CADIZ UNVEILED

Trip Start Mar 14, 2010
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32
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Trip End Nov 24, 2010


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Where I stayed
Sagasta 22

Flag of Spain  , Andalusia,
Saturday, October 2, 2010

Chinese Philosopher Lao Tzu said: "A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving." Well, Lord knows, I didn't have a plan and I certainly didn’t know anything about this little peninsula on the southern tip of Spain. But none of that mattered, because all I needed to know was that it will be an adventure and that I have work to help me pay for it. And so, after a night of celebration I set out from Tarifa to Cadiz.

Cadiz is a small settlement of about 132,000 people, built on a narrow spit of land and surrounded by the costa de la luz (coast of light). 3000 annual hours of sunlight! I think it is safe to say that there are is not much SAD here.

The city is characterized by the many, maze-like cobble stone Calles (streets) which are just wide enough for one car, one way traffic, but even then you have to pin your back against the walls of the four story apartment buildings rising on either side. Looking up, you find colourful flowerpots filled with hibiscus draping down tiny balconies. As you make your way thru the busy streets, passing by little bakeries, jewellery stores, shoemakers, Tapa bars and little grocery stores, you will inevitably come to a lively plaza bursting with cafes, restaurants and lush trees and flowers.  I thought this place was perfect for my summer adventure. Not too small, not too big, great shops, beautiful beaches and seemingly full of life.

As I had mentioned, I did not do any research on the town I committed to staying for 3 months and so I decided to join Dario on a few of his free walking tours and I was surprised to find out how much more there was to this quaint town than just long white sandy beaches. I enjoy mythology, especially Greek mythology. So imagine my surprise when I learned that one of the pillars of Hercules is only a couple of hours from here in Gibraltar. The two pillars marked the “end of the world” or warning “nothing further beyond” for sailors. So why is this interesting? Well, the two pillars actually appear as the coat of arms on the Spanish flag. The meaning was to imply the exact opposite: to encourage discovery of the world and to indicate Spain’s possessions overseas.  After all, Columbus did set sail from Palos de la Frontera a place just 2 hours north of Cadiz.

Yes, the deeper I dove into the history of this place the more I realized the incremental role Cadiz played in Spain’s and even European history. Cadiz is the oldest continuously inhabited city in south-western Europe with archaeological findings from the first settlement, the Phonecians, dating to 1000 B.C.  Now that is old!

The Phonecians gave it the name Gadir meaning “walled stronghold”.  Its location was ideal for trade via the Atlantic and so came the Greeks, the Cartagens and later (no surprise) the Romans. But, according to Greek mythology, Hercules founded this city after slaying the three headed titan Geryon here. Then in the 8th century the Moors took over and in the 11th century Aflonso X took control reconverting it to Christianity. And after Napoleon failed to conquer this “stronghold”, Cadiz became the birthplace of liberty in the 18th century when the first constitution was debated and written here and adopted by many European countries and America.

So just imagine how many attacks, take-overs, religious battles, freedom and oppression Cadiz experienced throughout the centuries. Today Spain, much like the rest of the world, is experiencing much difficulty and with that Cadiz suffers also, claiming the highest rate of unemployment in all of Spain (40%). But aside from the typical trends in regions with poor economy, the people here seem to genuinely enjoy life. They value a much slower pace and centre more on family and culture rather than on the material rat race of the wealthier parts of the world. I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that Spain has only experienced democracy for 35 years, or, if in fact this attitude is a gene. 

For me it was startlingly difficult to adjust to this 'snail speed’ of life and I still catch myself getting annoyed with the service staff’s obvious lack of urgency sometimes. I would sit and watch the waiter clean the tables around me, waiting for 20 minutes before he decides to come over and take my order. I mean other than my stomach talking to me, what was my rush? My life here is also very simple and relaxed. I spend three hours of my day working and the rest is a mix of relaxing and socializing.

MY WORK

The Melting Pot is a brand new hostel nestled right in the middle of this old town. Actually when I finally found it, I was lucky to run into the boys on the street as there were no signs or doorbell yet.  The beds had just been put up and the carpenter was still hard at work. We had 5 days to finish and clean this place before the first guests would arrive. So there we were, Kim the Belgium receptionist, Pierre and Luis, the French (proud) owners and Ralf, the carpenter and “Jack of all trades”. It was hard work and more hours than I had bargained for, but I didn’t complain because I was just so happy to be here.

As it turned out, my role at the Melting Pot was the most physically demanding of all but at least I was my own master. Lucia and I only had a window of 3 hours to clean the entire hostel before guests would run us over trying to get into the shower or to siesta. Let me tell you when its 35oC+, no wind, no AC and your scrubbing bathtubs and mopping floors, the sweat pearls are running down your face faster than you can say: “shit it’s hot”, your cloths are drenched before you get to the second room... you just thank God that you didn’t end up with a job in a kitchen. The cherry on the cake was that there are 3 levels which are accessed only by stairs. Andalusia is often looked upon as the “lazy” region of Spain. I am told it’s because of their strict employment of “siesta”. But after only three hours of running up and down those friggin’ stairs and losing litres of water in sweat, your body is completely fatigued – all you want to do is hide out in a room with a bed and a fan.

