge of town and guards over the city. El Pipila can be seen throughout the centro district in the park high above the city . Visitors can ride a funicular up the incline for $50 MXN ($2.69 USD) round trip, to and from the monument, enjoy a spectacular view of the city, grab a bite from one of the food stands, or buy clothing and souvenirs with logos of the city and El Pipila.

La Clave Azul

During our eight day stay, we met young girl from Michigan named Kelsey. Cheryl sat her soda can down to take a picture and Kelsey’s dog came over to lick it! We laughed and a conversation ensued. Kelsey had been teaching English as a second language (TESOL) and had lived here for several years. We walked her home and eyeballed her apartment just to get a feel of local living. We agreed to meet at the Don Quixote Museum after we all cleaned up to catch drinks, a bite and a walking tour of a portion of the city. We met and headed off to the Plaza de San Fernando and ordered some snacks at a small cafe with outside tables. Across from that cafe was the famous tequila bar, La Clave Azul, which Cheryl had read about before the trip. We did get to catch a meal there later during our stay and were pleasantly surprised with the ambience, the four small botanas and beers we ordered, although they don’t have a menu. With 3 different levels, we noticed one room was packed and people were passing a guitar around and singing along. Quite a festive place in the middle of the day!

After our meal, Kelsey lead us through a maze of small streets and we ended up at a bar that was so happening you had to order drinks with sign language. Yeah it was that loud with videos on the TVs and the buzz of the crowd. We watched Kelsey hold up 3 fingers then flip her hand around and hold up 2 fingers. The bartender produced three Victoria beers (the 2 fingers represented a V). Now Cheryl is very savvy to such things and noticed the other two national beers were Indio (thumb to forehead with 4 fingers extended symbolizing a head dress) and Sol (circle with thumb and forefinger). Dang, Cheryl can sign… for beer anyway. Keeper!

Night streets

I’m sure the party went on into the wee hours, but we took our leave since we’d be up in the morning searching for more diamonds in the rough of this little known spot.

We love this place and are sure we will return for an extended stay in the near future. We’ve been discussing looking for a house sit next year in Guanajuato since it is much warmer than Spain and the exchange rate is far better in Mexico. 1€ Euro currently costs $1.24 USD and $1 MXN peso costs .05 USD – hmmmmm. As we’ve seen most of the sites in Guanajuato, our next trip will be spent shopping for flats to rent and other opportunities. Now if we could only find a real estate agent.

 

El Caminito del Rey

Reservoir

I first heard of the Caminito del Rey two months prior to our trip to Spain. Cheryl had just purchased tickets on line for the treacherous hike in a remote corner of Andalusia. The suspended path is affixed half way up the 1200 foot rock walls above the turquoise waters of the Guadalhorce River. Not for the faint of heart! The path originally started construction in 1901 to transport people and material between the two power stations located at either end of the La Garganta del Chorro Gorge. In the past, the locals would travel the path by horse, bicycle, or foot for school, groceries and social activities. Completed in 1905, it was finally officially opened in the early 1920’s when King Alphonso XIII personally made the hike. The path fell into disrepair over the years and was closed in 2000. Thrill seekers ignored the closure and a number of people fell to their deaths trying to cross it. The Caminito del Rey remained closed for more than a decade and slowly the government discussed plans for renovations. One of the world’s most dangerous hikes reopened after the 2.7m€ update in 2015. Portions of the old concrete path still exist and can be seen just under the new construction.

The difference in height between the two reservoirs offered an exceptional opportunity to engineer
hydroelectric power during the early stages of the concept. The dizzying walkways, fastened with metal brackets to the stone walls of the gorge, meander 4.8 miles between the power plants. One mile of that distance is the trek from the end of the trail to the train station in Alora which connects both Malaga and Seville. The bus also picks up here and will transport you back to the southern parking area.

Tunnel from parking lot

Just getting to the  beginning of the path was an adventure as we arrived, parked and were instructed to walk down the road and then take a right into a tunnel. The tunnel was pedestrian and roughly 400 feet in length. It was pitch black and I had to use the flashlight on my phone to navigate the unseeable trough in the middle which allowed water to pass through. Upon emerging the tunnel, we saw the Conde Guadalhorce reservoir and walked down to the control point where helmets were handed out and tickets were taken. At first glance, we were intimidated by the suspended path stretching over the heavy flow of water from the power station. But, we soon acclimated to the surroundings. The newly constructed 2X6 walkways with stainless cable and fence were well done and we had no problem with the 300’+ heights above the river.

