January: Los Angeles, Tijuana, Madrid, Granada, Tangier, Santa Pola

DTLA from Vista Hermosa. This holiday season was the longest period of time that I had spent at home in California since I left for Georgetown in the fall of 2013. Time well spent with close friends, great food, and relaxation. I finally got the chance to experience just a little bit of Los Angeles — a city that I had grown up with, but had never explored.
View from the San Bernardino Mountains on the way back from our annual Big Bear ski trip
Overlooking the 405 freeway from the Getty Museum
My buddy Josh enjoying the shores during a quick stop in La Jolla
My first time in Tijuana– such a strange feeling to walk 100 meters across an arbitrary line and be confronted by Mexico. An entirely different culture just a short drive away. Big thanks to Eamon for showing us around TJ like a true “loc”.
Glorious ceviche on La Sexta, right off Avenida Revolucion. Try the taco de pulpo, it was life-changing.
A final (spicy) meal back in Newbury Park at the always-satisfying Sesame Inn
Stunning view of my favorite city from the window of my flight to Frankfurt. Walking through SFO during my layover, I felt nostalgia and a strange deja vu for the city that had given me such an incredible summer. Hope to see you soon, SF.
My charming little room on my first night in Madrid. Incredibly grateful for my wonderful host family here in Spain.
Looking out over the Estanque Central in Retiro Park.
Just happened to pass by Sporting Gijon’s bus as the players were leaving the hotel for that night’s fixture with Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu. Pretty cool to see excited supporters get their shirts signed. Unfortunately for them, Gijon was soon sent packing by 5 glorious goals from Los Blancos.
Such a surreal feeling to see Goya’s masterpiece “Saturno devorando a su hijo” (among many others) in person at the Museo del Prado. After hearing impassioned lectures about “the last of the masters, first of the moderns” all semester from Profesor Yarza, the Prado made history come to life.
Another Goya for good measure: “El 3 de Mayo”. Note that this artwork is based on the revolutionary events that occurred in 1808 in Madrid, barely a few kilometers away from where the painting is hung.
Beautiful Andalusian hillside captured during my ALSA bus ride from Madrid to Granada.
Calle del Conde de Tendillas, where my awesome hostel “El Granado” was located. Old Granada is a breathtaking city packed with streets identical to this one. Needless to say I spent most of my time there lost.
When I crested the hill and rounded the corner, I actually gasped. That’s the first time that a view has ever been literally breathtaking. Taken from the jardines of the Alhambra amongst yammering throngs of Korean, Chinese, and Japanese tourists.
A small taste of the mind-bogglingly intricate Islamic plaster detailing on all the walls of the Alhambra.
Our hilarious tour guide, Pedro, explaining how residents of the Albaicín would store water.
Old world charm in the Albaicín, with its white walls, cobblestones, and narrow, labyrinthal streets.
Cave homes carved into the hillsides of Sacromonte. Gorgeous views of Granada, constant temperatures, no rent, no taxes — who needs running water anyway?
Closeup of a cave home
A majestic dog stands guard at the old wall of Sacromonte — the dividing line between civilized Granada and complete freedom.
And a the top of Sacromonte, the most beautiful view that I have ever seen in my entire life. No exaggeration.
The central cathedral of Granada at night
Although it required a bit of stressful planning, I arrived at the Port of Algeciras (at the southernmost tip of Spain, right next to Gibraltar) by way of a bus from Granada through Malaga. All aboard the Tanger Express.
Hasta luego, España.
Hello, Gibraltar (I didn’t know you were actually a rock…)
Salaam, port of Tanger Med. I would soon find out that Tanger Med stood for Mediterranean, not Medina (central city). This presented a massive problem, as it would cost me all of my 400 Moroccan dirham to get a taxi that would take me the full hour drive along the winding coastal road to the city of Tangier. Note: I was later told that the Arabic writing reads “God protect the king”.
