May 26, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Spain, Traditions, Travel, Travels in Spain

I’m sure you’ve all been waiting on pins and needles for the Easter processions video that I promised ;). Finally, it’s here (phew!), however you might not rest any easier after seeing it. How does this peculiar tradition make you feel: Awkward? Spiritual? Humbled? Uncomfortable?

If you are having trouble viewing this video, please click here.
To see my blog post about the processions, click here.

May 13, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Spain, Traditions, Travel, Travels in Spain

I didn’t expect to feel so sick to my stomach. I’d seen many awkward images of Spanish men wearing the white, cone-shaped hoods before. It wasn’t anything new. And yet, there I stood, with my tummy knotted in discomfort as though I were witnessing something horribly awful.

It was Maundy Thursday and dutiful Catholics lined the small pueblo streets of Zamora. And then there was me, camera in hand, jaw dropped and wide-eyed. I was witnessing one of many Easter processions, which consist of religious, parade-like journeys through cities across Spain. And by “Easter” and “parade,” I’m not referring to the American-style holiday filled with bunnies, decorative eggs and chocolate (although, I’m trying my darnedest to incorporate them into Spanish culture). Of course it wasn’t the lack of holiday candy that caused my jaw to drop (tragic as that may be), but you already knew that after seeing the above picture.

During this week, many Spanish Catholics gather to express their dedication and reflect on the Passion of Christ. To demonstrate this, men and women make a solemn and ever-so-slow walk through town, which can last for hours (occasionally, they even stop mid-way for a snack – this is Spain, people!). Sometimes the men go barefoot, sometimes they play an instrument, and sometimes they bear the weight of a float-like statue. But almost always, the men wear the same costume – one that uncomfortably resembles an infamous outfit back in the States.

The drums, trumpets and church bell started to sound, as I stood squished between the Zamora townspeople. In unison, the men began their gradual march. With each beat of the drum, they paced forward in silence as one. Behind the brotherhood of men, followed the women, who dressed in mourning by wearing black from toe to head. A decorative comb finished off their look, fanning out above their upswept hair, and suspending a drape of dark lace along their backs. Many women wore ballerina flats, while others wore sky-high heals, and some out of sacrifice wore no shoes at all (although, as I’m sure any lady will attest, wearing massively high heels is almost always a much larger sacrifice than going barefoot).

Within a matter of minutes, I’m pretty sure that my breath and heart-rate slowed to the beat of the drums. My pulse no longer raced with rage, and the butterflies in my stomach seemed to stop fluttering. Almost in a trance, I found myself nearly weepy while viewing the humble and hypnotizing custom.

My emotions toyed with me. My gut hated the sight of what I’ve always known to be a symbolically deplorable outfit, but my heart saw something different. The thoughts rolled around in my head, perplexing me by the extremes.

Slowly, I began to understand why these people looked forward to this tradition with such intensity. Sure there weren’t Easter baskets, or Cadbury cream eggs, but something more captivating and meaningful had taken over the Spanish streets. As most reflected on Christ’s death and rebirth, I reflected on their reflecting, and as silly as it sounds, the humility was truly contagious.

Revisiting my videos (which I plan to post soon!), I still feel those same uncomfortable sensations stirring around in my stomach. But after only a few minutes of watching, my heart slows again. And while my tummy continues to rumble, this time it’s from hunger. I suppose it only seems fitting that I’m now going to edit the video while noshing on my remaining Easter chocolate from the States.

To see more photos, please visit the La Tortuga Viajera Facebook page.

February 2, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Spain, Travel, Travels in Spain, Video

Back in December, I wished so hard NOT to go scuba diving that all flights in Spain were cancelled. Yeah, it was kind of a bummer, but we turned our sour grapes into vino by taking a trip to Spanish wine country. Here’s a little look back at the exotic trip to the Canary Islands that got replaced by a chilly journey around Ribera del Duero.

