It’s my kuleana

Most people think of Hawaii as a paradise, and I’m among them. I count my blessings every day, as I soak up the great weather year-round, swim in the ocean twice a week, walk through Honokaʻa greeting friends and acquaintances with hugs, and take advantage of yoga, ecstatic dance, meditation, local music, farmer’s markets and more.

But there’s a dark side to the story of the Big Island, one of need and poverty. It’s time to tell that story, a story that deeply matters to me. I’ve been actively working with the Board of Directors for the Hāmākua Youth Foundation, Inc. (HYF) for close to three years. Recently I stepped down from the board for personal reasons, but continue as Secretary. I have also chosen to spend most of my yearly charitable contributions with this organization. Why? Because this is the leverage point where I can make a difference in this community, supporting our children.

Youth learning clay sculpting in the HYC Arts & Crafts Program

Sixty percent of students in the Honokaʻa school district are on free or reduced school lunch program. Sixty percent! Approximately 22% of area families have single heads-of-household and there is a continuing high level of unemployment and underemployment with minimal local work opportunities.  Many parents commute to the other side of the island for work in our tourist industry, and kids are often on their own in the mornings, after school, and into the evening. After-school alternatives are limited and our youth are at risk for developing unhealthy behaviors.

The HYF has been providing local children a safe, nurturing after-school program at the Hāmākua Youth Center since 2009 when they incorporated (and before that, since 1996). HYF also supports a summer program, internships, mentoring for teens and post-high school scholarships. Volunteers and staff help children with homework. The Center offers gardening experiences, music, arts and crafts, cooking, field trips and introduction to Hawaiian language, chants and hula. They provide meals; for some children, it’s their only nourishing meal besides the school lunch.

But now the Center is bursting at the seams, serving 35-45 students every day in a rented store-front space with one main room, a kitchen and an office. The teens don’t especially like hanging out with the keiki. Kids doing homework get distracted by others who have already finished. There’s no outside space to blow off steam or play games. The current facility requires significant repairs and the owners are selling the property. The Center urgently needs more room.

So HYF is taking a huge leap of faith and buying the Okada Building next door. It offers lots of room (triple the current location), separate spaces for keiki and teens, and a large yard for play and gardening. HYF is securing a loan, and now needs to raise funds to renovate the 1938 former hospital: $100,000. That’s a lot of zeros for this small grass-roots organization.

But each of us can make a difference. So I did what my heart told me to do: I opened my checkbook. Hawaiians have a wonderful word for this: kuleana, accepting my responsibility with deliberate intent.

I hope you find this a compelling story. If you live here, or even if you just wish you lived here, please look into your heart. I invite you to check out our Capital Improvement Campaign.  Donate if you are able, any amount through Paypal or our GoFund Me. To save the overhead that both take, checks can be mailed to: Hamakua Youth Foundation, P.O. Box 381, Honoka‘a, HI, 96727. Or stop in and visit, at 45-3396 Mamane Street. The Hāmākua Youth Foundation and our youth thank you from the bottom of our hearts.


For more information on HYC teaching keiki gardening and animal care skills, read Hāmākua Harvest’s 2nd Annual Farm Festival – see the progress.


If you like my blog, you’ll enjoy my book, Manifesting Paradise, available on Amazon. Receive my posts automatically by filling in your email address in the “follow” box at the top of the right column. And please join my mailing list.

Posted in gardening, Give back, Hamakua, Honoka'a, Hāmākua Youth Foundation, Making community, Small town life | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Rich Memories: Lucking out with the perfect flat in Madrid Spain

It’s been five weeks since I traveled in Spain and my thoughts drift back there often. What comes to mind most frequently is Madrid. I think it has something to do with not feeling like a tourist there; I felt connected. And I attribute that, in part, to the lovely flat we rented, right in the middle of everything with a set of doors that opened directly onto Calle de la Bolsa, the pedestrian street, below.

From my favorite perch on the sofa, I could see the weekend activities of the Madrileños nearby. Early in the morning, I watched the merchant across the street methodically sweeping the whole area in front of his store, straightening the garbage cans and capturing every misplaced leaf. Later, servers from the two restaurants on this block set up the tables and chairs that had been neatly stacked the night before, and wiped them down in anticipation of the lunch crowd.

Any time of the day or evening, I might hear musicians stopping to play for the people dining in the street. Then they’d wander to another location. The only one who didn’t move (I assume because it took so long to set up and the acoustics on this street were particularly good) was the water glass player. Unfortunately, he performed a very limited number of songs, and I soon knew them all. His favorites seemed to be Love Story and Ave Maria. I never cared for Love Story, but I used to really love Ave Maria.

Children practiced soccer, people walked their dogs, a group of men played a street game (not scammers), and families strolled with babies. At least once a day, I heard the clip-clop of the mounted police riding their horses past my window on this world.

But the real action on my street started in the evening, just about the time I sat down with my cheese and wine to begin writing. And it lasted well past midnight. Occasionally the people on the street had to move aside for police cars or taxis, and in the day, delivery trucks. But no one seemed to mind.

I was always astounded at the children out so late. But the Spanish first eat dinner at 9 or 10 pm. I finally found out why. If you look at a globe, you’ll see that Spain is actually below and west of England. Originally, Spain was in in the Greenwich Mean Time zone, with the UK. During WWII, Franco moved Spain to Central European Time to show solidarity with Hitler. But the Spanish people, many of whom were farmers, continued to live their lives as they had.