Aside from the physical demands and the monotony of my work I consider myself very lucky. I get along great with my bosses in and outside of work and everything was new. Most places here reflect the cities age and for me it would have been a never ending battle to make it appear clean. Working in a hostel also gave me access to a wonderful social life.  Granted, most of our guests don’t speak Spanish, but the English- and German- speaking breaks are welcome amidst the Spanish natter.

MY SOCIAL LIFE

When you don’t speak or understand the language, socializing is... well different. Everyone you meet you define by their actions and how you feel around them because you can’t judge them by what comes out of their mouth. This is actually a very rewarding and equally frustrating experience. When you do connect with someone, you often do so on a much deeper level because you are using your intuition and you struggle together to have a meaningful conversation. You get creative and you share a lot of laughter and inside jokes. Heck, you might even make up your own language like “Luciavonniano”.

I met some incredible people here in Cadiz. Many of which I hope to grow a long lasting friendship with. We shared tears and laughter, helped each other, exchanged cultural differences and left no rock unturned exploring Cadiz. One of my fondest memories are the BBQ’s at Kim’s house in Puerto Santa Maria... a beautiful little town with tons of gardens and big trees and a chilled beach atmosphere.

Kim and I hit it off from day one. Not to my surprise I was older than her. Heck I have been the oldest in the flock the entire time (until Lucia, but more about her later), but that didn’t mean a thing. We both came here on a similar quest: to learn Spanish and to find some answers and new adventures. Hahah, I often thought the line from Pink Floyed “we are just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl” was so described us perfectly. Many days after work, Kim and I would grab a beer at “la Cueva” and share our life stories and that is how we met Omar and Dario who both became integral parts of our summer in Cadiz.

You see, Cadiz is not very big and everybody knows everybody here. So Omar introduced me to my Spanish friend Ana, a lovely lady who sits with me an hour every other day so that I can improve (learn) my Spanish. Ana loves to cook and that is how I learned how to make a mean “paella con frutas del mar” and “gazpacho”. We usually meet in the morning before I go to work. As interesting as it may be to go shopping at the famous Mercado for fresh seafood, cleaning it at 9 am is a crueling task for someone who hated fish not that long ago.  

Speaking of fish, Omar also loves to cook and entertain. Omar is originally from Morocco and when he proposed a true Moroccan dinner at his house, I just couldn’t refuse. Fish Tajin it was called and it was delicious. I really loved the spices he used and the simmering sauce, but eating fish as a whole with bones and all, is just not my thing. It reminded me of my time in Valencia when I asked the waiter what the most popular tapa was and he brought me a huge (and expensive) plate of fried Anchovy. I just can’t get past the bone crunching.

By the way, tapas are a small “appetizers” if you will that the Spanish eat during the early evening before their “midnight snack” aka dinner. Oh, it was difficult to get used to Spanish eating schedule. But after 2 months and many hungry hours (because restaurants do not serve food until 8 or 9pm) I now got it down and tapas have become an essential and cheap way for me to eat. My first good tapa experience was with Pierre at el Serrallo. I had carne el toro (bull meat) and tomato salad with fruits of the sea. I still go there regularly. Tapa actually means “cover” and Dario explained to me that the word tapa originated because people used the little plates of nuts or olives that are often served with your beer, as cover from flies.

Every now and then, you meet someone on such a profound level that language does not matter because you hear what they are thinking and you sense what they are feeling.  I can not recount how many times Lucia and I were buckled over in laughter as we witnessed what Jim Morrison described as “people are strange, when you’re a stranger” and although we couldn’t put it into words, we shared the same sense of humour. Lucia also worked with me and so we had a lot of bonding time scrubbing floors. We were each other’s shoulder to cry on and the friend to rely on (especially when work seemed extra difficult because one, the other or both didn’t get enough sleep).

Being Italian, she had a much better handle on the Spanish language than I did, but because my Spanish sucked so much, our only common ground was English. When I first met her, she spoke very little of it, but by the end I think she walked away from Cadiz having learned three languages this summer, Spanish, English and Luicavonniano.

 SAGASTA 22 aka THE FUN HOUSE

... is a residence for Erasmus students from all over the world who are in Cadiz for a semester or two to study their field in Spanish. It was the best place for me to be, to not be alone. I met so many great people here and we had a legen- wait for it! dary time together (and yes, I watched a lot of “how I met your mother here). We celebrated birthdays, summer carnival, goodbye parties, we rocked the Reggae Fest, we had rooftop BBQ’s, and my favourite, the big beach party BBQ. Parties at the beach are actually not allowed anymore, but once a year the entire town of Cadiz goes to Playa Victoria with their little BBQs and celebrates till the sun comes up. It was probably my favourite night.

In September the mood changed from dancing the night away in Punta to reading and writing in my room. Almost everyone has left Cadiz. The beaches, once filled with colourful umbrellas are now bare, the town now buzzes with Germans and a few “other” Erasmus students, the street vendors with their leather bracelets and abanicos (fans) have packed it in and today... it even rained for the first time in 3 months.

And so, my time here also comes to an end. I understand now what Lao Tzu meant when he said “and is not intent on arriving” because I could not ever have envisioned the experiences, the people and the life that would await me here. I have mixed emotions about leaving Cadiz but I am ready to embark on a new journey.

Until we meet again.
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