Camping on the Islas Ciès of Galicia

Julie and I had set out from Coruña after a two-day search for a tent. I have to admit that I’m much more of a luxury Spanish villa type of girl, but the prospect of camping on what has been called the Most Beautiful Beach in the World had me willing to sleep on the hard ground in the cold on the middle of an island in the Atlantic.

Oh, I’m also a mountain girl, for the record.

When my pulpo-guzzling, beach-loving friend mentioned the Islas Ciès, a small archipelago whose only residents are seagulls, I wasn’t immediately keen. Her father’s house on the port of nearby La Coruna was as close as I needed to get to the water because I am a chicken (tuna?) when it comes to getting my hair wet and swimming in the ocean.

The following week, we were on a ferry from Vigo, Spain to Cangas across the river mouth and onto Playa de Rodas with little more than our swimsuits, a towel and some snacks.

The boat docked in front of a small bar and restaurant 40 minutes later. The archipelago is comprised of three mountainous islands, the two northernmost joined together by a sandy bar and jagged rocks. Playa de Rodas, which the Guardian UK called “The Most Beautiful Beach in the World” the year earlier, was nestled between the two, idyllic and blocked from the harsh atlantic waters on the other side of the islands.

Not three minutes after we’d waded from the boat onto dry land, we’d already stripped off all of our clothes. Out came the towels and reading material, the plastic bottles of tinto de verano and all of my qualms about having gone to the beach in the first place.

We spent the rest of the day exploring smaller, beaches tucked away in small, rocky coves and paths that lead up the crags and to clandestine lighthouses. The crescent of white sand was dotted with colorful umbrellas and beach babies, while the bay was full of small yachts bobbing gently against the tide. The squalls off the Atlantic are broken up over the craggy rocks, meaning we had a day of glittering sunshine and occasional breezes.

My phone rang. The campsite had been calling me all day, but our lack of a tent meant we were going to have to slip in after the sunset and find a bar spot of land in between the packed-in tents and call it a night. While we watched the sun sink down behind the ocean, I hatched a plan.

We walked over to the bar on the island, ordered two beers and a plate of fried squid legs and I asked to speak to the owner. I explained that we had been robbed when we fell asleep on the train, and that our tent has been stolen. He told us there were no physical structures on the island, save the bar/supermarket, the lighthouses and the park warden’s cabin. He promised to try and find a few blankets.

Julie and I huddled together for warmth, splitting the last few sips of wine as we sat on a park bench, the lights from Vigo shimmering on the water. A voice came from behind us.

“Are you the girls who had their tent stolen?”

Turns out, the owner of the bar mentioned to the owners of the camping that we were the delinquents who hadn’t checked into the camping that afternoon. They sent their son to hunt us down. I figured we’d be facing some sort of fine, but the boy whose name but not sculpted biceps has long been forgotten invited us to his tent. Sunburnt and with sore muscles, Biceps had a tent with two rooms and a queen-sized bed for the two of us.

The following morning, we woke up with Biceps, who was off to man the camping himself. We unzipped the screen, letting the light breeze in as our bare feet dangled over the end of the mattress. The rest of our day was filled with hiking, random rendezvous with other sevillanos and a shaky ride back to the mainland, leaving behind the gorgeous stretch of beach.

If you go: The Islas Cies can only be reached by boat from Vigo, Cangas or Baiona. Prices and hours will vary, so confirm online. There’s just one place to stay overnight, the Camping Islas Cies (7,90 adults, 8,50 per tent). Reservations should be made before reaching the island through telephone or the website, and the campsite is open from March 1. There are basic facilities for washing up, a small supermarket and a restaurant, but anything you take onto the island must also be carried off.

This is my entry to the March 2013 Carnival of Europe hosted by DJ Yabis of  Dream Euro Trip with the theme “Beaches.”

How a misguided GPS lead us to a good find, but bad luck

“BUT I CAN’T FIGURE OUT HOW TO GET OUT OF THE PARKING LOT!” I wailed, confused at how to even put the rental car into reverse.