The orange limestone walls against the clear blue sky were striking. The rush of moving water through the gorge and the ever-present flocks of birds both above and below us filled our senses. Although there were others on the trail, it was the off season and there were very few about. Occasionally we would merge with portions of the old trail and navigate stone staircases and grassy paths while enjoying the vast panoramic view of the El Chorro Gorge. An aqueduct ran the length of the trail and at one point, we entered the aqueduct which served as a corridor to get to the next section. Across the gorge, we saw an arched train trestle come into view. It appeared to be chiseled out of rock like the “lost city of Petra,” but at second glance you could see it was hand built by stone masons. As we drew nearer, we marveled at the scale of everything. We later learned that train trestle was used in the filming of “Von Ryan’s Express” – a Frank Sinatra film from the 60’s. The trail continued to a plexiglass overhang, 4 person max, which you could stand on and look straight down. We took our turn and enjoyed the birds-eye view. Nearing the end of the trail, we could see the suspension bridge crossing the gorge

Cheryl crossing bridge

up ahead which we needed to cross. Piece of cake! Newly constructed with grate flooring, not an issue. After the bridge, we soon completed the trail. Now the one mile walk to the train station to catch the bus back!

It is obvious Spain has prepared the attraction for tourists, not to mention the new parking areas and buses already in place. The local press report expectations of 20m€ annually brought in by the newly refurbished path. In 2016, Peru asked to meet with Spain to inspect the update as they were preparing to refurbish their Colca Canyon Trail in the province of Arequiipa. With Spain taking over the number two spot for the world’s most popular tourist destination this year, they must be doing something right.

El Almendro

Almond blossom

The almond tree. Seems like a small thing, but here in the mountains of Spain, not so. At the beginning of our trip last year, the almond blossoms were half-developed; however, this year we came a bit earlier. January 1st to be exact (Cheryl found better airline deals at this time) and the buds on the trees had not yet popped. As part of our house sit we walk two dogs, Homer and Otis, twice daily. We’ve watched through the month of January the unfolding of the almond blossoms’ white blanket covering the peaks and valleys which sit below the majestic Mt. Maroma. I thought, there has to be some Spanish folklore or an old story picking up on this annual phenomenon. Yup! Thanks Google, here it is.

Long ago in the Algarve, while under Moorish rule, a famous king fell in love with a beautiful princess from the north. After conquering her father’s land, he conquered her heart and took her hand in marriage. All went well for King Fagar and Princess Gilda until one day the king noticed his bride had become sad. Gilda fell ill and King Fagar called in physicians from near and far to tend to her. Yet not a one could cure her or define her ailment. A distraught King Farar left the palace one night to clear his head and ran into an old prisoner from the north. The prisoner told the king, “Princess Gilda suffers from Snow Nostalgia” as she missed the snow-covered hills of her northern home. The king had noticed that in the spring the white blossoms of the almond tree reminded him of snow, so he ordered all his lands planted with this blossoming nut tree. When the trees were in blossom, the king brought Gilda outside to the see the snow-covered hills and her sadness quickly left and all was good again.

So there you have it. Of course you may know the almond tree like the olive, lemon and 
orange trees are very drought-resistant and fare well in the dry rocky soil that is Spain. Not to mention the grape and Spain’s vino market. The U.S. Is the leading producer of almonds with 898,167 metric tons annually. Spain follows with 230,000 metric tons. Italy is third with 100,664 metric tons with Iran close behind with 99,551. Also, the EU subsidizes its farmers for growing trees. Some broad leaf and conifers are planted for lumber on the flat, but the olive, almond and carob trees are planted on the steep hillsides to prevent erosion. So steep in fact, nothing else is growing up there. We’ve also noticed the slope is so drastic that equipment can’t mow and the goat and sheep herders move their flocks through the orchard trees keeping the underbrush trimmed.

It’s nice to know the stats, but I must say it is striking to witness the Arbol de Almendras in full blossom when planted so plentifully on the hills below Mt. Moroma. The fragrance is also striking when in full bloom. Our foster dogs, who actually walk us, have taken to picking up almonds and cracking them amid trot. And yes, everybody has to stop while they munch the spoils of their labor.

The Jewel of Córdoba

Mezquita Entrance

 

 

 

 

 

In the great city of Córdoba, Spain, there are many sites to enjoy. The Mezquita (Cathedral-Mosque) is named “The Jewel of Córdoba” and for good reason. Construction started in the 8th century over the Visigothic* Basilica and since then, there have been many renovations and expansions. In 1238,  after the Reconquista (Spain regained control), the Mezquita became a Christian Cathedral that merged with the old Islamic style columns and arches. Breathtaking to say the least, the columns seem to go on forever. The Islamic minarets have been changed to bell towers reflecting the Christian culture. The layering of Islamic and Christian architecture is a constant throughout the Andalusian region.

