Shakespeare and a Pigeon with a Death Wish

Summer has arrived in Spain. It’s been pleasantly cool up until now, but yesterday somebody upstairs decided to crank up the thermostat. Two months ago it was finally warm enough to ditch the thermals by night, and now it’s shirt season. Which, for anyone who knows me, suits me just fine.

I haven’t done a random regular update in a while. I guess that with all of the to-and-froing after Semana Santa I’ve hardly had the time: in less than a month I’ve been to El Rocio, Sevilla, Cordoba, Barcelona, Andorra, Calatayud, Monfrague and Jerez de los Caballeros, not to mention taken part in a Romanian art school exchange and worked a weekend at an English immersion event. It’s been pretty non-stop since the 23rd of March. But life goes on, and as I try to make clear on this blog, life is not one massive series of amazing year abroad adventures – unless you count the everyday as an adventure in itself, and I wouldn’t blame you if you did. It’s full of trials and tribulations of its own.

Well, what’s to say? Here I am in the staffroom at my afternoon private school, waiting for my Upper Sixth class to arrive for a catch-up class (I’m still making up for those hours I lost by being in Barcelona, one month later – take note, future me!). It’s hard work but rewarding, teaching Upper Sixth… They don’t all take part as they should, but those that do do so with a spectacularly high level of English. The others are just as good, if only they’d speak more (an eternal problem with teenagers). I look back to the honeymoon period when I’d first arrived and it was a barrage of questions from all sides… but even if they aren’t as proactive with familiarity, at least being settled pays off. And at least I know their names. It hardly needs saying, but that’s crucial to good relations.

Teaching at the public school this morning was uncharacteristically problematic. For the first time this year I forgot to set my alarm, with the result that I only woke up at the sound of my flatmate leaving, some fifteen minutes before my first class. In my haste to leave I startled a recently fledged pigeon that had been sitting on the doorstep of the block of flats which, as Fate would have it, flew straight under the wheels of a car. In that dark mood I went on to teach two Lower Sixth classes about the End of the World, painfully aware that the biggest challenge – trying to teach Shakespeare – was still around the corner. Even so, I’d prepared a nifty presentation for the job, which would do the trick.

Provided the computers were working. Which they weren’t.

For the second week in a row my premier class had to suffer an off-the-cuff lesson where all the visual prompts and gags had to be done manually. I’ve got to say it; if my mother hadn’t gotten me into drawing, I don’t know what I’d do in such situations. Drawing skills are a genuine lifesaver in teaching. No PowerPoint? Whip out the chalk. Trouble explaining a word? Draw it. Need to motivate the kids? Get scribbling. It’s a defibrillator that never runs out of juice. I owe my parents, my friends and my art teachers so very much for encouraging me on that front. I don’t know where I’d be without a pencil in my hand and an image in my head.

It’s 15.30. My Upper Sixth class should be here in a couple of minutes, but if they play their usual ‘I went home for lunch’ card, I’ve got at least another twenty minutes until they turn up. In the meantime, I’ll get prepping their mock exam. Let it never be said that a language assistant is a cushy job. You land a job as good as this, you’d better earn it. BB x

Polo’s Bastards

With my summer plans in a near-constant state of flux, I thought it about time to set a few things straight. This time last year I still wasn’t sure what I’d be doing for the summer of 2016. By all rights, I figured I was still lumped with another two months in Jordan. Since then, it’s bottled about through three weeks in South Africa, chilling out at Olvera’s August feria, hiking the Sultan’s trail from Bucharest to Istanbul, crossing the Pyrenees from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, ten days in Romania, another ten in Egypt and, somewhere, completing my four month minimum in Tetouan, Morocco.

Understandably, my brain is a bit of a clusterfuck at the moment. It’s partly because of that that I accidentally booked a hotel for the wrong night in Chefchaouen and had to pay an obscene 95€ just to cancel, it being less than fifteen days until our visit now. (This is why I prefer to stay in cheap-o hostels, people…) And it’s unnecessary expenses like that that make me reconsider.

So this is me, reconsidering. Let this exploration of yours truly’s very own version of Polo’s Bastards stand testament to any further meanderings. The following ten countries, in ascending order, are the top ten on my hit-list. And they aren’t exactly the easiest. (Spain, for various reasons, is not included – call me easily pleased, but it’d invariably take the top spot).

