After what seemed like a month in morocco, I was welcomed back into the western world by my dear friend Ruud! Warm showers, English speakers, fair prices, wine and even a few Christmas trees...all my favorite things! Not to mention a reunion with one of my newly met travel buddies. Ruud somehow keeps popping up throughout my adventures; the beginning in Croatia, a few weeks later in Amsterdam and the conclusion of my Europe travels in Spain. 

It was good to see a familiar face and even better to return to a culture I loved and understood. Ruud and I spent a day in Malaga around the beach and observing Christmas festivities then headed to Granada for some tapas testing.

Granada seems to be famous in the Spanish world for it's quaint college town and free tapas. That's right, each time you order a drink the waiter throws in a complimentary plate of tapas! Being into food and free things, this was the perfect place for me. Each night we would meander into town around ten P.M.  in search of the busiest bars to see what kind of tapas we could score. Between each tapas course and drink I would exclaim, "I love Spain!" I'm sure I sounded like a broken record to Ruud, but I was just so happy to be back with two old friends-Ruud and the Western World! Here are some pictures from the weekend: 

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A reflection pool in the Alhambra-a palace and fortress built in the 14th century by the Moors
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Enjoying my tapas and wine. I think Ruud got tired of me saying, "I LOVE Spain" each time we got a new tapa!
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Me and Ruud in front of Alhambra
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A view of Alhambra and Granada
 
 
_Hello Everyone, or shabat shallom from my end of the world! I finally made it to Tel Aviv after a plane ticket messup and a few stressful days stuck in Barcelona and am happy to be celebrating three months of traveling!

The past four weeks have been a crazy journey through Spain and Morocco. I have experienced some of the most intense and rewarding moments of my trip; hitchhiking in Morocco, Thanksgiving dinner, riding camels in the Sahara, nearly getting mugged by a monkey, and reuniting with good friends and making new ones. Overall, it has opened my eyes to cultures and lifestyles vastly different from my own, and made me ponder my own beliefs and culture.

After spending last weekend in Malaga with my Dutch friend Ruud, I had a flight booked to Barcelona then from Barcelona to Tel Aviv that same night. I had been planning on traveling through Israel for a while and had spent a lot of time researching the area and creating a rough itinerary of what I would see. Because of my mom's job with the airlines I was able to get a discounted standby ticket on Spanair. However, when I got to the ticket counter to check in Spanair informed me that they had terminated the contract with my mom's airline and I couldn't take the flight.

This news was shocking and caught me so offguard that I had no idea what to do. The only other flight to Tel Aviv that night was on AirEuropa. I went and talked to them and they couldn't put me on the Tel Aviv flight, so I asked, "where else do you have flights tonight, I'll go anywhere." I must have sounded crazy, but the idea of taking any flight and seeing where you end up seemed so freeing. The only flight was to the Canary Islands, which they offered to put me on.

Very tempting, but I also knew that Sam (my Morocco-Australian travel buddy) was coming to Barcelona soon. I could take the one-way to the Canary Islands or chill with Sam for a few days in Barcelona and re-think the situation. Althought the spontanaity of the first option was tempting, I chose the latter.

Initially a little bitter about the overall situation and being stuck in Barcelona, I ended up having a great time with Sam and loved the city! I decided that I would give Israel one last shot and showed up at 6 A.M. this morning at the El Al ticket counter. I was sure the attempt would be futile, but it was worth a try.

I explained the situation, they made a few phone calls and literally took everything and led me to a search room before I knew what was going on! Someone rushed off with my passport and asked if I wanted a window or isle, so I guess somehow the ticket worked.

After two hours of going through my person, dumping out my entire backpack, turning on all my electronics devices and intensley questioning me about them and looking between and under my toes, I was escourted through security. My security guard was to remain with me for the entire waiting period until I was in my seat on the plane.

Apparently El Al felt bad for basically traumatizing me, so the security guard offered to buy me coffee and a donut, which of course makes everything better. We sat drinking coffee and chatting until my flight was ready to board. Luckily, she was really cool, we had a great conversation and she even offered to ask her friend if I could stay with him in Tel Aviv.

Apparently taking a last minute flight to Israel raises a few red flags...or more like one giant red terrorist flag. Either way, it was an interesting experience and I am happy to be in Tel Aviv. As you can tell, I have been a bit distracted from blogging lately. I have not forgotten...I'm just a week or so behind. Stay posted for some more Morocco stories and pictures.

Ciao for now!

Ember

 
 
The convict skills of wild animals are highly underestimated. Criticize me for my ridiculousness all you want but those furry little faces aren't so innocent. I am convinced that a step by step guide to warding off wild animals is really what every traveler needs. You will thank me for this next time you get mugged by a monkey.   The British flags, English accents and petite phone booths of Gibraltar were a welcomed change from my previous week in Spain. I was anxious to spend a day exploring the place, however, I was most excited about meeting Gibraltar's famous ape population.

