Uganda Wildlife Education Center - Entebbe, Uganda.
Since we are likely to be living together for awhile, I decided to go ahead and name the cockroach. My roommate is now called Martha. Here is my shared bedroom. As of last night, Martha was taking the lower bunk and I the upper. Also a picture of my living room.
My breakfast companion I’ve named Ninigoomba. This was at the suggestion of a very energetic young girl who joined me a couple days ago. This is how I spend my breakfast: sitting quietly at a table on a porch overlooking Lake Victoria, where I listen to the waves meet the shore, watch majestic crowned cranes stroll the lakeside along with other birds whose names I don’t know, a pleasant if faint breeze on my face, the sun still low on the horizon creating a golden light, and Ninigoomba on my lap… Nini, if you can believe my good fortune, is a kitty cat. Climbs right up in my lap and curls up in a ball or stretches up and lays her head on my chest for me to scratch her ears. I’m not entirely sure how things could get much better. Even my breakfast is one of my favorites, an omelet.
Last night after I ate dinner at the restaurant amid the Easter celebrations, it was again completely dark when I struck out for home. There is not a single nighttime light at the facility except for the public buildings while open and private residences. Even the holiday partiers had thought to bring flashlights. At first I rued my lack of forethought not bringing a flashlight. But soon I was delighted by a spritzing of fireflies in the bushes beside me. This is alright, I thought. As I was nearing home, I heard a seriously creepy, large mammal-esque grunting sound behind me. Looking behind me would not have illuminated anything in such darkness. The sound was scary enough and close enough that I literally doubled my pace down the road. There is a very deranged and aggressive male baboon at the chimp house, with one lower fang perpetually outside his mouth. His indoor cage is adjacent to the room where we prep the food for all the primates and monkeys. So he is constantly sitting on his window ledge, smashed against the caging, sticking his hand outside the cage and slapping the cement wall. I had visions of him escaping and chasing me. (In fact the next day, I found out that animals do escape from time to time, but mostly the warthogs.) So I’m speed-walking now in the dark, and suddenly 2 camels trot past me. It was so shocking, as in utterly unexpected, that I just starting laughing and slowed back down. They give camel rides to little kids here, so these were obviously those camels, I guess running home for the night? I have no idea where they were going, heading away from the zoo toward my house.
I can’t even tell you how relieved I was today not to have to pitch food to the chimps across the moat. My right arm is so ridiculously sore from all my girly throwing. I can throw left-handed to the smaller patas monkeys across their ditch, so I did that today, but avoided the chimp sport. However, in the morning I got to feed them their porridge. They hold their mouths open and you just pour it right in out of a cup. It would be mayhem to let all 11 chimps have their own cup of porridge to drink or throw however they wanted. But little Nepa, the youngest, took a cup and fed herself. So cute. Their bottom lips can stick out and hold a truly astonishing amount of liquid in them. So I got to see the insides of a chimp’s mouth very close up. I most definitely would not want to be bitten by one!
Here I am in my morning uniform – overalls and rubber boots.
After feeding the patas monkeys I accompanied Henry, the keeper at the chimp house, to feed the colobus monkeys in a different part of the zoo. Along the way we searched for and he picked a vine that grows wild to feed to the black and white one. This is basically what he eats (rather than assorted fruits and veg fed to everyone else). It obviously grows copiously on the grounds in order to be picked everyday from somewhere. Along the way and afterward, because we were finished with morning chores at that point, Henry and I had some lovely conversations. If you subscribe to my email notification list, you will get to read more of this with the next notice.
He took me to a small horticulture garden where they grow native medicinal plants. Each has a sign with its name and the things it’s supposed to alleviate. Henry told me a lot about how his tribe uses the various plants. There is one plant whose leaves curl up if you touch them. I, of course, couldn’t stop touching them. So fun to watch. The cat’s eye plant has seeds that are bright orange with a black end, hard and small. Henry had me eat some of the leaves… first they taste just plain leafy, then as you continue to chew, they become very bitter, then as you chew more until it’s nothing but slimy pulp in your mouth, it turns sweet. Another plant is for adolescent body odor… apparently children here when turning into teenagers produce a certain body odor caused by hormones and so you bathe them in this herb to help combat it. A certain herb for tea, helps stomach ache, Henry says he never makes tea without these leaves.
