Roatan, March 2014, Part One

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Roatan, off the coast of Honduras

It was two years ago, for 3 weeks in April-May, when my son, daughter-in-law, then 3  1/2 year old granddaughter, Jordan, and I last travelled, internationally, as a family.  On that adventure we explored the Andulusian region of Spain and a few places in Portugal.  Awesome adventure. Beautiful areas.

And, one year ago in March, I had an extraordinary ‘heritage walk’ in England with new found cousins which, like the trip to Spain and Portugal, is all chronicled in this blog (previously under the blog name: grammietravels).

Now I move on to a new blog heading of Paper, Pen, Journey as Vivian C. Murray while reinventing the site to be all-inclusive of multigenerational travel, my family’s experiences in Shanghai as expats in the 20s, 30s, and 40s, and my own personal explorations.

 

This year, 2014, we traveled again as a 3 generation family and arrived in Roatan, Honduras on the last day of February, leaving 12 days later.

As in previous travels, we used VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner), renting a 3 bedroom house on Tamarind Drive which was closer to West Bay than West End. (And that was a good thing, as far as I’m concerned.)  The house was about 500 feet (down and back up a steep hill) from the beach. Of course this is not far when a person is fit and used to hiking. For moi, it was a bit of a stretch coming back up that hill.

One hot afternoon, a guy rolled past in his golf cart and asked if I needed a ride down the hill. I told him to come back when I needed a ride back up! He laughed while commenting that he could relate. Another day, a young worker at the boutique hotel (Xbalanque Resort) next to the beach called out asking if I needed a ride back up and while catching my breath I declined saying I was almost there. I had pulled something in my left foot and was using a walking stick to help climb back up the hill. I must have been a pitiful sight all sweaty, sandy, huffing and puffing.  I wouldn’t be caught dead looking like this back home.

In our very nice house, the bedrooms and living area had sliding glass doors to the deck where there’s an infinity plunge pool. Is was deep enough to fully submerge, float and Jordan could easily run and canon-barrel into the water.

01af0638e4adca5032621e847e764c798d601dba87 Cannonball in plunge pool

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Plunge Pool

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The guidebooks and house instructions mention the “pleasant” 45 minute beachwalk from West Bay to West End. Our yellow house-on-stilts is in the middle between those two towns and I was pretty much scratching on death’s door by the time we walked to and from West Bay the first week there. It didn’t help matters to have a bum foot.

What the guidebooks also fail to mention is a high metal bridge over a small waterway near Gambolinda Park. There are many stairs which need to be negotiated as well as a rocky area of about 50 feet which needed careful attention (these rocks have now been removed).

Did I mention the fact that these walks are in 85 degrees with 95% humidity?

The water taxi stops at the comfortable and pricey boutique hotel dock below the house (Xbalanque Resort). Jordan and I paired up as a team to take the taxis on two occasions, once to West End and the other to Infinity Bay at West Bay.

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Riding the water taxi.

 

A couple of things I love about Central America besides the warm temps and warm oceans, are the geckos chirping in the rooms and the occasional colorful bird perched nearby squawking its head off. But, in Roatan I missed the sounds of the howler monkeys which we heard in Costa Rica, as well as toucans, and parrots. We did have the geckos, bats, vultures, crows, and the odd squawking bird here and there.

 

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Two of the dozen bats outside the kitchen window.

 

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This guy was hanging on off our balcony for one evening.

Upside down Roatan bird

Pretty bird with a loud squawk.

 

The Hondurian vendors on beaches are naturally annoying but not as bad as in Mexico. Here, it usually takes one “No gratias” and they go away. In Mexico they nag incessantly.

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Ice cream on the beach

At West Bay there was the ‘Banana Donut Man’ a grizzled old guy with a long white beard, a bit rotund, sweet and kind. He fed the little children left over donuts as well as the fish.  (Sanding in the water when he threw a piece of donut and have the fish swarm around my legs was a very cool sensation.) We bought one from him at West Bay.

The ‘famous’ banana-donut-man fed the fish and the children. Even though I spoke with him a short time, I knew he had a good heart.

Pretending to be a shark and grabbing our legs

This young boy had fun grabbing our ankles as we went into the water.

 

 

There were young Garifuna boys selling conch shells and dried, plasticized seahorses.  It had just been the day before when I talked to ‘the kids’ about how I wondered what ever happened to the beautiful conch shell she had for years, after she passed on.  Naturally I was drawn to purchasing the shell which looked just like the one my mom had. The boy wanted $10, I said $5. He said no. The seahorse he wanted $6 and I said $2. I sat on my beach batik throw from Costa Rica, and just shook my head no. He walked away with his little friend, who was trying to sell me more inferior products for my price, so I went to snorkel to get a break.

When I resurfaced from a wonderful escape with the fish, the boy popped into my face and agreed to my prices.  “OK, it’s a deal.” he said.  He and I laughed over the whole game of it. He was probably no more than 9 years old, just a year older than my grandson in Seattle.

There were also women offering hair braiding and massages, along with an ice cream cart pushed back and forth from a very pleasant local selling a frozen ice cream for $3 but at the end of the day, agreeing to $2.

However, vendors at the West End were another story, especially the ‘masseurs.’ They ganged up on the tourists and had no mercy. Be very careful with these women, unless you want to spend a lot of money for a massage on the beach.

Jordan and I landed at West End on the water taxi and immediately saw this would be a different experience. After running into the Banana-Donut-Man again and buying 3 for the family, we made our way to the first stop for Jordan’s promised ice cream, and then to the beach which was just outside the ice cream shop.  Stopping to ask people on the street where to find ice cream or the main beach is a must-do unless you want to wander aimlessly in the heat.

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Jordan arrives at West End, Roatan

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West End has much more in the way of a “hip scene”

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Note the beer and glass the marlin is holding.

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Half Moon Bay was a calm mass of sparkling turquoise and swimming was great. But we landed very close to the town beach bum whom I didn’t trust because of the grizzled appearance and beer in one brown, leathery hand. He was watching Jordan and I very intently when we were in the water so I opted to go back to our spot to keep an eye on Jordan, our bags, and feel less than relaxed. But the old man was probably not the biggest problem on the beach. At least he eventually climbed into his hammock, strung between two palms behind me and which I swear I didn’t notice when choosing the spot initially, and fell fast asleep.

The massage vendors were beyond annoying and were really a crooked bunch of lovely looking young women led by what appeared to be the older matriarch of all Roatan masseurs. This woman was relentlessly trying to massage my neck while saying ‘just a demo’ and then whispering God-only-knows-what into my ears. I was sufficiently creeped out and finally brushed her away as I would an annoying fly.  I’m a patient person but she was pushing my limits.

Not so lucky for the young couple next to where I sat who fell under the spell of Massage Mama and her ‘little pretties.’ Before I knew it, this couple were laying face down and getting worked on, in more than one way. About 6 women were massaging these unsuspecting two people. They even I clasped the woman’s bikini top.

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Half Moon Bay, West End

 

 

Half Moon Bay, West End, Roatan

Little did we know we were walking into a den of crazed masseuse women.

Boat people were swinging off the mast

There were people swinging on rope from the masts of this boat into the water.

 

While  keeping my eye on the beach scene, still waving to Jordan who was having a blast in the water,  out of my peripheral vision I saw the couple sit up and heard the voices getting louder. The man was saying, “But you said this was a demo! I am only giving you $20, the only cash I brought, exactly in case of a situation like this coming up!” Mama Masseuse is yelling, “No, no Mister! $80 for each half hour massage!” The ‘Mister’ held his ground and the women walked off all clucking like a multi-colored group of disgruntled hens.

The couple and I started chatting. They were from New Orleans and taking a break from the Royal Caribbean cruise they were on. I liked them immediately and we chatted for awhile laughing at the audacity of Mama Masseuse. He was very pissed off and his voice and accent reminded me of Matthew McConaughey. He laughed to tell me while being massaged he overheard me tell Jordan to just “pee in the ocean” after she had run up to me frantic about her need.

He found it funny while I felt a bit embarrassed for about half a second. He also offered to drive us back to the cruise ship, which of course wasn’t necessary since we weren’t on a cruise.  His wife also told me she was pretty uncomfortable about her bikini top being undone by the massage team.

After a bit, Jordan ran up to say she was hungry, a common event on this trip, so we went off in search of a cash machine and a restaurant. My card wouldn’t work in the cash machine, but the Coconut Tree hawker said they accepted credit cards so up the stairs we went.

I had Lionfish fish cakes, presented prettily and tasting especially good. Jordan had cheese quesadillas which she didn’t like and wouldn’t eat. Now I understand why she is so thin. Thrilled to see a tv on in the open aired lounge area, she went to sit and watch Sponge Bob and I had a few minutes to myself. I began watching a bunch of young people swing off the mast of a sailboat into the sea wondering how safe that was but knowing they were having a blast.

