Team Kezmoh runs to Nerja

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Nerja on the Mediterranean

Nerja on the Mediterranean

Mike and I have been wanting to run from our village of Alhama de Granada across the Sierras Tejeda y Almijara National Forest to the city of Nerja on the Mediterranean since we arrived in Spain.   The Sierras Tejeda y Almijara is 406 km2  of beautiful, rugged, mountainous wilderness. The national park divides Granada province, where we live, and Malaga province to the South.  The mountains beckon us, we are drawn to explore the many trails that climb through the canyons under the shade of pine trees and the endless blue skies of Southern Spain.  In the past few months we have spent many days exploring the trails on our side of the national park but despite our efforts we have covered only a very small fraction of the routes that are close to Alhama.  Whenever we reach points where we can see the Mediterranean in the distance we agree that if we can see it we need to run there!Parque-Natural-de-las-Sierras-de-Tejeda-Almijara-y-Alhama-2004

We consulted guide books, friends in Alhama and our friend Paul’s many maps of the region.  We ran from La Resinera near the village of Forne several times scoping out the beginnings of the trek across the mountains.

On one of our many exploratory runs. This time Leslie with the lovely Ali Boston who came to spend a week running with trailrunspain.com

On one of our many exploratory runs. This time Leslie with the lovely Ali Boston who came to spend a week running with trailrunspain.com

We knew that we could reach the Puerta de Frigiliana 7 miles up a nice dirt road from La Resinera office.

The road from La Resinera

The road from La Resinera

From the Puerta de Frigiliana we could see the ocean and white villages on the opposite side of the park.  How hard could it be to find a route down to the beach if we could see our destination?

We recruited our friend Eric to run with us.  He has lived here for a few years and knows many routes on the Granada side of the mountain because he helps organize Al Andalus, ( alandalus-ut.com )  a 5 day, 230km trail stage race based in Alhama every July.  This would be a new adventure for Eric since he had never attempted the route. He was excited to join us on the trek so our group became 3.

Mike and Eric preparing their packs at the car. The sun was already high in the sky when we got started...

Mike and Eric preparing their packs at the car. The sun was already high in the sky when we got started…

Prepared with toilet paper and plenty of water

Prepared with toilet paper and plenty of water

The road from our side of the mountain was deceptively smooth.

Eric and Mike run on ahead, what a nice wide road...

Eric and Mike run on ahead, what a nice wide road…

We had run to the Puerta de Frigliana many times and we knew that there was a excellent trail for at least the first 8 miles or so.  From the Puerta we could see Lucero (1780meters/5840 feet).

Mike and Leslie feeling strong after the climb to the Puerta de Frigiliana

Mike and Leslie feeling strong after the climb to the Puerta de Frigiliana

Eric and Mike  Fist bump at the top of a climb, almost time to start down!

Eric and Mike
Fist bump at the top of a climb, almost time to start down!

We continued the up the road which became progressively steeper and more rocky until we reached  5100 feet by my Garmin.

5100 feet

5100 feet

From there, the trail plunged downward and became more irregular.

IMG_5843 IMG_5845We carefully made our way to what appeared to be the end of the trail.  We looked around and found a pile of rocks, a “cairn or duck” left by previous hikers to designate the direction to continue.  From there the trail was quite overgrown.

Which way?

Which way?

Oh dear, where is the trail?

Oh dear, where is the trail?

We imagined if there were people leaving rock piles it should really get better soon. We followed the trail squeezing between the various spiky bushes.  After about a mile we were considering turning back.  Just as I was about to agree that this trail was impassable Mike and Eric spotted El Cortijo de Inman a definite landmark on our map.  I had a picture on my phone of a map from my trail guide so we were sure that we were on the right trail.

Picture from my book of the trail we should be on

Picture from my book of the trail we should be on

Surely after the Cortijo the trail would improve.  Farmhouses, even in ruins, generally have a road of some kind leading to them. Eric scurried ahead of us and explored the ruins.

El Cortijo de Inman

El Cortijo de Inman with Eric

While he found plenty of evidence of previous visitors at the Cortijo, cigarette butts, water bottles,  (even a pair of pants!),  we surveyed our scratches and looked for the next cairn.

Eric took this picture as we surveyed our bloody legs

Eric took this picture as we surveyed our bloody legs

The trail leading away from the Cortijo de Inman was no better than the one we arrived on.  We had now trudged through more than 3 miles of densely covered terrain and our legs were burning from the scratches (if only we had worn thick pants! ) so turning back was less than appealing.  We found another rock pile and followed the trail down the canyon.  At this point there were many dwarf palms which look quite pretty but have lethal spines.  I accidentally grabbed a branch to move it out of the way and blood oozed through my glove.  We started calling the dwarf palms the little palm trees from hell.  “Be careful palm tree from hell on the left!”  Amongst the various spiky plants were sage and rosemary.  We learned quickly that rosemary is soft to touch so we would preferentially grab or lean on the rosemary branches to squeeze past their dangerous neighbors.  Although bloody, my gloves smelled lovely at the end.  After an eternity of moving very slowly through overgrowth above my head in many places we came upon La Presa, a dam that was clearly marked on our map.  IMG_5862The dam  was very old and long since abandoned.  There was an acequia, an aqueduct, that was for the most part, intact.  Our guide book recommended walking along the aqueduct as long as “vertigo is not a problem”.  Actually Mike read that part of the book and let us know that for the next few kilometers it would be wise if we just paid attention to our footing.  If we wanted to look around it might be best that we all stopped in a wide spot.

This is a picture of the acequia (aqueduct) from google images

This is a picture of the acequia (aqueduct) from google images

Unfortunately we could see the sun slipping more quickly toward the horizon and we started to get really nervous that we were going to be out on an unfamiliar trail well beyond nightfall.  As dusk began to fall, we walked as quickly as we could manage safely along the side of the aqueduct which was about 12-18 inches wide and very uneven in places. In many spots there were holes big enough to fall through.  As it got darker I would call out irregularities to Mike and Eric behind me.  We were needing to stop to eat but were afraid to waste even a moment of daylight not moving forward.  Eventually the narrow walkway became very difficult to see and I started to feel panicky. What if one of us slips and falls over the side? At this point we couldn’t even see when it plunged sharply over a cliff. Occasionally there would be a thin wire stretched along the side.

Another picture from the internet. When we passed this spot it was dark and we couldn't see the drop off!

Another picture from the internet. When we passed this spot it was dark and we couldn’t see the drop off! I don’t know who the people are.

We could no longer see but had to assume if there was a wire railing that it was a more precarious section.  We were careful not to put any faith at all in the tiny guide wires.  It was unlikely if we fell that that wire would hold any of our weight.  I pulled out my Iphone and used it for about 50 meters until Mike suggested that we try his flashlight.

Too dark for pictures

Too dark for pictures

He had brought a multi-tool that had a knife and a flashlight. He thought the light would not be strong enough to guide us but as it turned out I think it probably saved our lives or at least prevented us from losing the trail in the dark.   He took the lead and held the light so that it shone in front of him but also a bit behind so that we could follow.  We moved very slowly and deliberately for another 30 minutes until we started to hear the sound of a waterfall.  In the dark the sound of crashing water over a cliff was a bit more terrifying than usual. It was then that I remembered that the guide book recommended bringing a bathing suit for a nice, refreshing dip in the water.  In December, in the dark, with the chill of night closing in we did not want to get wet.  Mike announced we were stopping and warned us that we were going to need to go through the water.  We had reached the end of the acequia and to get past where it plummeted into the darkness were were going to need to walk through the water for about 20 feet. Mike carefully tested the surface under the water with his left foot. We had to walk along the edge of the waterfall.  If the cement was slippery this would be very dangerous.  Thankfully the water was only up to our knees and the pavement wasn’t slippery.  We all held hands and slowly, deliberately, took very small steps until we reached safe ground.   I was shivering when we emerged from the water. I wasn’t sure if it was from the cold or from the fear that I was trying to keep under control.  We had been worried for at least an hour that we could be going in the wrong direction but at this point we could see the lights of Nerja and we ventured a mini celebration and stopped for a small snack.  When we emerged from the acequia there was a narrow, rocky path that switched back and forth down the side of the mountain in the general direction of the lights.  We stayed close together and moved slowly through the dark.  We finally came to what appeared to be a very old electrical station.  Horray, surely there will be a road from there! OK, so no road but there was a sign with an arrow indicating “dirección obligatorio”, obligatory direction.  Again, we were really grateful for the flashlight without it we might have missed the sign. We didn’t find out what was in the other direction but if someone went to the trouble to put up a sign like that it wasn’t anything good.  The obligatory direction path sent us straight down an even steeper, twisty, rocky path.  We had been traversing the side of the mountain on the aqueduct so we were happy to be moving toward sea level but wouldn’t have minded a bit more gentle descent.  The rocks were uneven and mobile and we each took at least one slip onto our backsides.  Between slips Eric’s phone rang, ahh cell service! Michelle was calling, worried that she would be late meeting us.  He assured her that we were OK but it would probably still be awhile before we would meet her in Nerja.  We finally reached flat ground and found ourselves at the Rio Chillar which, likely due to the drought was little more than a very wide creek.  We could no longer see anything resembling a trail but now that we were out of the trees the moon was shining brightly just over our destination.  It seemed to be there just for us to guide us to warmth and safety. The moon was 3/4 full, a gibbous moon, it shone on the white rocks and illuminated the path. Our shoes already wet, we cheerfully bounced over rocks and through the water.  We reflected that it was a huge relief to be on solid ground where if we fell it would only be to the ground under our very own feet, not 100’s of feet below.  The rio led us to a dirt road that crossed under the freeway and eventually to a road that lead us up to a residential neighborhood in Nerja.   I love running in the mountains and I am never happier than when I am in the forest with soft dirt beneath my feet, but let me tell you, I was so happy to see the pavement that night!  Mike, Eric and I whooped with joy as we ran down a familiar road to the hotel.  We were actually able to RUN and it felt so good after so many hours of tense hiking.   It was hard to believe that the first half of the adventure took 2 1/2  hours while the second half took 6!  I had reserved a room at the Paradores de Nerja, a very posh spot right on the beach.

Too dark for a good picture. Here we are at the sign outside the hotel

Too dark for a good picture. Here we are at the sign outside the hotel

Michelle came out to take our picture. We can still stand on one leg!

Michelle came out to take our picture. We can still stand on one leg!

