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6 Things That I Liked About Living in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Spain

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Living in a caravan in The Sierra Nevada mountains of Andalucia, Spain afforded me many adventures.  Occasionally, there was also time to relax and watch the blue waters of the Mediterranean from my portable home one thousand meters above the town of Orgiva.  During one such occasion I got out my memo pad and began making a list, as I often do.  I listed my favorite things about my Andalucian adventure thus far.  Today I would like to share some of the things that topped my “favorites list” on that afternoon in Andalucia.  Here are my six favorite things about my brief time spent living in the Sierra Nevada.

#6- Beneficio and the Orgiva Hippies

After a bus ride through the Sierra Nevada Mountains we came upon a town named Orgiva.  I stepped off the bus in Orgiva and took a seat on the bus stop bench.  I watched the people in the sidewalks and the dogs in the street.  I soon noticed that there seemed to be two very different opinions in this town when it came to fashion sense.  Most of the men and women donned clothing that was plain, clean, and pressed.  However, every few minutes someone would walk by, usually with a walking stick and makeshift pack, wearing wild, disheveled layers of multicolored clothing.  When my ride up the mountain arrived he told me that outside of town, in the valley, there is a group of “hippies” living in a commune called Beneficio.  He revealed that he had helped to found Beneficio eighteen years ago.  Over the next two weeks I would hear the stories of the commune and even spend time with its residents as I wandered through the teepees and gardens of Beneficio and the streets of Orgiva.  For some of the stories involving Beneficio and Orgiva check out my “Spain” section.

Beneficio Commune in the Sierra Nevada Mountains

Central Beneficio

Why Beneficio and the Orgiva Hippies made the list:

When I would lay in the grass, high up on the mountain, in the afternoon I would look down into Beneficio and see the hippies working hard and being responsible.  Stereotype shattered.  If that is not enough reason for them to be on the list then I could just remind you that for almost twenty years these people have turned this valley in the Sierra Nevada mountains into a community that eats together, lives together, and works together.

#5- Kombucha

My friends in the big mud, cement, log house invited me in often for lunch.  One day, while having avocado salad I noticed a jar. It sat on a shelf near the ceiling.  The liquid inside was blood red and floating at the top was a dark mass.  Within a few minutes of me asking what it was I had the jar in my hand and was tasting the bloody liquid.  It was Kombucha, a Japanese beverage.  The liquid inside was a tea/sugar mixture.  The mass floating at the top was a slimy, gray colony of bacteria and yeast.  The gray chunk turns the liquid into a lightly carbonated sweet beverage when it is finished brewing, which this batch was not.  It was bitter and flat.  Obviously, the kombucha’s delicious flavor and appetizing presentation were not what I liked about this experience.  So what was it that made me add Kombucha to the list…?

Why Kombucha made the list:

As I drank from the vile-looking concoction I realized that I was living a global experience.  I was an American trying a Japanese drink with a British family in Spain.  Nice.

#4- The White Villages of Andalucia

Cáñar and the Sierra Nevada

Small villages consisting of white buildings can be found scattered throughout the Sierra Nevada mountains.  For a few weeks I stayed a fifteen minute hike from one of these traditional villages, Cáñar.  There are a few hundred people that populate the village.  Some days the only street would be populated by more goats than cars.  The two bar/tapas restaurants in the village hold fifteen or twenty people, though I rarely saw  more than a few patrons inside.  The narrow, winding path that weaves through the village ends abruptly in many places.  Suddenly, the mountainside drops off, leaving a 180 degree view of the Sierra Nevada and its white villages.

Why The White Villages of Andalucia made the list:

After a few weeks of near daily trips to one such village I was able to learn a few local phrases and make a few friends while learning about daily life in one Andalucian white village.  Also, just look at them.  From a distance it looks like part of history has traveled through time and landed in present day without a scratch on it.  From up close the scratches and dents of history lend the dignity befitting of such an historical community.

#3- The Dogs

For anyone who has traveled to the villages of the Sierra Nevada this choice may be a little puzzling.  The dogs in many smaller towns wander in the streets with little fear of the traffic.  They follow anyone with food hoping something falls to the ground.  They are seen as a nuisance.  They are sometimes mistreated and most often believed to be a pest but I disagree.  I think they are great animals.  Most of the ones that I came in contact with were social with the passersby and other dogs.  There is only one thing I would change about them…  I wish they had a home.  In fact, I would like to see that for all the stray dogs out there.  If you are in a position to adopt a dog, stop by your local animal shelter to help save a dog from a life of begging or worse.  If you are in Andalucia and would like to adopt a dog go to http://www.petsinspain.info/index.htm for information on how to help a down and out Andalucian pup like one of these:

Why The Dogs made the list:

The dogs made the list because even though they were a lot of fun in the street I bet they would be even more fun in somebody’s home.

#2- The Views

This choice should not puzzle anyone who has been to The Sierra Nevada mountains.  Whether you are standing in the river looking up the cliffs or gathering firewood at 2,000 meters there is always a vista in Andalucia.  Here are a few of my favorite Sierra Nevada scenes.

