“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” – John Muir
The last time you heard from us was on November 7th as we were preparing to leave Seville, Spain, and travel deep into Andalusia through the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park en route to romantic-sounding places such as Granada and the Costa del Sol, as we (sadly) look towards wrapping up our epic adventure.
But then a funny thing happened near a tucked-away town in the mountains called Grazalema. Read on to find out the story of our last week, and how we came (vinimos), we saw (vimos), we stayed (quedamos), and we wept (lloramos). This is feeling like my longest blog post yet, so grab a glass of Spanish sherry and some tapas and let’s vamoose!
Vinimos (We Came)
One thing to know about me is that I have an inexplicable love for election maps. During the primary season, I would typically use the New York Times map to follow the state-by-state election results. The NYT map is like the coolest thing ever for a map nerd. You can look at results on a county-by-county basis as they come in, get real-time projections, and just generally geek out for hours at a time.
As I mentioned, the last time we posted was the day before the US election. Can you imagine what I was up to on the night of November 8th? Now, realize that my primary mood was excitement – not because I was really all that excited about the election itself, but because I had a whole 50 states worth of counties to track throughout the night. If pundits were right, Hilary Clinton would have the election wrapped up around 2am Seville time, and I could go to bed and still get 6’ish solid hours of sleep. Well, you can imagine what happened next. Clinton fell behind early, 2am became 3…and all of the sudden it was 5am and we still didn’t really know who the president was going to be (although the writing was on the wall). This may partially explain the rest of the story, but let’s just say that 3 hours of sleep on a travel day does not prepare oneself for a vibrant, successful following day. (I’m sure you’re dying to read more about our thoughts from Europe on the election results, and I won’t disappoint you further down this blog post.)
So travel from Seville we did, first South and then East, deeper and deeper into Andalusia. Desert-scape gave way to foothills, foothills to mountains. We started passing through famous “white towns” (Pueblas Blancas) such as Arcos de la Frontera and into the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park, the first and most well-preserved nature park in Andalusia and the rainiest area in all of Spain (although we’ve had sparkling sun and 70 degrees every day since we’ve been here).
Little did we know as we were driving through the Sierra de Grazalema for the first time that instead of our intended three days we would end up being so enchanted that we would stay a full nine blissful (but challenging) days, foregoing any further adventures for the unbelievable beauty, peace, and tranquility of the area.
Vimos (We Saw)
We pulled up to our place, Tambor del Llano, and knew that it was special right from the get-go. The owners have about 30 hectares of land (around 75 acres), and they have a lot of cool things going on, from hikes around the property to horseback riding to sheep everywhere (which they may use to make cheese ultimately) to the cork trees you see pictured in the image below (one of the few places on Earth where all of our wine corks come from).
They have week-long Spanish immersion classes throughout the year. It’s a relatively new but amazing spot in the countryside. What a find! (yes, I am taking credit for that one…)
Quedamos (We Stayed)
As I’ll explain below, when we got to Tambor del Llano we were kind of a mess – me with my 2-3 hours of sleep and somehow both too-much-and-not-enough coffee buzz, Terra with similar amounts of sleep and stress, and both of us with a million questions that all centered around “How the hell is Donald Trump our new president?” Fortunately we met some great people from San Francisco, Alexis and Lincoln, and we were all able to process through a bit of reaction all together. The first night we had one of the most incredible meals that we’ve had all trip. At that moment I knew that, instead of speeding along to the next spot, we needed to take the remainder of our trip to stay, recuperate, and just soak up the goodness of nature in such an amazing place.
So what have we done in our time here? Each day has some similar version that includes breakfast, a couple hours of hiking, exploring a town (like Ronda or Zahara de la Sierra), and having an ‘early’ lunch in small but lively town squares. (Keep in mind that 2pm here is an early lunch.) Then we head back on windy roads to our place and have a relaxing evening that includes great discussion and dinner while cozying up to the fireplace.
We’ve visited Ronda – a spectacular city with the oldest bull fighting ring in Spain and the craziest gorge through the center of town I’ve ever seen, taken part in a wine tasting and tour at a local organic bodega, hiked some great trails, consumed amazing, locally grown food-and-wine (by the way a glass of wine is barely over 1 Euro), and we even made it to the beach one day!
And, if you are into birding then this is the place to go!
We’ve been to a lot of places in Europe, but this is the place that most feels like ‘home’ to me. The people are fantastic, and having some familiarity with Spanish has really helped us break down some communication barriers. And did I mention it’s almost 70 and sunny in the middle of November!?!
Lloramos (We Wept)
As I mentioned earlier, I stayed up until 5am in Seville the night of the election, and although the results weren’t final at that point, the writing was on the wall. Here we were, 5,375 miles from home, trying to grasp the fact that Donald Trump is the President-elect. I think it was a shock to almost everyone (on all sides) as the polls did not show this result as likely.
I somehow managed to roll out of bed around 8:30, still groggy. In a state of bewilderment Terra and I went to a local cafe for breakfast, where the waiter noted that ‘the world is shaking’ at what’s next. The rest of the day was a blur, but as I mentioned we eventually found our way to the place we are now, our secluded retreat near Grazalema.
Since then, Terra and I (and I’m sure many people in the US) have been on a roller coaster ride of emotions every day, hopeful one minute and depressed the next. And there has been a lot of weeping.