Southern Morocco

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Tafraoute, Morocco

This one’s on the list despite the fact that I’ve already been because I was only there for five days or so, and it’s worth an adventure in its own right. Morocco’s south is famous for the Sahara, for Erg Chebbi and the reasonably easily-accessible camel treks that set out into the dunes from Merzouga. Morocco is such a diverse country, and merits proper exploration of each of its three zones – the Rif, the High Atlas and the Anti-Atlas – independently. It’s the south that bowled me over, not least of all Taroudant, by far the most charming city I encountered when I trekked from Agadir to Fes. It’s also the home of Abderraman Rajji, the kind old Berber who offered his house to Archie and I. Tafraoute in particular has been calling out to me ever since. The way things are going, I might even consider exploring the south some more in September…

Yemen

The Republic of Yemen

Jebel Shugruf, Yemen

You’re mad. No, seriously, you’re insane. But Yemen has been my top Arabic destination since the very get-go, being one of the contenders for both Sheba and the most beautiful country in the world in my books (it may or may not have something to do with having so much in common with the country in the top spot on my list). Since it’s been a war-zone for so very long and many parts are still tribal – the two may or may not go hand in hand – much of the country has been spared the glass-and-cement arm that has scarred so much of the Gulf. Not to mention the gorgeous, Ali Baba-esque mountaintop towns. Wallahi.

Democratic Republic of Congo

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Mount Nyiragongo, Democratic Republic of Congo

I’ve been within a stone’s throw of the DRC twice. On both occasions I had this mad urge to throw caution to the wind and cross the border. Fortunately, a crocodile-infested river stopped me the first time and a hundred miles of unchecked jungle stopped me the second. Needless to say, my appetite is whetted. This is the true African stereotype, Conrad’s dark zone, peppered with active volcanoes glowing red in the night – and at the risk of further destroying any faith you had in my sanity, it’s the danger of the place that attracts me so. Doesn’t the name alone sound so powerful?

Argentina

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Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

A curiously mainstream addition to the list, I’ve had just about enough of seeing the same mountain range on the front of Lonely Planet, National Geographic and Wanderlust magazine – and have therefore decided that it must feature on this list. Patagonia looks so very crumpled and torn apart that it’s almost unnatural. I’ve been in love with mountains my whole life, and Argentina’ Tierra del Fuego represents possibly one of the most perfect mountain ranges in the world, picture-perfect in every way. And hey – they speak Spanish!

Egypt

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Abu Simbel, Egypt

Let’s face it, who doesn’t want to see the Pyramids? Or the Sphinx? Or the Valley of the Kings? Egypt was my fall-back for Arabic until the Arab Spring ruined everything… now it’s been relegated to the dust of lost dreams, which is rather fitting, though it’s resurfaced from the sand of late in light of the summer flux. My only issue with Egypt is the package-y nature of it. If I could go, I’d rather backpack it – and that is the first leg of Cairo to Cape Town. That really would be an adventure and a half!

India

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Mehrangarh Fort, Rajasthan

One word: Rajasthan. Land of desert forts, of rose sunsets, of dark-eyed mysteries. It’s the realm of the Far Pavilions‘ Bhithor (I think) and of Valmik Thapar’s Desert Kingdoms episode of Land of the Tiger. Southeast Asia may be the flavour of the month for most backpackers, but I’d eschew the Thailand-Cambodia-Vietnam trail for a month in Rajasthan alone anyday. India’s so massive and so diverse that you’d need more than three months to fully appreciate the place. And some day, I intend to do just that.

Ireland

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Murder Hole, Donegal

I have absolutely no idea why or how County Donegal made it onto this list. One day it simply seized my brain and became the country of origin of my princess. I guess it all spun out from there; that, and that damned gorgeous accent they have up there in Ulster. Ireland’s a damned sight closer than any of the countries on this list (and is also, consequentially, the only European entry), but the only thing holding me back is the expense of traveling around; a fair hike compared to the others. Even so, I doubt it’ll be long before I’m drawn out to the Emerald Isle.

