Monday, September 27, 2010

When It Rains It Pours or Why You Shouldn't Drive A Bus On An Unpaved Road During The Rainy Season In Ghana

On our last day in Ghana we went on a SAS trip to the Ankasa National Park – a large tract of rainforest – for a 2 hour hike.  Instead of leaving the ship at 8:00 the trip was advanced to 7:00 which meant we were to be on the pier at 6:45 am.  The drive to the park was uneventful but we did get to see some fairly large rubber plantations.  It was good to see more countryside and all was looking great until we got to the road into the park.  The 6 km road was unpaved and “Uncle Fred” our fearless driver apparently saw no problem with driving a 35 passenger bus down it.  We hadn’t even made it a km when we ran into the first mud hole.  The bus got stuck, we all got off the bus, several people in our group pushed the bus free and we all re-boarded it.  This was to be repeated several times despite our insisting that we could just walk the road into the park. 

We were lucky that no one got hurt when the bus fish-tailed and rocked forwards and backwards as passengers pushed to free it.  Luckily we had a college football offensive lineman in our group – he sort of lifted the back of the bus which was of great help.  We also had help from some local folks who cut some wood to act as traction.

We passed a woman roasting some cocoa beans:

We finally arrived at the park and were excited to start our rainy rainforest hike, but were held up by folks applying bug spray, donning rain gear, etc.  The ranger then further delayed the hike by explaining some very basic things about the park and by informing us of the important fact that next year they should have a souvenir shop.  That ate up about ½ hour of what was to be a 2+ hour hike.  We proceeded at a snail’s pace all the while I was being bitten by Greg’s ant bastard friends.  After about a half hour of plodding, we were so frustrated Greg and I turned back.  We saw a nice millipede on our backtrack:

After a bit more walking I saw a frog or toad with great cammo!

We arrived back to where the bus was and poked around a bit before deciding that we should just walk down a road that led further into the park.  That was when we were met by the group which was returning to the bus.  So, the “hike” was about 45 minutes total and we couldn’t have covered even a half mile.  The best part was the giant millipede that someone spotted emerging from under the bus.

I did spot a lizard from afar and saw two neat birds, but otherwise the hike was a bust.  The bus ride and pushing was actually the highlight of the trip.  Our trip out of the park was much like the trip in except that we walked a good bit of it so that the bus could more easily traverse the mud and it was raining in torrents.  I have some video of it – one of the hardest rains I’ve ever seen.

We left the park without really hiking and proceeded to go to a resort for lunch.  It was good, but not Ghanaian and it felt strange to drive through rural poor areas and have a fine lunch at a hotel.  In any case, they did have a little sitatunga antelope as a mascot.  She seemed to have a vision problem – her eyes were a little cloudy.  She was cute all the same!

We arrived back at the ship 2+ hours ahead of time so I am not entirely sure why they cut our hike short.  I know some thought we did a real hike, but many of us were disappointed.  The saving grace of the day was the good attitudes and willingness to pitch in on the part of the SAS people.  Thinking back it is interesting to note that none of the guides helped to push the bus out of the mud – it was a mixture of students, faculty and lifelong learners who did the job!
Ghana fun fact:   Public peeing is very acceptable – if you need to pee and you are male, any man will help you find a good peeing spot.  Even women can do it, but it is harder to find a good place although another woman would help you find one.  When the bus got stuck the first time, our driver got off the bus, whipped out the old trouser snake and peed about 6 feet from the bus.  He kept saying we could all go in the bushes, but didn’t consider that it was a bit harder for females.  There were men walking all around in the bush and the biting ants made the proposition a daunting one.

You're Ghana Like It

 I wish we’d have had more time in Ghana. I really liked our visit and was struck by the warmth and welcoming nature of the people we met. On about the second day, I asked Greg if he’d seen many elderly Ghanaians and like me he couldn’t remember any. Many called him “Papa” – probably because of his gray hair. When I got back to the ship, I looked up the life expectancy of Ghanaians and it is 58 years for men and about 60 for women. No wonder we didn’t see any elderly. Many of the lifelong learners and older faculty had stories of Ghanaians going far, far above and beyond to assist them when they were a bit distressed. They must’ve been amazed to see all the gray hair and wrinkles and felt that these people needed help. It simply wasn’t an option to not help.