Thankfully, I met Bruno — a Brazilian immigration lawyer who works for a UN agency in Tangier. Aside from being the f***ing man, Bruno boasted self-taught English, Spanish, and Arabic, was working on his doctorate at NYU, and was kind enough to show me how to get to Tangier for cheap. Bruno showed me and Alex (a Frenchman who was halfway through hitchhiking his way to the Atlas Mountains) how to take a bus, cross a muddy field, and then take another bus for 7 dirham (0.71 USD) to the city. This bus was packed with local Moroccan men (1 woman) and it hurtled along the completely dark coastline freeway. It stopped a few times at what seemed like absolutely arbitrary points along the dark freeway, where a Moroccan man would exit the bus into the middle-of-nowhere darkness, and a string of Moroccan men with progressively stronger unibrows would step onto the bus from the side of the pitch black freeway. After we arrived in the central station of Tangier, Alex made plans to “party” with Bruno on his way back from the Atlas Mountains, and promptly bought a night train to Marrakesh. After helping me search well off the beaten path for the hostel I had reserved online, Bruno offered to have me sleep on his couch at his home near the city center – which I decided was far better than the nonexistent hostel. My apologies for the extended aside – this is a photo taken in the morning from the window directly above the couch where I slept. Not bad for a narrowly avoided disaster.
Over a traditional Moroccan breakfast, Bruno and I made plans to meet up in Madrid. Bruno is the definition of a globetrotter, and loves to travel on a budget to exotic places. Case in point, he hasn’t spent very many weekends at home in the last 6 years. He’s visited 35 African countries and is moving to NYC in April. Bruno dreams of visiting Wyoming because, in all his travels, he has “never met anyone who had ever met someone from Wyoming.” After breakfast and before heading to work, Bruno walked me to the old city and pointed out places I should visit before my evening flight.
Meat market in the Grand Socco, where there were an unsettling number of charred sheep (goat?) heads on display.
The most absurdly large lobsters displayed at the Grand Socco fish market. Tangier is graced with both Mediterranean and Atlantic waters, making for great seafood.
I enjoyed a classic mint tea at Cafe Tingis in the central square of the Petit Socco. This was a very special moment for me, as this cafe was featured in one of my favorite episodes of Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown”. See below.
Bourdain in 2013 at Cafe Tingis. Almost certain that old guy in the djellaba is the very same man seated in the same position in my photo.
Tangier from above. I was taken to this spot by one smooth talking young man named Mehmet. His occupation was to lure foolhardy tourists into his “authentic” tours of the Casbah. I — along with 90 of my Dirham — were all too happy to oblige.
A more authentic moment in the streets of the Medina. Quick stop for a spot of footy with a local boy.
Before catching a ride to the airport, I snagged a great meal at the restaurant that Bruno had shown me the night before. Friday in Tangier means couscous, and this heaping platter of garbanzos, squash, pumpkin, onion, chicken, carrots and couscous set me back a smooth $2.50 US. The elderly gentleman who sat across from me preferred his couscous with milk — straight from the Coke bottle.
Unsurprisingly, Moroccans are absolutely nuts about Spanish soccer. These very contemporary posters were displayed prominently in the restaurant. Peep the gelaba on the old guy in the white cap. Moroccans love wearing these long hooded capes — very warm looking. Younger Morrocan men prefer slick hairstyles, skinny jeans, and leather jackets.
Taking a page from Bruno’s book on cheap traveling and mingling with locals, I decided to take the 3 dirham (30 cent) bus to the airport, about 45 mins outside of the city. I was instructed to “get off when you see the giant Kitea store — it’s like a knockoff Ikea”, so get off I did. I then walked 20 mins along the side of a road to get to Tangier Ibn Battouta International Airport, which boasted 1 terminal but many sheep.
Back in Madrid, visiting the Museo Reina Sofia
An early morning view of a regal hilltop castillo along the road from Madrid to Valencia. Host dad was running a half marathon with his friends in the coastal town of Santa Pola, so I decided to tag along and hang out at the beautiful Mediterranean beach.
Classic bull crossing action in Santa Pola
Mediterranean fishing: Comunitat Valenciana style
Local delicacies in the nearby city of Elche (Elx). Paella con conejos y caracoles (rabbit and snails) and paella with costra (“scab” of baked egg and sausage).
A simple fried rice dinner that I prepared for my host family. Ruigomez/Arriaga family from left to right, Miguel, Cristina, Carlos. Not pictured: older brother Jaime.
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