Hola señoras y señores y bienvenidos a una edición especial de meginthenorth, direct from Spain!
*technically not direct from Spain since we’ve been back in Ottawa for almost a month, but pretty close – this was actually written there but it has taken me awhile to get through all the pictures*
I’m sitting in my outdoor breakfast nook at a cottage in the mountains just north of the Mediterranean Sea – -a long way from Yellowknife! We are on our way to Ottawa but we took a little detour to spend two months in Spain, and our first month is just about to come to an end. So far we have been staying just outside of a village called Colmenar, and it has been a series of small but wonderful adventures.
Not a bad spot to call “home” for a month
Sometimes the view was otherworldly!
Our dining room
The pool was a little chilly!
It was tough to get a picture to capture how terrifying the roads here are. This is my best result – we are about to turn left into our driveway. It was always a leap of faith that the driveway would actually be there and we weren’t just driving into an abyss
Then we had to go down three or so switchbacks where we were actually looking down on our house!
A big part of the adventure has been the language gap. Daniel and I have done a little bit of travelling in Cuba, but only enough to pick up the bare essentials of Spanish, like “dos cervezas, por favor”. Daniel has taken a few Spanish classes but that was a few years ago now. We had the best intentions of working on our Spanish before leaving so we would be ready, and we did do some studying. But mostly from a book, which left me feeling woefully unprepared for the realities of rapid fire Spanish in real life.
Happily, the people in Colmenar have been very patient with us! People here do not seem to speak much English themselves, which has been excellent because it means I can’t take the easy way out. Our first real foray into Spanish speaking was a trip to the grocery store. I did not expect much in the way of conversation other than an amount of money and maybe “hasta luego” on our way out the door. To my surprise, I discovered that all the produce and meat is behind the counter and you have to ask for it. Happily, I knew the words for apple and avocado, so I started with that. Success! And when the lady said “algo mas”, I knew that she was asking if there was anything else I wanted. There was, but I had reached the end of my Spanish language abilities. So, through a complex process involving French, English, pointing and other gestures with a few random Spanish words thrown in here and there, we managed to get our remaining groceries and to learn a few new words in the process (onion is “cebolla”!).
I think people are extra forgiving of our englishness since we have a little one in tow. I cannot count the number of times we’ve heard “oh chiquito! something something something que guapo! Something something something” followed by an expectant pause which I usually have interpreted to mean that they just asked how old he is – mostly correctly but not always, judging by the confused look I’ve gotten once or twice.
I wonder at my automatic tendency to fill in the words I don’t know with French words. This even happens with words that I know, actually, as for example I’m always saying “oui” instead of “si”. And today, for example, at the grocery store (again) I said “tengo una bolsa déjà. I mean, already. I mean, ya.” Dangit! Somehow, though, I seem to be able to get the point across and I would say that our language skills have definitely improved – not that we could ever have a conversation but at least we can order stuff and say what a nice day it is and even manage to pick out words here and there to get a gist of the conversation when eavesdropping on real Spaniards at neighbouring tables in restaurants 🙂
Colmenar is a fairly traditional place where life seems pretty simple. I think it has the highest population of slowly ambling elderly folks that I have ever seen. The hills are full of almond trees (with the occasional olive grove) and when we arrived all the trees were in full blossom. I have seen donkeys at work in the fields – I assume because it is just too steep to use tractors here even if they were inclined to do so – and we have even seen several people riding horses along the road.
Almond trees in bloom
Donkey on break
The town of Colmenar
We spent a lot of time drinking “cafe solo” on this terrace
Country living has also meant we’ve seen a fair amount of wildlife – mostly wild dogs and cats which inhabit the trash bins, but also a few geckos (one installed itself behind the heater in our room when we arrived, probably thrilled that spring had somehow come early for it), two snakes, and many many bees. The region is actually a big honey producer and Colmenar even has a Honey Museum complete with giant beekeeping diorama.
We had bees for neighbours!