Cameroon

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Rhumsiki, Cameroon

As well as my madcap desires concerning Cairo to Cape Town, I have this less ambitious but no less adventurous urge to visit each of Africa’s four corners: North, South, East and West. Having seen central Africa already, I’m chomping at the bit to see the rest of it. It’s first on the list of countries I’d consider volunteering in, since I reckon it would really merit getting to know on a more human basis than backpacking could ever provide. It also has a serious bushmeat trade problem that I feel strongly about. On top of that, Cameroon has all that I love about Africa: fantastic food, spectacular countryside, great apes and a dark history. It’s also a necessary stopping point since one of my novels takes place here. Let’s just call it ‘essential research’.

South Africa

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The Drakensberg, Kwa-Zulu Natal

Words cannot describe my love for this country that I’ve never been to. I’ve waxed lyrical enough about the land of Quatermain, of P.K., my ex-girlfriend and the Zulus before, so I won’t go on about it. What I will say is that I came with a hair’s breadth of going this year, barred only because my bank wouldn’t let me pay for both my flights and my brother’s in one go. Taking it as a message from above, I backed down. But only for a run-up. I’m not even close to the door yet.

Ethiopia

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Gelada Baboon in the Simien Mountains, Ethiopia

Truly, Ethopia must be the King of Africa. It’s Africa with castles, with Gods-in-the-flesh and sulphur fields. The people are – in my humble opinion – probably the most beautiful in the whole world, being a striking blend of Arab and African. I had a three-hour layover in Addis en route to Uganda four years ago and I guess it started there – there, or a few hours before, when our plane came down out of the clouds and I saw Africa for the very first time, a paradise of rolling plains that gave way to spectacular waterfalls and blood-red cliffs. The Simien Mountains also top the list for me in terms of beautiful mountain ranges… and I haven’t even got onto Harar’s hyena-men. Then there’s Erta Ale, Gondar, Addis Ababa herself, the Omo Valley… Ethiopia simply has everything – and less tourists than the other African giants. Perfection. All I’m waiting for here is another like-minded adventurer to join me and I’m there. Just you wait, Ethiopia. Just you wait.

There. When you’re struggling for an idea as to where to go next in a couple of weeks, or months, or a year, return here. These are my top ten. And one day, come Hell or high water, I’ll have seen them all. BB x

Frustration

The year abroad, as is so often said, is supposed to be one of the best years of your life. Erasmus students say it. Universities say it. Even the interns say it. Heck, I’ve probably said it at least four or five times already. It’s about spreading your wings, perhaps for the first time, and branching out into the outside world.

The British Council sent me to Villafranca de los Barros, a middle-sized municipality in the Tierra de Barros of some fourteen-thousand inhabitants in Extremadura, a Spanish region largely overlooked by all but the most intrepid of tourists. That suited me just fine – after Amman I was practically desperate for the lull of a country town – but you’d think it’d be no place to start looking for contacts in the wider world.

Like me, you’d be wrong. Over the last couple of days, it’s as though somebody stepped on the accelerator pedal. A visiting school group from Lugoj, Romania, shook things up by giving me an unexpected two days of bilingual art class, working as both translator (Spanish into English, which the Romanians had a better grasp of) and art teacher in various exercises using Dadaist motion-capture techniques, light and shadow, cartoon creation and plasticine modelling.

Somehow, my vocabulary was just about up to the task. An easel, for the record, is a caballete.

As it turns out, the leaders of the expedition were so impressed by my attempts that they asked me to join them in July for the International Arts Festival held in their hometown, board and lodging all paid for. All I’d have to look into would be the flights.

In July. When I’m supposed to be in Morocco.

The following day I went out for lunch with the Romanians and their hosts from Meléndez Valdés, where one of my English-teaching colleagues put before me a proposition to spend the May Bank Holiday weekend with the English department in Morocco. Not one to turn down anything travel-related unless backed into a corner, I naturally said yes. Fortunately, I had no prior engagements that weekend. I’m booking that tomorrow, so more on that later.

Anyway, the lady in question offered to drop me off in Almendralejo afterwards, there to meet up with the Escuela de Idiomas and set off for our weekend language exchange in Burguillos del Cerro. In the car we discussed Morocco and she put before me another proposition, more enticing by far: Egypt.

You might remember my failed attempt to travel to Egypt last year; the one where Andrew, Mack and I were turned down because of the colour of our skin. Granted, it was a fair cop. In retrospect, crossing the Sinai peninsula by bus does sound a little hit-and-miss, to put it lightly. I’m still damned keen to see the place, if not for the fact that it’s bloody Egypt – enough said, surely – then for the simple fact that the place is so devoid of tourists at the moment. Ten years ago the pyramids and the temple complexes would have been heaving. These days, people are afraid. I suppose they have their reasons. They also have reason, which I tend to lack from time to time.