Walking back to the chimp house, Henry stopped suddenly and asked me if I detected the smell of cooking rice, like when it’s boiling or about to burn. He said, “There is a snake here.” Just a few feet away was a thick mess of jungle vines and bushes. He pointed, in there. “What kind?” I asked. “A python. Or sometimes a cobra when it is older has that smell. That’s how you can tell there is a snake nearby, it smells like boiling white rice.” Please, please, please let me not have to find a name for some resident snake in my yard!
I will tell you more about Henry another day. Once you start talking with him, he is a fellow who attracts immediate affection.
Robert taught me a Ugandan greeting, the greeting plus reply (like “how are you” “fine”). So I’ve been going around using this. My target first makes the prescribed reply and then immediately asks me who taught me that. Must not be common for foreigners to go tossing that around.
This afternoon if it’s not raining, perhaps I will try to get some photos of my daily walk into the facilities and some of the animals for you. I get teased a bit for not understanding the very non-temporal nature of "Ugandan time." Today my lack of understanding caused me to miss lunch. Normally I eat with all the employees at lunch. But since I missed it today, I had to go eat at the restaurant where I take breakfast and dinner. Well, suckers, I had a totally awesome buffet meal because today is still Easter celebration, and watched people playing all kinds of organized silly games down on the lake shore. Can't wait to rub it in tomorrow.
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Uganda Wildlife Education Center - Entebbe, Uganda.
Feel free to ask me why I choose to spend time living in places rife with critters I cannot stand. I’m not sure what answer I’ll give; frankly your guess is as good as mine. First hour in South Africa, giant spider and deathly poisonous snake infiltrated my camp. First 5 minutes here in the jungle environment of Uganda I found the guy below crawling out of the shower drain. My first jungle pet. I tried to wash him back down, but the showerhead wasn’t equipped for this.
There was no way in hell I was going to sleep, let alone get up in the night to pee, knowing that thing was crawling around. So I decided to coral him into a wastebasket with the single kitchen knife that exists. I expected to have to have coax him along, maybe have to fend off a vicious attack when he felt threatened (I was fully prepared to scream and run), but as soon as I touched him with the knife, he curled up into this magnificent ball like a seashell, his armor was hard and brittle. So I took him outside on the porch and let him go. I have to say, he was pretty cool rolled up in his spiral. But not welcome otherwise.
I imagine as I’m sitting here typing this, two others of equal or greater creep factor have crawled on up to say hello. While I was staring down the sink drain brushing my teeth, I could see small creepies crawling around. This, I can tell you, will be one of my greatest challenges, not freaking out over all the bugs. Call me girly, call me wussy, call me lame; I won’t deny the truth. Oh, and there are gecko-like things on the wall.
But my little abode is pretty sweet otherwise, with a little porch area with flowering bushes. A living room with couch, desk and even a TV (haven’t tried to see if it works yet). Bathroom and 2 bedrooms and a big sort of industrial-type kitchen… obviously in the past it was used in another capacity.
I ended last night’s entry at the above paragraph. As I was closing down my laptop, a gnarly 3-inch cockroach made its way across the floor. Another pet. There is a mosquito net over my bed. I hadn’t noticed any mosquitoes in the house, so I originally thought I wouldn’t use it. I turned out the light and snuggled into bed. About 30 seconds later I heard the beating of massive insect wings and then a loud “thunk” as said insect made a rough landing on the wall. I turned on the light and arranged my mosquito net.
The sound of legions of insects partying in the night air beyond my window is quite magnificent, though. I don’t mind them as long as they stay outside. At home when I get up in the middle of the night in my mountain home, it’s utterly silent. I think a visitor to my house from here would be completely freaked out by the silence. It must seem like the world has died. I think I would fear the night much more, thinking darkness is a killer.
The morning bird songs are spectacular. I couldn’t even guess at how many different species are pulling the sun into the sky with their voices. Isaac told me that Saturday morning a lady would come fetch me at 8:30 to show me where to eat breakfast and show me around. I forgot this is Africa. I was ready promptly at 8:30 with a growling tummy.