Nerja, a beach town, is a ghost town in December so the price was right. We were very dirty, our legs were bleeding and we probably didn’t smell very good but the lovely people at this very fancy hotel welcomed us with curious smiles.  Michelle was waiting for us in the lobby with bags of warm clothes.   She was calmly working on her computer using the hotel’s “abierto” wifi.  She hugged us, ignoring the sweat as we excitedly recounted the past few hours.  I am pretty sure we were all talking at once we were so excited and relieved to be standing in the lobby of a a 4 star hotel! We checked in, showered and in no time were in search of food. We had eaten breakfast but that was many hours ago and 8 hours of running/hiking on only energy gels and granola bars left us starving.  Amazingly we found a wonderful Indian restaurant. We ordered a bottle of the house wine because the waiter told us that it was special Indian wine from Argentina.  What an international day we were having!  We talked and laughed and ate and ate.  We slept hard at the Parador that night.  In the morning I awoke to the sound of the mediterranean outside our window. The Parador is on the beach and the view from our room was breathtaking.

The view from our room in Nerja

The view from our room in Nerja

Our original plan was to run back to La Resinera the day after our trek to Nerja but even in the daylight repeating that trail was not on our list of fun adventures. One time past the Cortijo de Inman and along the acequia was enough for us!  What luck Michelle had opted to drive to Nerja to meet us!

The runners in the morning. It was important to touch the water!

The runners in the morning. It was important to touch the water!

Thanks Michelle!

Thanks Michelle!

Eric and Michelle drove us back to our car by way of (of all things!) a McDonalds.  How happy Mike looked eating his quarter pounder and french fries.  We made it home in time to pick up the girls from school.  I hugged them hard and promised myself that our next adventure would include more running and less danger.

My legs at home the next day. Mike made me include this!

My leg at home the next day. Mike made me include this!

Halloween in Spain by Mom and the Savster

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Savannah, Silvia and Sky ready to trick or treat!
Truco o trato!!!

Halloween is largely a North American holiday.  People around the world including the Spanish are slowly adopting our traditions as they are inundated with American movies and television.  At home in California we spend 4 to 6 weeks planning for Halloween. Halloween is a big holiday at our house.  We decorate the house, we put up orange and purple lights in the bushes outside and we even have permanent bats on the walls in our entryway!  Catalogs of costumes begin arriving in August and provide hours of entertainment for the girls, planning and dreaming up costumes. We spend at least one Saturday at a costume store picking out new decorations and trying on costumes.  I’d like to say that I spend October creating amazing homemade costumes for the girls but it isn’t true.  On Halloween evening we usually have some friends over for a quick dinner then get to the business of trick or treating.  Last year Sky and Savannah ran ahead from door to door collecting mountains of candy.  We strolled along behind sipping a glass of wine and visiting with our lovely neighbors.  Here in Spain Halloween is not the anticipated event that it is in the US.  A couple of days before Halloween Sky and Savannah mentioned that they would like to dress up and they were pretty sure that their friends would dress up too.  Grammy and Grampy were visiting that week so we all took a trip to the “China Store” as it is called in Alhama. The “Hiperfor” is where we go when we need just about any random thing. Sure enough, there were wigs, costumes and decorations of all sorts amongst the dishes, towels, underwear, cleaning supplies, nail polish and hair dye.

Everyone gets a turn in the wig!

Everyone gets a turn in the wig!

We bought this crazy blue wig.

We bought this crazy blue wig.

Savvy with a wig to match her jacket!

Savvy with a wig to match her jacket!

Grampy Dave, everyone gets a turn in the wig!

Grampy Dave, everyone gets a turn in the wig!

Sky and Grammy

Sky and Grammy

Sky had a vision for her outfit so she was on a mission. She found face makeup, a bat headband and a big black towel.  Savvy picked out a cool orange wig and a funny headband.  At home Sky worked magic with her scissors then stitched the pieces  of the towel together to make the best homemade bat wings I had ever seen.  We got up early on Halloween morning to prepare for the day.  Savvy wore her cool pumpkin shirt that we brought from home, a purple star skirt and crazy socks. She looked very festive.  Sky came out of the bathroom as a bat, ready to go and very pleased with her creation.

Sky flying into school with her spooky classmates.

Sky flying into school with her spooky classmates.

I was a bit worried that the other children would not be dressed in costume but Sky assured me that they would be and she didn’t care if they weren’t. Sky is awesome, always her own person!

Ana came by to pick up the girls on the way to school. Savannah, Ana and Sky

Ana came by the house to pick up the girls on her way to school. Savannah, Ana and Sky

Sky, the most beautiful bat

Sky, the most beautiful bat, on her way to school

Sky with Ana and Savvy following behind

Sky with Ana and Savvy following behind

We arrived in the playground and found that a few kids were dressed in costume, most were in Sky’s class which was a relief.  Sky’s friend Ana had her costume in her backpack so she hurried inside to change. Eva and Ricardo also showed some holiday spirit.

Eva and Ricardo dressed in their costumes for school. Eva dressed as a spider witch and Ricardo dressed as the joker. :)

Eva and Ricardo dressed in their costumes for school. Eva dressed as a spider witch and Ricardo dressed as the joker. 🙂

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween!

Javier, the school director was definitely embracing the spirit of the day!

Have you ever seen a school principal dressed like this?

Have you ever seen a school principal dressed like this?

The teachers invited Sky and her friends to come down to the classrooms of the smaller children to share their costumes and spread some Halloween cheer!

Ana’s dad, David, who is originally from France but grew up in Alhama volunteered to take all of the children trick or treating.  It seemed that most of the parents were not completely familiar with the tradition but agreed to let their children roam the streets in search of candy. My mom, Mike and I tagged along.

The mob of trick or treaters David, the dad is on the right in the back.

The mob of trick or treaters
David, Ana’s dad is on the right in the back.

Truco o trato! Castañas, Jamon!

Truco o trato! Castañas, Jamon!

The children were all dressed in scary costumes, even David had a strange costume on.  It was a cold night which reminded me of Halloween in Illinois. The kids went from door to door ringing bells up and down the steep calles of Alhama.  We had our best luck at the houses of friends and relatives.

Josefa and Juan gave us chestnuts and hugs.

Josefa and Juan gave us chestnuts and hugs.

Savvy’s (9 years old) account of Halloween:  

In school on Halloween day there wasn’t much change because it was pretty much like a regular school day. The only difference was that there were a few people in costumes and my teacher gave my class small bags of gummies.

At school like normal on Halloween Day.

At school like normal on Halloween Day.

At school my teacher, Conchi, asked if I had a costume like Sky (because Sky had worn her bat wings and her makeup) and since everybody liked Sky’s costume I put on my orange wig and let Silvia (my BFF) wear my spider head band. However, at recess I took of my wig because I like jumping rope. Other than that, school was all pretty much the same. After school Sky and I worked on homework and we put on our costumes including putting on makeup. After we did all of our homework we waited until a group of my friends came by the door to get me. Silvia and Esther led me along with the group down to a garage where there was supposed to be a party, however the party was mostly people eating bocadillos de jamon and lots of kids trading and eating candy that they had collected. After about thirty minutes my mom came to the garage. She asked me if I wanted to stay at the party because it cost money if you wanted to stay.  Silvia stayed because she had brought money to stay.  We gave them the money for me, but we didn’t want to stay because I hadn’t gone trick or treating yet and the only candy I had in my bag was candy that my sweet friends had given to me. Plus, going trick or treating is almost the whole point of Halloween, right? My mom and I went home and got extra candy from my dad when we rang the door bell. Sky’s friend Ana came over and took us to her grandma’s house so she could get ready. Once Ana was ready, Ana, Sky, Teo (Ana’s brother), and I went back to our house to collect the family. Daddy and Grampy stayed home so if there were any trick or treaters they could pass out candy.   Later we found out that nobody else came other than us and the group of my friends. Grammy, Mommy, Ana, Sky, Teo, and I went to Carmen’s house for Ana’s makeup. At Carmen’s house there were a lot of kids because Carmen has a little sister in fifth grade and her sister has a ton of friends. Once we started trick or treating it got a bit crazy.

Spooky me in the crowd of hooligans! Candy, Chestnuts, Ham galore, TRICK OR TREATING for door to door.

Spooky me in the crowd of hooligans! Candy, Chestnuts, Ham galore, TRICK OR TREATING from door to door.

The children would ask for food and candy. Once, one of the boys got hungry and he even asked for un bocadillo de jamon  (a ham sandwich!). When a person didn’t have candies, the kids would ask for chestnuts or ham! Many times when the people at the doors saw us coming they got scared and ran inside or up to the balcony. If they came out on their balconies, the kids would yell castañas, caramelos, y jamon, which means chestnuts, candies, and ham. Once an old man was on his balcony throwing chestnuts and one of the chestnuts fell and hit my eye. No kidding, it hurt!

Truco o trato.  "trick or treat"  Here is a neighbor throwing chestnuts to the kids.

Truco o trato. “trick or treat” Here is a neighbor throwing chestnuts to the street.

After a while it got darker and cold and we all started to walk sideways. (The reason I put walking sideways is because its one of the funny quotes from one of the book series that we’re reading. The quote is: When the darkness gets darker we go sideways, replied Bob the Titan.) All the kids ran around like crazy people in costumes for almost the whole night.

These are the kids in the dark being more spooky than ever. Boo!

These are the kids in the dark being more spooky than ever. Boo!

Mommy, Grammy and I went home once it got later because we were all getting cold and tired. Sky kept running around and yelling like a hooligan for candy in the cold night until it was time for Sky’s sleepover at Ana’s house. The day before Ana had asked Sky if she wanted to sleep over at her house on Halloween with their other friend Lara. Sky told us later that they had warm milk and cookies before bed and that in the morning they had churros and hot chocolate that Ana’s mom had made. Sky’s sleepover sounded fun, although it was late and I wouldn’t even have been able to eat my milk and cookies because I was so tired! Halloween was different in Spain, but always so fun to be with your friends and run and jump for candy! FIN!             (THE END!)

45th Birthday Party in Spain

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My birthday was the day after the excursion al campo.  It is our tradition to always go on a birthday run or hike, so we went on a beautiful hike with Mom and Dave to Lake Bermejales where I never tire of the beautiful scenery.