When? Oh, that’d be July, too. A couple of days after returning from Romania, to be precise.

The same teacher has her oposiciones coming up the following year and is keen to travel as much as she can before the year is out and she is thrown back into the impoverished, restricted life of a student once again. So she’s traveling to Thailand in August and – you guessed it – asked if I wanted to join.

Baby, I swear it’s déjà vu. This is Jordan clashing with Archie’s grand Central American adventure all over again. Only this time I genuinely want to do both. One of the main advantages of both Romania and Egypt – the two that are actually feasible, given the time frame – is that I would be traveling with Spaniards and consequently speaking almost entirely in Spanish. What that equates to is almost an entire year  working on perfecting my grandfather’s language, which is absolutely amazing for my Spanish.

As for my Arabic, it leaves much to be desired.

What I have to keep reminding myself is that Arabic is not a career path for me like Spanish is. I love the Arabic culture, the beauty of the language, the history and the world that is North Africa… but I’ve never wanted to work in politics, or diplomacy, or the Army, or even as a translator, and I’d like to think that I’ve at least enough morals not to even go near the oil industry. Besides, Spain feels like home. It always has. Therefore it has and always should occupy the greater part of my mind.

That said, I have to spend an absolute minimum of four months in an Arabic-speaking country. There’s simply no going around that. What with the sudden arrival of so many opportunities, it’s not just frustrating that I’ve got this quota to fill – one that I genuinely want to fill. It’s brutal in the extreme. If only I could stay abroad during Fresher’s Week and gain myself one week more… but I have prior commitments – not least of all the upkeep of this blog – that require me to be back in Durham before September is out.

I’m not saying I wasn’t warned. We were explicitly told on several occasions that taking up an eight-month British Council Assistantship would royally screw over your second language. Put bluntly. And I fiercely maintained that, come all the paradoxes of Hell, I was going to go for it anyway. Because I’m stubborn like that. And it’s been one of the very best decisions of my life, one that I don’t regret for a second, and an experience that I’ve loved so very much that I’m finding it very hard not to apply for the very same Villafranca de los Barros in a year’s time. The fact remains that I need that four month quota, and the way things are going, it’s looking like a month and a half on either side. Which isn’t exactly ideal.

Do you ever feel like time is running out on you? I do. So very often.

I’m going to do what anyone with half a brain would do in my situation: consult the parents. I had to back down from South Africa for various reasons, and I really don’t like quitting. Especially when there are so many people counting on me. Oh, to be free from the shackles of academia! 2017 can’t come soon enough… BB x

Through the Looking-Glass

It’s been an interesting year. No, more than that, it’s been the very best of years. Not even that terrifying Monday primary class can put a damper on it. Incidentally, autocorrect suggested pterodactyl instead of primary, which is probably a very accurate description of the atmosphere. But like I said, that class alone has had next to no major impact on the year as a whole. As far as me goes, I think it’s been a resounding success.

This morning I found myself, for the first time, feeling genuinely fluent… and that was in the middle of giving a bilingual art class to a visiting school group from Romania, whose English was, in all likelihood, streets ahead of their Spanish. It’s the first time I’ve ever had to translate on the go, and being thrown the most dastardly terms that Dadaist impressionist art jargon can supply was a serious challenge, but one that I lapped right up. But that’s not the real crux: it’s that I’ve started getting tenses, idioms and (more crucially) agreements right without even thinking. It’s easy to think that the four-month point is the peak of language acquisition and after that it’s just vocab, vocab, vocab, but lately I’ve come to realize that the shoemakers’ elves have been at work and my grammar has been improving on the sly – which is grand, though it has made me wonder more than once whether I’m wasting £9000 a year and more on tuition fees if all I had to do to improve my Spanish was to come out here.

