I caught my ride out of Valencia pretty easily and couldn’t wait to get to Elche. My driver (whom I found on blablacar) was Moroccan and spoke English, Spanish, Moroccan Arabic, and French. He was pretty cool up until about ten minutes into the drive at which point he proceeded to fill me in on every sexual encounter he’d ever had, where to pick up girls, and what words to call them in Spanish base do how slutty they are. Surprisingly when I said I wasn’t interested in girls after asking me what kind of girls I liked, he was gung-ho about gay rights in spite of being Muslim. His girlfriend was from Bolivia, and apparently his parents would kick him out of his family too, if they knew. So that was okay, but then he talked about punching a trans-woman (whom he described as being tall, beautiful, and with a strong presence) after she came out to him in his car (and of course he was, up to that point, trying to get laid). To my trans friends: I’m so sorry. We always talk about how hard it is for LGBT people, but the T has is so much harder. You have my sympathy and I hope some day that crap like that doesn’t happy at all. Apart from all the sex related stuff he was a pretty cool guy and very friendly and open minded. I wish more people had his mentality of not judging people for their religion/lack thereof and sexuality, among other things. To be honest, I haven’t met anyone in Europe yet that is judgy. Even those old country people from the middle of nowhere in southwest France were accepting!
Anyway, on a lighter note, we made it to Elche after sunset. By this point in Spain’s geography, it has become a mixture between Arizona deserts and Colorado mountains. It’s really strange. And you’ve also got the sea twenty minutes away, so it’s got a bit of a SoCo feel. Palm trees and cacti, mountains, valleys, and sea; the perfect combination.
I met my host Lucia and her roommate Sandra at the bus station and we walked through the town to the center of the city where her apartment was. We passed a lot of restaurants buzzing with activity and a churrería (a place where churros are made), which I made note to return to at some point. Churros are basically on par with Twix for me.
Lucia’s place is literally a block from the center of the city, so everything is pretty accessible, and it’s easier here than in Valencia or Barcelona because the city is about the size of Kirksville. The city is basically covered in palm trees (two types: palmeros and palmitos), and buildings are highly reminiscent of the Moors who inhabited it until 1492, there’s a tiny tiny river that runs through the city and cuts it in half, lots of parks, and a public bike system like Barcelona’s which makes it possible to see literally the entire city in a day.
Bridge overlooking the “river”
That night we went one street over to a tapas restaurant for my first real tapas meal. The waitress brings out a large platter with a bunch of different kinds of tapas all set on wooden blocks and small ceramic bowls. Most are fried chunks of something with cheese or ham, small hamburgers, some other kind of meat, or cured ham (jamón serrano, the BEST form of ham you will ever have, including bacon) all served on slices of baguette. Each tapa is under a euro and you just take one off two every time the waitress comes around and at the end, they count up the number of wooden blocks and bowls and give you the bill. What’s nice about Spain is that people who serve ake actual money, and tipping isn’t expected and is in fact quite rare. I tried to leave a two euro tip once, and the people I was with were like, “What are you doing?! That’s so much!” So I left twenty cents.
The next day I used Lucia’s bicielx (the public socialist bike system) card to rent bikes and explore the city. It was marvelous.
These are a specialty of the region. They grow on the palmeros and become dried out at which point you can cook them or something… They’re supposed to be sweet and they’re called dátiles. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to have any because they’re not in season. 🙁
Mormon church of Elche.
At one point I made it to the very northwestern edge of town, which made it look like I was in a Breaking Bad episode.
That night we made an enormous dinner with Spanish torillas (fried potato, onion, and egg omelets), jamón serrano, breadstuffs and an enormous serving of flan than I made. Lucia brought all her psychologist student friends (she’s studying psychology). It was a BLAST.
In Spanish culture there’s this thing called sobremesa which is essentially the idea that a large part of eating is table talk. The conversation and activities that take place over the dinner table are just as important if not to more important than the meal itself, and eating dinner (which can begin anywhere from 7-10pm) can take up to three hours as a result. By the end of dinner my mind was shutting down from having to think so much in Spanish all day (don’t judge me, I’m still adjusting and learning!) so I stayed in and slept while the others went out to a local concert and danced.
The next morning Lucia took me to Alicante, about half an hour away by bus, so that we could spend the day at the beach. You can always tell when you’re at a tourist beach as opposed to a locally frequented one because there will be a significantly higher number of old fat guys in speedos and people who just in general look either American according to overweightness or retired. The waves in Alicante are significantly weaker than those in Barcelona but it made for pretty smooth floating so I can’t complain. The city looks about the same as elche but with less palm trees, taller buildings, and more space with a significantly more tourist-oriented atmosphere. We spent a couple hours sleeping on the beach and snacking on our potato chips and sandwiches.
Lucia’s grandmother used to live around this area and when she was little, would walk through this park between magnolias and thought it was where the “adas” (fairies) lived.
Mountain-y place right next to the sea!
This is “la concha” which serves as a stage for local concerts and small events.
Lucia was supposed to go to a birthday party for her friend, Jorge, so we went to the local shopping center to get him a psychology book (more psychologists), but not before stopping for some frozen orxata. Seriously gonna miss that stuff when I go back to the states. Mer.
The birthday party was really fun – we were there for several hours and I stuffed myself on cake, aperitifs, and sandwiches, and made friends with the red haired girl in this next photo because she didn’t speak any Spanish (but did speak Swiss German and English).
Lucia kept falling asleep of the couch so we headed back to Elche around 10. Her friend drove us back and dropped us off a block from her apartment, and then I insisted that I buy us gofres, which are friend waffle-shaped pastries (like that thing I had in Valencia, remember?) and can be either plain or covered in chocolate and even whipped cream if you want it. Perfect end to the day. I think gofres are officially my new favorite food. Sorry, jamón serrano.
This morning I got my crap together and said goodbye sadly to Lucia, who has been a truly amazing host. I’ve learned a lot about Spain and have made a really good friend. I hope I get to come back when I get back from Greece! Anyway, this morning (Saturday), I took the train to Murcia to meet Teresa and her roommates. Now I’m here, I’ve eaten lots of chocolate, I’m going to get us some gofres, and then we are headed out on a bus for the airport to fly to GREECE. HOLD ON TO YOUR HATS.