We spent a good part of the first of only four days in Ghana waiting for our passports because the Ghanaian officials took their time processing them. On the last day of our stay we took a Semester at Sea (SAS) trip and after 6 hours without a bathroom someone asked a guide when we would be able to stop at a bathroom - the guide responded with “Fifteen minutes - real minutes, not Ghanaian minutes”. You can figure on about 5 real minutes per Ghanaian minute – they have a different sense of time. We had reservations to spend the night in Cape Coast and thought we needed our passports. Turns out that we never even gave our names to the hotel and we paid in cash, so no passports were needed.

On the second day in Ghana Kathy Poole and I took a cooking workshop to learn how to cook traditional Ghanaian food. SAS organizes Field Directed Practica which meet requirements for courses and they are referred to as FDPs for short. I started calling the workshop my FDP (family directed practicum) because I ended up with 8 students and 7 staff members in the group. The workshop was run by Global Mamas (an NGO founded by an ex-Peace Corps volunteer) which helps women perfect their crafts for international sales and assists them in becoming better business women by helping them learn how to email, use Excel, etc. The woman who taught the workshop, Esi, was a fun lady who has been leading the workshops for 7 years from her restaurant called “Nice and Rich”. The Ghanaians have fascinating names for businesses and I’ll go into that in a separate post.

Esi taught us how to make red-red a dish that includes black-eyed peas cooked in palm oil (which is red)

and ripe plantains also cooked in palm oil. It was good and a favorite amongst many in the workshop, but the ripe plantains were too sweet for me. I’d heard that Ghanaian food is unusual amongst African foods because they tend to eat spicy food, but none of what we prepared fit that description. I think that if it were prepared with more of each of the flavoring ingredients (garlic, ginger, dried hot pepper) I would’ve liked it more.
The Ghanaians eat boiled sliced yams (not our sweet potatoes, but real yams that are not sweet) and palaver sauce consisting of onion, garlic, ground pumpkin seeds, cocoyam leaf (substitute spinach), tomatoes and some things I’m probably forgetting. We’d had palaver sauce the night before and liked it a lot. We included smoked fish that Esi had smoked herself, but that flavor overwhelmed the nuances of the pumpkin seeds and I preferred it without the fish. Of course, we couldn’t tell Esi this because she was so proud of her smoked fish. I think that Ghanaian palates would enjoy that flavor, but the fishiness and smokiness was not readily accepted by our anti-fish American palates. When Esi was serving up the yam slices and sauce she asked me if I wanted one or two slices of yam and I asked for one. She said “no, one and a half”. We’d all had our cooking techniques corrected so many times during the course of the cooking that it struck us as funny that I couldn’t even choose how much I should eat correctly. To be fair to me, I did end up giving Greg half of one of the slices…so, I did only want one after all!

My favorite part of the day was making fufu (sorry to any Samoans out there – it means something not so nice in Samoan). To make fufu, you cook unripe plantains and cassava and then pound them together in what looks like a giant mortar and pestle.

Esi had the amazing ability to scoop up the sticky mixture with a wet hand in between the heavy strikes of the “pestle”. Everyone was cringing at the thought that her hand getting smashed by one of us inexperienced fufu pounders. Luckily, Esi’s hands were deft in avoiding being smashed:

Over time this kneading action produced what resembled yeasted bread dough.

I got to do some of the scooping action as well as the pounding. It was a lot of work to prepare fufu, but I think it was worth it as it was my favorite part of the lunch. We made two types of soups for eating with the fufu (the fufu is submerged in a soup) – light soup consisting of vegetables and some chicken in a light broth and ground nut soup which was the light soup with some added peanut butter. Both were very good. Below is a shot of Bea Nice (apparently her real name) fanning the brazier upon which some soup is cooking.

The action of eating the dish was interesting. One had to use the index and middle finger as scissors to cut off a portion of this gooey dough and then use those two fingers and the thumb to convey a bit of fufu and soup into the mouth. When half of the fufu had been eaten, we ate the chicken in the light soup and drank the broth (not easy with my wide-rimmed bowl) so that we could eat the other half of the fufu with the ground nut soup.