Me and My Mom and Dave

Me and My Mom and Dave

Dave and Sandi

Dave and Sandi

After our hike we enjoyed a cafe con leche at the local cafe/bar.
We made it back by 2 to pick the girls up from school.  Sky had gymnastics at 4 and we couldn’t miss a chance to show off her new skills to Grammy.

Sky - in the middle with her foot on her head!

Sky – in the middle with her foot on her head!

For my birthday dinner I wanted to do something special. I had been hoping to take a trip to Morocco but it would have meant that the girls would miss too much school.  The next best thing that I could think of was a Moroccan dinner! I arranged a party catered by Kritzlynn Al Taib. Kritz is an English woman living near Alhama. She speaks fluent Arabic and runs guided tours to Morocco.

Kritzlynn, my birthday chef!

Kritzlynn, my birthday chef!

Her website is very interesting with beautiful photographs.
http://www.hiddenmorocco-andaluciatours.com
Kritzlynn is also an experienced chef. She lived in Saudi Arabia for many years running restaurants, so cooking for a small group is fun for her. She advised me that she needs a minimum of 8 guests if she is to cater a party. Our family only made 6 so I needed more guests. I didn’t really know many people here but that didn’t stop me!  Since my Mom and Dave were here I decided to keep it an English speaking crowd.  Paul is our closest friend here so of course I invited him.  I found Paul and his current running client, James from Vancouver, eating at Al Dente, the local pizza place.   They happened to be having dinner with another friend who I hadn’t met, John (from England), so I invited all of them.  I called Michelle, her mother Barbara, and Eric of the Ultima Frontera Race and invited them as well. They already knew Kritzlynn and said they wouldn’t miss one of her Moroccan dinners so they were in.   We also included our American friend Spencer. I knew he would say yes (he has a rule about that).

THE GUESTS:

Paul (photographed by Savannah)

Paul (photographed by Savannah)

Sky, such a grownup at the party!

Sky, such a grown-up at the party!

Barbara and Sandi

Barbara and Sandi, the 2 moms

Spencer and Savannah reading the wonderful card that Sky and Savvy made for me.

Spencer and Savannah reading the wonderful card that Sky and Savvy made for me.

Mike and John from England

Mike and John from England

Leslie, Eric and Michelle

Leslie, Eric and Michelle

Michelle, Leslie and Mom

Michelle, Leslie and Mom

James, originally from Singapore but now from Vancouver, Canada with Dave

James, originally from Singapore but now from Vancouver, Canada with Dave

Once the party had grown to 13 I needed a new location as our dining room table is only big enough for 6.  Our friend Orla who currently lives in Washington D.C. owns an amazing guest house/vacation rental around the corner from us.  He calls it the Casa Chocolate since it was once a chocolate factory in the 1920’s.  It is a renovated old Alhaman residence complete with a beautiful modern kitchen.  Luckily it was available and he let us borrow it for the evening with the promise to donate some sort of decoration for the house from our travels this year. What a deal! ( Thanks Orla! Come visit us in California! )

Kritzlynn made an amazing dinner.  We started with appetizers that could easily have been a meal alone.

Kriyzlynn explaining the appetizers

Kritzlynn explaining the appetizers

Charmoula (a coriander, tomato and chile salsa)

Roasted red pepper hummus

Cooked Moroccan salad with aubergine, red peppers, olives and carmelized onions

Fresh tomato, orange and garlic salad

Baba Ghanouj

Served with Pita Bread and Crusty rolls.

Kritz in the kitchen

Kritz in the kitchen

THE MAIN COURSE:

Bistiya (my favorite)…”A festive pie”. Wow, a wonderful vegetarian pie filled with roasted squash, sweet potato, cranberries, pistachio nuts, almonds, chickpeas and spinach.  The pie is in a filo pastry which amazingly Kritz makes herself!

Thanks to Savannah for getting a picture of the Bistiya before it was completely gone!

Thanks to Savannah for getting a picture of the Bistiya before it was completely gone!

Chicken kabobs: for the meat-eaters

Chicken Kabobs

Chicken Kabobs

Roasted Veggies, almost gone!

Roasted Veggies, almost gone!

Roasted Moroccan Veggies

Cous cous

Basmati rice with moroccan spices.

Moroccan cous cous

Moroccan cous cous

We ate and ate! ( and drank ) The food was delicious, the conversation was outstanding, and the company was warm and friendly. Of course, Sky and Savannah were the life of the party!

Party party

Party party!

Great conversation

Great conversation in the lovely Chocolate House!

Kritzlynn finished the dinner with a delicious mixed berry dessert served with meringue and 2 candles : 4 5

I had my 20'th birthday in Spain, glad to be back 25 years later!

I had my 20’th birthday in Spain, glad to be back 25 years later!

Team Kezmoh goes on a school picnic with Grammy and Grampy

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Beautiful October Morning

Beautiful October Morning

Last week we had our first brave visitors to Alhama de Granada.  My mom and stepdad, Dave came to visit for my birthday.  Team Kezmoh drove our Seat Leon to Malaga to pick them up.  We returned the little car and exchanged it for a minivan for the week.   A minivan is a rarity in Spain because large vehicles are not meant for Spain. The roads are narrow and parking spaces are very tiny.

At the airport Mike took care of the details of switching cars while Sky, Savvy and I planted ourselves outside of customs.  We were overjoyed when we spotted Grammy Sandi and Grampy Dave!  We gave them huge hugs and led them to the minivan.

So glad to see Grammy and Grampy!

So glad to see Grammy and Grampy!

The girls chattered all the way to Alhama about their new lives here.  While our special visitors settled into the apartment downstairs (Apartamentos Salmerones), Savannah made a list of the important sites she wanted to share in Alhama.  We hardly gave Mom and Dave time to put their suitcases away before they were pulled out the door for a tour.  Savvy had her list so she was our guide.  We visited all of the important parks, the library, the grocery store, the Churrero, the coffee shop and the school.  Looking back I had to smile because Alhama has many tourists who pass through every day.  I always see them disappearing on hikes into the gorge,  touring the old quarter, and posing for photos in front of the old church but I bet none of them knows where the grocery store is!

On Sunday morning we hiked down to the Churrero for churros and chocolate, a must for visitors to Spain.  The churros are made fresh when ordered and “churros for 6” is enough for an army.  The chocolate is a thick molten pudding rather than a drink and it is served with a spoon.

Grammy and Savannah Churros and chocolate

Grammy and Savannah
Churros and chocolate

Churros and Chocolate Sky and Dave

Churros and chocolate
Sky and Dave

Luckily for Mom and Dave we had an all-school, all-day excursion on Monday!   It was an “Excursion al Campo”, a trip to the countryside.

Grammy Sandi and Savannah ready to hike to the campo

Grammy Sandi and Savannah ready to hike to the campo

Sky, ready for the outing!

Sky, ready for the outing!

Checking the schedule for the day

Checking the schedule for the day

The week before Mike and I had been recruited to help brainstorm activities for the day.  It was Halloween week so they wanted us to help with ideas from our Halloween/Harvest festivals at home.  We were delighted to be included and agreed to run a station and bring a typical American snack.  We googled Halloween cookies and although we had never had them before we thought “witches’ fingers” would be a good Halloween snack.  Grammy took charge of making the cookies. Sky and Savannah were in charge of forming the fingers and adding the “fingernails”. We also made Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches.  Javier, the school director, enjoyed hearing us say peanut-butter-and-jelly more than the sandwiches themselves.  “Say it again!” he laughed calling a friend over to listen to our funny accents.

Making Witch's Fingers!

Making Witches’ Fingers!

Sky, Savvy and Leslie with our PB&J and cookies

Sky, Savvy and Leslie with our PB&J and cookies

The Fingers

The Fingers

We hiked in a long line of children, parents and teachers down into the gorge across one road and onto a trail into the forest.

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Embalse de los Bermejales

Embalse de los Bermejales

We set up the festival under the shade of tall trees at a picnic ground by the local lake, Embalse de los Bermejales (this is different from the Lake Bermejales that we run around).  Mom, Dave, Mike, Spencer and I manned Estacion #3.  Spencer is a young man from Tennessee who is teaching English at the school this year.  Since he is the other American he was assigned to our group.  We really like Spencer so we were glad for his company. Our station was called “Coma manzanas sin los manos” (eat apples without your hands). We sliced apples and dangled them from a string hanging between two trees.

Savannah and Spencer (pronounced ES-spencer by the Spanish children)

Savannah and Spencer (pronounced ES-spencer by the Spanish children)

Mom, Sandi cutting apples

Mom, Sandi cutting apples

We gave the instructions in Spanish and had the kids repeat them after us in English.  We were supposed to be teaching some English so we quizzed them on the words for fruits and vegetables.  The children were pretty hungry and were motivated to get the apples without using their hands.  It was fun to watch.  In every group there was always one kid, usually a big boy, who would demand that his string be reloaded several times.

Grampy Dave helping with the apples

Grampy Dave helping with the apples

Toma manzanas sin manos

Toma manzanas sin manos

Delicious apples!

Delicious apples!

Sky's friend Ava

Sky’s friend Eva

Sky and Savannah stayed with their classes. They had sack races, a mask-making station and other games.

Beautiful Sky winning the sack race

Beautiful Sky winning the sack race

Savvy with her cool autumn mask

Savvy with her cool autumn mask

Once every class had rotated through all the activity stations, it was time for lunch and most of the parents began arriving.  One mother roasted chestnuts and passed them out wrapped in newspaper.

Passing out roasted chestnuts

Passing out roasted chestnuts

Tables were set up and the food was laid out.  There were Tortilla Espanolas (thick egg and potato omelettes), Empanadas, fried fish, and an entire table devoted to what else,  jamon. We visited with the other parents and tasted all of the foods. I had to explain at least 6 times that I was certain that the jamon was delicious but that I was a vegetarian. Mike just kept some on his plate to prove that he was enjoying it.

So much JAMON!

So much JAMON!

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Mike, Dave and Sandi after lunch

After everyone had eaten, Javier jumped around and announced that it was time for some games.  I volunteered for the sack race.  Spencer joined me.  Spencer has a rule that he must never say no if he is invited to try something as long as it is not unhealthy or illegal. I knew when Javier approached him that he would be lining up for the race!  Spencer won and was awarded a bag of candy which seemed to come with about 40 children. They surrounded him and left him with an empty bag. He was smiling, what a prize!

