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

Murcia is, um, different. Different like a lemon-flavored candy – not preferred by most, but probably someone’s favorite. And in my near-empty candy bowl of Spanish communities to visit, Murcia, until recently, remained unconquered. The Spaniards kept on assuring me that it was for good reason, however. Apparently no one seemed that crazy about the region squished between its more popular neighbors Valencia and Andalucia.

Fun and not so fun facts about Murcia: Known as “Europe’s orchard,” you can see its plastic-covered vegetable fields from space. That’s fun!!! Now for the not so fun fact: Sadly, a few weeks ago a 5.3 earthquake rocked the pueblo of Lorca (which I actually visited last November), claiming the lives of some 10 Spaniards.

Last weekend I made my second trip to the Murcia in order to give my scuba certification another go. While this time I did indeed get certified, it wasn’t without its hiccups. But hey, at least I didn’t feel like a soggy, near-frozen chorizo, so no complaints here. Beyond the scuba success, I also discovered that the region serves up some of the best seafood I’ve had in my life. Which, come on let’s be honest, is more than enough to make me forgive Murcia for what it may lack otherwise.

The scene of seafood euphoria: a restaurant called Varadero. The open-air, circular-shaped restaurant literally sits within spitting distance (if you’re a long-distance spitting champion, that is) of La Lonja, where fishermen bring their daily catches for auction. Entering the restaurant, hunger pangs immediately overcome you at the sight of their display of seafood and other freshly prepared concoctions. Welcome to my version of culinary paradise.

Getting down to business. First up were the chipirones (squid) grilled in a bath of garlic, parsley and olive oil – simple ingredients that together equal a food miracle. Jacobo and I agreed: they were the best squid we’d eaten EVER. And Spain loves its squid, so really we should be considered experts on such a matter.

Then came the octopus. I kind of felt bad about the octopus since earlier that day I hung out with one some 18 meters below the sea. He sure looked cute under his rock on the ocean floor, but I think he looked a lot better on my plate all doused in pepper and possibly crack. While I love my pulpo a la gallega (a famous Galician/Spanish dish with octopus, paprika and olive oil), this latest version made Mr. Octopus taste all kinds of unknown wonderful.

Finally – the chanquetes. Huh? “Basically little fishies,” Jacobo told me in an effort to warm me up to the idea of trying them. Sure, why not. Out came the plate full of white, wormy looking things, with black, bulging eyeballs staring at us as though surprised. Their unappetizing appearance reminded me of gulas, which could only mean one thing: they would taste far more awesome than they looked. And yep, they did! I still don’t know what they are, but really, who cares.

We were on a roll, so naturally dessert had to happen. Rattling off the postre menu, the camerero said a bunch of stuff that went in one ear and out the other, followed by something about cake, meringue, chocolate….and SOLD. In seconds we inhaled the piece of cake doused in sugary who-knows-what, layered with chocolate, and topped off with meringue that seemed to be masquerading as roasted marshmallow. Hungry yet?

So yeah, Murcia may not be the most-loved region in Spain, but I’d take its seafood over a lemon-flavored candy any day.

November 4, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Spain, Travel, Travels in Spain

I used to like to ski. I started when I was just a little tike – my dad would leave me at the kiddy ski-school where I would practice my pie-slice formation as I slowly worked my way down the miniature hills of the bunny slopes. When I hit about 20-years-old, I decided to reignite my “passion” for ski (stop laughing). I bought myself a season pass, some awesome ski pants, and was seriously entertaining the idea of getting some skis. Then I went skiing and it occurred to me that not only did the idea of careening down a steep incline on slippery sticks seem like a terribly bad idea, but I absolutely hated being cold. Really, really hated being cold. I haven’t gone skiing since.

So this brings me to last Saturday’s scuba adventure when I sat submerged under ten meters of freezing cold, murky water while I got sloshed around like I was in the laundry cycle. Wrapped up like a sausage in my dive suit, all I could hear was the sound of my oxygen mask and my really loud thoughts saying “didn’t we agree, Tortuga Viajera, that all activities involving being cold truly suck!?? Oh, look, there’s a fish. Oooooh, hello fishy. But back to the point, Tortuga, what the heck are you doing!?!?” This was nothing like diving in Thailand where the weather was toasty and the water was crystal clear. Talk about false advertising.

This was the first of what should have been four dives in the Mediterranean off the coast of Murcia. I was there to get scuba diving certified so that Jacobo and I could go diving in Tenerife this coming December (which, gosh darn it, better be warm or else the only place I’ll be diving is in a jacuzzi). Our dives were cut short, however, presumably because they realized, after the first three dives, that it was a miracle that none of us drowned or went into hypothermic shock. So, with that, we were faced with the option of staying in Murcia, a region of Spain seemingly covered in plastic due to its countryside being full of covered vegetable crops, or check out some place new. The idea of staying in Murcia at our bizarre hotel was indeed tempting – at first I thought it was the worst hotel on the planet, but then I found myself relishing in finding new tacky animal figurines nestled in peculiar corners of the building (plus, I really do appreciate how they’ve embraced Halloween like no other Spaniards have). I would go into more detail about the strangeness of this establishment, but will refrain for fear that I might offend someone who happens to really like excessive amounts of animal figurines. (But Mom, seriously, I think you should consider getting rid of that weird stone rabbit in the backyard. The turtle, however, can stay, for obvious reasons.)

The idea of possibly better weather elsewhere was the deal breaker, so we hit the road and headed north to the community of Valencia. We were wrong, the weather was still horrible (and by horrible, I mean below 75℉), but at least I wasn’t haunted in my sleep by stone troll statues coming to life. For this second part of our journey we stayed in the coastal town of Altea, where we spent the day traversing its hillside streets, and stopping for drinks, coffee and tea in just about every spot in town. The highlight was surely our coffee on the terrace of the restaurant La Claudia where we were able to savor a full view of the Mediterranean and city below us. Not having had enough, we returned there later for a spectacular dinner, which was hardly Spanish, but rather a bit more San Francisco-ish (fusion cuisine versus large traditional dishes). Each dish was perfect, and made a break from my cherished Spanish cuisine a sacrifice worth making. My life is so rough.

Now I’m back in Madrid and still not a certified diver. I’m only certifiably insane for subjecting myself to an experience that can only most closely be compared to that of a stranded Titanic passenger. Let’s just hope that Tenerife can turn my scuba-frown upside down.

This post is a part of the Lonely Planet Blogsherpa carnival in which travel bloggers share some of their most regrettable trips. Head over to The Turkish Life to read more.

*As usual, pictures of the trip can be found on the La Tortuga Viajera Facebook page. Don’t get too excited – there aren’t any of me in my super attractive, full body scuba gear.