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Thanksgiving in Spain

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Thanksgiving in Spain

This is a post that I wrote a year ago when we were in Alhama de Granada, España.  I didn’t finish it until well after Thanksgiving so I thought I’d just wait a year…

Pumpkin pie made with real pumpkin!

Pumpkin pie made with natural pumpkin. No cans of pumpkin in Spain!

In our little village, Alhama de Granada, we are the only Americans in town. There is one Canadian and several other European expats but we are the lone Americans.  But… outside of town live Michelle, Eric and Barbara who are Americans with whom we instantly felt at home.

What a lot of great food!

Thanks for the amazing food!

Although they hardly knew us, Michelle and Eric invited us to spend Thanksgiving with them.  They promised turkey, stuffing and football. How could we refuse?

Futbol Americano!

Futbol Americano!

Of course Thanksgiving is not celebrated in Spain but it is the one holiday that seems to inspire some homesickness for me.  It is not about the food, most of my Thanksgiving memories involve my grandmother making a special dish just for my cousin and me.  We are both vegetarians and being from Illinois, that might just mean that we are mutants. Maybe it is a recessive trait but for a  family of farmers from Illinois, vegetarians are about as rare as they are in Spain.  Anyway, Grandma Ann always made an mushy eggplant and velvetta dish for my cousin Lindsey and me. At the time it wasn’t my favorite but here in Spain I found myself longing for it in the days leading up to Thanksgiving.  No, Thanksgiving is not about the food and certainly for me it is not about the football. It is about it being an American holiday. It is about being in a place where you feel completely comfortable and belonging. I am enjoying this year abroad and we have glimpses of belonging amoungst our new friends.  However, there is nothing is more homey than Thanksgiving on the farm with family.

Michelle and Eric live in a very cool cottage near the village of Santa Cruz de Comercio. Michelle is a writer and Eric is a musician.  They are also runners so we were instant friends with that alone in common. Eric also stars in one of my previous posts: Team Kezmoh Runs to Nerja.   Michelle, Eric and Barbara along with our friend Paul Bateson put on 2 amazing trail races near Alhama de Granada: Ultima Frontera  which I ran and wrote a post about in October:  Ultima Frontera Race report. The other race is in July. It is called Al Andalus Ultimate Trail .  It is a 5 day 230 km stage race based in and around Alhama de Granada.  Sadly we will be back in California by then so we will miss the fun.  Anyone interested in running with me in 2015?

We arrived armed with a big bowl of sweet potatoes and empty tummies.

Sweet potatoes, my Thanksgiving specialty.

Sweet potatoes, my Thanksgiving specialty.

Our new friends welcomed us with hugs and kisses.  They introduced us to Alina and Lawerence Strong who were strangers to us then but have become like family to us in the past months since we met them on Thanksgiving.

Eric, Alina and Lawerence

Eric, Alina and Lawerence

Thanksgiving 2013 fell on the first day of Hanukkah so our first course was a delicious matzo ball soup. Michelle read a blessing and lit a candle.

Matzo Ball Soup

Matzo Ball Soup

We sipped Spanish wine, and ate turkey that had to be ordered specially because it is not normally sold in local stores.

The kid's table. An international Thanksgiving tradition.

The kid’s table. An international Thanksgiving tradition.

We enjoyed the food and the conversation.

Savannah, Eric, Alina, Lawrence and Sky

Savannah, Eric, Alina, Lawrence and Sky

Sky Michelle, Barbara and Savannah.  I love it that the girls posed with each side of the table!

Sky, Michelle, Barbara and Savannah.
I love it that the girls posed with each side of the table!

After dinner Sky and Savannah pulled out their iPads and the boys enjoyed some American football.

Michelle, the Thanksgiving goddess with Savannah and Sky

Michelle, the Thanksgiving goddess with Savannah and Sky

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Getting to see Football was exciting for Mike because it is just not on TV here. Eric was able to download it from the internet.

