It was time to get down to the business end of travelling. Enough of this languid ‘just pop me in a hammock with a sangria’ kind of lifestyle. One day I tried to squeeze in as much as humanly and touristically possible; the Alhambra, the gypsy caves and some flamenco stomp-stomp.
My reason for visiting Granada was because when I had asked the locals where to go in Spain, The Alhambra had featured in every conversation. It is the most checked out tourist site in España with around 7000 people walking through this ancient fortress cum city, daily. Due to this, tickets can be a little pricey to the scrimping backpacker and ideally should be bought in advance; although you could be stealth and hold out to see if there are any available by rocking up to the ticket office in the morning.
I’d booked a tour online to avoid missing out. This gave me a ride and a guide. After waiting around for my early morning pick up* I discovered that I was probably the only single and the youngest on the minibus, by a grey-haired mile. Mobbed about in front of the gates of our destination, we were split into English and Spanish speaking groups. My guide was witty and charming with a pinch of pep. It was only recently he’d started delivering these tours in English and he actually sounded pretty good.
The Alhambra is this expansive structure of beauty with an interesting cultural hodgepodge of history. Basically, this used to be a fortress and became a metropolis. Over the years there has been a multitude of influences from Arabic to Christian and Jewish, which is demonstrated in the designs and architecture. Napoleon made attempts to bomb the sh*t out of it. But I’m totally glad that he didn’t, because it is something very well revered.
Along with my appreciation for the ancient eye candy that were the spectacularly patterned tiles, the intricate carved interior motifs, and the tale about how all of the single ladies flock to the Vela Tower on January 2nd to dong the bell so that they will marry within the year, I was more than pleasantly surprised that we had a mid-tour wine break scheduled in.
As always in these touristy places I raise my eyebrows and sigh at the people who don’t listen, can’t read signs or just can’t help themselves. I shook my head at several sightseers who thought that it would be ok to collect flowers from the manicured gardens, or the people who’d touch the walls just beyond the ‘Don’t touch’ signs. Sigh. Impressively, two women lasted a few hours on the tour tromping around in sky high heels.
As much as I’d like to think that I’d absorbed every ounce of information imparted, the heat lends itself to the lessening the powers of the brain’s ability to sponge. I left down through the cooling Irish trees with a peppering of new knowledge and an extra layer on my tan.
My siesta that afternoon was a quiet read and research moment in the hotel lounge, before a guest had slipped down the rooftop stairs and split his ear open like a pair of trousers hanging on a washing line. Blood was projecting everywhere. He was ok, calm enough that if you handed him a needle and thread, he totally would have McGyver stitched up his own ear.
If the Alhambra wasn’t enough to jam pack in for that day, I met up with a bunch of other young travellers who had gathered at a central water fountain in town, in time for a free tour of the gypsy caves lining the hills of Granada. With a massive bottle of water in hand, I had grown accustomed to that Euro heat and had come well prepared for the 40C that was still raging after 4pm.
On our ascend up the dusty rubicund track I had started conversing with a chick from NYC, who was at the onset of essentially doing what I was; travelling on a whim, wherever the wind took her. I told her about workaway and several days later I received an email from her to tell me that she was off to volunteer at a dog rescue facility in Germany. Trés cool.
Up past the cacti bushes you could make out some evidence of human life. There were fenced off areas encasing a front door in the side of the hill. Some properties were a hoarder’s dream with a collection of various furnishings, others had repurposed previously loved items, a couple rivalled English cottage gardens, and some were sparse to the point of signalling vacancy.
The commonality that they shared was that these properties were essentially at no cost, like squatting. If someone left their place for a while, the unspoken rule was that someone else could move in. However, if an occupant was living there and this estate happened to be linked to somebody else’s ancestry through land ownership, then that person could move in and take over. There was evidence of when the local council had bulldozed down cave dwellings on the proviso that they were too dangerous. To me it looked like a sweet deal in a living off the land lifestyle.
Atop the peak was an extensive view of Granada to edges of the earth where the haze wisped in all of its hot summer glory. A young couple canoodled upon the ledge of a tagged wall and I wondered if this was some random candy-coated conjugal visit from the boy’s reform centre behind.
The gypsies, that’s where flamenco originates from with its Indian and Arabic influence. NYC had told me that in her few weeks in España, she’d learnt the dance. Broken down it is the sequential action of plucking an apple from a tree, tasting it, and then dropping it on the ground as if it was worthless and you are a princess that deserves so much better. The shows are popular and range from street performances to a dinner and cabaret style evening.
I was on a budget so I went to a hostel where there was a ‘free’ group performing. I plonked myself down next to some Australians who managed to completely freak me out about Euro visas and length of stays. Because NZ and Aussie are usually quite close in rules and regulations, Aus had told me that we were only allowed 3 months in total of travel, in Europe.
My heart raced, and it wasn’t for the mojito. I’d spent nearly 7 weeks in Spain and that meant my dreams of travelling this continent would be severed. I’d done extensive internet research about the length of stay and didn’t want to get into any kind of trouble with immigration. So I told Aus what I’d read, that Kiwis could stay for a maximum of 90 days (which would be renewed after 180 days away), for each individual country within a group of Schengen countries that had agreed to a bilateral waiver with New Zealand. Aus didn’t buy this story, claiming that New Zealand would be on the same terms as Australia.
In the intermittent internet I googled the crap out of that and finally I showed him the write up where I was right, to which he claimed how unfair it was for Aussies. I quickly finished my mojito in celebration.
The entertainers for the evening turned out to be the same ones as the busking duo I’d seen the night before, but in some much fancier outfits. I remember thinking at the time, while I was mesmerised by the speedy clomping and the swift rigid movements that were painfully graceful, that I’d have a lot to write about. That the swish-swish of the tassels complimented every sharp turn and that I thought a hole was going to be Rumplestiltskinned into the floor; while the guitarist frantically waved his fingers at the guitar strings like seaweed caught in a tidal current. The accompanying singing is heart wrenching, where you can feel the emotion right in the marrow of your bones.
A little light headed from the mojito and lack of dinner, I got talking to one of the staff from my hotel who’d come along. He was Italiano, so I got to chat about my experience there and enquire as to where the best places were to see. I jotted them down and we went for tapas at his recommended spot. He’d only been there living there for a couple of months, but the place he’d picked supplied a dinner-sized plate of free tapas with our cheap drinks. No drunken NJ, but still enough fuel for an awkward moment.
I went to the bathroom and thought I’d locked the door, which was waaaaay over the other side of one of those massive single roomed cubicles. I’m a hoverer when it comes to public toilets, which after a drink or two on an empty stomach meant that I may have peed a little bit on my leg when I got a fright when somebody walked in on me. Charming. The door also opened up to the whole bar. Even more charming. Lucky Italiano did not witness this, otherwise I would’ve had to ditch my bill and avoid eye contact at the hotel.
I’ll leave you with that… accidentally peeing on myself. Next stop, a day long bus ride to the very hip Valencia; another hostel with new roomies and another opportunity to lose myself in a city with some more lost in translation moments. Until then, X
*Definitely do the morning sesh mid-summer, because Hello! It’s a gazillion degrees for roaming around for hours, in the afternoon slot.