July 11, 2013 - Posted by Erin in Spain, Travel, Travels in Europe, Travels in Spain

I can’t stop staring at my cell phone with its wallpaper taunting me to go back. A lighthouse stretches out into the sea, waves crash into craggy rocks, and sunrays bathe a sloping cliff of green, with promise of warmth despite the chilly waters.


Sigh, Cudillero. Even more “sigh” right now as the mercury in Madrid has danced around 100ºF for more days than I can remember, and will continue to for as long as my iPhone weather forecast wishes to reveal. I positively long for that chilly marine breeze and the sound of seagulls.

And I’m embarrassed, because I realize that I haven’t really even told you about this northern paradise, this pueblo of perfection, this new favorite Spanish place of mine (and that’s not hyperbole; I mean it, I really do).


Imagine a fishermen’s village, idyllic, with a jagged colorful skyline of buildings that brushes up against the sea just as the waves do against the shore. The whole village funnels and weaves toward the water like a giant luge, as if everything that matters must lead to the sea.

It probably used to, and still very much does, but in this northern Asturian town of some 6,000 people the industry these days has become more about tourism and agriculture than it is about the sea. That said, during my visit, I saw few tourists – just a pilgrim here and there, slogging the ups and downs of the Camino de la Costa.

But what really makes little Cudillero so special is that, apart from its obvious charm, there’s just something magnetic about the way the town cradles and almost cuddles the sea, like an auditorium to eternity. It’s the kind of place that begs for you to stop and dream, and mostly to come back.

Fortunately, while Cudillero might not be in my future again any time soon, that doesn’t mean that an ocean escape isn’t. Next week I head to San Francisco then north to Seattle and Vashon Island, where I’ll be free of these Spanish temperatures and get a healthy dose of home — marine air, seagulls and all.

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.

August 5, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Traditions, Travel, Travels in Asia

The horn honking seems to have followed me from the World Cup hysteria in Spain to Vietnam where the sound dominates silence every minute of the day. What’s strange is that upon arriving here I might have thought that they put Spain’s chaotic rules of the road to shame, when in reality there is bizarre organization to this apparent disorder. Somehow, this country challenges your imagination at every turn.

Driving into Hanoi’s downtown our first night, we quickly realized that traffic laws were irrelevant and that roads were owned by scooters and motorbikes (in fact there are 3.5 million of them in Hanoi, which has a population of 7 million). When pedestrians just meandered out in the middle of traffic I gasped, at which point our guide began to explain to us the unspoken rules of the Vietnam streets. First, honking doesn’t mean get out of my way, but rather “FYI, here I am, just so you know.” Whether you’re traveling by bike, car or foot, you can pretty much do anything you want – cross a jam packed street, make a turn, even head in the opposite direction as long as you do so slowly and predictably. This definitely took some getting used to as pedestrians (ok, I’m lying, I’m in no way used to it). Walking through Hanoi’s historic quarter, our guide slowly lead us across insanely busy streets as motorbikes filled with up to four people, carrying everything from sofas to produce, went zinging by us. Each time I crossed, I found myself holding my breath and saying silent prayers, even contemplating just closing my eyes – after all, it would hardly make a difference. “How many of your guests have you had end up in the hospital from crossing these streets?” I cautiously asked Duc, our guide. “None,” he replied with a little chuckle (I’m convinced he thinks I’m nuts). I’m still having a hard time believing this, however, with each passing day I have more confidence in the rules of this madness (although, I’m still not sure that texting, helmet-less, with a child clutching onto your back is really all that super safe).

Growing up in the Bay Area, having had many Vietnamese friends, and being a self proclaimed expert on fresh spring rolls (a quick shout out to Tour Eiffel Vietnamese Restaurant in Los Altos – still the best spring rolls in the world), I thought I might be somewhat familiar with the Vietnamese culture, or perhaps at least more or less what I might expect here. To some extent this is true – super friendly, hard working, humble people, with a great pride in their heritage and an eagerness to shed an ear-to-ear grin. I suppose I never realized or comtemplated to any great extent the complexity of where this came from though. Being here and walking the streets I’m in awe of how everyone seems to have their trade – people huddled on a street corner making a food delicacy, women balancing baskets of bananas and looking at me hopefully as though a banana might be exactly what I’m looking for, men shining shoes and giving hair cuts in whatever free space they can find. Then there’s the countryside where you can see rice farmers working the fields for as far as the eye can see – no surprise, really, considering that apparently 70% of the country dedicates itself to rice farming (according to Duc).