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It was an easy decision not to fuss with the water taxi (getting in and out was as challenging as I was afraid it would be) so I hailed a $10 cab ride back to Sienna House. Jordan was totally fine to be taxied by land back to the house, and seemed as relieved as I was. Her parents were out and about so the two of us slipped into easy naps under the ceiling fan in my sea-blue and yellow bedroom.

To be continued…

 

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Airport From Hell, 24+ Hour Travel Day, Family, and Ready To Do It Again

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To begin, i would like to reitterate, with great emphasis, that both arrivals to and departure from Heathrow was holy hell. Point made.

We left our Alfama apartment in Lisbon and caught a cab almost immediately. After the cab driver tried to convince us, unsuccessfully, that his fare to the airport would be less than the bus Christopher and Kelly had figured out for us, he dropped us off in another part of town I hadn’t seen yet. It didn’t take long before we boarded a comfortable bus, with luggage holders, to the airport.

The ride was interesting as I saw how large a city Lisbon is and how beautiful with magnificent statues, parks, boulevards, and a ritzy shopping district. Hard to fathom that all this acreage was leveled by earthquake, fire, and/or tsunami in 1755.

After getting to our gate, Christopher found us coffee somewhere (weird there were so very few places for any refreshments, but if you needed perfume, they had that covered), I had satiated Jordan with some sort of Bugle chip mix, we boarded BA bound for Heathrow. Jordan and I did ok on the 2 hour flight to Heathrow, but, of course she mentioned she was hungry. We landed, and luckily because of The Kids having Business Class seats, Jordan and I tagged along with them bypassing the humongous lines other travelers had to endure. It was awful to see the backlogs and I was so grateful not to be standing in them.

We had had to transfer from terminal 1 to terminal 5 and after sailing to the main floor (with Christopher held up in security because of a bottle of Portuguese hot sauce he had bought in Lisbon’s airport. We then parted ways as they were allowed in the elite lounge and we were not (I have experienced lounges so I was a tad remorseful we couldn’t tag along). We had about a two hour layover but by then, I am wagering that 45 minutes was already eaten alive.

Jordan and I ventured into the Giraffe Lounge and placed an order of yogurt and fruit, which was what Jordan asked for and barely ate. I drank a cappuccino. Fast. The service was sooo slow that before I knew it, it was time to make our way to the boarding gate. Not the server’s fault as he was going as fast as he could. The place was busy and understaffed.

We started heading to the boarding gate at about the same time as 600,000 other pushy, harried, rude, and overtired passengers. The lines for the trains and escalators were ridiculously overcrowded. I had never seen anything like it. In fact, I acted out of character when I grabbed the jacket arm of a young (maybe 12 years old) boy who was about to trample Jordan in order to get on the escalator ahead of us. I spoke to Jordan, as we were elevating, in a voice the boy could hear, that people needed better manners when traveling and that pushing and shoving was not only rude, but also dangerous with little 3 year olds walking in the same crowd. Then I wondered if he and his family were from New Delhi, or somewhere that it is so crowded, where this behavior is the only way to survive and get anywhere.

Walking to the boarding gate took forever. We actually stopped to rest (Jordan’s idea) on these nice chairs that had leg rests. Jordan took them to be full body rests.

We got to the gate with more “I’m hungry.” and “I have to go potty.” declarations and just in time for our boarding call. I didn’t see The Kids anywhere. Jordan and I started boarding and as we crossed the threshold into the plane, I asked the attendant if my son and daughter-in-law had boarded so after first grumbling how she wouldn’t know that, she saw I was concerned so she asked us to step into the galley so she could check the manifest. She saw they had checked in previously but not whether they had gotten on the plane. I had to just take my chances. I also hoped there would be no passenger next to us in our 3 seater space. (I later learned that an attendant The Kids had spoken to (after they barely made the flight) promised to tell me they had arrived and were on the plane. That never happened.)

Our 3 seats were looking good to hold the 2 of us until the last minute when a hip woman about my age came aboard and went to settle in. At first I was a little worried as she was pretty frazzled and also complained about Heathrow’s lack of good management.

But, Linda was very cool. She had just been to Africa to visit a friend who volunteers. Then she spent a week in London before now returning to her job as a psychiatric nurse at a VA hospital in Denver. She lived in there to be close to her kids and grandkids although she had a condo in a warmer climate which she rents out.

Our little Jordan had a rough ride. In turn, this meant our not-so-little Grammie also had an even rougher ride. Although our flight was in late afternoon, after dinner, playing on the iPad, eating, and reading, there was nothing to calm her from wanting her mom. Linda turned out to be a godsend. She cajoled the attendants to give up some milk and biscuits for Jordan, and was supportive to me with whatever I needed. We turned into the “Pacify Jordan Squad.” Jordan finally fell asleep for a little while but i made the big mistake of adjusting her body a bit so she was more comfy, while talking to Linda, which woke her. It was then a hell trip from about Greenland to Denver. That is a long way.

Of course we barely slept but when we landed, she happily reunited with her parents, we sailed through DIA’s Customs, and started the process of parting ways with kisses and hugs. Jordan then started crying and hanging onto me that she didn’t want me to go back to Seattle. I got teary, too. And it was from sadness, not tears of joy to be traveling solo the rest of the way, really!

I managed to wait the 2 1/2 hrs at the Denver International Airport for my next flight without nodding off, but on the way to Seattle it was becoming increasingly more difficult to keep my eyes open, so I didn’t. It had been over 24 hours of travel by the time I landed close to 11 p.m. and then there was a longer than usual wait for the airporter. Put toothpicks in my eyes for the hour ride home and had no problems getting to sleep once my head hit the pillow. Thinking back on it, the memory is a little like trying to remember labor before giving birth. They say if women were able to remember labor, they’d never have more children and civilization would cease to exist. I find there are time periods that have all but vanished. How did we survive and how did everyone else on the plane bear it? Must not have been as bad as I imagined since they didn’t land the plane in Greenland and dump us out on an ice floe.

Our 22 day European Odyssey, as one cousin rightly labeled it, was an amazing multi-generational trip with palaces, fortresses, ferias, bird and cat ladies, flamenco and fado, spectacular views, sunsets and sunrises, custard tarts and orange cake, hills and stairs, ferries, cable cars, boats, trains, buses, planes, and cars, bullfight, and the gift of sharing those experiences with my family. What more could a girl ask for?

I have been ruminating about how just last summer and fall, we lost 5 family members within 3 months, my dear mom included, and barely 3 months later, we gained over a dozen new family members whom we had been looking for all my life in one form or another. They had been looking, too, and only found us through my mother’s obituary. Unfortunately, mom wasn’t on earth to experience meeting her father’s side of the family, but I think she had an astral hand with orchestrating the connection. Wonderfully, I have already met my first cousin (my grandfather’s niece) when she came to visit us in spring, right before I left on this journey. I have emailed with her son, and Skyped with her brother. And, now, I have recently learned they have found the offspring of two other uncles and are now working on meeting them. The plan is that I return to England in April of 2013 to have a proper introduction to everyone who still lives in the UK. We are to take a Heritage Trail to see where my grandfather was raised before he moved to work in Shanghai in the 20’s, where my mom was born to he and my Russian grandmother. His life was tragically ended in 1941 in Shanghai, and when WWII broke out, my mom and grandmother were taken into custody by the Japanese and put into an internment camp for over 4 years not far from Shanghai. Those were my mom’s teenage years. It was after their release when the war ended that they moved to San Francisco, and through all that turmoil they had unfortunately lost track of my grandfather’s family in England. Then I was later born in San Francisco, first generation U.S. citizen.

I can hardly wait to meet everyone!

(And I can only hope Heathrow has straightened their “little” problems out by then! I do not envy those thousands of people arriving for the Olympics in August if they haven’t fixed the issues with their staffing and time management.)

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The Mist of Sintra

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It was a Sunday when we arrived in Lisbon. This apartment didn’t have 3 flights of stairs, it had 5 flights. I was thrilled when the apartment owner just grabbed my suitcase and ran up those 5 flights with it.

What an amazing view of the cathedral, river, and Golden Gate-like bridge from our windows, which helped a bit with the all out fear I would be holed up in the apartment for the next two days feeling faint of heart to leave and return only to face the staircase. I realize now that it’s time to admit my limitations and stop thinking I’m 40 years old with no health issues.

