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Haz el bien, y no mires a quién. -Spanish Proverb


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the concept of carnival

car·ni·val

[kahr-nuh-vahl] noun.
1. a traveling amusement show, having sideshows, rides, etc.
2. any merrymaking, revelry, or festival, as a program of sports or entertainment: a winter carnival.
3. the season immediately preceding Lent, often observed with merrymaking.
     Up until two years ago, when I came to Europe for the first time, I would have defined “carnival” as something similar to either #1 or #2 above, probably with some added mention of a ferris wheel and cotton candy. I knew nothing of this third definition of “carnival” and its significance in so much of the world.
     Carnival is best-known here as the week before Lent begins when students are free from school, many people are free from work, towns hold lots of special parades, concerts and events, everyone–I mean EVERYone: kids, parents, grandparents, etc.–gets completely decked out in a variety of costumes. To say that the Carnival tradition of craziness has manifested itself nicely in post-dictatorship Spain is an understatement. It seems people here live for this week…or at least that it tides them over until the madness of Spain’s summer fiesta season begins in June.
     When I studied abroad in Spain in 2010, some of my classmates were on top of their research on the topic way beforehand and had already scoped out the best place to spend this week of craziness in mid-February: a week for which we, like most students in Europe, didn’t have class. So a bunch of us headed way south to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, the capital of the Canary Islands. The Carnival festivities there are known to be some of the very best in the world; many say they’re second only to the world-famous Carnival in Rio de Janiero. You can read a lot more about the Las Palmas Carnival festivities (which I highly recommend, btw) in my post about it here.
A snippet of nightlife in Las Palmas during Carnival week:
     This year, I was in Bilbao for the Carnival festivities. I can’t say that they were intense as those that I experienced in Las Palmas, but it needs to be taken into account that Carnival brings forth its own scale of “crazy” to which little else can be compared. If on this already-ultra-crazy scale, Las Palmas was a 10, Bilbao still easily qualifies for a 7. That’s pretty impressive considering the 20-or-so degree difference in temperatures (in Fahrenheit, of course ;)) because the biggest and BAMF-est fiestas on this continent take place almost completely outdoors.
I’ve compiled a few video clips from the Carnival action here in Bilbao:
And a few snapshots as well:

Carnival festivities in Plaza Nueva, Bilbao.

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Feliz 2012!

Feliz 2012 a todos!

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season. I thoroughly enjoyed 17 work-free days (spoiled, I know) during which I rambled all around this fine country–literally from the northern-most extremes (home sweet home, the Basque Country), to mmmarvelous Madrid in the middle, and then 1,500 miles down to Spain’s southernmost properties, the Canary Islands. I took an outrageous amount of photos and videos, so I’m going to let those do the talking for this post.

For starters, I enjoyed 3 action-packed days of island adventures in Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands off the northwestern coast of Africa:

fantastic island colors

Did some whale-watching...another thing to check off the bucket list!

Soaked up some warm sun...they call them "the islands of eternal spring" for a reason!

feeling on top of the world at 12,200 ft: Spain's highest peak, Mount Teide

Here’s the short version of our very long trip up to the top of the very tall, aforementioned mountain:

And here is the rest of the island goodness I captured (winding roads, whales, sunsets on the beach) condensed into a few minutes for your enjoyment:

I got to experience New Year’s Eve in Puerta del Sol of Madrid: Spain’s version of NYC’s Times Square:

I put some miles on the new hiking shoes discovering some new places close to home, such as this sweet castle tucked away in a forest right here in Vizcaya, the province in which I live:

Butrón Castle

It was a fun-filled couple of weeks! I’m back to work now, but already thinking ahead to the next vacation…as one of my coworkers said today, it’s just “seis semanitas (six short weeks)” until our next big break: “Carnival“, for which we’ll have 10 days off at the end of February 😀

2012 is going to be another exciting year. One of my resolutions is to dedicate more time to my blog, and with that you will be seeing some exciting changes in the near future. One exciting change is that I will soon be incorporating a couple of my greatest passions (right up there with traveling, of course!) into meggrblog: specifically fitness and tech.

As always, thanks for reading!

¡Hasta pronto, chicos!


