Tapas Weekend in Iberia

I wanted to go somewhere warm, and Ryanair has cheap flights to Malaga, Spain. So this weekend I decided to go to the Southwest of Spain. There are lots of interesting things there, and too much to do in 4 days. So I will have to go back again to do the Southeast.

Jan 29 - Flew into Malaga, rented a car, got some tapas at a rest stop restaurant (everyone has tapas here), and drove 3 hours to Parque Nacional de Doñana. I got there around midnight, so I took a long nap in the car until morning.

Jan 30 - I got up early and took the guided tour of the park. This is the only way to see it since it's forbidden to enter any other way. So me and a bunch of old Spaniards got into these 4WD buses and took a look around the sand dunes for a few hours.

Conto Doñana is Spain's top wildlife region, and it seems like hardly anyone comes here. It's home to tons of birds, fish, deer, wild boar, and the endangered pardel lynx. There were even road signs telling people to watch out for the lynx. Unfortunately I was not lucky enough to see one.

Birds are usually hard to find. They're small and scare easily. So I didn't see many. Just some shore birds and some flamingos that were very far away. I also saw some deer (with and without antlers) and some wild boar. The scenery was also interesting.

Next, I took a pit-stop in Sevilla to check out the sites there. Sevilla is much smaller than I expected. I saw most of the main sites (Catedral y Giralda, Palacio Arcobispal, Torre del Oro, Plaza de España) and walked around the downtown area in about 4 hours, and that was more than enough time to see everything. The Cathedral is impressive (and has the supposed Tomb of Christopher Columbus) and the Plaza is a pretty place to hang out and admire the tile art. For dinner I went to a nice tapas place and tried the Iberian ham for one of my plates. Very nice. This time I went to sleep at a hostel in town.

Jan 31 - I got up today before the sun did and made my way to Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park, the rainiest place in all of Spain. There, I hiked 8 km round trip to see Salto del Cabrero gorge and another 5 km to go down into Garganta Verde gorge.

The path to Salto went through a number of goat and cow ("Cañada" in Spanish) pastures way up in the mountains. I passed by lots of ancient rock walls that have probably been there for 1000 years. It was foggy for most of my hike, so I didn't get to see all of the scenery until halfway on my way back. Still, I'm glad I went because I saw some neat things.

The hike to the bottom of the Garganta Verde is supposed to be the highlight of the Sierra de Grazaleme and I'm sure it is. It was very dramatic. I'm glad they only let 30 people hike there each day. The canyon is a near-vertical wall of rock on each side and there is a large griffon vulture colony you can't miss. The sun was out, there was hardly anyone on the trail, and every time I looked up there were vultures flying around; probably hoping I would die or something. Very cool.

Next stop was Gilbraltar, but I stopped 50 km short in the small town of San Roque to have dinner and snooze. On the way here, I stopped at almost every scenic overlook to take pictures. I also stopped at Parque Natural de los Alcornocales to see one of the most important grove of cork trees in the world and chip off a piece of cork to bring home.

Feb 1 - Today I woke up early and drove to Gibraltar. I got there and drove up the rock, trying to find the walking path to the top. I stopped in a parking lot for the siege tunnels and waited until 9am for them to open, only to find that I was supposed to pay at the entrance gate a while back. I got there before they opened so the gate was already open when I got there. This is because people live inside the gated tourist part and need to get in and out when they're not open. Anyways, I drove all the way around again, paid at the gate, saw St. Michael's Cave, saw some barbary macaques, checked out the Great Siege Tunnels and the Moorish Castle. I never made it to the top because it was poring rain, I was soaked from seeing everything else, and the view wouldn't have been good anyways since it was so foggy.

The weather was so crappy that I decided to postpone a trip to Torcal de Antequera and Fuente de Piedra. Instead, I took my time in Gilbraltar, got waved through at the Spain border without showing my passport, and took a leisurely drive along the coast back to Malaga. I spent the rest of my time at a mall near the airport eating ice cream and playing video games.

Now my short tapas weekend has ended. I sampled small plates of several places and foods. I said I would come back again to do the Southeast and I will next year.

Thoughts on Spain: I am amazed at how few people here speak English. Again, I've had to rely on my pitiful vocabulary of roughly 40 Spanish words. Actually, every time I try to talk to someone here I accidentally speak German. I guess when my brain tries to say something non-English it defaults to German now. Anyways, this is the first place I've been to in Europe where most people don't speak English. I guess they don't get a lot of tourists around here.

The countryside here is gorgeous. I'm disappointed that my first day of driving was in the dark. Driving on the narrow, twisting mountain roads was great. The scenery was dramatic, the view was far and wide, even the little white towns built on the mountain sides were cute.

Also, I'm amazed at what a thorough job the Spanish conquistadors did when they conquered Latin America and forced their culture on the people there. The similarities between this part of Spain and the places I've been to in Mexico and Honduras are numerous. It's like a cross between Mexico and Florida here. The culture is very similar to Mexico, but with heavy western influences. I just hear the Gasolina song from a car that went by. Come on!

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