Islamic Arches

 

The last Islamic stronghold, Granada, home of the magnificent Alhambra, was finally reclaimed by the Spanish in 1492 and the Muslims were ousted. Their 700 year reign over Andalusia has left many remaining architectural wonders to be enjoyed by Spain’s growing tourist market. Incidentally, Spain just edged out the United States as the number two travel destination in the world. France remains the first.  If you plan to visit the Mezquita, it is open Mon-Sat 10:00-18:00/adults 10€. Budget tip — arrive Mon-Sat between 8:30-9:30 and you can enter for FREE! Not only do you save money, the place is less crowded!

The Alhambra

The Mezquita is located in the walled Jewish quarter of the historic district with its narrow cobblestoned streets laced with taverns, restaurants and hotels. If you plan to enjoy some breathtaking views over the Jewish quarter, you can go up to the old Laminar at the top of the bell tower (passes available every 30 minutes/ 2€). On your way to find the entrance of the Mezquita, much of the quarter is home to many residential areas with antient open foyers strewn with lush plants standing sentry to the wrought iron gateways. With an abundance of large potted plants and flowers, the residents open their foyers to the public for the “Festival of Patios” in May of every year. We’ve learned through several trips to the region to find the Jewish quarter for that authentic feel of  old world Spain.

Whether you find yourself in Seville, Córdoba or Granada, the Jewish quarter offers taverns, restaurants, performers, and architecture of an age gone by. Also the BnB’s are both plentiful and very affordable in the area. We found a lovely place at a very good price. It was only a 15 minute stroll from the flat to the majority of historic sites. We highly recommend this place – brand new, super clean, and a perfect hostess.

Patio

https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/21024064.

 

Jewish Quarter

Although there are many places to get tapas and dinner, we found one to our liking close to our BnB which stays open during siesta. Morelis (at the corner of Antonio Maura and Marruecos) is a neighborhood bar with attached dining room. It draws its daily local crowd and offers a free tapa with a small caña of cerveza – 1. 20€. On our second visit to Moriles, we split a platter of fish bites, pork filets, salad and french fries for under 5€ and pretty much spoiled our dinner with the vast quantities of yummy eats. There are outside tables under a tent with flamed heaters for those cool evenings.

Moriles

As we continue to visit cities in the Andalusian region, Córdoba will be hard to beat and we only spent a couple days and explored one small neighborhood by foot. There is more work to do here and we expect to return soon. Seville is lovely but is truly a large city. Malaga, too, is a bustling metropolis with both gorgeous sites and big city ills. Granada is very high on our list of places to stay. Although the Alhambra draws many tourists, there is a Middle Eastern market strewn with tea rooms and hookah bars that we found enchanting.  We prefer the off season to avoid the droves of people. We will continue to return to the Andalusian region with it’s mild winters, warm people and affordable prices. As Arnold aptly said “I’ll be back!”

 

 

 

*The Visigoths were a nomadic tribe of the Eastern most region of the Germanic people. In the early 5th century, the Huns began to push them west. Alaric, a Visigoth warrior, had fought for the Roman Empire on its northern frontier. He was passed over for promotion in the Roman Legion and turned from friend to foe using what he learned about warfare to launch his own war of aggression. In 408, Alaric decides to strangle Rome by cutting off the supply lines due to the impenetrable walls of the city. In 410, Alaric finally attacks and sacks Rome. After sacking Rome, the Visigoths began to settle in Gaul, then eventually in Spain and Portugal maintaining a presence from the 5th to the 8th century. At this time, the Arabs moved up from Africa and held the area of southeastern Europe from the early 8th century through most of the 15th century until the Reconquista.

One Bus Two Trains Due

After two hours at the coffee shop in Bergamo, a rough draft of the “One Bus” sojourn is complete. We pack up and head to the train station. We find, if we hurry, we can hop on the train that leaves in ten minutes. Cheryl kicks into critical mode and we start to decipher the train schedule. I’ve got “Google Translator” pulled up on my phone and I support with translation. We finally approach the ticket window and eureka, the clerk speaks English validating our computations. We make the 2:15 and exhale.