I spent the afternoon traversing the roads circling Gibraltar in search of the legendary apes. Just as I abandoned hope and the gates to the roads were closing for the day, I heard a loud "screeech!" Yards away, a dozen monkeys popped out of the bushes to pay me a surprise visit.  

Let me back up for a minute…I am terrified of monkeys. I have seen far too many Fatal Attraction episodes of monkeys turning fierce and ripping limbs off of their human owners. I would say this is a valid reason to steer clear of the creatures. Either way, when I first spotted my new furry friends I was elated and so excited about the prospect of getting an epic monkey Fb profile picture, my fear vanished. I threw my purse and jacket on the ground and ran toward the animals! 

Ely started snapping pictures of me. I approached the first monkey. Initially terrified, I kept my distance. When he didn't immediately maul me I gained courage and crept closer and closer. Suddenly, the creature leapt from the bush, grabbed my purse and began rummaging through it. He threw the water bottle and bag of mixed nuts aside—obviously this ape had a better target in mind…my passport. Panic overcame me. I had two options: (1) rip the purse from the monkey's grasp and run, or (2) follow the ape to his den, make friends with the monkey family and peacefully negotiate my beloved belongings back. Somehow, I didn't imagine the monkey's den to be homosapien accessible and had an inkling that my new furry friend far outmatched my agility. Frightening images of being stranded in Gibraltar for weeks until I could get a new passport filled my mind. None of these sounded like a good option. 

During my bout of terror, I remembered an email I recently received. You know those large-colored-font-forwarded messages with a hodgepodge of email addresses pasted at the top? It was one of those. I normally delete them immediately, but something about the "Tips for Solo Female Travelers" headline captivated me. If I didn't read it, coincidence would find me in the worst case scenario stranded thousands of miles from home. The one interesting thing I learned was if someone asks for your purse, you should throw it as far as you can and run in the opposite direction. 

Reality suddenly became crystal clear. I WAS GETTING MUGGED BY A MONKEY!

Instinctively, I grabbed the nearest rock and tossed it to the side of the ape, hoping to provide an alluring alternative to my goods. Success! The monkey chased the rock allowing me to snatch my bag. Thank God, no prolonged stay in Gibraltar for me.

I did get a few epic Fb pictures, and made it out of Gibraltar rabies-free, but my monkey-phobia won't be going away any time soon.
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The infamous monkeys of Gibraltar
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In this picture you can see England, Spain and Africa...can you tell which is which?
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This is my best monkey imitation! I think he looks a little more focused than me though!
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This picture is senior photo status complete with a monkey!
 
 
My first memory of Ely is the morning I arrived in my new Mexican home. It was a Saturday, I had been flying all night and was still trying to cope with the anxiety of moving to Mexico for five months and the uncertainty of what was in store for me. 

I sat at the kitchen table meagerly eating my breakfast and listening to my host mom ramble on and on, yet not understanding a word of the Spanish she spoke. I was pondering all the events and seemingly regrettable decisions that had led up to my current residence, and suddenly Ely popped into the kitchen with a cheery, "buenos dias!" I was beyond relieved to see another student, let alone an English speaker!

We immediately hit it off and began talking about living in Seattle (that's where she is from) and by the end of the night we were drinking Coronas and meeting the locals at a salsa club.

That whole semester Ely and I got really close. We hand sewed Halloween costumes, went on a few day trips together and commiserated over the occasional Mexican happenstance that would "never happen in the U.S."

I would classify Ely as an all American (or well, Mexican) type of girl. We would discuss Mexican culture and relations between the U.S. and share stories about our lives back home and our families. By the end of my semester, Ely and I had been through so much together and I had heard so many stories about her family, that I felt like I basically knew them.

If anyone was ever meant to be a language and culture teacher, it's Ely-and that's exactly what she's doing in Spain. Learning languages, understanding cultures and telling hilarious stories are her specialties. She has huge goals for her life and is already well on her way to success. 

Even after two years of living in different countries, studying, working and going our own ways, Ely's and my paths keep crossing. A year and a half after Mexico, I happened to be in Seattle. I gave Ely a call, we met up and I actually got to meet her family who I had heard so much about. 

Just a month ago, I discovered via Facebook, that Ely had moved to Spain. I was elated. Visiting Spain was at the top of the list for my trip, and it would be so much more enjoyable to have a familiar face to share it with. I gave her a call and we planned to meet up for a reunion rendezvous!

Ely lives in Algeciras, one of the most important port cities in Spain, as it is only a stones throw from Morocco. Every three months 300,000 Northern Africans pass through the port traveling between Europe and Africa. 