That’s a healthy dose of good news, because I was cut off from my principal means of improving my Spanish earlier this year. Or rather, I cut myself off. In a mirror-move of last year, I’ve fallen head over heels in love, had my heart broken and considered then walked away from a potential relationship over a niggling feeling that, as before, something simply wasn’t right. Story of my life, really. No matter how much I think, no matter how hard I try, I’m simply not cut out for the word casual. It’s not in my blood. Like my mother, I fill my every second with a job or project of some kind, be it work, writing or some other task to stave off sloth. I couldn’t ever commit any less than one hundred percent to anything, and though I’ve tried to convince myself of the ridiculousness of such a stubborn attitude, that’s something I can’t change. Whoever She is, she’ll be the kind of girl who gives a hundred percent back. Balance is key, and I’ve had my fill of one-sided love affairs. A couple of old friends I met over the Christmas holidays told me they’d reached the stage where they no longer have time for people who have no time for them. I thought it a rather selfish statement at first, but now I see the wisdom in it. After all, there’s no use in chasing stars over the horizon.

At the core of everything, but especially relationships – and I’m speaking from pitiful ignorance, as usual – is learning to love yourself. Love yourself and others will love you. That’s what they say. And loving yourself is no easy task.

I don’t think I’ve been truly happy with myself since I was fourteen; before girls, before exams and long before stepping out into the wide world (though I’ll make a three-month exception for that brief stint in Uganda). Physically, at least, I’ve always had complaints; why am I so small, why did I get the worst of my parents’ genes, why can’t I squat like an Arab without falling over… Petty, every one of them.

I’m also probably rather unhealthy compared to most of my generation, in that I don’t practice any kind of sport whatsoever (besides the occasional ridiculous trek). As I used to whine as a toddler, it’s not in my interest. And in my books, anything that’s not in my interest simply isn’t worth my time (until it is in my interest, of course, when suddenly I have to be exceedingly good at it). The gym doesn’t appeal to me – just hearing people bang on about their gym routine makes me want to jump down a rabbit hole – and though I’ve tried more than once, anything close to a workout routine tends to peter out after a few weeks because I get no enjoyment from it. The best I ever managed was those two months in Jordan, and that was only because Andrew stoically refused to let me back down. Left to my own devices, though, I’m my own worst enemy when it comes to sport. I’m simply not one of those people who gets a kick out of working up a sweat. I never have been. It’s only pure fear of what may become of me in the future that’s making me reconsider; now, when I should be at my physical prime.

So I have physical issues. That should come as no surprise. Fortunately, I’m either too stubborn or too indifferent to let them do me any emotional damage. Sure, I’ll probably have to start running soon, and that’s no bad thing. Especially in a country like Spain, where the food is a graver threat than terrorism. At least I eat well here.

This stream-of-consciousness was brought home to me by my headmaster in class this afternoon, when he whimsically commented that if I were a woman I’d be ‘marriage material’; “…this boy can draw, he can sing, he can dance, act, write, and he knows all of the names of the birds. He does everything”.

Yes, I basically got indirectly proposed to by my headmaster. Will this madness ever end?

But he was wrong. I don’t do everything. I happen to dabble in the arts, and whilst I consider myself reasonably accomplished in a few fields, there’s so many normal things I can’t do. Like mathematics. Or asking for help. Or driving. Or football. Or skiing. Or any other sport, for that matter. Sometimes I wonder whether it’s only because I’m so forthright with what I can do that I get by at all in this world. Because singing, drawing and writing are all well and good, but they don’t put food on the table – especially when you refuse to go mercenary.

Nonetheless, I’ve learned an important lesson this year, and that’s that I’m at my very best when I’m on my own. Jordan showed me that when there’s a crutch, I’ll use it, almost without thinking. That’s why I struck out for Spain alone, and why I’ll be doing the same in Morocco come June. Being alone forces you to work on yourself, which is never a bad thing, and allows you to truly live for you. I’ve been able to do so much this year, more than I ever thought I’d accomplish in eight months, and that makes me happy indeed. I still haven’t decided how much that’s got to do with being independent at last and how much it’s simply about living in my grandfather’s country. On a purely superficial level, I’d like to think the latter holds more weight.

I may not love myself quite as much for the time being as I should – that, like so much else, will come with time – and, dream though I may, until I am I don’t think I’ll ever be ready for a relationship, but simply being in Spain fills me up to the very top with all the energy I need to survive. Before, I’ve looked to others as charisma batteries, people from whom I could draw that precious life energy when mine was running low. Here I get it for free, right from the earth. And better still, I’ve learned how to manufacture that energy.