After a brief rest with the tall balcony doors open and facing my bed (being up that high has the advantage of no one able to see inside), I heard music, and got up to look down upon a marching band with horses. The guest of honor appeared to be a statue on a horse, stiff legs sticking out, with red ribbon around the horse’s ankles. Jordan and I thought this to be a very nice welcome to Lisbon. Christopher and Kelly were on their way to find the supermercado and also saw the parade. Love these impromptu celebrations when I usually have no idea why they are celebrating.

After that little adrenal rush, I told Jordan we had to go take a walk, stairs be damned, in the neighborhood. Shortly after buying a stuffed fish from the shop across the street, some souvenirs (which included t-shirts for both her and Gabriel), we found the Mother of All Climbing Trees. Jordan didn’t hesitate. Soon after, and as I was just reprimanding her to stop going so high, her parents found us. My son’s horrified look spoke volumes as to what he thought about Grammie letting his daughter climb so high up into a tree. Geez…as if he never used to do the same thing! And he lived to now watch his own daughter follow in his footsteps. Cute, right?

We all walked together to the top of the hill with a lookout, and then hopped a very San Francisco style cable car for a long careening ride (#28) up and down the Lisbon hills. At the end of the line was a gorgeous public park where, since it was warm and sunny, I figure about a quarter of Lisbon’s residents were having picnics, listening to a live jazz band in a gazebo, sitting on benches talking, or playing in the large, well-equipped playground. Jordan was in heaven. We stayed quite awhile so she could work off that pent up energy after the long train ride from Porto.

In many European cities, we have found that they close museums and shops on Sundays and Mondays. We learned that while these Lisbon (Lisboa) places would be closed the next day, if we took the train out of town, about a half hour away was a castle called Sintra. That was the plan.

In the rain on the following day, we made our way down the waterfront, to the TI gazebo (TI is “Tourist Information” where you can pick up free walking maps for the city you are visiting as well as staff to answer questions) to get the city map and then figure out how to get to the subway station, called The Metro. From there we took the Metro to the train station (remember to validate tickets at most stations BEFORE you get on the bus or train), then on to Sintra.

“National Palace (Palacio Nacional)
While the palace dates back to Moorish times, most of what you’ll see is from the 15th-century reign of King John (Joao) I, with later Manueline architectural ornamentation from the 16th century. This oldest surviving royal palace in Portugal is still used for official receptions. having housed royalty for 500 years (until 1910), it’s fragrant with history.” Rick Steves’ Portugal April, 2011

After arriving at the train station in Sintra, it’s a short walk around the corner to wait for the bus to take you up the mountain. It was raining. I went across the street to check out a, what we used to call, ‘junk store.’ Wow, I could have spent hours and a lot of money in that place. Really cool stuff and I could kick myself for not getting the metal knight in full armor for Gabriel. His mother, however, would be on the other side giving me a kick, too, if I had bought it. My daughter is a minimalist, so less is best in her world.

The ride through the cute little town was brief and the ride up the mountain didn’t take more than maybe 15 minutes. It was getting increasingly foggy as we ascended into the clouds and we could not see a thing beyond 50 feet.

We arrived at a gate and paid the entrance fee along with the bus fare for Jordan and I to go the rest of the way to the castle. The Kids were just going to walk in the rain and they were better equipped to do that than Jordan and I, anyway.

At the top, now seeing what would have been a wonderful day of exploring if it was dry and warm, were the castle and the acres of gardens. The walk up the curving dirt road to the entrance was very manageable and felt mystical as Jordan and I rounded a bend and saw this medieval/gothic yellow and red imposing structure before us. I took a lot of photos.

As per her repertoire, Jordan said she was hungry. We found a deli, rather than go into the restaurant. I felt soggy. Jordan looked even soggier. We were not fit to be inside a restaurant. Christopher and Kelly soon found us and we all ate lunch at a small crowded little counter with only two stools for all 4 of us. The Kids had brought French bread and salami, as is our standard low budget fare (not knocking it…great way to save some bucks rather than eat in overpriced tourist spots).

We walked all over this amazing place. Unfortunately it was yet another location (like the library in Porto) where photos were not allowed inside but suffice it to say that the furniture was as magnificent as the architecture. There was also a team of experts diligently restoring various pieces of stained glass, tile work, etc. The antiques in here were invaluable.

Jordan had another meltdown as she reached her boredom maximum and poor Kelly was ready to lose her mind. I didn’t envy either of them and I could understand both of their frustration. They went outside.

After exploring every inch of the exterior perimeter while inside a cloud of mist, Jordan and I headed back on the bus to the exit gate at the bottom where we waited longer for her parents than I would have liked. They had taken a detour on the way back and spoke with some guy in a building who had a model of the grounds and was sharing his knowledge with them. I didn’t blame them, on the other hand, I now had a very bored and fed up 3 year old who was now playing hide ‘n seek with me, in the non-kid friendly souvenir shop, where pottery and tiles stood stoic waiting to be bumped into and smashed to only a smattering of what they had once been. It was pouring outside so there were very few options, the restrooms being the other choice. (We left without owing any money except for the couple of small trinkets we bought.)

Later, back in Lisbon, we found a restaurant not far from our apartment where Jordan showed off a whole new line of bad behavior as if it was the spring edition of “Jordan Wear and Tear.” The food was not great, the beer was ridiculously expensive, and Kelly had to take Jordan screaming back to the apartment before we were finished eating. It had been a very long day.

The next day I offered to stay behind with Jordan as they went to Bellem. I wanted to check out the ancient flea market in our Alfama neighborhood and just take it easy before we flew back home the next day. As Jordan and I descended the 5 flights of stairs, we walked up the hill (passing the souvenir shop where we bought a few things a couple of days before and where the owner was standing in the doorway recognizing us and giving Jordan and I kind words of greetings (this is one of the great aspects of renting apartments in neighborhoods when traveling). Halfway up the hill, as Jordan wanted to climb the old knarly tree again, I realized I didn’t have my camera. I just couldn’t bring myself to leave behind my camera on my last full day in Europe.

So, quite begrudgingly, we returned to the building and climbed the 5 flights of stairs again. I was wiped out. It felt like the last 3 weeks had fallen square on my shoulders and I didn’t have any strength left. My nerves felt shot. I couldn’t find my camera. My stomach was upset. Jordan was racing around. Everything felt like it was careening out of control.

And then it happened.

I was in the bathroom when I heard a high pitched screech. I came out and looked down the hallway into my room and saw that the previously closed balcony windows were now wide open and what I could see of the narrow balcony was empty. I started running down the hallway while I called for Jordan and there was no answer. I yelled for her as I went racing to the balcony. No answer. In my panic, I imagined Jordan going over the edge of the balcony and falling to her death like poor Eric Clapton’s son. As I rounded the bed frame (with the bad Feng Shui corners that kept gouging us) innocent faced Jordan came walking back into the room from the balcony. I grabbed her, far from very gently, and told her to never go out there again without an adult (which we had already warned her about) and to answer me when I called her name. She had never seen me so angry so the both of us broke down in tears hugging one another. I didn’t feel like going anywhere by then.

I still hadn’t found my camera and was only mildly consoled by the fact that most of the photos, except Sintra, had been backed up on Christopher’s camera. However, it was a relatively new camera and the thought of it being lost, along with my eyeglasses, just made me feel sick. But, after looking again, I found it under a backpack and told Jordan we were getting out of the apartment, pronto!

We asked for some directions at the top of the hill where there is a stunning view at a very popular overlook, and then hopped the cable car to the flea market. We had to jump off at the last minute with the help of a tall man lifting Jordan high in the air to place her gently on the sidewalk, me squeezing between the boarding passengers, and the driver yelling at us. We were supposed to exit from the rear of the cable car. Oops. We kept walking at a fast clip to the church where the old lady sitting next to me (this time old means very much older than me) had told me the flea market was located.

I was going to redeem this day come hell or high water. And I certainly did, as you will soon find out in the next edition of this too-long-and-too-wordy blog.

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Faro’s Charm and Port In Porto

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We disembarked from the Tangier to Tarifa ferry looking like we felt: exhausted. Since the next day was going to be complex and long, we stopped by the super mercado (market) to buy ingredients for dinner and the road trip. Omelets were the main, and only, course planned.

It took more than one drive through to finally find a parking space. The next day was a national holiday (May 1) and the place was packed. Jordan and I stayed in the car and waited for what felt like an eternity for The Kids to get back with the eggs and some road trip food (French bread and salami were becoming a staple).

Trudged up the stairs to the apartment and I was packing for the next day when I heard an “Oh no!” Now, granted, our clothing (washed the night before with a little dish soap in the washer which is risky) wasn’t dry on the makeshift clotheslines (my portable one worked out well in this instance), but that couldn’t have warranted this exclamation. Poor Kelly had picked up a half dozen hard boiled eggs instead of fresh for the omelet. She felt awful, but her husband, my son, rose to the occasion making us an elegant fusion-inspired dinner that even Jordan enjoyed. All was well. And, the clothes were just about dry the following morning. Did I mention that our beach apartment, which was not exactly Mediterranean warm, didn’t have central heating? So glad there was at least a space heater for Jordan’s and my room.