This meant that, while they ate at the same time as before, the clock said they were dining an hour later. Thus, an 8 pm dinner became 9 pm. The tourist industry in Spain benefits because the sun sets late (Spain also goes on Daylight Savings Time with the rest of Europe) and visitors have so much evening to enjoy. But personally, I prefer an earlier evening meal. Shoot, back home I’m in bed by 9.

Just a block away, almost an extension of my street, was the famous historic Plaza Mayor. It is surrounded by buildings on all four sides, the only access being through arches leading in from all directions. The buildings are lined with arcades, mostly filled with taverns and restaurants. We spent a fair amount of time here, people watching, soaking up the sun, and passing through.

King Phillip II who chose Madrid as the Capital of Spain (1561) began plans for the plaza, rebuilding a market plaza that already existed. It was finally constructed under the reign of his son, Phillip III, whose equestrian statue graces the center. This historic place has been used for markets, soccer games, concerts, and in times past, before the statue was placed in the center, for bullfights, public executions and the Spanish Inquisition’s auto-da-fé.

Left, Plaza Mayor de Madrid, Fiesta Real en la Plaza Mayor (1623), by Juan de la Corte, now in the now in the Museo de Historia de Madrid. Right, 1683 painting by Francisco Rizi depicting the auto-da-fé held in Plaza Mayor, Madrid in 1680; now in the Prado.

You never know what you will see here. One afternoon, a director was shooting footage with a dance troupe. He shouted at the people in the plaza to be quiet. They just looked at him, some annoyed, some amused, and kept on with what they were doing.

Another couple days and nights, the Plaza was full of Brits, fortifying themselves for a quarter final football match between Madrid’s Atlético Team and their Leiscester City Team. The Madrid police were not taking any chances, as the boisterous all-day drinkers had already left a lot of trash. About a dozen paddy wagons lined the portico along one wall of the plaza, and police on foot watched warily. To tell you the truth, I was very impressed with the hospitality of the Madrileños for this crowd whose anthem seemed to be, “We’re all here on a Spanish holiday, Spanish holiday, Spanish holiday,” sung to the melody of “Yellow Submarine.”

I loved the energy of the Plaza, day and night – such a vibrant place. This is also where I found the quintessential Madrid calamari sandwich, made fresh in front of you. Yum! And all so close to my flat.

Many other restaurants clustered nearby. (Why do my essays always devolve to food?) We had two favorites. One was a tiny shop with empanadas (we tried every type) and alfajores, traditional cookies. In this shop, they were made South American style, with dulce de leche between two cookies.

The historic Chocolatería San Ginés was our other favorite, where I solved the mystery of the pudding-like “hot chocolate” I ordered in Barcelona. It’s not for drinking; it’s for smothering churros! They’ve been serving churros and chocolate since 1894. I wish we hadn’t waited until our last night to visit. We’ll just have to return.

For those of you wondering if we did anything cultural in Madrid besides eat, a couple highlights: Museo del Prado, Retiro Park with it’s airy crystal palace, Goya’s fresco of St. Antonio at Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida, and the Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (contemporary art, including Picasso’s Guernica).

My advice for other travelers wanting to feel the pulse of a new city is to find a flat in a neighborhood near public spaces where you can people-watch. It will enhance your visit immensely.


For more of my trip to Spain, see:

Free room and board in Spain for a week with Diverbo,

In love with rural Spain – the village of La Alberca

Firewater, witches, black pigs and bota swigging in La Alberca Spain

Vibrant, whimsical, sensory-rich Barcelona

Semana Santa processions in Marbella

A day-trip to Tangiers Morocco

Tavern-hopping for tapas in Madrid

Swords, El Greco and gold in Toledo, Spain


If you like my blog, you’ll enjoy my book, Manifesting Paradise, available on Amazon. Receive my posts automatically by filling in your email address in the “follow” box at the top of the right column. And please join my mailing list.

Posted in eating, enjoying other cultures, learnng new things, Personal growth, travel as a transformation tool | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Swords, El Greco and gold in Toledo, Spain

While in Madrid, we took a private tour to Toledo, our second outing with Luis. He picked us up at our flat, in an impeccably clean sedan with a baby seat in the back – usually mutually exclusive worlds. On the hour ride to this old capital of Spain, he gave us enough background to help us appreciate what we would see, including a bit about the people who shaped it, King Carlos 1 of Spain (Holy Roman Emperor Charles V), Queen Isabella, and El Greco. Because Luis spent two years in the United States as an exchange student, he speaks English with a breadth of vocabulary that rarely leaves him searching for words.

This ancient city has been ruled by Romans (captured in 192 BCE), Visigoths (becoming the capital of their kingdom in the 6th century), Moors (taken in 712), and Christians (1085). Some of these cultures tolerated, if not welcomed Jews, though they were forced to live in their own quarter. In fact it was Toledo’s “extensive cultural and monumental heritage and historical co-existence of Christian, Muslim and Jewish cultures” that earned it UNESCO’s World Heritage Site designation in 1986, despite Queen Isabella’s expulsion of the Jews and Muslims in 1492.

Each of these cultures left their stamp, resulting in a grand mix of architecture. The Romans built baths, a circus, and roads through Toledo, linking it with Mediterranean ports. Visigoths brought an early Christianity, and along with it, churches. When the Moors claimed the region, they took over these churches, adding their own architecture. Christians retook the churches when they reconquered Toledo in 1085.

The church of San Salvador, now a Catholic Church, is a great example of these reversals. A unique Visigoth Christian column, showing scenes from Christ’s life, is clearly different from the other columns in the church. Later, the Moors chiseled the faces off the column because of their ban against depicting God, Muhammad, and Islamic prophets, of which Christ is one. Archeology on the site also found Roman ruins.

