Fiesta de San Anton

There are many fiestas in Spain throughout the year, but one of the big ones in January is the Fiesta de San Anton. We happened to be lucky enough to experience it this year!

We are housesitting just outside of Sedella in the southern region of Spain known as Andalusia. Just prior to leaving on their trip, our homeowners mentioned that there would be a festival in the village over the weekend. We decided to check it out!

Sedella, Spain

First a little history for you! San Anton Abad (Saint Anthony) was a Christian monk born in Egypt in 251 AD. He was born into a rich family but choose to give his wealth to the poor and lived a humble life. San Anton (aka Anthony the Great) spent most of his life praying and fasting in the desert. He is credited as being the first monk to sojourn into the wilderness to renew his faith through nature, thus beginning a practice that continues to this day for many. Legend tells that while in the desert, Anton was tempted by demons in the shape of woman and various animals. Since the Middle Ages, he has been acknowledged as the Patron Saint of domestic animals. The fiestas began in his honor during the 17th century. Saint Francis of Assisi is recognized as the patron saint of animals by many in the Catholic faith worldwide; however, Catholics in Spain and Mexico celebrate San Anton since he lived 900 years before St Francis. San Anton is often portrayed in paintings wearing a monk’s robe with a pig at his feet.

Moving ahead to the modern times, the fiesta begins on the night prior to January 17. Bonfires are lit throughout the region as the party starts ramping up! You will hear firecrackers exploding randomly throughout the night and into the next day.

San Anton

In Sedella, there is a huge street party. It is mostly locals with a sprinkling of tourists and expats thrown in. There are bands performing and a parade through the tiny streets of the village. About ten townsmen carry an ornate, heavy statue of San Anton on their shoulders through village. They are trailed by a marching band and dozens of celebrants and animals! An outdoor bar is set up and busily serving beer, wine and mixed drinks to the thirsty revelers. There were many horses with their riders and handlers crowding the square. At one point, a restaurant owner made the rounds with trays of food to offer to the riders and handlers.

The highlight of the festival is the blessing of the animals by the local priest. Throughout Spain, thousands of people bring their animals into the church for the blessing with holy water by the priest. All kinds of animals – dogs, cats, mules, sheep, horses, snakes, rabbits, turtles, ferrets! People believe it is their obligation to their companion animals, as well farm animals, to bring them for the annual blessing. The blessing of pets is a means of ensuring their well-being and safety. Farm animals are blessed to protect them from illness and danger and to ensure an abundant livestock production! The blessing for well-being and safety is thought to be extended to the owners as well.

With brilliant blue skies, temperatures in the low 70s, 1.50€ beers, free tapas and happy people, it was more than a pleasant way to spend our afternoon!

 

Sedella Church & Town Square

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.

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.

Beginnings

The fact that you’re reading travel blogs tells me you’re dreaming of that alternative lifestyle which is so prevelent in today’s media. It’s the dream man, the dream. Traveling to those far away, exotic places. Everyone has the dream, they’re just different. It may be Asia, Europe, even South or Central America. The point is that practically everyone shares this dream in one way or another. I’ve been chasing it for years and I am getting closer all the time. For Cheryl and me, the allure of third world countries seems to scratch that itch. Maybe it reminds us of our childhood, a simpler time – not to mention the economy making way for that next trip.

My first trip was to the Caribbean back in 1994. A friend had the opportunity to take their band down and play some venues in St. Croix, USVI. That friend invited me down for a long weekend to check it out. While there, I was able to get around and see some of the sights on this 23×7 mile island paradise.

Sugar Mill

As the plane began its descent and we emerged through the clouds, I could see St. Croix in its entirety. The vibrant green carpet covering the mountainous spined island contrasted against the aqua blue of the Caribbean Sea. Breathtaking! As we drew closer, I could see the houses of various affluence dotting the hillsides. Upon exiting the 747, the warm humid air washed over my air conditioned, hermetically sealed, sardine canned body. My flight mates and I walked down the 1960ish rollaway stair to the tarmac and made our way to baggage claim. The last time I walked on a runway was in the Air Force back in the 70’s. Sharing the concrete floor with chickens and small lizards was a new experience. With the addition of the Cruzan rum stand offering free shots, I soon realized I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. The livestock may have been unsettling to some, but I loved the time warp back to a simpler time. An old black man was sweeping the concrete with a broom. A Cruzan woman pushed a cart and offered locally made trinkets. The cab drivers gathered outside sitting on mismatched chairs and boxes in a corner close to their 15 passenger vans. Again the warmth reminded me of my cooler acclimated clothing and I ducked into a restroom to zip off those long legs and sport a tee shirt.

 

imageThe gang was waiting with cold beer and a couple of jeeps to gather me and my backpack and deliver us to downtown Christiansted. After getting settled, an offer was quickly accepted to tour the island. We four wheeled our way west to Fredricksted. “Left side!” yelled one of the guys. It takes awhile to get used to driving on the Brit side of the road. When we made Fredricksted, we began bar hopping and my friends introduced me to many bar and restaurant managers which would prove very useful in the future. Like the US, St. Croix is a melting pot and peeps turn up from everywhere. Fred was from Indiana, Diana Wisconsin, Tom was from PA. Each owned a bar and each had an interesting story of how they got here.

In the southwest corner, Fredricksted (like Christiansted) has an old fort which once protected the bay from imageinvaders with a cache of cannons and now serves as a museum on protected grounds for tourists to enjoy. Also, Fredricksted maintains the large pier for mooring the 10+ cruise ships per month that list St. Croix as a port of call. After several stops on the west side , we proceeded through the rainforest to the north shore and Cane Bay Beach. On the way, we stopped at the Domino Club to give the beer drinking pigs a non-alcoholic beer. That’s right! Just hand them the can and they puncture it with their tusks and drink it down. How bizarre! Continuing on to Cane Bay, we found more venues and once again introductions were of interest to a traveling musician like myself.

Three years later, Cheryl and I ran into a young man at home tending bar who had roadied for a band that played in St. Croix. I was able to get the contact info of a woman who owned a bar on the east end. I called that bar owner and she not only gave me some dates to play, but picked Cheryl and me up at the airport and found us a place to stay. It was an easy first trip. Everybody spoke English, US currency, free place to stay, and I made enough money to pay for the trip. Little did I know that this was all Cheryl needed to embark on a long list of travels and trips that have continued for over twenty years!

I frequently return to St. Croix simply because I can pay for the trip by playing and singing at the various venues I learned of during that first trip. Each time I return I learn something new, meet new and interesting people, and see the island from a different point of view. As a matter of fact, I’m writing this in St. Croix on our 17th trip! And, of course, not our last.