Illustrious and organized as an army of ants, we were packed up and ready to rock ‘n
roll by 9 a.m. Jordan, all along on this trip, had deemed herself as The Seating Planner so there is frequent controversy for me to always be sitting down next to her. Since I was getting ready for the day, I didn’t have time to have my breakfast at the same time as she was eating. Other than some mild histrionics, we managed to pile ourselves and luggage back into our rental car to drive on to Sevilla so we could return the car.

The drive was uneventful with scenery that included a lot of energy producing windmills and a large black cutout bull on a small hill. We returned the car, got a cab, and headed to the bus station where we already had tickets for the 4 p.m. journey to Faro, Portugal. We arrived in Sevilla with about 3 hours to spare.

Rather than lug around our suitcases, we went in search of lockers at the bus station. This was something I have never done, and it was obvious that I had certainly never worked the Spanish system of paying for a locker. Good God Almighty. Not only did we (Christopher, primarily) have to fit almost everything (there was no way in hell we could get his pack to fit, and there was also no way in hell he would let us pay the additional €5 for another locker), but the instructions for paying for the “key” to the locker was so convoluted, that I was enormously relieved when a kind, older (like my age older) Spanish man showed me that the “key” was actually a small dime-sized slotted coin which had already fallen into the tray when I paid for the locker which this man found for me. With a lot of shoving, The Kids got the locker to shut and lock.

We headed across the street to a comfortable and modern food court and settled into a coffee shop with free “wee fee” to have a beer, or in my case, a cappuccino. After an hour or so of catching up on correspondence and the news, Jordan had had it. She wanted a juice, as in NOW. I took her over to the McDonalds across the aisle from the coffee shop and after tussling with the less than helpful Spanish girl over getting Jordan a cup and a straw (like this is going to put McDonalds into bankruptcy!), with glass juice container and straw in hand, we headed back to the coffee shop. The guy behind the counter in there had an attitude as well, so it was apparently a great hardship to ring up a sandwich or a new “wee fee” code as it expired every 30 minutes. Were these people pissed off because they had to work on a holiday or were they always like this?

Happily, The Kids, with Jordan in tow, left me alone and went off in search of a playground. I was quite content to have a break for awhile.

When they returned, and Jordan was satiated from the playtime, we hit the bus station for the ride to Faro. Much to Jordan and my disappointment, this bus line did not offer us goodie bags as the bus to Granada had over a week before. Nonetheless, with iPad in hand, Jordan settled into the 3 hour bus trip. That is definitely the maximum time a 3 year old should be on a bus, believe me.

Our hotel in Faro was comfortable and in a good location. There was a great breakfast as well as a little cafe setup off the main lobby. This is where I met my new Portuguese love of all time: Orange Cake.

Spain, Morocco, and Portugal have orange trees everywhere. Delectable cake is made from this sweet and healthy fruit. That is probably the only thing healthy about the moist cake: the Vitamin C content! I only had one slice in the day and a half we were there in Faro, but the memory stayed with me until I found it again in Lisbon a week later.

Faro was surprisingly delightful. And I had never even known about this interesting little city beforehand. I think that is one of the delicious things about traveling off the beaten path, the taste of new places never gets old. We found a quiet little pizza place for dinner and survived yet another dinner with a 3 year old who made us sit in certain chairs, again, while always being sure her Grammie was close at hand. Quite sweet, really. Just that there are times when it is more convenient to be seated differently, but that’s our problem, apparently, not hers.

We took a long walk all about the old town the day after we arrived. Climbed the bell tower for the view. Saw the chapel of children’s bones which was to memorialize the children who were killed in a devastating earthquake and tsunami which hit Portugal in 1755 and not only wiped out much of Faro and other coastal towns, but also destroyed half of Lisbon. Terribly sad story yet a very poignant gesture, if not somewhat a bit eerie, to honor the kids who died.

After the old town church we saw an open door of a large warehouse looking building and peeked inside. Two older men (yep, around my age) were talking amidst a large open space filled with Portuguese tile. I asked if we could come in to look and he said yes, these tiles were for sale. He also did restoration work and had been there, in this shop, for 40 years, having been originally from Porto, which he preferred over Faro. He turned out to be charming. Christopher found an 18th century tile which he purchased, and I found one that was only 30-40 years old with a hand painted picture of a young boy strumming a guitar. He wrapped it and charged me €5 (about $7-8). I put it into my bag and continued to mill around looking at his craftsmanship. I reached into my bag to pull out my iPad so I could take a photo only to feel the tile slip out of my bag with the iPad and hear that dreaded sound of the tile fall flat on the concrete floor and break. The shop owner heard me moan and told me not to worry, that he would replace it for me free of charge, which he did.

Soon after, Christopher and Jordan corralled a small crab they found on the sea wall and I saw massive white storks in alcoves on a rooftop in wild looking enormous nests. But most importantly, Jordan found a playground and a little French girl to see-saw and slide with until her parents had to leave and Jordan cried to see her go.

We wandered into the area of downtown that reminded us of the pedestrian-only Pearl St. Mall in Boulder, Colorado (where the kids and I lived for several years as they were growing up). The unemployment rate is high and the restaurants and stores are nearly empty here. We later found a family restaurant where we were the only customers for most of our meal. The food was good and we learned that they had been in business for 30 years as we met the owners and the host translated for us. I found it sad to walk such quiet streets as they were a stark economic indicator. Jordan, on the other hand, was nonplussed by it all and began practicing for her upcoming Cheryl Tiegs-like modeling career.

I had become friendly with the young women working the counter of the cafe in the Santa Maria hotel lobby. One young woman was Russian and we spoke of our shared heritage. She confirmed what Christopher and I had mentioned during our walk, that we had heard people speaking Russian and even thought we smelled Russian cooking which was so familiar to us from my grandmother, Lola, cooking Russian favorites for me as well as for my kids growing up. I learned from this young woman that there were a lot of Ukrainians living in Faro, not that many Russians as the employment situation in Russia was better than in Portugal. I liked this girl’s spirit a lot as she asked me very open and pointed questions about my family’s history which is actually, due to some extraordinary recent events, at the forefront of my brain lately. She gave me a bit more confidence that it was a story worth telling.

Also, it’s worth mentioning that the Portuguese language is like none other I’ve heard. There are a lot of ‘ssssh’ sounds and it is a very melodic language. Someone told me it was very easy to write poetry/lyrics in Portuguese, hence the popularity of Fado music. There is very little similarity to Spanish. “Hola” is heard but, for instance, “Thankyou” is “Obrigada” which is no where near “Gracias.” I loved how that sounded so much that I said it every opportunity I had whenever the time was relevant. “Obrigada” just rolled off my tongue so easily!

The following day when preparing to fly into Porto on Ryanair, it was imperative that we consolidate our baggage so we were not charged additional baggage fees on the flight. Since we were only allowed one carryon, I packed my daypack into my backpack easily. My luggage came in at 28 kilos when the max was 30, which was a close call. But when we were going through security, we had to swap things around to where I was carrying one of their laptops and Jordan had to attempt carrying my backpack, which was insane and very frustrating for her. As we neared the measurement basket, somehow I managed to whisk her off with me into the boarding line and bypass the basket so there would be no embarrassing questions. I don’t think my backpack would have easily slipped in and out of the basket let alone for them to believe it was the carryon of a 3 year old. They are quite strict at Ryanair. Oh, the things we do to save money. So stressful sometimes, but usually well worth it when you are a budget traveler. Afterall, if we didn’t use cost cutting measures, we wouldn’t be able to travel as much. However on this trip, we used more taxis than I’ve ever used in the past and that was a huge lifesaver for me as well as for Jordan. Totally worth every penny.

We boarded the flight, Jordan was next to me and her parents were several rows ahead of us. As soon as the seatbelts were secured and the engines were revving for takeoff, the little voice beside me said, “Grammie, I really need to use the bathroom.” Knowing what the answer would be, I asked anyway and was shot down abruptly by the crisp British voice of the flight attendant, “Absolutely not now, madam.” Sheez, I was just asking for my granddaughter so don’t bite my head off, ok? I didn’t say that but told Jordan she had to wait it out until we took off and the seatbelt light goes off. Then we could both squeeze into the tiny onboard lavatory together where she would ask me to please not flush until she was out of there as the loud suction flush scares the bejeebies out of her. This was a common occurrence on all the restroom breaks we took together: I had to go first, then she’d go. Our bonding experience knew no boundaries.

