12/12/2005

Virgin Forests and Feasts [DECEMBER 11, 2005]

"What the hell? Another day off? That’s fantastic!"
"Oh yes. Spain has the most public holidays in Europe and Cádiz has the most public holidays in Spain!"
That’s what my first room-mate, Einstein, told me when I initially moved down here to the sunny southern Atlantic coast of Spain. Let’s just clear things up a bit – Yes, his name was actually Einstein. His full given name as it appeared on his driver’s licence was Einstein Fuerza Romiro Gonzalez or whatnot and, even more incredible, he was an M.D. with a specialty in gastroenterology Doctor Einstein was always a popular one with the patients down at the hospital. ("Well, I’m no Einstein, but Doctor Einstein told me not to worry about that strange growth on my anus so I guess I shouldn’t...") But let’s save Einstein for another article. This one is about those public holidays he mentioned all those months ago.

The amount of days off the school kids have here is incredible. They get off for all the days celebrating national festivals (war victories, constitutional ratifications, etc.) and, claiming to be a devoutly Catholic country, they get off for all the religious festivals as well. The reason why I say Spain "claims" to be a devoutly Catholic country is because I still question how such a supposedly religious society could overwhelmingly approve of gay marriage and have it passed as law (one of the first three countries on the planet to do so) when the "secular" United States can’t even agree on whether evolution should be taught at schools or not. But, again, let’s save that for another article. Whether the Spanish are religious or not, their kids still get off for so many religious holidays that I’ve lost count. And, when in doubt as to why the schools are closed, it’s probably due to that one special lady no Southern European country could do without... the Virgin Mary.


There's a Virgin for everyone here in Spain!
"Dear Virgin of Grammar, please let our granddaughter pass her next exam."

There are so many Virgines here in Spain that I’m surprised anyone back in Jesus’ day and age actually ever got laid. There’s the Virgin of the Palm, the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception, the Virgin of the Rock, The Virgin of the Sea, the Virgin of the Olive, the Virgin of the Ham, the Virgin of the Cheese, the Virgin of the Virgin, the Virgin of That Stuff You Just Stepped In, and the list goes on and on and on. This past week, we had yet another two public holidays and one of them was, again, due to that special lady. (The other one, on Tuesday, was for Constitution Day.) I’m not quite sure which virgin we were honoring on Thursday but the Virgin of the Anal Growth would be my random guess. Thank my luck stars Doctor Einstein wasn’t around back in Jesus’ time to take care of that embarrassing little problem.... or I might not have had the day off.

And so, due to the fact that this week’s workload of five days was cut down to three, a group of us and some friends decided to make the most of it and head to the mountains. When it was first suggested we go hiking through nature, my initial reaction was, "There’s nature in Cádiz?" You have to understand, being isolated on this peninsula for nearly a year and witness to only the arid fields that make up the surrounding landscape, I thought we were a mere step away from the Sahara here in Southern Spain. After all, we’re only a Straits of Gibraltar’s throw away from North Africa. But nothing could be further from the truth. We went for a drive to the northeast and emerged in a forested utopia the likes of which I never imagined I would see here in the dry south of Andalucía.


This can't be the south of Spain, can it?

The rolling hills of trees as far as the eye could see. The blue lakes and winding, bubbling brooks that lead to them through a maze of green valleys. The tall jagged peaks with rocky precipices staring onto the pristine nature below. I couldn’t believe we were only two hours away from the desert coast of Cádiz and the sweltering summer capital of Seville, and not in Canada or the Alps or some other nature lover’s paradise. These were the Sierra de Grazalema.


Well I'll be damned... It is!

We were so impressed with our first trip to this region on Tuesday, that we decided to repeat it once again later on in the week. After all, we did have two public holidays this week and our first journey, a bit tainted by cloudy weather, was mostly spent in the town of Ronda which stood perched on a cliff near the Sierra’s easternmost foothills.



Ronda and her beautiful bridge stretching the gorge

Our second trip was away from any civilization and truly a hiker’s dream getaway. Normally, I would steer clear of these kinds of getaways. My idea of walking for a few kilometers is doing it because there’s a pub to be found and the end of the rainbow. But that wasn’t the case this last time around. We didn’t even encounter any other people, let alone a refreshment stand, on our winding trail through the forest. (Although we did see a few grazing cows and piglets.) I don’t know how I got sucked into going on it, but I really did enjoy that little nature walk of ours. And even if my girlfriend lied to me and there wasn’t any beer to be had at the end of our long hike, I still have to thank her for dragging me along. Who knows? She may make a mountain-lover out of a beach-bum yet!


The long and winding...

Looking back on this entire week, I’m glad we got the opportunity to explore such a little-known corner of southern Spain. Not only did we discover this emerald of green in a desert of scorched earth and olive groves, but we also managed to bring back some of that breath-taking nature with us to Cádiz. Now, our little apartment even has a Christmas feel about it. We can proudly say we’re the only ones in our building to have authentic pine cones and branches cheerfully hung around the place. All that’s missing is a nice big bowl of eggnog, if I could ever manage to explain to a Spaniard what that is. And just think, none of it would have ever been possible if it hadn’t been for the feast-day of the Virgin of the Anal Growth.

10 comments:

Lori said...

Eintein and anal growth who would've thought!!!

The pictures was great....I love the mountains!!!

Have a great day!!!

Can't sit still.... said...

God I can't believe those photos were taken in DECEMBER. Damn! Yes, we too had the Virgin holiday here in Italy, the immaculate conception...(which is actually the immaculate conception of MARY, not Jesus as is commonly thought.) Anyway, nice photos indeed. But with Tues and Thurs being holidays, don't people just take off the whole week? I mean, what's the point???? :-)

J.Doe said...

Where was the Virgin of That Stuff you Just Stepped In last week when I needed her? :)
Those pictures are really fantastic! Makes me want to jump on a plane for Spain right away.

Expat Traveler said...

Thanks for sharing all of the pics. So lovely. I have yet to go to Spain but I've come close. I'm hoping one day to make it there. Who knows.. So much easier when I was so much closer.

christina said...

Awesome pictures!

Cynthia Rae said...

Who would have thought that another country could out do the Italians in the feast department. Loved the pics, thanks for sharing! Spain is on the top of my list for my next vacation destination. How is the weather in January?

Who knows, maybe we will make it there next year to celebrate the Anal Growth Feast!

Cyn
PS. Sara (aka American Girl in Italy) gave me recipe for home made egg nog if you are interested. She said it is realy easy to make. I am going to make some this holiday season. I am SURE that the Italians will hate it!

Cynthia Rae said...

PS.
I just read Sara's blog and it turns out that she has posted the recipe on her blog today...if you are interested...
http://americaninitaly.blogspot.com/

Gia-Gina said...

Your photos of Spain are amazing. It is cold here but sunny in Torino and the city is a mad rush to get ready for the Winter Olympics.

Ms Bees Knees said...

I'm going to start a church that worships the Virgins of Ham, Cheese and Olives. It will be delicious, filling and fulfilling. No?

MegäLegên said...

Siento no hablar ingles... Pero me ha gustado ver fotos de ronda en tu blog porque aunque no soy de allí es una tierra que me gusta mucho. Por cierto, Feliz año!! Saludos ;)