Then there’s this outdoor lifestyle akin to the Spanish terraza. Groups of people crouched down on small little chairs in just about any open area possible (sides of roads, in front of houses, medians in between streets) chatting, drinking, eating, fanning themselves, or just sitting and passing time. Often you will see some random fellow who’s managed to hang a hammock from the most peculiar locations, just taking a nap on the sidewalk.

At first site, things seem so backwards here and so beyond comprehension, but then the more you observe, you realize that everyone is a part of the same dance, with coordinated moves that all magically fall into place. Getting used to this rhythm does not come naturally to me, but admittedly, as it inevitably becomes more predictable, I’m finding comfort slipping into the Vietnamese way of life. Oh and I’m just loving overdosing on Vietnamese food – living in Spain has left an open hole in my heart for one of my favorite cuisines!

Beyond the typical tourist stops in Hanoi, our time here has been filled with adventure. We headed out to the village of Hoa Lu, the Vietnam capital in the 10th century, where we visited the temples of the Le and Dinh Dynasties, followed by the most tranquil bike ride through the Vietnamese countryside. We weaved our way through a narrow path surrounded by lotus flowers, craggy rock mountains, rice fields, bamboo forests and small village houses. It was remarkably beautiful taking in the scenery slowly from our bikes while I honed my biking-while-taking-pictures skills. After that, we got into a small boat steered by two miniature little women that took us down a narrow delta of Inland Halong Bay, which was lined with the occasional farm hut, banana trees and then ultimately ended in a dark limestone cave filled with low hanging rocks, stalactites and bats.

My original plan was to write one blog per country, but I’ve quickly realized that this would be virtually impossible considering that each day here in just Vietnam alone has topped the one before. After visiting Hanoi (where we stayed at the Metropole, which was phenomenal), we headed off to Halong Bay and are now in Hoi An – both places that have exceeded my expectations in every way possible and left me completely in love with this country. I can’t wait to share the rest of these adventures so far, but alas I must pace myself. More to come very soon!

June 18, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Traditions, Travel, Trips to the US

A few blogs back, I introduced you all to some of the very uniquely fantastic jobs that can be found in Spain. One of them was the mariscadora (best described as an awesome shellfish digger lady) – a job that I’ve had my eye on for awhile now because I believe I am particularly qualified. Why? Well, it just so happens that I’ve perfected my shellfish hunting skills after a lifetime of digging clams on my grandparents’ beach on the island of Vashon in Washingon’s Puget Sound. Yes my friends, I like to hunker down in the rocky island mud with my rake and bucket and hack away at the land to find those happy little shellfish – clams.

It’s an especially gratifying task on so many levels. You aggressively scrape at the pebbles, shells and crabs using your “where’s Waldo” eye to spot the ribbed texture of the clams. There’s something about the rhythmic raking of the land, the peaceful lapping of the tide, and the resulting pride of conquest, that make the experience a soothing one. Never mind the muddy hands, burning hamstrings and aching back – it’s a labor of love! When you see your bucket full of shellfish grinning back at you, you can’t help but feel a sense of accomplishment.

I’m reminded of this as I’ve spent the last couple days in the US taking in the expansive view of my grandparents’ harbor. I can hear the beach calling my name – to dig that is. It’s not a tropical beach by any stretch of the imagination – and not just because it’s in Washington where sunny days seem to be far and few between. These beaches are rocky and covered in a blanket of barnacles and muscles. Walking along the shores during low tide, the only sounds you hear are those of the shells and rocks crushing beneath your feet, the peaceful ebb and flow of the water, and the constant chatter of the seagulls. These are the sounds of tranquillity, but not of piña coladas (although I could go for one right about now).

Vashon proudly considers itself weird – no joke. Many cars brandish a bumper sticker declaring “keep Vashon weird.” It’s a flash back in time – virtually nothing has changed in my lifetime of making trips here. And there’s something about this that is so refreshing. Considering you have to take a ferry just to get to the island, you are truly isolated in a land unto itself. All the more reason to focus and hone your clam digging skills, don’t ya think?

So yes, as I sit here stranded on this weird little island, I find myself relishing in the opportunity to build my shellfish-digging resume in hopes that one day I can be a mighty fine mariscadora.

With that, I do believe it’s time to go check on my happy little clammies and change their water.