We took the Metro from the airport into Porto getting off at the Trinidad station. From there, it was a half mile of narrow sidewalks, cobblestones, old men and homeless people in a city park, all uphill. Did I mention we were walking? Then, we had 3 flights of stairs to climb up to our apartment. We selected this place as it was much less expensive than others listed and meant it was not in the center of town. It was also one of the strangest setups for a rental apartment. The owner lived there but obviously lived somewhere else when she rented the place out on AIRNB. We were staying in a nice person’s apartment, which, she mentioned in a note, was her grandparent’s previous home. As she was making improvements, renting it out to travelers helped her financially. Her clothing hung in closets, her books were in the hallway bookcase, her spices were in the pantry. There was even a half bottle of wine left in the fridge! (Alas, no central heating here, either, but at least there was a better clothes line setup.)

We had two full days to enjoy the city.

In Porto is a lovely square with magnificent buildings and one of the loveliest bookstores I’ve ever seen up the hill. We were reprimanded not to take photos inside, but of course I snuck in a couple anyway. Wanted to buy Jordan a book there but there were no books that had Portuguese-Engish translations, as I’ve found in Italy. Not far from there is a famous bell tower, a park with a green lake, and an outdoor cafe which Jordan and I hung out at while her energetic parents walked to the top of that tower. No thanks.

Later that evening, it was here that Kelly asked us the dreaded question, away from Jordan, in a hushed whisper, “Have you guys seen Pinky (a pink bear), Gib (a baby monkey I had just bought her on Gibraltar), or Tortuga (a turtle from last year’s trip to Costa Rica)?” Apparently, back in Faro, Kelly had packed Jordan’s little “friends” whom she slept with every night, and Jordan unpacked them putting them under the blankets of the bed in their room. They were inadvertently left behind. Uh oh. Our brave little Jordan had one turtle left (Tortuga II) to sleep with and Kelly was great with explaining that her friends had decided to stay in Faro a little longer. Jordan missed her friends but was able to go to sleep without too much trouble. Kelly was emailing with the staff at the Santa Maria hotel about whether the stuffed animals had been found but so far, no luck.

Porto is a beautiful city. Even with all the hills I had to climb, it is a vibrant, colorful city with the loud heartbeat of working class people who are proud to be Portuguese and who are a kind and gentle people. Everyone I came into contact with, that is except the young woman who was kicking us out of the Se Cathedral during our second visit because it was the lunch hour closing, were kind. We even had to pay admission to see this particular section of the cathedral, the cloisters, which is where I thought the 1500 pounds of silver altar was located and were still kicked out. Turned out it was in the main cathedral that was free and where we had been the day before. It’s so difficult to keep track of all the little details such as this. However the cloisters held exquisite examples of the infamous Portuguese blue tile work, John the Evangelist’s sarcophagus, and amazing artwork, so that was worth the entrance fee. But, really, must they close down at 1:00 p.m. on the nose each day? There were some very disappointed tourists outside the enormous doors, but we did get in a look of the silver altar which was in dire need of some silver polish.

As we left the cathedral and started walking down the steps leading to the riverfront, there was an old woman (much older than me, this time!), with her oxygen tube in her nose, leaning out her window up on the 3rd or 4th floor watching us, or actually watching all the tourists and travelers with an amazing close proximity to the cathedral. I asked if I could take a photo of her (using mime) and Jordan and the woman also communicated with looks and gestures and as we were walking away, the old woman blew her a kiss. Very sweet. Universal language.

There was a torrential downpour and we took refuge in another church just steps from the cathedral. This one was a museum, however, featuring huge blown up photos of Easter parades with tortured Jesus figures and somber looking religious pilgrims walking with heads cast down looking at their feet. Big opulent altars were also featured with model life sized bleeding and punctured Jesus statues in a variety of tortured poses. It was unsettling and I steered Jordan away from these bloody looking mannequins. Oddly enough, this church/museum was actually free.

Naturally, Jordan had to use a bathroom and to my surprise when I asked the very bored looking young man working reception, there was actually a restroom around the corner from the back room where I had just been a few minutes prior. It was the first time I have ever gone to the bathroom in a church. Of course Jordan and I took turns using the facility. (As we were leaving I noticed an older man sitting at a table with a ledger and pen furiously writing and looking very stern. No wonder the bored young man at the front desk appeared nervous.)

The rain tapered off enough to keep walking. As I didn’t make the river cruise in Sevilla because The Kids wanted to see the bull fight that day (and Christopher bought my ticket for the next day) I really wanted to be sure I went on the river cruise in Porto. After a weird little lunch (awkward moment when staff made some customers begrudgingly scooch over so we could share their table) in a cafe near the famous Porto square next to the river, where Christopher booked the boat in the rain.

On the boat was a cozy cabin with tables and chairs and a bar setup. We walked between the deck and the cabin, depending on how hard it was raining, for the next hour. It was a memorable cruise with 7 enormous bridges in view as we sailed from one direction to the other. Jordan took to “swabbing (really drying chairs with a tissue) the deck” so there would be dry places to sit, which was cute and endeared herself to the shipmate who was from an Eastern European country and missed his 10 children terribly. (Due to the language barrier, it may or may not have been 10 kids, but that’s what I got out of the conversation that Kelly and I couldn’t understand.) Christopher spent most of the sailing sitting out on the deck, in the rain, under his good thick rain jacket with hood. There were also about eight other passengers. A couple and a small group who appeared to be traveling together from maybe Germany (they also couldn’t understand the Eastern European shipmate and one woman, in particular, had the funniest dazed look as she stared listening to him, which cracked Kelly and I up).

Then all hell broke loose.

Kelly, Jordan, and I had been sharing a table starboard side when I got up to look out the glass door at the view from the stern end. Jordan also got up to follow me. In those same moments, the captain (in the upper cab) decided to turn the boat around in the area where the river meets the Atlantic ocean. I glanced outside just at the moment when I witnessed a very large wave come crashing against the windows of the cabin very close to where I was standing. The boat was getting hit broadside by the wave and I was losing my footing and balance while seeing Jordan skidding around behind me unable to grasp anything. Glass was flying and I could hear the sound of it breaking. I grabbed Jordan, as the shipmate grabbed me as he held tight to the door jamb to keep all 3 of us from falling.

After the boat righted itself, we saw that dozens of brandy sniffers and wine glasses had fallen off a high shelf and broken by the chair I had just been sitting in. Glad I moved or I would have been clobbered. And if Jordan had been skidding closer to the bar, she would have been hurt.

Jordan seemed unfazed by the event except that it had been exciting. It was so exciting for us, too, that the next stop after disembarking was the Sandeman Port Winery on the other side of the river. We walked at a fast clip across the bridge where I noticed there were padlocks chained in several places triggering the memory of once reading that people did this to proclaim love for one another.

Sandeman’s winery was very cool with the famous brand of the black caped figure with the wide brimmed hat a famous logo capitalized since 1790. After the organized tour, we happily sampled the two varieties of their port wine.

This, along with some french fries at an outdoor cafe, made it easier to catch a bus for “home” and make that familiar walk up the hill to the apartment. Everywhere we were noticing young people dressed in what we called the Harry Potter look. It was graduation time which made finding a restaurant that night impossible in our neighborhood, and god knows we looked.

First we went toward the church where there was a bazaar of some sort. An older Portuguese woman (again, probably my age when I say “older”) saw me taking photos of the exterior and approached me with much excitement. She insisted that I go inside the church to see something (again the universal language of hand gestures and speaking in tongues). As I walked inside, I saw the church was packed with parishioners standing in the pews murmuring prayers led by the priest at the altar.

There was an amazing and wonderful smell of flowers and it was then that I saw why the woman wanted me to go inside. There were bouquets of colorful flowers hanging everywhere with garlands strung from high columns, and an amazing centerpiece in the middle of this large church with what must have held thousands of blossoms. Impressive. I wish I could have taken more photos but I felt like I was intruding in someone’s home while they were having a personal conversation.

Back outside, Jordan and a little girl were “sizing each other up” by walking back and forth opposite one another. They looked pretty funny.

After walking several blocks, and even standing inside a restaurant for several minutes, we realized the restaurants we found in the neighborhood were packed and we didn’t want to wait. So, we headed for the grocery store near the apartment. They closed the market for the night just as their last customer was leaving and Christopher was headed for the entrance. We went a few more feet up the street wondering aloud what we had left in the apartment to eat, which wasn’t much since we were leaving the next day, and found an Asian market which was like hitting the mother lode! Top Ramen packages flung in the cart! Soy sauce! Scallions! Frozen pork dumplings! Kelly made us one of the best meals we had had on this trip! Even the fuss-pot Jordan ate with great enthusiasm.

