Sacrificing to the Travel Gods

This morning began when I rolled over and, bleary-eyed, mumbled to Matthew, “We should really post something on Galactic Panda today”. He blinked back, took in that first breath that stretches the rib cage, and pronounced, “… Sure!”

Matthew at the Cathedral of Seville

Matthew at the Cathedral of Seville

“What the heck are we going to write about?” I thought. We’ve spent our five days thus far in Sevilla playing catch-up at work, finding coffee and groceries, and begging our landlord to come over to fix the shower so it can be set to a temperature a little cooler than “nuclear volcano.” We haven’t seen much of the city.

Today was intended to change that. So we walked deep into the old city, in search of the cathedral.

And while there, today’s blog post wrote itself as I was lovingly pick-pocketed. Okay, metaphorically.

If you’re ever in Sevilla and some kindly looking woman tries to hand you a piece of Rosemary, you say “No, gracias!” repeatedly, and you move on. They won’t give you another moment’s attention when they see that you’re wise to their ways.

What ways are those, you ask? Well here’s what happened to me.

Wherein we find truth in gypsy stereotypes

In the shadow of Sevilla’s enormous cathedral is a glorious outdoor photography exhibit, filled with expressive black and white photos of African tribal people, elephants, Sumatran trees, Utah mesas, and Alaskan mountains.

As the hot sun beats down and we wind through these paintings, toward us come a throng of smiling women, holding out sprigs of rosemary, offering it to the art appreciators and tourists. “A gift!” they say, “A blessing from Santa Maria!” Most of the tourists declined the blessing.

When I was offered, I thought, “I love rosemary!” So I accepted.

And the beautiful young lady pleasantly, but aggressively, launched into an elaborate telling of my fortune based first on my right palm, and then my left, in patient Spanish. It all happened so quickly, I was in the middle of it before I had a clue of what was happening. She told me I would have two children, that the strength and luck of my ancestors passes to me, that my lottery number is five. She repeated that a few times — she really wanted me to understand that. My lottery number — it is five. She said many other things that I did not understand.

She was lovely and charismatic and seemed to really care about her craft. And at the end, I thanked her and started to pass her a couple euros in thanks. “No,” she insisted. It was five euros for each hand, and she had done both. I was in shock. Ten euros?! But I passed them over, just wanting the whole awkward exchange to be over.

I learned later that Matthew had had a similar experience: the woman made her offering, and he accepted it, and she launched into telling his fortune. Immediately, he declined, at which point she asked for payment for the Rosemary. Amused, he handed the sprig back, and said “No thank you” many times.

He then tried to walk over to me, at which point she waved him off, declaring the reading sacred — he must not overhear. He felt genuinely affronted at that point, as this woman stood barring his way to his girl.

“Seems a little extreme,” he said to me later, only then realizing that it must have been a sales tactic. She did not want Matthew interrupting her sister’s sale.

All of this was capped off by my fortune teller acting horrified that I wouldn’t pay for Matthew to have a reading of his own.

It’s strange encountering people whose entire livelihood depends on taking advantage of you

I was really hoping that this lovely lady with the weather vane was going to be the patron saint of ships. More photos and history later!

That “I’ve been taken advantage of” feeling washed over me. Even as we walked around the outside of the gorgeous cathedral, emotions flooded my gut: embarrassment that I had let it happen, and anger that people take advantage of others this way.

I let this happen. At no point did she handcuff me and forcefully take my cash. I was 100% complicit in this. But I never consciously consented to any of this. She manipulated and corned me with her aggressive and disarming sweetness.

I thought about what makes a good sale. At Rocket Lift, we talk about this a great deal. Our goal is to make every sale a win-win-win. The client feels like they’re getting an excellent service (which they are), Rocket Lift feels that the client is a good fit and that the work is worth the time, and the people doing the project are excited about the work. No one feels that they have been taken advantage of.

This young Gypsy had so much conviction in the value of her craft that I in turn felt that there was intrinsic value. That combined with sheer shock caused me to part with ten euros I really wish I hadn’t, and that I felt I got nothing for in exchange.

Las Turistas Estupidas

Our friends in Zihuatanejo, Jeff and Harmony, introduced us to “The Stupid Tourist Tax,” and we used that term for a while. All travelers have been in a situation where you pay too much for a taxi, buy groceries from the stores with the high tourist markup, pack too much and pay extra in baggage fees… These are the mistakes we make when we have just not learned better yet. Key word: yet.

