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.”

Seville Snapshots: Baby’s First Goose Barnacle

Justin’s idea to spend our hard-earned cash money stemmed from a desire to indulge in Galicia’s finest, the shellfish that give lifeblood to the region’s economy. I had been a few times to Meson O Galego and eaten all the regional dishes they offered, washed down with a cold glass of Albariño wine. The deed was done. Between Justin, Scott and I, we split a 46€ mariscada, replete with crusty-shelled goodies.

Plump shrimp, a lobster tail, razor clams and crab legs all ended up on my plate as I wrapped up a phone call with my boss. I reached for more clams and fished around to see if any coquinas had made it onto the tray while the other teachers looked on, probably wondering how I could eat just so much seafood. For someone who comes from a landlocked, beef-producing state, my affection for all things aquatic didn’t begin until Spain.

Only one type of crustacean on the tray remained untouched. I’d seen the likes of it around supermarkets and in the windows of high-end seafood places. Percebes. Goose barnacles, or percebes, as they’re known in the Galician tongue, are filter-feeding crustaceans whose very sight caused my stomach to turn. Far too expensive to pick up in the supermarket for a snack (my local mercado sells them for 36€/100g!!), I’d never dared order them, lest I hate them and be none the richer.

It was now or never. Justin patiently explained that the coarse outside, which resembled a closed claw, was meant for nothing more than to protect the fleshy, edible part from the constant battering of the waves along the shore, and that the leathery suction cups were not to be eaten, either. One must twist the leathery part and pull, revealing one long, red part to be consumed. But, ojo! he warned, they squirt. Napkin tucked into my collar, I pulled with all my might, tearing the leathery body off of the claw. I consumed. It tasted like a sea urchin – like grainy, salty water. I tried a few more, for good measure, but my face above reveals just how much I loved them – I’ll stick to zamburiñas, por favor!

If you’d like to contribute your photos from Spain and Seville, please send me an email at sunshineandsiestas @ gmail.com with your name, short description of the photo, and any bio or links directing you back to your own blog, Facebook page or twitter. There’s plenty more pictures of gorgeous Seville on Sunshine and Siesta’s new Facebook page!

Sun, Sun, Sun!

Sunny days in Coruña are hard to come by. In the four months I’ve spent here over the years, the rain-to-sun ratio is probably at a 50-50 – not bad for a place whose average yearly rainfall is far higher than most places in Spain.

Usually, the rainy days in summer are good for a book and hot drink, or at least getting work done on my part, and they make the few days where the sun decides to peek out absolutely blissful. Just Sunday, after nearly two weeks of overcast skies and steady showers, the morning storm passed into a bright day – and the forecast had predicted rain.

Camarón was in tow, along with my new photographer friend, Justin. We have that kind of master-pupil relationship: me as his boss at summer camp, and him teaching a green thumb about aperture and ISO speed. The result? Photos that reflect Coruña’s Old World personality and a tummy full of ribs and belly laughs.

Places with Encanto: La Bombilla, La Coruña

It takes a special place to get me to sidle up to the other patrons, elbows out, all in the name of a good meal. But there are few places as special as La Bombilla.

My first visit to La Bombilla coincided with my first trip to Galicia. Javi picked us up from the airport, loaded our bags into his car and asked in his sing-song galego accent, ¿Comemos? He and I were going to get along.

Packing into a small bar straight out of decades past, Javi held up four fingers and long tubes of Estrella Galicia were pressed into our hands. After months of Cruzcampo, the foamy bust of the beer went down as smooth as the tall drink of water behind the bar. And he had a twin.

The place is legendary – everyone who visits the Crystal City seems to have passed through its doors, sampled their gigantic tapas and returned for more. I’ve sat on the steps outside countless times, laughing at the concept of a place where the dining hall was almost always full, and patrons spill onto the street.

Four years after my first visit, I’m still craving La Bombilla’s milanesa, a Galician treat made with a fried pork loin and stacked high with a fried red pepper and potatoes. The menu is simple – you can choose the milanesa, a potato omelette, a gargantuan croquette, tuna empanadilla or a bocadillo sandwich – and each tapa comes with a fist-sized slice of spongy bread, held together with a toothpick.

Just last night, we packed into the bar along with the Coruñenses. Our bounty was loaded high onto a plastic plate, and T grabbed napkins from a yellow Cola Cao canister that had been cut and napkins inserted.

“Tio, como se nota la crisis, con la Bombilla asi de gente…” said a dark-haired man, a telltale sign of a native Galician. The crisis is evident, just look at the number of the people in La Bombilla. This could go both ways – either the one euro tapas were giving people a reason to treat themselves to dining out, or even the restaurant was hurting in the wake of a financial meltdown.

Either way, I kept happily at my milanesa, lucky enough to afford such a luxury.

Rua de la Galera at the cross of Toreiro. Open for lunch and dinner daily, but el que madruga, Dios le ayude to grab a place at the long, wooden bar.

Spain Snapshots: Plaza María Pita, A Coruña

Right now, I’m boarding a flight to my second Spanish home, A Coruña. The northwest corner in Spain is a breath of fresh air in Seville’s stifling, 40º heat, and I’ve got all the things I love about Spain in one place – great food, a breathtaking city and the warm nature characteristic of the people there. It’s like putting on my favorite pair of Mango jeans after a few months of skirts and dresses – I could see myself living here.

Plaza María Pita, crowned by the charming town hall, is the throbbing heart of the mushroom-shaped peninsula. Buried within the vast, colonnaded square is the first place I ever tried pulpo a la gallega, and crunched up between a light post and hundreds of others, I watched Spain win the World Cup in 2010. Just recently, the Novio and I walked arm-in-arm as I showed him my favorite rincones of the Crystal City.

My heart is completely andalú, but I leave a small piece of it at the Riazor beach or in the coves next to the Torre de Hércules every time I’m in Galicia.

Have you been to Galicia? What are your favorite parts?

If you’re new here, check out my first few entries in a series on photogenic Seville and other parts of Spain, which will be posted every Monday. If you’d like to participate with your photos from Spain and Seville, please send me an email at sunshineandsiestas @ gmail.com with your name, short description of the photo, and any bio or links directing you back to your own blog, Facebook page or twitter. There’s plenty more pictures of the recital on Sunshine and Siesta’s new Facebook page!

The Unthinkable

I never had one of those “I dropped my phone into a full glass of whiskey/toilet/other how-electronics-and-liquids-don’t-mix” stories. Then, I took my Ts out in Coruna. In a desperate dash to use the toilet, I didn’t notice that I’d put my camera – newly repaired after six agonizing months of waiting – in my back pocket.

It fell in the toilet. I did what I went to do. Then I flushed.

Someone else noticed it first. Gareth hugged me, and Megan asked me not to cry. Julie even took the camera to her dad’s house and put it in a bag of rice for me. I am the big old boss lady, and big old boss lady girls don’t cry.

So, I’ve been making do. This means borrowing my amazing blogger’s SLR to snap a few shots and relying on my camera phone, which thankfully has good quality. All the same, it’s allowing me to see the Crystal City with my own eyes, and not just behind the lens.

The Orzan on a blustery Galician day
Mailboxes, buzones, at the central post office
Tiny fishing boats in the harbor
Not beach weather by my standards…
Stroll around the Orzan district

Cheery and my deary
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