Throughout the workshop we all had to sing a traditional cooking song. Esi sang the stanzas and we sang the refrain which has been running through my head ever since. It was a fun day and in the end I think it was the fufu-pounding everyone enjoyed the most.

Takoradi Market

Takoradi is not a tourist city, so its market circle in the center of the city was not for souvenir shopping, but for what Ghanaians need in everyday life.  .  As we made our way through the maze of stalls vending spices, clothing, meat, dried fish, you name it…we spotted some Giant African Snails. 

The lady selling them tried to get us to buy some until we explained that we had no place to cook them – as if we would’ve cooked up a pot if we’d had a stove. 

Kathy “got” to hold one…

It was rainy and we were invited into the stall run by  three sisters who have a small business that sells “gare” – ground, roasted cassava that is used to make a polenta-like porridge to be eaten with soups or meats.  It was nice to get out of the rain and interesting to chat with the ladies.  They let us sample the gare and gamely answered any questions we had.  We purchased some spices – things we used in the cooking class – from them and thanked them for their hospitality.
Pretty much anything you can think of for outfitting a house is sold all over.  You might drive along a road and see a sofa or toilet (all new) for sale right along the edge of the road.  Cuts down on business overhead for sure!
As we walked through Takoradi, we saw many interesting items.  I liked the reuse of wheels for these gas burners:

Kathy has many connections around the world thanks to her position with U of O.  We met with a Pastor who is a colleague of a U of O alum.  All we wanted was some advice on where to find some things, but instead he drove us around and helped us find them.  He helped us find the shea butter that we’d walked by several times and showed us a Western grocery store where we hoped to buy some Ghanaian chocolate.  That’s when we found out that they have a shortage because a large factory is being renovated.  Pastor Henry then took us to look at some crafts which are in pretty short supply in Takoradi.  I did get a pair of sandals that have some tire on the bottom.  What we all enjoyed was the “maximum load” info.  Pastor Henry cracked up when I said that if you surpass the maximum load and blow a sandal, you know it is time for a diet.  He was an easy audience.

Its All In The Name

I mentioned in my food post that the Ghanaians have interesting names for businesses.  Christianity is a very important part of Ghanaian culture, so there are many religious names and others that just seem plain silly.
Here are some of my favorites…
Pork Show – I am guessing they sell pork, but I’m really not sure since I never saw pork on a menu and I don’t think it is all that commonly eaten.
Original Pork Show and Drinking Bar – lest you be fooled that the above Pork Show is the real McCoy.
One would think that Mister Tomorrow might be a better name for a tech business:

God is Good Liquor Store
Amen Scientific Herbal Hospital
Trust and Obey Fashion
Christ-Licensed Chemical Store  - not sure what the application process to obtain such a license might be like
Blood of Jesus Laundry – sounds messy to me
Nothing is Late Fashion
Sweet Jesus Electronics – may be my favorite
Have Faith Hair Salon – you go in hoping for a good hair cut
The buildings often had interesting monikers as well.  Below is the Mrs. Eugenia Olga Lidell Yadanoo Memorial Building.  Note that it is nothing official and in a sad state of affairs.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Get Your Hot Bread Here!