Luis’ overview was not some boring history recital. He brought it alive for us: a story of swords, great art, religious tolerance and intolerance, and the first gold brought back by Columbus from the New World. We planned our day from a high vantage point. “You see why Toledo had such an excellent defensive position: the river wraps around it and any invaders had to climb down to the river and then back up the hill to get into the city.”

It’s impossible to describe everything we saw, so I’ll focus on three: Toledo sword-making, the artist El Greco, and the Toledo Cathedral.

The swords: Toledo’s reputation for excellent sword-making and metalwork goes back to 500 BC.  When the Romans conquered Spain, they recognized the unique hardness of Toledo steel, and began using Toledo swords as standard equipment. Today, city shops display “Lord of the Rings” swords and armor.

Luis knows the only remaining swordsmith still working inside the old city, who welcomed us to see his forge, quenching bath, and metal-working shop.

The smith, Mr. Zamorano, explained to us that the swords for knights were heavy and balanced, but not sharp. Their purpose was to break bones and plunge into chainmail, not slice through necks as depicted in recent films. He allowed us to handle both one-handed and two-handed swords. Even we novices could feel that they were balanced and of course, beautiful. The surprising thing was that they were reasonably priced.

El Greco: Stunning paintings by many masters hang in Toledo churches, but Luis focused his art history discussion on El Greco, who spent most of his life working in Toledo. Apparently El Greco was full of himself, saying about Michelangelo that “He was a good man, but he did not know how to paint.” In fact El Greco offered to paint over Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, a proposal that Pope Pius V declined.

Luis showed us ways to identify El Greco’s work (rhomboid halos, light from within, elongated figures and fingers, and pure colors), preparing us to see some of El Greco’s greatest works.

My favorite, El Expolio, (The Disrobing of Christ) hangs in the Toledo Cathedral Sacristy. This painting took my breath away the moment I saw it from a distance, mesmerizing me as I approached. The hushed murmurs of other visitors disappeared; I no longer saw them. It’s just me and the painting. The artist talks directly to me. These moments of being within feet of great art change me.

Toledo Cathedral: The importance of the Primate Cathedral of Saint Mary of Toledo goes back to the Visigoths, when its archbishop was designated “Primate of the Visigoth Kingdom.” Fifteen Church Councils convened in Toledo (580 – 688), cementing the city’s religious importance as the “Soul of Spain.” It was also the site of the Grand Mosque during the reign of the Moors. Even though the Christians retook Toledo in 1085, work did not begin on this impressive Gothic Cathedral until 1226. It was completed in 1493 under the reign of Isabella and Ferdinand.

From the back you can see the full length of the nave. But even this jaw-dropping view is just the central portion. Numerous chapels come off both the north and south walls, including a chapel where an early pre-Latin Visgoth service is still celebrated today.

The altar at the end of the nave stands behind a golden grill. Made of gilt wood, the altar stands the height of the Cathedral, and contains life-size figures of scenes from the New Testament. It took only seven years to complete (1497-1504), though many artists had a part in creating it.

The choir stall is ornate. The choir sits in two tiers of elaborately carved chairs, the large organ looms above, and a delightful statue of a happy Virgin Mary and Jesus looks on.

One could spend all day just exploring the Cathedral. The El Transparente altar, the whimsically decorated skylight with figures peering into the Cathedral, the stained glass windows, the Chapterhouse, all are worthy of study. The Chapterhouse contains paintings of all the Archbishops of this important Cathedral up to current. Of course, the artists did not know what the early bishops looked like, so they all have the same face.

The most astonishing artifact in the Chapel of the Treasure, is the great Monstrance of Arfe. It stands 10 ft tall, weighs 500 pounds, all pure silver (183 kg), gold (18 kg at 18 karats), and jewels. The gold is said to have been the first that Christopher Columbus brought back to Spain from the New World. It sits behind bullet-proof glass while on display, yet every year it carries the Host in the procession of the feast of Corpus Christi through the city.

What kept our tour of Toledo from being a jumbled bewildering tangle was Luis. He continually brought us back to main themes, weaving a story that made sense from beginning to end.

And he made sure we were at ease in other ways. When my daughter was cold, he gave her his jacket. When I was having difficulty negotiating stairs in the church towers, he assisted me. He saw that we were pooped at the end of the day, and asked if we’d like to drop the last site; we readily agreed. And he graciously answered all our questions on the way back to Madrid, so excited to share his love of Spanish culture and history.

When I return to Spain, I will definitely seek out Luis and his associates again. Besides Toledo and the Madrid Tapas Tour, Luis conducts private and custom tours of Madrid and a tour of the Prado and Retiro Park. He is adding a tour to Segovia in September. His wife, Maria, conducts the afternoon Tapas Tour for families with children. Mario leads a wine tour. They also do a free walking tour of Madrid. If you’re in Madrid, check them out. They’re a small group offering an intimate experience.


Thank God they’ve taken the clappers out of these tower bells.

For more of my trip to Spain, see:

Free room and board in Spain for a week with Diverbo

Firewater, witches, black pigs and bota swigging in La Alberca Spain

Vibrant, whimsical, sensory-rich Barcelona

Semana Santa processions in Marbella

A day-trip to Tangiers Morocco

Tavern-hopping for tapas in Madrid

Lucking out with the perfect flat in Madrid, Spain

If you like my blog, you’ll enjoy my book, Manifesting Paradise, available on Amazon. Receive my posts automatically by filling in your email address in the “follow” box at the top of the right column. And please join my mailing list.