I’ve seen a couple of things of note on Facebook: 1) a blogger that I have a particular distaste for showing up on my feed, saying that Millenials are all babies and the rioting and whining proves this, and 2) some version of everything’s going to be ok.
Since I think these sentiments may be widespread in certain circles I would like to explain why we weep, and why we don’t ascribe to the idea that everything will be just dandy.
We’re Weeping for the Planet
John Muir is my hero. He spent his entire life tirelessly working to protect nature, and was in many ways the pioneer of what ultimately became the national park system which we as Americans love and cherish. I feel that I have a special bond with him as both of us view Yosemite as a spiritual home of sorts.
One of my favorite stories involves Muir taking President Teddy Roosevelt out into the mountains of Yosemite for 3 days. Can you imagine any single person today getting to take the president out for three days without any secret service, cell phones, etc? This is how important a figure John Muir was in his day. I can only imagine what kind of deep and thoughtful dialogue they had over a campfire in the shadow of Half Dome. Muir obviously had a lot of impact on Roosevelt as Teddy went forward from that meeting to champion the protection of land throughout the country.
Muir’s last battle involved trying to stop the Hetch Hetchy Dam from being built in Yosemite. Hetch Hetchy is a valley that, prior to the dam, rivaled Yosemite Valley in beauty. The city of San Francisco needed a water source, decided that the river in Hetch Hetchy Valley made the most sense, and proposed to dam the valley. Public sentiment was on Muir’s side until a cataclysmic event; the Great 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The city was obviously in bad shape, public sentiment shifted, and the dam that stands to this day was put in place. It’s said that John Muir literally died of sadness as a result. Imagine, for a moment, the kind of passion this man had for nature and life, that he would die of sadness.
In the years since there have been pushes to ‘Restore Hetch Hetchy’ by removing the dam; but at this point the population has grown so significantly that it is dependent on the water source. You want to know how popular the ‘Restore Hetch Hetchy’ movement is today? Well there is roughly 50 followers of the group on LinkedIn (including yours truly). Now you could argue this is more of a LinkedIn thing, but 50 is not a high number any way you slice it.
How many of you were aware of Hetch Hetchy before reading about this? It’s a footnote in history, and as far as I can tell even avid environmentalists don’t see much hope to reverse this decision. It simply happened over a hundred years ago and became a fact of life. A decision was made at a point in time based on a short-term crises, and that decision has never (and may never be) reversed.
I have a limited understanding of what Donald Trump will actually do as president, because 1) he’s been vague in a lot of areas up until now , 2) he (like many other politicians) has changed views in a number of areas over time, and 3) honestly, I was hoping if I ignored him he would go away.
What I’m quite certain of is that he is going to attempt to remove environmental regulations and unleash the fossil fuel industry (thereby continuing our addiction) in order to, in his mind anyways, improve our economy. One logical outcome is that it will slow or completely stop the forward progress of alternative energy sources such as wind, solar, etc. But if his goal is short-term economic improvement, why would he stop there? Why not exploit Yosemite (or any other protected land) further? Profits are good – but at what expense?
Not to mention climate change. Every passing month is the hottest month in history. Cities that we’ve visited like Venice are starting to feel some serious effects. Will someone please explain to me why we are putting our heads in the sand here?
And just a quick note for those who say that humans are not really the driver behind the changing climate. Although we don’t agree with this, is that really the point? Can anyone argue that we the ‘haves’ consume more than we need and the ‘have-nots’ (especially those in third world countries) don’t have enough to subside on? Can anyone argue with the fact that we’ll eventually likely run out of these resources that we’re addicted to, and therefore need to explore alternative energy sources? I think we waste our time debating the level of human impact on climate change when we should just be working together to determine new solutions.
We weep for the Earth, for the decisions that are nearly certain to be made by Trump, for the difficulty and sometimes impossibility of reversing the effects of the decisions, and for the fact that the time to act is now – and we are collectively missing our opportunity.
We’re Weeping for the Less Fortunate
I sincerely hope that Trump is successful as a President (you can probably tell that I have doubts). But as a candidate he was clearly not good for those minorities or those that are on the fringe of society. I’ve read about a lot of instances in the few days since the election of very ugly, racist comments and actions towards minorities. And then I’ve read people who say that the liberal media is making these stories up to try and stir the pot. But that’s not the point (in fact there are probably some that are true and some that are fabricated). The point is that the Pandora’s box that he opened up via his comments and the general tenor of his campaign have allowed some people to take the liberty to let out the racist rage that has been locked inside for a long time. And for those that think these are made up liberal media stories, why is the Ku Klux Klan celebrating with victory parties?
We weep for the less fortunate and those on the fringes of society whose plight we can’t even begin to understand, we weep for those that would even for a second be afraid to ride in the bus or go to the grocery store, and we weep for any harm that is done to them as a result of this decision that the American people have made.
This has been a heavy time for us (and I’m sure for many of you). For those of you who don’t agree with or understand what I’ve written above, I hope that we can have good conversations in the years to come. But right now this result really, really hurts in a completely different way than any previous result I’ve been a part of. To us, this isn’t about Republican versus Democrat, liberal versus conservative – this is about human decency and compassion, social responsibility, and (in our opinion) we somehow collectively lost our way on this one.
By the way, every single individual we’ve talked to in Europe is mortified by the prospect of a President Trump (and ‘believe me’ we’ve talked to a lot of people about this in over 3 months).
Below you’ll see some other pictures of our adventures. Our days of bliss are dwindling but we still have three days left to explore the area!!