On our second day in Morocco, we traveled 4 hours by train to Fes where we spent two nights in the medina.  I only took a few pictures in Fes because in general I find that it takes away from my experience.  The medina in Fes is a warren of very narrow – about 8-10 feet wide – roads that are often covered by buildings.  This turns the roads into passageways in which you often have to stoop to walk down.  If you were to look at a satellite Google map of the Fes medina, you would see only a small fraction of the 9,000 + roads because they are obscured by buildings. 
We hired a guide in Fes who showed us around the medina.  It was particularly interesting because he was born there and still lives there today at the age of 50.  The first part of the day was spent showing us what every resident of the medina needs to live – a communal bread oven, free potable water, a hammam, a mosque (there are over 100 of them in the Fes medina), places to buy food, and a school. 
Having a guide is essential– even those who’ve lived there all their lives get lost and you learn much more than simply wandering on your own.  For example, each neighborhood has a community oven where residents you drop off loaves of bread to be baked.  Usually a boy in the family will pick up the baked bread later in the day.  The entryway of these ovens is a narrow (about shoulder-width), low (about 4 ½ to 5 feet) “hallway”.   Without a guide most wouldn’t even know what was down the hallway and thus wouldn’t venture in.  The wood-fired oven is in a dome-shaped room and two or so men carry out the baking.  The bakers manage to keep track of what bread belongs to whom and we were told that if you wanted to know where someone lived, you could ask them because they know everyone. 
Bear with me as the bread topic continues…We hired a car and driver took a day trip south of Casablanca to El Jedida and Azemmour on the last day in Morocco.  We traveled with an art professor (Manuel Aguilera-Moreno) who specializes in the art of religious architecture; the assistant to the executive dean (Kathy Poole) who directs the study abroad program at U of O, and a lifelong learner or adult passenger (Connie Sween).  It was a great combination of people.  In the sleepy coastal town of Azemmour we walked part of the medina and as we went buy a community oven, we were invited in (with the assurances that no money was involved – unusual in Morocco which is understandable given the poverty) to watch them bake.  In addition to the residents’ bread, they seemed to bake for sale at local stalls as they had hundreds of loaves rising.  At one point, they removed a paddle-full of hot bread from the oven and Kathy was offered a loaf.  I captured what followed on video:
We gave the guy about 50 cents for the loaf and it was delicious.  He really wanted cigarettes – that is what he is asking for near the end of the clip – but we didn’t have any.  We’d considered bringing Marlboro’s with us on the voyage, but our consciences prevented us from doing it.  Maybe we should’ve…
Here are some photos in no particular order!
Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca
Love the juxtaposition of the satellite dishes with the crumbling stucco walls and clothing on the line.
Repairing the walls.
Portugese Cisterne in El Jedida

Being Taken For A Ride

One difficult part of travel is negotiating prices for taxis.  There are two kinds of taxis in Morocco.  Petite taxis in each city are always a particular color – for example, they are red in Casablanca – and can transport passengers within the city only.  Grand taxis are larger, white, can travel from one city to another and cost more.  The port where the ship was berthed is a busy working port and the ship was a 25-30 minutes brisk walk from the port entry.  Ramadan and the following holiday meant that the traffic in port was minimal though.  We asked a tourist agent how many dirham we should pay for a petite taxi ride from the ship (if we could get security to let them in the port) to the train station.  She said 12-15 dirham maximum – about $1.  I don’t mind over-paying and being generous, but I don’t want to be taken for a fool.  We paid 20 for the ride.  Initially, the driver wanted 40 dirham and protested when we said no, but he was smiling when we gave him 20…he was just seeing how far he could go.  
When we went to Fes, the dar sent a driver to meet us and I’d been told to give him 50 dirham.  It seemed to be way too much for a petite taxi, but I did it anyway.  The dar’s owner, Mohammed, has a security camera that allows him to see approaching cars (which should not even be driving in the medina, but that is a different story) and he asked if we came in a petite taxi and how much we’d paid.  When he found out that it was a petite taxi he was furious.  He called the taxi company several times because he’d asked for a grand taxi – not that I care – and because we should’ve paid only 15 dirham for the ride (and that is generous).  He actually got 35 dirham back for us!  It was then that I knew Mohammed could make things happen.  He was an excellent host and made things easy for us. 