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December 8, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Madrid, Spain, Travel, Travels in Spain

I’m not going to lie, the idea of giving scuba diving another go while temperatures still remained under 90℉ sounded like a horrible, awful, terribly bad and dumb idea. Which was just lovely considering that my dear husband had booked a trip to Tenerife in the Canary Islands last weekend for us to go diving. I was certainly on board with warmer temperatures (70℉ is far better than 30℉), but might just have secretly been willing the whole scuba portion of the trip not to happen.

Oops. I willed too hard. Let me explain.

Last Friday we headed to the airport minus our boots and coats, and plus our bathing suits. We checked in, grabbed a bocadillo, and waited patiently at our gate. We boarded and buckled our seat belts. The child in front of me on the plane was crying like someone stole her candy, because, you know, I was in the vicinity. Then the captain got on the intercom to tell us to turn off our electronic devices…..

Wait, no, that’s not actually what he said. He just said that everyone needed to get off the plane because all flights in Spain were being cancelled indefinitely. Excuse me? Confused, we all disembarked the plane and entered the mass chaos that was the Madrid-Barajas airport when thousands of passengers are left without their bags, straight answers, or a vacation on FIVE-DAY holiday weekend! Everyone was of course in a stellar mood, talking calmly, and organizing themselves to figure everything out….in my imagination, but no, that’s not really what happened.

It was three long hours of people pushing each other to get through the crowds, and Spanish curse words being thrown around even more than usual. (You’ve got to love it when an old grandpa belts out “me cago en su puta madre.” Translate it, if you wish.) Once we had finally reclaimed our suitcases, we headed to downtown Madrid to have a very un-Spanish sushi dinner. This is required after just finding out that a tiff between the Spanish government and Spanish Air Traffic Control has resulted in a surprise strike during one of Spain’s biggest holiday weekends – bravo guys! During dinner, Jacobo sulked, and I pretended to sulk, insisting that we should come up with something else adventurous to do to cure our scuba-blues.

To fill the island-sized hole in our hearts, we decided on a road trip to Peñafiel, a pueblo about and hour and a half north of Madrid, in Ribera del Duero wine country. We spent the weekend sleeping in a castle, romping around in the snow, and pretending like we loved gloomy weather and wine tasting more than we could ever possibly love a beachfront hotel.

The highlight of our little journey was most certainly our stop at Restaurante Maria Eugenia. After finishing our meal, the owner plopped himself down at our table, declared he was a “Latin Lover” (in English!) and proceeded to give us his cell phone number should we need anything while in town. Following this, he generously gave us a tour of the kitchen and its wood oven, even insisting on lighting it, then wedging himself inside in an attempt to get pictures. The food was amazing, but clearly the service was even more noteworthy!

All in all, it was a delightful weekend, particularly because it never involved me being immersed in frigid waters. I do, however, apologize to the rest of Spain, for having wished so hard not to go scuba diving that the country’s flight infrastructure collapsed. I’ll try to put my powers to more productive use next time around.

Caught up in the frenzy at the airport, I didn’t get any shots of the chaos. You can, however, see more pictures from our trip to Peñafiel on the La Tortuga Viajera Facebook page.

May 25, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Traditions, Travel, Travels in Spain

After an hour and a half drive north of Madrid that ended with a long trek on a one lane dirt road, we found ourselves out where Jesus lost his keys (one of many Spanish sayings to describe that you are in the middle of nowhere). We would soon find that it was just us, two shepherds, some 400 sheep, nearly 50 goats, and a handful of dogs.

Our first stop was the corral where we were greeted by around 30 or so one-month-old lambs. Our 21-year-old shepherd and guide, Miguel, explained to us that he was one of the rare few that both owns and herds his over 1000 sheep. Putting in 16- to 20-hour days, this job appeared to be a true labor of love.

