The second day of the benefit fiestas was lent to more futbol (a given), a subasta (live animal auction), and carreras de cinta.
A carrera de cinta is an activity in which participants mount horses of varying degrees of staggering beauty, accelerate into a sprint, and try to put a small stick through an engagement ring-sized hole. This is up there with bingo for the size of crowd it attracts, though this seems a little more justified.
In a sea of men, the Hermanita (my adoptive little sister) was one of two women, and the youngest competitor by at least a decade (or two). We’ll diverge into Women’s Studies: Rural Town in Costa Rica Edition at some point, but suffice it to say, I was proud to see her holding her own.
As to these prizes? I can’t promise there wasn’t more Tupperware involved, but there were definitely some bottles of vodka to dilute it.
Last weekend, San Luis banded together for a weekend-long fiesta to benefit a community member who had suffered from an accident. From this event, I learned the beauty of a tight-knit community.
I also learned the scientific formula for a proper Costa Rican fundraiser. It is:
(cerveza + fútbol + cerveza + bingo + cerveza + baile + cerveza) x rum² = IMMEASURABLE SUCCESS
On Friday, the Accountant asked if I would like to bartend for the weekend’s festivities. I’ve always had a closet desire to bartend; always been wary of the judgement that would come from my parents; and always feared that I lack the grit to command respect from rabble-rousers. But it seemed like a smashing way to spend the day, so I conceded.
To which the Accountant said: “You’re the second female bartender in San Luis history.”
So with this girl ensuring a steady stream of cervezas, let’s move on to element #2. The afternoon’s soccer match, set to a smattering of rain, pitted two family clans, the Matas and the Lobos, against one another. (Side note: you know you’ve achieved reproductive success when your surname can single-handedly populate a soccer team.) (Second side note: Lobo = wolf, Mata = seedling. Anyone find the match-up disproportionate? Don’t, because the Seedlings won.)
With the fin of futbol, all eyes turned to the auditorium for a riveting game of…bingo.
The fervor with which people flock to a game of bingo is astonishing. Of all the festivities that day and the next, the crowd peeked at bingo hour. You might think, with all the hullabloo surrounding it, that the bingos churn out cars and sofas and flat-screened TVs, or maybe even, like, a super moist chocolate cake.
If it’s one thing I absolutely love, it’s unapologetically dropping off the face of the planet.
It’s my favorite side effect of undergoing a major life change.
For the past two months, I’ve been operating under the assumption that it’s completely acceptable to not communicate with anyone because, you know, I’m experiencing extreme internal turmoil as I adapt to my new environment. Obviously, communication with the outside world would hinder the tenuous equilibrium settling into place.
If we’re being honest, though, my transition to living in Costa Rica was about as difficult as writing the sentence “Then I moved to Costa Rica.” It’s been one steady exhale since I set foot in San Luis. Days and nights slip loosely from one into the next, and time takes liquid form.
I’ve spent the past month blissfully constructing a new, fancy-free bubble. Bubbles, however, have their virtues and vices. Living in a whirling fish-eye lens brings certain things into magnification and shrinks others into obsolescence. Moments of blithe joy can melt into stinging self-consciousness and irrelevance. I don’t understand why the shifts happen or when they happen, but I’m learning to appreciate the perspective they bring. To feel a little unbalanced and unsure, a little raw and rash, is good for the soul. Not everything that’s shaky needs to be steadied. Not right away.
Sensory input is partially to blame. I’m living in a place where I can get a headache from running into low-hanging bananas; where the only litter on the ground is from monkeys tearing apart of bromeliads; where night after night the sky is a swirling sherbet mess. It’s a place where every morning I descend the hill to a gradient of smells – freshly wet leaves replaced by the puffy lavender of the lavandería, then by the sweetness of frying plantains. It’s a place bursting with things I want to learn, people I want to understand, beauty I want to absorb. It’s a lot.
This is a super indirect way of saying that presently, all is good in the proverbial hood. Maybe I’ve been crashing into too many seedless fruits, but I am oh so content here.
[Author’s afterthought: Hammocks inspire introspection, for better or for worse.]
