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Last week was, putting it mildly in this overwhelmingly declared Catholic country, a big deal. Many people had the entire week off, and almost all had Friday-Sunday off. Like with most holidays, hotels increase prices, and the only stores that appear to be open during the day are candy stores maintaining a brisk business. (Bakeries are also doing very well as every family picks up a couple traditional cakes, but their hours seem to be restricted to mornings.)

So what is there to do besides sitting around eating sweets? Well, not much really. Mostly people are visiting friends and family and hanging out in the streets. Each day there was a procession (more below), sermons, conducting certain rituals, and potential music. All of these start or happen at the various churches around town. And it all culminates on Easter Sunday with the biggest procession.

I’ve seen processions in South America, where a group of people walk around with a drum and a huge depiction of something (usually gory) on their shoulders. They didn’t impress me much, but I was curious what would happen in Spain. Full disclosure: I used to be quite a fan of parades in the US, but when they stopped throwing candy (for “safety” reasons) I never quite got over it.

So here are a couple pics (taken in a dark cathedral or outside in the weather).

Getting ready to leave the church…

And those women on the right side are wives of important people of the church/town who follow behind the people carrying Mary.

Los niños carrying the implements…

The biggest Easter procession (different town from the other 2 pics)

My guidebooks says that the KKK “borrowed their look from the hoods worn by the brotherhoods during the processions of Semana Santa. However, I couldn’t find solid evidence supporting this, despite the eerie similarity.

The only thing about the procession I enjoyed were the instruments: drums, trumpets, and bagpipes (this last one is only in the parts of the country with Celtic traditions),

Fun trivia

Most common outdoor toy for children in Pontevedra, Spain? Over 60% of children polled were playing with…an umbrella. It rains (or mists) so often and so unpredictably (minimum of 30 minutes to go from blue skies to rain) that every family carries a couple around with them. Don’t feel bad if you didn’t know that one.

The second most popular outdoor toy of children (and probably the most common across all of Spain)? Put your guess in the comments! (Seriously, you should know this one.)

This happened to me and my work, although on even more specific topics, on a couple different occasions in Afghanistan.

The only real difference is that the person/people/donor who tasked us with the assignment was rarely the same and never in the room…

As I’m nearing the 1-yr mark of starting this blog, I’ve been thinking about some small adjustments. You’ll probably see some changes coming up. Feel free to let me know if there’s anything you’d like to see (or to see differently).

Also, after being out of the US (except a 2-week visit last November) for a year, I’m making plans for my return. I expect my posts to become a lot less interesting around that time so don’t be surprised if they become less frequent. However, I will keep you informed of any changes to my whereabouts and any new adventures.

For the 2 months that I’m in Spain, I’m doing some combination of traveling and squatting. I just finished 2 weeks of almost exclusive traveling. And while the time wasn’t what I would call frantic, finally sitting at my computer to work, pay bills, respond to emails, and just generally catch up feels quite welcome. And I’m so glad that I arrived at a hotel with consistent, reliable internet yesterday. (High speed internet is found across Spain, but internet access at the overwhelming majority of hotels is downright crappy, leaving you searching for tapas restaurants, bars, or other attractions with the WiFi sign posted.)

For the next few days, I will be squatting in the amazingly green town of Santiago de Compostela. It’s in Galacia, a region culturally quite different from the rest of Spain, due to the geography (north of Portugal and mountains) and history (Celts settled the region). The region gets a lot of rain, similar to Ireland, so all of the rocks and buildings are covered with moss, grasses, and ivy, giving the whole place a very old, homey feeling.

Most people associate the town with St. James, who lived in the region (although I think all of the other references about his body being returned and found years later were part of a marketing campaign, at the time to convince the christians to kick the Moors out of Spain). And as part of the association with St. James, the town is the end of El Camino de Santiago (or Way of St. James). It’s a big pilgrimage for Catholics.

This makes the place perfect for getting some work done while having some small things to see and do.

