Friday, December 18, 2009

Cadiz, Spain

We have left Cadiz!

The first thing I learned about the place is that it's pronounced KA-deeth, or KA-deez if you don't really like the Spanish lisp.

The city is beautiful. White stone buildings, narrow streets, pristine and gorgeous plazas. The weather was great. Hot, sunny, and with an ocean breeze whenever we were near the shore. Lots of dogs (they were all awesome) and lots of old men with their shirts unbuttoned halfway down.

First time off the boat, I went wandering around town with a few other students. We stopped at some of the plazas, saw a fish/meat/fruit market (at which there were two cute young brothers with some puppies for sale in a cardboard box), and did some shopping at some tourist trap stalls. One of the girls I was with bought some cheese (very dry and crumbly but good) and some fried pork (an explosion of oil and gristle in your mouth).

The afternoon was spent on a "city orientation" tour organized by Semester at Sea. Our guide informed us that there were many beautiful bitches along the coast. For a few hours we wandered the rather small island and saw the plazas, an archeological and fine arts museum, and the Cathedral of Cadiz. The Cathedral has a crypt underneath it that I enjoyed entirely for the interminable echoes produced when I tapped my foot. We all tried some ice cream at an authentic Spanish heladeria; I think it was Haagen-Dazs. Two interesting moments on this walk. The first, a dog started barking and some children nearby started barking back. Very cute. Second, there was an old, unkempt man in one of the plazas wearing a faded shirt and flies, who stood up from the bench, walked very slowly with his cane to another bench, sat down, and slowly ate a peach. Had I filmed it, it would have made a powerful indie film.

That night I did a trip that was organized by one of my professors: Andalusian flamenco night. We got on a bus and drove to a little arena in the middle of nowhere. They served everybody a small glass of sherry right off the bus, then we filed into a tiny set of bleachers. The show alternated between two acts, when a man would guide a horse and two women would dance right in front of it (maybe the horse was reacting in some choreographed way, but all I saw was it shuffling around and foaming at the mouth) and when the guy mounted a different horse and had it do some fancy footwork (taking long strides, hopping, moving sideways, etc. which was impressive but also very bizarre after a while).

The next section of the show was an amateur bullfight. A kid of maybe 13, all dressed up and with cape in hand, faced off against a really scared tiny adolescent bull. The torero would chase the bull around until the bull decided to charge, at which point the kid would try to jump out of the way. I was rooting for the bull until I realized that it was not, in fact, the underdog. At one point the kid was on his back with the cape out of reach and his friends had to distract the bull. It never looked like there was any truly serious danger, though, and it made for an entertaining spectacle.

Then they took us to a nearby restaurant for tapas (snacks, mostly made of potatoes, bread, or cheese, which was perfect for me) and sangria. Then, the *real* flamenco show began. The singer was good; it's a difficult style to master. The dancers were great. There were three girls, one of whom was older and seemed like the mama but got into the dancing more than all the others. And there was one very tall guy who had long, stringy slicked-back Spanish hair and an extraordinarily intense expression that never left his face. But the coolest of all was the guitar player. He was strumming faster than I thought possible. I tried watching his hand, but it was a blur, and somehow he was throwing in all sorts of crazy solos, too. It was mesmerizing. My professor (a Spaniard himself) gave the whole performance two thumbs up.

The next day I departed for a trip to Sevilla & Cordoba, also organized by S@S. Seville is even prettier than Cadiz, and has a lot more life and bustle. The entire day was pretty much a historical tour of the city. We first saw a row of buildings that were built for the Ibero-American Exhibition of 1929, a sort of world's fair in which a whole bunch of nations built awesome buildings on the same street in an attempt to outdo one another. The most impressive was the Plaza de Espan~a, a giant half-circle of intricate architecture. We then went to the Alcazar, a fort-turned-palace. This also had some impressive architecture, but what really blew me away were the gardens. They were gorgeous.

Then we all went through some very narrow streets to a restaurant for lunch. We got served a series of tapas. I appreciated the potato omelette and chicken and rolls, but the calimari and artichoke were also far better than I was expecting. We got some free time to hit up the many identical touristy gift shops as well, which was nice. I bought a one-euro pair of castanets.