Kelly and Christopher had earlier in the late afternoon gone to look for replacement stuffed sleep friends for Jordan, finally finding two the right size in a thrift store. One was an elephant and the other a seal. After a good wash and quick dry near the space heater, they were introduced to Jordan who gladly brought them to sleep with her that night.

We were now ready to move on to our final stop in this adventure. We would take a train to Lisbon the following morning.

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La! La! La! Tangier

Arrived late in the day in Tarifa but still before sunset. When Jordan saw the beach from our apartment, she immediately begged to go. Her dad and mom were game enough to take her out to the incredibly windy beach since I wasn’t in the least bit interested in cold wind whistling in my ears. I could see them from the window pushing against the gusts trying to gain a few feet of distance while walking. Windsurfers were sailing and having the time of their lives.

It didn’t take too long for The Kids to come inside from the blustery beach with a big appetite and raring to hit the town for dinner.

The best part of Tarifa, from what I could tell in the short time we were there, is contained within the old city/fort walls. We wandered around a bit until finding a not really kid-friendly place to eat. The food was great and the owner treated us to a shot each of Lemoncello (a nice liqueur which I haven’t had since my last time in Italy). Jordan made it through dinner with her Leapster nearby for entertainment. We also found where the ferry terminal was located and a good parking lot to keep the rental car for the following day’s trip to Tangier.

The next morning we arrived at the terminal about 9:30 only to find out the ferry was at 11, not 10 as we were led to believe. Note: Some online information and travel books, we carried Lonely Planet and Rick Steves, may not always be completely accurate with ever-changing transportation schedules. As we waited for the hour and a half, we went across the street to have some coffee and a juice for Jordan.

The ride across the choppy Atlantic was very crowded! I can’t imagine what it would be like during peak tourist season if it is this crowded at the end of April. Poor Kelly spent most of the hour crossing either in or very close to the “water closet” due to seasickness.

Upon landing, Christopher became quickly engaged in conversation with Ahmed, a smartly dressed man in his 40’s who was born and raised in Tangier. They agreed on a price for a full afternoon guided tour of the town; we did not want to go outside of town and ride camels as he had suggested. This seemed to disappoint Ahmed slightly but he recovered quickly enough. I also asked him if he got commissions from any stores as we didn’t want that kind of tour. He assured me this would not be the case.

We all piled into the backseat of a taxi with the cabdriver and Ahmed up front. Jordan thought it was funny for all of us to be in the back seat as daddy usually road up front with the cabbies. First we were driven to an overlook where we could see the Spain we had just sailed from. We also saw the beginning of what would turn out to be a multitude of feral, mangy cats, and young bored men, one of whom was hanging upside down from a tree when we arrived.

Ahmed took us through the hills of Tangier where the sultans hang out in mansions and presidents and/or kings come to stay for vacations in their summer palaces. We stopped at a mansion to stretch our legs and for Ahmed to show us the antique cars the owner of this lush land, with several nice homes behind gates and with a guard, collected. I could care less (actually none of us cared), so I wandered a bit and took photos until the sky broke open and we had to take refuge under the entry gate waiting for our driver to turn around to pick us up so we didn’t get saturated.

A quick drive into town and we were let off at the Grand Souk. We exchanged some currency and followed Ahmed into a courtyard where he pointed out the 500 year old Banyan tree. Jordan was getting restless and tired, which I couldn’t blame her for as by that time it was already about 2 in the afternoon. I just wanted to see some markets and buy a few mementos. We walked over to the food markets which were an array of beautifully displayed fruits and vegetables. As we navigated down the narrow rows, a man handed me a fig which I promptly ate not considering the warnings you always hear about not eating foreign market food that you can’t peel. I didn’t get sick.

Poor Jordan was escalating her frustrations and making her mom even more frustrated trying to keep her from touching everything. We had to get out of this noisy, narrow, fragrant market ASAP. There were too many distractions for a 3 year old who was obviously feeling extremely overstimulated. Criminey, I was feeling my nerves get frayed and I am supposed to know how to keep in control. I also wanted to get back outside. I felt we were all being watched by some preying predator who was waiting to pounce and devour us along with our American lifestyle.

Out in the street, now sunny, and waiting for Ahmed’s next instruction of what direction we were going in, I went to put my sunglasses back on. My travel habit is to wear my sunglasses with the crystal beaded “leash” and my eyeglasses on me or in the hard shell case I carried in my pack. As I put my sunglasses on, and was about to put my brand new $400.00 prescription eyeglasses into their case, I realized I didn’t have my glasses. They weren’t on my head, a possible temporary resting place, either. Jordan’s impatience with the day was escalating and Kelly had had it with her whining and impertinence. I was looking through my bag and on my person over and over hoping to find my glasses. Ahmed went to retrace our path only to return without them. I was bummed.

It was evident I had to just carry on without my glasses and be thankful that I had the presence of mind to have brought a spare pair, of my old prescription, which were in my suitcase back in Tariifa. Meanwhile, Jordan was being put into a time out in the corner of the street while we were all standing looking like idiots as I patted my head and dug into my daypack about 50 times over hoping the glasses would appear.

From that point on everything is a metaphorical blur. Ahmed took us up hills, down narrow calles, into neighborhoods which see few tourists, all the while venturing up the steep hills. We saw beautiful old tile work, feral cats galore, children coming home from school and playing in the streets, teenagers milling around favorite hangouts, and clusters of ancient shops where merchants had beautiful products to sell. I was beyond tired and so was poor Jordan. But she was a trooper, to say the least. Sometimes she and I fell back from everyone and soaked in the different colors and smells with a variety of not always positive comments. We both trudged up yet another hill with aching legs, and in my case, sometimes labored breathing. Was this fun? Not so much. Was it fascinating and an experience of a lifetime? Definitely.

We stopped in a small shop with hundreds of colorful leather shoes and scarves. Kelly and I bought scarves and she also bought herself and Jordan matching pairs of blue leather slippers, something she had never gotten around, but had wanted, to buying in the bazaar down the road from us in Granada.

Considering this as a successful buying spree, as we continued down the path of Tangier madness, I made the mistake of casually looking at some kaftans an older long haired, bearded, and kaftaned man carried around in his arms. Ahmed was whisking our group ahead and I had to keep up so after hearing the price and giving the fabric a cursory look, I said no. This man was relentless.

In something I read of Rick Steves’ about Tangier he learned to say “No” in Moroccan which is “La” so Rick said he basically sang “La la la, la la” to keep away the hawkers. Well, Rick, it may have worked for you, but in this case, the guy was singing it back to me, practically in harmony, as he followed at my heels shoving the kaftans in front of me! He was starting to really annoy me.

As we were all swirling behind Ahmed at a breakneck pace, and I’m trying to steer clear of Kaftan Man, we followed Ahmed into a beautiful four level (God help me with more climbing) store with antiques, hookas, furniture, hanging lanterns, and jewelry on the first floor; vibrant painted pottery on the second; amazing carpets on the third; and a view of Tangier on the roof of the 4th floor.

Ater this seemingly innocent view, we were led to the Carpet Floor, asked to be seated, and endured a 45 minute sales pitch. The owner’s “boy” flung out carpet after carpet which, granted, were beautiful, but not something any of us were going to buy. Each time I tried to wrap it up, he’d have another one flung down for me to inspect. The only one who fully enjoyed it was Jordan who laid on top of the rugs and was even supplied with pillows!

What was even more unbelievable than the prices on the rugs was that the same merchants, who were following and harassing me 45 minutes prior to our escape into the store, were outside the door waiting for me! I was not happy about this as the tension from the sales pitch, Jordan’s exhaustion (and mine), was thick enough to cut. My sing song “La/no” turned into a harsh reprimand verbally while silently saying, “Leave me TF alone…now.” They got the message.

We were taken to an herbalist shop where I bought rose oil and an orange blossom tincture for Kelly which was said to cure seasickness. The merchant gave Jordan a tube of lipstick which was to turn a natural color on your lips. This was soon confiscated by her mom along with a disapproving look from her father. What fuddy-duddies they can be! Luckily Jordan forgot all about it.

We headed into another area sporting a luxurious looking cafe with an awning over beautiful dark bamboo chairs and tables. From such poverty on one hand to opulence on the other. It must be so difficult to grow up poor here wanting to have more. Perhaps that is why the man dripping gold at the table next to us looked like a successful drug addict with his shaking hand and nervous eye movements searching the passerbys for who knows what.

We ordered coffee and I ordered a sweet pancake-like pastry with a chocolate glaze for Jordan and I. We needed a reward, big time!