“Dude, let’s ask PSY,” T suggested, and the site of a Gangnam-style doppleganger set me into a fit of giggles. Today was going to be a good day. After loads of back luck during 2012, I finally felt blessed, and that our trip would be  luck at the end of a bad streak.

I asked the car rental guy the easiest way to get out of Madrid, and he asked our destination.

Burgos, I said, as H responded with Logroño, our final destination.

The GPS navigated us out of Madrid and out towards Burgos. Being together outside of camp felt almost strange, but we chattered away to make the kilometres pass by as quickly as they got racked up on the dashboard.

Just past the border of Madrid and Segovia, the GPS spoke again to tell us to turn off the main road and onto a secondary highway.

“It’s probably just avoiding the toll roads or something,” H suggested when I told her that the Internet had suggested driving up past Burgos and veering off on the highway that stretches across the North, following the Ebro river that feeds the grapevines of La Rioja.

The mountain range that separates the two comunidades rolled out on the right side of the window as the vegas turned into golden-leafed forests. As we snaked into Soria – the most sparsely populated region of Spain – my eyes and brain begged for a coffee.

The GPS sounded, as if it read my brain. It directed us into a town on the banks of the Duero, San Esteban de Gormáz. I saw the town’s castle spires on our way in, and we drove as high as the rental car would take us into the town’s midget bodegas with cracked, wooden doors. The place felt a bit like Guadix with the homes carved into the walls, the creaky stairs and catwalks leading across the sides of the mountain. The ancient stones of the small town had lead the namesake to write El Cid Campeador, the famous novel of Spain’s chivalrous knights of the middle ages.

After a quick stop for coffee, we set out towards Soria, passing small towns not big enough for even a church. Coming around a bend in a small aldea, we came across a truck and a guardia civil car. The young office signaled us over to the shoulder and I gulped hard, stone silent in my fear.

Here’s the thing: I knew that the crime for driving without a license could be a 500€ fine and up to six months in prison. 

“Play STUPID!” T hissed as I rolled down the window and uttered hola with my best guiri accent. The cop asked for the car’s registration and my driver’s license. Kike had warned me something like this could happen not two days before, and to be extremely careful. I wasn’t breaking the law, but had been pulled over by a routine check on small country roads.

Using his iPhone as a translator, the cop told me I needed an international driver’s license to be able to rent a car and that we would be fined 100€ on the spot and get a “get out of jail” card until we made it to Logroño. I felt waves of nausea as I forked over two fifties and tried hard not to let onto the fact that I understood, even stifling a small shudder when his partner said, “Wasn’t it 500€ for driving without a license?”

As we drove away after a hurried buenos dias at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, I felt my heart stop racing as we laughed nervously. Luckily, wine country was our destination, and it wasn’t long before I was taking the edge off with a glass of Rioja and cheap tapas. My friends were glad I was driving and that my guiri-speaking-Spanish impression was spot-on.

The rest of our weekend included me losing a cell phone, breaking a few wine glasses and having the worst wine hangovers of our lives, but there are few things I appreciate more than a good glass of tinto, my friends and new places.

I heart Rebajas

While Liz was busy talking about how minimalism in your suitcase is a good thing, I was busy roving the stores for bargains, wardrobe staples and a little but of color for my monochrome style.

Yes friends, it’s rebajas time. Hide your wallets.

By Spanish law, shops are required to dump all of their old merchandise onto the sales floor and mark it down, sometimes up to 70%. Little orange or red tags start sticking to the bottom of my soles, popping out of my wallet on spare receipts and then my orange bank card starts acting up.

Thank God my mom raised me to search EVERY item on EVERY sale rack at EVERY store, because I always have the patience to try just one more shop and scour each rack until I am convinced there is nothing else for me.

WAIT these shoes are burgundy and it’s summer and they’re suede and I have zero anything that matches? Sure, toss them in the bag. Oh, sorry, sevillana stink face chick at Mango, for impulse buying them and then deciding against it, hence multiple trips to Nervion Plaza and a whole new wad of shopping bags.

