One weekend, Two Countries, Three Cities, and a Ton of Monkeys

When my sister and I were kids and lived in California, we used to play a strange “game.”  My sister’s room was above our garage and on the days she would tolerate having me hang around, we would listen for the door to open each night.  When it did, hell broke loose.  We would sprint down the steps yelling “Daddy’s home!” at the top of our lungs and the first one who reached him at the garage door won.  I also think this is when my sister started giving me Indian burns if I ran ahead of her…we were weird kids.  Anyways, that was my best attempt at describing how I felt this weekend when my host family and I arrived to Soto Grande where my parents were staying.  I feel like I have not seen my family in so long and when the garage opened up, I went running into their arms just like the old days.  It’s hard to explain how happy I was this weekend.  Having my host family and my parents finally together was absolutely incredible.  It was also pretty amusing to watch my parents struggle with the dos besos greeting and I do slightly regret quickly telling my dad that men don’t do it with other men.  It would have been pretty amusing to watch him try to kiss my host dad.

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This weekend we were living the life of the rich and famous.  My great uncle, Ambassador Bienvenido Tantoco has houses just sitting around all over the world.  I am very removed from this side of the family, but my dad and Tito Benny, as we all call him, are pretty close.  Let me tell you, this 93 year old knows how to live.  His house had everything you could imagine, a chef, driver/body guard, pool, gorgeous views, enormous terraces,  and more rooms than we could count. Damn, forget accounting, I want to be an Ambassador when I grow up!  Think Santa Clara has a major for that?  It was definitely a very different experience than the hostel/backpacking trips I’ve become accustomed to.photo

Our first night there, we had a very authentic Filipino dinner prepared by Susan, our chef.  My little host sister breathed a sigh of relief when I told her she didn’t have to eat anything she didn’t like.  However, even she ended up with a clean plate at the end of the meal!  Then it was time for a lot of talking and by a lot of talking, I mean a lot of translating on my end.  My host parents no hablan Ingles para nada and my parents are equally as bad with Spanish.  I was impressed when my mom knew how to say Hola.  My dad did seem to be pretty happy once he realized how much spanish I have learned since being here and that he wasn’t just paying for me to party in Europe (although he’s been paying for the too, sorry dad).  The next morning, I was feeling really great about my Spanish and started to get a little cocky.  While I was pretty focused on figuring out what I was eating for breakfast, I realized my host parents were waiting for me to translate something to my dad.  I quickly repeated the last word I heard, ladrones.  I turned to my dad, “robbers.”  Oops, better start listening again.  My host parents and dad were discussing our trip to the rock of Gibraltar that we had planned for later that day.  I turned to my host mom and asked, “Los ladrones están en Gibraltar?”  “¡Sí!” She replied.  I translated to my dad, “She says there are robbers at the top of Gibraltar!”  My host mom then continued, “Y ellos tienen culos rojos sin pelo.”  I translated, “Um and they have red hairless butts…”  My dad and I exchanged a worried glance and he asked, “Son africanos?”  My host mom answers, “No, son Inglesas!”  “Are they Africans?…No they are Englishmen!”  My host mom then asked, “No hay los con culos rojos sin pelo en los estados unidos?”  “There aren’t those with red hairless butts in the United States?”  Um, nope, can’t say there are.  My dad and I could barely hold back our smiles and I told my host mom to repeat the whole thing again por favor.  Then it all came together.  She was referring to the monkeys that live on Gibraltar as los ladrones/robbers!  Oh!  So there aren’t little english men running around the top of Gibraltar with red hairless butts trying to rob tourists?  I could have sworn that’s what you said.  We all started laughing so hard once we realized how lost in translation that conversation was and it was the ongoing joke for the rest of the day.  My bad.