Being Rich in a Poor World

Azemmour does not have a big foreign tourist presence and because of this, we were greeted by smiling faces and happy salutations.  People of all ages were friendly and kind – it felt good to be able to say hi to people without being aggressively invited into a shop “just to look”. Our prior experiences in Fes had not been like this.  In the big cities, foreign tourists abound and their presence has perhaps changed the behaviors of the shop owners.  This is completely understandable, but can make for a tedious time.  It did not feel good to ignore people or to be constantly on guard.  At times, I wasn’t seeing these shop owners as individuals with different personalities, agendas and approaches.   It is not enjoyable to recognize this in one’s self and doubly so when you can’t pull out of it.  It is something I will strive to avoid in further travel.
The day trip was the perfect end to our stay in Morocco.  Tourism is big business in Morocco and the Arabs are bargainers which meant that we too were bargainers.  It is a sport and to not bargain would be to offend, but having to constantly do mental currency conversions was a bit tiring.  We are truly filthy rich compared to Moroccans.  With that said, we are not filthy rich in the US and have to budget our money.  It was difficult to convey that we could not just toss around money – in other words, I often felt stingy or greedy because they could not understand why we weren’t buying countless Berber carpets.  As it was, we bought two.  We based our price on the price per square meter for a Persian rug we bought over 10 years ago.  I think we did okay in our bargaining – especially after talking with some others on the ship who were quoted prices 10 times those that we were.  I guess our casual dress and lack of jewelry worked in our favor. 
The other thing that works in our favor is that we made an honest attempt to learn a few words – basic greetings, etc. in Arabic – and spoke in terms of the local currency, not dollars.  This last thing drove me crazy.  I am not sure why, but there were people who constantly asked for prices in dollars.  How would they feel if travelers came to the US and asked to spend Yen and for instant conversions to Yen?  I was also bothered by the fact that some folks did not even know that Arabic and French were the languages most used and that they seemed frustrated by a lack of English speakers.  These folks were not particularly demanding or loud and are nice people, but I was embarrassed.  I am absolutely sure that I have some offending behaviors and am not the most adept at languages, but I try in earnest.

What Holds These Train Cars Together?

After the cooking class in Fes, we headed to the train station to catch the 5:50 train back to Casablanca.  We were told multiple times that this was the express train and would have us back in Casablanca by about 9:30 versus 10:30 with a regular train.
We bought two first class tickets and settled into our air-conditioned compartment.  We had two Berber rugs in my backpack and we were each lugging a tagine, so it was nice to be able to put it all down and get comfortable.  We smiled at each other from our window seats as the engine revved and the horn tooted.  Our smiles faded, however, as we felt a jerk and heard the lugging sound of a complete power failure.   We momentarily sat in the darkened car, but soon gathered our possessions and joined everyone on the platform. 
What are these people looking at? 

Turns out they were looking at what happens to the electrical connection between a train car and the engine when the electrical connection is the ONLY physical connection between them!  Greg had seen a train station employee working with a rock to get the electrical system coupled and wondered to himself just what it was that held the train cars together.  In this case, it turned out that the answer was “nothing”! 
After about 15 minutes, we were told that we should exchange our first class tickets for third class ones and get on another train car.  Now, I am not exactly sure how they thought they were going to remove the one damaged car from the track and hook the engine to the next car, but I was willing to go along with the game.  Greg hustled over to carry out the transaction and we searched for some empty third class seats.  After wandering around two sweltering hot cars for a few minutes we located some empty seats and stowed our things.  While we were literally dripping in sweat, we were thankful that we wouldn’t be standing for 3+ hours.  After about 10 minutes of waiting in the sauna, I mean the train car, we saw that everyone was leaving the car with their stuff.  Not knowing what was going on, we followed the herd.  Soon we were jumping from the platform onto the next set of tracks, crossing two sets of rains and climbing from the tracks onto cars in the next train to Casablanca.  The first stair in the set of steps up was about waist high!  We were able to get on a second class car and were happy to be in a much cooler place although we were crowded into the three-foot wide passageway with our possessions.  We both began laughing as we recalled the sight of two men rolling the beverage card off of the platform and across the large stones and rails to the next car.  Precisely where they thought they were going to put the beverage cart was beyond us as there were now two train loads of people on one train.  The absurdity of it still makes me laugh. 
After about an hour of standing, we were able to find seats as others got off the train.  We arrived back at the ship after midnight.  We showered and hit the sack at about 1:00 a.m. but were up and off the ship to head out on our day trip before 8:00 a.m.  We had a wonderful day and were glad that we didn’t let the late night affect our plans.
The ship is a petri dish of disease!  Greg spiked a fever of about 102 last night and we both have stomach problems.  Thankfully, I don’t have the fever, but am extremely tired.  I don’t think we are sick from the food, but from illnesses the students who went to Marakesh brought on board.  So, instead of being upstairs having my book signed by Desmond Tutu I am in my room (ie. near a bathroom) writing blog entries.