Why The Views made the list:

See above

#1- The People

I first experienced Andalucia via the Granada bus station.  I arrived late in the evening and the next bus to Orgiva did not leave until morning.  I arranged my sleeping bag, blanket, and down coat in a fashion that I hoped would prevent a sore neck in the morning.  When morning came I woke up to the sound of the cafe opening.  It was full of excited people standing at the bar, ordering, drinking cafe con leche, and talking.  I hurried to join them.  This was one of my first chances to converse in Spanish while in Spain.  I will not go into details but it was more difficult than I had anticipated.  I did, however, still manage to meet some friendly people and work through a conversation.  These people in the Granada bus station would be the first of many groups of Andalucians I would speak awkward Spanish in front of as I learned the language.  They would also be the first of many groups of people in Andalucia who would show me why this region has a reputation for beauty in both its nature and its people.

Why The People made the list:

For me traveling is a great way to see amazing things.  I am constantly impressed by what people have managed to do here on earth; the monuments they have created and the history they have left behind.  However, none of these things impresses me like the people I get to know as I search for the next site.  They each have a unique story to tell and I always like a good story so the people have to be my favorite.

As you might imagine, there are other ways you could occupy your time in the Spanish Sierra Nevada mountains but this is what I did.  Next month I will be posting an adventure from a hike to the far side of the mountains around Orgiva so keep a look out for that.  Until then…

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How I Ended up Working for a Barcelona Pub Crawl

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I knocked on Yasmin’s Barcelona door in the early afternoon.  I had spent the morning adventuring in the Olympic Village, after checking out of my hostel with a RyanAir ticket to Gothenberg, Sweden and my backpack.  I made some Swedish friends in Rome last year and stayed in contact with them.  Now, I was finally going to see them in their homes.  I had been planning this leg of the trip for months.  In Rome, the Swedes swelled with the pride of their fine country and its fine people.  For the next couple of weeks they would show me why, I thought.

As I walked towards  Barcelona’s el Gotic district, where I had spent most of my time since arriving, I thought about how I would get to Gothenberg and then Jonkoping, where I would be staying.  The night before my wallet had been stolen with my cash, debit cards, and identification cards inside.  This certainly added a level of difficulty to the trip but I was pretty certain I could still make it.

I knocked on Yasmin’s Barcelona door.  She opened the door and, with a smile, invited me in.  She was just moving into this new flat so I asked how I could help.  After hanging a black shelf that ran the length of the longest wall and assembling an Ikea table I was starting to get hungry.

For the past four days I had been wandering in Barcelona’s el Gotic district.  The bed I rented for my first four days in Barcelona was on Escudellers in the heart of el Gotic.  The buildings began where the one lane street ends.  At night I was sleeping on the third floor in an apartment that had been repurposed into a hostel by adding five beds to each of the bedrooms.  Below the window of this hostel there was a party that lasted until the sun rose over Barcelona.

Now, here I was four doors down and one floor up helping a new friend from Angelholm, Sweden move into a flat in Barcelona.  I could hear the street festivities below.  I could smell the fresh samosas that were being sold out of cardboard boxes.  My new Swedish friend asked when I was leaving to see my other Swedish friends in Sweden.  As was true of most of the people I met from Sweden, Yasmin was certain I would enjoy my adventures there.

Then I told her my story about getting robbed at the end of Barcelona’s main promenade, La Rambla.  She told me that if you haven’t been robbed at least once in Barcelona then you haven’t really seen Barcelona.  We both laughed and then she got serious.  She told me that she knew what it was like to get robbed here and it was not fun.  She offered me her couch, if I assembled it first, so I reconsidered my trip to Sweden.  Without any money the trip to Sweden was going to be slower than I had hoped.  It would also mean meager eating and free transportation.  Once in Jonkoping I could have someone from my family mail me my new debit card when it arrived at my home.  This was one option.  This ended up not being the option I chose.

In Yasmin’s flat above the narrow street in el Gotic, Barcelona I assembled a couch.  Then, that night Yasmin, James, Walter, Yvanna, Davíd, Jim, Emilie, and I went out together to see the city’s nightlife.  While we were out James told me that he knew a guy who would let me work for him doing pub crawl promotions any night of the week.  I was hoping to get make some quick cash while I waited for my debit card so the next night I walked over to the Victoria Pub.

I went into the pub and found James’ friend, Jason, who had moved to Barcelona from California.  He told me to meet him outside the bar in about a half hour.  When I came back there was a small group of people outside the Victoria Pub.  They were also working for some quick cash.  Most of them were either travelers or new arrivals in Barcelona.  No one had any plans to do this work long term.  A few of them had been doing it off and on for a month now for extra money.  Jason made it very clear that we could take this seriously or not.  To him it made very little difference.  If we brought people in to the pub to sign up for the pub crawl then he paid us for each person.  If we did not then he paid us nothing.  He handed each person in the crowd an unopened box of cheap sangria, told them to have fun, and we dispersed.

When I got to Placa Reial I sold my Sangria to an old man from Barcelona for a fair price.  I wandered the Placa, full of glowstick salesman and club promoters, reading the flyer I had been given about the “pub walk.”  Jason warned the group of us that the police do not allow “pub crawls” in Barcelona.  However, they will allow “pub walks.”  So, with what information I had I came up with a pitch and began talking to everyone in Placa Reial.  I started with the salesmen and other promoters because I knew they would tell me no while I worked out my pitch.  After talking to fifty or so people I saw a group of American girls sitting on the edge of the fountain.  As I talked to them they grew interested in the pub walk.  I escorted them to the pub to sign up and get a drink.  Then I went back to work in Placa Reial.  I made twenty-two Euros that night but, more importantly, I talked to a lot of people from around the world that night.  Most of them had no interest in a pub walk but a lot of them had a few minutes to share a story.

Well, the adventures in Barcelona went on for a few weeks after this and I will share them with you soon.  Until then…