The towns of Ourense are famous for their rich (and rather strange) carnaval traditions, so my friend Kaitlyn and I posted ourselves in the capital city to partake in nearby celebrations and to do some explorations of our own. Phase one of exploration was, at the suggestion of Kaitlyn, Allariz.
Never heard of Allariz? That makes two of us. Allariz is a bitty town (in the neighborhood of 5,000 people) located about 15 km from the city of Ourense. Along the coast of Galicia, towns melt into one another seamlessly; in the interior, separation is more distinct.
Due to some…complications with our Couchsurfing host, we arrived in Allariz much later than initially planned. Peppered with Galicia’s typical indecisive drizzle, we stared blankly at our new surroundings and started walking.
I have long held a suspicion that my nose operates reflexively; that is, it receives sensory input and routes it directly to my legs without first passing through my brain. I don’t hate it. So where did our first directionless steps lead us? To food, of course! Before long Kaitlyn and I found ourselves wandering up a hill and into a clearing of tents filled with pulpo (octopus) and churrasco (barbecue) stands. And so we ate.
This marked the first time I saw the entire prep process for pulpo a feira, the octopus dish Galicia is so famous for. Using long, metal rods, the cooks submerged and then removed whole octopi from large metal boilers, placing them on a wooden planks lying across the boilers.
Then, taking scissors, they snipped the tentacles into discs and piled them on round wooden plates, sprinkling the final product with aceite de oliva (olive oil) and pimentón (paprika). You will rarely see pulpo a feira on any other kind of plate, because (1) of tradition and (2) the wood absorbs water, but not oil.
The final product:
This random square of tents in random Allariz gave me the best octopus I had in Galicia, period. The teachers at my school often told me that the province of Ourense boasts the best pulpo, and I wholeheartedly agree. Accompanied with a crusty loaf of pan rústico and a bottle vino tinto, Kait and I felt as fluid as octopi by the time we were finished.
As the town sank into its daily siesta, we slipped down by the river for a post-feast coffee. We settled into Café Bar A Fábrica, posting ourselves by the floor-length windows so that the Río Arnoia gurgled just feet below our feet.
We spent the rest of the afternoon walking – by the muddy banks of the river, through the cobblestone streets of the casco viejo (old zone), up a grassy knoll overlooking the town.
If you know me personally, you might have noticed that I have totally failed to address here the fact that I returned from Spain for good…like ten months ago.
When I returned to the States last June, I fully expected to work for three months, pop a u-ey, and return to Santiago to teach for another school year as an Auxiliar de Conversación. With that in mind, I landed a serving job within a week of my return and started restocking my piggy bank.
But there were other issues in play. My in-house counsel presented a persuasive list of reasons to stay in the States, beginning with finances and ending with life ambitions. While the jury was still out, this happened: With a feeble sputter, out went my alternator and down went the gavel. It was time to face the facts. Besides stitching up my car, I needed to take responsibility for some lingering college loans, do some undistracted soul-searching, and establish a direction for my life. So on September 23, the day my return flight left Atlanta for Santiago, I tracked down a bottle of albariño and held a pity party for one on my couch. Whatever the following months would hold, Spain would not be a part of them. If you think I was about to acknowledge that with actual words in actual writing, you are, as my coworkers are fond of saying, trippin’. Denial, after all, is the name of the game.
So let me condense the last ten, non-Spanish months of my life: Molly became a server and, while dueling hopelessness, aimlessness, and physical exhaustion, she cultivated a variety of skills. Now, for hours on end, Molly can run in dizzying circles with gourmet hamburgers; gracefully hurdle children springing into the aisles; effortlessly fend off the advances of wayward condiments and creepy old men; and tirelessly refill Diet Cokes that are sucked down with the urgency of sucking venom from a snake bite. The skills I’ve developed during the past months will probably never make it onto my resume, though I could (and probably will) write a book about my experience with my current restaurant, because it has been that ridiculous. That’s for another time, though. The point of this post is to alert you of the progress peeking over the horizon. Have I discovered my life’s calling? You jest! But I have established its short-term direction. With my fiscal obligations currently fulfilled, I am excited to announce my next country of exploration: COSTA RICA!
