30 Nov 2011

Hiking in a Cloud atop the Sierra de Bernia

Well that was different! I was wondering when Alicante would catch up with the rest of the world season-wise, and it turned out to be now! I can't say I mind much having to put on a few extra layers... I actually prefer the weather to be cooler when I'm out hiking rather than warmer (within reason). In this case instead of just my merino t-shirt, I also had on my merino long-sleeve shirt and a fleece-lined wind-stopper vest as well as a merino beanie on my head. I even pulled out the gloves at one point, but just for a little while! ;o)

It was particularly hard getting up at 7h30 this past Sunday for the hike, my whole body was begging me to stay in bed and continue recuperating from Saturday's Thanksgiving extravaganza! Yes, yes I know, the big turkey day was supposed to be Thursday, but what else can you do when you live in a country where it isn't a holiday? When my mom gets home from work she just wants to eat and rest (not necessarily in that order), so no way were we go to submit her to the crazyness that is a Thanksgiving feast! Then there's the fact that we've never celebrated Thanksgiving with "just" the family, it's always been a friends and family deal, probably because we only lived close enough to our American family to celebrate with them for a couple of years and so made up for it with dear friends who are like family to us! And of course, we're back to Thursday being a work day! ;o)

So, up bright and early for a hike, still stuffed like a turkey. Wait! Did I say "bright" and early? Hmmm... let's make that dark and cloudy and kind of scary! As the bus we were on got closer and closer to our chosen mountain, the Sierra de Bernia, part of me was going "gulp! get ready to get wet!" (plus thinking I finally had a reason to be lugging around my rain jacket in my backpack).

southern face of the Sierra de Bernia

Nice cloud huh? Just sitting there. Right on top of our mountain. >:(

24 Nov 2011

Movie Magic on Thanksgiving: The Help

My Thanksgiving has been un-food related so far, unless you count the grocery shopping for Saturday's feast when my family will be celebrating our own version of Thanksgiving (which as usual involves having lots of friends over). It's hard to do a full-blown turkey dinner when it's not a holiday and you have to consider people's work schedules and general fatigue. So while we're outside of the US, Saturday it is!

My sister flew in from England this morning to join us for the holiday, and after lunch we kidnapped our dad for our own father-daughter holiday tradition (any holiday will do): going to the movies! The selection was a bit limited, but I managed to twist their arms a bit and get them to agree to seeing "Criadas y Señoras" a.k.a. The Help. I felt that at the very least, it being an American holiday and all, we could go see a movie depicting life in the US in the not-so-distant past. I think the fact that it was an earlier show than our other option probably weighed more in my favour... but they were glad in the end! 

All three of us (my sister, my dad and myself) really enjoyed this movie, although my dad did say that in a way it was a bit depressing. I found it to be disturbing... the society it depicted, the people's mentality, their ignorance... Although intellectually I know about all this (racism, social differences, sexism, education etc.) having studied it in school, observed it in other films, emotionally it still feels like a punch in the gut. How could people seriously think and behave like this? And I'm not just talking about the treatment of the black servants, but those suburban women so disconnected from reality were just as scary to me! Separate restrooms because of disease transmission? Seriously???

For any who haven't seen it (came out in the US in August, should be out there on dvd soon), it's the story of Skeeter, a young white woman who comes home from college back to Jackson Mississippi with dreams of becoming a writer (while all her mother wants for her is a husband and kids) and who wakes up to the realisation of how people in her social circle treat "the help", particularly the black maids who raise their children (and raised them as well!). She decides to write a book about these maids' lives from their own point of view and manages to convince two of them to share their war stories with her, in spite of their fear of possible repercussions. We're in the early 1960s, beginning of the Civil Rights movement, and those involved are terrified of what could happen to them (at the hands of the KKK and others) if they were known to be participating in this project. It's both a horrifying, moving, poignant and at times funny tale with some wonderful women brought to life by some amazing actresses, particularly Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer who play Aibileen and Minny. And any scene Minny is in is unforgettable!

On this Thanksgiving Day I am very grateful that society has changed so much, that the world depicted in this film feels so alien to me that I barely recognise it, and that there were men and women brave enough to stand up and help bring about an end to this discrimination.

I hope all of you who are celebrating the holiday have a wonderful Thanksgiving with your loved ones! :o)

15 Nov 2011

Hiking up the Sierra del Cid

These hikes are definitely getting harder! Which makes me wish for the umpteenth time that I could do them more frequently (this group, the Centro Excursionista de Alicante, does one a month) so as to train my legs and have those climbs be a bit less painful! Fortunately I've gotten a few more clues as to options for that so fingers crossed! ;o)

Last Sunday we climbed the Sierra del Cid, so named after the heroic exploits in the region Spain's most famous medieval hero: Ruiz Diaz de Vivar, el Cid (you might have seen him under the guise of Charlton Heston). Here's the mountain with such an epic name:

Sierra del Cid seen from La Rabosa

Hmmm... I just realised that when zooming in on the photo I can trace most of our trial! In the centre of the flank you can make out like a beige snake... it's a cemented path (v. steep!) that we followed part of the way up, before cutting across to the left through the trees and the up along the flank until we reached the pass (Paso del Contador) between the smaller peak to the left and the main body. There were quite a few very steep climbs to get up there, particularly the last one up to the peak!