Posted in enjoying other cultures, Honoring tradition, learnng new things, Travel, travel as a transformation tool | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Hāmākua Harvest’s 2nd Annual Farm Festival – see the progress

Our community is celebrating Hāmākua Harvest’s Second Annual Farm Festival this Sunday, so I sat down with Michael Gibson, founder and Development Director, to review HH’s progress since the market opened on September 6, 2015. In just 20 months, HH has manifested the original concept: a community-based farmer’s market that celebrates the Hāmākua Coast’s rich agricultural heritage. Michael’s vision was a place where people could learn about sustainable, organic, and native agriculture; a place with demonstration gardens; a place where area youth could work and learn by doing; a community gathering place that would knit people together. All of this is happening now.

Education: Every week at the market, people learn from local masters about their practices. There’s been something for everyone with more than 80 talks, workshops, demonstrations and hands-on sessions since the beginning. Some experts have presented several times. The topics just in the past couple months range from backyard composting and growing organic vegetables, to Fermentation 101 (learn to make your own sauerkraut and kimchi!) and getting children involved in food and gardening.

Demonstration plots: Three one-acre plots focused on orcharding are already flourishing with a total of 124 different varieties/species of trees planted so far. An additional 39 orchard trees plus a selection of palms, clumping bamboos and ornamentals will be planted in 2017, as funding permits.

The oldest plot, sitting closest to the Mamane Street entrance to the site, is a traditional Hawaiian agroforestry system. Noa Lincoln from the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR) in Oahu, installed 700 kukui seedlings eight months ago. This plot will eventually have four overstory trees (ulu, coconut, mountain apple, and kukui) with 20-25 other native species in the understory. Meanwhile, Noa occasionally brings his students from Oahu to the site to perform analyses and make decisions about next steps as they transform this land from a bacterial-based grassland back to a fungal-based forest.

The second plot, behind the Farmer’s Market windbreak, was planted five months ago. It demonstrates the Korean natural farming approach for fruit-bearing trees. It is a mixed plot of citrus, avocado, and others, all planted along the contours of the land. HH is experimenting with wind protecting several trees in this plot: rambutan, longan, mangosteen, lychee, and soursop.

The third plot between the other two, demonstrates certified organic orcharding. Planted two months ago, it contains all the fruit trees in the state that are viable at this elevation and these conditions, including a sub-section of citrus and avocado trees.

Within it is a triangular plot, planted just last month with spice trees: tamarind, nutmeg, all-spice, clove, kaffir-lime, sudachi, yuzu, moringa, curry leaf, and bay. I can’t wait to see how this demonstration evolves as the trees mature.

Much of the planting is the work of volunteers. And it’s amazing how quickly new ideas can be implemented. Last Saturday, Erin Brown suggested to Michael that a spiral herb garden would make a nice addition to the site. He agreed. Within days, Erin had created a plan and with the help of John Del Rosario, they found and moved rocks from the site for a border, and planted the spiral herb and flower garden.

Youth involvement: Hāmākua Harvest has been partnering with the Hāmākua Youth Center (HYC) since the beginning. The HYC brings students aged seven to seventeen to the HH site twice a week, where they grow native plants such as kalo, ʻuala, maiʻ, ko and kukui. The youth also grow other food plants, and proudly share the produce with their families.

They especially enjoy raising chickens, a large pig, Rosie, and two smaller pigs, a boar and a sow, who were caught in the wild. Mahealani Maikuʻi, Director of the HYC, points out that raising animals and plants together teaches another way to be self-sustaining, and provides an opportunity to share alternative farming methods. In the Needs Assessment HYC conducted last school year with 400+ middle and high school students in Honokaʻa, Agriculture was among the top seven desired activities (out of 74) and within Agriculture, Animal Care was the highest vote getter. There’s clearly a need for this kind of activity for our youth.

Community gathering place: Many people attend the HH Farmer’s Market as a priority, a weekly ritual. People buy bagels and “Kaleo’s Koffee” or Thai and other food on site and gather at the picnic tables to chat with friends and listen to local talent. Food, music, friends, and a chance to learn something new at the Education Tent: what more do you need to make community? And backyard gardeners are invited to sell produce at the Hāmākua Ag Coop booth. This ability for ordinary folk to sell their produce at the Farmer’s Market cements it as Their Market.

So kudos to HH Market Manager, Marielle Hampton, who orchestrates the weekly event. But as the demonstration orchards and keiki garden demonstrate, Hāmākua Harvest is not just the market. There’s more coming. The HH Business Plan shows the expansiveness of the entire strategy for the 70-acre site:

  • Besides the Farmer’s Market, they’ll build a separate road-side market, open during the week: about 2-3 years out yet. This will be a 30×40 ft pavilion on two levels, containing a certified kitchen and an agriculture/farming book store. Visitors can buy locally produced refreshments and enjoy them on a lanai with an ocean-view. Local farmers can learn to add value to their products for sale.
  • A nursery where visitors can buy plants during the week, will be the next project. Expected timing is within the next three months. Tiffany Cox-Castillo has developed plans for a 12×12 ft sales structure, outdoor platforms to display the plants, and a larger structure for potting and plant preparation.
  • A working certified organic orchard (ten acres of fruit trees) and farm is further out, But the current demonstration plots will allow HH to conduct research to optimize the orchard.
  • An on-site Learning Center will provide classroom and hand-on training for gardeners and future/existing farmers. Extension materials will be available for free in the agriculture/farming bookstore. All educational activities will enhance or supplement other existing programs, such as the partnership with CTAHR. This center is also some years out. But another learning opportunity, custom tours, will be developed for residents and tourists in the next year, perhaps piloted at the Third Annual Farm Festival.
  • A one-acre composting facility will turn HH’s green waste into sellable compost. HH needs a grant for this or it might become part of the for-profit portion of the operation.

