Saturday, November 06, 2004

Seville, Spain—Jerez de la Frontera, Spain—Malaga, Spain—Estepona, Spain—Seville, Spain--Day 280

Today Pedro offered to drive me back to the Jerez zoo instead of me having to take the train. This didn’t sound like such a bad idea to me so we met up and headed off to Jerez early in the morning. Driving there proved to be much more efficient than taking the train and between the two of us trying to figure out where we were, we were able to follow the “zoologico” signs and make it to the zoo pretty quickly. I thought for sure we would end up driving around Jerez lost but luckily we had good fortune on our sides.

In fact, we figured that at the rate we were going we decided that we could also drive to the Malaga Zoo today (about 2 hours from Jerez) which would help me get two zoos done in one day. Although it was a stretch, it definitely seemed like a good idea to get the zoo done with Pedro around to help drive instead of me having to take the train.

So we parked in this dirt parking lot next to the zoo and headed in straight to the hippos who we found to be sleeping right in the most inconvenient spot for me to take pictures of them. Since you had to look down into their enclosure on to the hippos, you couldn’t see entirely straight down below you. If you sort of craned out your next you could somewhat see. Well the hippos had their heads RIGHT in that area where you couldn’t get decent photos of their heads. You got their bodies all right but their heads were just out of view. I strained and put my camera over the edge (with a slight feeling that I would drop it onto them!) and tried my best to get some decent shots of them.

So we started calling to them. Being Spanish hippos, we tried our best to sound as Spanish as we could to get them out of the corner.

It was no use—they seemed to be sleeping and there were no keepers in sight. We would have to wait a bit for the hippos to move and I kept my fingers crossed that they would.

Luckily we didn’t have to wait too long.

With a bit of heaving, they both got up and wandered over to their caged area that they were in the other day most likely in search of food bits left from their morning’s breakfast. I snapped away as the hippos moved around feeling both relieved that I was able to get the photos without having to seek out a keeper and happy that we didn’t have to wait that long for them to move.

The walked around their enclosure for a few minutes before settling back down in the corner again. Satisfied with my photos, Pedro and I headed out of the zoo with the Malaga zoo in sight.

After stopping for a coffee and ice cream (necessities really when you are hippo photographing) we set off towards Malaga, deciding to take the easiest most direct route there. With some confusion and roundabout navigation, we made it out of Jerez and on the highway towards Granada where we would head towards before taking a detour towards Malaga in a few hours.

How great it was to be driving! I told Pedro all about my adventures in France driving around and was so glad that he could drive and I could map read, and not me having to do both at once. Plus driving in the Spanish countryside was so beautiful and I was happy to be able to get a view of Spain that you cannot see while you are just sitting on the train.

We drove through the hills and passed stunning whitewashed villages on our way to Malaga. Malaga, according to my guidebook, is not only the birthplace of Picasso and the largest Andalucian city on the coast. The afternoon wore on and we kept driving and we seemed to be making great time. At the rate we were going, we were going to make it to Malaga around 4 p.m. This would hopefully give us an hour at the zoo there to get the hippo pictures. I was really hoping that our spontaneous plan to get both zoos done in one day would work.

We arrived into Malaga and of course had no idea where the zoo was. We drove around for a bit, hoping to find signs that we could follow. No luck. While Pedro went and asked for directions to the zoo I sat in the car trying to rack my brain to remember if the zoo was actually IN Malaga.

Pedro returned and smiled. “There is no zoo in Malaga.”

Oh man. I KNEW that the zoo was SOMEWHERE near Malaga, but ok, if it wasn’t IN Malaga, then where was it?

We parked the car and got out to find someone to help us. The parking man told us that there was a tourist information place nearby so we raced over there and asked them where the zoo was. They said that there was no zoo in Malaga (we already knew that!) and offered to us another city where there was a zoo nearby.

