In the South of Andalusia

Sunset in Gaucin, Spain. We are here for the weekend, taking a break from Sevilla at the beautiful Sierra retreat of Alex’s cousin, Mary Lawler.  Alex took this excellent photo at the town festival last night, as the bands were setting up to play in the town square. A crowd was slowly assembling, and paella, embutido, and vino tinto were to be had basically for free.  We didn’t make it to the show – in typical Spanish form, it wouldn’t kick off until 10 PM.  When we arrived at 7:30, lunch was still being served.

Among the dozens of tiny pueblos blancos in the mountains surrounding Ronda in Southern Andalusia, Gaucin has a reputation as a magnet for Brits, many of whom have relocated permanently. They were surely on display last night, but seemed to mix well with the rest of the crowd: older locals sharply dressed for a night out on the town, Spanish hippies spinning to whatever music they could get their ears around, and the odd sheepish family from Chevy Chase trying not to be the loud Americans. If you’re in this part of the world and really need a Brit fix, there’s only one place to go: The Rock.

Gibraltar wasn’t on my tourist radar until we noticed it on the horizon from Mary’s patio in Gaucin. Once we saw it, Alex and I somehow found it hard to resist the pull of the “End of the Ancient World.” I’m glad we went, but Gibraltar will likely rank high on our list of places we won’t ever feel the need to re-visit.  I had a terrible plate of fish and chips, we saw Morocco again, and, for once, we had no trouble finding an English-language bookstore.

That’s Spain in the distance. Morocco would be over my right shoulder, too far off to be visible to our camera. In fact, Gibraltar yielded almost zero sense that Africa was just a few miles away, and the drama of our first encounter with the Mediterranean wasn’t dramatic. That said, Coco met some macaques.

So, Gibraltar is checked off a list that didn’t exist prior to yesterday. Moving on to today’s action.  Today was a mix of more earthy delights, as Alex and William and I went on an early run up to Gaucin’s Castillo del Aguilar and then around Mary’s mountain. Fabulous views were our reward, even if the castle was locked.

We made it to the castle later, then spent the afternoon in intense siesta and at La Cueva del Gato (see the other post for action footage). The castle is one of the best we’ve seen so far.  Like so many around here, it was built on a Moorish installation which in turn sits atop a Roman outpost.

Back to Sevilla tomorrow morning. Back to the girls’ rigorous homeschool schedule, William and my Spanish lessons, and Alex’s tireless efforts to keep us on schedule. From the “Nice Problems to Have” file, we are actually quite busy there, and haven’t even had a chance to visit the Cathedral yet. Can you imagine?!?!?!

Here’s a shot from Mary’s amazing patio this morning, with the Castle visible along the ridge to the right. Gibraltar would be just to the left of the castle, were it not for clouds. Next time.


Finca el Moro, “Where The World Is Quiet” (???)

“Where the world is quiet…”

So promised the website of what appeared to be an impossibly quaint horse farm in a remote reach of the Sierra Arcena in southwest Spain.

A quiet world.  That sounded pretty good, as I sat in my K Street office, nearly a year ago, trolling the internet for trip ideas during a lull in an afternoon otherwise littered with conference calls. Traveling to this quiet world to explore the Andalusian mountains on horseback, sampling the region’s wines and tapas, reading quietly in the shade of the olive groves, ending the day with yoga in the farm’s meditation shala … This pretty much epitomized my vision of what life would look like if Brendan and I actually summoned the nerve to step away from our decidedly unquiet world and take The Trip we’d been ruminating about for months.

Now, if you had pressed me, back then, on whether the 4 children we would bring on this adventure (aged 14, 11, 9, and 4) would be down with long leisurely wine lunches, the farm’s meditation shala, the yoga, the quiet, I probably would have at least paused to consider.

But I will confess that, back then, as I ate up the calm images of the Finca’s website, I didn’t spend a whole lot of time worrying about that. Instead, I excitedly sent the link to Brendan, who probably did wisely raise an eyebrow, and immediately inquired with the charming British couple who owned the Finca whether they would have us. It was that day that we decided, for good, that we would make The Trip happen.

Fast forward to two weeks ago.  Six weeks into the trip, and many reality checks later, seven days on a farm in the middle of nowhere during which we were supposed to keep our four kids “quiet” loomed large.

As it turns out, leaving the US for a trip around the world didn’t magically transform our children into budding yogis, fascinated by grown up conversations about the history of the Moors in Spain, and willing to live on bread, olives, and Iberian ham for a week.  Nor had it transformed us into consistently calm, patient parents, able to deftly turn simple experiences of other cultures into enlightening learning opportunities.  They still teased, fought incessantly over who sat where in the car, picked at their food, and rolled their eyes–dramatically and usually at me. And we still got cranky, aggravated, and tired, yearning sometimes (lots of times) for the peace and quiet of school hours and the relatively orderly world of the law office.

But now, off the farm and back in Seville for a few weeks, I’m happy to report tbat, just as The Trip has delivered a lot of reality checks, it has also begun to provide those moments I envisioned before we began.  And that was definitely the case at Finca el Moro.

The experience was not perfect by any means.  But our time was actually, mostly all good.

William happily, and quite effectively, took on the role of Phoebe’s Pre-K teacher, as Brendan and I began our home school program for the girls in earnest.

Holly wrote a beautiful essay about her experience shopping for and preparing a gorgeous Salmorejo, which Brendan and I then enjoyed.

Coco reported toward the end of the week that her favorite thing at the farm was “starting school and how much I got to read.”

And Phoebe spent a lot of time at the meditation Shala!  Not meditating per se, but instead mostly doing cartwheels, and headstands, and “playing yoga,” which I think is how yoga actually started in the first place.

Phoebe also loved the nature walks we took most evenings, when the Finca was really quite quiet.  And on those walks, perhaps no surprise, she found many treasures and saw many things that Brendan and I surely would have missed had she not come along.