It seems ambitious, but Michael, and Hāmākua Harvest Administrative Director, Lori Beach, believe it is doable. And why not? They’ve come so far already since ground-breaking two years ago.

Meanwhile, come and share the fruits of this vision. Join Hāmākua Harvest for the Second Annual Farm Festival, Sunday, May 21. It will feature a 45-vendor farmers’ market and an all-day line-up of entertainment, educational presentations, cooking demonstrations, kid’s activities and a silent auction.

To volunteer at the 2nd Annual Farm Festival contact

The Festival will take place at Hāmākua Harvest’s farm hub site at the intersection of Highway 19 and Mamane Street in Honoka’a and will be the official kick-off of Honoka’a’s Western Week in a move that brings the district’s vibrant ranching community closer together with the area’s farming community.


Check out the Hāmākua Harvest website  and like their Facebook page


For other essays on Hāmākua Harvest, see:

Hāmākua Harvest – One Man’s Vision

Hāmākua Harvest – these are my farmers

Call me Farmer Di


If you like my blog, you’ll enjoy my book, Manifesting Paradise, available on Amazon. Receive my posts automatically by filling in your email address in the “follow” box at the top of the right column. And please join my mailing list.

Posted in eating in Hawaii, gardening, Hamakua, Hawaii plants and animals, Holidays and festivals, Honoka'a, Hāmākua Harvest, Making community | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Tavern-hopping for tapas in Madrid

The Symbol of Madrid: the bear and strawberry tree.

I love to travel, and on occasion, I seek out a local person to show me his world. In Madrid, that person was Luis.

While reviewing Trip Advisor’s “Top Things to Do in Madrid,” I saw a recommendation for Spanish Tapas Madrid. Luis’s website showed that they do more than just tapas tours. And their “ten reasons why you should choose Spanish Tapas Madrid” gave me the trust and confidence to book with them.

The Tapas Tour actually encompassed way more than food. We met at La Puerta del Sol, Madrid’s most famous plaza. While waiting for all parties to arrive, we listened to a mariachi band; street performers come in all types. Besides Luis, a man from New York and a family of four from Norway joined us.

Luis started the tour right there, explaining that La Puerta del Sol is equivalent to Times Square: this is where people from Madrid (and the rest of Spain via TV) celebrate New Year’s Eve. The tradition here is to eat one grape at each dong as the clock strikes twelve on the clock of the Real Casa de Correos. Luis explained that one year, when Spain enjoyed a massive grape harvest, some enterprising person came up with this idea and it stuck. Now people can even buy small cups in the square with exactly twelve grapes on New Year’s Eve.

The plaza is also famous for being Kilometre Zero, the starting point for Spain’s six national roads and Madrid’s streets. Anywhere you are in Madrid, if you follow the street numbers from larger to smaller, you will wind up here.

Luis explained that Madrid only became the capital of Spain in 1561. At the time, Spain was newly united. King Felipe II chose to settle in Madrid because it was a smaller city that he could mold to his needs without interference from noblemen seeking favor for their own cities. It was also near the King’s favored hunting grounds. Despite the humble beginnings, Madrid grew into its responsibilities.

All this time we were walking to our first tapas bar. Here we began introductory conversations over Cava, a sparkling white wine, several types of ham (jamón de bellota ibérico and jamón serrano), sheep (manchego) cheese and goat cheese (queso de cabra). This place was all about the jamón ibérico, and had a concise chart describing the rating system for Iberian ham. (See Firewater, witches, black pigs and bota swigging in La Alberca Spain for more information on this special ham.)

On the way to Luis’s next favorite tapas tavern, he showed us a modern-day adaptation for happy hour: one of Madrid’s long-time markets, Mercado de San Miguel, has turned into a foodie place.

You pick up your beer, then wander around with a few Euros in your pocket, and snack on whatever looks good, like olives stuffed with ham or peppers, or other skewered snacks. They still have traditional stalls, like the one with the giant ugly fish, but much is ready-to-eat tapas, and all under one roof.

We sat outside at our next stop, at one of the entrances to the Plaza Mayor, Madrid’s other famous plaza, very near our flat. By now we were getting to know one another, and we enjoyed a far-ranging conversation that covered political parties in Norway, the implications of Brexit for Gibraltar, why there is no far-right nationalistic movement in Spain, and the American election. It was like pub-crawling with old college friends.

We drank Sangria, and ate cheese-covered potatoes, garlic shrimp, and garlic and parsley topped green tomatoes. It was so delicious that we sopped up the remaining garlicky olive oil from the shrimp with our bread. Good thing nobody cared about their breathe that night!

While here, Luis explained that in Andalusia and other parts of Spain, tapas were traditionally little snacks that taverns gave away with drinks. Often salty, like olives or a sardine, they encouraged patrons to drink more. There are still taverns that do this, and so with good choices, one could go to three or four different places serving different tapas and get a whole meal with the drinks. Wikipedia gives several explanations for how this tradition started. Here are my favorites. Tapar is a Spanish/Portuguese verb meaning to cover. In the old days, Andalusian tavern owners covered the glasses of sherry for their patrons with thin ham or bread slices to keep the fruit flies away. Others served strong cheese with cheap wine to “cover” or mask the taste of the wine. Later, the king ordered that all alcohol be served with a “cover” of food to help cut down on soldiers’ and sailors’ drunkenness by ensuring they were not drinking on an empty stomach.