Come mid-April, I will be ditching my Chuck Taylors, mustard stains, and greasy kitchen floors for hiking boots, thickset mist, and the cover of a rainforest canopy. This chica will be interning with the University of Georgia’s Costa Rica Program. I’ve already had one life-changing experience with UGA’s Oxford program during my undergrad years, so to be helping provide a similar experience for other students (in a whole new country) is making me positively giddy. So as they say in Costa Rica: pura vida. The next chapter begins oh so soon.
Last weekend, I slipped the confines of my job and stole away to California with the best traveling mates in the world: my parents. My dad was headed to Laguna Beach to attend a conference, so someone had to come along to woo potential clients with her beauty, provide endless childlike zeal, and eat the chocolate left on the pillows. Obviously I’m talking about my mom, but they let me tag along, too.
It was a renewing trip in so many ways. Five days away from work was the longest break I’d taken since starting. I swapped running in circles with hamburgers to running through circles of seagulls. I traded serving for being served. And I was surrounded by Laguna’s stunning Pacific-Coast beauty.
Equally as inspiring as the scenery was the conference itself. The conference focused on developing policies to reshape America’s future (with regard to immigration, economy, preserving freedom, and so forth), and the conference attendees were deeply passionate about changing America for the better. Airborne viruses aside, there are few things more contagious than passion.
On the last day of our stay, we checked out of our cliffside accommodations and saw the region’s most famous historical sight: Mission San Juan Capistrano, founded in 1776 by Father Serra. The mission borders the neighborhood of Los Rios, which claims to be the “oldest neighborhood in California,” and is absurdly precious.
Ruins of “The Great Stone Church,” finished in 1806 and destroyed by earthquake in 1812..
I returned from California refreshed, mentally and physically. Walking into work the next day, the general manager cocked his head, peered at me over the rims of his glasses, and said, “You’re never allowed to leave for the weekend again.”
I know y’all in the North get a good chuckle over how the South freaks out over winter weather. Here in Atlanta, the mayor declared a state of emergency over a potential inch of snow so this didn’t happen again. But snow is an absolute marvel to those of us who never get it. As I began writing this post, I couldn’t concentrate because it looked like some unearthly giant was grating romano cheese over my backyard. Sheafs of white pelted everything in sight. It’s more than a little distracting when your backyard turns into a highly decorated bowl of spaghetti.
If it gives you any idea of how foreign winter weather is to us, take me as an example. After I left work last night, I got into my car and realized I couldn’t see because, lo and behold, there was a sheet of ice plastered to my windshield. Feeling prepared for the first time in my life, I remembered that I had put an ice scraper (tag still attached) in my trunk. I pressed the open key, walked to the back of my car…and realized my trunk was frozen shut, rendering my ice scraper totally and completely useless. (The solution? Spoiler alert: coffee mugs aren’t just for drinking anymore.)
Anyways, what I initially intended to say is that I’ve got some photos from Laguna Beach headed your way this weekend. Hope you stayed warm and kept your ice scraper in your glove compartment!
Hopping on a boat in Vigo, Galicia will take you to one of Spain’s best-kept secrets.
I had already decided Galicia was one of the most underrated provinces in Spain before I laid my eyes on Las Islas Cíes (the Cíes Islands).
These tropical-looking islands, with vivid, turquoise water and fine white sand, are scattered just off the coast of a mainland that treated this girl to 61 straight days of rain. Step on the island, and in one fell swoop, your eyes can take in craggy mountains, lush greenery, and pristine beaches – a landscape trifecta. Never have I seen a place that so seamlessly melts the three into one. As a matter of fact, the archipelago, made up of three individual islands, was listed as one of the “Top 10 beaches of the world” by British newspaper The Guardian.
Anyhow, the first weekend of June, several friends and I left drippy Santiago and headed to the Cíes for a final hurrah as the school year ended. After a ferry ride from the port of Vigo, we spent our daylight hours hiking to the island’s main lighthouse and lolling about on soft beaches, returning to our furnished tents only when food necessitated it. True to Galician form, the water was frigid and the night air cool.
As you can see, the Cíes were, quite easily, the best parting gift the country could have given.
Things to Remember:
Check the weather. Obviously your trip will be better if it’s sunny, but regardless of the sun’s status, it gets cold at night. Pack accordingly.