Random tips and observations about food in Spain:

  • At the grocery store, which resembles a medium-sized 7-11 to me, I’m the only person in line with more than 4 items in my basket. This feels odd since I’m only picking up a few things…
  • It can be very expensive to eat out for all of your meals. I always carry some snacks around (from a mini-mart or outdoor market). More importantly, be prepared to eat tapas as meals. This might be tasty cheese, sausage, ham, anchovies, deep fried fish, olives & capers, or croquettes. Order 2 or 3, and then see if you need any more.
  • Often you will pay different prices if you sit at a table versus the bar. I prefer to sit at the bar, mostly to see the tapas and watch the food being prepared. However, be aware that many, many bartenders are very busy, difficult to flag down, and generally seem discontent to bother with you.
  • Waiters will bring you bread (or rolls or some crackers), which will be billed to you if you eat it. Typically, it’s a Euro, but at one nice place, it was 3 Euros!
  • If you ask for water at a restaurant, expect to pay for it, unless you specifically ask for tap water (“agua de grifo”). And don’t be surprised if they look at you funny when you ask for this.
  • Don’t tip in Spain, although you can always round the bill up to the nearest Euro if you get good service.
  • Expect to make mistakes when ordering food. At one restaurant, while I was out of sorts, I asked for 2 eggs and ham. I thought the waiter was confirming the order by questioning the number of eggs, but instead he brought me 2 plates of eggs and ham…
  • The typical times for eating will throw you for a loop. Most places close for several hours during the day (siesta). Those timings vary by the region and the establishment.
  • Be prepared for pig, and lots of it! Coming from a Muslim country, where I only had pork 3xs (bacon for two brunches and ham at Christmas), it has been a salty adjustment.

No, this post isn’t about doing yoga on vacation. It’s about stretching mentally. It’s so easy to get comfortable, fall into a routine, and shrink your comfort zone. While it might appear this doesn’t apply to me (bc of my adventures), even I struggle with it. I have to remind myself that sometimes when I’m feeling awkward I should actually push myself through that feeling.

My most common stretch is trying to talk to strangers. I’m really quite introverted, but I know that like most things it becomes more natural with practice. Sometimes my efforts fall flat, and other times I make a small connection with someone. Much fewer times, a guy gets the impression that I’m easy or I end up with a free trip around the Galapagos (yes, this happened).

Last week on a beautiful, sunny day I waited for the very infrequent bus to a nearby town on the coast. After 2 hrs, a nice lady asked me if I would like a ride bc she lives there. While it might appear suspicious, one) I know people here are extremely friendly, and two) she had a snot-filled 4 year old daughter with her. I felt pretty comfortable getting in her car. When she dropped me off, I immediately saw the sign for the tourist office so I headed there. I was hoping to get the actual bus schedule for returning home. The lady at the counter gave me the schedule, but she said that since it was a holiday the bus probably wasn’t running at all. She gave me a card to call a cab when I wanted to return home.

Fast forward.

I could call a cab to go home, but considering I hadn’t seen a single cab in two weeks, I figured it would be coming from a larger town quite a ways away. Requiring time and money. There are plenty of people driving between these two towns so I decided I should just hitchhike. (That is how I got here in the first place.)

Let me tell you, standing there beside the road with your thumb up as cars drive by is a test of endurance. It isn’t that I waited long. It’s that there’s a feeling of rejection as every car goes by. After only 3 cars went by, I was rethinking my option of a cab. I couldn’t figure out where my hand should be. Should I remove my sunglasses (perhaps seeing my eyes gives the appearance of being in need or being a nice, genuine person)? Should I look at the people driving or stare into the sky? When did I get so awkward?!

And it was that sentiment that signaled to me that, sadly, I needed to stand there, waiting, putting myself through this agonizing stretch. I couldn’t copout and call a cab.

The agony in my head made time go very slow for those 15 minutes. Then, a nice couple stopped their car, and after they moved their groceries around, I got in. It was an Irish woman married to guy from Barcelona, who have 3 almost-grown kids. The woman does Tai Chi once a week, which they were returning from. We chatted about the weather and things to do in Barcelona.

I got a free ride and a nice chat with people who live here, and in the process I stretched my comfort zone just a little bit.

Note: I should mention that I did hitchhike one other time – in Germany. However, in that situation, I asked someone who was stopped at a gas station for a lift. It was only a hair above asking the person in the elevator to press the button for my floor.

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