Since those days, the custom has morphed into an opportunity to fill the time during the long wait between the end of the work day and the traditionally late Spanish dinner at 9 – 10 pm by tavern-hopping for tapas.

Our final stop for tapas offered a dish that was already one of my favorites, having bought it in the markets in both Barcelona and Marbella: Tortilla Española, or Spanish omelet.


It is thick and sliceable like a pie, made from potatoes and onions held together by eggs. This is Spanish peasant food at its best. Luis explained that the dish could make two eggs go a long way to feed a family. Here, it was accompanied by pimientos de padron (crunchy deep fried green peppers), chorizo sausages, and sangria. By this time we were definitely slowing down. Luis escorted the Oslo family to a Flamenco show, while we continued to eat and talk with the New Yorker. When Luis returned, we carried our bellies out the door to our last stop, ice cream in the Plaza Mayor.

By now we felt like old friends. As we returned to La Puerta del Sol at 11:30, I saw that it was still bustling with activity and people. Luis invited us to meet the love of his life – his motorcycle. He was generous with it, insisting that my daughter and I get on and rev it up just for kicks. Knowing he was a family man, I hadn’t pictured him with a bike. But as I learned the next day when we went to Toledo, Luis is a man with a vision for this life and the determination to manifest it. A man after my own heart.


For the rest of my Spanish adventure, see:

Free room and board in Spain for a week with Diverbo,

In love with rural Spain – the village of La Alberca

Firewater, witches, black pigs and bota swigging in La Alberca Spain

Vibrant, whimsical, sensory-rich Barcelona

Semana Santa processions in Marbella

A day-trip to Tangiers Morocco

Swords, El Greco and gold in Toledo, Spain

Lucking out with the perfect flat in Madrid, Spain

If you like my blog, you’ll enjoy my book, Manifesting Paradise, available on Amazon. Receive my posts automatically by filling in your email address in the “follow” box at the top of the right column. And please join my mailing list.

Posted in eating, enjoying other cultures, Holidays and festivals, Honoring tradition, Manifesting your life the way you want it, travel as a transformation tool | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A day-trip to Tangiers, Morocco

I had no idea what to expect in Tangiers. I hadn’t planned to go there, and worse, I had done no research on it. At first, it was a lark to check another continent off our bucket list, the mysterious Africa. But it became so much more.

Our guide, Danny, described the day’s unfolding as we took the 1.5 hour bus trip to the Port of Tarifa from Marbella. Tangiers is roughly divided into three parts: the modern city, the medina which is the old city, and the Kasbah, the walled fort on top of the highest hill in the medina. We’d be visiting all three.

We had multiple checkpoints on both sides of the Strait of Gibraltar, four stamps on our passports by the end of the day, and several glass plated booths from which officials scrutinized us. But Danny made those transitions easy; he is well known at each point, because he makes this trip several times a week. If all the checkpoints hadn’t convinced us we were in a different country, that first view of Tangiers from the port made it clear. Street signs were in Arabic and French, the two official languages of Morocco, and a Minaret was even at the port.

Here we met our local guide, Abbey. He wore the traditional djellaba, but also wore a colorful pair of socks with his shoes, apparently his trademark. Both Danny and Abbey made us feel safe, even in the medina markets where pesky street vendors will not take no for an answer.

As a way to ease us into this radically new environment, we took a mini-bus to tour the rich region of the city, up in the hills. Malcolm Forbes owned a palatial estate up here, and many others who never wanted to be named. In ancient times, it was a strategic Berber town, holding the coveted African Gate of the Straight of Gibraltar. They were ruled by many foreign powers over the years, gaining independence in the 1950s. In 1923, foreign colonial powers gave it an international status. This city has been a place of intrigue, spies, shadow diplomacy and laundered money, for a long time.

Our first stop was a park where several locals had brought camels. Did we want to ride one? Are they kidding? Heck yes! You don’t appreciate how big these animals are until you need a two-step ladder to get on. Experiencing the camel getting up and down again were the scariest parts. Being led around for a walk was similar to riding a horse except no reins – only a stump-like thing on the saddle, and no stirrups; the feet just dangle.

We also had a photo-op with a baby camel. His wool was so soft, especially along the neck. The smell of the camels lingered a bit on our clothing, but who cares? This is Tangiers!

We continued our driving tour. Just before we arrived at the Kasbah, a funeral procession overtook our stopped bus. The compatriots of the dead man carried his sheet-wrapped body above their heads, chanting as they streamed past us. Stunned, we remained quiet for a few moments, each with our own thoughts. A few minutes later we arrived at the Bab Gate of the Kasbah, the walled fort on the hill, and the beginning of the walking tour. Abbey pointed out the characteristic Muslim shape of the gate, one of several into the Kasbah.

One enterprising person had set up an orange juice stand not too far inside the gate, and for a moment, it took me back home to kids’ Kool-Aid stands. But these drinks came from freshly squeezed oranges. The water likely came from a nearby fountain. Abbey told us that some people here did not have running water and had to use the public fountains for all their water needs. Some did not have electricity either.

Much of the Kasbah was a labyrinth of narrow passageways full of turns and steps. In the working-class neighborhoods, interesting doors and windows overlooked the passage. Colorful tiles covered steps into homes and even the underside of flower ledges, and the occasional tree added shade.