A Two Tagine Family

I’ve decided to make several posts for Morocco and I have the feeling that I will do the same for some other ports as well.  I’ll make a separate food post and the other(s) will relate amusing or interesting anecdotes – nothing will be encompass the visit as that would require me to write way more than I’d like and than you’d like to read.
On our first night in Fes, we ate at a restaurant (Fes Et Gestes) run by a French woman, Cecile, who came to Morocco 4 years ago and decided to stay.  We ate in a beautiful courtyard and had a lamb and quince tagine.  Quince were in season in Morocco so they were frequently on the menu.  The onions had carmelized in the bottom of the tagine and we ate just about every speck of food.  A flat bread (actually an inch or so thick) is served with every meal and is used as an implement for delivering food to the mouth.  Olives and several cooked vegetable salads – enough to form a meal on their own - are also usually served. 
Our dining companion was a tiny kitten – she wolfed down any bit of lamb we threw her way.  At the end of the meal, I asked Cecile what the kitten’s name was and she said “ubbs”.  I said “ubbs?” and she replied “yes, ubbs”.  I must’ve had a puzzled look on my face because she squatted down beside the table to explain that her son is just learning to read and that some friends had given him a comic book named Calvin and “Ubbs” (light bulb goes on in Pam’s head). She thought her son was like Calvin and from the brief sighting of a large-headed, blond-haired boy running by the table making a wild face, I’d say she was right!  The kitten had followed her home 4 days prior to our visit and she thought it was a sign so she decided to name her “Hobbes”.   
The cooking class at Café Clock in Fes was interesting and the food turned out well.  Two lifelong learners aboard the ship participated in the class and the café allowed our husbands to join us in eating the meal for about $10.  I had had my heart set on preparing a tagine of chicken with preserved lemon and olives, but I really didn't get the chance to cast my vote on what the choice was.  I hadn’t even tried it yet and as it turns out the trip would end with me never trying it.  In any case, we made a lovely tagine of lamb with prunes, an eggplant salad and a dessert with layers of a sweetened cheese, phyllo-like pastry sheets and fruit.
The class began with us heading into the markets of the medina right outside the café’s door.  Of course, this meant we bought lamb, vegetables and fruits right out amongst local shoppers, passing donkeys, live poultry and assorted livestock and many flies.  I wasn’t too concerned as I knew we’d be cooking all the dishes.  The instructor filled us in on all sorts of cultural and culinary insights while in the market.  Once we had our ingredients we headed to the kitchen for some cooking.  The interesting thing about the way modern Moroccans cook tagine is that they do not usually use a clay tagine – instead they use a pressure cooker to save time!  They consider it a modern marvel and are amazed to hear that our grandmothers and mothers have been using them for many, many years.  The problem with the pressure cooker is that the wonderful carmelization of the onions that comes along with the old-fashioned method is lost.  I understand why the busier women make this choice - they simply don't have time to use the tagines - but I do wish we could've had that option in the class.
The onions were mixed with some water in the pressure cooker and put over a medium flame.  As they softened, we mixed cumin, ginger, turmeric (the Moroccans have beautiful turmeric), black pepper, and salt along with chopped cilantro and garlic in some water.  The lamb pieces were coated with this mixture and the entire lot placed on top of the onions in the cooker.  A few tablespoons of olive oil were drizzled over the lamb.  We stewed some prunes with sugar and cinnamon and added them to the dish late in the game.  It was a bit sweeter than I would’ve liked, but still a very nice combination of flavors.  I am now the proud owner of two tagines (who can pass up $5 tagines?!) and will try the recipe at home over a charcoal grill.  I now know how to preserve lemons and will attempt the chicken tagine as well.
Tagine cooking in pressure cooker
Mostly eaten lamb and prune tagine
Eating the fruits of our labor

To make the eggplant salad, we roasted them over a gas flame until they were charred and very soft.  We peeled off the skin and chopped the eggplant well.  We placed it in a frying pan and added garlic, cilantro, cumin, paprika, hot chile powder, black pepper and salt.  Several tablespoons of olive oil were stirred in and we cooked it over a low flame.  When all the flavors came together we added a bit of lemon juice. 
Eggplant salad ready to be mixed and warmed in pan

The dessert was okay.  It isn’t great to assemble something with toasted phyllo dough an hour before you eat!  It did look pretty and had good flavor though.  The cheese filling consisted of plain yogurt, a ricotta-like fresh cow’s milk cheese, orange-blossom water and sugar. 
On our last day in Morocco, we took a wonderful day trip with some other folks and had another fine seafood meal at a beachfront restaurant.  Most of us had a kebab of shark that had been coated with cumin and turmeric.  It had fantastic flavor and it was a great last meal in Morocco.  The setting and company was just right and a needed follow-up to the sensory overload of Fes.
Shark kebabs at Le Requin Bleu in Sidi Bouzid

Friday, September 10, 2010

Let's Eat and Eat and Eat...