Inside the honey museum
A giant beehive
I did have one encounter with the local wildlife that was so traumatizing I had to write about it right away [as I’m about to re-read this, my heart rate has actually gone up and my palms are starting to sweat!] – here is what I had to say at 4:00 in the morning:
In Canada, we don’t have things like the Mediterranean Tiger Centipede, and that is a good thing. One of those fuckers stung me on the hand WHEN I WAS SLEEPING and I’m pretty sure I will never sleep again. I woke up with a shriek when I felt something brush against my hand and then a pinching feeling, and to my horror I saw the biggest fucking centipede I had ever seen, which I flung away with all my might. I tried to recover and be cool about the whole thing, so I (pretty calmly under the circumstances, I think) explained to Daniel that a bug had woken me up. I did not mention it was the biggest centipede I had ever seen (like seriously, this thing is no longer a bug and deserves its own category. Maybe “things that should exist only in nightmares” or something) because it had disappeared under the bed by then, after I’d flung it to the ground, and I was assuming that I had already exaggerated its size in my memory. I realized I was wrong when Daniel looked under the bed, said “nope” and immediately left the room to get a drink.
I’m now sitting in the living room with my feet on the coffee table for safety while Daniel tears apart the bedroom to find the damn thing and get rid of it. Like he has literally taken the bed apart at this point.
I am also thanking the heavens that we brought a crib with mesh sides for Jeremy because the thought of one of those things getting close to him actually makes me feel ill. Unless that’s just my body’s reaction to the poison I’ve been injected with.
Now I’m on Facebook enjoying the pictures people posted of winter. I love snow, man. Snow is clean and centipede free.
Daniel did finally find the centipede after taking the mattress out of the room and flipping up the box spring. He trapped it in a Tupperware container and left it outside, where I set it free the next morning – I wanted to see if it was actually as terrifying looking as I remembered it and was not ready to face it right away. I’ll let you decide for yourself how you would react to one of these crawling around on your pillow in the middle of the night… But, if you are seriously bug-phobic, I recommend just scrolling really fast past this picture. Shudder.
In my mind, the whole incident played out exactly like this scene from Dr. No (in the book, by the way, the part of the tarantula is played by A CENTIPEDE! I have essentially been attacked by a real life James Bond villain).
I did actually get back to sleep that night, briefly, but I dreamed I was being chased by a giant spider, and it was awhile before I was willing to sleep in that room again.
I don’t want to think about that anymore so here’s a picture of some orange trees
In the distance from our place you can see a village on the very top of a giant hill that piqued my interest, so one of our missions was to see if we could find our way to it.
Who could resist trying to find the white town on the mountaintop?
While I intended to just head out on a road we don’t know to find a town I didn’t know anything about, somehow we wound up being less adventurous when we accidentally got directions from the neighbours. But it worked out well anyway as this little town was a gem so I’m glad we got there directly and did not wind up getting sidetracked or lost!
Playing up its history as a fortress from the 1500s
This is the town’s cemetery – quite a sight on its own!
“The Balcony of the Axarquia”
Unfortunately it was a bit hazy but apparently you can usually see all the way to the Mediterranean
This place called itself the Balcony of the Axarquia (the area we were), but we also visited the Balcon de Europe, in Nerja, a town on the coast where we went for a few days to get a taste of the slightly warmer weather outside of the mountains, and to see the Sea.
Like, practically our own private beach
We thought we pretty much had the town to ourselves, until we went to the Nerja Caves, apparently one of Spain’s biggest tourist attractions. The caves are about 5kms long and are big enough that they actually hold concerts in them!
We also went to what I later learned was another of Spain’s main tourist attractions, El Torcal, according to Wikipedia “one of the most impressive karst landscapes in Europe”. Whatever karst landscapes are, they’re pretty neat!
En route to El Torcal
Very Wild West!
Aside from these two outings, though, our experiences have been pretty off the beaten track. I think we will be on the main track a bit more when we move to our new locale in Marbella, for the next month. Till then, adios!