In the poorer neighborhoods, shade came from the narrowness of the passageway and overhanging second-floor units. In some cases, these second-floor walls from apartments across the alley were so close that they virtually touched.

We were walking past a mosque just as the call to prayer, one of five every day, went out over the loudspeaker. While we could not enter the mosque, we could appreciate the beautiful tile work under the portico, especially the ceiling.

And then it was time to eat lunch just outside the Kasbah, on a restaurant terrace overlooking the city, beaches, the harbor and the Kasbah wall. Abbey urged us not to eat all the bread, because we had three full courses coming. But we could not help it.

The olive oil was the best I’ve ever had, which is saying a lot, given my last several weeks in Spain. The bread was freshly baked in a communal oven down the street. It came with a selection of local olives. The first course was a saffron-spiced soup – I ate every drop. The second course was shish-kebobs with salad and eggplant. I tried carrot juice as my drink and found it a perfect complement to the meal. The third course was spiced chicken and vegetables on couscous. Dessert was a pastry similar to baklava, and we finished it all off with mint tea. With the afternoon walk ahead of us, we were sure to burn off some of it.

Alcohol was not served at this restaurant, though it is available in other places, despite Islam being Morocco’s state religion. The Tangerians follow a more relaxed branch of Islam, and Muslims, Christians and Jews live peacefully together here. A Muslim man can still marry up to four wives there, but the first has to approve of the second and so on, and the man must prove that he can afford more than one wife.

Older men wear the djellaba but younger ones wear jeans. Women generally wear the head scarf and older ones wear a caftan, but the burqa is banned. Tourists are not expected to wear the head scarf, but modest clothing is prudent.

Throughout lunch we listened to Moroccan music playing inside the restaurant. The musicians were not shy about requesting tips, even as we passed by them on our way to the restroom. Just before dessert, a snake handler showed up. Some of our group gathered around, appreciatively clapping and gasping every time he dropped the snake and it started to slither toward their feet. I was safely standing behind the musicians.

But then he put his poisonous snake back into the bag and took out another, presumably not poisonous, offering to drape it around our necks. I hate snakes, even worms. But something drew me to the opportunity. I’ve never even touched a snake, so why not now, here in Morocco? The snake felt heavy on my neck as he draped it around. My daughter snapped the picture and then I was gladly out of there.

Our afternoon walk through the medina was the most interesting of the whole tour. Building colors were brighter than elsewhere in shades of blues and oranges, sometimes with murals. One mural showed the community baking oven, another people wearing traditional Berber dress. (Berbers are over 95% of the Moroccan population, though Tangiers has a heavy European population and influence.) Potted plants added greens and ceramic tiles could be any color.

We walked briskly through covered and uncovered vegetable and fresh herb markets. Abbey admonished us to stay together and Danny brought up the rear. So many things were in season and the photographer in all of us bogged down our little procession.

As we walked to the meat market, we saw a man walk in with a headless, gutted goat or young cow over his shoulders. Nearby were the breads and dates. The dates in the glass case must be special indeed.

But my favorite was the spice market. Dried spices, some ground, some whole, sat in open bags with pungent, fresh, tangy, green, peppery, even earthy aromas, some subtle, some powerful.

The other fascinating areas were the stands with olives. Having grown up in the Midwest, I knew very little about good olives, and still cannot consider myself educated. These appeared to be raw, uncured.

I was sad to leave the sensory stimulation of the food markets, but happily found an equally rich environment looking at silk yarns for embroidering and richly hued hand-tufted wool carpets. Perhaps next time I come, I can be persuaded to buy a magic carpet. They even make it easy by taking Euros and delivering “free,” even to Hawaiʻi.


For the rest of my Spanish adventure, see:

Free room and board in Spain for a week with Diverbo,

In love with rural Spain – the village of La Alberca

Firewater, witches, black pigs and bota swigging in La Alberca Spain

Vibrant, whimsical, sensory-rich Barcelona

Semana Santa processions in Marbella

Tavern-hopping for tapas in Madrid

Swords, El Greco and gold in Toledo, Spain

Lucking out with the perfect flat in Madrid, Spain

If you like my blog, you’ll enjoy my book, Manifesting Paradise, available on Amazon. Receive my posts automatically by filling in your email address in the “follow” box at the top of the right column. And please join my mailing list.

Posted in daughters, eating, enjoying other cultures, getting out of my comfort zone, learnng new things, Personal growth, travel as a transformation tool | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Semana Santa processions in Marbella

After Barcelona, it is comforting to be in a small town once again. Marbella, on the Mediterranean Sea, was a village of 10,000 in the 1950s. Then the tourist/resort industry boomed and it is now 140,000 – still plenty small enough for my tastes. We were lucky enough to find accommodations in a small hotel during Holy Week. It was situated on Calle San Ramon, a street too small for cars. So the taxi dropped us off on the nearest main street, and we schlepped our luggage up the hill. The hotel location was worth the effort – only a block from what we had come here to see, the Semana Santa procession on the evening of Holy Thursday. Semana Santa is Holy Week, and in Spain is characterized by processions with men carrying large floats or thrones weighing up to 5 tons. I could have picked almost any town in Spain, but Marbella had a good recommendation for beachcombing, too.

After dropping off our large clunky room key with the lady at the hotel desk (an actual desk), we wandered around the old town – a labyrinth of tiny lanes, small open plazas with cafes, and shopping, my daughter’s favorite sport. The buildings of old Marbella are mostly white – blinding white in the strong sunshine. I was thankful for shade in the late afternoon.