I just realized I hadn’t mentioned the purpose of this multi-legged trip is to get to Montenegro and Croatia across the Adriatic for some sightseeing. These have been on Cheryl’s wish list and the opportunity to “make it happen” has presented itself. The next stop is in Treviglio where we have to change trains. The ticket we bought covers both legs (thank God) and we show the ticket to a uniformed agent who points out we must validate the ticket via a machine
mounted on the wall. Still it’s a little foggy which train to get on, but we finally see it come up on the departure screen. Second train boarded, we head to Gallarate where we must find our B&B that Cheryl rented online.

The host of the B&B had mentioned a restaurant, “Il Barbaresco“, when Cheryl booked the room, that serves free hors d’oeuvres with the purchase of a drink, so we head there with backpacks in tow. The birra list is massive and difficult to decipher, so I order a German Hefeweizen for 5€ and am relatively happy. Cheryl orders wine for 4€ and heads up to get some food. “Appetizers?” she asks, pointing at the collection of morsels. “Yes,” replies the waiter hearing English. She digs in and I follow after she relieves me from watching our stuff. Olives, mushrooms, pasta, assorted nuts are a few of the apps that fill my plate but only for a moment.

Somewhat nourished, we pack up and head on via GPS to locate our room. The  directions are probably good, but there are so many roundabouts and so few street signs that we get tripped up. We stop in a gas station to get clarification. One of two attendants speaks English. Cheryl has her handy phrase book out but doesn’t need it. “Pink church?” we ask. “Yes, dis way,” as he points to the left, “den little more and dis way,” he points to the right. “Grazie,” Cheryl smiles. “Prego,” he proudly exclaims having spoken his little used English. About a half mile later, we find our room and hit the buzzer. The gate opens and we venture in. Another door magically opens and we head up the stairs to meet Joanna, a Polish transplant, who married an Italian, Alessandro, while he was there as a student. Joanna is interested in our travels and we engage in conversation while petting her lovable Golden Retriever, Denya, who immediately rolls on her back and kicks her hind leg up. “How bout a scratch?” Cheryl and I both speak dog and I realize it’s universal sign language. After a good half hour of chit-chat, we point out we are hungry and head down to a pizza joint we passed earlier. As we look through the menu, again it’s difficult to decipher. We change our minds several times and then just order one for fear of holding up the flow. Pizza in box, we bring it back and Joanna produces a bottle of wine.  Cheryl unveils our prize which has no cheese. Just crust and sauce. We all laugh realizing we ordered the wrong one.“Cheers,” as the glasses tink and we drink to travel.

We have an early flight to Podgorica, Montenegro in the morning and Alessandro has agreed to give us a lift to the airport. We decide to head off to bed, so we are fresh for another demanding day.

One Bus Two Trains

When on the go traveling with multiple stops, you’re either tucked in at your B&B or in transition. Once settled, everything is peachy for the most part. Yeah you have to figure out the washing machine or the shower knobs, but things are relaxed. However, when you have to pull up stakes and find the next place, it’s a bit stressful. After a cappuccino and a sweet, as is the custom in Italy, it’s on to the bus schedule. Sounds easy, but we just changed to Italian from Spanish and it ain’t the same. Thank goodness I’m with Cheryl who loves the challenge of booking airlines, trains, buses and taxis in different languages. Now don’t get me wrong, it is extremely stressful and I have blushed on more than one occasion as she has cursed when things don’t go as planned.“Mi scusi!” I offer to the casual passer-by, who is unaware of the necessary de-stressing comforts of a good curse. Once figured, we have to find the merchant (this time it’s a bar) that sells billettos for the bus.

Off to Bergamo. The buses are modern and relatively new in this area, so it’s an enjoyable ride. Once there, we cross the street, admiring some awesome architecture on the way, and find the train station. Oh no, another schedule! “Mi scusi, piccolo problema.” (I got your back Cheryl). The check-in at our next place is 7pm and it’s lunch time, so we have some time to kill. Soda, wifi and a place to sit and write this entry. There’s a library here, but we have to find it. My iPhone skills always improve geometrically in these scenarios and that is always a good thing as I’m an “old guy” (as pointed out by several former friends.) There’s a wifi sign on a pole and we gather around it and pull up “Around Me” – an app I use to find stuff. No soap, can’t hook up for some reason. So I ask a student in black with backpack, “Dove biblioteca?”. Hot dang! He speaks Inglese and directs us in the right direction. Five or six blocks later, we find it and it doesn’t open till 2:30. “Mi scusi,” I say to the Italian woman who scowls from under her scarf as Cheryl blurts out yet another necessary curse. We settle for a cafe with wifi and cappuccino. “Cappuch!” yells the person behind the register to the barista as I order another cup of ambrosia. I must admit I’ve never had a poor cup of coffee or cappuccino in Italy. They all have those machines with steamed milk.