Pedro suggested that we just get in the car and drive to the zoo but I wasn’t so sure. We decided that it would be best to find an Internet café and check the online database (the one that my whole trip has been planned around) to see where the zoo was.

So after a bit of frantic walking we found the internet café and I googled the website and after a bit of searching found the zoo which was located in Estepona, Spain, about forty-five minutes away. We wrote down the address, went back to the information desk and they gave us a clear map of how to get to Estepona from Malaga.

We jumped back into the car (it was going on 4:15 now) and drove off in the direction of Marabella (a famous resort town) that is just before Estepona.

Oh man, I was certain that we were not going to make it. Considering I had no sure idea about when the zoo was going to close (now that it is winter some zoos even close at 4pm!) I was hoping that we wouldn’t be stranded in Estepona overnight.

We sped away and I checked and double-checked that we were going in the right direction. There were two freeways that we could have taken and I wasn’t even sure if we were going on the fastest one. Please be open zoo!!

We finally made it into Estepona and immediately saw signs for the zoo. We followed them up to the driveway leading into the zoo and as Pedro pulled the car into the parking lot I got ready to jump out.

It was 5 o’clock.

I rushed up to the ticket booth and asked for two tickets please. The woman smiled and told me that the zoo closes at 6 pm (YES!!!) but that you have to take special trams up to the top of the zoo and then walk back down, and that the trams stop running at 5pm (NO!!!)

Dang it! We had just missed the last tram for sure. The woman offered that we could go into the walking area of the zoo by the entrance where there weren’t all of the animals. So I asked her where the hippos were.

“Hippos? There aren’t any hippos.”

I looked at Pedro and just started laughing. What? No hippos?

She told me that they used to have hippos—2 years ago—but they have since been relocated. I asked where the hippos went and she was unable to tell me but suggested that we come back tomorrow when the zoo opened to see the other animals.

We thanked her and walked back to the car laughing.

After all that there were no hippos.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Seville, Spain—Jerez de la Frontera, Spain—Seville, Spain—Day 278

Today I woke up early and got ready to go to the zoo in Jerez de la Frontera, which is an hour away from Seville via train. Waking up at the hostel early, I decided to skip the shower and head straight to the train station so that I could catch my nine o’clock train to Jerez. Since I had inquired yesterday at the Tourist Information center near the Cathedral as to how to get to the train station, I set out walking to the bus stop that I needed to catch the bus at. However, on my way there, I realized that at the rate I was going, I was going to miss my train. So I hopped in a taxi and we set off to the train station. It was lucky that I did this because fifteen minutes later I was at the train station and I had about five minutes to find my train and board before it left.

So I found my train and rode down the escalator to my platform (the escalator being one of those ones that are more like moving walkways but that are at inclines so that you can bring your luggage carts, strollers, wheelchairs, etc. down them. In front of me I had this woman who had her huge luggage on an equally huge luggage cart that was taking up the entire escalator. I couldn’t get passed her which was making me anxious about missing my train. That would be my luck—watching the train leave just as I am approaching it. She seemed in no hurry to get to the platform (her train was the one opposite mine that still had ten minutes before it left) and so I had to grin and bear it as we slooooowly made our way down. Unfortunately there weren’t steps that I could have raced down instead so I had to wait for her to get off before I could dash onto the train.

I did just this and the train doors closed just before I found a seat and sat down.

The train started off towards Jerez and I spent the hour on the train trying not to fall asleep. The past two nights at the hostel haven’t been the greatest in terms of sleep so I felt tired and my body cranky. So I tried to focus on my book to pass the time, which didn’t work. I eventually gave up trying to read, dozing on and off before we finally made it to Jerez.

I got off and went straight out of the train station, having no real idea how big Jerez was or how I would get to the zoo. I went straight to the taxi stand (I have learned my lesson about missing taxis—although I have to say that I am better off here since I can speak Spanish) and go the next taxi that pulled up to take me to the zoo.

