Sunday, May 29, 2011

Arcos de la Frontera: How did we even get here???

Arcos, arcos, arcos. Where to even begin. I do believe this is one of my favorite stops that we have made this trip, and one of my favorites from my previous Spain trip. Here is some background info on Arcos:
Arcos is a little, tiny pueblicito (small town) set on a cliff, located in southern Spain, in the province of Cadiz. There can’t be more than 25,000 people in the entire place. I randomly stumbled upon Arcos when researching where to go on this trip, and was immediately taken in by its gorgeous views. The city is known as “la empieza de los pueblos blancos” (the beginning of the white villages) here in Andalusia. When doing a little more research on Arcos, I found that there wasn’t too much to do in the town, so we only reserved a hotel for one night. However, upon our arrival, we fell in love with the city and everyone we were meeting, and decided to change up our trip to stay two nights. Also- the city is EXTREMELY hilly. There is a barrio bajo (lower neighborhood) and the centro (which is the upper neighborhood). Even in the centro, there are hills and stairs EVERYWHERE. Talk about a work out. I believe they would freak out if they saw how flat parts of Texas are. 

So here is the breakdown:


Took the bus from Cadiz into Arcos. When we first arrived, we were a little nervous, as the bus station was TINY. It looked like it belonged in the middle of nowhere (which I guess where Arcos really is). Since we were in the barrio bajo (lower neighborhood), we took a taxi up to our hotel. One of the first things we noticed was how narrow the streets were. There is barely enough room for a car to squeeze through, so all of the people walking on the streets have to find a doorway to stand in while the cars pass by. At times I was pretty sure that the cab driver was going to break his side mirrors off on the a wall or post or algo asi.
We make it to the hotel around 2, then get checked in. Santi, the receptionist immediately gave us a huge welcome and began to explain everything we needed to know about the hotel, Arcos, and even the town of Ronda (which is where we are now). He gave us maps, highlighted, pointed out, showed us stores, restaurants and even told us which waiters to ask for. Talk about awesome. He helped us carry the bags to our room, which was on the second (and a half?) floor. After getting on to the second floor, there was this special spiral staircase that led up to our room, kind of like a tower. It was SO nice to finally have a room and bathroom (which was HUGE) to ourselves. We were able to put our stuff out, not feel gross walking around barefoot, and what is even better is that our windows led out on to the roof, so we could climb out of the window and enjoy the beautiful views of the surrounding landscape (mountains, hills, el emablse, rivers, etc.).
After getting situated, we went downstairs and ate at the hotel (it was connected to the restaurant). This is when we first began to notice that young American girls don’t normally stumble into Arcos. Our waiter was extremely attentive, and made sure that we had everything we could ever need (but really). After this, all of the wait-staff knew us, and we got smiles and ‘hola’ and ‘como estais’ anytime we were within a 10 yard radius of the place. It was pretty funny. 

We decided to go exploring and first ended up at the mirador (looking point) in town. INCREDIBLE. Arcos is literally in the middle of nowhere, but is surrounded by amazing landscapes. Check out my pictures on facebook for a better idea of this. We really could have spent the entire day just sitting there looking out onto the land. Stunning. 

We walked around the town for a while, winding up and down the streets and getting a decent work out in before heading to the tourism office. There, we found out we were the first Texans to come in a very, very, very long time. The tourism office gave us some information and we learned about all of the hiking/senderismo there was to do in the town. So, we packed up a backpack, and decided to go on one of the shorter trails since it was already almost 5:30/6ish. This trail was located pretty centrally, and gave a great view of the old cathedral and the older part of town. The way down the trail was easy, although it took us forever because we kept stopping to take pictures. However, the way back up wasn’t as easy. It was SO steep. We felt completely out of shape, and even worse when we saw a jogger (who was super skinny and pure muscle) jog UP when we were at the steepest point, then he continued on to jog UP (without stopping) one of the steepest streets in town. Yeah, talk about intense. We had to stop like three times just to get up the trail, then had to rally our efforts to get up the steep street. Total, it was about an hour/hour and a half, but was time incredibly well spent.

After our little expedition, our legs were killing us, so we decided to go to the market to get some food, then back to the hostel to just hang out for a little while. We stopped and got directions to the local super market, el Super Karmela (classy, right?) and then went off to find it. As we have been finding out these past two weeks, Spaniards give the worst directions in the entire world. Directions here consist of pointing in one direction and saying, “oh yeah, it’s over there, and take a right”. No street names, no distances, nada. So, we ended up walking all the way into the barrio bajo before we realized we had probably passed it, then stopped in a bookstore to ask for directions. The guy we talked with was super sweet and drew us a map (check facebook for this pic), which was equally unhelpful, but somehow we ended up finding the market. Gracias a Dios!

That night, we just hung out and ate our cereal for dinner (we are beginning to run low on funds), and went to bed early.