So here we sit in Bergamo typing at a table in a cafe while waiting for the train and I like it. We’ve been in Europe for 42 days and I‘m not homesick. We’re even in that rough transitional period of relocating and still content. Now that’s amore! I’ll make this a two-parter as I’m sure there will be more story on this one bus two train sojourn. Arrivederci.

Americans in Spain

I know this is a travel blog and I try to avoid politics when writing these articles. But as I was halfway in to writing this, I asked Cheryl her opinion. “Is this appropriate for Travel Morsels?” With knitted brow and increased volume, she exclaimed, “TRAVEL IS POLITICS!” Cool! I take that as a yes.

Guinness Storehouse, Dublin 2014

Having lived exclusively in the U.S for the majority of our lives, we found through traveling that our view of the world had been quite narrow. During these past 20 years of increased globetrotting, we’ve unknowingly widened our perspective. This realization first occurred in October of 2004 just before George W. Bush won his second term. Cheryl and I traveled to Lahinch, Ireland with some friends to play golf and sample some of the Emerald Isle. It seems at night you hang in the pubs, drink a Guinness, and possibly catch a futbol (soccer) match. As we settled in at a pub, a brave

spokesman from a group of locals approached us and in his thick brogue asked, “So what do ya think of your president”? Not being fans of the current regime, we truthfully unloaded our disdain. I think within five minutes, our entire group was staring at a new Guinness sitting before us, purchased by the inquisitive Irishmen. We were a bit surprised they were so tuned into American politics. I didn’t know the name of their… Well wait a minute what do they have, a Prime Minister, a President? I didn’t know. For the same reason I speak only one language, I’m aware of only one country’s politics. Blinders are the reason which, by the way, slowly dissolve as you add stickers to your backpack. Looking back from afar, you can actually get the lay of the land. The big picture.

Currently in Spain, Cheryl and I picked up a four week house sit (as we did the year before) to escape the cold Pennsylvania winter. We arrived at Mary’s place a day early so she could introduce us to her dogs and go through the systems of the house before she left on holiday. OMG, a solar unit on her roof, as it should be. We were invited to dinner that night with Mary and her two friends, Pete and Jackie. All three are British expats. Over dinner the discussion turned to politics. BBC had been airing the Trump inauguration for days. Our British compadres were as informed as we were, if not more, on the issues. We became educated on the impact Brexit will have on their interests. Specifically, if Great Britain secedes from the EU, British citizens will no longer be residents of Western Europe and may have to leave after three months, like us on a tourist visa. They have all been here in excess of 10 years or more and own their own places. Wow! I thought we had problems. Great Britain seems to be as divided about Brexit as we are about Trump. During the same time, the EU Council has sworn in a new president and the labor party lost.  Another split issue.

Brexit series for FT.

At timers in Spain as well as South and Central America, I watch the local news. Yes in Spanish, but sometimes with English captions. I see the people of these regions protesting regularly. Masses of people gathered to hold their governments accountable to the will of the people. It must be our turn. It’s always our turn. As they say, freedom isn’t free. One thing’s for sure, through our regime change with it’s aggressive start up, it sure has mobilized the masses in the U.S. The millennials with all their tech savvy ways have finally been shaken hard enough to pull their noses out of their phones and realize only through protest and the persistent calling of Congress members can the will of the people be brought to the foreground. Wait, maybe they didn’t pull their noses out of their phones. Only with the advent of social media are we able to connect and share our accounts of daily happenings unencumbered by paid pundits spouting whatever they are paid to say. Vive la Resistance.

The Hashers

If you are looking for some budget entertainment and a good workout while you are traveling, find a local chapter of the Hash Hound Harriers. They are an international group with chapters all over the world. www.gthhh.com or www.gotothehash.net

Cheryl learned from our house sit host, Mary, that there is a Hasher group that meets bi-weekly in this area of Spain. Mary informed us we were welcome to join in and hash along. As an added bonus, it would give her younger dog Carlo a good workout.
The Axarquia Hashers, a group of expats who meet every other Sunday, do a hike that kinda turns into a scavenger hunt. There’s a 4€ buy in (hash cash) that includes soda, water, snacks and beer.