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Las Palmas Carnival 2010: Five days of Magical MADNESS

I apologize for the belatedness of this post, but due to the inundation of homework to complete upon my return last week combined with my level of exhaustion from the Carnival festivities, my blog was neglected for a few days. If you have any quandaries about that, I ask that you accept it as a clear indication of the intensity of Las Palmas Carnival. Go next year and see for yourself. I promise you’ll be out of commission for productivity for a few days.

It was that good. It was that crazy. I find myself at a loss for words when describing the festivities to friends or family. To put it simply, in the words of the boy in the wildly popular Youtube vid “David After Dentist,” we spent much of our vacation wondering, “Is this real life?” We spent our days laying lazily in the hot sun, our afternoons observing the holiday festivities from parades to live music, our evenings eating fantastic local food, from über-fresh seafood to authentic Italian dishes, and our late-late-late nights/early mornings in festive costumes, makeup and masks, dancing away to a combination of live salsa-inspired music and some euro-techno house beats. Then we took a nap.

Ryan and I representin´UND in the Canaries!

Zoro (Manuel) and I

The Canary Islands of Spain draw tourists from around the world due to their eternal-spring climate, beautiful beaches, majestic volcanoes and vast deserts. Their nickname, in fact is Las Islas Afortunadas, or “The Fortunate Islands.” Not surprisingly, there is usually a size-able sampling of American tourists on the islands. Last weekend though, it seemed the only Americans in sight were 17 goofball college students visiting from mainland Spain: the USACers. I would imagine that this was a less-than-peak time for Americans to visit due to the fact that 1. We don’t celebrate Carnival in the US (aside from Mardis Gras) and 2. The intensity with which the Europeans there celebrate their holiday would be, for most Americans, an acquired taste. At first glance, it’s a little nuts. The island was bustling with activity constantly, day and night, the entire time we were there. I really found myself wondering when these people actually sleep. From my observations, they couldn’t have slept more than a couple hours at a time a couple times per day. They had places to go, people to see, sun to take in, costumes to wear, and parades to march in. Sleep when you’re dead, right!?

Looking back on the time we spent there, I appreciate that it was a total authentic cultural immersion. We lived among people celebrating a holiday in their culture to the fullest extent. I know I’ve been abroad for over a month now, but something about observing how another culture celebrates gives real insight into their values and customs in a way day-to-day life cannot. It seems that, for them, life stopped for a few days and the focus was shifted to what really matters: spending time with friends and family, letting loose, having fun and making great memories. That’s it. Though many US Americans might criticize Europeans for being too laid back, I think that it can be equally argued that we don’t chill out and have fun quite often enough in our culture. I’m definitely enjoying the increase in emphasis on social interaction here. I’ve come out of my shell and put it in long-term storage, perhaps never to be retrieved.

Un montón de new pics can be found in my Picasa web albums, as well as seven new videos from my time in the Canaries on my Youtube channel. Here is one of those vids:

¡Hasta la próxima!



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¡Vámonos a las Islas Canarias!

Today, twenty of us USACers set off to descend upon the Canary Islands for five fantastic days. The Canary Islands are home to one of the biggest festivals for the world-wide holiday, Carnival (o, en Español, Carnaval). Carnival is celebrated in a small way in the US as “Mardi Gras”, but this doesn’t give an accurate picture of what Carnival is to the rest of the world. Celebrated in almost all of Europe, Carnival is a 10-day (or more!) cultural celebration just before the start of Lent marked by parades, costumes and dancing. The biggest of these festivals takes place far from here in Rio de Janeiro, but many articles say that the Canary Islands are a close second. Since the Islands are a tad bit closer than Rio, we decided to settle for second best 😉
The forecast for the Canaries this weekend is a consistent 70-75 degrees with a few evening showers possible. I think I can handle that. I’m leaving Getxo as a pasty-white “bronde.” No one will recognize the tan, blonde kid I’ll be when I return…so much for not standing out amongst the Spaniards!
Below is a map to show the location of the Canary Islands. Though they are a property of Spain, they are really not very close to Spain at all, as you can see:

Having been very fond of whales and dolphins since childhood, I hope to fulfill my dream to see them in the wild on a whale/dolphin-watching tour while we are there. Here is a picture of a boat for one of the main whale-watching tour companies on our island:

I hope everyone has a fantastic weekend. I’ll try to send some sunshine your way!

Happy Carnival!

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