Our friend Alba in Valencia has a different term for this: “Sacrificing to the Travel Gods.” We like this better because instead of something being taken from us, we can think of our parted funds as an due gift to benevolent and playful forces we dance with, who in return help us cope, function, eat, sleep, breathe, and perhaps even blend in a foreign place.

These sacrifices have inherent value, including wisdom, and stories we can share with you for entertainment.

All our knowledge has its origins in our perception. — Leonardo da Vinci

“Sacrificing to the Travel Gods” is 100% about perception. I can look at this experience as a negative one, wherein some horrible woman stole from me (I did feel that way for a good hour or so), or I can realize that now I know something I did not know before, and know it will make a funny story later.

When traveling, things can go very wrong

Once you realize you’ve been had, if you find yourself incapable of distilling a lesson or finding a pearl of wisdom from your experience, then maybe the Travel Gods had little to do with it. Or, maybe it’s just that something really shitty happened to you.

My father was pick-pocketed in France. As I recall, they took his passport, and he left my teenaged brother on the bus with their bicycles to chase down the culprits on foot.

I don’t believe that any just and generous God encourages one human being to fill another with the mortal terror that comes from being separated from their passport. No sacrificing to Travel Gods here, just desperate people victimizing others.

Dad got his passport back; the lesson here being: keep your friends close, your passport closer, and chase down pick-pocketing enemies with the wings of Mercury. (I suppose maybe he’d banked a favor with the Roman God of Travel earlier, demonstrating another side of the inherent value in these sacrifices.)

A big yellow taxi took my Peso away

We can look at the local entrepreneurs as merely taking advantage. Sometimes, they certainly do. On the other hand, perception can give two sides to the same interaction.

When we arrived in Zihuatanejo, Jeff and Harmony instructed us to take the bus to the city center. It would cost about a dollar. We walked around the airport, looking for signs to the autobús and asking everyone how to find them. Alas, no signs, and no one seemed able to help.

We eventually took a cab. $45. Boo.

A month and a half into our residence in Zihua, we knew we could get a bus to the airport, no problem. Busses with “Aeropuerto” stenciled all over them were everywhere in the Centro. Unlike taxis, these were filled with locals — not with gringos.

We suspect that the airport employees are in cahoots with the taxi companies, and aren’t about to help clever tourists take the cheap bus when they’re ripe prey for the taxi drivers.

No problem, we thought. We paid the Travel Gods — now we know better. We’ll take the bus on our way out.

Except, the day of our departure was the day that I got hit with the worst food poisoning I’d ever had. A few years ago, I would get food poisoning about once a month so I was no stranger to this, but this was something special. I spent the entire night praying to keep water down, and trying not to get dehydrated. Matthew had to pack and clean the apartment for us, all by himself.

Even though we had plenty of time to get to the airport, the thought of squeezing next to 20 other people into a tiny van (the buses are more like vans), without AC, with an unpredictable stomach… there was simply no way.

Matthew, my hero until the end of time, got me to the airport via a nice cool tax cab. Another $45, and the best we’d ever spent.

Knowing and choosing your options makes all the difference. It felt fine to pay the $45 this time, because we had agency. This was a win-win! We were happy to pay almost any price for a cool drive, and the driver was happy to take an expensive fare to the airport. Even if he was over charging the rich gringos, meh! We really didn’t care.

Pass the love and wisdom on!

Do you have any memories from traveling abroad when you wish you could’ve had a do-over? When did you spend too much? Dad, did I get that pick-pocketing story right?

This post is part of the thread: Spain – an ongoing story on this site. View the thread timeline for more context on this post.

Our plans for June

Folks, we give you: Valencia.

Folks, we give you: Valencia.

Today we’re winding up our stay in Valencia. It’s bittersweet. We’ve been comfortable and productive here, gotten to know some old family friends better, and also made some new friends (MOTIAFP). We’ll be sorry to leave these folks.

On the other hand, we’ve exciting things to look forward to elsewhere this month. Our bags are packed. The place is clean. Tomorrow, we board a train for Barcelona.

Steve and Catherine on the Mediterranean shore of Denia.

Steve and Catherine on the Mediterranean shore of Denia.

We’ll have a few days there to work like crazy before we take a week of vacation with our good friends Scott and Emily. They’re flying out from the Portland to party with us for a week. It would be difficult to overstate how thrilled we are that they’re making the trip.