Full of fried calamari, tortilla Espanola, witches’ fingers, and jamon we all hiked back to the school.  It was a long line of tired children who hiked the mile back to school.  I was impressed that even the tiny kids hiked without complaint.  Javier took up the rear making sure no one got lost.

DSC_9705It was evening and we were all tired.  It felt good to have had a station of our own to run.  We felt welcomed and part of the community which was lovely.  Team Kezmoh and Grammy and Grampy went home and watched Despicable Me and went to bed.

Team Kezmoh

Team Kezmoh

Stay tuned for more adventures of Team Kezmoh and visitors.

Ultima Frontera, Race report. Loja, Spain

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Ultima Frontera 55km/83km/166km: Race Report
Loja, Espana October 20, 2013

Hey! Do those butts look familiar? Mike and I are the poster children for the race!

Hey! Do those butts look familiar? Mike and I are the poster children for the race!

Ultima Frontera is organized by Michelle Culter and Eric Maroldo. Michelle is a screen writer living here in Spain.  Eric is a musician who has a band here with some Spanish musicians.  They live near us so we are looking forward to getting to know them better.  The race course is from the imagination of our friend, Paul Bateson.  The race flyer was created by Paul and is a picture of Mike and me from 2 years ago.
Ultima Frontera was my first ultra in Spain.  How could I not run the race if I was on the poster!? It is always funny showing up for a race where 55k is the shortest distance.   I felt a bit lame but I am certainly in no shape to run 50 or 100 miles!

The race started in Loja, 32 km from our little village of Alhama de Granada.  Mike and the girls were recruited to run the first aid station/check point so we got up early together. I put on the clothes that I had laid out: my bright orange compression socks, a pink running skirt, a black t-shirt, my favorite cap and my Nathan hydration pack.  We drove to Loja under a full moon that peeked in and out of the clouds above the olive groves. The morning was cool and a bit foggy.  We arrived with plenty of time to pick up my race packet but I still had that nervous pre-race anxiety that is always there.  I made the usual 2-3 trips to the bathroom, worried that I’d be too cold in my outfit and ate 1/2 a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  The prerace information warned that there would not be much aid on the course so I filled my hydration pack with 1.5 liters of water, 6 gels, toilet paper (you never know!) and my phone.  I pinned my “dorsal” (race number) to my skirt and I was ready to go.

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Just a little pre-race jitters!

The starting group was small enough to pose for a group photo.  Although there were only 99 runners registered for the 3 distances, 22 countries were represented!  IMG_4712

We started running from La Medina Cauxa Municipal Stadium under a blow up arch that read LOJA across the top.  I placed myself near the front knowing that most of the runners would be doing twice my distance and would probably be starting slowly.  We ran out a paved road but within 1/4 mile we were happily climbing a dirt path following the Rio Genil.  I ran along saying Hello or Hola to anyone I passed.  I eventually fell instep with a woman and her partner from Malta.  I was listening so carefully to her that we missed one of the first turn offs!  Luckily some of the people behind us shouted and whistled at us until we realized our mistake.  We doubled back and got on the right trail.  We only went 1-2 minutes out of the way but it always feels bad to run a single extra step in such a long race.  We wound around the hillsides with beautiful views of rolling hills and olive groves.  It was a cloudy morning and by the time we reached the top of the first climb we could see clouds hovering over the countryside level to where we were running.  At mile nine we came to a crazy house straight out of Alice in Wonderland!  The driveway was lined with poles each with a little decoration on top. There were colorful teapots, snails, girls with baskets, birds, bunnies and more.  I slowed to snap a photo. I’d love to return to get a better look!

My photo of the crazy house

My photo of the crazy house

From Paul's collection of photos, a sunnier day
From Paul’s collection of photos, a sunnier day

I wondered if the course went past their drive intentionally for the entertainment of the runners.  From the Alice in Wonderland House we descended into a little town called Zagra at 17 km.

Zagra. Photo is a bit crooked because I was trying not to stop running!

Zagra. Photo is a bit crooked because I was trying not to stop running!

We ran past curious Zagrans peering off balconies and standing in doorways.  Most people just stared, some shouted “animo”.  We were through the town in minutes and headed up an impressive road climb to the town of Ventoros de San Jose.  I was excited to arrive in Ventoros because I knew my family would be there.  Mike, Sky and Savannah were manning the 20km check point.  I spotted Sky first in her CATS t-shirt, jumping up and down as she ran out to greet me.  Mike filled my water pack, Savannah gave me a banana and  another volunteer was recording our numbers.  My beautiful family hugged me, wished me luck and sent me off down the road.  Finally some downhill!  I ran and visited with my new friend from Malta, Karen, until the road started to climb again.  Karen reminds me of my friend Megan who runs the ups the same pace as the downs.  I watched her disappear up the hill but reeled her in on the downhill which is my specialty.  At one point on a particularly long downhill I ran along alone.  I followed the red and white ribbons and the green arrow off the road onto a dirt path.

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I passed a familiar “Coto de Cazo” sign.  I see these signs all the time on my runs. They mean that the area is a hunting preserve but I had yet to see any hunters until that day.  I heard shots and some men talking loudly.  One hunter disappeared up a row of olive trees.  The other, shot gun slung over his shoulder and dog at his side ambled up the trail ahead of me.  I was grateful for my road cone orange compression socks and my bright clothes.  I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t be mistaken for an animal of some kind but I definitely quickened my stride until I was well out of range. I know it is probably silly to worry about men with guns in olive fields but it made me nervous just the same.  I entertained myself with making a plan for what I would do if I was shot at, if I was shot or if I came across a bleeding runner.  By the time I stopped worrying about the guys with the guns several kilometers had passed.  The course continued between the olive groves and down deserted country roads lined with fig and pomegranate trees.  Karen and her partner eventually caught me and I had company until we reached the 35 km check point where they would journey on to the Montefrio climb to continue the 83 km race and I would turn back towards Loja.

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Nice dirt

Lonely roads

Lonely roads

I was alone for the rest of the race.  There were no other competitors that I could ever spot either in front or behind me.  At this point I was really careful to watch for ribbons and arrows for fear of making a wrong turn and being completely alone in the middle of nowhere.  I ran into Huetor-Tajar and the last check point at 42 km.   I still had plenty of water so I just stopped to say hello to Barbara, Michelle the race director’s mother.  She wished me luck and recorded my number.  I ran off eating a banana feeling really good considering I had already run a marathon.  I only had 13 km (about 7 miles) to go but anyone who has run more than 20 miles knows that no matter how good you may feel with 6- 7 miles to go, it is possible to completely blow up in the last couple of miles.  I knew I had one last climb before the end.  I actually welcomed the hill when I started to ascend, knowing that once over it I could just coast the downhill to the finish.  I made it to the top of the last climb at about 50 km (31 miles) and was excited to start down.  I sped up and about 20 steps into the downhill both of my quads cramped!  I jolted to a stop.  I tried to stretch but that just made my left hamstring cramp.  I imagine that I looked pretty silly jumping around all alone on the road.  I plopped down on a rock to try to relax my legs and think about what to do.  I realized that I was due for a gel a few miles back but I was out of gels.  I had no salt with me, a bad mistake.  I looked down at my shirt and body.  I was covered with salt.  I started licking my arms and sucking on my shirt.  That probably looked stranger than the cramping dance but I was desperate!  I pushed myself to my feet and delicately tried to run.  Amazingly my quadriceps cooperated and didn’t cramp again.  I’m not sure if it was the arm licking or the rest that helped but I was able to finish the race without having to stop again.  Sky and Savannah ran out to meet me at the finish and I happily ran under the LOJA arch and accepted my finisher metal!

Finishing the race!

Finishing the race!

Resting the tired legs

Resting the tired legs

Leslie, Paul, Savannah and Sky celebrating post race

Leslie, Paul, Savannah and Sky celebrating post race

Made the Podium, 3rd place!

Made the Podium, 3rd place!

After the race we hung out at the finish. There was a restaurant next door so we joined the other finishers and ate pizza and hamburgers.   We drove home to Alhama and we all collapsed on the couch to watch a movie.   It was a great day for me.   Even with the cramping break I was really happy with my time.  Thanks so much to Mike, Sky and Savannah for their support!

For more information about the race or to sign up for next year go to http://www.ultimafronteratrail.com  Click on the little British flag in the right-hand corner to see the page in English.

Team Kezmoh goes to Sevilla

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Beautiful hills on the way to Sevilla

Beautiful hills on the way to Sevilla

This weekend we made our first out of town excursion to Sevilla. The girls came home from school on Friday at 2:00 PM. We had a quick lunch and piled into the car with our overnight bags, cameras and backpacks.  Sevilla is 200 km from Alhama.  As we drove west the rolling hills gave way to a flat plain.  We played a game translating the names of the towns and signs we passed using the Babylon app on my iphone.

Chicken Hill!

Chicken Hill!

We passed Cerro de la Gallina (“Chicken Hill”), Moron (“small hillock”), Cuesta Blanca (“White ridge with a steep slope on one side and a gradual slope on the other” sounds like a hill to me) and Cuesta de la Palma (Ridge with a steep slope… of the grove of palms).  Are you noticing a theme here?  There are so many ways to say hill in this language!  I typed hill into the translator and it gave me ten words that are different types of hills: cerro, lomo, colina, alcor, altillo, altozono, collado, cuesta, monte, riba, moron…  It was obviously very important when Spanish was developing to properly describe a hill because each of these words means something slightly different but basically they are all hills.  When we arrived at Llanos de Antequera (“large flat area of grassland where few trees grow of Antequera) we knew that we were out of the hills!  The flat plain was reminiscent of the Central Valley in California.  Driving on the A92 toward Sevilla looks so much like California’s I-5.  It is even complete with the Oleander flowers in the median.  I was trying to find out how to spell Oleander and Mike came across an interesting post on Flickr.  Robert Couse-Baker claims that the Oleander was once incorrectly thought to have been imported from the Mediterranean regions of Iberia (Spain) and Northern Africa.  However, it was actually found much earlier in North America by the first nation peoples who arrived and found meandering lines of Oleander.  It was called in various dialects “that useless plant that goes in long pointless lines to nowhere”. Out of some perverse curiosity people followed these long lines of plants leaving trails in the soil. These trails would later become trade routes and over time, they were overlaid by European settler roads and eventually the state highways we know today.  Not likely true, but funny just the same.

Spain or California?

Spain or California?