My taxi driver was really nice—he was really interested in the fact that I was from the USA and wanted to know all about Miami, Florida. He seemed disappointed that I personally wasn’t from Miami—the “place that was always summer” he kept saying. “Is it true—is it ALWAYS summer there?” I tried to tell him about Arizona and the fact that its also always “summer” there (or at least hot) but he wasn’t as interested in Arizona despite my boasting about Arizona NOT having humidity.

We made it to the zoo and he dropped me off and I headed in. I bought my ticket but was unable to locate a map of the zoo so I just started to wander in the general direction of where I thought hippos might be. There were no signs for the hippos, only for elephants and giraffes and a few other animals. I followed the elephant signs keeping my fingers crossed that there would be the hippos near them.

I was the only person in the zoo besides a huge group of American school children. It was so bizarre—they were clearly NOT from Spain and running all around the zoo with their teachers on a field trip shouting to the animals and causing the general ruckus that school children do at zoos, but of course all in English. It was completely weird to be in a small zoo in a smallish city with this huge group of Americans around. I didn’t ask where they were from—or why on earth they were at the zoo—but did stop three mischievous looking, pre-pubescent 12 year olds and asked them where the hippos were. The boys were really happy to help me out and all of them gave me enthusiastic directions to the hippos.

“They’re over there!”

“By the llamas!”

“Up the steps!”

From their directions, I could figure out pretty much where the hippos were. The boys told me that the hippos were hard to see because “they were in a cage”. I thanked them and headed to the hippos to see just what this “cage” entailed.

The boys were right. They WERE in a cage. The hippo enclosure was set up so that you could look down onto the hippos below you. There was a caged area set up on the right side of the enclosure which shut the hippos off from their pool and the dirt area next to it. The hippos seemed to be finishing up their breakfast but it was hard to see them through the bars. One hippo finished and stood for a long time looking with that longing “let me out” stance (yes, I know it when I see it) while the other continued to munch on the remnants of what remained in the caged area. Finally the first hippo gave up and laid down on the floor while the other hippo finished up.

A few minutes later (ok, probably about 30 minutes later) the keeper finally showed up. I was anxious for the hippos to be let out and to get their names—and I am sure the hippos were as equally anxious to be let out into the open area. I got my camera ready and watched as the keeper entered the enclosure.

Only he didn’t let the hippos out. Instead he started to clean some hippo dung off of the walls of the enclosure. The hippos watched with great interest and moved around from one end of the caged area to the other as the keeper moved around the enclosure. I am sure the male hippo was thinking “Hey! That took a lot of effort on my part and now you are washing it OFF!?!”

So I watched this for a bit and watched the keeper get the hose and start filling up the enclosure with water, spraying both hippos a little as they opened their mouths to drink the water.

A woman and her child came up to the hippos as she shouted down to the keeper, asking him what time the hippos were going to be let out. He told her that they weren’t going to be let out until such and such a time. I had a hard time following their conversation, but I was able to get this much from it. Hmmm, maybe I should have asked in the first place!

So I walked down to the entrance of the keepers’ area and went to ask him myself about the hippos. Turned out that the hippos were not going to be let out at all today, let alone this afternoon, and that I would have to come back in the morning to see them. On top of that, the hippos didn’t have names! I asked him and he shook his head with a smile (probably thinking what the heck is this girl up to—she just watched me clean the hippo enclosure for 45 minutes and now she wants to know their names) and told me that the tiger had a name, but not the hippos…they’re just hippos!

I thanked him for his help and bid adieu to the no-named hippos. I headed out of the zoo and stopped at the gift shop on my way out where a man smoking a huge cigarette sold me a small zoo key chain and some postcards of the zoo. I then asked for directions on how to get back to the city center from the ticket man and was soon heading down the street, following his directions “to the big church, take a left and walk 10 minutes.”