Again into another twisting array of calles and I glanced into the window of a shop with silver jewelry. Ahmed asked me if I wanted to go inside to look, which I stupidly said yes. I just wanted a silver chain. I was shown silver chains for exorbitant prices and said no while walking out. This man started shouting lower prices as he stood in the middle of the road. The desperation was sad and the idea I felt they all had was that we were travelers from America who would pay them whatever they asked. When it comes to the Scots blood we have in my family, how very wrong they were about us. (Instead of paying €60 to that guy, in Lisbon, the following week, I paid €2.)

Things went literally downhill from there as all any of us wanted was to get to the ferry dock and be on our way. Christopher whispered that he wanted us to head for the Continental Hotel at the base of town, which was not far from the ferry dock, pay Ahmed, and wait the extra hour for our 6 pm crossing. Which was exactly what we did. And, even though we were on the terrace of this cool hotel, no one ever questioned us nor did they ask if we would like to order anything, which, actually, we did. Not thinking, I asked the reception desk about how we could order a drink, maybe a beer, and he raised his eyebrows as if I had just asked for absinthe saying they did not serve alcohol and if we wanted anything else, please go be seated inside at the restaurant. We weren’t interested in being cooped up inside a restaurant so we wandered around the hotel where the decor was mosque-like in a colorful, artistic fashion along with a huge open section housing a warehouse full of curiosities. Everything from paintings, furniture, fossils, jewelry, and some old guy in the back watching a portable tv while barely noticing our existence (who, it turned out, was just babysitting the shop while the owner was elsewhere for awhile). Now this is the way I like to shop! No one over my shoulder while taking my time to just look at some really unusual and sometimes beautiful things that I have no need or room for in my home. Too bad I was too wiped out from the day to even want to open a bargaining session as I could have at least found some gifts.

We also all had in the back of our minds that we had to travel light until after we flew the Ryanair flight to Porto, Portugal. We were very limited on how much baggage we could carry.

We made it to the ferry thinking we had plenty of time only to learn that people had already boarded and we were some of the last passengers on the boat. The ferry was packed to the gills but we found a four-top in the cafeteria section. I saw the San Diego couple who wanted to share a cab and guide with us, on the previous ferry ride to Tangier, before they knew there were 4 of us. Looked like they were all settled in comfortably with a couple I saw they had hooked up with earlier, so looked like a happy ending for them. Hope their day was a success and a little less strained than ours. I realize that the difference between my similar activities in Cairo, as in Tangier, was the demeanor of our guide. Our guide in Cairo was very calm and not a chatterbox like Ahmed had been, and we were not put in the position of walking for miles up and down hills during what turned into a hot day.

At least the orange blossom tincture worked for Kelly as she was able to stay with us for the entire crossing with nary a glimpse of seasickness. It was a good way to end the day.

I will never forget Tangier.

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“Help Me Ronda” and Monkey Poop

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The day after my “experience” with the bullfight, we picked up the rental car from Styxx and headed out of the city of Seville towards the countryside. The drive was filled with lush green hills, rock cliffs, and white washed villages cropping up out of nowhere. The occasional medieval fortress popped up, too.

Jordan dozed and I took the opportunity to write quietly looking up from time to time at the scenery.

Finding our apartment in Ronda was hysterically stressful. We ended up driving too far into the town’s castle walls and could barely get back out with our mini-van between two enormous pillars. A local man, probably my age, guided Christopher telling him “Picco Picco!” which meant to only turn the wheel a very little bit to guide our way through (and this was after collapsing the side mirrors to make the car smaller).

Not long after, Christopher doubled back as he and Kelly said some other walled area had to be where we should go but having learned our lesson from up above, my son parked in an area outside the city walls and we walked in. The apartment we found would be our new home. (How did people ever find anything without GPS devices?)

Although the weather was damp, our too-few days in Ronda were a delight. Jordan went to a playground across the road to play with other young girls some in their school uniforms, and with all of us trying to communicate in our respective languages telling one another our names and ages and making ourselves giggle trying to repeat them.

Behind our old city walls, a man had just opened a new restaurant in “our town” and we all became quite friendly having dinner there two nights in a row. He was generous, spoke English (lived in San Diego for a couple of years studying culinary, and was a great chef. I think he’ll do well there.

Christopher and Kelly dropped Jordan and I off in town on our second day so they could explore some caves in an area not far from Ronda . Just so happened there was a medieval fair in town which Jordan and I visited and she was the first customer on the little bicycle leg powered ferris wheel, such a contrast in size from the one we all rode in Seville, and she had a pony ride which she loved.

Soon after, her whining about the wet and cold meant finding a restaurant pronto for lunch and to dry off. Jordan wanted spaghetti which was pictured on the menu. After an exhaustingly long wait showing her the art of preparing a cup of tea, the large plate arrived, which we shared. She hated the sauce. I agree, it wasn’t the best, but please, just eat it. Although she ate very little, we shared a chocolate treat, and had warmed up for our walk home.

We walked to the overlook of the Ronda gorge, which was amazing. Jordan and a baby girl (just learning to walk) from Germany befriended one another giggling and chasing each other around the railed landing while causing me more heart palpitations as I needlessly worried she would slip and go flying off the edge.

We stopped in a souvenir shop along the way where the young Spanish woman working behind the counter thought my dear little overly energetic bull-in-a-china-shop granddaughter had such a cute voice she insisted in mimicking her ad nauseum. Then she tried selling us everything we already had explained ewe had, such as the Feria dress, fan, shawl. The highlight was when she showed us the castanets saying she taught classes in their use. She demonstrated and had us mesmerized for a few minutes until the added anxiety of Jordan breaking something got me to hurry up buying us each a little snow globe (hers had a flamenco dancer and mine the cliffs of Ronda), and a fridge magnet (which is one of my collectibles on every trip to new places).

Soon after we were descending the hill, where Jordan made mad dashes, giving my heart to skip beats, to either the sides of cliffs or the small cobblestoned roads intersecting at every turn, a weird exotic hunter museum appeared, which, when I peeked in, had the heads of trophy animals stuck sadly on the walls of this centuries old building. How very weird. Why in the world would anyone have this kind of a museum in such a beautiful old Spanish hill town? I’ll have to Google that one of these days.

We found the back entrance to our walled city (I made a lucky guess on that pathway) where there was a church with a memorial to St. Francis (“San Francisco”) in a glass caged nook outside. The church bells from here are what we heard in our apartment.

It always gives me a wonderful sense of relief, after any of the excursions Jordan and I take on our own, to turn the old key in the apartment door keyhole knowing she was safe and unscathed by the adventure.

The next day, reluctantly for all of us, we left Ronda behind.

A couple of hours later, after driving and walking in the deluge of rain, we finally found parking in the old decidedly British section of Gibraltar for lunch at the recommended “The Clipper” restaurant. (Both Rick Steves and Lonely Planet recommended the place.) For some reason, finding this section of the real town of Gibraltar (“Gib”) was such a hassle but the lunch of fish ‘n chips was fabulous as the fish was trout sized. Jordan was happy to be out of the car and the Clipper provided colored pencils and a drawing menu for her boring her within seconds until her dad diverted his full attention to coloring with her. Taming a restless 3 3/4 year old is getting more difficult by the day.

Refreshed, we were off to “The Rock.” The little cable car up the mountain crams in a full load of tourists for every dime they can get. It had stopped raining by now as they smartly don’t operate the car during inclement weather (suddenly heard myself talking as if in my former position of college administrator sending out instructions to faculty, staff and students on how to find out if the school has to close because of ‘inclement’ weather.).

After landing safely on The Rock and walking out onto The Terrace, Monkey No. 1 was spotted.

Jordan, the brave girl that she is, used her mom and dad’s camera to take a photo of the wild little beast. Soon after they wandered off, I was “followed” by this creature to a quiet balcony area with a great view. I swear he was watching my every move for the rustle of a junk food package (which I didn’t have). I took a couple of photos of him and then when he saw I wasn’t going to come up with any bounty, he wandered back to the terrace. It was then that I heard a terrifying scream and went to see what was up. Sure enough, there was a young woman who had carried in a plastic bag (even though there are a multitude of signs saying “NO PLASTIC BAGS!”) and Monkey No. 1 was shredding it to pieces off her arm and taking off to a quiet corner to chomp down on the candy bar she had in the bag. (I’m embarrassed to say she was American.) Her comment, when reminded of the signs, was “But I didn’t think they’d come over HERE!!” Ummm…WTH did she think “here” would be?

