Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving without Turkey?

I have celebrated two Thanksgiving Day's in Spain, and both have been quite unconventional and unforgettable.

Thanksgiving in Spain in 2006: In Fall 2006, I was studying and living in Granada when my roommate and I arrived home after our classes with the highest hopes/expectations that our host mom would have prepared a semi-traditional Thanksgiving meal for us. Instead, we ate nothing more than some fried eggs, a cup of noodle soup, and a few croquetas (fried meat in a batter). Not quite Thanksgiving...but what can you do? Since we were living with a host mom, we didn't have much control over the meals that were prepared. And we weren't about to complain that she failed to prepare correctly for a holiday that is strictly an American tradition and little heard of in Spain.

Thanksgiving in Spain in 2008: Thanksgiving this year was a little different. Arguably, a little more traditional than in 2006. As Thanksgiving is a day meant to bring friends and families together to give thanks, I decided it would be fun to have a little fiesta with my English and Spanish roommates, and all my new Spanish friends. My friend Hollie (also my delightful English roommate) and I decided to rent out a room in the bar below our house, prepare some traditional dishes, and invite some teachers from our schools, some women from our dance class, and the waiters in the bar. We planned the menu, reserved the room, and distributed invitations. Let me first say we weren't planning anything too extravagant; just a turkey, some cranberry sauce, and a pumpkin pie, and perhaps a couple things to munch on. However, this was probably the most memorable/difficult Thanksgiving I'll ever experience in my life.

First of all, while there are a few turkeys wandering around the countryside in Spain, you will be hard pressed to find any in the supermarkets or meat shops. I searched relentlessly for a turkey, but in the end I was unable to successfuly obtain one. There is one way to get a turkey, but it requires going to the country, finding a farmer, and asking if he wants to sell you one of his turkeys. If so, you can walk out of his farm with an extremely fresh turkey. The only problem there is that means I have to completely prepare the turkey (as in...behead, pluck the feathers, clean the get the idea). Anyone who knows me at all, knows that that isn't quite my idea of cooking. So, for the second Thanksgiving of my life, I went without a turkey. Second, Spaniards apparently do not eat cranberries. Over the past two months, I have noticed that there is no cranberry juice of any sort, but it didn't really sink in that there were not cranberries. And believe me, I searched high and low: the supermarkets, the fruit stands, the fresh food market, and I even asked around a few places in the next closest town. No one sells cranberries (or understands why on earth anyone would want to buy any). Needless to say, we did not serve any cranberry sauce. Thirdly, canned pumpkins aren't too common around here either. Nor is pie crust. In fact, neither exist. This made making pumpkin pie a little difficult. As such, I had to improvise, and decided to make some pumpkin bread instead. From scratch. Literally. I mashed up a pumpkin, estimated all the ingredients (since I don't have any measuring tools at all), threw it in a pan...and put it in the oven. Oh wait...back up. Did I mention we do not have an oven (or even a microwave). This makes cooking anything (such as bread) extremely difficult. But have no fear, Hollie and I pranced on over to our new neighbor and asked if she would mind if we used her oven for an hour or two to make bread. We went to put the bread in, and realized the oven was not in Fahrenheit or Celcius, but was instead in gas marks (numbering 1 to 10). I figured 4 was a pretty good number, so we left it to cook on gas mark 4 for a little over an hour. Surprisingly, it turned out amazing!! Despite everyone being fairly skeptical to try something as odd as pumpkin bread, everyone has asked me for the recipe. I'm not sure I want to divulge my secret tho... :-)

Overall, there was nothing traditional about this Thanksgiving feast hosted by me, an English girl, and a Spaniard. But it was the first Thanksgiving I've ever prepared all by myself, and I'm quite proud (my mom raised me well and her cooking skills must have been passed on to me). Our "feast" featured my amazing pumpkin bread, rice pudding, some soggy stuffing, two fresh salads, fruit salad, bread and cheese, olives, and an assortment of nuts. Not too bad considering all the glitches. However, not sure I want to do it again -- its a lot of work! In the event I'm ever in Spain for a third Thanksgiving (which hopefully I will be), I can at least say I know how to overcome adversity...haha.

That concludes my Thanksgiving story. Well, almost. Here goes the corny part: Thank you Mom and Dad for all your continued support, your guidance and love, and for providing me with this amazing opportunity. I LOVE YOU!!!!! Thanks to the rest of my family (Aunts, Uncles, Grandparents, etc) for always being there, your generosity, and for your continued e-mails! I appreciate and love you all tons! Lastly, thanks to all my amazing friends who continue to keep in touch with me even though I'm thousands of miles away and hours ahead of you! Thanks for your friendship over the years, and for all you've done! All of you (parents, relatives, and friends) have made me who I am today, and I can't thank you enough! Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

El Mejor Senderismo Que Hay

Without a doubt in my mind, Ubrique serves as the base camp for some of the best hiking there is. In less than a month, I have walked (hiked) over 40 kilometers and seen some of the best views in all of Andalucia.

