The Last [of] Murcia (Day 3)

I didn’t bother getting up early. Not much was open on Sunday anyway. I spent some quiet time at home before heading out to the Santa Clara Museum.

tree-lined walkway

The museum was quiet except the creaky floorboards whenever anyone wandered overhead. Although it was small, there was a lot of a history in a building that over the centuries managed to be both an Arab palace and a convent.

I wandered and read and imagined and caught the persistent ringing of the bells for mass.

palace courtyard with pond
Museo de Santa Clara
arabic script engraved on stone

I climbed the stairs and traversed those squeaky floorboards to find displays of Catholic saints and relics. Maybe it’s because I didn’t grow up in the Catholic tradition, but I find the statues and porcelain figurines the things that nightmares are made of. Especially when walking through rows of them while all alone (and this time there wasn’t even a security guard following me).

The figure at the end of the hallway was life-size. I wondered what I’d do if she moved, an arm twitch or a roll of the eyes. I’d probably have a heart attack, I decided, and add to the horrors of the upstairs when an unlucky tourist would stumble over my body.

Some of the paintings were fascinating, though. The last supper with everyone sporting a halo except Judas Iscariot who hung out on the fringe of the painting, clutching the money bag. Or exiled Apostle John having strange visions right from the book of Revelation and writing them in his modern-day book.

painting of the book of Revelation
The apostle John writing down the Revelation of Jesus Christ

After much deliberation, I decided on a taco bar for lunch. A taco bar with pretty lame service. The server eventually got around to me as if the cafeteria were bustling with people, when in fact, there were only two tables.

I occupied myself by pretending that I was doing a sit-in during the civil rights era. But when my jamaica, homemade tamal, and taco arrived, I somehow wasn’t grumpy anymore. And, for the record, the server ended up being very friendly… just not speedy.

taco and jamaica

I had paid my Airbnb host to stay longer at the apartment, so I spent the afternoon lounging in the AC, soaking in the cool for as long as I possibly could.

When teammates picked me up, we headed out to the closure of a Rubik’s cube competition in a very hot gym that smelled like–well, I suppose like the combination of what we smelled like as individuals. I was amazed by how quickly the competitors–even the little people–could solve the cubes. (For the record, I have no clue how to solve a Rubik’s cube. On the ride to Murcia, I became the official mixer-upper for the others to solve.)

From the competition, we headed back to warm little coastal Mytown. Sure, I may be infatuated with Murcia, but I’m also glad to be back where I belong, air-conditioning or no.

theater between narrow street buildings

It’s not easy being Murcia (Day 2)

I meant to start out earlier than I did. But I didn’t. I meant to take a morning tour of the bell tower of Murcia’s cathedral. But I didn’t. Instead, I read a sign that said tours were offered October through June and said nothing about tours during tourist season.

I gave up that plan for the time being and wandered over to the bus stop in time to climb on a bus to Rueda de la Ñora, a water wheel located in an otherwise unremarkable village outside of Murcia.

Still sleepy, I yawned the whole way out of the city. It would have been easier had I worn a mask that allowed yawns and didn’t grab both my nose and my chin in a vice grip. It was unfortunately one of those city buses that didn’t bother to say where it was or where it was going at any given time. Enter Google maps.

city streets from bus window

The water wheel was worth the visit. However, there was no shade and it made my visit shorter than I would have liked. I was the only tourist there. The wheel was commissioned in the 1400s although it’s been replaced various times.

working water wheel
Rueda de la Ñora

On my walk back to the bus, a dog gave me a series of ferocious barks from a terraza overhead. The sun tilted just right so I could see the gray shadows of his snapping jaws on the street beside me.

I stumbled across a bakery on my way back to the bus. “Why not?” I thought and stepped inside. It was a real bakery, one where the cashier came to the counter with her hands covered in flour. She was brisk but kind as I carefully selected a chocolate-filled pastry.

bakery window

The bus deposited me at Circular Square, which is more or less a giant fountain in the middle of a roundabout. It was unoccupied, making me wonder if anybody in Murcia appreciates their own landmarks. (And do I appreciate the landmarks of Mytown?)

fountain and city sign

The Archeological Museum of Murcia was free so it was worth a look, I decided. I’m not much for museums and the history here in Spain is so ancient it becomes unremarkable after a while. I skipped the evolution of man section which put me ahead of the only others in the museum. So I basically walked through the museum alone except the security guard who greeted me every time he circled past. I should have tried to make off with a Roman pillar to give him something to do.

remnants of ancient pillars
An exhibit at the Museo Arqueológico de Murcia

On the way back to the cathedral tower (by this time, I had bought a tour ticket online), I passed through Plaza Santo Domingo and found a startling human rights monument in the middle of the plaza, like a silent scream.

monument of people standing in a circle
cathedral tower
Murcia’s cathedral bell tower

I arrived early for the tour, which didn’t bother me. I plopped down in the shade in front of the tower and people watched. We were a large group, not my favorite way to tour, but I had already decided that the pros would outweigh the cons. The tower’s history was fascinating, from how the construction paused for 200 years when the tower began to lean or how the resident rats nibbled the edges of the old manuscripts to avoid the poisonous ink.