On Saturday, FC Barcelona plays Juventus for the European football championship title. The game will be played in Berlin, but I expect the atmosphere in Barcelona will be unforgettable. ¡Vamos Barca!

We’ll just have Sunday (the 7th) and Monday in Barcelona with Scott and Emily. I’m determined to spend as much time inside Sagrada Família as they’ll let me get away with. My parents’ photos of Gaudí’s otherworldly cathedral were the biggest reason I wanted to visit Spain. I’m excited to see it for myself.

The four of us will be in Palma de Mallorca the 9th through the 13th. I know we’ll have fun; it will be interesting to see how much of it we remember later without photos. 😉

The Barcelona apartment we've rented.

The Barcelona apartment we’ve rented.

Then, as Scott and Emily return to real life (sorry, friends!) Catherine and I will continue on to Sevilla, in Andalucia, the southernmost region of Spain. We’ll be there through the end of the month. We’ll enjoy the heat. We’ll attend WordCamp Europe. I’m also hoping for a few weekend sorties to Cordoba — famous for cave homes, which are exactly what they sound like — and Granada — home to the Alhambra, a close second to Sagrada Família on my “must do” list.

Our new friend Mattheus also wants us to checkout Granada’s Muslim tea houses called térrías (sp?) and to experience first hand the origin of tapas: Small plates of food to cover your glass so the insects can’t get to your cerveza. Order a drink, get it with food. Sounds just fine.

We’ll keep you updated as these adventures unfold — although for the next few days, we have a few Valencia round-up posts in store.

This post is part of the thread: Spain – an ongoing story on this site. View the thread timeline for more context on this post.


Week of Panos Day 7: Valencia’s Central Market

Pick your language: In Valenciano you’ll say “Mercat Central”. In Castillian/Spanish, “Mercado Central”. In English it’s “Central Market”. Either of the first two will work in a taxi, and probably so will the third.

180 degrees (or so) of Valencia's Central Market. Click image for a larger version

180 degrees (or so) of Valencia’s Central Market.
Click image for a larger version.

There are supermarkets and produce shops on every other block in Valencia, and few smaller open public markets on the periphery of the old city. Despite all of the choices, the historic Central Market remains relevant as the place with the freshest, greatest quantity, and best quality food.

The number of booths, the variety of food, the size of the building, and its architecture are all impressive. My favorite is the architecture.

This rotunda. Click image for larger version.

This rotunda.
Click image for larger version.

This roof.

This roof.
Click for larger image.

This post is part of the thread: Spain – an ongoing story on this site. View the thread timeline for more context on this post.


Week of Panos Day 6: The City of Arts & Sciences

Oh, the City of Arts and Sciences. It is one of the most photogenic locations in Valencia. Every time you turn around, there’s some gorgeous natural or architectural beauty to admire.

Valencia's City of Arts and Sciences

Valencia’s City of Arts and Sciences.
Click image for a larger version.

To the far left is the Opera House, “Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía.” It’s the building that looks a little like a white orca leaping out of the water. Next to it, the half dome is the “Hemisphéric” (appropriately named), which houses an IMAX cinema. Dominating the photo is the “Museo de las ciencias,” which is Spanish for “brontosaurus skeleton.” This is the home of their interactive science museum. (Here’s where my Portland pride rears up and says, “Go OMSI!”)

Off in the right you see the “Ágora,” a large hollow space for conferences and concerts. Beyond that, but not pictured is the “Oceanográfic,” which is the largest aquarium in Europe. Last but not least featured in this photo is the “Umbracle,” the cage-like structure to the far right. This was a really nifty, beautiful space filled with trees and plants, and is used for weddings and concerts and the like.

Our friend and informal tour guide here in Valencia hates this place. Alba was here during the construction of the CAS, and witnessed rampant waste, miss-management and corruption that turned a 300 million euro “emblem of civic ambition” into a 1.1 billion euro symbol of Valencia’s massive debt.

As United Left party member Ignacio Blanco puts it, “The buildings are like symbols of an era when the politicians thought we were rich.”

The place is inspiring in its beauty and grandeur, though. Here are a couple more shots:

Valencia's City of Arts and Sciences

Valencia’s City of Arts and Sciences is an an art and a science, itself.
Click image for a larger version.

Next to the Valencia City of Arts and Sciences

Click image for a larger version.

This post is part of the thread: Spain – an ongoing story on this site. View the thread timeline for more context on this post.