Our last stop in Sevilla was the cathedral. The Spanish loved their gold, I tell you. Our guide spent a good fifteen minutes talking at every stop we made in our tour, and the information started to overload, but the spectacle of it all will stick with me. We also got to walk the 35 flights up to the top of the bell tower of the cathedral. The city is flat, so the view was really incredible. Just charming old-style Spanish city that goes on and on.

We took a bus down to Cordoba for the night. We got there early, wandered the city a bit, got some ice cream, etc. I embarrassed myself trying to buy some batteries (my camera eats them up very quickly) at a little corner shop. I was trying to pay with a credit card and somehow neither of us could understand anything the other was trying to say. I thought it would be a fairly simple transaction, but evidently I fail at shopping.

We got a dinner buffet at our hotel (a pretty comfortable place) and I leeched the internet from the downstairs cafe (password: "12345"). Then, both my assigned roommate and I set alarms for 8 and we went to bed. I woke up to: "E, it's ten". Crap. So we actually missed the morning tour of Cordoba. This may have better, though. My roommate and I went walking in the city, enjoyed the sights, got lost, found our way back, got a drink at a cafe, and then ran into a Semester at Sea kid after his tour was over. He pointed us to the cathedral and we went to check it out on our own.

On the way in, I was stopped by a nice lady who gave me a twig of rosemary and started reading my palm in spanish. She told me that I had a sincere heart, that I was very intelligent, and that I'd have a long, happy life. I don't usually believe in all that stuff, but damn, I don't know, she was really accurate. Anyway, my roommate pulled me away and pointed out that I was about to be asked for money or have my pockets picked, so we bought our tickets and entered the cathedral. Again, lots and lots of gold. Shiny! Very pretty. Almost as cool as Sevilla's.

We returned to the hotel for another buffet lunch, met up with the group, and took a long ride home. We stopped for a rest at a gas station, and I took the time to try an Aquarius Naranja soft drink (good; very tart) and some European cookie snack that was delicious. Once we got back to Cadiz, I finished up my internet business at another free wi-fi hotspot near the ship. One of the crew was there; he told me that last semester the hotspot had almost 75 students trying to use the internet at once. As a result, nobody could. A classic tragedy of the commons.

I met up with Colin, my roommate from the ship, and we went with a group to a nearby seafood restaurant. I ended up ordering meatballs, which were not very good. To my surprise, the tuna that someone else ordered was delicious. Fish, for some reason, doesn't taste as gross as I remember it tasting. The strong fishy flavor I remember was very subdued whenever I tried seafood in Spain, oddly enough.

This morning I woke up and grabbed breakfast at a nearby cafe. I was worried that it would be touristy since it was right next to the port, but I was the only non-local there. I had churros con chocolate (they were on my to-eat list), which were tasty but not as good as I had been led to believe.

Then I met up with Colin again and we went through Cadiz one last time. We went to the top of the Cadiz cathedral bell tower; also a great view. Then we checked out this interactive exhibit that a bank had set up in the plaza outside the cathedral; it had a virtual koi pond and some other cool gadgets inside. I don't know what the exhibit was about (the history of the bank, maybe?) but it was neat! We had lunch out in the city, wandered around for a short while longer, and then headed back to the ship before the on-ship-deadline rush.

I chose to do a lot of S@S-sponsored trips in Cadiz. Ultimately, I think I would have been better served if I had just gone wandering these cities on my own. It's easy to travel in Spain, especially since I remember a small bit of spanish, still. But I think I'm going to appreciate the extra structure that these trips bring once I'm in Ghana, or India, or Vietnam. And the trips had advantages here, too; I don't feel like I missed anything big, and I didn't have to spend any time arranging travel or lodging.

I could definitely see myself going back to Spain, someday. Cool place.

Now we've got one day at sea (Morocco Day, since it's pretty much all preport preparation) and then we hit Casablanca. I signed up, along with a large portion of the students on this voyage, for a trip that takes us immediately to Marrakech and then on to the desert on a camel trek with nomads. It's a four-day trip, and then I'll have about one full day in Casablanca to visit Rick's and see the city. More updates after that!

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