Flour blob

The trail is marked with flour clues (blobs) to insure you’re on the right path. Occasionally the trail splits and the flour shows a y with an arrow for each way. If you go the wrong way, another clue called a check back (CB) appears informing you’ve gone the wrong way and must return to the y and eliminate the wrong arrow for the following crowd. Now you can continue on the right path. When you see a blob, you yell “ON ON” to assure your fellow hashers that they’re on the right path.

There was a meet and greet at a parking area above the village of Canillas. The group was 20 strong. Water and soda were available as we got acquainted. Everybody had a “hash handle” and we were required to call them by their handle while the hash was on. Names like: Up The Creek, Pocket Rocket, Second Guess, Routemaster, Bunion, Zulu, and Plummet are a few Cheryl and I recall. One of the ladies (I don’t recall her handle) distributed homemade lemon marmalade to the group and we were more than happy to receive a jar.

Alright! The hash is on. “ON ON” exclaimed the grand master and the participants scurried to the beginning three options.
Shortly thereafter, we heard “CHECK BACK” from one of the paths and then another signifying the left path up the hill was the correct course. Things settled down to a good hike up a narrow dirt road with an occasional “ON ON” heard in the distance to ease our questions. Cheryl hooked up with GiGi and Pocket Rocket and exchanged conversation on topics of Brexit, Spain as a home, and the new President Trump. How embarrassing!

Carlo

Four dogs joined in on the hash. One was our Carlo. What a time he had! Our daily walks involve a leash, but the hash was untethered and Carlo was able to do dog things with his buddies and check back after half-hour romps to God knows where! I didn’t ask!

The whole affair took upwards of two hours
with a serious hill climb in loose stone that I
thought would never end! But it did and soon a Land Rover appeared with coolers of
soda and beer. Cheryl and I took the latter. We then rendezvoused back at the parking area. Once again, we formed a circle with the Grand Master in the middle to dole out penalties for “transgressions.” The penalty was one down-down (chugging a cup of beer) while the group sang their club song. If you didn’t chug the beer, they would pour it on your head! Cheryl and I were first in the circle as we were hash virgins. Plummet and another were chastised for wearing shorts as this was a rugged hash and it was pointed out on the web site to wear trousers. Their bleeding shins were noted as they were handed their cups. Several more transgressors were called in to the circle for their punishment.

After the festivities, we loaded up and headed for the Mirador
Restaurant in nearby Canillas. We ordered 2€ glasses of wine… twice… before we ordered our meals. After a serious two hour hike, that was more than ample to grease the conversation. For 10€, I had Pollo Indonesia with three sides which was awesome. Cheryl had the equally enjoyable salmon for the same price.

I knew it all had to end eventually and following the meal, promises were made and hasta prontos were shared by all. Cheryl and I packed up Carlo and headed back to Comares and our house sit. We fed the dogs and loaded back in the car to make a birthday party at the nearby Table Rock Restaurant in Los Torrenos. But, that’s another story.

Tangier Tango

As we readied ourselves to set foot on yet another continent, our senses sharpened. Up the ramp from the ferry and a few more steps and… “As Salam alaykom!” greeted the voice of the very official looking man at the top of the stair. “Welcome to Morocco. My name is Mohamed and I’m here to help you enter the country.” Cheryl spied the name tag on the lanyard around his neck. His crisp white shirt and red tie beneath the ¾ length woolen overcoat gave him an air of legitimacy that I never thought to question until the next day. He waved briskly to the uniformed guard and muttered some guttural Arabian sounding instruction as we seemed to bypass the gate. “Do you have a room? I can point you in the correct direction,” he said in a helpful voice. Cheryl dug the address out of her bag to share it with him as we had no map, GPS, or knowledge of the area. His phone interrupted the exchange. He held up his finger and moved a few steps away.

The Medina
The Medina

Quickly concluding his business, the phone beeped and slipped back in his pocket. “Now let me see,” he said as he glanced at Cheryl’s address. “Ohh, that’s in a bad part of town…” he stated with knitted brow as he glanced up from the paper to Cheryl’s wide eyes. “How much you pay?,” he asked. “32 euro,” Cheryl replied. “Mmmmmm,” he pondered. 13275801_10156879514130527_268485243_n“I know a place in the new part of town for 20 or 25 euros. Nice, clean, safe. You see the poor people are in the old part, the medina. The better people are in the new part. They won’t bother you.” He looked up at the skyline and sliced it into thirds with the edge of his hand. “There’s the poor, the middle class, and a the wealthy. Here, I better walk you up so they leave you alone. You know I could spend the day with you and show you around, have a nice lunch and you’d get to know your way around. I’d only charge 10 euros apiece.” Well there it was. We finally got to the hook. “You know we don’t usually do that. We kinda like to find our own way,” I awkwardly interjected. Just then, out of the corner of my eye I noticed a cab barrelling towards us with lights on and horn honking. The driver’s head popped into sight and he called out in words I could not understand as he slid to a stop. Once he knew we spoke English he said. “I will take you where you want to go for one euro.” Our man Mohamed stepped up and with hands flailing and in quick, curt Arabic reprimanded the driver for interfering with his customers. The exchange was one of disgust as they fired back and forth. The driver relented, ducked back into his cab and sped away in a swirl of dust as the Sahara winds had recently deposited a cache of debris on northern Africa leaving the landscape shrouded in diffused sunlight.