We spent the day with our new friends and felt like we were beginning to have a family here in Spain.  A year later I looked back at these pictures and felt Thankful for friends and family both here in California and across the pond.

Mike and Eric

Mike and Eric

Good fun!

Good fun!

Team Kezmoh goes to Granada

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November 2013 ALHAMBRATeam Kezmoh goes to Granada and picks up our second visitor!

Our friend Carolina arrived on the train in Granada. You may recall from previous posts that Carolina is the young woman from Sevilla, una sevillana, who came to stay with us in California last summer.  In November she was on break from the Universidad de Sevilla where she is studying education.  After her stay with us last summer Carolina became part of our family so we were very excited that she made the 3 hour train trip to visit us. We picked her up at the train station in Granada. There seems to be endless construction in the center of town so we drove in circles until we were all dizzy. We finally parked the car and walked to the train station.  Lovely Caro was waiting for us on the steps. The girls ran to hug her, happy to see her smiling face. From the train station we walked to the Plaza de los Toros where we had lunch at El Coso which is a lovely place located literally under the bleachers of the bull-fighting stadium.  We are not fans of bull-fighting so this was as close as we will make it to a bull fight. The service and the food were exceptional. Our waiter was really funny and left a lasting impression with the girls.

El Coso in the Plaza de Toros

El Coso in the Plaza de los Toros

Beautifully presented dishes

Beautifully presented dishes

Sea Bass

Sea Bass

After lunch we snaked up switch-backs to our hotel, La Hostel Ninfa in the Realejo neighborhood of Granada.

Hostal La Ninfa

Hostal La Ninfa. Notice the big ceramic Pomegranate, a “Granada”. Granada literally means pomegranate and images of pomegranates are everywhere

I chose the hotel for it’s proximity to the Alhambra and the cool pictures of the facade on the internet. It was not easy to find but using the GPS we managed.  It is owned by a German woman and her Moroccan husband who is an artist.  It is decorated inside and out with painted ceramic plates and stars.  We had a lovely view of the sunset when we arrived. That night we paid the price in sleep deprivation for being close to tourist sights and restaurants with noisy people and cars in the streets below. The best part of Hostal La Ninfa was a surprise. There was a great park across the street. The kids never wanted to leave and any future outing had to include a stop at the park before and after.

Thanks to Carolina for the cool pictures!

Thanks Carolina for these cool pictures!

woo whooo!

woo hooo!

In the morning we had breakfast at a little restaurant across the plaza called El Campo del Principe.

Churros and tostada con tomate for breakfast

Churros and tostada con tomate for breakfast

By the Christmas tree after breakfast

By the Christmas tree after breakfast

Mike, Carolina, Sky, Savvy and I hiked up a very steep hill to the Alhambra.  I was thankful  that the girls were fit and old enough to walk because it was not long ago that we would have been carrying them up a hill like this.

The walk from the Albacín up to the Alhambra

The walk from the Albaicín up to the Alhambra

The Alhambra is considered an obligatory tourist attraction on a visit to Granada. It is the most visited tourist attraction in Spain and has more than 2 million visitors/year.

Ready to see the Alhambra

Ready to see the Alhambra

It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. The Alhambra is one of the best preserved Arabic palaces of its time.  It was finished around 1333 during the Nasrid dynasty. The Moors enjoyed a peaceful reign until 1492 when Queen Isabel I and King Ferdinand ordered an invasion. When the Catholic monarchs conquered Granada they ended 8 centuries of Arab rule in the Iberian Peninsula. After 1492 the Alhambra was used by the Christian rulers.  It fell into disrepair a century later and was at times inhabited by vagrants and was even used as soldiers’ barracks during Napoleonic times. The American author, Washington Irving, who wrote The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and who is famous for his travels in Spain lived in the Alhambra.  During his time in the Alhambra, he was inspired to write his book, The Tales of the Alhambra in 1829.