Sevilla is the capital of Andalucia and the 4th largest city in Spain with 1.5 million people in the metropolitan area.  According to myth Sevilla was founded 3000 years ago by the Greek God Hercules.  The Rio Guadalquivir runs through the city.  Sevilla Harbour is 50 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, and it is the only river port in Spain.  It was the most important trading port between Spain and the new world after Columbus discovered the Americas in 1492.

Sevilla, Andalucía,  España

Sevilla, Andalucía, España

Back to the adventures…We arrived in Sevilla before dark.  We checked into the Hotel Barcelo which is really quite nice.  The kids had a great time running around and exploring. There was a pool so they changed into their swimsuits.  When we got to the pool it was nearly empty but the girls were enthusiastic to swim.  They jumped in and jumped out, very cold.  We wrapped them in huge, fluffy blue towels and took the elevator back to the room. They played in the warm bathtub together to make up for not getting to swim much.  I consulted trip advisor and found a genuine Mexican restaurant that was highly recommended.   There had been a considerable amount of homesickness and we were wishing for some good black beans so real Mexican food was just what we needed.  The restaurant was difficult to find but very worth it.  We were greeted by the owner, Oscar, who is a young man from Oaxaca, Mexico.  He came to Sevilla 3 years ago for cooking school to learn to cook Al Andaluz.  Ironically, he stayed and opened La Cantina Mexicana and taught the Spanish to cook Oaxaca style. We drank Coronas and ate empanadas de verduras, fajitas and savored every bite of his wonderful refried black beans.  Mike’s tradition is to ask the waiter for their favorite thing on the menu.  Oscar brought him a dish called El Gringo. He said it was his favorite but I wasn’t sure if he was making fun of us.  Either way, Mike declared it delicious and ordered a second one.  We asked Oscar where he gets his beans.  Imported from Texas, of course!

Dig in Daddy!

Dig in Daddy!

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The best beans in Spain!

In Spain it is illegal to smoke inside any public place so we always choose to sit inside if we can.  It is still legal to smoke in an outdoor cafe but most smokers stand in the doorway so they can talk to their friends inside- not cool.  We already liked Oscar but when some cigarette smoke wafted by our table he smelled it too and scurried to the door to close it.  Ahh, a man after our own hearts!

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Savannah, Sky and Leslie on the Rio Guadalquivir

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Magical Sky at the koi pond

On Saturday we walked from the hotel to El Centro.  We walked along the Rio Guadalquivir on a bike path.  The path and the gardens along the water were all part of the renovations for the 1992 World Expo.  In 1992 Sevilla also celebrated the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ famous voyage.  There were lovely fountains, gardens and pools of water that must have been spectacular at one time.  The area has been sadly neglected in recent times.   The pools had murky water with small koi fish gasping for air.  The fountains were not working and the flowers were crowded with weeds, but one could still feel the magic of the past in this place.

We crossed La Puente de la Cartuja admiring the long, colorful  lines of kayakers out for their morning exercise.

From the Puente de la Cartuja: Kayakers on the Rio Guadalquivir

From La Puente de la Cartuja: Kayakers on the Rio Guadalquivir

By the time we made it to the center of town everyone was exhausted.  We stopped at the first Starbucks we had seen in 3 months.  We ordered our favorite drinks and sunk into familiar chairs for a rest.

Ahh, Vanilla Steamer!

Ahh, Vanilla Steamer!

So tired

So tired

Team Kezmoh at Starbucks in Sevilla!

Team Kezmoh at Starbucks in Sevilla!

We watched the parade of tourists on the street and played “guess where they are from”.

From Starbucks we walked past La Catedral de Santa Maria, officially the largest cathedral  in the world by volume.  It is 3rd by actual size after St. Paul’s at the Vatican and St. John’s in London.

There was a fancy wedding and we admired the brightly festooned guests who stood on the stairs.

Wedding goers in Sevilla

Wedding goers in Sevilla

Past the cathedral a line of horse drawn carriages stood, their drivers lazily glanced down at us as we approached.  When I was a student in Spain I romantically imagined returning with my children who would beg to go for a ride.  Sky pretended to be interested but as it turned out I was really the only one interested in a carriage ride.  No one else really cared about the carriage ride but agreed to indulge me.  The carriage sped down the busy streets with the cars.  We glimpsed monuments going by.   We passed the Torre del Oro one of the most recognizable features in Sevilla.

Torre del Oro

Torre del Oro

It is a 13th century Almohad watchtower by the river.  In the distant past it was covered in golden tiles and was once used to store the treasures brought back from the Americas.  Even then it was more than 500 years old!  Hard for me to imagine coming from a country who only just celebrated it’s bicentennial during my lifetime.  Today there is a small museum inside.  We also passed the Antigua Fabrica de Tabacos an enormous building which is now the Universidad de Sevilla.  Our tour ended in the Parque Maria Luisa where I once spent many hours running and sitting in the shade of the enormous elms and Mediterranean pine trees.

Sunny day in Sevilla!  Not really any other kind!

Sunny day in Sevilla! Not really any other kind!

Parque Maria Luisa

Parque Maria Luisa

Carriage ride in the Parque Maria Luisa

Carriage ride in the Parque Maria Luisa

There were beautiful canopies of trees, brilliant flowers, fountains and Sky and Savannah’s favorite – playstructures!

Parks are the best no matter where you are in the world!

Parks are the best no matter where you are in the world!

Daddy is so strong!

Daddy is so strong!

Beautiful Savannah

Beautiful Savannah

Sky defies gravity!

Sky defies gravity!

The park dates back to the mid 1800’s but luckily the play structures are most certainly from this century.  The park originally was the garden of the Palace of San Telmo.  Princess Maria Luisa Fernanda left the gardens to the city of Sevilla when she died in 1897.

Inside the park is The Plaza de Espana, my favorite site in Sevilla.

Plaza de Espana

Plaza de Espana

From Google Images

From Google Images

Beautiful Tiles

Beautiful Tiles

It was built in 1929 for the Exposicion Iberoamerica.  It features beautiful Sevillana tiles. There are tiles with maps and historical scenes for each Spanish province.   A canal runs the length of the building and for 5 Euros you can rent a little boat to row in the moat.

Savannah and Sky checking out the fish in the canal around Plaza de Espana

Savannah and Sky checking out the fish in the canal around Plaza de Espana

In the center there is a huge fountain where we posed for some photos.

Team Kezmoh in La Plaza de Espana

Team Kezmoh in La Plaza de Espana

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Savannah, Sky and an Arco Iris

We visited Sevilla on the Dia de la Raza (Columbus Day),  a Spanish national holiday, so the plaza was significantly more crowded than usual.  There was a contest going on in the plaza for the best tasting jamon.  Participants and judges tasted the entered pig legs and voted for the most flavorful. We were there as they announced the winners of the best HAM in Andalucia.  Have I mentioned the Spanish obsession with jamon in the past?

Checking out the ukeleles

Checking out the ukeleles

Cool trinkets!

Cool trinkets!

Vendors lined up in front of the Plaza de Espana selling brightly colored scarves, dresses, fans and magnets.  We bought fresh roasted chestnuts, which we peeled and ate. They tasted similar to potatoes.

Carolina, our friend/Au Pair who stayed with us in California this summer met us in the park just in time for a ride on a cool family bike.  We rode around under a canopy of green trees and Caro pointed out her favorite spots to play as a child.

In front of Plaza de los Americas

In front of Plaza de los Americas

Our next stop was the Festival de las Naciones which is celebrated for a month in Sevilla.  There were vendors selling everything from olives, hacky sac balls to wooden flutes (we bought each of these items! ). There were food stands representing France, India, Mexico, South Africa, the US and many more.  Sky chose a vegetarian samosa from India.  She announced that it was good but not as good as Ishani’s mom’s samosas!  Mike, Savvy and I ate in Mexico and drank wine from France.

La Bandera de Sevilla

La Bandera de Sevilla

No me a dejado

No me ha dejado

The girls noticed that all around Sevilla there is the symbol NO8DO.  It is like a hidden Mickey in Disney World.  If you don’t know to look for them you might miss them, but when we started paying attention the symbol was everywhere.  “NO8DO” is the official motto of Sevilla. It is even on the flag.  It is popularly believed to be a rebus signifying “No me ha dejado”. The 8 in the middle is supposed to be a loop of wool, a “madeja”.  Literally the meaning is:  “Sevilla has not abandoned me”.  However the feeling is that Sevilla is a city that will always stay with you.  Sevilla is a magical place and it is true that once one spends some time there it will stay with you always.

Artesania Alfaro

Artesania Alfaro

Barrio Santa Cruz

Barrio Santa Cruz

We made our way through the tangle of winding streets in the Barrio Santa Cruz.  We admired the beautiful tiles and I stopped to buy pottery in a store so colorful I could live there.

Metropol Parasol "Las Setas"

Metropol Parasol
“Las Setas”

Savvy on top of Las Setas

Savvy on top of Las Setas

Sky and a Spanish sunset from the top of Sevilla

Sky and a Spanish sunset from the top of Sevilla

We emerged from the narrow streets at Sevilla’s newest attraction, The Metropol Parasol.  It was opened in 2011 and was built by German architect Jurgen Mayer-Hermann.  It looks a bit like a honeycomb or a flying waffle.  It is in the Plaza de la Encarnacion and the Sevillanos think it looks like mushrooms, thus the local nickname “Las Setas de la Encarnacion” (The mushrooms of the Encarnacion).  We took the elevator to the top of Las Setas . We strolled the walkway under the purple and orange Sevillana sunset. The panoramic view of the city was breathtaking.  We took a deep breath of Sevilla and agreed it was a full day.

Team Kezmoh from the top of Metropol Parasol

Team Kezmoh from the top of Metropol Parasol

We had a short break back at the hotel and then went to the home of Carolina’s family for dinner.  Carolina’s father, Jeff is originally from Singapore and her mother, Ana is a native Sevillana.  They met at BYU in Utah where they both attended college.  Her parents were kind and welcoming.  They hugged and kissed us as if we were part of the family already.  Sadly her elderly grandfather had died the day before and the funeral had been earlier in the day.  We felt awkward coming for dinner under the circumstances but Jeff assured us that our visit was a welcome distraction.  He had prepared a delicious Chinese meal. He scooped us delicious rice from his giant rice cooker. We ate tofu and vegetables and ginger chicken. It was our first Asian food in Spain and it was wonderful!  We all agreed that the dinner with the Koh family was our favorite part of the day.