As we crossed the highway with Mohamed, he pointed out how the government was renovating Tangier in preparation for the tourism that is projected to come. A new mosque and casino were under construction close to our port of entry. Wow, welcome to the 21st century. Construction materials lay in staging areas as equipment of all makes and models whizzed by us. We could see those long crane arms moving atop tall buildings in the the distance and the city was abuzz. Creation of new land via backfill was underway to create a new commercial fish processing area in the harbor. “This way,” said Mohamed as we walked up some stairs to enter under an ancient

Medina Entrance
Medina Entrance

Moorish archway that resembled the ace of spades. “Welcome to the Medina!” I swear I heard a giant gong sound as Mohamed’s fully extended arm slowly swung across the entrance, palm up to reveal totally different sights, sounds and smells from which we had just left behind. Shades of “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom!” “Oops! watch, watch” Mohamed moved us back against the wall as a donkey passed with a loaded wooden rack on it’s back stuffed with vegetables, bottles of juice and small propane tanks. A man with 5 necklaces strung between his fingers made his pitch very quickly. “Behold, pure silver, I sell you all five for 10 euros, OK OK 6 euros.” Mohamed shooshed him away and continued to move us, his quarry, up through the medina in search of our room. The dark, dank cavernous hallways stretched on and on. Men dressed in robes and turbans passed by us on their daily chores. The majority of this trek was covered overhead by living quarters which are always in demand for the poor. “Right here is where Matt Damon jumped out of the window in The Bourne Ultimatum” he said, nonchalantly pointing to a second floor window as we continued past. I saw that movie and wanted to stop and gawk for a bit but no way. We kept moving up, up past the never ending stoops. Some white washed some not. Flower pots overflowing with geraniums and orange bougainvillea hung from walls and sat on steps and entry ways of the many homes butted tight up against each other thru the narrow winding corridors.

Street venders
Street vendors

Every now and then daylight would show itself as we hurried on, then back to the dungeonesque maze . An occasional tiny store or tienda with veggies, candy and pan (bread) would appear. Woman shelling beans and ever organizing crated stacks of produce would look up and pitch their goods as we passed. Shops specializing in Berber rugs, leather, bajas, Moroccan robes or jalabas hung from the Actually we were both OK with it since we’d just had a hard couple of days of wrestling with a three hour drive on unfamiliar Spanish roads, finding a room in Tarifa, the ferry, and now hacking our way to this room. The extra seven euros over budget that we surrendered for the room, well we just let it go. But we don’t usually. We’ve been house sitting for six months with intermittent income. Of course we knew this going in and were fine with it. We’re travel adventurers, for pete’s sake. It’s what we do, but after several months you worry from time to time. It’s inevitable. After all, April 15th is just around the corner and that cursed tax bill will once again raise it’s ugly head.

With completed paperwork and passports back in hand, Cheryl excused herself with “I gotta get this pack off my back. I’ll be right back.” I joined her and we disappeared up the stairs with our new room key. After offing our gear, I peeked down the steps and saw our guide had moved to the sofa. I leaned in toward Cheryl and whispered “So whadaya think? Should we blow this guy off or cough up the 10 euros?” Earlier, Mohamed had offered the tour at half price, but with an associate instead of himself. “I don’t think there’s a chance in hell I could find this place again if we walked around,” she whispered.I agreed. So we each dug out a 5 and headed back downstairs. “I think we’ll sign on and take that tour,” I said to Mohamed. He smiled and brought a new face into the picture. “This is my friend Hassan. He is a good man and he will take you around the medina and show you points of interest and where to get a typical Moroccan lunch.”

We took that tour and my previous suspicions of being taken advantage of were laid to rest. Of course Mohamed had no official position as I was lead to believe. But we truly needed some guidance as newcomers to this exotic land known as Morocco and I salute the ingenuity of this self-anointed aid and his underlings.