A plaque in Washington Irving's room at the Alhambra

“Washington Irving wrote his Tales of the Alhambra in these rooms in the year 1829”                                                            A plaque in Washington Irving’s room at the Alhambra

To get the most out of our visit to the Alhambra we scheduled a guided tour.  We wore headphones so we could hear our guide while he walked ahead.  He was very knowledgeable but seemed to be giving the tour more for his own performance than for the group’s benefit.

Carolina and Sky with our guide

See what I mean?  Carolina, Savannah and Sky with our guide

Explaining the courtyard of the lions

Beautiful architecture

The intricate interiors of the Alhambra are amazing. 

Under Islamic law, no depictions of living beings (people, plants or animals) were allowed.  Instead, the walls and ceilings are covered with symbolic, geometrical patterns, as well as verses from the Koran.  

 

Decorated with geometric patterns

Decorated with geometric patterns and Arabic phrases

There are eight-pointed stars, representing the convergence of heaven and earth wherever one looks.  Once we learned about this, the 8 pointed stars were like “hidden Mickeys” and we found them everywhere. The Alhambra was built with wood, plaster and brick.  Interestingly ,these materials were chosen not to last, implying humility before Allah.  This was also the reason for the intentional occasional gap or irregularity in the design, since aspiring to perfection was considered blasphemous.

A ceiling once painted multiple colors

The ceiling was once painted multiple colors

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESThe view of Granada from the Alhambra is amazing around every turn.

Mike with his tour guide headphones

Mike with his tour guide headphones

My favorite view :)

My favorite view 🙂

Granada

Granada

Carolina, Leslie and Savvy

Carolina, Leslie and Savvy

Within and around the palaces the gardens are endless. They have an amazing system of irritation that dates back to the construction of the Alhambra.  IMG_5745

 

Sky

Sky

Team Kezmoh at the Alhambra

Team Kezmoh at the Alhambra

Beautiful walkways

Beautiful walkways

The Alhambra tour was beautiful but exhausting and by the end we were ready for a rest.  We hiked back down the hill, stopped, of course, at the park…  My idea of resting and Sky and Savvy’s is not the same! SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

 

 

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We had dinner at our hotel’s pizzeria restaurant across the square.

Cool ceramics everywhere

Cool ceramics everywhere

It had the same decor as the hotel which was more interesting than the food.  The girls had a lot of fun taking pictures.IMG_5713 IMG_5707

Team Kezmoh, eating again

Team Kezmoh, eating again

The next day we explored the Parque de las Ciencias which was highly recommended for children.  Einstein was sitting out front so we paused to pose for a picture with him.

Savannah and Sky with Albert

Savannah and Sky with Albert

The Parque de las Ciencias is huge. Our favorite section was el viaje del cuerpo humano (the voyage through the human body)  which included really cool stuff like a video of a live human birth.

Very cool for kids to see a birth

Very cool for kids to see a birth. Sky decided to skip it.

There were exhibits of other animals as well. Savannah really liked the preserved hearts.  There was a preserved whale heart next to a tiny human heart.

Whale heart!

Whale heart!

I especially liked the exhibit of the smoker lung compared to the healthy lung.  Outside there was a mariposario (butterfly house) which was a bit of a disappointment compared to the butterfly park that we visited in Benalmádena near Malaga.  However, we love all butterfly parks so it was a mandatory stop for us.  There were outside gardens, a giant chess board, Marie Curie, and lots of activities for the kids. We spent the entire day there and only saw a fraction of the place.

Savvy, not thrilled to be posing with one the most famous female scientists of all time.

Savvy, not thrilled to be posing with one the most famous female scientists of all time.

Cool activities

Cool activities

Carolina photographing the butterflies

Carolina photographing the butterflies

Stick Bugs

Mike checking out the Stick Bugs

In this exhibit everyone felt small.