I waited outside sitting on the porch. And waited. My tummy twisting into ever tighter knots. Bees hovered inside delicate pink flowers beside me. I studied a bush of green leaves with pink and white splotches on them. Hedges of yellow flowers smiled brightly at me from across the yard. Teeny tiny ants formed ranks on the porch and an endless supply of soldiers streamed down the pathways they’d marked for themselves, completely unfathomable to me why they go where they go in such precise patterns. Bird were still saturating the air with their calls and I saw several alight onto tree branches, leaving soon thereafter. I sat watching the wild little world around me, entranced, while ever so slowly starving to death.
Finally a lady came walking through the yard. She had her sweater turned up and full of small fruits. I figured this was the lady who was supposed to meet me. She had me try one of the fruits. Meh. It was OK, but my tummy was ecstatic with the presence of something in its midst. I soon realized she wasn’t my escort but she told me how to get to the restaurant (“the rhino bar”) where I was to take my morning and evenings meals. So I made the executive decision to abandon my waiting post and strike out in search of food.
It’s a perfectly lovely walk down a packed-dirt road through the jungle to the restaurant which is perched right on the shore of Lake Victoria. It was a little more daunting when I had to walk back home after dinner in the dark when, having only walked the way once that morning, I wasn’t entirely sure where I was going. And by dark, I mean dark. This bird is always along the road in the same place.
Another day, I’ll bring you on this walk with me.
I eventually hooked up with the lady who hooked me up with Henry who was supposed to give me an orientation to the facilities. But one of the zookeepers didn’t show up for work, so instead he had to work. I followed him around for a bit learning how to clean cages until he handed me off to the fellows working in the chimp exhibit. Spent a lot of the afternoon just watching the chimps on their island. There are 11 right now, endlessly entertaining. I’ll tell you more details about them another day. They are quite excitable and have a great little community tool ...
At the end of the day I got to hold hands with one the adult chimps through the fence. I think I will not get to have the degree of physical interaction advertised to me, but I will still get to be right next to them. It may sound stupid but holding her hand was absolutely endearing. She wrapped her soft finger pads around mine and held my fingers. I was surprised as how soft they were. Their knuckles, of course, are leathery and calloused, but the inside of their hands are soft. She was so gentle and I just looked into her sweet little face while she wrapped and unwrapped and rewrapped her fingers around mine.
While I was sitting with Robert, with whom it sounds like I will be spending a lot of time watching the chimps from across the moat, Nicholas, another zookeeper showing me ropes, came up with his cell phone and said I had a phone call. Naturally I thought he was kidding. “You know someone named Innocent?” he asked me. “You have a phone call. Someone named Innocent is calling for you.” Nicholas was smiling widely. Well, as it happens, I do have a Facebook friend named Innocent with whom I’d corresponded with about coming here. He works on the Ngamba Chimp Island, a chimp sanctuary founded in part by the UWEC. Because Nicholas kept looking at me smiling, I finally said this. “He is calling for you,” Nicholas replied. “You are teasing me!” I said. Then he handed the phone over.
“Shara, this is Innocent. How are you?” Sure enough, it was my Facebook friend. He knew when I was arriving, and turns out he is very good friends with Nicholas and actually knows many people at the UWEC as he worked there formerly. This was just too funny to me. There I am, my first full day in Uganda… Uganda, mind you… watching chimpanzees, and I get a phone call.
I ate lunch with Robert in the staff lunchroom. Full full of questions and some pretty hilarious ideas about America and Americans. Even though everyone speaks English as one of their 3 languages (tribal language, Luganda, and English) I can’t always parse the words through their accents so I often have to ask them to repeat something. Robert was asking me something I just couldn’t understand. I asked three times for him to repeat and finally I just stared blankly at him. “Your tattoo,” I finally picked out. I just didn’t expect this word/phrase at all. “My tattoo?” “Yes.” I was surprised that he’d seen it because I was wearing a shirt with sleeves (I have one on the back of my shoulder). So I pulled my sleeve back and showed him. “This?” I asked. “Oh, you have a tattoo already!” he said with no small amount of surprise. I was very confused, then. Finally, we hammered it out… he had been asking me when I was going to get tattooed. Apparently in his tribe this is something people do before they get married, tattoo the name of their beloved on their chest or stomach. “Everybody gets a tattoo?” I asked. “Yes. Don’t you do this?” He seemed genuinely shocked. I tried to explain that not many Americans have them, though they have greatly increased in popularity recently, and how there is a common (mis)perception in America that all people with tattoos are unsavory characters. (I assure you, dear reader, I am quite sweet and savory.) It took him awhile to wrap his head around this.