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So if you are like me two days ago and know absolutely nothing about the Rock of Gibraltar, let me give you a little history lesson.  Disclaimer: I am using the word history very loosely since I was way more interested in the monkeys than the facts.  However, Gibraltar used to be Spain’s and for the past 300 years or so it has been a British territory.  The British like to remind the Spaniards of this as much as possible by putting things like the famous red phone booth right at the entrance of boarder patrol. _DSC0735 Nevertheless, everyone from Gibraltar speaks perfect Castilian Spanish and British English interchangeably.  It’s pretty cool how they treat the two languages almost as one.  This rock was once the most fought over place in Europe for some time for its’ military advantage.  From the top of it, you can see everything, including both the end of Spain and the start of Africa.  It is pretty incredible.  To my host parents disgust, when you go inside the military caves, all of the cannons are pointed straight at Spain.  Awkward.  Our tour guide then took us to the most beautiful cave I have ever seen.  It was filled with beautiful lights and music echoed through out it making it seem even more majestic.  My host dad said that the columns in the middle of the cave are so incredible because it takes 100 years to form one centimeter of the solidified rock and water.  _DSC0817I really want to say that this natural wonder was my favorite part of Gibraltar, but then I’d be lying and everyone knows the internet is a place for truth. It was all about los monos for me.  The monkeys were seriously awesome!  My host parents were right though, they were little ladrones.  They tried to get into my bag and pick pocket the other tourists.  All of the guides knew these wild animals by name and the monkeys had certain guides that they were friends with.  These lucky ones would jump right up on the car and sometimes in the car to get a free ride to the top.  They understood everything the guides said to them.  It was wild.  One even jumped into our car while we were driving and grabbed the steering wheel. The driver just pulled out some nuts and started feeding him like it was nothing.  Later, my guide asked me if I would like to have one on my shoulder.  Duh. So he held a few nuts in his hand near my shoulder and the monkey instead jump right on my head. Wow, did his culo rojo sin pelo smell nasty, but it made for a great picture.  The rest of the trip pretty much consisted of me playing with these monkeys and simultaneously trying not to get my passport stolen by them.  I must say, once we got to the top of the rock, it was absolutely incredible to look out at two different continents.  Africa and Spain, two places I never thought I would see like this and by that of course, I mean with a monkey on my head.

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The next day we woke up at the crack of dawn and made our way to Granada.  Having a driver this weekend was so convenient and we all slept the entire way there.  Two hours later, we were at La Alhambra.  This is one of the most visited places in Europe and I have been very anxious to tour it.  My host dad grew up right outside of La Alhambra in the beautiful white houses surrounding the walls.  We like to make fun of him for how much he talks about Granada, but now I understand.  _DSC0968From the outside it is absolutely enormous and breathtaking from the size alone (let’s be mature now), but the real beauty lays on the inside.  The Muslims did not believe in having a decorated outside and kept it rather simple.  They also based it off of the pantheon with the square exterior and circular interior.   We had a private tour guide take us all through the castle, the old town, the wives’ homes, and the summer castle.  She explained to us that the Sultan had many wives and these chicks lived the life.  We toured their living area and through their gardens.  The one that really had the good life though was whichever was lucky enough to be the Sultan’s favorite wife.  As you could imagine, this wife was upgraded faster than the newest iPhone and when the sultan upgraded to favorite wife 2.0 the old one got the boot.  One fun story our guide shared with us was about an affair between the Sultan’s favorite wife and another man.  Scandalous.
_DSC0043Legend has it the favorite wife would meet her lover by a tree in the garden every night.  Now this chica was bound to get caught considering the garden was inside la Alhambra.  I mean seriously, if you’re gonna cheat on a sultan at least try to be sneaky about it.  Surprise surprise, the sultan found out.  So he did what any jealous sultan would do who caught his wife cheating.  He went full Game of Thrones Red Wedding style and had a party for 36 men from the lover’s family.  After the party, as each man entered the sultan’s living area, he cut off their heads one by one.  Moral of the story, don’t cheat on a sultan.  I kind of wish the guide told me this story after I had walked out of that room because standing in the exact spot 36 men were murdered definitely freaked me out.  _DSC1067We then continued our tour to the old military barracks and later to the ancient town for the workers within La Alhambra. Unfortunately, pretty much everything there was destroyed by the French when they attacked back in the day.  Damn French ruining my pictures.  We ended our tour at the summer castle.  The sultan’s never actually slept there for safety precautions since it was outside La Alhambra walls, but when they needed time to relax they would head up there with their friends or mistresses for some R&R.  I think the most interesting part about La Alhambra was how different every section looked.  It has been conquered so many times that the architecture is a plethora of many different cultures, religions, and styles.  This I’m not even going to attempt to give the history on because I know I would completely butcher it so google it if you’re curious.

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After a bomb bocadillo with my family and the purchase of the coolest jewelry/music box made of animal bone, it was time for me to head back to Sevilla.  I reluctantly hugged my parents good bye, but knew I’d see them again in Sevilla in just a few days and got on the train.  I pulled out my spanish books to study for my upcoming midterms this week; instead they made for a great pillow as I drooled all over them for the entire 3 hours back to Sevilla.  It’s nice to be back home in my own bed, but I definitely wouldn’t have minded staying at my uncle’s place a few extra days.  However, I think the next trip I make is going to be to the pharmacy down the street.  My eye is definitely starting to itch and I’m beginning to think it might not have been such a great idea to let a bunch of monkeys crawl all over my head this weekend.  Como se dice pink eye from a monkey culo en español?  Hm, I’m gonna go wash my hands a couple hundred times. Gross.

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