During the 2 hours we spent wandering around the rock, I saw another kid (young man, this time, nationality unknown) get accosted, and by that time, it was Monkey No. 720 (they were rapidly multiplying). Now another gaggle of young people were screaming from one very aggressive monkey which raised enough of my concern to call over the seemingly bored looking Red Coats (my term, not theirs) who were there to protect the humans from the owners of this rock (obviously the monkeys). The Red Coat boy grabbed a broom handle and went running when I pantomimed the “attack.” It wasn’t as serious as it could have been but I thought it gave these bored young men a good sample of what their call to action looked like which they obviously needed for their seemingly run-of-the-mill workday. Not so lucky to have excitement end there, just after the attacks, I saw an ambulance arrive for what turned out to be a woman who slipped on the stairs (rain water or monkey poop?) hurting her back, then there was a man who fell on the road up, or down, hurting his leg and another ambulance was waiting down below, as we later saw after the cable car ride down the hill.

During all the time we were up on The Rock the critters were swinging from tree branches, roofs, banisters, cars, half walls, and each other. Babies, adolescents, mid-lifers, and the elderly alike, all having a great time with the dumb tourists who bring them junk food because heaven forbid we go without for an hour or two.

We left town satisfied by the short experience in Gibraltar and headed for the kitesurfing capital of the world: Tarifa.

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Feria, Plaza de Espana, and Dead Bulls

Jordan jumped into her feria dress as soon as breakfast was over and we were then on our way to the annual Sevilla feria. We walked quite a long while (for me at least) and arrived to the fairgrounds earlier than most people. The grounds were amazing with all the casetas (individual family tents) decorated in various fashions designed to make visitors feel at home, especially with kids, the elderly family members, and for later, the excessive drinking involved, from what I’ve heard. At €2.50 a ride, we became very discriminate buyers. The first ride was the only ride including all of us. It was a ferris wheel with individual 4 person cabs and since Jordan and Kelly are such lightweights, and Christopher and I aren’t, we had to be rearranged to be properly balanced for the fastest ferris wheel ride I’ve ever been on. Fun but unnerving. Jordan was having the time of her life on her first carnival ride. However, the meltdowns were beginning to rear their naughty little heads. We should have seen the signs that this little almost 4 year old was burning out.

We bought a couple of other ride tickets and balloons for her and we were off the grounds by 1 p.m. when throngs of people began to arrive. I’ve never seen anything like it. Horse drawn carriages pulling lovely señoritas dressed to the hilt, and the sedate well groomed elders in proper dress with suits and bolero ties.

We left the fairgrounds as most of Sevilla were arriving and found a restaurant advertised as Tex-Mex, something new for me as I only know Mexican food restaurants as Mexican food restaurants. This one had decor of guns, bullets, and Mexican hats (some very beautiful ones), along with old style photos of old style Wild West shots from Mexico. We also were serenaded by a guitar player all dressed up in A-typical Mexico garb as he visited each table. Instead of tortilla chips and salsa on the table, there were potato chips, which made Jordan very happy. Food is becoming a focal point in her need to get attention, and maybe a way of saying she wants to slow down to eat and rest.

Instead of going back to the apartment after the feria and lunch to rest up for my big night out, which would have been the wise thing to do, Christopher knew of an area which was recommended as a must see. We started to walk into a beautiful public park which smelled like flowers. This walk had not only the scent of jasmine and the peace of an uncrowded public park but also buildings in the Plaza de Espanal which were gorgeous. Even as wiped out as I already was, and knowing I had a long night ahead of me, I was happy to have taken on this detour.

As we began the walk back into town, the fatigue hit me like a bull ramming a horse (you’ll understand this soon) so with great relief, we stopped for espresso (cafe leche, which is what I should of said because without leche is without milk – horrors!). My son, with some urging from us, went ahead to an archeology museum as Kelly, Jordan and I started out for the long walk to town without him for the first time as just The Girls. We had become such a quad-team, that it seemed off balance but soon was just fine.

The Kids went to a bullfight the night before, and since taking a young child was not recommended, they bought me a ticket for the night after. I saw the photos they took and found them disturbing, but also knew that this was probably going to be the only chance to see for myself what the fascination has been for others over the centuries to see a bullfight. Like Ernest Hemingway, for instance.

It was becoming quite apparent that I wasn’t going to get any rest before hand and had to walk directly to the arena. We had been out walking and exploring since 10 a.m. and it was now close to 6 p.m. When I get tired, so does Jordan and vice versa. I hit the invisible and proverbial wall of sheer exhaustion which meant thanking Kelly for walking me this far to the bullring to let her and Jordan continue on to the apartment for dinner as I could find my way from there thanks to the other thousands of people going to the bullring who weren’t now at the Feria. I sat on a sidewalk bench and gathered strength and wits for about 10 minutes while watching hundreds of people walking along with colorful little cushions carried in sacks.

As I entered the perimeter of the ring, hawkers and bullfight paraphernalia were everywhere. Women were very dressed up, I noticed, and I was a far cry from that. I took Kelly’s advice to use the restroom beforehand as she said it was near to impossible to move once seated. She was so right. The stone bleachers were high, steep, and packed tight. Just climbing over the rows was difficult to navigate and required a hand of help now and then as I had to make my way slowly and deliberately to row 9, seat 36 with eventual success.

As I arrived, asking to confirm where I was supposed to sit with the guy behind me, I met a young man who was from Columbia who started asking me questions about this being my first bullfight, how I had come alone, where I was from, and to stick with them. The invitation proved to be helpful as I had a couple of questions during the fight. He also was impressed with what he called my “open mind” for even attending a bullfight in the first place as it was so much of a cultural thing in only 5 countries in the world.

First off, as I am an animal lover, the whole idea of this so-called sport or dance with death, is as appalling to me as the idea of the Romans putting the Christians in the Roman Coliseum with lions. Although the Christians were far less armed than either a matador or a bull therefore at a greater disadvantage.

Secondly, watching some poor animal die is less than appealing to me as would possibly watching the matador meet a similar fate. The Columbian man told me that someone would die tonight, either the man or the animal. He said this was a battle of minds and someone being the stronger of the two would overcome the opponent in death.

I found that the pomp and circumstance was impressive as the matadors entered the ring to 14,000 people (sold out show) who were cheering as enthusiastically as if at a rock star’s concert. The matadors costumes were brilliant with glittered sequins and the capes had hot pink linings with the matadors wearing pink hosiery to match. There were huge horses walking in blindfolded with heavily padded back and side coverings led by less flashy costumed men. Then the fighting began.

I’m one of those people who can see blood by way of an accident, say with one of my kids getting stitched up after a fall when they were young, very clinically and stoically while the emergency is occurring. It is only after the ordeal is over that I view the circumstances more emotionally.

With that said, people are right to say children should not be in bullfighting arenas. I saw a child being carried over the bleachers who was about Jordan’s age and I could not imagine her being there without me putting my hand over her eyes for most of the 2 1/2 hours I was there.

The bull is made to become increasingly more exhausted with each tiptoed swirl of the cape, each pompadour’s stab of a spear, each ram the bull gives to the blindfolded padded horse, and each drop of blood that falls on the immaculately cleaned dirt grounds. The crowd almost whispers that word we have all heard at one time or another, “Ole” as the cape carefully and skillfully skims across the bull’s head. This traditionally fueled fight becomes much more one sided when the bull is only hanging on to life with his last thread of dignity knowing death is his alone.

The matador is on display for his skill in how long it takes to cleanly end this dance of death and If he does this well, the president of the bullfight, who is sitting in a special stone boxed area dead center of the ring, waves a flag that he is pleased with the performance. When this is the case, the audience members then also all wave their own flags which are small white handkerchiefs fluttering throughout the stands. The matador can then, and only then, take a ceremonial walk around the interior circle of the ring bowing as he picks up items the audience throws on the ground beside him, kisses it, and tosses it back to the owner of the item. Great cheers ensue if the item’s owner catches it on the fly.

If no flag is raised, the crowd murmurs discontent and the shamed matador walks out of the ring shamed by his poor performance. The bull is very dead one way or the other.

This went on six times, with seven bulls, and only one matador was given a standing ovation with thousands of white kerchiefs waving. The odd bull out was the first bull, (who was a tan color when all the rest were black), and whose front legs kept buckling in the very first few cape swirls causing interruptions in the flow of things and great sympathetic sighs from the fans of the bull. After an unsuccessful attempt to remove the poor little guy by ushering him out, they sent in a whole herd of black and white bulls whom he eventually followed out of the ring as they were pushed to stampede from the ring. I wonder if he was “put out to pasture” like “Ferdinand the Bull” or was he met by some other dastardly fate for having failed to die a so-called quick death.

The Columbian man asked me what I thought about the fight as we all started to leave and I told him, “I have now experienced it, and there is no need for me to ever do it again.”

Kinda like other things in life we don’t like and wish to never to experience again, eh? Ole…

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