My sleep schedule is a bit off. So I’m actually up typing this at 4:00am. Had been tossing around awake for the last hour and a half, so decided to just get up. I don’t have internet in my house, I have to go to the front office. But I can type up in Word and download photos. I keep getting dive-bombed by small inhabitants of the night. But I have opted not to turn the light on and see who my companions are. I simply flail blindly at them when I feel them. My mutant cockroach pet has moved into my bedroom. If it were a normal-sized bug I’d just step on it and squash it or something, but this thing is way beyond stepping on. It’d be like trying to kill a mouse with my foot. Can’t do it. So we are cohabitating in a very uneasy truce.
Some flowers from my yard:
The last thing I should tell you for now is that I throw like a girl. Yep. That’s pretty much the story of my last couple days. For lunch and afternoon snack, the chimps are out on their island and we have to throw food across the moat to the island. I suck. Simple as that, and my arm is so sore. From first cutting up buckets of food and then pitching it. I’ve never played ball sports in my life, so my arm is utterly atrophied in regard to these muscles. My pal, who has been accompanying me in all chores (technically the other way around), has been very supportive and is convinced I will be a pro by the end of the week. We’ll see. I’m skeptical of his optimism. We’ll see. I don’t know that an old girl like me can be taught new tricks. Below is a selection of the floral life in my yard. Very lovely.
Today is Easter. The grassy yard near the restaurant and the lake shore has a small stage set up and kiddie carnival rides of the tiniest scale you can imagine. Families have their blankets spread out and kids are dressed to the nines or nine-and-a-halves running and screaming as the vervet monkeys chase them all over the place. Just as in South Africa, these critters occupy human settlements to forage for human scraps and can get a bit aggressive. Having them chase the little children in their beautiful shiny dresses and bow-tie suits is priceless.
A very pleasant surprise befell me on this year’s annual family vacation near Ixtapa, Mexico. Staying at an all-inclusive resort for a week isn’t normally my style of travel, but when the in-laws are treating, and the whole family is along, there is no better style. This year I discovered a wildlife sanctuary a mere stone’s throw down the beach from our resort. This was my third year at this resort; I can’t believe I didn’t know of it sooner. The sanctuary is home to many crocodiles – I was told about 500, but I cannot confirm that. It’s also home to numerous bird species including the impressive spoonbill, plus many turtles, and of particular note, large numbers of iguanas.
Iguanas were an epiphany to me. I’d paid only mild attention to them in photos, and I’d only seen them in real life a couple times with no particular impression made upon me. Now I want some as pets. I became utterly fascinated with them. One day I was at the sanctuary alone sitting on the ground snapping photos of the iguanas through the chainlink fence (no small feat), and a local restaurant owner came to me with a bag of cabbage. He threw it over the fence on my behalf and the iguanas swarmed in from every direction. I felt astounded at nature’s creativity. Jurassic and creepy, yet beautiful with vivid color and a texture incomparable in the animal kingdom… these reptiles completely captivated me.
I’ve seen spoonbills in the Denver zoo and was excited to see them in their natural habitat. In the Bird World atrium at the zoo, they don’t have the opportunity to fly much distance. It was marvelous to see them spread their wings – an impressive span – and glide across the lagoon. I spent some time watching 2 of them build a nest together, squabbling over its details. I realized that when I was describing what I witnessed to others, I was referring to the bird who did most of the building as “he,” and the bird who constantly pecked at “him” nitpicking about his placement of twigs as “she.” Later, I saw their babies inching along the branches.
Other beautiful birds such as the green heron caught my attention as well. One of the neatest aspects of the sanctuary was the cacophony of bird calls echoing throughout. It was always a pleasure to finally spot a bird with whom I could associate a particular call that I was hearing. But this was rare. Mostly it was a mysterious symphony of sounds seemingly performed by the air itself.