I did just this and ended up in the city center—or at least what seemed to be the city center based on all of the shops and people around. I stopped for a tea at a café and decided what I should do with my day. I decided to walk around Jerez for a bit in search of historical things (apparently they are famous for their horses there). So I set off after getting a snack at another café and getting a banana at the supermarket. I walked around for a bit (having no map or guide with me to help me) and ended up spotting a church and deciding to walk towards it. I did this but found the big church to be closed. So I walked back to the center where I did a big of shopping before deciding to go back to Seville since I would be back in Jerez in the morning. I could figure out if there was anything interesting to do here and even go down to Cadiz if I decided. In the mean time, I could see some other things in Seville.

So I walked back to the train station (how I made it back there is somewhat of a miracle since I just kept trying to find a bus to take me back but then ended up at it all on my own) and got the next train back to Seville. An hour later I was back at Seville’s Santa Justa station. I decided to take a bus back into town but made the mistake of getting on the wrong bus. Ok, I did get on the right bus but just going in the wrong direction. So this mistake meant that I spent an hour on the bus (probably more) watching people getting on and off and getting sort of a nice little tour of Seville’s university area, which now I can say that I have seen!

I ended up not really knowing where the bus was or where I should really get off. Each stop I was like, ok, I SHOULD get off here, but then I wouldn’t. I didn’t want to end up back at the train station and finally decided to get off. My stop, amazingly, was close to the Praca de Espana. So I walked around there for a bit, avoiding Spanish teenagers who stopped me to ask me the time but then wanted to take pictures with me, and walked back to the main cathedral area where I then met up with Pedro (whom I met in Lagos) who just so happened to be in Seville for the next couple of days for dinner.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Seville, Spain--Day 277

First of all, Happy Birthday Moriah Claire Weiss! Born 4 a.m. November 2, 2004.

I am in Seville, Spain where I arrived yesterday after taking the bus from Lagos. My bus left at 1:45 and did not arrive into Seville until 8pm (7pm Portugal time) and I immediately went to my hotel, dropped off my stuff, and went in search of food. I had dinner and wandered a bit until I ran into an Election Party going on at an Irish Pub. I thought it would be fun to go in, so I did. You had to pay 6 Euros to get in (your admission price plus two "free" drinks) and that entitled you to stand in a crowded bar with hoards of American exchange students all of which either had a big blue "K" on their hand or a big blue "B" depending on who they were supporting. The girl in front of me in the line to get in declined to have her hand marked saying, "I prefer not to advertise my beliefs" which could mean that she was either a Nadar voter (you could base this on her hemp bag and dreads) or was secretly a Bush-supporter in disguise.

The polls hadn´t even closed at this point and the idea of staying at a pseudo frat party wasn´t my idea of a fun time. Plus I was standing near a guy with a big "B" on his hand who was arguing with this poor little French girl all about how his beliefs in Iraq's newly formed government. It was too much.

I left, went back to my hotel just before 1 a.m. and fell asleep hoping to wake up this morning with a new President. I see, however, that that isn´t quite the case.

So today I spent the day in Seville today instead of heading straight to the zoo since I had no idea what the train times were to get me to Jerez or where the train station was exactly. So I spent the morning doing my research—figuring out where the train station was and how to get there on the bus and what time I needed to go—and spent the rest of the afternoon walking around Seville. I visited the gorgeous cathedral—the third largest cathedral in the world, the largest Gothic building in the world and the tomb of Christopher Columbus—as well as the Alcázar, the 9th-century palace.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Lagos, Portugal—Seville, Spain—Days 273-276

So what they say is true—you spend a few days in Lagos and really never want to leave again. Perhaps it is not just because of the beaches and the bars but the fabulous Portuguese hospitality that lures everyone and tries their best to convince them to stay.

On the way down from Lisbon, I made friends with the guy sitting next to me on the train who also just happened to be going to Lagos. His English was fantastic and we chatted all the way down to Lagos. By the time we arrived he had fully convinced me that it was a nice place to be on one’s birthday.