The lambs were skittish and pranced about every time they detected the slightest movement on our part (well, and it probably didn’t help that each time one came near me, I lunged after it in an apparently uncontrollable reflex to pet and play with the cute little things). With one swift grab, though, Miguel swooped up a lamb and placed her comfortably in my arms, where she nestled in as if her previous fear had completely disappeared. She was soft and cuddly, just like a little puppy…until one of her playmates went scurrying by, at which point she started bah-hing wildly to let me know that our cuddling session was over.

Jacobo and I still hadn’t asked the burning question and didn’t really have any intention to – what were these sheep being raised for?? Hoping to get the answer we were looking for (you know, the one where the sheep live long happy lives and die of old age), we danced around the subject asking if they used the sheep for their wool. No no, explained Miguel, it just wasn’t profitable. Apparently the price for wool is less than the cost to have the sheep shaved. OK, so perhaps these little guys were used for milk – a reasonable conclusion considering all of the amazing sheep’s milk cheese that you can find in Spain! With that, Jacobo cautiously ventured on, mentioning that surely the sheep were used for milk. Miguel cut straight to the chase, as if to tell us that the guessing game were over – “we raise them for the meat.” Ouch. That one stung. Apparently the milk route was also very costly, requiring the entire herd to stop in order to be milked.

As we left the corral, my mind was racing as to how I could fit as many lambs as possible into our car. Before I had time to develop a solid strategy, though, we were on our way down the road to visit the larger sheep that were already en route, grazing the land. Seeing those much more sizable creatures quickly shifted whatever strategy I could have ever mustered up. These things were huge! OK, so once full grown, at least three sheep could fit on our balcony….
Heading out to the main herd, we could hear the both calming and deafening drum of sheep bells as the furry animals nibbled at the land. It was there that we were met by Miguel’s brother who was equipped with his shepherd stick and a slew of satchels crossing his chest, one of which, he later explained to us, could be used to hold a baby lamb should it be born while herding. Also, did you know that the shepherd stick (apparently called a “crook”) is much more than just a walking stick? The hook is actually used to grab the lambs by their necks (gently, por favor!!)!

It was time to move the pack of animals to the next pasture, so with a whistle and several shouts of indiscernible words, Miguel’s little dog was off like a race horse, rounding up the sheep. “Es pequeña todavia,” Miguel told us, “she’s still small.” At only nine months old, the pup was still learning. When it came time to circle round the sheep, she simply darted toward the back of the herd before heading straight back to her owner. It seemed like an effective enough technique to me considering that all of the sheep set off on a stampede in my direction (see action shot above).

Anabel, Milagros, Madrileña, Numantina – many of these lovable critters seemed to have names. Numantina, a pregnant, tan-colored goat, took quite the liking to Jacobo and me, following us around and headbutting any little lamb that dared to compete for our attention. Then there was Milagros, the sheep who, when she was young, disappeared for a couple of days before being found, thus earning her name which means miracles. Meanwhile, Miguel was eager to show us his prized little black lamb, shouting “Anabel” across the herd and waiting for her to immerse amidst the wall of sheep. My first thought was how can you adore these animals enough to give them names, and then sell them only to be, well, you know… Miguel explained that he keeps his favorites, so I suppose that means that little Anabel will live a long, happy sheep-life in the Spanish countryside. This gave me a little comfort, but only a little.

We spent the remainder of our time in the open pastures learning the ins and outs of shepherding, feeding the sheep and even milking them. Then, before heading home, we stopped in the nearby Roman pueblo Medinaceli (a required stop if you’re in the region!) to have lunch. I’m still actually contemplating heading back and sheep-napping Numantina. I’m just not so sure that herding her between our balcony and kitchen will measure up to her days of grazing the rolling hills of Spain.

On a related note, I never did come across Jesus’s keys.

*To see pictures from my trip, be sure to join the La Tortuga Viajera Facebook page
**For more information on being a shepherd for a day please visit Pastores por un Dia