In this exhibit everyone felt small.

 

We explored Granada on our way back to the hotel.  We were hungry so I checked Trip Advisor and found a recommended Mexican restaurant.  Team Kezmoh and Carolina love Mexican food!

Leslie, Savvy, Carolina, Sky and Mike waiting for our burritos. Does the wall look familiar to anyone! Love it!

Leslie, Savvy, Carolina, Sky and Mike waiting for our burritos. Does the wall look familiar to anyone?  Love it!

We found Chile Grande Cantina Mexicana, a little bit of Mexico in the heart of Granada and we were not disappointed.

Ole!

Ole!

We had Coronas with lime, chips, guacamole and burritos.  We stayed until they closed for their break before dinner (which in Spain starts at 8pm). Carolina posed with the cool waitstaff on their way home outside.

Carolina posing with the staff of Chile Grande Cantina Mexicana

Carolina posing with the staff of Chile Grande Cantina Mexicana

We passed the rest of the evening playing at the park outside of the hotel. In the morning we headed back to Alhama de Granada.

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Spinning round and round and round with crazy hair!!!!!

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Silly girls on the swings.

It was a full weekend! Luckily Carolina stayed for the rest of the week so the girls were able to give her a tour of our pueblo. She stayed with them while we had our adventure to Nerja (see previous post).

If anyone has questions about visiting Granada with kids feel free to send me a comment. By the time I send this I will have been back several times.

Candelaria in Alhama de Granada, 2014

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Sky on a "merceor.."

Sky on a “merceor”

La Fiesta de la Candelaria is a holiday celebrated around the world on February 2.  It also known as: One of the 12 Great Feasts, Candlemas, the Purification of the Virgin, the Festival of Lights or the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple.  Here in Alhama the “Jameños” have their own traditions which I am pretty sure are unique.  From my observations, Candelaria in Alhama is less of a religious holiday and more of a good excuse to throw a party in the streets that involves eating food with your neighbors, building big bonfires and constructing  “merceores” (actually the proper word in Spanish is  mecedor, but here in Alhama they are “merceores” or huge swings).   It was a new festival for Team Kezmoh and I like to understand the origins of these sorts of things so I did a little research on the significance of Candelaria.  This is it in a nutshell:  Candelaria occurs on February 2 which is 40 days after the birth of Jesus.  Mary and Joseph took the baby Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem forty days after his birth to complete Mary’s ritual purification after childbirth and to present the child to the temple.  This was associated with the lighting of candles by the faithful.  Different cultures have come up with various celebrations around the world.  I have to say that the celebration in Alhama is very lovely and enjoyable.

February 2 this year fell on a Sunday but the festivities at school began on Friday.  We were delighted that we were asked to join a group of parents who would be making tortitas (fried dough) and chocolate (hot chocolate) for the children.  We set up tables behind the school and got to work as soon as the kids started class.  We had 30 kilograms of bread dough from the panaderia. That is a lot of dough!  We rolled out the dough into thin sheets and then cut it into little squares.

Mike and Juan Jo cutting dough

Mike and Juan Jo rolling and cutting dough

Making squares

Making squares. Leslie with Fina and Esther

The other mothers and fathers set up 2 gas burners. One to make hot chocolate and another to fry the dough.

Maria, Juani and Maria José making hot chocolate

Maria, Juani and Maria José making hot chocolate

We must have made 1000 tortitas which were delicious little pockets of fried dough that can be dipped in sugar or miel de caña (a local favorite that tastes like molasses).  Savannah told me that the aroma of the sizzling dough and the hot chocolate traveled to her classroom.  The children paraded through our mini donut factory class by class starting with the 3 year olds. We demonstrated how we made the tortitas and the kids had fun playing with the left-over dough.  As each group came through, the parents sang traditional songs that all the Jameños know by heart. One of the teachers took the time to write out some of the most popular songs so we were able to join in.