Inside the Monastery of Valldigna

Week of Panos Day 5: Inside the Monastery of Valldigna

A few days ago I posted photos from our trip to the Monastery of Valldigna, about an hour south of Valencia. Here are a few more shots from that day.

Inside the Monastery of Valldigna

Looking towards the entrance towers.
Click image for a larger version.

A Courtyard inside the Convento de Valldigna.

A Courtyard inside the Convento de Valldigna.
Click image for a larger version.

Looking out at the valley of Valldigna from inside the Monastery

Looking out at the valley of Valldigna from inside the Monastery. It’s a sea of orange groves leading to the Mediterranean. What looks like a stone column near the center is the edge of an old wall (recently restored) that extends out for several meters.
Click image for a larger version.

This post is part of the thread: Spain – an ongoing story on this site. View the thread timeline for more context on this post.


Week of Panos Day 4: Plaza of the Virgen

Today’s panorama: Plaça del Virgen, a beautiful open space of stone in the Northeast quadrant of Ciutat Vella, about a 30 minute walk from our house. We’ve relaxed here on several weekend afternoons.

Valencia's beautiful Plaça del Virgen. Click image for a larger version.

Valencia’s beautiful Plaça del Virgen.
Click image for a larger version.

The Plaça del Virgen panorama from left to right

Wherein I tease you with topics for future posts.

  • At extreme left, difficult to see, a Valenbisi station, part of a shared city bike network system. More on that in a future post (MOTIAFP).
  • Apartment buildings where we’ve observed residents hanging tapestries from their balconies to match the theme of decorations in the plaza during festivals. MOTIAFP.
  • A beautiful bronze fountain in the foreground, which we mistook for Bacchus. MOTIAFP.
  • La Basílica Virgen de los Desamparados — The Basilica of the Virgen of the Homeless. MOTIAFP.
  • La Catedral Metropolitana — The City Cathedral. MOTIAFP.
  • The headquarters of Valencia’s organization of seven irrigation districts. Believe it or not, MOTIAFP.
  • Umbrellas shading restaurant tables. Dozens more extend behind the camera — there are more just outside the left of the frame. We’ve spent hours seated here, enjoying this view, people watching, eating paella, drinking espressos, agua con gás (sparkling water), and pitchers of Agua de Valencia (MOTIAFP).

BONUS Panorama!

Here’s the view from 20 meters further back, including all those tables.

Restaurant tables at Plaça del Virgen

Ustedes quieren cervezas? Entran!
Click image for a larger version.

This post is part of the thread: Spain – an ongoing story on this site. View the thread timeline for more context on this post.


Week of Panos Day 3: Valencia’s Old City

My panoramas are all just like COMING AT YOU. We’re saving some of the better ones for later, so bear with me.

Here’s Valencia, the city we call home this month. I took this on May 8th, I thought around midday, but the camera reports that it was at 5:36pm.

Valencia's Old City

Valencia’s Old City
Click image for a larger version

The back side of Torres de Serrano

The back side of Torres de Serrano, viewed from inside the historic Christian wall.

I took this panorama from atop the left turret of Torres de Serrano, pictured here. Torres de Serrano is one of two surviving gate complexes from the late medieval Christian era. They’re named for their view of a serrated mountain range visible to the north on a clear day. I stuck my camera out of a crenel for the panorama; the walls visible at the sides are the parapet.

In medieval times the Ciutat Veilla (“old city” in Valenciano) was walled to keep out invaders — or to keep in tax payers, depending on whom you ask. The Romans, a free republic, the Visigoths, crusading Muslims, and crusading Christians all took turns ruling here — each with their own infighting princes.

Each group in power cannibalized and built on top of the roads and structures left by groups they supplanted. The result today is a labyrinth of streets winding through buildings that incorporate Roman roads in their foundations, ancient city defenses in their structures, and in their walls, weathered marble plaques once blistering with political relevance.

If you blur your vision a bit while looking at a street map, you can make out rough concentric circles where these groups built ever-larger new walls in their times. The Christian wall is the latest, largest, and most distinct thanks to an unbroken ring of busy modern avenues. You can see this on Google Maps bounded by the serpentine river park on the Northwest and Northeast, Carrer de Guillem de Castro on the Southwest, and Carrer de Colón on the Southeast.

This post is part of the thread: Spain – an ongoing story on this site. View the thread timeline for more context on this post.