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Carolina and her brothers with Sky and Savvy

Jeff and Ana

Jeff and Ana

We slept late Sunday morning and the girls did their homework in the hotel room.  Carolina came over at noon to walk over to Isla Magica with us.  Isla Magica is Sevilla’s pirate themed amusement park.  No one told us to have a magical day like at Disneyland, but it was a fun day just the same.  October is the end of the season for Isla Magica so it was nearly empty.

Does it get any better than this?

Does it get any better than this?

The 3D show!

The 3D show!

Las Llamas

Las Llamas

Las Ranas

Las Ranas

The Iguana

Iguazu!

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We never waited more than 10 minutes to get on a ride so the girls rode every ride, several times!  Our favorite was “La Anaconda”, a water roller coaster.  It had no line at all and we must have ridden it at least 5 times.   We discovered where the camera was and planned our poses.  We laughed and laughed at our sleeping pose.  If felt good to laugh so hard.

So Scary!

So Scary!

Sleeping!

Sleeping!

Sky and Savannah

Sky and Savannah

Savannah and Carolina

Savannah and Carolina

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Sky and Daddy

At the gift shop Sky and Savvy choose to make a stuffed animal for their souvenirs.

Making the animals

Making the animals

Sky makes a cat, of course

Sky and her cat

Filling the blue bear!

Filling the blue bear!

Team Kezmoh

Team Kezmoh

We stayed until the park closed.  We drove Carolina home and got on the A92 back to Alhama in the dark.   The girls slept the whole way home snuggled up to their new stuffed animals.

Team Kezmoh Runs!

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Alhama de Granada is an amazing running destination for the trail runner.  Mike and I discovered this area when we came in 2011 on a fact-finding-mission.  I typed trail run Spain into the computer at home and guess what? There is a website called trailrunspain.com.  Our friend Paul Bateson is the keeper of this site.  He organizes trail running holidays for people visiting Andalucia.  When we came 2 years ago we ran with him for 3 days.  We ran from village to village carrying all of our gear.  We each carried a small pack.  I brought a rolled up sundress, underwear, an extra pair of socks, flip-flops, a toothbrush, toothpaste and a comb.  We rinsed out our running clothes at night and stayed in hotels.   We ran 18-25 miles each day over and around the nearby mountains of the Parque Natural Sierras de Tejeda.  Recently Paul’s knees have not been behaving well so we’ve been having fun acting as his substitute running guides.   The first week we ran with Dominic, an English banker based in Hong Kong.   Last week we spent with Rob from Holland a computer programmer and a wicked hill climber.  They were both good runners so many days Mike would run on ahead with them and they would wait for me at the top of big climbs.

Team Kezmoh’s recent trail runs: 

LA MAROMA (10 miles): 

From near the top of La Maroma. Mike and Dominc

From near the top of La Maroma. Mike and Rob from Holland admiring the Mediterranean Sea

Mike and Leslie on La Maroma

Mike and Leslie on La Maroma

La Maroma:  We did this run with both Rob and Dominic.  It starts at 3000 feet and is 10 miles round trip. The top of the mountain is 6800 feet according to my Garmin altimeter.   I would like to make it 22 miles round trip and leave from home but I haven’t gotten to that run yet.  The trail starts on an upward sloping dirt path that becomes gradually more steep and eventually more and more rocky until we can only hike.

Sky and Savvy hiking up the trail to La Maroma. We didn't torture them with going to the summit.

Sky and Savvy hiking up the trail to La Maroma. We didn’t torture them with going to the summit.

There is an incredibly rewarding view at the top. We live on the inland side of the mountain so it is a treat to be able to see the  Mediterranean Sea from the summit.  We expect that on a really clear day we would be able to see Africa!

Dominic from Hong Kong!

Dominic from Hong Kong!

The Rickety Bridge loop (8 miles):

The famous (will now it is!) Rickety Bridge!

The famous (well now it is!) Rickety Bridge!

This is an 8 mile loop from our door that is really nice.  It is full of rolling hills all of which are run-able.  We like to do this loop after we take the kids to school. The school is in the gorge so we just keep going after dropping them off.

The start of the rickety bridge loop

The start of the rickety bridge loop

We run into the canyon along the Alhama river  We cross a small foot bridge and shortly come to a little dam.  There is a guard dog who lives on the levy behind a fence next to the dam.  He has very little space to run so Mike feels bad for him.  He looks pretty ferocious so I am glad for the chain link fence between us.  Mike wants to befriend him so he carries treats in his pocket to toss over the fence for him.

Mike Feeding the Dog

Mike Feeding the Dog

Past the dog we take a dirt road mostly uphill to the “rickety bridge”.  The bridge is the midpoint of the run and  from there we climb up a lovely dirt path that rolls past cortijos (farmhouses).  Our favorite is Cortijo Bernardo.

Cortijo Bernardo

Cortijo Bernardo

Here is Bernardo himself.

Here is Bernardo himself.

The day I brought my camera Bernardo was in his garden pulling weeds while Stevie Wonder sang “I just called to say I love you” from a small radio.   His wife Francisca was concerned that I was so sweaty and came over to feel if I was as wet as I looked.  We explained that we were just running and complimented their lovely gardens and ran off down the road.

Next, we pass fields of tomatoes and corn with the sound of rushing water from the river below us.   There are a couple of friendly dogs who come out to greet us and usually join us for a short way.  They don’t need treats because they already seem happy.

Soft dirt to run on past the corn

Soft dirt to run on past the corn

Here I am running with my friend Kathryn!  Miss you!

Here I am running with my friend Kathryn! Miss you!

Trees are starting to change

Trees are starting to change

Eventually we loop back past the gorge and the school.  If we time it right we can wave at the girls during recess. Sometimes we try to spy on them but one of their friends always spots us and points.

The Cacin Gorge (8 miles):

This run starts by Lake Bermejales about 10km from Alhama.  The first 3.5 miles is along the top of the gorge on a dirt road that winds through tomato farms and olive trees.

Mike and Leslie after a run in the Gorge. Lake Bermejales in the background.

Mike and Leslie after a run in the Gorge. Lake Bermejales in the background.

The road crosses a Roman Bridge, El Puente Romano over the Rio Cacin.

Daddy, Savvy's butt and Sky

Daddy, Savvy’s butt and Sky

Just before the bridge there is a trail that drops sharply into the gorge.  There are boy scouts who spend the summer at a camp near here.  They keep the trail clear and set up ropes and bridges to cross.

Mike and Rob

Mike and Rob cross the Cacin river

Pretty steep climbs up and down

Pretty steep climbs up and down

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Leslie running down the the gorge

Running in the Cacin Gorge

Mike and Rob

Mike and Rob

The Lake Bermejales Loop (15 miles):

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One of our favorite runs back home is the Lake Natoma Loop so it seems fitting that we found another lake loop to enjoy.  Like Lake Natoma, Lake Bermejales is a man-made lake with a dam.   It is 15 miles around on a mix of trail and a bit of road.

The trail darts in and out of coves through neat rows of pine trees.  The trail is a soft cushion of pine needles, gentle on the knees.   It is stunningly beautiful.  The lake is very clear and in many places a surreal mix of greens and blues.  The unearthly colors seemingly change around every corner.

From the bridge at the dam we see large fish swimming deep in the crystal waters.

See the fish?

See the fish?

We have done this loop with all of the visitors so far.  Most recently Colleen and Jeff from Toronto, Canada joined us.

Colleen at the Convent of the Ermita San Isidro just outside of Arenas del Rey

Colleen at the Convent of the Ermita San Isidro just outside of Arenas del Rey on the Lake Bermejales Loop

Colleen and Jeff from Canada

Colleen and Jeff from Canada

If anyone whats to come to join us on a run in Spain just send me a comment! We would love to have some company.   You can also e-mail me at LKEZMOH@gmail.com!

After the "loop"

After the “loop”

Cimex Lectularius

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I debated with myself about posting this part of our adventure.   I still would like to have some visitors and I really don’t want to scare off our family and friends.  But it is part of the adventure and adventures are hazardous actions of uncertain outcome.

Bed bugs from Google Images

Bed bugs from Google Images

The morning after La Feria Sky came downstairs and told us that she had a ton of mosquito bites. She had bites all over her arms, face and back.  Savvy pointed out that she had some on her legs. It dawned on us that many of the bites were under where their clothes had been. The bites also looked too small to be mosquito bites. Then I noticed a patch of bumps on my legs. Mike started thinking and came up with the answer: bed bugs!  We looked up pictures on the internet of bed bug bites.  Bed bugs typically bite in groups of three evenly spaced bites. They are referred to as breakfast, lunch and dinner bites. Who knows why they do this but it makes them easy to identify. Sure enough most of Sky’s bites were in lines of 3 about an inch apart. Uuugh!

So Itchy!

So Itchy!

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Bed bug bites 😦

So, we were able to tolerate that La Casa Azul wasn’t actually blue, we were able to buy a vacuum, massacre hundreds of spiders, scrub cat poop off of the decks and bleach pretty much every surface of the bathrooms and kitchen.  We even removed all of the coverings from the moldy, smelly couches, washed them and hung them out to dry.  But bedbugs??? This is stretching even my strong wishes to make everything OK.  The Casa Azul had a great view and looked awesome in pictures but the internet is unfortunately not scratch and sniff!

Cleaning and cleaning

Cleaning and cleaning

We spent the next few hours researching ways to fight bed bugs.  Eventually we e-mailed our landlord.  He answered back, “I am sorry to hear about your problem”.  OUR PROBLEM? Now we were furious!  He insisted that no one else has ever complained about bed bugs and he personally had stayed at the house without any bites.  ( Mike’s note: our landlord rarely bathes, lives alone with his three dogs, and reeks of body odor- not sure that a bug would want to bite him ) He also was certain that bed bugs couldn’t be a problem in Spain, because he had not heard of that.  Surely we must have brought them from America, he suggested!  We did find plenty of articles about bed bugs in Spain and in every part of the world, civilized and not.  