Ok, self-confessed. You get the idea.

I’ve survived Rebajas – which for the record happen in January, February, July and August all over the peninsula – nearly a dozen times. I shudder to think how much money I’ve spent on the garments that have been purchased in that time, even if in the name of bargain basement prices. Hey, I worked in a Banana Republic outlet store and learned some simple stats – the longer it sits on the sale rack, the lower the price goes. This, sadly, is related to the decline in your size (which, in European size, means that all the Mediums and size 40s are loooong gone).

Despite the money spent and the time wasted in line (DIOSSSS the Spaniards love to hacer cola!), I’ve had some pretty memorable finds.

Exhibit A: A flamenco dress for 125€. And the other for 100€. And the third for 60€

Exhibit B: The Mango Blazer I wear like I have nothing else (half-off at 25€)

Exhibit C: My birdcage necklace that I get complimented on constantly and wear with everything (70% off, totaling 7€, not to mention the Cariocca dress marked down from 135€ to 36€ that I bought at the same time)

Exhibit D: a Panasoic Lumix, my faithful companion before NYE in Switzerland, a trip to the toilet and old age did it in, for 129€

Exhibit E: In true rebajas style, three pairs of shoes (including a Franco Sarto) at the Zappos outlet for $71 this summer (it counts because it was a super ganga and it was technically during the tail end of Rebajas in Spain anyway)

Even today, to avoid a long line at Vodafone (where I eventually threw away two hours of my life and never made it to Mango), I shopped. For just under 9€, I got two pairs of underwear and a summer skirt (2€, 3€ and 4€, respectively) at Women’s Secret, along with a pair of loafers (9,99€), a light sweater (8€), a lace shirt I’ve been looking for (not on sale, but only 10€) and a mustard-color skirt (4€) for 32€ at Lefties. Forty for alllll that loot. Call me a rebajas champion.

Or call  me a maximalist, a hoarder or someone who will never have any life savings. I have two-thirds of the closet full of finds, and nothing on my body currently was bought at full-price. I call myself Spain’s only way to fight recession, really.

What did you all find at Rebajas this season, or are you taking Liz’s approach to things and steering clear of the shops? How much do you normally spend at Rebajas? Do you love my super amateur photography?!

What to do in Spain if: your phone gets lost or stolen

Ok, so in retrospect, it’s not the worst thing that’s happened to me ever. Or even in Spain. But flu + six-year-olds + stress makes losing a Smartphone way worse than it needs to be.

Think about it: people who have their contacts, photos and all-important Facebook at the touch of a button, a simple tap on a screen, become quite attached. My own love story started in March of last year when I decided to cortar la llamada with Orange, so to speak, and change to Europe’s biggest carrier, Vodafone, to get a Smartphone. I figured it would be handy to be able to Skype my mom from wherever, send tweets whenever I had the urge to and never get lost. And it was.

The greatest love I’ve ever known. That’s sad, right?

Nine months later, I’m struggling through a Thursday at work. The kids won’t behave, and it’s humid and cold out. My wooziness gets full-blown bad around lunchtime. Venga, come have something warm to eat, coax my coworkers, and I hate missing our Thursday standing date at the bar down the street. I check my phone for emails and saw that José María had messaged me. After ordering, I said goodbye to JM and put my phone in the pocket of my jeans.

Not an hour later, I’m back at school when I notice my phone missing. Not panicking (for once), I ask my coworker to call me, and her face drops. It’s off, tía, she responds, and forces me to hand over the class to run down to the bar where we’d eaten. Inquiries to the bar staff, construction workers and other patrons are met with nothing more than shrugs and sympathetic looks. It’s gone.

A few hours later, I’m in the Vodafone store in Nervion staring down a hipster named Miguel Angel. He patiently asks me what I was doing when the robbery occurred, if I have an htc account, etc. I’m dumbfounded (and still fighting a fever) that the sales rep who sold me the phone had not told me about the features built-in to smartphones to locate them, lock them and wipe the memory. I reluctantly hand over my debit card and choose a more rudimentary version of my old phone, 144 € in the hole.