The group was frantically taking selfies at every turn as I cruised past, photo bombing everyone. (Okay, that’s probably just what it felt like.) Tucked inside the walls, there was the impression of coolness, but it also felt muggy. But however hot and sweaty, we all made it up the 17 ramps. The quarter hour chime at the top was exhilarating. The bells thundered inside of my head.    

cityscape through through railing
bell hanging in tower overlooking city

After lunch in the air conditioning at my Airbnb, and some time to unwind, I tried to go to a coffee shop which was closed. “August,” I grumbled as I meandered through downtown and eventually ended up at CaféLab again where they recognized me and spoke to me in English.

chai latte

I picked up snacks at Día and then spent the evening on the couch with guacamole, fresh mozzarella, and a show on the fancy-schmancy TV that the Airbnb host had painstakingly explained to his clueless guest.

100% Murcia (Day 1)

Although August in Spain is not the best time to be a tourist, Murcia is a city I could easily fall in love with, even in August. You could argue that three days is hardly enough time to fall in love. And spending those three days almost exclusively downtown–only glimpsing the outlying barrios from the bus window–you could argue that I don’t even know her. So we’ll call it an infatuation.

I arrived in downtown Murcia close to three p.m., perfect time to check into my airbnb, eat lunch, and rest on the couch in front of the air conditioning. (Aaaah, what luxury to control the temperature!)

My apartment was within a few minutes of the cathedral and well, pretty much all of downtown. Downtown was full of churches. As the hour changed, bells sounded from every corner, clapping through the narrow streets. I stood, enchanted.

coffee shop interior

I parked in CaféLab, an utterly charming coffee shop. The aromatic ambiance made it hard to choose what I wanted–one of each? I finally opted for the mango smoothie.

cathedral façade

As a non-Catholic, I am fascinated by cathedrals, but I also find them a little creepy. Like, I didn’t come to church to see a mural of Saint Bartholomew being skinned alive. I toured the cathedral, reading the signs, staring at the statues and paintings of saints, and wondering what the cathedral builders would think if they saw all of us walking around in sneakers, snapping pictures.

fountain and flowers
Glorieta de España
statue of sardine half-submerged in water
Monumento al entierro de la sardina
boat under arched bridge, bus over arched bridge
Puente de los peligros

I walked along the river, enjoying the view and the parks I stumbled upon. Eventually, I rested on a bench to listen to the gentle clacking of loose bricks as feet passed over them.

birds on bridge
Pasarela Manterola
people walking across suspension bridge

Pasarela Manterola, a pedestrian suspension bridge, moved as we walked across it, just enough to make me wonder if my mango smoothie had made me tipsy–Am I imagining this mild motion sickness? A young man serenaded us with “Stand By Me” while ducks below fought over the bread crusts someone had tossed to them. When I peered over the railing, they eyed me expectantly.

“So darling! Darling! Staaaaand by me. Oh, stand by me…”

I strolled through the Paseo de Malecón and tried to snap a photo of red red roses that decided not to be photogenic in the blazing sunlight. And there was a catalpa tree with long beans dripping from it. I would have studied it more had a man not been lounging in its shade.

From there, I circle back to find the Arab walls. The smells began to overwhelm me in the way that they often do when I allow myself time to smell them. I smelled chwarmas before I passed the chwarma shop and then a spice that transported me the North African old medina. Shadows grew. Men with fat, unlit cigars dangling from their lips crossed my path.

Somehow, with a malfunctioning sense of direction, delayed maps app, and winding downtown streets, I ended up in Plaza Mayor instead of in front of the monumental Arab walls. There in the plaza, the silence was astonishing. Someone with squeaky shoes left squeaky echoes after she had disappeared around the corner. I just stood there and listened for long moments.

I made another attempt at the Arab walls. And another. At my third pass-by, I realized street work hid the walls from view and made them inaccessible. Apparently, the “open 24 hours” listing on my maps app doesn’t apply to August… or maybe I still didn’t find the right spot.