Every Sunday, I wake up at 7:00 am, get dressed, throw a few essential items in my backpack and head out. At 7:45 am, I meet up at a bar with my fellow hiking buddies (once again, a "bar" is a "cafe") for some juice or hot chocolate. At exactly 8:00, we begin our journey. My first Sunday hike took me through the Sierra de Ubrique to the start of the Ubrique River. Along the way, we searched for "setas comestibles" (edible mushrooms) and "esparagos" (esparagus), all of which are quite prevalent in the surrounding mountains. After 6 hours of walking, and some 24 kilometers later, we had collected quite an assortment, and at 21 years of age, I officially (and sort of willingly) tried my first mushroom and my first esparagus tortilla. While I love esparagus tortilla, I must say I was not at all impressed by the mushroom (which came as no surprise...after all, it is a fungus).

My second Sunday hike took to me to Benaocaz, up/along the Sierra de Caillo (and to the highest point in all of Cadiz), and down to Villaluengo. While this only amounted to about 14 kilometers of walking, it took over 7.5 hours and was much more difficult (nothing but climbing straight up) than the previous week's hike. However, it was well worth the price, as from the top of the Sierra de Caillo, you can see almost the entire province -- all the way to the Atlantic.

So while most people view weekends as time to sleep in, relax, sit down, and watch t.v., I continue to think of them as wonderful opportunities to work up a sweat and stay busy while exploring the great outdoors and the hidden treasures of the Pueblos Blancos. But don't worry, I also go for mini hikes most every Wednesday too, so I do work during the week as well. :-)

Friday, November 7, 2008

An Ancient Gem in the Sierra de Ubrique

Many people researching Ubrique on the internet might find a quaint little town with white-washed buildings situated in a small valley surrounded by mountains and natural parks. Perhaps they might see that Ubrique has a history of a booming leather industry, and has an abundance of leather shops and factories where people all over the world come to buy their leather goods. Aside from an hour or two of shopping and walking through the town center, most people would assume there is not much else to do here. Ubrique is by no means a tourist destination (which is why I absolutely LOVE it), but we do get the occassional load of tourists who come for the day to shop, and then promptly return to the bus station to catch the next bus out of town. I can't help but think what they are missing out on. Anyone who thinks Ubrique is lacking in the entertainment/things-to-do arena is sadly mistaking.

Every Wednesday, a group of teachers from Las Cumbres (a bilingual institute -- or the equivalent of a middle-high school in the US) set out for a hike. And every week, its a new location. This past Wednesday's hike took me to one of Ubrique's most amazing secrets. Only about an hours hike (and vertical climb...) from the center of Ubrique, in Salto de la Mora, lie the ruins of the ancient town of Ocuris, a strategic Roman settlement that dates back to the 2nd century. After numerous battles throughout history, between Romans, Celts, and Muslims, the town was eventually abandoned after the Barbarian invasions. Abandoned, but not lost. It remains one of the most well preserved ancient Roman settlements in all of Andalucia - and I had the fortune to hike up to the ruins last Wednesday afternoon. There are several different ruins spread out over the mountain - various homes, bathing stations, and other buildings; however, the most impressive and well preserved building is the Columbario Mausoleum, or the site where the dead were cremated. The site is simply awe-inspiring.

It is absolutely amazing to be living in Ubrique, so close to thousands of years of history. And only an hours walk away, I can visit the ruins at my leisure. Situated at the top of the mountain, you have views of all Ubrique, and of the closest town (Benaocaz), and if you sit still for just a few minutes, you will quickly find yourself surrounded by dozens of goats. Its granduer is simply unexplainable, but the ancient city of Ocuris is definitely one of the most incredible sights I have ever seen. ...If only the tourists passing through knew what they were missing out on. But then again, perhaps that is part of its splendor - its our own little gem and well-kept secret.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


I've discovered you can learn alot about your own culture by living in a different one. For example, I honestly cannot say that I knew the history of Halloween, the story of the Jack-O-Lantern, or any such things until I had to research the holiday to explain it to my students here in Ubrique. For the most part, Halloween is only celebrated in the United States and the United Kingdom, and was originally brought to the US by Irish immigrants in the mid 1800s. However, as the phenomenon of globalization continues to spread, it is being celebrated in more and more locations -- including Ubrique, Spain. Go figure.

I walked into school on October 31st wearing a lovely little costume. I was a "demonia" (a devil). Before you jump to conclusions, I would just like to point out that there are not a lot of costume options here, so you can't be picky. I walked in expecting a few of the English teachers to be dressed up, but to my surprise not only were a couple of teachers dressed up, but so were a vast number of students! We spent the day in classes listening to spooky Halloween music, drawing pumpkins and bats, talking about the history of Halloween, and reading scary stories. The second grade went around to every class and performed a dance to "The Monster Mash," and fourth grade went around giving out "dulces y caramelos" to their fellow students. The best news is that the celebration did not stop when school let out. Despite hours of cold rain, around 30 of my students came to my piso to trick-or-treat (or "truco o trato"). I guess that is one of the positive (or negative...) aspects to living on the plaza -- everyone knows where you live. My housemates and I were quite happy with the number of trick-or-treaters, and I'm happy to report that my students really seem to like this unusual holiday of ours. :-) Overall, it was a very happy Halloween!