Petty theft is perhaps the most common crime in Spain, so the age-old saying goes: watch your belongings. Don’t set your bag on the ground at a restaurant or keep it open while walking through a crowded plaza. Keep an extra copy of your flight information and passport at your hotel’s reception. Stay alert. I’ve been a victim of robbery twice now, and I can’t say it won’t happen again. But there’s a few things you can do to protect your phone.

Let’s start with the basics. In Spain, there’s a few options when it comes to cell phones. The major companies are Vodafone, Orange and Movistar, with Yoigo quickly becoming more popular. Major supermarket chains also offer discounted plans. I’ve had each of the majors and have never been 100% satisfied with any of them.

Companies typically offer two types of plans: prepago or contrato (pay-as-you-go or contract). Prepay will get you a SIM card, typically with a few euros of saldo (credit), and you’ll have to top-up when your credit gets low. All of the major carriers in Spain have pre-paid cards, and even European-based mobile broadband carriers are becoming popular for those who travel. Calls and messages usually cost more than a contract, which requires a residence card, bank account and 18 months minimum commitment, called permanencia. The benefit here is no pesky trips to the supermarket to get more saldo and reduced prices for calls and messages. What’s more, 3G has reached nearly every corner of the country, so you can Skype home from nearly anywhere (as long as you’re within your MBs, that is).

When switching companies, you’ll have to put in a claim stating that you’d like to change your portabilidad to another carrier. Then starts the war: for a week, your old company will call you and beg for your loyalty, even offering you a discounted iphone 4 or better rates. After a week, your choice carrier will activate your phone ans start charging you. 

V is for very inutil.

Anyway, I digress. When I switched companies last Spring, I was given a deal good for six months – my plan at 24,99 instead of 39,99, plus an htc sense for 75 euros. I took it, gleefully playing around on my phone and downloading apps. I had asked about insurance, and the sales rep joked around with me about how no one would ever think to rob it from a pretty girl, and I looked smart enough to not drop it. Ok, amiguito, but appearances can be deceiving. His flirtatious attitude made me grab my phone and run, and I now regret it.

When Hipster MA asked me how I protected my phone, I kinda just shrugged. “I bought a silicon case at a chino,” I replied, “and I don’t usually drop it.” He shook his head. “No, how do you protect it from thieves? Did you try and locate the phone? Or did you block it? Give me your insurance policy and let’s see how much we can get for you.”

Um, ¿cómo?

I felt like the dummy with a smartphone, and realized I’d broken my normal routine of buying insurance and sending in warrantee guarantees. In the end, I had to pay for a new phone (the plan would have been way overpriced without Internet), but this one has Alcatraz-style safety on it. Here’s some tips to protect your smartphone while in Spain:

Take out a security plan when you purchase the phone

Major companies offer security plans against forced robbery (robo con violencia), water damage, dropped phones, etc. for a premium each month. The 4 euros I pay monthly will just be tacked onto my bill each month, and iphones with Movistar are less than twice that (and those fancy new screens cost a loooot more to replace). When getting a phone, be sure to inquire about how much a plan costs per month, what is covered under the insurance and how to activate it. I also asked for duplicate copies of the plan to be sure I’d read it carefully this time. The charge should also come listed on your monthly factura (bill).

If you’ve got prepago or have a crappy little I’ll-never-break-sucker-no-matter-how-far-you-throw-me Nokia, I wouldn’t waste the money. No one steals those these days, anyway.

Download a phone tracker program

Little did I know that with an online account or app, I could track my phone to its geographical location. Could you imagine? Showing up at the door of the capullo who is enjoying my phone? When configuring most smartphones, you can add an account with the brand’s company and send a message asking the phone to be located. Within 15 minutes, you can find out if your phone is under your dirty laundry or if indeed someone has taken it. This account may also allow you to download more ringtones and wallpapers.

