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Travelogue #14: Spain & Morocco with Christina

Coming to Spain was certainly disconcerting in many ways, full of culture shock and harsh on my refined sensibilities from spending so much time in a different culture.

First my vision was assaulted by a lack of colour, clean streets, yet dirty advertising and scantily clad or fully nude images of women everywhere. I even saw couples with raging sex drives making out, horizontal with shirts off in a public park near other families strolling and sitting. This I later found out is NORMAL in Spain where it is acceptable to "suck face" and P.D.A. anywhere.

The culture shock intense not just because of the people, but also the culture of the city. The beautiful clean city was so vastly alien to my experiences of the previous 4 months. I was not happy in Indian cities, they are a source of disgusting pollution and filth of all manners. That is not to say they do not have any nice qualities, they do have shopping opportunities and are quite necessary when one has to get things done, like travel, book reservations, and pick up supplies. In India, however, I was happiest and most comfortable was in the mountains, yet here I was faced with a comfortable and very clean, beautiful and chic city.

Then when I walked on the streets and saw a monstrous beast of modern machinery cleaning the streets at sunset, I was amazedÉ no dirt, no animals, people all dressed and decorous in behavior, it was so different I felt completely out of place at first. I stared at the streets being cleaned, I inspected the garbage cans on the corner, I viewed the city with a sense of novelty, an approach to a city I had never had before when I took things like garbage cans for granted. This was my sense of culture shock at the root level, at first, alone, with no one to talk to and a strange alien Catalan spoken on all sides, I felt like the natives in 'The Gods Must Be Crazy' - I appreciated the city but it felt so strange. So alien, I had to readjust my expectations to feel normal in a new environment, I had to acclimate. My nose and ears had to readjust to new smells and sounds and the absence, except in my luggage, of the stench of India.

Of course, it was a fair trade off, each culture has its good points and now that it has been 3 weeks in Europe, I think I have adjusted fully to my former 'New York City' sensibilities and am no longer shocked by all the cultural differences.

My first 3 days were difficult; I was alone in Barcelona, trying to adjust my digestive system to a new version of vegetarian diet, which could not easily be done in Spain. I loved Barcelona's streets, people, culture, and especially architecture like that of Gaudi! Unfortunately I soon discovered that Spanish food is meat and bread with no vegetables and no sauce on the bread - a bocadillo. This and other dishes never satisfied my vegetarian palette, which left pizza and other unauthentic choices to live by.

Once in Madrid I met Christina, my best friend and ex girlfriend from New York who was studying abroad for 5 months in Madrid. With her as my guide, and as a little devil on my shoulder, I learned again to appreciate some alcohol, eating fish, and dancing until 5 am with college girls - all skills I may need the next few years. The first night back together I got an emotional whirlwind from the full clash of personalities with Christina, her new boy toy, her new friends and her old roommate and my arch-nemesis Gardenia! We connected well, however, even me and her new Beau. I made friends with everyone and we bar hopped and danced all night to old-school music I used to dance to during the past 4 years in college - this was a great flashback!

We also saw the cultural sites in Madrid and although I started to feel so sick of traveling and being a tourist, being with her - a 'local' to show me around made it excellent, especially seeing the grand museums and relaxing the afternoons in "El Retiro" a big local park. I did NOT, however, love Madrid the way she and others do. It seems like any other big city to me, but I did enjoy the time there.

My most fun experience in Spain however, had to have been the 9 day roadtrip Christina and I took. Unlike traveling alone in India this provided a great opportunity for conversation, friendship, bonding, and experiences of relaxing on beaches and walking in old historic sites. I started the drive by LEARNING TO DRIVE A MANUAL CAR! I caught on fast but still stalled it 1-2 times a day in traffic, like when I forgot to use the clutch in slowmoving traffic while still in 3rd gear. It was fun driving across the mountains and plains of Spain and comparing it in my mind to the Indian geography, thinking how small this country is...

We made it via Cordoba and Cadiz to a small beach by our second evening, we spent two days there, on a lovely curved beach, mostly secluded, with few tourists. Bolonia beach also had a natural park reserve: a verdant green bush and grass-topped cliff jutting out 1 kilometer from the beach into the stunning aquamarine straight of Gibraltar. We sunbathed with Africa looming in the distance. Also at the beach were the ruins of an ancient Roman city, Baelo Claudia, wow!

It was perfect except for one funny story that happened the first day there: Christina and other ladies were sunbathing topless at the far end of the beach, partially secluded by rock outcroppings in the sand dunes. I felt secure leaving her alone for a nature hike and went up the reserve, walking toward Africa. Meanwhile a man previously kicking around a soccer ball lay at the nearest rock boulder to Christina and disrobed, after awhile she was shocked to see him naked not too far from her. Easly embarrassed, Christina turned her back to him and put on her suit. Then with gall unusual in creeps, he climbed to a better vantage point above her on a far sand dune and she caught him masturbating which grossed her out enough to get fully dressed and clean up our sunning spot to leave. Somehow he got a clue and left. Then I came back - too late to do anything but hear the story.

The next few days we spent in MOROCCO!!! With the exception of food poisoning Christina succumbed to one night we had a fantastic adventure in Africa. My favorite thing was the old walled city of Fez (which felt like the old Arab quarter in Jerusalem and also reminded me of India). Christina, on the other hand, was unwilling to sleep in a 7 or 12 dollar 'third world' hotel like I was used to in India, so we slept only at 40 dollar 4 star hotels with swimming pools. It was both affordable and luxurious! We really had a great time there, just across from Spain!

My favorite meal was the first night there; our cab driver took us to a lovely Atlantic Ocean fishing beach outside the city limits. There we ate a delicious huge Mediterranean salad and then 20 fried whole fish: head, fin, and tail! The fish were laid on each other in a platter, an assortment of long, fat, tiny, and medium sized varieties. They tasted fresh and great, despite my 'vegetarian' attitudes I have returned to my old diet of vegetarian-plus-fish, which is fine and healthy, and made it much easier to eat at restaurants while traveling.

Seeing the Alhambra and Granada at the end of my journey was also pleasant, although I felt saddened to see so many herds of tourists descending everywhere like flocks of bloated city pigeons and rats. They were dressed in absurd red striped short-shorts and baked red like a lobster with cameras dangling from every appendage.

I loved Spain. I had a great time, but I had to compromise and leave behind some of what I had grown accustomed to in India. The cost of living and traveling not only went up 20-30 times or more, but the quality of meditations and amount of sleep went down. I had fun, I really am so glad to have seen what I did, and I certainly have had a different perspective from living in India first and then traveling in Europe.