Spain is a land of food-lovers and their waistlines show it. It appears that their weight issues rival those of the US. I guess it really should come as no surprise since there is a meal of some sort or other being eaten from about 8 am until midnight or later. I think there was only one of the 5 nights where we got back to the ship before midnight after eating dinner and that was the last night when we had to be on by 6 pm! We witnessed families with wee children enjoying the open space of the plazas until at least midnight.

A meal out in Spain is never “a quick bite”. Once you sit down at a table in a restaurant, it takes some time for a waiter to come, clean the table and bring a menu. This is really an okay thing once you figure out that you are going to be there for a while. The outdoor tables make fine people-watching vantage points.

One night after dinner we strolled with another faculty member through some plazas and I spotted an adorable French bulldog puppy. Interestingly, in Spain dogs are mostly off leash and accompany their owners for walks without issue. Occasionally, we saw the owners grab collars as we passed by, but for the most part the dogs know the system and cooperate. I approached the French bulldog pup’s owner and asked if I could pet his puppy.

The puppy, named Luca, became very effusive when I got him going and I was the unwitting recipient of a French kiss from a French bulldog. The owner’s brother came over as he speaks some English. We chatted for about a half hour and then I asked him to recommend a good fish restaurant – somewhere that he likes to go to. That led us to our best meal of the stay in Cadiz. Several nights later, we went to dinner with an art history professor – Manuel – who is from Mexico and thus a fluent Spanish speaker. Between the information that the local gave us and Manuel’s inquiries, we made it to Bar Club Caleta which was right on the beach in Cadiz.

The choco (a large squid) had lots of garlic which tasted so good after eating many meals without much garlic. The dish in the background was cubed tuna that had been marinated in a vinegar sauce and then deep-fried.

We had an octopus salad with onion and red peppers and it was extremely fresh and delicious. The final dish we shared was mako shark that had been grilled - wonderfully fresh and simple. Manuel agreed that it was his favorite meal of his stay as well.

One night we had dinner with a group of folks – the academic dean, and some faculty and staff at Ventorrillo del Chato which has been family owned and operated in the same location since 1780! The academic dean has studied and lived in Spain – he has even been knighted by the King of Spain. In addition, we had a UVa faculty member who is from Spain – Fernando ordered a series of tapas to get us started and they were all good. I had pargo for dinner – described as being similar to monkfish.

It was Fernando’s wife’s birthday – so it was a fun evening.

Greg and I continued our tradition of acquiring less typical souvenirs. We went on a tour of the white towns that grace the hills of parts of Cadiz province. The buildings are all white to help keep them cool and this makes them quite picturesque. In the surrounding farms they raise a type of goat found only in this region and the milk is used to make a cheese called Payoyo. I purchased a wheel and when I told Fernando this at dinner, he acted as if I had made some sort of stupendously intelligent decision! It smells great, but I am bound and determined to hold off eating it until I am back in the US.

I also love the Spanish or Italian tuna packed in olive oil – it is great for making salads – so I bought two very large cans. In addition to the food, I was bought a beautiful tablecloth and napkin set in Ronda – a white town perched on the sides of a precipitous gorge.

Apparently, prisoners were held in the middle portion of the bridge spanning the gorge. It is funny because the souvenir I was most excited by was a new set of wooden spoons with a unique shape – good for getting into the corners of the pan!

We spent a day in Seville visiting the cathedral (where Christopher Columbus is allegedly buried) and the Alcazar. Both unbelievable and too hard to sum up. Here are a few pictures…

And finally, if you don’t scoop your dog’s poop in Ronda it will cost you – BIG time!
Aged Manchego in Balandro Restaurant in Cadiz

It is impossible to sum up all we saw and did in a blog, so I will include a hodge-podge of pictures below.

Chip flavor of the port was jamon!  They tasted like ham in the US, but not jamon so much.