I have an htc sense account, which I found online at their website, as well as a free app called Android Lost. In the Market app, you can type in the name of the program and download it directly to your phone, or do it from a PC.

Call and block the phone

If you’ve got the box your phone came in handy, you can call customer service on most carriers and ask them to block the phone, making it useless. The operator will ask you for a code that can be found on the original box, near the bar code.

Put in a denuncia at the nearest National Police station

Just as you’d do if your passport was stolen, reporting it to the National Police can help you to get some of the value back for your lost phone, provided the robbery was committed with force. Simply head into the nearest sede, call, or take care of it over the Internet. 

Police dollars won’t get me all these, sadly.

When I went to Mexico with some friends during college, we left our bags near our chairs and jumped in the pool to cool down. Being the only one who spoke Spanish, I asked a pool attendant where our bags were a few minutes later, and he responded that he’d moved them. Lisa’s was missing, Jenn’s camera has been stolen and our room key lifted. The room keys all had the room numbers engrained on them. The five of us ran up countless flights of stairs and found the door ajar, Lisa’s bag in a nearby garbage can. I gasped, remembering that not an hour earlier, I’d wanted to come upstairs and take a nap.

The scene inside the room meant that someone had been there – overturned suitcases, change missing from the table. They’d taken our meal tickets, but we had hidden the safe key so well, our cameras and passports were still there. Sure, having someone lift your mobile phone is a pain in the culo, but I’m happy I wasn’t around to try and fight anyone for it.

Bottom line: just ask questions. I was too busy fending off a creeper to ask about anything more than when my phone would be activated. #oohguiri

If January Marks the Start…My 2011 Travel Round-up

Let me tell you a little story about peer pressure.

When I was 11, my parents informed me that the dog had taken the news well. She faintly wagged her tail.

“What news?” I asked, hoping for the trampoline I’d begged my parents to buy us for ages.

Oh no, it was the M-word. We were moving. I’d have no friends. Maybe there wasn’t a Kohl’s there. Was Chicagoland > Rockford, or had my mother just confused after consumering too many kosher hot dogs growing up and was going crazy?

Well, I wanted to fit in. I did so by going to the Von Maur and using my birthday money to buy a pair of Jnco jeans because all of the popular girls had them.

I strutted into Edison middle school the next morning and was immediately dismissed as a poser.

Well, I didn’t learn my lesson. Now that I’m blogging, I give into the peer pressure of comparing stats, doing those dumb surveys and, as the new year has already crept up on us, a year in review. In 2011, I added two new countries to the list, had five visitors from the US, got my work/residence visa paperwork all together and turned 26.  I can’t say 2011 will be the greatest I’ve had (dude, 2010 was pretty, pretty good), but I managed to see some new things, meet some new people and probably consume a new pig part.


Amy and I rang in the New Year with oysters, an old boxing legend and a broken camera in Lausanne, Switzerland. I moped through Season Three of Sex and the City the next day while Amy was bed ridden. Colds and booze do not mix, people.

From there, I met several  friends in Berlin, Germany and got my history nerd on as I explored a concentration camp, museums and the off-beat Berlin.


Apart from the usual routine, I got to go to my first flamenco fashion show and a wine festival. Cheap wine, that is.


March came in like a león, as I spent a raucous night in Cádiz as a third-of the blind mice group at the annual Carnavales celebrations.

My first visitors of the year, Jason and Christine, spent a rainy sojourn in Sevilla,

but then Beth came during the Azahar and warm weather, and we drank in Granada, Jeréz and Cádiz (and then I got strep).


Ahh, a Sevillian primavera. I spent Easter Week in Romania with my camp buddies, driving a beat up Dacia from one forlorn corner of Romania to another. I loved it, and consider it a budget-lovers paradise – I spent in one week less than I did on my airfare! And ate a ton of pickles. I am like the Snooki of Spain when it comes to pickles.


The first week of May brought flamenco dresses, sherry and my five-year win over Spanish bureaucracy during Feria week. I spent nine days riding in horse carriages and proving I have plenty of enchufe.