We did learn a few things from our research.  First, it is not recommended to just move out or go to a hotel.  The bugs will surely follow.  It is also not recommended to bomb a house with pesticides.  Bombs don’t reliably kill the bugs and the bugs will go to the neighbors and eventually come back.  We wondered why we didn’t see the bites right away.  We first noticed the bites a bit more than week after our arrival.  It turns out this time course is actually typical.  The bumps are caused by a delayed immune response.  Unlike mosquito bites, to which we react to immediately, it takes some time for our bodies to react to the bed bug bites.  This is especially the case if it is one’s first exposure to the antigen (bed bug saliva).  This means that if a person only stays in a place for a day or two, they might not notice any bumps for up to 7-14 days.  This information was pretty horrifying as it meant that the bumps we could see were probably just the beginning.  They did get worse over the next week, but with our efforts to decrease the vermin population we only noticed a few new bites each day thereafter.  Another interesting fact is that up to 50% of people don’t respond at all to bed bug saliva.  Initially Mike had none.   I had a couple on my arms and legs and one on my chin (yuck).  My bites did continue to appear and eventually I went around in long sleeves.  Savannah had many on her arms but Sky, dear sensitive Sky, was covered.  At one point she had more than 12 bites on her face alone.  The good news is that although the bites are really gross and very very itchy, bed bugs do not carry disease.  In addition, unlike head lice, beg bugs do not live on their human hosts.  They prefer to live in the creases of mattresses and in cracks in the walls.  This made living in the Casa Azul pretty much impossible.  The walls were nothing but cracks.  The ceiling in our room was made of bamboo and thatch, great bug motels. We decided then that the bed bugs were the final straw.  We just could not stay in the Casa Pesadilla (Nightmare).  We started looking for a new place the next day.

As I write Mike is sitting next to me, he says that he is glad that I am the one who is writing because he wouldn’t be able to write about this without swearing a lot and suggests that I throw in a couple of F-bombs!

While we stayed at Casa Azul we did everything we could to decrease the population of the pests.  We ordered Diatomaceous Earth ( DE ) online which sounded very promising.  It is a naturally occurring sedimentary rock that is ground to a powder.  It is actually fossilized remains of a type of hard shelled algae that acts as a non-toxic insecticide that can be put on mattresses and around the bed.  It is deadly to the bugs because it dehydrates their exoskeletons.  The fine powder absorbs lipids (fats) from the waxy layer of the insects’ exoskeletons causing them to dehydrate. The arthropods die as a result of water pressure deficiency.  Unfortunately, the DE never came and by the time we contacted them to find out why, we already had a new place and a plan to move.  I may still try to get some DE for any trips to hotels to sprinkle around our stuff like garlic to ward off vampires!  We bought alcohol and a spray bottle as alcohol is supposed to kill the bugs on contact.  We sprayed dilute alcohol in every crack. We took the beds apart and completely doused the mattresses and bed frames with alcohol.  We sprayed the beds with permethrin (flea, lice, arthropod insecticide) that we bought from the veterinarian.  We put all of the bed legs in little bowls of baby oil as recommended on the internet. We also bought double-sided sticky tape and put it around the legs of the beds to catch any bug that might make it past the oil.  I became obsessed with inspecting the seams of the mattresses and studying the sticky tape.  We had a jeweler’s loop that my brother Russell had given to Sky and Savvy so we used that to study any bug dead or alive that we encountered.  We did catch quite a few little bugs but none that looked exactly like a bed bug. Very disturbing as we continued to get new bites until we moved.

The Casa Azul came with a washing machine but no dryer.  When we first arrived I was happy to carry the clothes up 4 flights of stairs to the roof to hang them in the sun.  However, as part of our exit strategy, we needed to assure ourselves that we didn’t bring bugs with us.  A dryer on high heat for 30 minutes will kill bed bugs at all stages of the life-cycle including the egg.  So, we drove to Granada and bought a clothes dryer to do battle with our tiny invaders.

Despite the rough start we wanted to stay in Alhama mainly because the school is really nice and this has been hard enough for the girls without having to change schools again.  We looked at many places in our search for a new home.  We looked at everything in town that was available.  In the end we traded interesting with a view for just plain clean.  Our new apartment is just down the street from the old place and it really is quite lovely.

Apartamentos Salmerones

Apartamentos Salmerones

Our new place is an old family home that was converted into 3 apartments.  We are on the middle floor. We have 3 clean bedrooms and unlike the Casa Azul, the ceilings and walls are all finished.

Entryway

Entryway

Living room

Living room

Sky and Savvy's room

Sky and Savvy’s room

On our first day in the new apartment Sky and Savannah spent hours in their new bedroom playing on their bunk beds, making forts and just relaxing.  It is really nice to see the girls playing on their beds without fear.

It was a lot of work but we wiped or sprayed everything that we moved to the new house with alcohol and dried everything in the dryer on high heat for at least 30 minutes.  We have been in Los Apartamentos Salmerones for a week.  Most of our bites are either gone or are scabbed over. I still wake up some nights worried that I feel something crawling on me but for the most part we are all feeling much more relaxed.  I no longer have the urge to bleach everything in sight but I do keep my spray bottle of alcohol just in case!

Race report: Guadix Medio Maraton del Melocoton

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Sept 16, 2013

I got up early this morning, long before the convent bells.  I had my traditional pre-race meal of oatmeal and hot tea.  I kissed my sleeping daughters and my sweet husband wished me luck.  I hiked down the hill to meet our friends, Paul and Fernando to drive to Guadix. Paul’s client, Dominic who was in town for a running holiday from Hong Kong was also joining us.  We piled into Paul’s little car and set off on the road to Granada in the dark.  As we drove I could see the sun coming up behind a distant mountain.  90 minutes later we arrived in Guadix.  Guadix is a larger, somewhat more modern town than our village, Alhama de Granada.  Ironically, there is an area of Guadix where people still live in cave homes built into the mountain sides.

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The race began and ended in the courtyard of a large church. Paul and Fernando were pre-registered so they picked up their chips.  Dominic and I had to register. Fernando explained to me that races like this are subsidized by the government so the entry fee is minimal.  Today it was a suggested donation for cancer research of 10 Euros (about 13$). As the government pays for the healthcare if its citizens, it is their best interest to support and encourage activities such as this.

Left to right: Dominic (our visitor English visitor from Hong Kong), Me (Leslie), Paul, Fernando

Left to right: Dominic (our English visitor from Hong Kong), Me (Leslie), Paul, Fernando

I surveyed the crowd.  This was a serious group.  Most people were grouped together in matching outfits displaying the clubs they represented.  It felt like the old days of running in the US where the crowds weren’t necessarily as huge but the participants were serious about racing. I felt happy to stand in the sea of muscled legs and suntanned faces.

The race start

The race start

At the start I placed myself in the middle of the pack next to a friendly girl who admired my Nathan running vest. “Que mochilla tan chula” (cool backpack!).  I noticed that no one carried water, normal for a road race.  I was the only one who had attached my number to my shorts and definitely the only one with a vest to carry my energy gels and music.  I got more than a few looks and comments as I ran the first couple of miles.

The race started down a steep hill, my favorite warmup!

From google images

From google images

The race was marked in kilometers but I had my Garmin to check my splits in miles.  My first mile was way too fast, 7:30! The excitement of the start of a race with 800 other runners down a hill in Spain kept me going and my second split, this time with an uphill mile was 7:35! I pulled back and tried to calm myself down.  I knew that I would be suffering later if I didn’t slow down.  We ran past cheering friendly faces. “Venga” (come on!) they shouted.  I ran past a series of pottery shops on the outskirts of town taking note for future shopping.  Taylor Swift singing “loving you is red” in my right ear.

We descended out of town to a desolate stretch leaving the cheering crowds back in town.  The road steadily became steeper and steeper to about the 8 km marker when to my relief we started back down.  By the 12 km (~7miles) marker the spring in my step and the excitement of the start had faded, good feeling gone… I smiled remembering my good friend Kathryn’s words from her first road marathon.  I took a mocha power gel.  The other racers were slowing too.  I passed some walkers. The aid stations were about every 4-5 km. They passed out bottles of water which were nice because they were easy to carry.  I passed one woman walking and looking bad.  The man beside me offered her his water and she gratefully accepted.  He had to turn around and run back about 20 yards to her to pass her the bottle, unusual kindness in a road race.

We ran past pastures of happy cows and large farms of tall thin trees that are harvested for lumber in this area.  As we neared the town I could hear music and cheering once again.  We ran down city streets, closed to traffic.  I could see the church and remembered the steep descent from the start.  I groaned with 12 miles on my legs as I started up.  My Garmin hit 13 miles and I could see I still had blocks to go.  I kept telling myself that as long as I didn’t walk that I could run slowly to the finish.  I passed the last aid station at the 21 km mark with the church around the corner.  They were serving only beer! I ran through the green arch at the finish, happy to be done.  There were beer trucks at the finish but no water.  I searched for water and was directed inside where I picked up my finisher bag.  There was Coke and Cruz Campo beer flowing freely but the only water was in a bottle in the finisher bag.  I greedily guzzled the small bottle and refilled it in the bathroom.  I found Paul, Fernando and Dominic.  Paul was disappointed with his time, his knee swollen and painful looking.  I finished behind all of them but was happy to have run 13.29 miles with 800 other athletes so far from California.

Shoot, I should have been running through with my arms up! Who knew they were taking my picture!

Shoot, I should have been running through with my arms up! Who knew they were taking my picture!

The ride home flew by and I was greeted with lots of love and hugs from my dear family.  Whew, my first race in Spain.  It wasn’t a PR (Personal Record)  but it was my best race here!

Race shirt

Race shirt

Team Kezmoh’s first injuries

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Adventure noun: 1. an exciting or unusual experience.  2. a bold, usually risky undertaking; hazardous action of uncertain outcome.  

In the past couple of weeks for better or worse we are having an adventure.  A hazardous action of uncertain outcome. I should have looked up the definition of adventure before we left home!