It’s the Spanish language. Nothing more, nothing less. Simply speaking in my grandfather’s tongue seems to be enough. If ever I truly love myself, it’s when I’m gesturing away in ehpañó. The earthy appeal of the semi-unintelligible southern accent is a serious draw for me, but it’s something about the raw dynamism of the language itself that really clicks, like a gear that’s been missing all my life. Here it’s functional, regularly oiled and, more importantly, spinning in its place. The very definition of perpetual motion.

So that’s the answer. I’ve simply got to come back and live here for good. The road to true happiness is hard to find, but I’ve found the map, at least, in both senses of the wording . The key is in the language itself. Perhaps it always has been. BB x

Griffonheart

Sometimes, when a bird flies low over your head, you can hear the rush of wind through its wings. Swifts do that, from time to time. Swifts and pigeons. It’s a quiet, singing sound like a sudden release of breath, over and gone by the time you’ve worked out where it came from. Now try to picture the same scenario with a nine-foot wingspan. The result sounds something like a gale, a genuine roar of wind, every bit as impressive as those giant wings. This is Monfragüe and this is a griffon, truly one of the most spectacular creatures on the planet.

Griffon

I don’t really know what it is that attracts me to vultures so much. They’re not the most attractive creatures on the planet. Their heads are snake-like and feather-bare, their eyes are cold and sinister and they spend their entire lives feeding on dead things. If birds are supposed to sing, vultures sound like they have a bellyful of iron filings when they make a sound – and that isn’t often. But for some reason, I’m obsessed with the damned things, and always have been.

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Extremadura is a very special part of the world, but doubly so if you’re as much of a bird nut as I am. The immense blue skies are almost always dotted somewhere in the middle with a black speck wheeling round and round on the thermals: kite, eagle or vulture. I grew up in the south of England where the largest soaring bird you’re likely to see is a rook, and I still remember the sheer thrill of seeing my very first vulture when I was about nine years old. For me they represented Valmik Thapir’s India, of cliff-forts and desert kingdoms. To see them wheeling lazily about the Spanish sky was like something out of a dream. And so the love affair with the griffons began.

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Since then, they’ve got me stranded in the mountains, terrified my little brother, warned me of thunderstorms and – in quite possibly my favourite travel anecdote to date – they even got me arrested by the Spanish military police. I kid you not. Apparently photographing vultures isn’t a believable excuse for wandering about the countryside alone at fifteen without one’s passport…

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(Not even for results like this…?)

If I’d had any idea what kind of scrapes my passion for vultures would get me into, I wonder whether I’d have had second thoughts. Somehow I doubt it. Something tells me I’d have found my way to the same spot sooner or later.

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There are four kinds of vultures in Europe, and all four of them can be found in Spain – if you know where to look. The griffons are the most obvious and by far the most numerous, nesting in colonies that can number as many as a thousand strong. The other resident is the far rarer black vulture, recognisable by its sheer size alone; fully-grown adults measure three metres from wingtip to wingtip, making them one of the largest birds in the world. The Egyptian vulture is a smaller summer visitor from Africa, where they eat ostrich eggs by smashing them open with stones. But it is the fourth and final that is the most famous: the lammergeyer, a golden-bodied, diamond-tailed king of the skies that feeds almost entirely on bones. I’ve only ever seen one once, at an incredible distance, whilst in the French Pyrenees some seven years ago. It remains one of my greatest dreams to go chasing after the legendary quebrantahuesos, ‘the one that breaks bones’.

Like I said, I’m hooked on the creatures.

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I have to admit, they do have some seriously menacing eyes…

Dad was in a grouchy mood and didn’t let us stay very long. Must be something to do with the distance from Villafranca to Monfragüe (which, I should point out, is as beautifully in the middle of absolutely nowhere as are all of my favourite destinations). I could happily have spent five hours and more just stood atop the castle with the vultures wheeling about all around me, or sitting under the cliff and watching them plummeting out of the sky and onto the rock in a fierce rush of thunder.

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Needless to say I will be back. Everyone has their vice. Some like their drink, some like their fast cars, others have difficulty sitting still. I have this peculiar fascination with vultures and I’m not even close to understanding them. Yet. BB x

Holy Gridlock, Batman!

I remember saying a couple of days ago that I was going to take it easy and travel less this year, beginning with Semana Santa. Predictably, that failed almost as soon as the words left my mouth. I’m now sitting at ease on the balcony of a cute little hostel in Córdoba, having spent the last four days traveling in a large triangle around Andalucía, from Matalascañas to the Great Mosque. It’s the Easter equivalent of last term’s ‘square puente’ to Lisbon, Aveiro and Salamanca. Only this time, I’m not alone, and it’s been a barrel of laughs from start to finish.