Love turtles. In the afternoons, they would line up in long rows along the banks of the lagoon.
And then of course there were the crocodiles. Surprisingly large ones. Striking an uncomfortable combo of abject fear and admiration into one’s heart. You are granted extreme proximity to these creatures. I spent time scrutinizing their ancient bodies in detail. The sheer mass of the large ones was terrifying. Inspecting their webbed and clawed feet, their massive tails, their exposed teeth, their tiny eyes and the patterns and topography of their skin and scales … it’s hard not to end up with the word “exquisite” in mind. Yet I am loathe to use this word on such a violent and sinister creature. So let’s just say they are very interesting.
It was a step back in time, coming to this small sanctuary. No mammals were to be seen, only the reptilian and avian representatives of our planet’s deep history – crawling, swimming, gliding through a primeval lagoon. Reminding me that evolution is the most glorious upshot of the inexorable march of time, the eons fluttering behind it like ribbons in the wind, as though they were effortless.
Goodbye lovely Mexico and your golden evening light.
As usual, once I get home and can see my photos on a real computer monitor rather than my tiny laptop, I find a lot more that I like or illustrate well places we visited. Also, thoughts about a place settle in over time after you return home. Or you find new sources of info (e.g. the Gaudi book we bought). And so I present the standard post-trip musings and extra photos.
So what does one such as I leave Barcelona with? I’m almost sorry to say it, though I don’t know why I should be other than it’s surely one of the most obvious and repeated sentiments, but the architecture of Gaudi leaves a rather intense impression on me. I came to Barcelona prepared and excited for Dali, but discovering Gaudi has been pure epiphany. One massive difference between the two artists is their personal bravado and self-promotion. Dali being a shameless self-promoter and liberally sprinkling the world with his thoughts, theories, artist processes, etc. Gaudi, on the other hand, never wrote a single book espousing his architectural theories. He died living the humblest of lives, a virtual pauper, inside the Sagrada Familia overseeing its construction. Fortunately he had acquired many “disciples” before he died who were devoted to him and his work and wrote down the things that Gaudi talked about. I thought it was kind of amusing that in the audio tour at Casa Batllo, there seemed to be more from Dali speaking about Gaudi than Gaudi speaking of his own work. Somehow appropriates these two Barcelona personalities nicely. Here are a few more photos of Gaudi, with some quotes from a book we bought at one of the gift shops as taken down by his “disciples.” Oh, and I feel silly, but I didn’t even know it, from my second blog post at the end there is a photo labeled “random night scene.” This in fact is a Gaudi building, the Casa Calvet (built 1898-1900). (I rest the defense of ignorance on my oft-mentioned lack of guidebook.)
The best way to view Gaudi's Sagrada Familia is, frankly, on a gurney, if you can procure one to lie flat on your back upon and have someone wheel you around. My neck got a serious crimp in it from craning backward to marvel at the ceiling and high walls. Gaudi said, "The essential quality of a work of art is harmony. In sculptural works harmony derives from the light that gives it relief and decorates it." Just take a moment to look at the lighting.... all the different windows, how light comes in differently through them, how different spaces are illuminated and contrasted. Gaudi liked mixing electric light and sunlight for the best effects. Even the organ pipes are placed with consideration for the nature of the light reflected off them.
The hallmark of Gaudi architecture is its organic forms. Perhaps one of the most famous things to come from his lips was this quote, "The great book, always open and which one must make every effort to read, is the book of nature." Further, he espoused, "Architecture creates the organism and that is why it must have a law in accordance with the laws of nature; the architects who are not subjected to these laws create a scrawl instead of a work of art." Mushrooms are often an inspiration to his forms. In this picture, looking up, I totally think of the underside of a forest fungus.
Gaudi began work on the Sagrada in 1883 (yes, 1883!) and it is not projected to be completed until I believe 13 years from now. Hence the perpetual presence of cranes and scaffolding. "The form of the towers," Gaudi said, "vertical and parabolic, is the meeting of gravity with light."
A spire seen from the observation tower (so one is already very high up when looking further up the spire in this photo. Inset detail of the mosaic on top.
And now, the obligatory photo from Parc Guell, slight variations of which you'll find in every guidebook and photo album of Gaudi architecture. There are several tunnels or grottoes like this throughout the park (as in the second photo).