Colorful tiles and potted plants adorned walls. A kitty wove her way among tourist feet and found her favorite napping spot right in the doorway of a local shop.

The Marbella website said the first procession started at 6 pm. The lady at the hotel desk reminded us that we were on Spanish time (much like Island Time back in Hawaii). So at 6:30 we walked to the street with the procession, and were surprised to see cars still driving up and down, and an open table right on the street at a café. We took it and ordered coffee and orange juice. By 7 pm the police arrived on motorcycles and began to close the street to traffic. Families began to mill around, though not exactly nailing a viewing spot. At 7:30 an older couple looking distressed searched for a place to sit at the café, and we offered them the two extra chairs at our table. They made for interesting companions: they spoke Spanish and German. My daughter, our only link, spoke a bit of ‘school’ Spanish. (“Ask them this.” “It’s too difficult. First I have to conjugate the verb to blah-blah tense and then…”) But we all made ourselves understood with hand gestures and shrugs. We pointed to our watches, then the street with a questioning “Cuando?” They shrugged.

About 8 pm we heard intermittent drumming. Now people were seriously lining the street. Our spot was near the reviewing stand, at the bottom of a hill. Each group in the procession would have the same structure. First to arrive were the penitents, people in long robes and pointed hats covering their faces, carrying lighted candles, and looking like the Ku Klux Klan. In centuries past, these would have been people walking the procession in prayer for their sins, yet remaining anonymous. These days, based on the height of the walkers, they appeared to be tweens and teens who volunteered for or were recruited for the procession.

The next group was the ladies in black, marching in high heels (!) and beautiful mantillas. Each procession was sponsored by a different fraternal brotherhood associated with different parishes in the town. The ladies were presumably the mothers or wives of the men who would be carrying the throne. Clerics accompanied by a young person with an incense burner followed the ladies and preceded the throne.

A parade leader in bare feet, carrying a cross, led them all. The penitents, mothers, and clerics came down the hill then stopped – for about 10 minutes. What was the hold-up? It soon became clear, as a band struck up music and the first throne appeared at the top of the hill.

This was a carefully choreographed walk, men packed together with their free hand on the shoulder of the man in front of him. The throne swayed with the walking, the men carefully stepping together. Then, at a signal of a bell, they stood still and set the throne down while they took a rest. The whole procession stopped during this break.

Then with another bell signal, they hoisted the throne in unison. The band behind the throne was always playing while the throne was moving. The music has been especially composed for these processions.

First three thrones in the Holy Thursday Procession in Marbella, Spain


Fourth and Fifth Thrones in the Semana Santa Procession on Holy Thursday in Marbella, Spain

Then a gap, and we could see another fraternal order’s procession coming down the hill. There were five in all with the penitents, the mothers in black, the clerics, a child swinging the incense thurible, then the throne, and finally the band. Several thrones were decked out with a multitude of candles. It made me a bit nervous to see them swaying in time to the march. But the tweens and teens with candles made me even more nervous. By the grace of God, no one caught their hood on fire.

Each procession had a special twist to their performance. Several thrones included a man with a blindfold and barefooted; he only had the feel of the man’s shoulder in front of him to guide him. If he went down, I imagine the whole throne would go down. One group hoisted the support beams straight up, arms fully extended for about three feet of the procession route. One group included a small company of men with guns twirling. Some groups had the lead man in each row fold their arms instead of hanging onto the beams.

During sections of the procession, one or two men in front of the throne walked backwards, holding the jutting ends of the beams that sat on the shoulders of the men carrying the throne. They looked like they were trying to hold them back, which may have been true. If the throne ahead of them was too slow, they had their men sway in place. Some fraternal orders did a better job than others of having men of all the same height. Besides the aesthetic appeal, I’d think it would make the load even.

Procession Four had an overly enthusiastic thurible swinger. The little girl in charge of the incense went wild with her responsibilities – if they wanted smoke, she’d make sure they had plenty of it. While it was funny for the observers (even we were coughing as she passed by us), it could not have been pleasant for the men behind her.

The entire event took three hours, and we headed back to the hotel a bit after 11pm. But each of the groups made a full circuit around the city center and then processed back to their own church. I can only imagine how tired everyone was at the end – the penitents holding onto their masks and candles, the mothers in their high heels, the men carrying the weight of the throne, the band members carrying and playing their instruments.

I admire the Spanish people for keeping up the tradition of the centuries to carry it on for their children. During this Holy Thursday evening, I reflected on what would be happening back in the US.  A relatively recent way we have enriched the celebration of Holy Week in the Catholic Church is the priest washing parishioner’s feet on Holy Thursday, just as the Master did. I hope it is a tradition we can carry on for generations, just as the Spanish have done with Semana Santa Processions.


And what about the beachcombing? Oh YES!

For other essays on my Spanish adventure, see:

Free room and board in Spain for a week with Diverbo,

In love with rural Spain – the village of La Alberca

Firewater, witches, black pigs and bota swigging in La Alberca Spain.

Vibrant. whimsical, sensory-rich Barcelona

A day-trip to Tangiers Morocco

Tavern-hopping for tapas in Madrid

Swords, El Greco and gold in Toledo, Spain

Lucking out with the perfect flat in Madrid, Spain

If you like my blog, you’ll enjoy my book, Manifesting Paradise, available on Amazon. Receive my posts automatically by filling in your email address in the “follow” box at the top of the right column. And please join my mailing list.

Posted in Cats, kitties, enjoying other cultures, Honoring tradition, island time, learnng new things, travel as a transformation tool | Tagged , , | 3 Comments