We woke up early and went horseback riding! Yes, that is right! Who ever thought that I would go horseback riding in the mountains of Spain? Definitely not me. So, we took a taxi out to Hipica Las Nieves, and met Jose Martin (I believe that he owned the place? His Spanish was super hard to understand). He gave us a tour of the entire place, and we learned all kinds of new vocabulary. Hipica has 40 horses and an incredible facility. They have a team, and participate in competitions and parades, but also give trail rides for tourists. Believe it or not, we were the first Texans they had ever had.

Jose Martin introduced us to Fran, our guide, who explained everything about the horses, the tack and bridle and how to direct them. Whew- definitely tons of new vocab. Briddle, saddle and reigns? Definitely new Spanish words to me. So, we got on the horses (with the help of Fran- SO hilarious). And headed out into the mountains! Our ride lasted about an hour and was beautiful! We passed incredible landscapes and entire fields of sunflowers. Kalin ended up getting the moody horse who kept wanting to do its own thing, and I ended up with Marujo, who Fran told me was “la abuela del cuadro”, the grandma of the stables. She liked to go at her own pace… which was about 20 feet behind everyone else.

Overall, it was a great experience that Kal and I both really enjoyed! 

Once we got back (it was still pretty early in the day), we cleaned up and went shopping and exploring around town. The best thing about the shopping in Arcos is that since there are very few tourists, all of the shops were very authentic, and didn’t especially cater to tourists (there were some, but very few). We found this quaint little art gallery that only had pieces made by the locals in Arcos.  Great stuff. We talked with the owners for a little bit (go figure we were the first Texans there too) who were incredibly sweet.

After shopping around, we ate at the local Italian restaurant, where I asked for water “del grifo” (from the sink). The owner (who was from Italy) told us that the sink water was bad and that you couldn’t drink out of it (They do this because if they want you to pay for a drink. They normally serve bottled water in the restaurants here). About 15 minutes later, the chef’s kids came back from school and asked their dad for some water. Much to our surprise (not), the chef poured them two big glasses of water from the grifo. Hah. So, when our waiter came back, I politely asked him again if we could have agua del grifo, and said that even if it is a little bad, it’s okay for us if the kids had been drinking it. Not surprisingly, he did not like this and had a little fit about how he would never serve his own children water from the sink, but if we really wanted it, he’d give it to us. So I said yes, we’d really like some, por favor. We drank it and it was completely fine. What a stinker. However, we did end up making friends with him by the end of the meal, and anytime we saw him in town after that he said hi to us.

After lunch, we headed out to take the long hike around the entire town and past the trail to the Embalse de los Arcos (basically a lake), that we were under the impression you could swim in. The entire trip took a little over three hours and was great! Sadly, whenever we finally ended up at the Embalse, the water was dirty and wasn’t a swimming lake. So, we ended up just hanging out for a while and enjoying the beauty of the nature! 

When we finally made it back to our hotel, it was already pretty late and we were exhausted from the day, so we showered and just hung out. We went to the lobby to get wifi on our computers, but the internet connection wasn’t very good. I was trying to upload some pictures and send some e-mails and was getting pretty frustrated, so I headed to the bar next door that had wifi. It was about 9:30 pm when I walked over.

This was quite the experience. First of all, I was the only girl in the bar. I walked up and asked for a sprite, and had intended to go to the corner and get online and send my e-mails and go back to the hotel. Well, that was the plan at least. Two or three of the older men at the bar started talking with me (horribly hard to understand), and when they found out I was from Texas, they about had a fit. They had never met a Texan before, and didn’t know any that had ever been to Arcos. They were super sweet (and hilarious) and it took about 20 minutes before I could actually sit down and get my computer running. Once I sat down, the waiter brought me some free tapas, a plate of cooked potatoes and onions, which was delicious. I was left alone for about 10 minutes, when the waiter brought me over a second plate of tapas. I looked down at the plate and they were small fish (the ENTIRE fish) dipped in batter and fried. The gesture was so sweet, but they looked DISGUSTING. I later learned that they were called boquerones. Just go look that up…

After about 10 more minutes, one of the older men brought me another plate of fried fish (chocos) and stopped to talk with me. He was nice, but a little crazy, and maybe a little Viejo verde. Once we were done talking, I packed up my stuff, and went to go pay for my drink. When I asked the waiter how much it was, he looked at me and shrugged, and was like “ehh, pues- un euro”. Hahaha, wonderful.


Kal and I woke up, packed our stuff, had breakfast at the hotel, then headed to the train station and headed out to Ronda!

So- Arcos was one of my favorite stops of the trip! Would definitely suggest it to anyone who wants something off the beaten path. :) 

Kal on the rooftop of our hotel.

Kalin and I on the way down the cliff.

Horseback riding...

View of the town from the trail we had taken. Just lovely :)

View from the balcony at the Parador. Incredible.

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