If you want to follow us on Hassan’s tour come back and find “Medina Cantina”!

It’s a Homer!

Cheryl and I have been serious dog and cat lovers since the beginning of time. We both had that childhood pet that seemed to live forever. When you’re a kid, thirteen years is your entire school career (plus one hopefully). When you get older, thirteen years pass rather quickly and you realize you’re gonna have to go through another passing of a best friend. Nigel our black lab is thirteen and he is getting close. Rear end is about shot. I have to lift him up on the sofa when he looks back with those sad eyes. Good god, it takes both of us sometimes to get him up there and my rear end is starting to go too. We look like a hook and ladder truck when the coffee table is in the way. Anyway, the day will undeniably come. We frequently tell him he’s our last dog, our last heartbreak. Pet-wise that is.

Which brings me to a solution to this problem. Since Cheryl and I have been house sitting for over a year, we’ve had the opportunity to keep several pets. They’re like grandkids, ya love ‘em, then you can give ‘em back. With a new pet, it takes a few days to feel each other out and, of course, they will test you like that 2 year old nephew that just gets a timeout when he acts up. “Why my ol man woulda,” wait… that’s for the therapist. We’re dog people dammit and we know the drill. “Don’t you look at me with those big brown eyes… You’re not getting the last bite of my hotdog!” We’ve made the mistake of allowing Nigel table bites and there is hell to pay because of it. Never again.

imageHomer, on the other hand, has been handled much better in this regard. He must sit on a small rug and “shake paws” to receive that treat. Knowing the error of our ways, we are very careful to adhere to this regimen. This nine month old yellow lab crossed with beagle or something is a large part of our current house sit in Sedella located in the Andalusia region of Spain. Homer’s owners told us he is a rescue dog and he has separation issues. Actually, I don’t see any issues. Our dog Nigel gets mad when we go grocery shopping. We used to take him but we have to… Ya know that hook and ladder thing again. Nigel weighs 105 pounds! Uh! My back! Homer on the other hand is a sleek 48.5 pounds (22 kg). Heck I can Richard Kimble (one arm man) him into the car. Cheryl is already in the habit of walking Nigel every morning for a mile or so. Homer… same thing. But he wants it at 6 am and it’s dark here. Did I mention this house sits among the steepest of the Sierra de Tejeda mountains? That’s right, it sits in the shadow of Mt. Maroma at 2,068.5 meters (6,826 feet). Not the tallest, I said steepest. I previously said Homer was a lab crossed with maybe a beagle, but after a couple of days I’m thinking goat. Yes, I take the evening walk with Homer and Cheryl and at first I said things like, “Wait! You want me to walk down there?… Is there a tractor or something that’s gonna come get us?” Mind you I hike the Appalachian Trail and I’m no slouch carrying 30 pounds on my back and navigating some challenging topography. But these are goat paths image(and I know this because there are goats right over there with a shepherd and dogs and everything). After about five days of this, I became acclimated and could handle the steep terrain. It was always a workout though and building a fire and helping prepare dinner afterward was a joy.

There happened to be a cat detail affixed to this house sit that was a big concern to Homer. There were 7, no 8 (not sure) feral cats that the homeowners were feeding and we marveled at the pecking order, rules, and social proprieties. Homer seemed to tolerate the ruling three, but the others, not so much. The three rulers would not flinch when Homer passed by and would continue issuing their orders such as “r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-roooooul (must imagebe Spanish with the rolled R) which meant time to rotate since there were only three bowls. These cats would announce to us each morning it was time for breakfast. Cat mess was at 9 am (but we would get the call at 8:45 to give us time to prep).

When taking a break, we glance out across the peaks and valleys and see two men teams trimming the olive, almond, orange, and carob trees, as well as the grapevines, that thrive here in this dry soil. Too steep for tractors, plowing is done by mule. They plow frequently, so the earth accepts the small amount of rain yielded by this arid climate. This ensures low noise so you can hear the wind and the bells from the ever-moving goat and sheep herds that mow under the trees growing on these steep slopes. It’s extremely remote out here in the mountains. I think it’s like five km to the hard road, then another two to the nearest small town of Sedella. It seems we’ve lost this simple agrarian way of life for the most part in the US. Right before my eyes as a matter of fact. And the quality of food, wine and olive oil is so noticeable in this region. Hand raised, free range, farm to table. It’s very inexpensive as compared to home. I can actually survive on the pittance social security gives me and eat noticeably better. Hopefully Homer’s folks will take another trip come next winter. If so, as Arnold said, “I’ll be back”.