On my way back to the apartment, I crossed through Plaza de las Flores where everyone was in slow motion, eating an early dinner or meandering through the warm plaza. And me? Enough exploring for day one. I had an evening date with the air conditioning.

downtown street lined with brick buildings

Alone at the seaside

In the middle of a crazy week, I took a break. This time, I was was smart enough not to stay at home because staying home meant trying to relax while gritting my teeth at unfinished work. It was time to go to the beach.

I headed out before the sun (which admittedly isn’t that difficult if you live in Spain). On the dim streets of the early morning–Are people really out and about this time of day!? Who knew?— predawn workers hurried with backpacks and work clothes. With my backpack and grungy beach outfit, I felt like I fit in. No one pointed out that I was, in fact, an imposter, on holiday rather than heading to work. Plus, I was carrying a travel mug and, well, no one does that.

One street smelled like weed. Someone trying to make it through another day, I supposed as I wound through the prolonged construction. I took just a moment to fill my lungs with the pastry aroma panting through the supermarket vents. For not really liking sweets, there are these luscious braided pastries that taste like flaky pecan pie and…. well… I marched on.

At the bus stop, I waited with the crew of sullen morning people that all kind of looked alike in an Eastern European sort of way. They stood in a row in front of me, dark hair in a perfect line, round faces turned in the same direction. Trees that had all been planted the same day. And I wondered how they could tell themselves apart.

The sun rose while we waited for the late bus, eliminating some of the romance of the early morning escapade. But as we headed out of town, the sun was still just a yellow yolk resting on the bed of white plastic greenhouses. Suddenly, I was hungry for toast. I don’t even like toast.

The sea gave a glorious welcoming roar. I stretched out on my towel dug my toes in the sand and watched the handful of retirees paddling through the chilly water. I thought through my answers for a survey I needed to fill out as I sipped my coffee and ate my soggy granola. And then I read and thought– not about food prep for an event, not about who I needed to visit, not about English lesson plans, not about my dirty floors. Instead, I thought about who God created me to be and how I fit in my current world.

Really, someday I will try to write about introversion in my line of work, as long as you promise to help me out and then give me feedback. Meanwhile, don’t mind me while I disappear to the seaside for a few alone hours.

Along the coast

I felt more at home with the worn travelers and scruffy men bumming cigarettes than I had browsing a mall full of things I didn’t need and lounging in Pad Thai Wok after my pad thai was gone and all I had left was C.S. Lewis.

I moved on to Willa Cather at the bus station. A French speaker asked for a cigarette. A worn man asked for 80 cents. Neither bothered me. I belonged enough not to care that I had a bad hair day and the hem of my skirt was brown from being too long on dirty streets two days in a row.

A group of loud Americans clambered off the bus. I knew they were American before I heard them speak. –Why are we such a loud culture?– Their laughter pulsated under the metal roof.

A retired Baptist preacher introduced himself. We’re involved in the same sort of work, he said. But he’s short term and I’m long term. That’s about as far as we got before my bus pulled up and nearly bumped us with its stout nose.

It was the end of my stay in Málaga for a two-day literacy training. I could post pictures of my trip, but the truth is, the hours I wasn’t in training, I was parked on my airbnb couch, basking in the aloneness.

Besides my trip to Málaga shortly before the coronavirus lockdown, my roommate and I also spent a day in Adra. Yes, there is a pattern: both Málaga and Adra are along the coast. Sound lovely?

Well, I’m not going to lie; the trip to Adra wasn’t great. The wind quickly banished my dream of lounging on the beach for countless hours. To say nothing of the few rude people that cast a shadow over the rest of the trip. But, I’ll flood you with pictures that make you believe our trip was a blast. Really, it was okay, but it might be a while before I go back. (And next time, I’ll bring my own personal bathroom and a can of pepper spray.)

Finally in Granada

“It’s just so close. I want to see some of the cities that are farther away now because I know I’ll see Granada some day.”

That’s what I said until someone told me that I was being so pokey that I probably would never see Granada after all.

He was right, I realized. And when I realized it, I organized a group of Granada-bound ladies. (“Organized,” as in, “sent out a message in a whatsapp group chat.”)

And we went! Granada is subject to higher temperature extremes than the coast. So we bundled up in scarves and gloves and inch-thick socks, printed off our Alhambra tickets, and started out far too early one Wednesday morning.

Below are photos from the Alhambra, the Cathedral of Granada, and on the streets of Granada.

(Disclaimer: I realize that my pictures look like every other tourist’s pictures of Granada… except maybe lesser quality. We were standing outside the Alhambra and I snapped a picture on my Canon, only to discover that my SD card was still stashed in my laptop’s card reader at home. So I hauled around a pointless camera all day and took sub-par pictures on my phone. Lesson learned, I hope.)