Pedro—my new friend—showed me back to the hostel where I was going to stay and if it weren’t for him helping me with my luggage and directions, I would probably be still looking for the hostel right now. The directions given to me to get from the train station to the hostel from the hostel employee were “go out of the train station, across the walkway and then to your left 500 meters.” I was assured that it was a “short and simple” walk.

Well, it took thirty minutes, several winding turns and a heck of a time getting my suitcases through the small cobblestone streets to get to the hostel. Pedro dropped me off and I was so thankful that I had met him to help me.

I dropped off my things at the hostel feeling silly about all of my luggage and all that I have accumulated. Clearly my new scarf, gloves and jacket that I desperately needed in Germany wasn’t going to be needed here in Portugal on the beach, but I have no choice but to carry everything with me from place to place—rain or shine.

So I found my room and had a nice talk with the girl who I was sharing with (Angela from Australia, spending 1 year traveling Europe) and then went out to the main center of the town where a medieval fair was taking place. It was quite something and there were stalls everywhere selling food, jewelry and medieval weapons (I kid you not) and just about everyone in the town seemed to be in costume. It was crazy—the entire weekend was this festival so every day they would stage a mock-historical event in the town. Like, for example, Lagos was the first place in Europe where the slave trade began. Yes, that is right. The slave trade. So what did they do? Hold a mock slave auction. I didn’t see it but I heard about it from Pedro and people at the hostel later on. Apparently it was quite something.

There were parades and music—all sorts of fun and festivities going on. The charming thing about it all was that people were taking it SO seriously and seemed really, truly into it.

I met up with Pedro and his friends for dinner which was so great. It was his other friend’s birthday (I didn’t realize this when I was invited) and so there were probably 12 or so other people there. I sat right across from the birthday boy (Joao—Pedro’s good friend) and couldn’t believe my luck. At midnight, when it officially became MY birthday, I almost had to pinch myself. There I was celebrating my 24th birthday at a birthday party with 12 Portuguese people!

They then took me out on the town which was quite fun until I got bitten by a dog which is something I don’t recommend experiencing yourself.

What happened was that we were walking from one bar to the next, which was literally just across the way from the first bar. It was raining so people were taking refuge under the awnings of each bar and restaurant. We dashed across the street and passed these two dogs who were standing in the pouring rain barking at the rain, as silly Portuguese dogs do I guess.

Well one decided that as the moment I was passing it to lunch out and attack me on my derriere. He jumped and took one huge bite at me as I sort of yelped and ran away. It all happened so fast and I rushed into the bar almost not believing that I had just been bitten by a dog.

My first thoughts included rabies and tetanus—good god, the ONE thing that I haven’t been vaccinated against was rabies. Thus, I was going to DIE in Portugal! But I have so many more hippos to see!

My fears subsided when I made my way into the woman’s bathroom in the bar to check the damage which turned out to be this massive, massive, MASSIVE black and purple bruise but with no signs of the skin breaking.

The rest of the weekend passed quickly from one beach and renaissance parade to the next. Pretty soon it was time for me to head to Seville where I would visit the Jerez Zoo in Jerez de la Frontera, which is an hour south of Seville. With Monday being a national holiday (and thus no bus service) I had to wait until Tuesday afternoon to get a bus to Seville since there are no direct train routes. If I took the train, I would have had to gone all the way to Madrid via Lisbon and then down to Seville but by bus it is just a five-hour or so drive.

So I checked out of my hostel and called a taxi to help me lug my stuff to the bus station (there was no way I could do it by myself on all of the cobblestone streets!) and boarded my bus to Seville. I was in Seville by 8pm and went straight to where I was staying, dropped off my things and headed out on the town to find something to eat. The great thing about Spain is that dinner doesn’t even start until almost 10pm so I didn’t have to worry about restaurants closing.