“Si quieres que te quiera

cómprame un roscón

y cuando me lo coma

me compras otro”

Angela, Natalia, Paula (in the background), Eva Crespo

Angela, Natalia, Paula, Silvia and Eva C.

Sky's teacher, Paco with the tiny kids

Sky’s teacher, Paco with the tiny kids

Savvy's class

Savvy’s class: Back row left to right: Daniel, José, Isaac, Youseff, Mohammed, Juan Alberto, Carlos, Angel, Juan David, David, Samuel, Elena, and maestra Conchi. Front row: Eva Perez, Angela, Esther, Savannah/ME, Silvia, Eva Crespo, Natalia, Paula, Inma. 🙂

Sky's Class:  Back row: Paco Front row:

Sky’s Class:
Back row: Paco-Sky’s teacher, Silverio, Richard, Lidia, Carmen, Ana, Sky
Front row: Óscar, Eva

1st Grade!

1st Grade! Dipping the tortitas in sugar and miel de caña

The kids enjoying tortitas dipped in yummy miel de la caña

The kids enjoying fresh, hot tortitas

On Sunday the real Candelaria festival began.  In the morning we stood on our balcony and watched our neighbors on Calle Enciso set up one of the biggest merceores in town.  Sky excitedly ran up the hill because this swing was at her friend Ana’s grandmother’s house and her friends would all be there. Calle Enciso is a steep, narrow street.  The swing was set up between balconies with 2 strong ropes with a cloth seat rigged around the 2 thick cords.  I watched the men test it and was glad to see that it held their weight.

Ángela, Sky's buddy

Ángela, Sky’s buddy

Brave little Adrian

Brave little Adrián

Lovely Paula

At lunchtime, next to the merceor, Ana’s grandmother and her neighbors gave away free vino del terreno (homemade wine, moonshine Mike says) and sold steaming bowls of garbanzos with potatoes and chicken. For dessert one could buy pastries and muffins made by the grandmothers of the neighborhood.  All of the proceeds went to charity.

The Dads, Mike and Francisco with Savannah, Paula and Adrian

The Dads, Mike and Francisco with Savannah, Paula and Adrián

Sky, Savannah and their friends took turns on the swings.  Their laughter and smiles made me warm on the cool day.   I sent a video to my brother, Peter in the US. He commented that back home the children would need a parental consent form, a helmet and a safety belt to climb on board the homemade swings.  So true, I’m glad that there are still places in the world that worry less and live more.

Savvy swinging. Sky pulling the rope. Our neighbors in Alhama de Granada singing.

Mike and Francisco had a midday bike ride and on their way back into town stopped at Maria José’s house for some vino del terreno.

Mike coming home from his ride enjoying some moonshine!  On the left is Mari Carmen, Sky and Savvy's lovely Spanish  tutor.

Mike coming home from his bike ride enjoying some moonshine!
On the far left is Mari Carmen, Sky and Savvy’s lovely Spanish tutor.

 After nightfall Ana’s grandmother and her friends served hot chocolate and buñuelos.  We ordered buñuelos for 4 people which was more than enough for everyone in our group.  The buñuelos came tied on strings called espartos which are made from thin reeds.  We kept warm by the lumbre, dipped our steaming buñuelos (donuts actually) in hot chocolate and visited with friends and neighbors.

Buñuelos

Buñuelos

Making Buñuelos

Making Buñuelos

Late into the night the lumbres glowed on every street corner. It was a village-wide block party.   We spent most of our time near our local merceor with Team Aguilar, our good friends.

Team Aguilar Paula, Juani, Adrian, Francisco and Amparo

Team Aguilar
Paula, Juani, Adrián, Francisco and Amparo

Savvy Mike and Leslie by a lumbre

Savvy, Mike and Leslie by a lumbre

After La Fiesta de la Candelaria we felt a little bit more Jameño and we went to bed feeling happy to be in Alhama.

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!)

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.