The day the gymnastics gym in Granada opened, September 2, we eagerly set off to explore the possibility of joining their team.  Sky and Savvy packed their favorite leotards, excited to meet the new coaches and gymnasts.  We found the gym in Granada hours before they opened but we were anxious to just see where it was so we parked and walked in. It was in a sports center that is part of the Universidad de Granada.  We took note of the location so we would arrive back before the first practice was to begin.  We thought we would explore the area to see if we might find a location to live closer to the gym.  The road to Granada was mostly freeway but there is a treacherous section of winding road that we didn’t think we wanted to navigate at night several times a week.  Mike had studied google maps and knew that there was an area to the north of Granada that looked promising.  We drove into a little town called Alcafar that sits on the edge of a mountain.  It happens to be the presumed burial place of Frederico Garcia Lorca, the famous writer.  We ate at a hotel on the outskirts of town. It was Savvy’s best meal in Spain. She ordered “pechuga de ave” ,chicken breast with rice, and was very happy.  Sky on the other hand was upset by all of the hanging legs of jamon behind the bar.  Bad enough that the feet are still attached but they are partially carved showing the insides of the muscles.  After lunch we drove up toward the hills.  Alfacar is a more upscale town than Alhama and Mike pointed out that we might find a place with a dishwasher and a clothes dryer if we were to move here! Savannah spotted one of the many parks that are painted the colors of the Spanish flag.  Red and yellow exercise equipment spread out under pine trees inviting us to play.  The Spanish government, in an effort to interest the citizens in exercise, has placed one of these parks in every town that we have visited.  We haven’t seen anyone using any of the parks, however. Savvy had been wanting to try it out and in her excitement to get out of the car she somehow shut her finger in the door.  She shrieked, “I think I cut my finger off”. My stomach sank, I ran to the other side of the car. She was screaming and blood was pouring from her finger.  I was relieved to see that she still had 10 fingers.  The pointer finger on her right hand was badly smashed from the base of the nail.

Mike absolutely insisted that I post this picture.  My apologies if it bothers anyone!

Mike absolutely insisted that I post this picture. My apologies if it bothers anyone!

Sky spotted a water fountain and we rinsed it off. For lack of anything else to wrap it in I wrapped my sock around it and held pressure.  Savannah sobbed and I struggled to hold myself together.  It is such a different thing when the injured is your own child.  I can calmly do surgery on patients but there is so much more emotion attached when one of the people you love most in the world is hurt.  We got back in the car and drove to the main part of Alfacar. It was siesta time (2-5pm) so everything including the medical clinic was closed.  We found a pharmacy, again closed.  There was a note on the door of the pharmacy that said en caso de emergencia toque el timbre.  We rang the bell and Mike calmly explained into the intercom in Spanish what had happened.  The pharmacist was very kind and came right down to let us in.  She pulled together all of the supplies that we needed.  Savvy was still crying loudly.  The woman looked relieved when we told her that we were doctors and would try to take care of it ourselves.  She lead us to her restroom.  We would have used some lidocaine but that was not available so dear Savvy bit a balled up shirt and screamed into Mike’s chest while I cleaned and dressed her wound.  She kept saying, “why can’t we just go back in time?” I knew the feeling.  Once bandaged the pharmacist gave both girls cherry suckers and everyone felt a bit better.

Feel better Savvy!

Feel better Savvy!

We thought about just heading back to Alhama de Granada but Savvy agreed to check out the gymnastics gym after all.  We were all disappointed to find that the team wasn’t really gymnastics as we think of it. Our gymnastics that includes bars, beam, vault and floor is called gimnastica artistica.  This team is gimnastica acrobatica.  It is really just tumbling and tricks with parters on the floor, think Circ de Soleil. This was a disappointment for all of us.  Savvy’s hand was too painful to think of doing anything and Sky was feeling shy. The girls on the team were obviously very strong. They all wore little shorts over their leotards (not allowed back home at Technique). It was just too embarrassing for Sky to change into a leotard alone so we left.  On the positive side the coaches were very nice but also very serious about their sport. We told them we would come back when Savannah had recovered.  We drove home, all of us upset and stressed from the trip.

The next day we visited the school where by now the teachers were busily preparing for the new year to start. The school is modern and clean.  Painted flowers smiled from the walls at us.  We found the doors open and we were warmly greeted by Javier, the principal.  He was expecting us as I have been sending him e-mails all year.  Javier has a broad welcoming smile and a gentle demeanor.  He was dressed in his soccer outfit. He assured us that he is called Javier, just Javier.  We met Savannah’s teacher Conchi and Sky’s teacher Paco.  We also met the PE teacher, Rodrigo and the music teacher, Juan who both gave us each a kiss on each cheek.  Everyone goes by first names.  They laughed when I mentioned it.  “Los Americanos son tan formales!” 

Savannah will have 20 children in her class and Sky will have 10.  Neither teacher speaks any English although the school has a sign posted at the entry that says Centro Bilingue.  

We smiled after hearing that Sky’s teacher is called Paco. Her favorite doll when she was a toddler was called Paco, likely Adelina’s influence :). She loved Paco and carried him everywhere.  Must be a good omen!

Baby Sky and Paco

Baby Sky and Paco

After a tour from Javier we sat in his office and filled out all of the registration forms.   They were happy that we had brought all of the vaccination records and didn’t seem to mind that it was all in English.  The school feels very laid back and not stressful which was a big relief. After our visit the girls felt much more comfortable about the prospect of starting school the following week.

La Feria

First ones at the Fair

First ones at the Fair

Before the school year starts each year Alhama has a 4 day feria to mark the end of summer.  During this time many stores and businesses are closed with signs on the doors that say, “Regressamos Lunes, estamos en la Feria” .  There are futbol and volleyball games and celebrations of all sorts.  There is a carnival each night. The first day we walked down to the fair grounds. Like carnivals everywhere it had a very seedy feel.  There were dirty men setting up dangerous looking rides.  I asked one what time the fair would start.  He said “when the people come”.  I asked when that might be. He grunted at me and replied around 11pm.  The girls were excited to return.  Our schedule here is so odd.  It is unheard of to eat dinner before 9 and most of the fair activities occur after midnight. Surely the businesses are closed during the day so that people can sleep!  Since school hasn’t started we have let Sky and Savvy have a very relaxed Spanish schedule.   We have been sleeping until 9 or 10 AM on the days that we can manage to get back to sleep after the convent bells ring at 8:30, 8:45 and 9:00 AM.  Bedtime is usually around midnight but we all planned to stay up later for the fair.   The girls dressed in jeans from Abercrombie and Justice, cool tops and jaunty hats.

Beautiful girls, off to the fair!

Beautiful girls, off to the fair!

We walked down the hill to the fair at 10 PM and were nearly the first people there.

Not many people here yet

Not many people here yet

We walked down from our house and were followed by a trickle of other carnival goers to the fairground.  The little girls were dressed in traditional frilly dresses and I noticed Sky and Savvy glanced down at their carefully selected outfits.  I assured them that the older kids would be wearing jeans, luckily I was right.

The first ride was a loud bumper car ride.  There were bright lights and loud music.  The man in the booth was hunched over the money, a dirty troll. He collected our 2.5 Euros each and gave us dirty plastic tokens.  The troll’s partner was a thin, jittery, filthy man. He leaped from car to car with a cigarette hanging from his mouth.  He arranged the children in the cars.  Mike watched us climb into the bumper cars.  There were no seat belts and I felt vulnerable as the other children pushed the gas pedal to the floor and plowed into us.  These were the fastest, least cushioned bumper cars I have ever been on and the ride went on and on.   After several jolting collisions, I pulled over to the side and hopped out. The girls finished the ride and were energized to check out the rest of the fair.

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There were several bounce houses, shrines to Sponge Bob and Bart Simpson.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESI knew Savvy and Sky would have loved to practice their back handsprings, handstands and flips. Sky is a sweet sister and didn’t even mention going in the bounce houses because she knew her little sister’s finger was still really sore. We surveyed the rest of the rides. We decided that the rides were either for smaller children or looked too dangerous to consider.

Mike spotted a Churro and Chocolate stand.  We couldn’t pass that up .  The man at the stand was busily finishing off a plate of churros.  With a smile he explained that he had to make sure that they were good.  We ordered 3 churros and some chocolate (thick hot chocolate). He invited us to sit under his tent. We were the only ones there so we sat and waited while he prepared the fresh churros.  In a few minutes he walked over with an enormous spiral of fried dough. It was bigger than a pizza!  We thought it was a mistake. I said, no, no, just 3 churros.  He laughed and said, “Si, Churros para 3″! 

Savannah points with a bandaged finger, Donut/Churro heaven!

Savannah points with a bandaged finger, Donut/Churro heaven!

Mike and the girls were in donut heaven!  We poured sugar over the hot churro and submerged chunks in cups of thick molten chocolate.   Although it looked like “churros for 10” the 4 of us finished it off and licked our fingers.

Mike and the girls found a candy stand next. They each picked out a treat.  Mike choose a box of throwable “snap-caps”.  The box was full of tiny pieces of paper wrapped around gun powder and salt crystals.  He opened the box and delighted the girls by tossing a couple at their feet which made a loud snapping sound.  The 3 delinquents thought they had a trick from Fred and George Wesley’s joke shop.  Sky and Savannah each took a handful and ran around tossing them into little groups, startling people. Great family fun!

Before we headed back up the hill the girls wanted to hit the bumper cars one more time.  It was more crowded the second time and nearly every car was full.  Sky and Savannah looked a little scared in their separate cars.   The kids whizzed around banging into one another in their seat-belt-less cars.  I spotted Sky crying in her car, Team Kezmoh’s second (and hopefully last) injury. She had been hit very hard from behind and the back of her head hit the hard metal headrest.  I tried to yell at her to stay in her car.  I was too late. She looked both ways, jumped out of her car, and ran to the edge of the ride out of the traffic. Thankfully she wasn’t hit by one of the cars!  The skinny guy with the cigarette didn’t even look twice.  Disney would be horrified! Sky ran around the outside of the ride to us.  Savvy carefully steered her car to the edge and hopped out too.  They are very sweet when the other is hurt.  Sky felt well enough to walk/run home so I knew she was probably OK. I felt her head half way home and it had a golf ball sized goose egg.  She complained that her entire head hurt which worried me.  I started to feel really scared since we are an hour from Granada and there is really no medical care here in Alhama.  Mike and I did several neuro exams on her, iced her bump, gave her tylenol and put her to bed.  I checked on her several times in the night.  By morning she still had a headache but after some tylenol she didn’t mention it again.

At this point it’s been 3 weeks since the finger injury and we are still changing the dressing every 1-2 days.  Savannah just brought herself to look at it yesterday.  She is able to do handstands and play at the park but every once in awhile the tape comes loose and we have to hurry home to reapply a new dressing. We are curious to see when the nail will fall off.

Stay tuned for more Team Kezmoh adventures.  I’ll try to get another post out soon.  We are moving this week so we have been very busy.  More about that later!

Please feel free to comment or to e-mail me at Lkezmoh@gmail.com Miss you all!