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2 posts from March 2012


la pedriza: la belleza natural de madrid

IMG_1554CIEE Madrid student Anna Fang hiking just outside Madrid.

La Pedriza: La Belleza Natural de Madrid

Escrito por: Anna Fang (Yale University)

Este fin de semana, mi anfitriona Argentina me invitó a ir a la sierra con su amiga Paloma. Antes de ir, no tenía ninguna idea del paisaje espectacular que iba a encontrar…sólo quería aprovechar de la oportunidad de salir de la ciudad y acercarme a las montañas que vi desde el avión cuando llegué a España. Los madrileños tienen suerte—es maravilloso que haya sierra sólo una hora afuera del centro de la ciudad, así que pudimos llegar a la Pedriza por coche. La Pedriza está ubicada en el parque regional de la Cuenca Alta del Manzanares, una área protegida dentro de la Comunidad de Madrid. Verla por primera vez es una experiencia imprescindible y asombrosa. La Pedriza consiste de rocas de granitos que, debido a la erosión, están en formas que nos parecen como, por ejemplo, un pájaro y una tortuga. (Y que las llamamos por eses nombres.)

Al fin, nuestra peña consistía de Paloma, Argentina, su primo, dos amigas de Paloma, y yo.

Fuimos de excursión en una de las sendas desde que pudimos ver unas cimas. Vimos El Pájaro, El Yelmo, y Las Torres, entre otras. El ascenso a Las Torres es una senda popular—las formas de las cuatro torres son magníficas. Podíamos ver unas personas—pequeñitas en la distancia—escalando El Pájaro, con ropas rojas. Aparentemente en La Pedriza hay más de mil vías de escalar, la mayoría de que son de la adherencia. Espero que pueda intentar una de las escalas—más básicas, por supuesto—durante mi tiempo en Madrid.

En la senda, Paloma me mostró el Refugio de Giner, alojamiento para las personas que se atreven escalar, grupos de niños, y gente que le gusta pasar mucho tiempo disfrutando de la naturaleza. Planeo llamar a la guarda, un hombre que suministra el refugio con la ayuda de una mula mona, para reservar alojamiento para un fin de semana, para que pueda subir al Yelmo y Las Torres.  

Después de caminar por unas horas, bajamos y comimos el almuerzo con las montañas nevadas en el fondo. ¡Un día buenísimo!


This weekend, my host Argentina invited me to go to the mountains with her and her friend Paloma. Before going, I had no idea about the spectacular landscape that I was going to find…I merely wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to get out of the city and get closer to the mountains that I saw from the plane upon my arrival in Spain. People who live in Madrid are lucky – it is marvelous that there are mountains only an hour outside of the city center, so we made our way to the Pedriza by car with no problem. La Pedriza forms part of the Cuenca Alta de Manzanares National Park, a protected area within the municpality of Madrid. Seeing this area for the first time is an astonishing experience that should not be missed. La Pedriza consists of granite rocks that, due to erosion, have taken various shapes such as, for example, a bird or a turtle. (And they are named according to their form.)

In the end, our group consited of Paloma, Argentina, her cousin, two of Paloma’s friends, and me. We hiked one trail from which we could see several mountain peaks. We saw The Bird, The Helmet, and The Towers, among others. The climb up The Towers is a very popular hike – and the four tower formations are magnificent. We could see some other hikers – tiny due to the distance – climbing The Bird, with red ropes. Apparently in La Pedriza there are more than a thousand rock-climbing routes. I hope to be able to attempt one of the routes – a more basic one, obviously, during my time in Madrid.

During our hike, Paloma pointed out the Refugio de Giner, a lodge for rock-climbers, school or children’s extracurricular groups, and people who enjoy spending time outdoors. My plan is to call the ranger, a man who manages the lodge with the help of his adorable donkey, to reserve the lodge for a weekend, so that I can climb the Helmet and the Towers.

After hiking for a few hours, we made our way back down and ate lunch with the snow-covered mountains in the background. It was an amazing day!