12 Nov 2011

Volvo Ocean Race sets off from Alicante

So last Saturday the magnificent sailboats participating in the Volvo Ocean Race set sail from Alicante. Their nine month trip around the world started out on a gloriously warm autumn day with magnificent winds, deep blue waters and a very scary sky. Watching them zipping over the waves in Alicante Bay was mesmerising, and something of an adrenaline rush!

I've been meaning to write about the Volvo Ocean Race for a month now... but October was an incredibly busy month what with extra work hours and helping out with the Volvo's environmental education project (remember that beach clean I told you about?). Damn! I hate being late to the party! But this was a big deal in Alicante and I'm not going to let it disappear in the haze of post drafts waiting to happen. Better late than never, right?

Volvo Ocean Race trophy, winners inscribed on the bars
First things first! What is the Volvo Ocean Race? For those not involved in the world of sailing and regattas (which would be me! Never heard about this until it started in Alicante), it's a round-the-world yacht race (used to be called the Whitbread Round the World Race) that takes place every three years, typically departing in from Europe in the Fall (Oct-Nov) and then heading round the globe with about 8-9 stopovers until the final destination about nine months later. The 11-member crew spend up to 3 weeks on-board between each stopover, working round-the-clock in 4h shifts. Talk about intense! I got to see inside one of the sailboats (was asked not to post pictures of the interior, sorry!) and there really isn't much space to do anything down there other than sleep (in hanging cots that can be tilted closer to the hull if the boat is leaning too far to one side), work the navigation post or prepare a feeze-dried meal. Even the toilet is just there for show, typically they just use the bow of the boat, as in the sailing days gone by of the 19th century... More on the history of the race on Wikipedia, or the official Volvo website.

11 Nov 2011

Movie Magic: Tintin comes to life!

Can I take a moment to gloat that we got this film 2 months before the US?

Ok, moment taken. It's such a rare occasion, particularly in a big-name film like this one, I just had to enjoy it! ;o)

It took me a bit of convincing (read emotional blackmail) to get my regular movie-going partner in crime to agree to this one because a) animated films haven't been his cup of tea in years, and b) in his words "Tintin isn't part of my culture, it's very much a European thing". Well sorry Dad, Tintin may be primarily a European cultural reference, but Hergé's famous reporter has blazed his way across the globe with his comics having been translated into more than 80 languages (and more than 350 million copies sold - thx Wikipedia). Sure, I may have read through the whole collection -several times- in high school (any French Lycée worth its salt has a decent BDthèque -comic-book library-, and Tintin wouldn't be missing from it!), but someone got me copies in English as well... who might that have been? For the record, he says it was my mom, which would explain the ones in Spanish as well... I have an odd multi-lingual comics collection. Back to the non-Gringo thing... I do have several friends in the US who were very familiar with Tintin, including one who was something of a Tintinophile. He went so far as to have someone translate the dialogues in the comics that were in Arabic, Chinese and Russian just to verify that they fit in with the story and weren't random gibberish made to look like another language! And hey, even Bart Simpson is a Tintin fan! Although being very much a part of European culture I guess would explain why the movie got released 2 months ahead on this side of the pond...

6 Nov 2011

Technicolour Sunset

Fall has only just really hit us this past week. Temperatures have finally dropped to below 20ºC during the daytime, a storm has been going on and off for several days giving us high winds and quite a bit of rain but most specially: clouds!

What's the big deal with clouds? Well Alicante summers are very hot and hazy with nary a cloud in the sky (must be why all those tourists flock to our beaches) which can be rather boring if you like a little texture on your horizon! Fall means the return of storms and storms bring clouds. Lovely fluffy clouds, more dense stormy ones... you name it, we got it! And there's nothing better than a cloudy sky for a beautiful technicolour sunset!

Alicante's castle glowing in the light of the setting sun
20' later from the other end of the bay

These are our Fall colour! Our trees don't go all gold and bronze. They stay green and either lose their leaves or don't. So we depend on the sky to bring some bright colours into our lives. :o)

4 Nov 2011

Hiking the cliffs of insanity in the Serra Gelada

Ok, well maybe not quite the Cliffs of Insanity, but it sure felt like that when I was pulling myself up them a few weeks ago! :p

So this was my second hike of the season. I got invited by a friend to join in with the Universidad Politecnica de Valencia's hiking group as they made an incursion into the province of Alicante (their other hikes are a bit too far for me to go). They planned on hiking through a park that I've been meaning to visit for years, the mountain/cliffs that separate the bays of Benidorm and Altea: the Serra Gelada / Sierra Helada Natural Park. 4900 of the 5600 acres of this parc are marine environment, so some day I've got to find a dive club that will take me exploring beneath the surface.

Benidorm, the Island and the cliffs of the Serra Gelada seen from the sky

I waited for the rest of the group at the Toll booths just outside of Benidorm, then we made our way into the town and up to the cliffs looking over the Playa de Levante. We parked the cars in a dirt lot and then hit the trail... starting straight away with a pretty steep climb that had me out of breath pretty fast! I fact I was so worried about being able to keep up with the others that I didn't actually take any pictures until we made it to our first rest point at a lookout overlooking the bay!