When in North Africa- Part 2

“My family wants to meet you. And my husband’s family too.”

My friend had told me this long before we left on our trip. “I’m not from Bollywood. I’m just your friend.” 

“I know, I know.”

Despite her “knowing,” the family treated my roommate and me like queens. But as the week wore on, their attentiveness to our every perceived need wore off. We were grateful. 

We could actually scrub our own clothes, help mop the floors, and vacuum the salon rug. They let us cut up vegetables for couscous. And I made a hot kettle of Indian chai just because my friend likes it.

My friend wasn’t about to let my crazy side go unnoticed. She had known me too long. That’s why at breakfast one morning, she said, “Trish, do your camel noise!”

I wasn’t about to MRRRRAAAW in front of an assembly of people I barely knew. (And I couldn’t remember why I ever had reason to MRRRRAAAW in front of my friend in the first place.) I talked my way out of it.

We visited various nearby cities, glutting ourselves on grilled seafood (including caviar, which was a thoughtful touch if not a tasty one), taking a boat ride, eating too-sweet ice cream in the welcome shade of an ice cream truck, and haggling prices while shopping. We spent an entire evening in my favorite city, staring at the ocean and smelling the fresh sea creatures in the fishing port. My roommate and I nudged each other as we passed a table full of snake-like eels, a sting ray, and a shark.

Another evening, we picnicked on the beach and came home to play games and chat until we had laughed ourselves to tears.

boats in a lagoon
shaded table full of fried seafood
North Africa market street
cliffs along atlantic seaside
silhouettes swimming along atlantic coastline

I wanted to hold on to some of those moments. I tried to savor them while they lasted, but when I look back, their ghostly flavor still lingers in my mind, proof that I never finished tasting them. 

During that final supper under the grape arbor, they made me balance on a stool on top of the table to cut down a cluster of ripe grapes.

They scolded us for quoting the proverb that guests and fish stink after 3 days. “But,” a brother said kindly. “After 3 days, you’re not guests anymore; you’re family.”

When in North Africa- Part 1

Last year, a fellow immigrant in Spain asked me to visit her when she went back to her country for the summer. I didn’t. 

But this year I did. My roommate and I navigated buses, taxis, and even a pre-Eid ferry that made us stand in line for hours to get a simple passport stamp. 

Just as our final taxi approached the place where we would meet my friend, we lunged over a pothole and I dumped my water bottle on myself. I was so soggy that when I got up, leftover water pooled in the leather seat. 

From the backseat, I reached my suitcase and managed a swift and subtle change while the other passengers remained in blessed oblivion. 

My friend, her husband, and her mother were waiting at the taxi stand. 

“Gather yourselves.” My friend called her sister as we approached the sprawling countryside house that would be our home for the week.

grape arbor above salmon colored house
large watermelons hiding in vines

My roommate and I had long since resigned ourselves to the possibility of a public sleeping area, a dirty squatty, and bucket showers. Instead, we were shown into a salon the size of our entire apartment. And the bathroom was bigger than my bedroom at home. Outside the kitchen door was a grape arbor heavy with weaving vine and plump grape clusters. 

The house was surrounded on three sides by peanut and melon crops. The fourth side led down a steep hill to the ruggedly beautiful beach. Rolling land of green fields tuned my farm girl soul. I stood on the roof and drank in the fresh air. 

landscape of beach and the atlantic

“The air is still new,” my friend pointed to the chilly sea.

We began to meet the family. The house was alive with adult children and a handful of grandchildren. Most of the family resided within the walls of the family home. But there seemed space enough. Faces began to blur as the night wore on and we grew sleepier.

Our hosts spread a table with tea and all of its accompaniments. When we had filled to the brim, someone asked when we wanted dinner. Given that it was 11 p.m., we sat with widened eyes until I worked up the polite courage to ask, “What time do you usually eat?”

My friend laughed. “We don’t usually eat another meal,” she admitted and laughed again when we noticeably relaxed. 

They sent us to bed, still chuckling about the ominous beef and prune tagine.

A day in Málaga

We only had one day in Málaga. Málaga is a large city and we knew we wouldn’t have the time or energy to hop hither and yon on public transportation. Therefore, we narrowed our scope [predictably] to Málaga’s Alcazaba and Castle of Gibralfaro. We also got to zip around the Atarazanas Market and gaze up at the Málaga Cathedral, known as the “La Manquita,” or “The One-Armed Lady” (due to the south tower never being completed).

towering cathedral facade

And of course, there was food. The restaurant will go unnamed. The food was delicious, but if only we wouldn’t have had to get hangry while watching customers who had sat down after us finish their meals before anyone came to take our order. Living in Spain, one must get accustomed to bad service, but really?!