Ely showed me around Algeciras and we had a great night checking out several tapas bars. My favorite was a restaurant where the waiters carried plates of tapas and walked past your table letting you choose whichever tapas looked good off the plate. At the end, they charged you by the number of toothpicks on your plate. It reminded me of the Spanish version of conveyor belt sushi restaurants. 

We had a jam-packed weekend visiting Tariffa-the southernmost continental point of Europe and a famous surfer destination, a castle that had been converted to a small village of 24 people...wow! and the rock ofGibraltar. We visited two countries and saw Africa all in one day!
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Me, Ely and Susana (her roommate) enjoying sweet wine and tapas in a cafe
 
 
As a Spanish student at school there always seemed to be a tension among my classmates between Spain and Mexico and which was better. Most people studied in Spain and would not quit raving about how amazing their life in Europe was. I on the other hand was a die hard Mexico fan and knew there was no way their Spain adventures were anywhere close to the amazingness that my five months in Mexico was.

Americans have a terrible idea of Mexico. While Europe is sophisticated and romantic, Mexico is a dirty slum where you might get caught in the crossfire of a drug cartel shootout. Granted, there are a few nice tourist party beaches where you might come back alive. The thought of actually living in Mexico makes many Americans cringe. 

Now, I was on a mission to discover the truth about "sophisticated romantic" Spain, and put the Spain/Mexico rivalry to rest once and for all. I was excited to see what the country had to offer, but was I also not expecting to be impressed (afterall, I was sure it couldn't compare to Mexico). 

On the bus from Faro to Sevilla I was amazed at how strikingly similar Mexico and Spain were. Spain sported the same deserty and sparsely populated landscape with a random stripmall now and then along the freeway that I had become so acustomed to in Mexico. 

Sevilla had similar architecture to my city of Guanajuato complete with romantic windy streets, alleyways filled with shops, street vendors and a giant center plaza. I must admit I  was a little impressed. Furthermore, the Spanish culture captivated me from day one. They really do have afternoon siestas where the whole city shuts down between two and four. Afterward, everyone goes about their business and many of the shops are open until eight or nine pm, then it's common to hit up a tapas bar with your friends around ten and chat, eat and drink into the wee hours of the morning. 

Tapas to the Spanish are coffee dates to Americans. Pair a 2-3 Euro tapa with a 1.50 Euro glass of wine, and you have the perfect makings for a casual outing, meeting or date. It's informal, noncommital and inexpensive...genious! 

Unfortunately, by the time I reached Sevilla I had a pretty bad cold. I slept on the bus ride and when I got dropped off I just wanted to find the first hotel and go to bed. I arrived in the city with no map, no reservations, and in the middle of siesta hours when everything was closed. I started wandering around and coincidently stumbled upon a hostel I had read about online the night before. I guess that was my lucky day. I checked in and took a five hour siesta. 

Lucky for me, the Spanish culture is so relaxed that I didn't feel guilty about sleeping most of the day, plus I always had the night to look forward to tapas. If I had to pick a place to be sick, Sevilla was perfect. It seemed like everyone just did one or two things each day. You might go to the store and do laundry then spend the rest of the day at a cafe, or go to a museum, take a siesta and go out for tapas. Not an entirely rough lifestyle if you ask me! 

I spent a lot of time reading, writing and jamming out on the guitar with my fellow hostleites. It was a nice break from the usual tourist trek, and I feel like I really got a good grasp of the Spanish culture. 

For those of you who are wondering, Mexico will always be Mexico, but Spain shares a lot of the same characteristics that make Mexico so special-it is easy to tell they are long lost cousins. And, Spain fulfills all of its stereotypes perfectly-relaxed culture, romantic gardens, beautiful cities, delicious food, late nights, sunshine and the European lifestyle. 
 
 
Good morning/good afternoon/buen dia where ever you are in the world! It is a lovely Tuesday morning in Sevilla, Spain and this marks the two month aniversary of my journey! I want to thank all of you, who I know and don`t know for your comments, messages and endless enthusasium for my travels. Your support has been amazing and it´s always nice to hear from a familiar face!

A little bit about my travels...I am excited to be in a country where I finally speak the language! I arrived in Spain yesterday and plan to spend a few days in Sevilla, then head to Grenada where I can hopefully find a place to settle down for a month or so to practice my Spanish and meet some locals. Keep your fingers crossed, I´m not sure how the whole, "I want to rent a room for just a month" thing will go, but things always seem to work out, so I´m not too worried.

A friend recently commented on my luck saying that I may actually be the center of the universe, so I´ll just bank on that :) Either way, I hope you are enjoying my travel excerpts, as I am definitely enjoying writing them. There are a few interesting stories coming your way, so stay tuned.

¡Ciao for now!
Ember