A few weeks later, Jackie and her brother came to visit, and we took off to Córdoba for another fair.

Also, Luna turned one, Betis worked its way back into the premiere league, and summer was just on the horizon.


Switched to half days at work just as it was impossible to take the heat. Got to watch Lauren walk down the aisle and party all night (only to fly to Madrid for a conference the next morning. I made it!). And I got my first real year of teaching done, too!

I may have, at time, been a professional baby handler, but having a peek into a kid’s world is something magical. Magical if you like boogers, of course.


The first of the month brought a huge triumph: I was finally given my five-year resident card and had won my battle with extranjería. For the third summer in a row, I headed up north to Galicia and to summer camp. Instead of teaching, I was given the role of Director of Studies, so I got a work phone and unlimited photocopies. Perks. Teachers got crap weather, but I a not-crap team (they were awesome.)

The Novio, finally back from pirate-hunting, met me in Madrid for a few days. We got the chance to, um, do what we do in Seville (eat tapas and drink beer) before making a day-trip to the sprawling El Escorial palace.


A is for August and America and fAtty, as I spent 23 days eating up all of my favorite American goodies, like real salads and Cheez-its. I had help celebrating a birthday, as my dear amigas from Spain, Meag and Bri, came to Chicago for a few days. I also got to visit Margaret in her New Kentucky Home.

What I thought would be a good little sojourn was much too short, and I boarded a Dublin-bound plane and stayed overnight on the Emerald Isle.


School started again September first, and my change to first grade resulted in more naps, more work and more responsibility. Thankfully, I had my great kiddos back in my (own!!!) classroom. Life resumed as normal.


Though I vowed to make my fifth year in Spain new (and I have been doing hiking trips, seeing theatre and exhibitions, etc.), I fell in to normal school routine. In October, this was punctuated by a work trip to Madrid for a conference, studying for the DELE and endless barbeques. When in Spainlandia, I suppose.


The new month meant cooler air, a focus on studying and a visit from my final visitor, Lisa. I sprinted out of the DELE to catch a train, meet her and take her to Granada. We laughed at all of our college memories and she broke out of her little mundo to try new foods and explore Seville on her own.

Bri came, so we had a small Thanksgiving dinner, and I shared it with my not-so-anxious-about-pie goodness at school.


Amid lots of school work and the looming Christmas play, I enjoyed the Christmas season in the city. Brilliant lights, snacking on chestnuts, window-shopping. The Novio went to the States for work, and I followed him soon after to travel around the Southwest with my parents and sister. The Valley of the Sun, Vegas and the Grand Canyon were on the itinerary, but the extra $640.55 I won on a slot machine win weren’t!

Sadly, the year ended on a sour note when I got news that the child I had repped during my years in Dance Marathon passed away after a long battle with cancer. I don’t want to preach, but you can visit the website to see what the Dance Marathon at the University of Iowa does for kids and their families who are battling cancer.

Goals for the next year? Plenty, both personal and professional. Just be better, I guess. The second part of the year has been a huge slump, so it’s time to find me again. Be a better partner, teacher, friend. Fill up those last two pages of my passport. Figure out where to go next.

I want you to share your biggest accomplishment and goals for 2011-2012! I need some inspiration, readers!

Mother of God.

I have a lot of “Ooooh Guiri” moments. You know, when I do something SO American, I wonder how I’ve survived four years living outside of the Grand Old Republic. Something along the lines of saying swear words when there are other unknown English speakers around, like drinking in churches at a small town fair (wait, that wasn’t me), like telling a bouncer we didn’t want to go to his bar because it smelled like onions (wait, that wasn’t me either).

En fin, my “Oooh Guiri” moments are like dumb blonde moments.

Today was no exception. Faced with no grading to do, a clean house and a good night’s sleep behind me (grandma!), I chose to  being all Christmas-y. My first stop was to Plaza Nueva and the city’s Nativity Scene.