This is in the Dali museum in the Gothic quarter. I tried very diligently to get the reflection of the two electric lights right inside Dali's nostrils. ha ha. Really, I did.
The Gothic quarter (Barri Gotic) was an exemplary Medieval labyrinth, just the type of thing I love. One thing that was unique to me here that I don’t recall seeing much of a similar nature elsewhere, at least not nearly to Barcelona’s extent, (besides the wealth of street art mentioned earlier) was the tiles along many of the alley walls, particularly at the corners. Several corners were marked with tiles forbidding the entry of horse carriages.
A sinister bubble stalks and innocent child.... And more playfulness I wish I could join -- chasing bubbles.
This botched self-timer photo just cracks me up. In our devotion to Irish pubs, we of course stopped in a couple on our way meandering through the Gothic quarter. Decided to try a self-timer here as I was drinking my birthday beers. My face looks like some sort of evil clown, and I like the calm dude on the wall in the back while we're in motion, and the little trail of light off Erik's ring.
Our favorite landmark along La Rambla was a Chinese dragon with an umbrella beneath it. As it happened, the alley that our hostel was on lay katty-corner to the dragon. Turns out this building was once an umbrella factory. A clue to how lovely the weather was is to notice how blue the sky is in so many of the photos.
The large city park, below. Notice the orange trees from which Erik plucked the not-so-yummy fruit to eat. You know, I could probably make a photo album titled, "Erik Eats Not-As-Yummy-As-Expected Food Around the World." I'll spare him the orange photo here. (I always snap a shot of his gastronomic adventures... many funny faces.) But right off the top of my head I can think of cactus fruit in Tunisia, octopus on a stick in Greece, these oranges, and other images I can't even place their locations.
There is nothing Barcelona-esque about this photo; I just like it. An escalator up to a museum. But somehow it makes me think of some sci-fi, sort of Orwellian, scene with people moving about like drones (how they're all neatly paired on the escalator). I like the dark outline of everything but the silver handrails. Probably only me who likes it, but here it is anyway.
Geographically, the landscape in which Barcelona has evolved is lovely, with the blue water of the Mediterranean along its one edge, and being sandwiched between Montjuic and Mount Tibidabo. Lots of cities are surrounded by or sandwiched between hills, but Barcelona seems to take particular advantage of the two high points across from each other to regale one with the panorama of itself. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many overlooks and panoramic views of any one individual city as Barcelona (also offered from tower of Sagrada Familia). I think it gives one the sense that they know the city as a whole, not just pedestrian views of specific quarters of it or main streets and plazas and courtyards. With the exception of Wroclaw in Poland, and a few small Tuscan towns, I can’t offhand think of any city that I can picture in my head so clearly and definitively with a bird’s eye view. Looking down from Montjuic or Tibidabo (beer in hand, of course, at one of the cafes) you think, "This is Barcelona." An interesting contrast, though, is that my vision of Barcelona is a very horizontal one, that is to say a wide landscape/panorama orientation. Yet my photos of individual places within Barcelona are 95% vertical, or portrait-oriented.
So here is one of my few landscape-oriented photos, from inside the cathedral at the top of Tibidabo (where the amusement park lies at the foot of the cathedral). I liked the lights that hung down from the ceiling.
I don't really have any photos of the lovely beach, as we only walked along it at dusk and into night. But here's a photo from the big market along the Rambla. Now that's FRESH sea food! There were piles of live crabs, too, with their pincers bound together. All crawling over each other in a creepy mass.
If you’re wondering about the 2 euro wine, we didn’t finish it (an incredibly rare event). So don’t worry, we won’t be bringing any back to share, making you pretend it's delicious high-brow Spanish wine and you are just too uncultured to appreciate it.