I’ve told you about El Rocío. Let’s start with Seville. Seville is one of those cities that I’ve always thought rather overrated. It’s the Spanish equivalent of Frozen; people come back from it raving about what they’ve seen to such an extent that by the time you get around to going to see it yourself, it’s difficult not to be disappointed. Unlike Frozen, however, it’s worth digging in and opening your eyes a little.

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No, I’m not the biggest fan of Frozen. Something to do with Elsa’s dumbstruck ‘of course, love!’ remark, as though love were entirely alien to a Disney film and its target audience… and let’s not forget that ubiquitous Let it Go.

I’m sidetracking. As usual. I’ve been very blasé about Seville all year, using it largely as a transit between Villafranca and other southern destinations – mainly Olvera – and never visiting the city for its own sake. Mistake. If you can find a place to stay for the night in Seville, do. Especially in Semana Santa. Having the freedom to see the city by night as well as by day is a treat not to be overlooked.

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In my current adventures I’m joined once again by fellow traveler/blogger Brocklesby, spending half of her Easter holidays down south. Traveling with a companion can be infinitely more entertaining than going solo, especially when you’re both new to the place, but it’s been super-helpful acting as a kind of lemming-guide. I’m something of an old hand with Sevilla and Córdoba, having spent about a month apiece in each of them when you add up the days, so – with the fifty-fifty assistance of the Arch Deceiver aka HERE Maps – I’ve been acting as a guide. It’s a lot of fun to introduce somebody to all of your favourite spots, as well as the main sights, but best of all you get to try things out that you never quite found the gumption to do alone, like this museum or that ice cream parlour. It’s a blast and I should travel in twos or threes more often.

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Travelers to Seville in Semana Santa should be warned: bring a compass, a map and/or plenty of patience. Navigation is made almost impossible by the processions. In most of the smaller towns, these are usually nocturnal affairs of some eighty metres in length that take five or six minutes to pass, and good seats can be had by simply racing ahead by several streets and waiting by the side of the street.

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Not in Seville. Not only is everyone in town in on the secret, so is the tourist population, both of which are immense. On top that, the processions themselves are enormous, trailing as many as three streets at a time and taking all of an hour and more to pass – and there can be as many as six happening simultaneously across town.

Understandably, this turns something as simple as crossing a street into a labour of Heracles. It’s a circumstance where shortcuts really do make long delays, and itinerant penitants and busy streets make the heart sink. I distinctly remember saying that ‘if you see Jesus, you’re screwed’; blasphemous, perhaps, but in accurate reference to the fact that the float bearing Jesus is almost always followed by the Virgin Mary some thirty minutes later, meaning that Jesus marks the very epicentre of the gridlock. Thanks Jesus.

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That being said, it’s something you have to watch at least once. And whilst it may not be all that much fun to watch the tips of the penitents’ colored hoods sailing by over the heads of a pushy multitude, if you can get yourself to the front, it’s surely one of the human wonders of the world to behold.

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I’m not a pushy person. I think I’m too English. So it would take a miracle to get me to the front of the queue. But God, or Fate – or an unusually benevolent Murphy – had other plans tonight. Having said that it would be ironic if we ended up walking down a street and coming face to face with a procession headed in our direction, that is exactly what happened, and with the grand finale, no less. We tried to duck out of the way through a gap in the multitude, but the Guardia closed it off and shoved us unceremoniously back into the crowd – which put us, quite by accident, right at the front. It suited us just fine, but it must have bothered those who’d been there long before us something awful.

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It might not have been as soul-stirring as the Olvera madrugada procession – which goes on all through the night and involves no small amount of mountain-climbing – but it was a genuine privilege to behold from such a premier position.

I’ll be back next year. Most certainly. A lot of Spaniards claim to be rather impassive on the subject of Semana Santa, but their dogged adherence to an age-old tradition far more authentic than any search for chocolate eggs says otherwise. I, like Hemingway and Irving before me, am yet another foreigner hopelessly entranced by the magic of it all; only, I’ve at least a quarter of Spanish blood in me, so I’m not a total stranger. I’d like to think that counts for something. BB x