Housed in the salmon-pink palace that dominates the square, the city’s official belén tells the story of the annunciation, birth of Christ and the adoration of the Magi. Using fancy lighting, adobe-looking villages, figurines and constructing the entire town of Bethlehem, the most important moments of young Christ’s life are immortalized. With the diorama comes the line that wraps around the building up towards Plaza del Salvador.

Christa and I had little to do, so we marched towards the camel-ridden zoco in Encarnación before continuing onto an artisan market in a tucked-away plaza in Macarena. I badly needed cash, so my next stop had to be the Ronda Histórica, a busy road that rings the center of the city. The stream of people in front of the home of Sevilla’s most important virgin (oh, and this song) made me scratch my head, so I took out my money, got in line and stood on tip toe to see how much longer I’d have to wait to see baby Jesus again.

Within ten minutes, I had entered the iron gates in the small patio directly in front of the basilica. As one of Seville’s oldest depictions of the Virgin Mother, she’s the patroness of bullfighters and highly revered in Seville. Her procession on Maudy Thursday draws revelers during the wee hours of the morning as she is paraded from her temple along the Ronda to the Cathedral and back. I stated in my bucketlist that I’d like to see her in her basilica, but I happened to choose her feast day to do it. #Ooohguiri

On the right side of the wide, wooden doors, we queued in a perfectly straight line, while others from the hermandad, the term used to describe the religious brotherhoods, passed through the left side. Nuns filled the courtyard, passing cans of Lemon Fanta to several small children in line. I noticed the Virgin was not above the altar in an exalted place as she usually is in other churches. Brothers shouted, “Senores, colaboren con nosotros en la Loteria de Navidad! Decimos a 25 euros!” The Virgen’s distraught face graced the flimsy strips of paper I’d liken to a 50-50 lottery.

I entered the basilica, shivering as I stepped out of the sun, and made the sign of the cross as my Catholic grandmother taught me. As my confirmation saint is Lucia, I spotted her easily and made a mental recollection to find a donation box as I normally do. Girls with piercings and boys in track suits passed by, tears in their eyes. As I passed the small chapels and got closer to the front, I realized the Virgin was on the ground and people were passing in front of her. I had inadvertently come on December 18th, the Feast Day of Su Santísima Virgen de la Esperanza de la Macarena, and was in line to perform the Besamanos, or hand kissing, of the Virgin.

Moral dilemma: Do I kiss the hand of a wooden and cloth statue who I am sworn to dislike because I much prefer the Virgen de la Esperanza de Triana? Or do I look like an asshole and get out of line?

I chose to stay in, already preparing a speech to give Cait over the phone (I’m pretty sure she has an estampilla of La Macarena in her wallet). As we crept closer, her crown of stars and five red roses, a gift from the bullfighter Joey the Little Chicken Joselito el Gallo, came into view and people began weeping. Green gown flowing behind her up the steps to the altar, she stood just a bit taller than I do, but without real legs, I doubt that was her real height.

When it was my turn, toes touching the plush red carpet, I took my place between two altar boys with hair gelled to perfection. The señora in front of me’s lip quivered as she knelt down, kissed one of the only actual parts of the Virgen (most venerated images only have the face, neck, arms and hands, while the rest if a cloth dummy), finishing by making a sign of the cross and having her husband snap a picture.

I looked her dead in the face. She somehow seemed to have a softer expression than the one I’d seen emblazoned on reliefs, azulejos, keychains and tattoos. Her hand was outstretched, and I could see where people had been kissing her for the last 80 years – the plaster had worn right through to the wood. After the señora took her photo, the altarboy wiped down the hand with a damp cloth, and it was my turn.

I left quickly, nearly calling Cait before I’d even crossed the threshold. I didn’t know how to make sense of the whole thing, especially because I consider this whole Semana Santa thing to be a violation of that commandment that says you shouldn’t worship idols, but I couldn’t stop laughing at my Guiri Moment.

Her response to my giggles? “Oh, Jesus Christ. I mean Mother of Jesus Christ.”

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