Translated by Mariah Messer


Born Again, Marrakech

CIEE spring 2012 homestays-1CIEE Madrid student Michael Krumholtz being silly with his homestay


Born Again, Marrakech

By: Michael Krumholtz (Univ. of Colorado at Boulder)

A walking sea flowing through the market square below the shadow of Mosque de la Koutoubia occupies the Marrakech day, as it does everyday, with boiling activity.

I am just another face here, another passing visitor trying to act as a human sponge. My duty - to soak in and to wear every foreign sight that passes through my pores – is easy in comparison to the never-ending workdays of the hard acting and excitable vendors.

White-robed men carrying monkeys by chain chase me through the square.

“Picture. Hello friend. Excuse me. Picture.”

Photo by Michael Krumholtz

My eyes, hidden behind tortoise shell sunglasses, wander in a different direction. I’m walking lost among the mass in Jemaa el-Fnaa, the busy open-air market in Marrakech’s old city.

One Barbary ape uses his little hand to lever the choking metal away from his neck. The poor pet is dragged around a rocky ground with no idea of when he can finally rest or eat. His room for basic instincts is too full to think about dirhams or dharma.

This place moves like a silver-plated swell. Aggressive sellers barter with foreigners and the occasional local to sell anything and everything under the Moroccan sun, which feels so near even in January. They grab my arm to turn me towards each stockpile of specialties. Cheap clothes, knock-off Louis Vuitton, fresh orange juice, and henna tattooing are some of the common sights.

But Marrakech does not run to a coordinated ticking of the clock. Each day I spent passing through the lawless streets, where mopeds and mid-size cars drive rampant with little concern for lanes and constant jaywalkers, new emotions passed through me too quick to stomach.

Never before have I seen a group of people bowing down together, feet to head in a small room, for the sake of a collective belief. Never before has a blind man touched my arm and told me I own good luck.

Without warning, a Moroccan man places two water snakes on my shoulders and holds out his palm for a dirham (the country’s currency). From morning to night, men and women stand and jeer for passersby. They specialize in selling memories and fortunes to the lost.

And though they sell both the abstract and concrete in aggressive fashion, I never found any of them to be dishonest. When a vendor here tells you it’s made by hand, you can see the valid evidence of his carving materials on display in the store.

But this rich soil is not without dry tragedy. Last April a bomb went off in Jemaa el-Fnaa, killing 17, and serving as an unfriendly reminder that conflicting political and religious ideals will forever spill blood into such a paradise.

An unfair stain in the white-collared western media machine that connects the word “terrorist” with Muslim peoples has characterized far-off desert lands like Morocco for the past decade. This is supposed to be the enemy, right? These dark, anti-Catholic raiders who live in a land on fire.

My memory replays CNN messages while my Quixote body lounges on a horse-drawn carriage bathing under the sun. I jet up, like awoken from a bad dream, and search around the passing streets.

There is a man in a tie, holding a briefcase in one hand and a Nokia next to his ear with the other. I see a woman, frowning as she looks down upon her two children who run circles between her legs. Two young ladies in black burqa tops can’t hide their laughter among a conversation of obvious gossip.

Where are the exploding men who yell to God? I see no one here who puts fire to a flag. Am I the enemy? – The spoiled atheist westerner, expected to buy everything in sight.

Photo by Michael Krumholtz

An odd looking green crescent hovers my attention away from my wallet as the prayer sirens sound out at the top of the hour. On cue, people flock to the nearest mosque for a quick gathering.

The biggest business of all doesn’t need to grab you by the arm or give out free demonstrations. The business of luck. The business that sells hope in exchange for eternal devotion. Reach out with cupped hands and put your knees on the ground. Take mind far away from body. Answer the voice that rings your telephone head. Take a vow of silence.

Among a paradise you can still pray to escape burnt out desperation. You can put your hands between your neck and the suffocating collar for a quick breath. But you’re caught forever in the sea, moving whichever way the wave pushes.