Since I never got my guidebook, we pretty much just followed my friend’s trail and advice (they left a few days ago). So today we decided to climb the other mountain; there are two main ones that sandwich the city between them; we went to Montjuic on the luxurious gondola as you may recall. Today we went full-on opposite, hiking overland. Not by design but because after exiting the Metro we walked up the wrong road (besides no guidebook, also no decent map…. makes life more adventurous, hey?). Though our error was becoming apparent, we’d seen a sign with fork and spoon for several hundred meters ahead, and driven on by hunger as it was noon and we hadn’t yet eaten, we walked to the café. During breakfast we figured out where we were, i.e. quite some distance from our destination, over on another hill. But Erik thought he’d seen somebody walking a path overland toward the other hill. So we headed up some stairs which petered out in a dirt path and came to a fabulous city overlook. And sure enough a narrow, rocky dirt path headed up and over the direction we wanted.
So eventually we made it to where we wanted to be – the top of Mount Tibidabo at a modern cathedral and, oddly, an amusement park directly beneath it. We wanted to ride the roller coaster but it was closed except to a group of school kids. We tried to convince the lady we were students, but it didn’t fly. What lucky kids, riding roller coasters on a school day!
Walked through the cathedral, more great city views. Intended to take a funicular down to the bottom of the hill but were annoyed that there was no one-way ticket price; they don’t seem to figure on people arriving at the top by foot and wishing to leave by funicular. So decided to hoof it to the bottom. The road was very twisty and circuitous but there were many shortcuts through the woods across the hairpin curves. So we walked down one of these, eventually stumbling upon an old, crumbling and overgrown stone stairway which had once led up the hill. And here is where we encountered the Dog Fortress. We had heard a huge group of los perros barking for quite some time. I had been desperately hoping they’re weren’t some band of stray feral dogs who would be our demise. We continued downhill and even more dogs joined the barking fray. We came to an old stone wall and were captivated by a small, spry cat lurking about its perimeter. We tried to beckon it forward but it looked at us wide-eyed then scampered off into the forest. Then I looked up and realized the dogs were all behind the wall. We had almost blown the Spy Cat’s cover, as he was obviously attempting to infiltrate the Dog Fortress. Probably he’d been hired to discover a way to keep them quiet. Truly, the decibel level was quite stupendous. Eventually when we got down to the street we could look back up and see it was a large kennel, but it was kind of spooky hearing all those dogs through the forest. Spy Cat was only the second cat we’d seen all week.
Our next goal was to walk back to Park Guell, which our crude map showed as nearby. After following sign after sign literally in circles I was becoming convinced the park no longer existed. We had been following road signs for cars to follow, not pedestrians, and the road to the parking lot wound around the park before finally coming to rest. So it was later in the day and I was far more exhausted than I had imagined I would be when we arrived. But our goal was to write another ditty at the park for our travel guide idea. This required walking throughout the park despite my tired, tired feet. But after a short rest on a beautiful tiled bench, I rallied and we discovered some places we hadn’t been to previously with our friends. Also this had been where my G9 camera broke, so I had the opportunity to take some photos. More Gaudi!
We made it back to our hostel and flopped down onto the bed for a nap. We were supposed to hook up with some other folks who were to arrive in Barcelona today but an unfortunate miscommunication prevented this. But once again, we followed our friends’ advice and found a café they’d recommended, the Gran Café, in the Gothic quarter and had a delicious dinner. And that’s it! Home the next morning.
I’d certainly recommend Barcelona to anyone! A week was too short. One thing I noticed, and have to admit appreciated, was that, contrary to Prague and some other Central European cities, the people are not at all put out by speaking English. They are friendly, helpful, and don’t bat an eye at speaking in English, actually almost to a fault. It would be difficult, in fact, to practice up on your Catalan or Spanish in the tourist areas because people immediately reverted to English when they heard our American accent speaking Spanish. When we got a little further from the beaten path (for example stopping for refreshment while circling ad infinitum Park Guell) we had to use more Spanish, but the people were always completely patient and good-natured with us. Catalonia (the Spanish district of which Barcelona is capital) has its own ending on domain names -- so a website doesn't end in ".es" as in Spain but ".cat" for Catalonia. We've decided to register a domain name for our beloved kitty.... "http://mister.cat"
Three things about visiting European cities. (1) I truly love them. (2) Love to visit; would never want to live in one. Need to live as a quiet mountain hermit. (3) Love to visit Europe and its many architectural photo opportunities, but always realize when I do that my heart still belongs in the 2nd and 3rd World, where one can have many more wacky adventures of culture, language, terrain, etc. Where shall I go next?