The Alcazaba, or Moorish fortress, was beautiful. Built in the early 11th century, it’s one of the best preserved fortresses in Spain. We explored the nooks and crannies while trying not to trip over the other tourists.

sign outside of the alcazaba
the sprawling malaga alcazaba

Just outside of the Alcazaba was a Roman theater, dating to first century B.C. The view was outstanding, but I can’t say much for the smell. A friend mentioned that it was reminiscent of a zoo exhibit. After that, we kept expecting poo-flinging apes to appear from somewhere below.

roman theater exhibit

The Castle of Gibralfaro was connected to the Alcazaba. However, tourists had to go out and around on the side street. It was hot. It was exhausting. A street musician encouraged us on. I was completely soaked in sweat by the time we stopped for a few soggy pictures. But the view…

bird's eye view of malaga port

No one checked our tickets. They must have figured that anyone who made that climb deserved to be there! Our exploration of the nooks and crannies was severely limited due to our short supply of energy. We found a bus that took us to the bottom of the hill (and asked ourselves why we hadn’t bothered finding one to take us to the top).

My friends humored my Indian craving by hunting down The Great India, an Indian restaurant we had spotted at the beginning of our day. And that, my friends, is the way to end any day of tourism.

Take a hike

I was bustling down the quiet morning street toward the bus stop when it hit me. Today was Saturday. And I had looked at the weekday bus schedule. The Dalías bus had gone ½ hour ago. 

At 10:30, the day was already looking bleak.

My roommate joined me and we hopped on the next bus. We would make the most of the extra hour and a half by exploring a town that was halfway in between Immigrantville and Dalías. The next bus came close to 13:00. I browsed my map and we found a green spot labeled “Parque forestal.”

“Ooo. Let’s go there!” 

So we set off like disgruntled tramps in our hiking clothes. The sun was intense. The map was deceptive. There was a park all right: a dry field of puny trees, dead grass, and greenhouses. There wasn’t even any shade. Of course.

It was 11:30 and the day was only getting bleaker. But at this point, we began to chuckle. And we chuckled our way into El Corte Inglés, past the prim and proper salespeople, to the café on the tippity top floor.

(This was after we did a diligent search and ended up at the downward bound escalator. “Of course,” Roomie said. But we chuckled.)

We feigned confidence as we took our seats in the classy café. The server poured my Aquarius into a goblet as I subtly tried to air out the sweat stain on the back of my grungy T-shirt.

We made it to our bus on time and carefully selected our seat. Then we looked up. “Of course,” said Roomie. And we chuckled. We had carefully selected the seat with a missing “stop” button.

But finally, we were on our way to Dalías!

We didn’t have much experience with taking the bus there and arrived long before we thought we should. Roomie noticed that businesses were starting to mention the town name. I checked my trusty map and lunged forward to push the “stop” button on the seat ahead of us.

We strolled around Dalías, trying to not look too out of place. But as we wandered down a skinny street with a hand’s breadth of sidewalk, I leaned into a window grate to accommodate a passing car. It was probably the only jagged window grate in the entire town.

Rip. And my sleeve was left with a gaping hole.  After the initial surprise, we chuckled. “Of course.”

town square painted white
stairstep flower boxes

We found the hiking trail on my trusty map and our casual wandering soon turned into panting and rolling sweat. Uphill we went, winding through greenhouses and barking dogs and the thick scent of livestock. (Who goes hiking in Spanish July anyway?)

rolling Spanish agricultural countryside

Although it was hot, the scenery was beautiful. And somewhere beyond all of that, there was a restaurant. At least we hoped so. Partway through the hike, as we stared at a dead end, Roomie asked, “How old were the reviews for this restaurant?” She was picturing one of the crumbling buildings along the side of the trail to be the former “Restaurante el Arroyo.”

Despite our pessimism, we made it. Even without dying of sunstroke, being devoured by rabid dogs, or falling down a ravine. We sat across the table from each other, laughing at each others’ red faces. 

“Water please. Cold!”

“You know, there’s air conditioning up there.” The server pointed to an upper room. We dashed upstairs without a second thought as he went to retrieve cold water for the red-faced Americans.

After lunch, I parked myself under the perfect tree beside a cool spring of water and pulled out my Kindle. This was the “of course” that I had planned the day around. The other “of course”s were just there to make this one sweeter.

stream surrounded by trees and spotted shade