Camping is an awesome way to spend your time on the island. Make sure you reserve ahead of time, though, and note that you can only camp on the island during Semana Santa (Holy Week, usually in March-April) and summer (June-September). That said, the amenities are excellent. You can decide to bring your own tent, or do what we did and rent one that contain beds with mattresses. The campsite even boasts showers, a cafe, and restaurant.
Bring your own tent: 10 euros/person
Rent a tent
Two-person tent: 39 euros low/48 euros high season
Four-person tent: 65 euros low/73 euros high season
Buy your ferry ticket ahead of time. Visitors to the island are capped at 2,200 each day. Ferries leave from Vigo and Cangas.
Nestled in Northeastern Georgia, Tallulah Gorge is on full, leafy fire this fall. So glad I took a hint and escaped from Atlanta for the day. A few hours of scaling rocks and fording rivers is good for the soul.
Deciding to uproot myself and move to Spain came with its fair share of anxiety. A large part of that anxiety was due, of course, to the uncertainty of what I would be eating for the next year. And since Spain is a hefty player in the culinary world, I wanted to maximize Surprisingly, though, being gluten-free in Spain was a breeze. Since I lived in Santiago de Compostela, this post specifically addresses going gluten-free in Galicia, though it is largely applicable to Spain as a whole.
At the supermercado
Living on a tight budget, this is where I got most of my grub. Overall, I found that Mercadona, Carrefour, and Familia had the best selection of gluten-free specialty foods – everything from magdalenas (small breakfast muffins) to pasta to cereal to flour. The frozen food section of the Carrefour in Santiago even carries gluten-free frozen empanadas and churros. When looking outside the specialty gluten-free section, scan labels for the words “sin gluten” (gluten-free). Spain does a pretty good job at labeling their products.
My most uncomfortable experience with grocery food was not actually caused by gluten. With many brands, eating a gluten-free loaf of sandwich bread (“pan de molde”) or baguette (“pan rústico”) is like eating a brick of vegetable shortening. Namely because the second ingredient is vegetable shortening. Check ingredients before you buy to avoid digestive displeasure.
GF chocolate chip cookies
GF chocolate-coated animal crackers
Behold, I give you the two keys to your eating success:
No puedo comer gluten.
With these two phrases, Galicia became my oyster. The majority of restaurants understood the implications of these phrases (perhaps with some help from “no harina” – no flour). In my experience, Galician cuisine uses straightforward ingredients. What you see is, more than likely, what you get.
Galician cuisine is heavy on seafood. Seafood is often prepared simply, though there are some specialty seafood dishes that use sauces (ex. almejas a la marinera, or clams with marinera sauce) that you should avoid if you cannot ascertain the sauce ingredients. Caldo gallego, a traditional Galician soup, can also be troublesome (but worth investigating because it is scrumptious). Seafood a la plancha (grilled) or al vapor (steamed) is just as common and a safer bet. Food that is cocido has been boiled; potatoes are commonly cooked this way. Spanish tortilla, a simple, savory staple often served as a tapa, is traditionally composed of potato, oil, and egg – also a good go-to item.
The Asociación de Celíacos de Galicia has compiled a list of restaurants that have received training in how to safely prepare gluten-free meals for consumers and have committed to providing gluten-free menu options. However, I never used this list even once and was easily accommodated everywhere I dined. Additionally, if you feel less than confident in your Spanish-speaking abilities, Celiac Travel offers a great free Spanish dining card.
On planes and trains
Once upon a time, on a long-haul train from Santiago de Compostela to Madrid, I wandered into the dining car and found that it sold gluten-free pastries. I was elated and ate my calorie bomb in blissful appreciation. In general, however, the dining car is friend to neither your wallet nor your stomach. Be prepared, be prepared. Pack nuts, fruit, and sandwiches to get you through your journey. The same goes for air travel. Once upon a time in the Málaga airport (in Andalucía, not Galicia, mind you) I found two happy oddities: a gluten-free brownie at Starbucks and a gluten-free vending machine (!). Again: exception, not the rule. Airports lean heavily on the sandwich side. Be prepared.